Key People

1 Samuel

Elkanah & Peninnah

Husbands can be insensitive for many reasons, but often simply suffer from ignorance. Elkanah had two wives, which doubled his opportunities to seen insensitive. His wife Peninnah was able to give Elkanah many children. The other wife, Hannah, owned Elkanah’s heart but was unable to get pregnant. Peninnah, jealous that providing Elkanah with heirs didn’t turn his affections toward her, treated Hannah with disdain. Yet Elkanah seemed oblivious to me turmoil around him.

Although the events leading up to the birth of Samuel primarily involved Hannah, both Elkanah and Peninnah played significant roles. Peninnah’s competitiveness and derision drove Hannah to prayer; Elkanah’s simple love allowed Hannah to entrust their child Samuel into God’s care. Elkanah didn’t realize how much a little attention toward Peninnah could have cooled the simmering emotions in his home. Nor did he understand that his love for Hannah didn’t make up for the emptiness of her womb.

The glimpse God gives us of that tense household provides a helpful backdrop for God’s purpose, which are not thwarted by human shortcomings. He worked within the strain and stress of those relationships to bring Samuel into the world - one of the most significant figures in the Old Testament. When our relational systems seems too gnarled to be unraveled or salvaged, we need to remember that God not only displays his creativity by making things from scratch, but also by bringing order and beauty out of messes.

Strengths and accomplishments

    • Elkanah supported Hannah’s decision to leave Samuel in Shiloh to be raised as a priest

    • Regular trips to Shiloh acknowledged God’s importance to the entire family

Weaknesses and mistakes

    • Elkanah did not understand what would have helped each of his wives

    • Peninnah made things worse by talking out her disappointment and anger on Hannah

Lessons from their lives

    • Ignorance is not a good excuse for insensitivity

    • Jealousy is not a good excuse for bad behavior

    • God works in the middles of family messes

Vital statistics

    • Where: Ramah

    • Occupation: Unknown

    • Relatives: Elkanah and Peninnah has a unknown number of children; Elkanah and Hannah bore two daughters and four sons, including Samuel.

    • Contemporary: Eli the priest

Key verse

    • “Why are you crying, Hannah? Elkanah would ask. ‘Why aren’t you eating? Why be downhearted just because you have no children? You have me - isn’t that better than having ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8).

The story is told in 1 Samuel 1-2


Hannah’s prayer shows us that all we have and receive is on loan from God. Hannah might have had many excuses for being a possessive mother. But when God answered her prayer, she followed through on her promise to dedicate Samuel to God’s service.

She discovered that the greatest joy in having a child is to give that child fully and freely back to God. She entered motherhood prepared to do what all mothers must eventually do - let go of their children.

When children are born, they are completely dependent upon their parents for all their basic necessities. This causes some parents to forget that those same children will grow toward independence within the span of a few short years. Being sensitive to the different stages of that healthy process will greatly strengthen family relationships; resisting or denying that process will cause great pain. We must gradually let go of our children in order to allow them to become mature, independent adults.

Strengths and accomplishments

    • Mother of Samuel, Israel’s greatest judge

    • Fervent in worship; effective in prayer

    • Willing to follow through on even a costly commitment

Weakness and mistake

    • Struggled with her sense of self-worth because she had been unable to have children

Lessons from her life

    • God hears and answers prayer

    • Our children are gifts from God

    • God is concerned for the oppressed and afflicted

Vital statistics

    • Where: Ephraim

    • Occupation: Homemaker

    • Relatives: Husband: Elkanah. Son: Samuel. Later, three others sons and two daughters

    • Contemporary: Eli the priest

Key verses

    • “Sir, do you remember me? Hannah asked. ‘I am the very woman who stood here several years ago praying to the Lord. I asked the Lord to give me this boy, and he has granted my request. Now I am giving him to the Lord, and he will belong to the Lord his whole life. And they worshiped the Lord there” (1 Samuel 1:26-28).

Her story is told in 1 Samuel 1-2.


Eli was one Old Testament person with a very modern problem. The recognition and respect he earned in public did not extend to his handling of his private affairs. He may have been an excellent priest, but he was a poor parent. His sons brought him grief and ruin. He lacked two important qualities needed for effective parental discipline: from resolve and corrective action.

Eli responded to situations rather than solving them. But event his responses tended to be weak. God pointed out his son’s errors, but Eli did little to correct them. The contrast between God’s dealing with Eli and Eli’s dealing with his sons is clear - God gave warning, spelled out the consequences of disobedience, and then acted. Eli only warned. Children need to learn that their parents’ words and actions go together. Both love and discipline must be spoken as well as acted out.

But Eli had another problem. He was more concerned with the symbols of his religion than with the God they represented. For Eli, the Ark of the Covenant had become as relic to be protected rather than a reminder of the Protector. His faith shifted from the Creator to the created.

It may be easier to worship things we can see, whether buildings, people, or Scripture itself, but such tangible things have no power in themselves. This book you hold is either merely a respectable religious relic, or it is the sharp and effective Word of God. Your attitude toward it is largely shaped by your relationship to the God from whom it comes. A relic of antique has to be carefully stored away; God’s Word has to be used and obeyed. Which attitude accurately describes your approach to the Word of God?

Strengths and accomplishments

    • Judged Israel for 40 years

    • Spoke with Hannah, the mother of Samuel, and assured her of God’s blessing

    • Reared and trained Samuel, the greatest judge of Israel

Weaknesses and mistakes

    • Failed to discipline his sons or correct them when they sinned

    • Tended to react to situations rather than take decisive action

    • Saw the Ark of the Covenant as a relic to be cherished rather than as a symbol of God’s presence with Israel

Lessons from his life

    • Parents need to discipline their children responsibly

    • Life is mora than simply reacting; it demands action

    • Past victories cannot substitute for present trust

Vital statistics

    • Where: Shiloh

    • Occupation: High priest, judge of Israel

    • Relatives: Sons: Hophni and Phinehas

    • Contemporary: Samuel

Key verses

    • “Then the Lord said to Samuel, ‘I am about to do a shocking thing in Israel. I am going to carry out all my threats against Eli and his family, from beginning to end. I have warned him that judgment is coming upon his family forever, because his sons are blaspheming God and he hasn’t disciplined them. So I have vowed that the sins of Eli and his sons will never be forgiven by sacrifices or offerings’” (1 Samuel 3:11-15).

His story is told in 1 Samuel 1-4. He also is mentioned in 1 Kings 2:26, 27


We often wonder about the childhoods of great people. We have little information about the early years of most of the people mentioned in the Bible. One delightful exception is Samuel; he came as a result of God’s answer of God’s answer to Hannah’s fervent prayer for a child. (In fact, the name Samuel comes from the Hebrew expression “heard of God.”) God shaped Samuel from the start. Like Moses, Samuel was called to fill many different roles: judge, priest, prophet, counselor, and God’s man at a turning point in the history of Israel. God worked through Samuel because Samuel was willing to be one thing: God’s servant.

Samuel showed that those whom God finds faithful in small things will be trusted with greater things. He grew up assisting the high priest (Eli) in the Tabernacle until God directed him to other responsibilities. God was able to use Samuel because he was genuinely dedicated to God.

Samuel moved ahead because he was listening to God’s directions. Too often we ask God to control our lives without making us give up the goals for which we strive. We ask God to help us get where we want to go. The first step in correcting this tendency is to turn over both the control snf destination of our lives to him. The second step is to do what we already know God requires of us. The third step is to listen for further direction from his Word-God’s map for life.

Strengths and accomplishments

    • Used by God to assist Israel’s transition from a loosely governed tribal people to a monarchy

    • Anointed the first two kings of Israel

    • Was the last and most effective of Israel’s judges

    • Is listed in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11

Weakness and mistake

    • Was unable to lead his sons into a close relationship with God

Lessons from his life

    • The significance of what people accomplish is directly related to their relationship with God

    • The kind of person we are is more important than anything we might do

Vital statistics

    • Where: Ephraim

    • Occupation: Judge, prophet, priest

    • Relatives: Mother: Hannah. Father: Elkanah. Sons: Joel and Abijah.

    • Contemporaries: Eli, Saul, David

Key verses

    • “As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him, and everything Samuel said proved to be reliable. And all Israel, from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, knew that Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:19, 20).

His story is told in 1 Samuel 1-28. He is also mentioned in Psalm 99:6; Jeremiah 15:1; Acts 3:24; 13:20; Hebrews 11:32.


First impressions can be deceiving, especially when the image created by a person’s appearance is contradicted by his or her qualities and abilities. Saul presented the ideal visual image of a king, but the tendencies of his character often went contrary to God’s commands for a king. Saul was God’s chosen leader, but this did not mean he was capable of being king on his own.

During his reign, Saul had his greatest successes when he obeyed God. His greatest failures resulted from acting on his own. Saul had the raw materials to be a good leader - appearance, courage, and action. Even his weaknesses could have been used by God if Saul had recognized them and left them in God’s hands. His own choices cut him off from God and eventually alienated him from his own people.

From Saul we learn that while our strengths and abilities make us useful, it is our weaknesses that make us usable. Our skills and talents make us tools, but our failures and shortcomings remind us that we need a Craftsman in control of our lives. Whatever we accomplish on our own is only a hint of what God could do through our lives. Does he control your life?

Strengths and accomplishments

    • First God-appointed king of Israel

    • Known for his personal courage and generosity

    • Stood all, with a striking appearance

Weaknesses and mistakes

    • His leadership abilities did not match the expectations created by his appearance

    • Impulsive by nature, he tended to overstep his bounds

    • Allowed jealousy to overcome him so that he tried to kill David

    • He specifically disobeyed God on several occasions

Lesson from his life

    • God wants obedience from the heart, not mere acts of religious ritual

    • Obedience always involves sacrifice, but sacrifice is not always obedience

    • God wants to make use of our strengths and weaknesses

    • Weaknesses should help us remember our need to God’s guidance and help

Vital statistics

    • Where: The land of Benjamin

    • Occupation: King of Israel

    • Relatives: Father: Kish. Wife: Ahinoam. Sons: Jonathan, Malkishua, Abinadab, Ishbosheth (and possibly Ishvi). Daughters: Merab, Michal.

Key verses

    • “But Samuel replied, ‘What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the command of the Lord, he has rejected you as king’” (1 Samuel 15:22, 23).

His story is told in 1 Samuel 9-31. He is also mentioned in Acts 13:21.


Goliath was a giant with an attitude. As champion of the Philistines, he immobilized an entire army of Israelites by challenging one of them to duel with him. He made them forget they had an absolute champion in the Lord their God. It took a bold shepherd boy named David to remind them all they were the armies of the living God.

Goliath was a problem to be faced on his terms but not with his weapons. Goliath’s strengths were so obvious (size, armor, arrogance) that others missed his vulnerability. For Goliath had a glaring weakness that never occurred to him until David’s stone struck him down. When David was given Goliath’s kind of weapons, David quickly concluded he couldn’t even function - much less fight - with those tools. Goliath’s strengths would have been David’s handicaps. Armor plating and heavy weapons were of little use to the shepherd boy. David went with the two weapons he knew he could rely on: his trust in God and his shepherd’s sling. When others looked at Goliath, they saw an opponent too powerful to defeat; when David looked at Goliath, he saw a target too big to miss!

David had armor to match Goliath’s, but it was invisible. He was spiritually equipped. Ephesians 6:10-18 describes in detail the resources that God places at our disposal. How unfortunate that we face our world each day on its terms and too often try to wield its weapons. God’s weapons are not as obvious, but they never fail us! How much of your spiritual armor are you wearing today?

Strengths accomplishments

    • Designated champion of the Philistine army

    • Held the entire army of Israel at bay by intimidation and derision

    • Recognized as a giant in his day

Weaknesses and mistakes

    • Defied the armies of the living God

    • Failed to take David seriously

Lessons from his life

    • Strengths often conceal weaknesses

    • God will not be mocked

    • God transforms strength into weakness and weakness into strength

    • God equips those who trust him with spiritual armor

Vital statistics

    • Where: Gath

    • Occupation: Soldier

    • Relatives: At least one brother

    • Contemporaries: Saul, Jonathan, David

Key verse

    • “Who is this pagan Philistine anyway, that he is allowed to defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26).

His story is told in 1 Samuel 17.


When we think of David, we think: shepherd, poet, giant-killer, king, ancestor of Jesus - in short, one of the greatest men in the Old Testament. But alongside that list stands another: betrayer, liar, adulterer, murderer. The first list gives qualities we all might like to have; the second, qualities that might be true of any one of us. The Bible makes no effort to hide David’s failures. Yet he is remembered and respected for his heart for God. Knowing how much more we share in David’s failures than in his greatness, we should be curious to find out what made God refer to David as “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22)

David, more than anything else, had an unchangeable belief in the faithful and forgiving nature of God. He was a man who lived with great zest. He sinned, but he was quick to confess his sins. His confessions were from the heart, and his repentance was genuine. David never took God's forgiveness lightly of his blessing for granted. In return, God never held back from David either his forgiveness or the consequences of his actions. David experienced the joy of forgiveness even when he had to suffer the consequences of his sins.

We tend to get these two reversed. Too often we would rather avoid the consequences than experience forgiveness. Another big difference between us and David is that while he sinned greatly, he did not sin repeatedly. He learned from his mistakes because he accepted the suffering they brought. Often we don’t seem to learn from our mistakes or the consequences that result from those mistakes. What changes would it take for God to find this kind of obedience in you?

Strengths and accomplishments

    • Greatest king of Israel

    • Ancestor of Jesus Christ

    • Listed in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11

    • A man described by God himself as an a man after his own heart

Weaknesses and mistakes

    • Committed adultery with Bathsheba

    • Arranged the murder of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband

    • Directly disobeyed God in taking a census of the people

    • Did not deal decisively with the sins of his children

Lesson from his life

    • Willingness to honestly admit our mistakes is the first step in dealing with them

    • Forgiveness does not remove the consequences of sin

    • God greatly desire our complete trust and worship

Vital statistics

    • Where: Bethlehem, Jerusalem

    • Occupation: Shepherd, musician, poet, soldier, king

    • Relatives: Father: Jesse. Wives: included Michal, Ahinoam, Bathsheba, Abigail. Sons: Included Absalom, Solomon, Adonijah. Daughters: included Tamar.

    • Contemporaries: Saul, Jonathan, Samuel, Nathan

Key verses

    • “For you are God, O Sovereign Lord. Your words are truth, and you have promised these good things to your servant. And now, may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you. For you have spoken, and when you grant a blessing to your servant, O Sovereign Lord, it is an eternal blessing!” (2 Samuel 7:28, 29).

His story is told in 1 Samuel 16-1 Kings 2. He is also mentioned in Amos 6:5; Matthew 1:1, 6; 22:43-45; Luke 1:32; Acts 13:22; Romans 1:3; Hebrews 11:32.


Loyalty is one of life’s most costly qualities; it is the most selfless part of love. To be loyal you cannot live only for yourself. Loyal people not only stand by their commitments; they are willing to suffer for them. Jonathan is a shining example of loyalty. Sometime he was forced to deal with conflicting loyalties: to his father, Saul, and to his friend David. His solution to that conflict teaches us both to be loyal and what must guide loyalty. In Jonathan, truth always guided loyalty.

Jonathan realized that the source of truth was God, who demanded his ultimate loyalty. It was his relationship with God that gave Jonathan the ability to deal effectively with the complicated situations in his life. He was loyal to Saul because Saul was his father and the king. He was loyal to David because David was his friend. His loyalty God guided him through the conflicting demands of his human relationship.

The conflicting demands of our relationships challenge us a well. If we attempt to settle these conflicts only at the human level, we will be constantly dealing with a sense of betrayal. But if we communicate to our friends that our ultimate loyalty is to God and his truth, many of our choices will be much clearer. The truth in his Word, the Bible, will bring light to our decisions. Do those closest to you know who has your greatest loyalty?

Strengths and accomplishments

    • Brave, local, and a natural leader

    • The closest friend David ever had

    • Did not put his personal well-being ahead of those he loved

    • Depended on God

Lessons from his life

    • Loyalty is one of the strongest parts of courage

    • An allegiance to God puts all other relationships in perspective

    • Great friendships are costly

Vital statistics

    • Occupation: Military leader

    • Relatives: Father: Saul. Mother: Ahinoam. Brothers: Malkishua, Abinadab, Ishbosheth (and possibly Ishvi). Sisters: Merab, Michal. Son: Mephibosheth.

Key verse

    • “How I weep for you, my brother Jonathan! Oh, how much I loved you! And you love for me was deep, deeper than the love of woman!” (2 Samuel 1:26).

His story is told in 1 Samuel 13-31. He is also mentioned in 2 Samuel 9.


Some men don’t deserve their wives. Abigail was probably the best woman Nabal could afford, and he got even more than he bargained for when he arranged to marry her. She was beautiful and more suited than he was to manage his wealth. But Nabal took this wife for granted.

In spite of his shortcomings, Nabal’s household did what they could to keep him out of trouble. This loyalty must have been inspired by Abigail. Although her culture and her husband placed a low value on her, she made the most of her skills and opportunities. David was impressed with her abilities, and when Nabal diet, he married her.

Abigail was an effective counselor to both of the men in her life, working hard to prevent them from making rash moves. By her swift action and skillful negotiation, she kept David from taking vengeance upon Nabal. She saw the big picture and left plenty of room for God to get involved.

Do you, like Abigail look beyond the present crisis to the big picture? Do you use your skills to promote peace? Are you loyal without being blind? What challenge or responsibility do you face today that needs a person under God’s control?

Strengths and accomplishments

    • Sensible and capable

    • A persuasive speaker, able to see beyond herself

Lessons from her life

    • Life’s tough situation can bring out the best in people

    • One does not need a prestigious title to play a significant role

Vital statistics

    • Where: Carmel

    • Occupation: Homemaker

    • Relatives: First husband: Nabal. Second husband: David. Son: Kileab (Daniel).

    • Contemporaries: Saul, Michal, Ahinoam.

Key verses

    • “David replied to Abigail, ‘Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you to meet me today! Thank God for your good sense! Bless you for keeping me from murder and from carrying out vengeance with my own hands” (1 Samuel 25:32, 33).

Her story is told in 1 Samuel 25 - 2 Samuel 2. She is also mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3:1.