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Book of 1 Samuel

Book of 1 Samuel
by Timothy Kenney, PhD

The Books of Samuel originally formed a single text, which probably continued through the first chapters of the current Books of Kings. Due to limitations in the lengths of texts that could be contained in a single scroll, however, they had to be divided. The translators who created the Greek Septuagint version of the Bible divided the text of Samuel and Kings into four books, which they named the Books of the Kingdoms. In the Latin Vulgate version, this was rendered as the Books of the Kings. Thus, the books known today as 1 and 2 Samuel were 1 and 2 Kings, while today's Books of Kings were called 3 and 4 Kings. The modern English designations of Samuel and Kings began with the King James Bible.

The two books of Samuel, which follow Judges in the Hebrew Bible and Ruth in the English, tell the stories of Samuel, Saul, and David. The events from the great breakup of Israel's premonarchic league through the foundation of Saul's monarchy and the beginnings of David's political emergence to the death of Saul are narrated in 1 Samuel. David's unification of Israel and Judah, his imperial expansion, and the subsequent struggle to decide who would succeed David are described in 2 Samuel.

The books are named after Samuel, the last major representative of the old league, who figured prominently in the transition to monarchy. He plays no role in 2 Samuel, however, which may explain why the Septuagint and Vulgate versions designate 1 - 2 Samuel as 1 - 2 Kings.

The first book comprises a period of about a hundred years, and nearly coincides with the life of Samuel.

Chapters of the book can be organized into the following manner:

  1. History of the Last Judges, Eli and Samuel - 1 Samuel 1-7
  2. Establishment of the Monarchy in Israel - 1 Samuel 8-12
  3. Saul and David - 1 Samuel 13-31

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A narrative summary of the the Book of 1 Samuel is as follows.

I. History of the Last Judges, Eli and Samuel - 1 Samuel 1-7.

This was a momentous time in the history of the Israelite people. For twenty years after this fatal battle at Aphek the whole land lay under the oppression of the Philistines. During this time Samuel was the spiritual power. From Ramah, his native place, where he resided, his influence went forth among the people. He went from place to place reproving, rebuking, and exhorting the people, hoping to awaken in them a sense of their sinfulness, and to lead them to repentance. Samuel summoned the people to Mizpeh, one of the loftiest hills in Central Palestine, where they fasted and prayed, and prepared themselves there, under his direction, for a great war against the Philistines, who now marched their whole force toward Mizpeh in order to crush the Israelites once for all.

At the intercession of Samuel God interceded on behalf of Israel. Samuel himself was their leader, the only occasion in which he acted as a leader in war. The Philistines were completely routed. They fled in terror before the army of Israel and a great slaughter ensued. This battle, fought probably about B.C. 1095, put an end to the forty years of Philistine oppression. Samuel set up a great stone in the battlefield, and called it "Ebenezer," saying, "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us" (1 Sam. 7:1-12). This was the spot where, twenty years before, the Israelites had suffered a great defeat, when the ark of God was taken. This victory over the Philistines was followed by a long period of peace for Israel (1 Sam. 7:13, 14), during which Samuel exercised the functions of judge.

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II. Establishment of the Monarchy in Israel - 1 Samuel 8-12.

Samuel established regular services at Shiloh, where he built an altar; and at Ramah he gathered a company of young men around him and established a school of the prophets. The schools of the prophets established at Gibeah, Bethel, Gilgal, and Jericho exercised an important influence on the national character and history of the people in maintaining pure religion. They continued to the end of the Jewish commonwealth.

At the close of this period, when he was now an old man, the elders of Israel came to him at Ramah (1 Sam. 8:4, 5, 19-22); and feeling how great was the danger to which the nation was exposed from the misconduct of Samuel's sons, whom he had invested with judicial functions as his assistants, and had placed at Beersheba on the Philistine border, and also from a threatened invasion of the Ammonites, they demanded that a king should be set over them. This request was very displeasing to Samuel. He remonstrated with them, and warned them of the consequences of such a step. At length, however, referring the matter to God, he acceded to their desires, and anointed Saul to be their king (11:15). Before retiring from public life he convened an assembly of the people at Gilgal (Chapter 12), and there solemnly addressed them with reference to his own relation to them as judge and prophet.

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III. Saul and David - 1 Samuel 13-31.

Saul begins his reign as war breaks out against the Philistines and the people, in distress, hide for their lives. Saul experiences failure and he is rejected at Gilgal, placing the Philistines in possession of the mountains of Ephraim. Now the people of Israel are unarmed and the Philistines forbid work at the smithies. Jonathan's great feat of arms takes place in a battle with the Philistines. Saul is commanded to destroy Amalek, yet, Saul disobeys by sparing Agag and the flocks. Samuel censures Saul for this disobedience, whereby Saul shows repentance and pleads for mercy. Samuel's complete separation from Saul closes Chapter 15.

The selection and consecration of David, the son of Jesse, after the rejection of his brothers begins in Chapter 16. David, as a cunning player on the harp, is brought to Saul to drive away the evil spirit from the king. David displays valor in his victory over Goliath. David becomes Jonathan's friend and a general of Saul.

War breaks out between Achish and Philistia, and Saul of Israel in Chapter 28. David conducts an expedition against the Amalekites, who, during his absence, had raided Ziklag and set it on fire, taking large booty and carrying off among the women, David's wives. Consulting the ephod, David pursues the marauders. Meeting on the way an Egyptian slave abandoned by the Amalekites, David is led by him to where the enemies are feasting. He fights them till sundown, slaying or capturing all save 400, and recovering his own. Chapter 30 recounts the last battle of Saul and death of his sons Jonathan, Abinadab, and Melchi-shua. Saul, after the refusal of his armor-bearer to kill him, dies by falling upon his own sword; his body and those of his sons are stripped. Saul's head is cut off and is to be sent as a trophy into the cities of Philistia. His body is fastened to the wall of Beth-shan, whence it is recovered by the men of Jabesh-gilead, who burn it, together with the remains of his sons, at Jabesh, and later bury the bones under a tamarisk-tree.

Now we shall continue the story in the Book of 2 Samuel.

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