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An Introduction to the Book of First Samuel

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I. Textual Design of First Samuel:

A. Author:

1. There are many theories about the authorship of First Samuel1 including the Deuteronomic history held by many scholars today2

2. It must be admitted that with the current evidence one cannot affirm without reservation who wrote the book.

3. The Talmud names Samuel as the author,3 but this is hardly probable since he dies in chapter 25
The naming probably relates to the role he played in the first 25 chapters of this history

4. The Hebrew cannon places the work under the former prophets giving a possible clue to at least the role of its author, if not also its sources

a. It is possible that Samuel was compiled from the writings of the prophets Samuel, Gad, and Nathan whose works were preserved within the nation (1 Chron. 29:29; cf. 1 Sam 10:25; see also the “book of Jasher” 2 Sam 1:18)

b. It is also possible that Samuel wrote chapters 1--25 and then Gad and/or Nathan completed the remainder of the book

c. Nevertheless, there is also evidence that the books of Samuel were written after the death of Solomon (cf. 1 Sam. 27:6)

d. Johnson writes, “The books of Samuel were composed after the death of David from court records, eyewitness accounts, and the writings of the prophets Samuel, Nathan and Gad. The actual author or prophetic historian is unknown. But it bears the marks of a prophetic revelation.”4

e. In any case, there is certainly a tone of warning to the kings from the point of view of the prophet who proclaimed the word of God to the king.

B. Date:
The textual clues seem to place the writing of the book sometime during the divided monarchy and yet before the fall of the northern kingdom.

1. Israel and Judah are distinguished (11:8; 17:52; 18:16)

2. Ziklag, the city of Philistia where David is sent by Achish, is described as belonging “to the kings of Judah to this day” (27:6)
This not only speaks of a time after the divided monarchy, but of a time when there had been “kings” in Judah.

3. However, there does not seem to be any indication in the text that the northern kingdom had fallen

4. Therefore, it seems best to place the writing of Samuel sometime after the divided monarchy (931 B.C.) but before the fall of Samaria (722/21 B.C.).

C. Design of 1 Samuel:

1. In view of the prophetic tone and the time period of the divided monarchy, it seems very possible that Samuel was written to historically instruct the kings of Israel and Judah to cease placing their confidence in the natural strength of their military, possessions, and even alliances (as the prophets so often proclaimed), and to trust in YHWH who has raised up over the nation all of those before them and disposed of those who continued to trust in their own strength

2. Through the selected, vivid examples of history, the writer was predicting a similar path for the nation in his day.
To trust in natural strength would lead to a fall while trust in YHWH would lead to victory over the enemies which surrounded them

II. Theological Themes of Progressive Revelation:

A. What Does the Book Say about God?

1. His Names:

a. Just as the message of the book is contained in seed form within the first two chapters of First Samuel, so is the writer’s theology of God seen in the revelation provided through the use of His names

b. Within the first chapter God is presented as:

1) The Lord of Hosts (1:3, 11)

2) YHWH (1:12, 14, 19, 20, 21, 26, 28)

3) The God of Israel (1:17)

c. All of these titles portray ways in which He will demonstrate Himself to resolve the tensions of HIs people in battle, in covenant relationship, and as Ruler of the nation.

d. However, there are some workings of the Lord which are not in agreement with what might be expected when these titles are employed.

1) The Lord of Hosts is brought into the battle against the Philistines but does not defeat the enemy because He is being treated as a magical weapon by the nation and its profane priests, Hophni and Phinehas (4:4ff.)

2) YHWH remembers Hannah (and thus the Nation) by providing a child in answer to her earnest prayer (1:19), and yet it is He who defeats Israel before the Philistines (4:3)

3) Nevertheless, it is the “ark of YHWH” who, while in captivity, defeats the pagan god Dagon (4:3-4), and YHWH as well as “The God of Israel” who brings about plagues upon the Philistines (4:6-11)

e. The key to the significance of these titles for God is in the “purpose of God” which is being expressed in each incident:

1) While YHWH is the covenant God of the Exodus, the Lord of Hosts would be expected to defeat the enemies of Israel, and the god of Israel would be thought of as the One who cares for the nation’s well being (10:18), the expression of all of these acts may at times involve the downfall of the nation and even the placement of Israel into a relationship with the Lord that may appear to be distant (cf. elohim as the title used to describe the experience of Israel and the Philistines after the ark has been lost in 4:11, 13, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22; 5:1)

2) All of this is because YHWH is still aligning Himself with the nation but with the purpose of increasing their dependence upon Him so that He might work out HIs covenant promises within the context of obedience (cf. 12:22-25).

3) Therefore, even though the glory has seemingly departed form Israel with the capture of the Ark, it can be seen to be fighting the Philistines all of the while it is in their land (cf. kbd in 5:6, 11; 6:5).

4) Nevertheless, it is YHWH who strikes down the irreverent men of Israel when the Ark is returned to the nation (6:19-21).

f. There are times when God’s relationship may well be derived from the name chosen:

1) Saul is never identified with YHWH.

Samuel may say that the spirit of YHWH will come upon Saul, but when the incident occurres it is the spirit of God who acts (cf. 10:6 with 10:10).

2) Samuel often employs the name of YHWH, but the only time that YHWH is connected with Saul is at the end of his anointing when it is written that “the Spirit of the Lord departed form Saul...” (16:14).

3) In contrast to Saul, it is YHWH who is identified with Hannah, Samuel, Jonathan and David throughout the work

4) It is only when God’s people are trusting in Him that they are allowed to experience the character of God as is manifested in His names, however, these names reflect the outworking of God’s hand for the nation even if they force it to be hidden at times.

2. God’s Reversal of the Natural:

From Hannah to the death of Saul there is a proclamation that the Lord reverses the natural order of life to exalt His people from the hand of evil as they place their trust in Him

a. Hannah is exalted over the ridicule of bareness and Peninnah as she seeks YHWH’s help (1)

b. Hannah Proclaims YHWH’s way of reversing the natural orders of life in her song of praise for the birth of Samuel (2)

c. Samuel is exalted over Eli and his wicked sons even through they are the religious power of Israel in his day

d. The Philistines are exalted over Israel even through YHWH is the nation’s God because of Israel’s spiritual condition (4)

e. Dagon, the fertility god of the Philistines who is accredited with the defeat of the Israelites, is made low by the Ark of YHWH (5)

f. Israel defeats the superior Philistines because they are trusting in YHWH (7)

g. Saul, through insignificant and fearful, is exalted to king of Israel (9-11)

h. Jonathan, through the son of Saul, is exalted over his father in battle, wisdom, and the eyes of the people because of Saul’s confidence in natural strength (113--14)

i. Saul, though the king of Israel, is made low by Samuel the prophet as he proclaims that the Lord has taken the kingdom from his hand (15).

j. David, through the youngest of the house of Jesse is exalted to the position of king (16).

k. David, though only a shepherd boy is exalted over the mighty Goliath (17).

l. David, through only a musician and soldier under the rule of Saul, is exalted over the might of Saul--the king of Israel--As YHWH foils Saul’s natural plans (17--30)

m. Saul, the king of Israel, dies and is mocked by the Philistines at Gilboa (31).

3. YHWH as the Ruler of Israel:
YHWH is the One who holds the life of the nation in His hand:

a. He provides life in bareness (1)

b. It is He who determines the continued leadership of the nation in that He made a covenant with Aaron, but exalts Samuel over Eli and his sons as they dishonor Him (2:29--4)

c. He chooses to deliver the nation through Saul (9--1), Jonathan (13--14), and then David (17; 27; 30)

d. He allows for a king but demands that both the nation and her king must fear and serve Him in order to obtain life (12:19-25).

e. He is the one who either delivers the nation into the hands of their enemies or provides for its deliverance (f. 4:3 with 7:9-13; 11:13; 14:6-10; 17:46; 28:19).

f. It is He who knows the heart of his people (2:3 states this generally and then the lives of Eli, Hophni, Phinehas, Saul, Jonathan, and David demonstrate this specifically).

g. Therefore He is the one to be served, feared and trusted whether the nation’s rule is mediated through judges or a king because it is YHWH who is the true ruler of the nation.

B. God’s Purposes and Their Administration:

1. The Purposes of God:

a. John Martin understands obedience to the covenant of Deuteronomy 27--28 to be the explanation for the way in which the Lord blesses (or curses) the nation in Samuel5
He supports his argument by explaining the reversals which occur in the Hannah and Samuel pericopes as being based upon “the covenant relationship these people had with Him.”6

b. Although there is a clear correlation with Hannah and Samuel, the concept of obedience to the Deuteronomic covenant does not explain some of the other reversals which the Lord brings about in Samuel:

1) Saul, and for that matter David, are exalted from lowly position to that of king without any reference to their being obedient (9; 16).

2) Jonathan, who is continually placed in a flawless light, dies on the battle field with Saul never experiencing what might be considered earned blessing from Deuteronomy 27--28.

3) David who is constantly demonstrated to be spiritually beyond Saul (although not flawless like Jonathan) panics under the pressure of being pursued and lies to Ahimelech, the priest at Nob (21:1-9), and to Achish the king of Gath (21:10-15).

This was enough to cause Saul to lose the kingdom (13:13-14), but nothing close to that happens to David7

4) Therefore, it does not seem best to understand God’s purpose in First Samuel to be solely around the covenant of Deuteronomy 27--28.

c. It seems as though God acts primarily in accordance with the Abrahamic covenant of promise when He exalts in the nation:

1) No one has lived so uprightly as to require YHWH to bless

a) Samuel is not able to pass on his faith to the next generation

b) Saul trusts in his own natural ability

c) David has not trusted YHWH completely.

2) Nevertheless, the Mosaic law gave YHWH the right to judge evil in the nation even if it did not give the nation the right to demand of YHWH.

3) The Lord acts out of promise and blesses in the context of obedience to the Law (Hannah, Samuel, David), but not because of obedience (Jonathan).

d. In the context of the nation’s sinful rejection of YHWH as their king, Samuel states God’s purpose toward the nation when he proclaims that, “the Lord will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because the Lord has been pleased to make you a people for Himself” (12:22)
This is the reason the nation is not destroyed for their rejection of the theocracy, the reason Saul is chosen at all (perhaps as poetic justice for the rebellion of the nation) and the reason David is permitted to continue as YHWH’s anointed in spite of his own sinfulness

2. The Administration of God’s Purpose:

a. Although blatant sin is permitted for a time under a corrupt leadership,8 YHWH uses their very strength to judge their evil9

b. YHWH then delivers the weak from the oppression of the strong by placing them in their former position of strength
Hannah describes it this way: He brings low the boastful, arrogant, mighty, full, rich, wicked, and those who contend with God; and He exalts the feeble, hungry, barren, poor, low, needy and godly (2:3-10)

In view of God’s permission of evil to eventually make its own pathway for the rise of the weak, a comparison of Hannah and of Saul might be insightful in predicting the future of Saul from his call to kingship:

HANNAH
(chapter 1)

SAUL
(chapters 9--10:13)

Seeks YHWH

Seeks donkeys

Prays to God

Asks a Seer

Comes to Worship

Taken to Worship

Cannot Eat

Eats the Leg

Leaves the Table

Seated at the Head of the Table

Dishonored

Honored at the Feast

Understands Her Need

Is Confused

The Judge is Confused

The Judge Understands

c. Even in Saul’s call we are led to see that the absence of Hannah’s spiritual character will be his own downfall as the way is prepared for David.
Yet YHWH permits his rise as a king in order to graphically teach the nation that their only hope is to trust in the strength of the Lord over natural ability.

d. YHWH then delivers from oppression through the weak who are trusting in His strength:10

1) It is the ridiculed woman who prays to YHWH that is exalted over her rival Peninnah with the birth of a son (1)

2) It is the boy who is placed in the care of Eli and who serves the Lord that replaces Eli (1:28--4; 7).

3) It is the son who goes to fight the Philistines with only his arm bearer and his confidence in YHWH that leads the nation in the defeat of the Philistines in place of Saul and his 600 men (14:1-23).

4) It is the youngest son of Jesse, a shepherd who trusts in YHWH who defeats Goliath, out maneuvers and then replaces the King (16--30).

e. YHWH then blesses His people as they learn to depend upon Him:

1) Hannah has a child (1) and then five more (2)

2) Samuel leads the nation to victory against the Philistines (7)

3) Saul leads the nation to victory against the Ammonites (11)

4) Jonathan leads the nation to victory against the Philistines (14)

5) David leads the nation to victory against the Philistines (17; 23), the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites (27)

6) As the nation and especially its leaders attempt to fear YHWH, serve Him and obey His word, he uses them to bless; but ultimately He does so because He has promised
Hannah signifies Old Covenant theology
The central purpose of the Law was to bring men low
In this this book to today one needs to see the administration of God’s purpose under New Covenant priorities

C. God’s Providential Rule and Mediatoral Purposes11
The stories find the ultimate control in the providential and mediatoral purposes of God:

1. Providential Rule:

a. “In God’s Providential rule, God permits the presence of evil in the Tabernacle, in conflict with Saul and David.

b. The atmosphere of the spiritual conflict is very evident in the repeated struggles with the power of evil in the second generation of Eli and Samuel and in the position of king for Saul and David.

c. The power of evil is accentuated as it overwhelms Saul in spite of his better judgment and as it repeatedly attacks David in spite of his repeatedly calling upon God.

d. In His Providential rule God determinately judges the presence of evil in the priestly family, in the treatment of the Tabernacle and ark as a fetish, in the people’s flawed call for a king, in Saul’s fearful panic, rash vow and unrealistic view of himself, in David’s deceit at Nob and fearful attempts to escape the enemy”

2. Mediatoral Purposes:

a. “In His Mediatoral purposes, God raised up Samuel to stand in contrast with the priestly family, to judge the nation in the transition and to introduce the kingship.

b. In addition God raised up Jonathan as a foil to Saul and as the legitimate heir who recognizes God’s call of David.

c. In climax and focus God raised up David to be His king yet allowed him to struggle in conflict with Saul and Nabal realizing his greatest blessing in being restrained.

d. In spite of a second and final defection to the Philistines, David finds strength in YHWH and grows in his faith struggling against the evil one.”

D. The Institution of the Monarchy:

1. The human king was supposed to be a representative of YHWH their divine king (Gen 49:18; Num 24:17; Deut 17:14-19)

2. The people did not seem to understand this because the Lord evaluates their desire for a king as a rejection of Him and not of Samuel (1 Sam 8:7)
It is also possible (probable) that Samuel was disappointed because he expected the people to consider him as their candidate for king:

a. His sons’ evil is noted (8:4-5)

b. The statement in 8:7

3. The people seemed to assume that they were being oppressed because they had no king rather than because of their own evil
Having a king would not resolve their difficulties. It would only increase them:

a. They lost their freedoms with the centralization of power in a king (8:11-13)
Their sons and daughters would serve the king’s interests
The king would take the best

b. The king and his court created an elite class since they lived off of the people
Before this the people lived in social equality

4. Even though the people’s choice of a king was evil, YHWH acted for the good of Israel and Himself:

a. He used Saul to bring temporary deliverance for Israel as He had other judges

b. He used Saul to effect repentance among his people (1 Sam 12:19)12

c. He used Saul to expose Israel to the consequences of a weak king (15)

d. He used Saul to prepare Israel for God’s ultimate solution--Messiah

It is significant that the kings are no different than the judges who preceded them in terms of their evil! Messiah will be Israel’s only hope!


1 Good evidence exists that the books of Samuel were considered one book. The Masoretic postscript is at the end of 2 Samuel. Esdras and Josephus refer to Samuel as a single work. The translators of the Septuagint divided the books due to their length when the vowels were added and renamed them 1 and 2 Kingdoms. Jerome followed the same divisions but changed their names to 1 and 2 Kings, but later versions of the Vulgate reverted to Samuel again.

2 Ralph W. Kline, I Samuel Word Biblical Commentary, xxvii-xxxii. This view deduces a post-exilic author from an imposed purpose of compiling and editing a history of Israel on the basis of the theology of a late Deuteronomy.

3 B. Bat. 14b.

4 Elliott E. Johnson, 1 Samuel: Synopsis and Selected Analysis, Unpublished class notes in 327 Seminar in Old Testament Historical Literature, 1.

5 John A. Martin, Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel Part 4: The Theology of Samuel Bibliotheca Sacra, 141:4 (1984): 303-14. He states specifically that, The author of 1 and 2 Samuel was showing the outworking of the Deuteronomic Covenant for Israel (p. 132).

6 Ibid., 136.

7 While it is true that Saul does slay the eighty-five priests of Nob and David recognizes that he was responsible for their death (23:22), David is still not stripped of the kingship. And what is more, the talonic justice which may have been met out to him at Ziklag for his responsibility at Nob (30) is not even camparable since, David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, and rescued his two wives (30:19).

8 Eli is spiritually blind. He sees Hannah but thinks she is drunk (1:13-14). He does not see his sons' wickedness (2). His eyesight is growing dim as the lamp of God is growing dim in the temple (3:2-3). He cannot see when the ark of God is taken from the nation (4:15).

9 The sons of Eli die at the hands of their own misuse of religion as they take the ark of the Lord into battle (4:11). Eli dies of his own heaviness (cf. kbd throughout the following section where YHWH's greatness has gone. Here Eli dies of his own greatnesses.

10 John A. Martin, Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel Part 2: The literary Quality of 1 and 2 Samuel, Bibliotheca Sacra 141 (1984): 131-45. He identifies this deliverance by YHWH as the reversal-of-fortune motif wherein Samuel is placed over Eli (1--3), the Ark is placed over the Philistines (4:1--7:1), Samuel is over Saul (7:2--15:35), and David is placed over Saul and Jonathan (21--24).

11 This material is taken from Elliott E. Johnson's Recognition of Theological Themes. Unpublished class notes in 327 Seminar in Old Testament Historical Literature, 1.

12 Note: Saul looked for donkeys and found a kingdom. The people looked for a king and found ________!

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines