The book of 1 Samuel (1 Samuel 1)

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We do not know who wrote 1 and 2 Samuel, which were named after the judge and prophet God used to establish Israel’s monarchy. Originally these separate sections comprised one book, which was divided into two parts by the translators of the Septuagint (early Greek translation of the Old Testament). Based upon the wide span of history covered in 1 and 2 Samuel – from the days of Eli (1 Samuel 1) to the ende of David’s reign (2 Samuel 24) – we know that no single writer or compiler could have been alive to record all of this information based upon direct knowledge.

Some features of 1 Samuel suggest that several independent, unedited sources, including firsthand accounts, were used, possibly at times verbatim, in the author’s compositions. Scholars sometimes speak of the “Succession Narrative” (2 Samuel 9-1 Kings 2) as being a single-source document, but this viewpoint is debated. The writers/compilers certainly referenced the historical records of Samuel, Saul and David.

The book of 1 Samuel (as well as its various sources) was evidently written at the end of David’s life and some point during Solomon’s reign. We cannot pinpoint exact dates because the data is insufficient to build a precise chronology. David’s birth and the length of his reign are certain (cf. 2 Samuel 5:4-5), but most other dates are not – including that of Saul’s ascension to the throne and the end of his reign. Adding to these chronological challenges is the lack of dates for Samuel’s birth and death. To complicate the situation still further, the editors/compilers of 1 Samuel did not always arrange their material in strict chronological sequence. The following proposed dates provide a helpful framework:

  • Birth of Samuel, about 1105 B.C.
  • Birth of Saul, about 1080 B.C.
  • Birth of David, 1040 B.C.
  • David anointed to be Saul’s successor, about 1025 B.C.
  • End of David’s reign, 970 B.C.

The original audience of 1 Samuel consisted of the Israelites who lived during the reigns of David and Solomon, as well as of their successive generations. The stories in this book spoke most directly to Israelites who lived while the monarchy was being established, particularly in light of the fact that the account legitimized God’s choice of David (1 Samuel 16:13).

During this period (ca. the eleventh century B.C.) no superpowers overshadowed the region now known as Palestine. Consequently, led by David, Israel used its opportunities to subdue other nations in Canaan. The Philistines, however, who lived in the coastal areas along the Mediterranean Sea, proved to be a resilient and persisting enemy. The book of 1 Samuel introduces Samuel and goes on to explore the tension between covenant loyalty to God and human kingship. King Saul generally disobeyed God, so God set plans in motion for David to become Israel’s next king.

As you read, watch events unfold as God answered Hannah’s devout prayer and then used her son Samuel to facilitate Isral’s transition from God’s direct covenant rule to a political system led by a human king as His representative. Notice the give-and-take between God and the people, who wanted a king like other nations. Samuel – the divinely ordained leader, prophet, priest and judge – played a key role in establishing kingship, despite his warning Israel of the inevitable negative consequences of her choice. Visualize this unrelenting servant of God urging the people to keep up their covenant obligations and emphasizing that king Saul and his future kings were ti be under God’s direct authority and law.

Follow David’s long, circuitous and difficult journey to the throne. Notice his unwavering loyalty to God; to Saul, Israel’s ordained king; and to Saul’s son Jonathan, David’s best friend and the apparent crown prince.

Did you know that the ancient Greeks, to whom the Philistines were apparently related, sometimes decided issues of war though chosen champions who met in combat between the armies? This “trial by battle ordeal” was based upon the belief that the gods of each amy actually fought or decided the battle (17:4). Did you know that using the normal conventions of Hebrew poetry – in which 10,000 was typically used as the parallel for 1,000 – the phrase “David his tens of thousands” was the women’s way of saying “Saul and David have slain thousands” (18:7)? Did you know that priests and diviners were sometimes forced, under penalty of death, to take oaths of loyalty to the king, committing to serve as his informants (22:9-18)? Did you know that grasping the hem of a garment symbolized loyalty, but cutting off a piece of a person’s robe signified disloyalty and rebellion (24:4-5)?


 

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