Intruduction to the Book of Samuel

2      2016-06-22     Audio

The Title of the Book

First and Second Samuel originally constituted one book, the Book of Samuel. Combined with the Book of the Kings, these two works were considered the Books of the 'Kingdoms' (Basileiōn).

The Book of Samuel was divided into two subdivisions apparently as a result of the expansion that took place during its translation into Greek for the Septuagint (LXX). "The Greek's use of vowel letters, a practice absent from Hebrew, effectively forced the translated manuscript to be approximately twice the length of the original document" (Bergen, 18). The result was a total of four subdivisions designated by the LXX as the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Books of the Kingdoms. Later the Latin Vulgate reduced the base name to 'Kings', rendering the book titles as First Kings, Second Kings, Third Kings, and Fourth Kings. In this arrangement, First and Second Kings of the Latin Vulgate correspond to First and Second Samuel in our Bibles, and Third and Fourth Kings correspond to our First and Second Kings.

The name, Samuel (שמואלא), is the title designated by the earliest Hebrew manuscripts, identifying the man that God used to establish kingship in Israel.


The Book of Samuel was written anonymously, though Jewish tradition clearly points to the prophet Samuel. Merrill says, "one can hardly doubt that Samuel himself may have written or supplied information for 1 Samuel 1:1–25:1, all of which describes his life and career up to and including his death" (Merrill, 430–431).

The best evidence suggests that the Book of Samuel was written by the prophets Samuel, Nathan, and Gad (see 1 Chronicles 29:29). The prominence of Samuel as a spiritual leader and influence in the establishment and life of Israel's first anointed kingship is evident:

  • Jer 15:1 - Then the LORD said to me, "Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go!
  • 1 Sam 10:25 - Then Samuel told the people the rights and duties of the kingship, and he wrote them in a book and laid it up before the LORD. Then Samuel sent all the people away, each one to his home.


There is no explicit textual indication of the date of the Book of Samuel. However, we do know that Saul's kingship began in 1050 B.C. Furthermore, we know that Samuel anointed Saul king when "Samuel became old" (1 Sam 8:1)—a reference that most scholars agree suggests an age somewhere near 50 to 60 years. If this is accurate, that would place Samuel's birth around 1110 B.C. This means that the Book of Samuel (including our 1 and 2 Samuel) covers approximately 140 years of history.


  • "Like an intricately cut diamond, the functions are understood to be multifaceted. Samuel was simultaneously a historical work, literary art, apologetic literature, a theological treatise, and Holy Scripture" (Bergen, 27).
  • "A major purpose of Samuel, then, is to define monarchy as a gracious gift of God to his chosen people" (Youngblood, 558).
  • "The purpose of these four books [1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings] was to record the founding of the Hebrew monarchy, and its varying fortunes and ultimate demise in 587 B.C." (Archer, 311).

Historical Purpose

To present an historical narrative of Israel’s transition from a theocratic confederacy to a theocratic monarchy; God’s kingship to God’s king.
1 Samuel

  • To provide a record of transition between confederacy to monarchy; from judgeship to kingship; from Samuel to Saul.
  • To document the reign of the first king of God’s kingdom.

2 Samuel

  • To provide a narrative of God’s chosen king, David.
  • To document the establishment of God's kingship covenant and the appointment of the capital of His kingdom.

Theological Purpose

The central purpose is theological. The history communicated is cast in a theological perspective that served as a framework for understanding Israel’s past, inspire God-ward living and guidance in the present, and furnish hope for the future.

God is the only true King, obedience the only wise course, and God’s Kingdom will come with God’s King.

  • To call attention to the failure of man-centered government—human autonomy (both anarchy and democracy) and human sovereignty (including autocracy)—and illustrate in order to anticipate God’s ultimate Kingdom with God’s ultimate King.
  • To call God’s people in the present to live with increasing anticipation for God’s Kingdom and King.
  • To demonstrate that God alone is man’s true King and God’s Kingdom man’s heaven.

Background and Setting


Confederation of tribal territories devoid of unity within and preoccupied without with enemy invasion and domination. Under God’s prototype king (David), Israel had become “the most powerful kingdom in the eastern Mediterranean region, strong at home and secure abroad.”


Idolatry marked the people (Ex 23:24; 34:13; Dt 12:3) — Samuel reforms and purifies the worship of YHWH in Israel. David is instrumental in establishing the central place for the worship of the One true God.The defeat of the Philistines signals the purging of paganism in Israel.

Presiding priesthood was corrupt (1 Sam 2:12, 17, 25; 2:35) — The loss of the Ark of the Covenant in 1 Sam 4 is a key indicator of the spiritual state of the priesthood of Israel at that time (see 1 Sam 4:21). Zadok is High priest (leading the Ark to Jerusalem).

Worshipped at the Tabernacle located in an unremarkable setting — David purchases the site that will host the magnificent Temple.

“Sweeping change, then, is a hallmark of the Samuel narratives—change guided and energized by the Lord himself through fragile vessels of the likes of Samuel, Saul, and David” (Youngblood, 560).