The general subject of I Samuel is the foundation and development of the Kingdom of Israel. The history of Samuel being intended to explain the circumstances which brought about the establishment of the monarchal form of government. The author is guided by a leading idea in the choice of his matter and that his main object is not to give a detailed history of the first two kings of Israel, but to relate the Providential foundation of a permanent royal dynasty in the family of David. By accounting Saul's reign the author shows that first he was elected then after a time was found wanting (by God), finally being rejected in favor of David. The history shows the struggle between David and Saul (and his house) is intended to reveal David as the chosen of the Lord, evidenced by being miraclously saved from imminent dangers and how he ultimately triumphed, while Saul perished with his house.
Evidence from Origen, St. Jerome, as well as by the Hebrew manuscripts, shows that First and Second Samuel were originally one: "Samuel". This title was chosen not only because Samuel is the principal figure in the opening chapters also because he had been a determining factor in the history of the whole historic period comprised by the book.
Dividing the larger work into two smaller one was done when the Septuagint was compiled, this was done to make smaller scrolls, (that the Greeks had introduced), which were a more convenient size.
The Book of Kings was divided at the same time, and the four books, being considered as a consecutive history of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, were named "Books of the Kingdoms" The vulgate retains the division into four books. The Hebrew text of the Books of Samuel and of the Books of Kings was first divided in Bomberg's edition of the rabbinical Bible (circa 1517), the individual books being distinguished as I Book of Samuel and II Book of Samuel, I Book of Kings and II Book of Kings. This nomenclature is found in the subsequent editions of the Hebrew Bible as well as the Authorized Version.
I-II Samuel comprise the history of Israel from the birth of Samuel to the close of David's public life; covering a period of about a hundred years. The first book contains the history of Samuel and of the reign of Saul. (Saul's death marks the division between the two books.) II Samuel is the history of the reign of David.
If we look at First and Second Samuel together, as one book as they were originally, the contents are easily divided into five main sections:
- 1-7, history of Samuel
- 8-15 the history of Saul's government
- 16-31, Saul and David
- II,1-20, history of the reign of David
- 21-24, epilogue and denouement. The division between 3 and 4 is sufficiently indicated by the death of Saul and by David's accession to power; the other sections are marked off by the summaries, 7:15-17; 14:47-58; 20:23-26
1 History of Samuel
The first chapter deals with Samuel's birth and consecration to the Lord. The second chapter opens with Hannah's Song, then a telling of the misdeeds of the sons of Eli and prediction of the downfall of his house, 2:12-36. Chapter 3, Samuel's call to the prophetic office; his first vision, in which the impending punishment of the house of Eli is revealed to him. The army of Israel is defeated by the Philistines, Ophni and Phinees are slain and the ark taken, and the death of Eli occurs when hearing of the death of his wicked sons. The ark is among the Philistines, but it is brought back to Bethsames due to afflictions occurring to the Philistines. The Ark is taken to Cariathiarim. Samuel as judge; he is instrumental in bringing the people back to the Lord and in inflicting a crushing defeat on the Philistines, 7:2-17.
2 History of Saul's Government
In Chapter 8 the people demand a king. Samuel reluctantly yields to their request. Saul, a strapping man, is looking for lost livestock and is privately anointed king by Samuel. Samuel gathers the people at Mizpah to elect a king; the lot falls on Saul, but he is not acknowledged by all. Saul defeats Naas, (the Ammonite king), and opposition to him ceases. Chapter 12 is Samuel's swansong to the people. 13 brings war against the Philistines and Saul's disobedience to God's command for which Samuel announces his rejection. 14: 1-46: Jonathan's exploit at Machmas; he is condemned to death for an involuntary breach of his father's orders, but is pardoned at the people's prayer. Verses 47-52 are the summary of Saul's wars; his family and chief commander. Chapter 15 War against Amalec, a second disobedience and final rejection of Saul
Saul and David
In chapter 16 one finds that David, the youngest son of Jesse, is anointed king at Bethlehem by Samuel. He is called to court to play before Saul to sooth a savage spirit that comes over him and is made his armour-bearer. Then comes the story of David and Goliath. Jonathan's friendship for David is related just as Saul's jealousy increases due to an evil spirit and his hearing the people singing songs lifting up David over him in battle. Saul throws a spear at David, but misses. Jonathan quells his father for a time. Saul tries to have David marry into his family, but David refuses as he is of low birth. Saul offers again with his younger daughter and sets a price in battle. David agrees and is successful and marries Saul's daughter, Michol. All the while Saul is hoping the Philistines will kill David, but instead David has triumph after triumph, renewing the enmity. Saul a second time attempts to kill David. Michol helps David to escape; he flees to Samuel at Ramatha. After Jonathan's effort at mediation fails, all hope of reconciliation is gone. David flees to Achis, King of Geth, stopping on the way at Nobe, where Achimelech gives him the loaves of proposition and the sword of Goliath. After being recognized at Geth he saves himself by feigning madness.
David as an Outlaw
David takes refuge in the cave of Adullam, and becomes the leader of a band of outlaws. He places his parents under the protection of the King of Moab. Saul kills Achimelech and the priests of Nobe (Chapter22). David delivers Ceila from the Philistines and avoids capture by Saul by fleeing to the desert of Ziph, there, he is visited by Jonathan.
David's star rises while Saul's Falls
By chapter 23 David is delivered by Providence when surrounded by Saul's men. In 24 David spares Saul's life in a cave of the desert of Engaddi, as he will not kill God's anointed king. Samuel dies. The episode of Nabal and Abigail where Abigail saves the household after the foolishness of her husband. He is stricken and Abigail becomes David's wife after her husband's death. During a new pursuit,in chapter 26, David enters Saul's camp at night and carries off his lance and cup. He becomes a vassal of Achis, from whom he receives Ziklag. He feigns raids in the territory of Judah and wars against the tribes of the south. 28 shows a new war with the Philistines and Saul's entreatment of the witch of Endor. 29 and 30 David accompanies the army of Achis, but is sent back when his loyalty was doubted by the Philistine chiefs. On his return he finds that Ziklag has been raided by the Amalecites and Abigail carried off with other prisoners. He pursues the marauders and recovers the prisoners and the booty. 31:The Battle of Gelboe against the Philistines causes the death of Saul and Jonathan. Those seeking favor with David for saying they killed Saul are themselves slain for taking the life of God's anointed.
Author and dateI Samuel, up to chapter 24, is ascribed to this prophet the part referring to his time. Chapters 25 and following are attributed to the prophets Gad and Nathan as ascertained by the rabbinical tradition and most of the older Christian writers. This view is evidently based on I Chronicles 29:29:
"Now the acts of David the king, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of Samuel the seer, and in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the book of Gad the seer..."This wording of the text might lead one to conclude that there are three distinct works, with the works of Nathan and Gad not having survived to modern day and not being incorporated as part of the Bible. The internal unity of the book excludes composite authorship. Hummelauer suggests that there was a redactor who combined the works and that this redactor is the prophet Nathan. This view is doubtful though as the work can hardly be placed so early. Others attribute it to Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel. None of these opinions rests on any solid ground therefore it is best to say that the author is unknown.
The date of composition is assigned by some (Hummelauer e.g.) it to the last days of David. According to recent critics it belongs to the seventh century B.C., but received retouches as late as the fifth or even the fourth century B.C. No sufficient data are at hand to fix a precise date. We can, however, assign cedrtain limits of time within which the work must have been composed. The explanation concerning the dress of the king's daughters in David's time (II Sam 13:18) supposes that a considerable period had elapsed in the interval. It also points to a date later than Solomon, during whose reign a change in the style of dress was most likely introduced by his foreign wives. How much later is indicated by the remark of I Samuel 27:6: "For which reason Ziklag belongeth to the kings of Judah unto this day." The expression "kings of Judah" implies that at the time of writing the Kingdom of Israel had been divided, which occurred under Solomon's son, and that at least two or three kings had reigned over Judah alone. The earliest date cannot, therefore, be placed before the reign of Abiam. The latest date, on the other hand, must be prior to Josiahs' reforms (621 B.C.).
The author repeatedly records without rebuke or comment, violations of the Pentateuchal law regarding sacrifices. Now it is not likely that he would have acted thus if he had written after these practices had been abolished and their unlawfulness impressed on the people, since at this time his readers would have taken scandal at the violation of the Law by such a person as Samuel, and at the toleration of unlawful rites by a king like David. The force of this reason will be seen if we consider how the author of I-II Kings, who wrote after Josias's reform, censures every departure from the Law in this respect or, as in 1 Kings 3:2, explains it:Only the people sacrificed in high places, because there was no house built unto the name of the LORD, until those days. The purity of language speaks for an early rather than a late date within the above limits.
It is recognized that the author of I-II Samuel made use of written documents in composing his work. One such document, "The Book of the Jasher (Just)", is mentioned in connection with David's lament over Saul and Jonathan (II Sam 1:18). The canticle of Hannah (I Sam 2:1-10), David's hymn of thanksgiving (II Sam 22:2-51; cf. Psalm 17), and his "last words" were very probably also drawn from a written source. But besides these minor sources, the writer must have had at hand, at least for the history of David, a document containing much of the historical matter which he narrates. This we infer from the passages common to I-II Kings and the First Book of Chronicles, which are shown in the following list:– I Sam 31 II Sam 3:2-5 II Sam 5:1-10 II Sam 5:11-25 II Sam 6:1-11 II Sam 6:12-23
I Chronicles 10:1-12 I Chronicles 3:1-4 I Chronicles 11:1-9 I Chronicles 13:1-14 I Chronicles 14:1-16 I Chronicles 15:25-29 I Chronicles 16:1-3, 43
Although these passages often agree word for word, the differences are such that the author of I Chronicles, the later writer, cannot be said to have copied from I-II Samuel and it must concluded that both authors made use of the same document. This seems to have been an official record of important public events and of matters pertaining to the administration, such as was probably kept by the court "recorder" (2 Samuel 8:16; 20:24), and is very likely the same as the "Chronicles of King David" (1 Chronicles 27:24). To this document we may add three others mentioned in 1 Chronicles 29:29 as sources of information for the history of David, namely, the "Book of Samuel", the "Book of Gad", and the "Book of Nathan". These were works of the three Prophets, as we gather from 2 Chronicles 9:29; 12:15; 20:34, etc.
Samuel very probably furnished the matter for his own history and for part of Saul's; Gad, David's companion in exile, the details of that part of David's life, as well as of his early days as king; and Nathan, information concerning the latter part, or even the whole, of his reign. Thus between them they would have fairly covered the period.
Besides these four documents other sources may occasionally have been used. A comparison of the passages of I-II Sam and I Chronicles given in the list above shows further that both writers transferred their source to their own pages. Since one did not copy from the other, the agreement between them cannot be explained except on the supposition that they more or less reproduce the same (third) document.
According to recent liberal critics, I-II Samuel is nothing but a compilation of different narratives so unskillfully combined that they may be separated with relative ease. In spite of this supposed ease in distinguishing the different elements, critics are not in agreement as to the number of sources, nor as to the source to which certain passages are to be ascribed - and therefore cast strong doubt on their claims.