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The books of 1 & 2 Samuel fall together naturally as a unit and originally constituted a single book. Together they cover the period of the transition from the judges through the establishment of the monarchy, including the reigns of Saul and David.

Although the Septuagint combines the books of Samuel with the books of Kings under the title "Kingdoms," the Hebrew traditionally has referred to these books as the books of Samuel in recognition of the significant role of the prophet Samuel in the establishment of the monarchy.

Key Ideas: (1) The institution of kingship; (2) The process toward establishing a covenant with David's line; (3) The importance of divine kingship.

Purpose Statement

The purpose of the books of Samuel is to tell the story of the establishment of the kingship covenant with David. God's plan was to have an earthly king who would give a good example of what God's kingship was like. David is shown to be the legitimate choice of God, but also is shown to have been at times an obstacle rather than an instrument of God's rule.


Israel Monarchy

The Writing of the Book

The events of the book took place in the last half of the eleventh century and the early part of the tenth century B.C., but it is difficult to determine when the events were recorded. There are no particularly persuasive reasons to date the sources used by the compiler later than the events themselves, and good reason to believe that contemporary records were kept (cf. 2 Sam. 20:24–25). If the books are part of a larger “Deuteronomistic” work, the compiler would have worked late in the period of the divided monarchy.

The Background

Sources for this period of history are scarce. Neither Egypt nor Mesopotamia was in any position to look beyond its borders, so smaller nations of Syro-Palestine were left to squabble among themselves. Threats to Israel posed especially by the Philistines necessitated a greater amount of cooperation among the tribes than was the case previously, and these are directly responsible for the decision to switch to a monarchic form of government

Saul had occasional victories over the Philistines, but he died in the battle at Mount Gilboa and the Philistines overran at least the central portion of Palestine. It was left to David, therefore, to drive out the Philistines. David was also successful in extending Israelite control over most of Syro-Palestine through a series of conquests and treaties.

Theological Theme: God's kingship and the Davidic covenant.

Major Themes

  1. The Ark of the Covenant:
    1. The ark of the covenant was the most important religious artifact in Israel. Built at Sinai under the supervision of Moses, it represented Yahweh’s presence in their midst. Occupying the place in the temple that was given over to the idol of the deity in most of the religions of the ancient Near East, the ark was nevertheless considered only the footstool of Yahweh’s throne.
    2. One reason why idols were prohibited in Israelite religious practice is that they were commonly used in pagan rituals to obligate or force the deity to act in the way desired by the worshipers. Unfortunately the ark was at times subject to this same abuse. The foremost example of this, recorded in 1 Samuel 4, occurred when the sons of Eli decided to take the ark into battle in an attempt to assure their victory over the Philistines. The theory was that a deity would not allow himself to be captured. But the Lord was not going to respond to such manipulation. It was the Lord himself who directed the comings and goings of the ark. The ark was not really taken captive, but instead departed from Israel (1 Sam. 4:21).
    3. Likewise, when the time came, the ark returned to Israel on a cart without a driver (1 Sam. 6:10–16). There was even an abortive reinstallation attempt when the ark was not handled properly (2 Sam. 6:1–11), leaving David to wonder how the ark could come to him (v. 9). All of this demonstrated the autonomy of the ark; it operated only at the initiative of the Lord.
    4. From the havoc wreaked in Philistia by the presence of the ark (1 Sam. 5), to the destruction in Israelite Beth Shemesh for profaning the ark when it returned from Philistia (1 Sam. 6:19–20), to the punishment of Uzzah when David was trying to bring the ark to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6), the ark is seen to be much more than a relic. There was no other physical object that had the endowment of Yahweh’s presence as the ark did. We can therefore see that the successful installation of the ark in Jerusalem at the beginning of David’s reign was not simply a ritual, but designated the Lord’s approval of the new era and his favor on David. This theology of the ark is supported in Psalm 78:54–72.
  2. Kingship:
    1. From a Biblical standpoint, kingship over Israel was the prerogative of Yahweh (Judg. 8:23; 1 Sam. 8:7; 12:12). The function of the king was to maintain justice, both in a domestic sense in society and in an international sense by means of an effective military force. In the judges period the Lord raised up and empowered individuals to accomplish this purpose. The people of Samuel’s day viewed kingship as a more permanent office that would eliminate the need to wait for the Lord to raise up a deliverer.
    2. It was this perspective on kingship that caused the Lord to be angry. There was nothing wrong with having a monarchic form of government. We should remember that even as early as the Abrahamic covenant it was promised that kings would come from Abraham’s family (Gen. 17:6). Likewise, the appointment of a king was anticipated in the book of Deuteronomy (17:14–20). The crime of the people, then, was not their request for a king, but their expectation that a human king could succeed where they believed the Lord had failed.
    3. Saul was chosen as the one who would “go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Sam. 8:20). That this view was ultimately flawed is shown in 1 Samuel 17. There we learn that Saul was unwilling to fight the Israelites’ battles for them, so he offered a reward to anyone who would go out and fight Goliath. In contrast, the true king—David—fully realized that it was the Lord who fought their battles for them (1 Sam. 17:37, 46). A proper monarchy still had to function as a theocracy rather than replace it. The king was to be viewed as the earthly head of God’s theocratic kingdom.
  3. Davidic Covenant: 
    1. What did the Lord promise David?
      1. First, the Lord promised to make David's name great (2 Sam. 7:9). This was similar to the promise made to Abraham (cf. Gen. 12:2), so immediately a parallel is seen between these two great covenants. Second, the Lord promised a place in which he would plant Israel (2 Sam. 7:10), and again, a parallel can be seen in the promise of land to Abraham. The further promise to make the land a place of security (2 Sam. 7:10-11) is reminiscent of the Lord's promise that he would curse those who cursed Abraham (Gen. 12:3).
      2. The first part of the Davidic covenant merely positions David in the line of Abraham and shows the subordination of that covenant to the Davidic covenant. The departure from the Abrahamic covenant begins in 2 Sam. 7:12. There it is promised that David's descendant would be established on the throne after him. David's successor would construct the temple that David had so much wanted to build (2 Sam. 7:1-7). The Lord would have a parental relationship with him that evokes discipline rather than rejection (2 Sam. 7:14). Furthermore, this successor would also have the opportunity to extend the terms of the covenant to his successor.
      3. The terminology used indicates that this Davidic covenant would be better be described as open-ended rather than eternal. The word translated "forever" in vv. 13 and 16 is the same word used with regard to the covenant of Eli and his house in 1 Sam. 2:30. Yet it is clear that the covenant could be cut off by the Lord in the case of insubordination.
      4. With this understood as an open-ended covenant, what was guaranteed to David was that his son would succeed him and would not be rejected (as Saul had been). The potential existed for continuation beyond that point, but there were no guarantees. That David understood the terms indicated in 2 Sam. 7:29, where David prayed that the Lord might be pleased to extend blessings continuously to his line.
    2.  Was the Davidic covenant conditional or unconditional?
      1. It has been noted that there are no conditions set on the covenant in 2 Sam. 7. This only means that the promises made to David were unconditional. However, the covenant was subject to periodic renewal, so we would expect that there must have been criteria by which it was decided whether or not the covenant would be renewed to the next generation.
      2. Indeed, such conditions became clearly evident when the covenant was discussed with Solomon. In 1 Kings 2:4, David instructed Solomon about the covenant; in 1 Kings 6:12 and 9:4-5, the Lord spoke to Solomon about it; and in 1 Kings 8:25, Solomon reported his understanding of the covenant in his prayer of dedication for the temple.
      3. Conditions are clearly stated in each of these passages: "If you walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as your father David did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, "'You shall never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel'" (1 Kings 9:4-5).
      4. The Bible clearly states, then, that David was promised unconditionally that his son would succeed him and serve a full term, but the terms beyond that were conditional on the conduct of his son. The potential existed for unlimited continuity. Most scholars state that there were no conditions placed on David because he had already met the conditions.
    3.  What impact did the covenant have on the rest of Israelite history?
      1. When Solomon failed to meet the conditions of the covenant, did it become null and void? This issue is addressed in 1 Kings 11:32-39. Vv. 34-35 imply that allowing Solomon to remain on the throne for all his days fulfilled the promise made to David. The Lord was free to take the kingdom from him and give it someone else.
      2. However, as an act of grace, not of obligation, the Lord promised to leave one tribe under the control of David's line (cf. 1 Kings 11:36). This was not required by the covenant arrangements in 2 Sam. 7, but was done for the sake of David.
      3. The hope that someday a Davidic king would come who would meet the conditions and bring the restoration of the full Davidic covenant was the foundation for the messianic theology as displayed in the prophets.
      4. Jeremiah 33:14-22 is the clearest statement of this, presenting a renewal of the Davidic covenant through an ideal Davidic king. Rather than a new David, this individual could be construed as a new Solomon, a shoot growing out of a cut-off stump (Cf. Is. 11:1). 
      5. This view of the Davidic covenant helps us to understand the long history from the fall of Jerusalem even to the present, during which time there has been on Davidic king on the throne. The New Testament came to recognize Jesus as the one who would bring the renewal of the Davidic covenant. By meeting the conditions, the way was cleared for a truly eternal kingdom.

Narrative Emphasis

Outline of 1 & 2 Samuel
I.    The Lord Raises up Samuel and Deposes the House of Eli (1:1–7:17)
1.    The Lord Rewards Hannah’s Faith (1:1–2:11)
    (1)    The Lord Opens Hannah’s Womb (1:1–20)
    (2)    Hannah Dedicates Samuel to the Lord’s Service (1:21–28)
    (3)    Hannah Rejoices in the Lord (2:1–10)
    (4)    Young Samuel Ministers before the Lord (2:11)
2.    The Lord Blesses Hannah’s Family, Judges Eli’s Family (2:12–36)
    (1)    Eli’s Sons Treat the Lord’s Offerings with Contempt (2:12–17)
    (2)    Samuel Ministers before the Lord as His Family Receives the Lord’s Blessing (2:18–21)
    (3)    The Lord Determines to Kill Eli’s Sons for Their Sins (2:22–25)
    (4)    Samuel Grows in Favor before the Lord (2:26)
    (5)    Judgment Is Pronounced against the House of Eli (2:27–36)
3.    The Lord Makes Samuel Israel’s Prophet (3:1–22)
    (1)    The Lord Reveals to Samuel His Judgment against the House of Eli (3:1–18)
    (2)    The Lord Makes Samuel a Prophet to All Israel (3:19–4:1a)
4.    The House of Eli Is Devastated as the Ark of God Is Captured (4:1b–22)
    (1)    The Philistines Kill Eli’s Sons and Capture the Ark (4:1b–11)
    (2)    Eli Dies; Ichabod Is Born (4:12–22)
5.    The Lord Triumphs during Samuel’s Career (5:1–7:17)
    (1)    The Lord Overwhelms the Philistine’s God (5:1–6:12)
    (2)    The Lord Judges Irreverent Israelites (6:13–7:1)
    (3)    The Lord Routs the Philistines’ Army (7:2–17)
II.    The Lord Gives Israel a King “Such As All Other Nations Have” (8:1–14:51)
1.    Samuel’s Sons Are Rejected as Judges (8:1–3)
2.    Israel’s Elders Demand a King (8:4–6)
3.    The Lord Grants the Elders’ Sinful Request (8:7–22)
4.    The Lord Selects Saul as King over Israel (9:1–12:25)
    (1)    Saul Is Introduced (9:1–21)
    (2)    Saul Is Honored (9:22–25)
    (3)    Saul Is Privately Anointed (9:26–10:8)
    (4)    Saul Is Overpowered by God’s Spirit (10:9–13)
    (5)    Saul Conceals His Anointing and Empowerment (10:14–16)
    (6)    Saul Is Installed as King (10:17–27)
    (7)    Saul Delivers Jabesh from the Ammonites (11:1–11)
    (8)    Israel Confirms Saul’s Kingship at Gilgal (11:12–15)
    (9)    Samuel Admonishes Israel to Avoid Further Disobedience of God (12:1–25)
5.    Saul Demonstrates His Unfitness to Be Israel’s King (13:1–14:46)
    (1)    Saul Disobeys the Lord’s Command to Wait for Samuel (13:1–16a)
    (2)    Saul Makes a Foolish Vow before the Lord (13:16b–14:46)
6.    Saul’s Achievements and Family Line Are Summarized (14:47–52)
III.    The Lord Gives Israel a King “After His Own Heart” (15:1–1:27)
1.    The Lord Rejects Saul (15:1–35)
2.    The Lord Elevates and Empowers David (16:1–13)
    (1)    The Lord Has Samuel Anoint David (16:1–13a)
    (2)    The Lord’s Spirit Comes upon David Powerfully (16:13b)
3.    The Lord Blesses David, the Courtier, but Frustrates Saul (16:14–20:42)
    (1)    The Lord Oppresses Saul and Uses David to Bring Deliverance (16:14–23)
    (2)    David Rescues Israel from a Philistine Giant (17:1–58)
    (3)    The House of Saul Honors Saul and Elevates David (18:1–5)
    (4)    Saul Begins to Perceive David as a Threat (18:6–9)
    (5)    Saul Attempts Unsuccessfully to Murder David (18:10–12)
    (6)    David Becomes Saul’s Son-in-Law (18:13–30)
    (7)    Saul Attempts to Have Jonathan Murder David (19:1–7)
    (8)    David Continues to Defeat the Philistines (19:8)
    (9)    Saul Again Attempts to Murder David (19:9–10)
    (10)    Michal Rescues David from Saul (19:11–17)
    (11)    God’s Spirit Rescues David from Saul and His Troops (19:18–24)
    (12)    Jonathan Protects and Covenants with David (20:1–42)
4.    The Lord Blesses David the Fugitive but Judges Saul (21:1–29:11)
    (1)    The Lord’s Priest at Nob Assists David (21:1–9)
    (2)    David Is Saved from the Philistines (21:10–15)
    (3)    David Receives Assistance from the King of Moab (22:1–5)
    (4)    Saul Slaughters the Lord’s Priests at Nob (22:6–19)
    (5)    David Rescues the Lord’s Priest Abiathar (22:20–23)
    (6)    David Rescues Keilah from the Philistines (23:1–6)
    (7)    David Escapes from Saul in the Arabah (23:7–29)
    (8)    David Spares Saul at En Gedi (24:1–22)
    (9)    Aside: Samuel’s Death Is Noted (25:1)
    (10)    The Lord Spares David from Sin against Nabal (25:2–44)
    (11)    David Spares Saul at the Hill of Hakilah (26:1–25)
    (12)    David Hides from Saul and Resumes Israel’s Conquest of Canaan (27:1–12)
    (13)    David Becomes Achish’s Bodyguard (28:1–2)
    (14)    Saul Consults a Medium (28:3–25)
    (15)    David Is Exempted from Fighting against Israel’s Forces (29:1–11)
5.    David Conquers the Amalekites as the Philistines Defeat Saul (30:1–31:13)
    (1)    David Defeats the Amalekites (30:1–31)
    (2)    The Philistines Devastate Israel and the House of Saul (31:1–13)
6.    David Responds to Tragedy in the House of Saul (2 Sam 1:1–27)
    (1)    David Executes Saul’s Killer (1:1–16)
    (2)    David Laments Devastation in the House of Saul (1:17–27)
IV.    David Reigns as King (2:1–20:26)
1.    The Judahites Anoint David King at Hebron (2:1–4a)
2.    David Woos Supporters of the House of Saul (2:4b–7)
3.    The House of Saul Relinquishes Its Claim on Israel’s Throne (2:8–4:12)
    (1)    Abner Establishes Ish-Bosheth as King over Israel (2:8–11)
    (2)    Conflict Erupts between the Houses of Saul and David (2:12–3:1)
    (3)    David Builds His Family in Hebron (3:2–5)
    (4)    Abner Switches His Loyalty to David (3:6–21)
    (5)    Joab Murders Abner (3:22–27)
    (6)    David Proves His Innocence in Abner’s Death (3:28–39)
    (7)    Recab and Baanah Murder Ish-Bosheth (4:1–7)
    (8)    David Executes Ish-Bosheth’s Murderers (4:8–12)
4.    All the Tribes of Israel Anoint David King at Hebron (5:1–5)
5.    The Lord Blesses David (5:6–10:19)
    (1)    David Conquers Jerusalem (5:6–8)
    (2)    The Lord Blesses David as King in Jerusalem (5:9–16)
    (3)    David Defeats the Philistines Twice (5:17–25)
    (4)    David Brings the Ark of God to Jerusalem (6:1–23)
    (5)    David Desires to Build a Temple for the Lord (7:1–3)
    (6)    The Lord Makes Eternal Promises to the House of David (7:4–17)
    (7)    David Praises the Lord (7:18–29)
    (8)    The Lord Gives David Victory Over All His Enemies (8:1–14)
    (9)    David Establishes a Righteous and Just Administration (8:15–18)
    (10)    David Fulfills His Commitment to Jonathan (9:1–13)
    (11)    David Conquers an Ammonite-led Coalition (10:1–19)
6.    The Lord Judges David (11:1–20:26)
    (1)    David Does Evil in the Lord’s Sight (11:1–27)
    (2)    Nathan Announces the Lord’s Judgment and Forgiveness (12:1–14)
    (3)    The Lord Expresses Judgment and Forgiveness (12:15–25)
    (4)    David Defeats and Subjects the Ammonites (12:26–31)
    (5)    Amnon Rapes Tamar (13:1–22)
    (6)    Absalom Murders Amnon, Then Flees to Geshur (13:23–39)
    (7)    David Is Reconciled with Absalom (14:1–33)
    (8)    Absalom Leads a Treasonous Revolt against David (15:1–12)
    (9)    David Goes into Exile beyond the Jordan River (15:13–17:29)
    (10)    David’s Forces Quell Absalom’s Revolt (18:1–19:8)
    (11)    David Returns to Jerusalem (19:9–43)
    (12)    Sheba Revolts Unsuccessfully against David (20:1–22)
    (13)    Aside: David’s Key Administrative Officials (20:23–26)
V.    Aside: Illustrations of David’s Roles in His Relationship with the Lord (21:1–24:25)
1.    David Ends a Divinely Sent Famine (21:1–14)
2.    Loyal and Heroic Soldiers of David—I (21:15–22)
3.    David Utters a Hymn of Praise to the Lord (22:1–51)
    (1)    Praise for the Lord (22:1–4)
    (2)    The Lord’s Deliverance of David—I (22:5–20)
    (3)    Reasons for David’s Deliverance (22:21–29)
    (4)    The Lord’s Deliverance of David—II (22:30–46)
    (5)    Praise for the Lord (22:47–50)
    (6)    Postscript: The Lord’s Enduring Support for the House of David (22:51)
4.    David Utters His Last Oracle (23:1–7)
5.    Loyal and Heroic Soldiers of David—II (23:8–39)
6.    David Stops a Divinely Sent Plague (24:1–25)