The first book of Samuel is dated more than three centuries after Joshua led the people of Israel into the land of Canaan – their “Promised Land”. This book covers a period of about one hundred years, marking the transition between the period of the Judges and the monarchy in Israel. It speaks of the birth of the prophet Samuel, the election of Saul as the first king of Israel, the birth of David, the succession of David as king after Saul and the deaths of Samuel and Saul.
The prophet Samuel had a unique role within the nation of Israel, during this time when the nation was transitioning from being guided by priests to be ruled by kings. Samuel informs Eli the High Priest of his rejection (ch 2–3); he warns Israel that life under the rulership of a king could be quite harsh (ch 8); he anoints Saul as king and subsequently informs him of his rejection (ch 9, 13, 15); and finally he anoints David as king over Israel (ch 16)
Samuel, whose name means “God hears” (1 Samuel 1:20), was lent to God for his entire life (1 Samuel 1:28) and was used by God to guide the nation in an age of declining morals. Like the later books of Kings and Chronicles, the two books of Samuel were just one book until its translation into Greek (third century BC). Undoubtedly Samuel did write a book (1 Samuel 10:25; 1 Chronicles 29:29), but he could not have been the editor of the two books that carry his name as his death is recorded in 1 Samuel 25:1.
The General Theme
It was during this time in Israel’s history, that the priesthood was replaced by a monarchy. This monarchy was foretold by God (Genesis 17:6; Deuteronomy 17:14-20), but it came with many perils for the nation. In wanting to have a king like the nations around them, the people of Israel did not reject Samuel, but rejected the nation’s true head who was God (1 Samuel 8:1-9).
The narrative of this book describes the replacement of many roles:
- Eli’s priesthood was replaced by the priesthood of the family of Zadok (ch 2);
- When the sons of Samuel behaved badly, God raised up a king (ch 8);
- When Saul ceased to be humble (ch13–15), God chose David a man after His own heart (ch16);
- When Saul was overtaken with jealousy (ch 18) and occultism (ch 20), he was removed as king (ch 31).
This theme is clearly seen in Hannah’s song (the faithful mother of Samuel):
The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up. The Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and he hath set the world upon them. He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall he thunder upon them: the Lord shall judge the ends of the earth; and he shall give strength unto his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed, 1 Samuel 2:6-10.
Applications to the Lord Jesus Christ in the Narrative of the Books of Samuel
There are many illusions to the Lord Jesus Christ in the lives of Old Testament Bible characters and the book of Samuel contains a number of these:
- Samuel as a priest, judge and prophet, illustrated these roles that Jesus Christ would later perform – Hebrews 4:14-16; Acts 17:31 cp Deuteronomy 18:15.
- David as a man after God’s own heart 1 Samuel 13:14, showed the type of man Jesus would be as son of God cp Matthew 17:5. David was an ancestor of the Messiah Matthew 1:1; Romans 1:3, who will one day be the future king of kings Revelation 19:16; 22:16.
Section 1 Chapters 1–8
- Samuel the faithful judge in the time of the unfaithful priest Eli
- Samuel’s childhood and his role as judge
Section 2 Chapters 9–16
- Saul an ambitious king in the time of the humble prophet Samuel
- Saul’s reign over Israel and his expulsion from the monarchy
Section 3 Chapters 16–31
- David a servant of integrity, rejected by the faithless king Saul