Lesson 1 of5
In Progress

Summary of 1 Samuel


First Samuel continues where Judges left off. The book of Ruth comes between them in English Bibles, but not in the Hebrew Bible. Chapters 1-3 present the birth, call, and early ministry of Samuel. Chapters 4-7 relate the “adventures” of the ark of the covenant as it falls into Philistine hands. Chapter 8 is a transitional chapter describing the people’s demand for a king. Samuel and Saul interact in chapters 9-15. First Samuel comes to a close with a long section recounting the power struggles between Saul and David in chapters 16-31.


The lives of Samuel, Saul, and David, presented so graphically with all the faults of the human condition, can serve as mirrors of our own humanity. Seeing how God works in and through these people can help us discern the activity of God in our own relationships with the Lord and with others.


First Samuel is the ninth book of the Old Testament; it follows Ruth and precedes 2 Samuel.


Ancient tradition identifies Samuel as the author of the first twenty-four chapters of 1 Samuel and asserts that the rest of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel were completed by Nathan and Gad. Today, many scholars believe that 1 and 2 Samuel are part of the Deuteronomistic History (DtrH) and that various older traditions have been gathered together and edited by a nameless exilic editor or editors.


The final event recorded in Kings occurred in 561 B.C.E. Since the return from Babylon (538 B.C.E.) is not recorded, one assumes that 1 Samuel reached its final form sometime between these two dates (561 and 538). It was written during the Babylonian exile as part of the Deuteronomistic History, though the older traditions that comprise much of the narrative are considerably earlier than this.


First Samuel recounts stories of Samuel, Saul, and David as they struggle with themselves, among each other, and with God, as Israel is transformed from a loose confederation of tribes led by the judges such as Gideon and Deborah to a nation ruled by a king.


First Samuel looks like a history of the new institution of kingship in Israel. While important historical information is presented, some of it is at odds with the presentation found in 1 Chronicles. Both Chronicles and Samuel should be read as theological, rather than historical, presentations of the early years of the monarchy. Samuel is part of a larger narrative (the Deuteronomistic History) designed to demonstrate the reasons for the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722/721 B.C.E. and Judah’s exile to Babylon in 587/586 B.C.E.

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