You will find an introduction and outline to 1 Samuel here.
A prayer to use before reading from the liturgy of John Chrysostom, 4th century:
Incomprehensible Creator, the true Fountain of light and only Author of all knowledge: deign, we beseech Thee, to enlighten our understanding, and to remove from us all darkness of sin and ignorance. Thou, who makest eloquent the tongues of those who lack utterance, direct our tongues, and pour on our lips the grace of thy blessing. Give us a diligent and obedient spirit, quickness of apprehension, capacity of retaining, and the powerful assistance of Thy holy grace; that what we hear or learn we may apply to Thy honor and the eternal salvation of our own souls. Amen
An Outline of First Samuel ( from Birch)
A. 1 Samuel 1:1-7:17 Samuel and the Crisis of Israel: 1 Samuel 1-7 begins the story and sets the stage for the changes that will happen to Israel. Israel will move from a place of danger and insecurity to the security of the kingship of David. There are both internal and external threats to Israel and both are present in these chapters. Also we have the beginning of the story of Samuel.
There are three distinctive parts in these chapters, 1-3 on the birth of Samuel and on the corruption of Eli’s house, the internal threat to Israel. Chapter 4-6 are about the external threat, the Philistines and chapter 7 on the leadership of Samuel. Notice that Samuel is not present in chapters 4-6. This is one of the clues that scholars use when looking at different sources.
1:1-4:1a Samuel and the Word of the Lord: The book begins with the story of one family and and old priest. Notice how much God’s actions and sovereignty are emphasized in the story.Why do you think the book begins with the moral and leadership threat to Israel rather than the political threat of the Philistines? Recall, as you read this story of the other stories about barren women we have read so far and will read (i.e. Mary)
1Samuel 1:1-28 The Birth of Samuel. Barren women were thought to lack favor with God. The names of the wives are interesting, Hannah meaning “charming or attractive” and Peninnah meaning “fertile or prolific”. Recall previous stories of barrenness and discord between wives (Sarah and Hagar, Rachel and Leah)Some commentators also note that in addition to being the story of one family, this story is also a sort a parable about Israel and it’s historical situation. Israel is anxious about having no King in spite of God’s love and care. Rival nations taunt Israel about it’s lack of a king.
Remember the earlier Nazirite we read about, Samson.
1 Samuel 2:1-10 The Song of Hannah: notice how this song connects the narratives that have come before and what will follow. The number seven, in reference to children, probably uses the number 7 as representing fulfillment and completion not actual children. Hannah sings as the mother of Samuel but also as a mother in Israel. In the first part of the song the focus is on what God has done for Hannah, the second part is focused on what God has done for Israel.”My horn is raised” is an idom referring to strength and power. You might find it interesting to read Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55 and notice the similarities.
1 Samuel 2:11-36 Corruption of the House of Eli: Notice how the corruption of Eli’s sons is contrasted to the goodness of Samuel. Verses 13-14 refer to the practice of providing the priest’s portion of meat. Normally when the meat was boiling a fork was put in and whatever came out on the fork was the priest’s portion. Eli’s sons would send a servant to get a choice cut before it was boiled. The fatty portions were particularly reserved for God. Even though the “Man of God” in verse 27 is not called a prophet, he delivers a prophetic pronouncement.
1 Samuel 3:1-4:1a The Call of Samuel:More than simply a “call story” this section also chronicles the judgement of and removal of Eli and his house as priests. The sections starts by telling us that the “word of the Lord” was rare. Samuel will turn out to be one through whom the word of the Lord comes to Israel. Samuel’s call is, strictly speaking, more of a theophany- a report of God appearing in the human world. A word of judgement against Eli and his sons is given to Samuel and he has the task of delivering this judgement to Eli. Notice Eli’s acceptance of Samuel’s statement. The roles are reversed and now Eli receives instruction from Samuel.In verse 19 the statement “let none of his words fall to the ground” means that Samuel’s words are trustworthy and true. His is the Lord’s prophet.
4:1b- 7:1 The Philistine Crisis and the Capture of the Ark: These chapters are sometimes called the “Ark Narrative” Notice how the emphasis has changed from the preceding chapters. Samuel is not mentioned. The story now focuses on the external threat of the Philistines. It was typical in the ancient Near East for victors to take the images of the loser’s gods as a spoil of war. Displaying the images in the victor’s nations’ temple was also common. Often the images were eventually returned. But the event of taking the image was an expression of the superiority of the “winning” god. The return of the image was understood by the nation as the god’s desire to return to its people and not a magnanimous gesture by the victor. The Ark was not an image of God but it did represent God’s presence.
1 Samuel 4:1b-22 The Philistines, the Ark, and the House of Eli: We are not given a reason for the battle with the Philistines. The Philistines came to the coastal plain southwest of Israel territory in the late thirteenth century BC as part of an invasion of sea people. They were the ruling class of the Canannites.
The Ark was a box or chest which contained the tablets of the law given to Moses. The Ark was also a sign of the presence of God. God was invisibly enthroned over the Ark. Notice that the Philistines (while thinking Israel has gods) know the story of the God of Israel and believe God to be mighty. The elders of Israel seem to treat the Ark as a sort of magical item what will ensure God’s presence and thus victory. Notice the varieties of death that is the result of the battle, a great slaughter of soldiers, the death of Eli. Note how Eli’s death is related to the loss of the Ark rather than Israel’s defeat or the death of his sons. Even Phinehas’s wife is stricken and dies. How do you think later Israelites at the time of the exile would think about this text?
1 Samuel 5:1-12 The Ark with the Philistines. Israel has been defeated but this section tells us that God was not defeated. “Hand” is a way of speaking about power and strength. The word “heavy” and the word “glory” come from the same root in Hebrew. Placing the Ark by the statue of Dagon was a way of saying that the God of Israel was defeated by Dagon. Of course that is not what happened.The Ark’s presence testifies to the strength and glory of God even in spite of the defeat of Israel. The Philistines quickly discover they do not want to keep the Ark!
Read More About It:
Here are several good sources to aid your reading of 1 Samuel
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Birch, Bruce C., “The First and Second Books of Samuel, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 2 Keck, Leander E., ed. (Nashville”Abingdon Press) 1994.
Cohn, Robert L. “1 Samuel” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
McKenzie, Steven L, “1 Samuel” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Aporcryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, Fully Revised 4 th Edition, Michael Cougan, ed. (New York:Oxford University Press) 2010.
Stinespring, William F. and Burke O. Long “1 Samuel” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books Metzger, Bruce M., Roland E. Murphy, eds.(New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.