Originally 1 and 2 Samuel were one book. We think they were divided by the Greek translators ( the Septuagint) to have scrolls that were easier to handle. In the Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible, 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings are called 1,2,3,4 Kingdoms.
First and Second Samuel tell the story of an important time in Israel’s history. At the beginning of 1 Samuel, Israel is in disarray as a set of tribes loosely joined together and at risk from both external ( Philistines) and internal (priestly corruption) threats. By the end of 2 Samuel the monarchy is established under the leadership David. The story is set roughly between 1050 and 1000 BC. As with other Biblical books we have studied the final form of 1 Samuel took place later sometime around the Babylonian Exile (568 BC). Some scholars date the text just before the Exile, some during the Exile and some just afterward.
The books not only tell a historical narrative but also tell the stories of individuals that people still read and talk about- Samuel, Saul, David, Hannah, Eli, Jonathan, Bathsheba, Nathan, Tamar, Absalom and so on.
The process of composition of 1 and 2 Samuel is complex and there are a variety of positions taken by scholars. For more information about the history of the text’s composition, see Bruce C. Birch, ****. For our purposes it is sufficient to realize that modern scholarship works with the text in several ways. It looks at the historical development of the text (i.e. discovering which parts are earlier, which are later, what theological and world view shaped those texts and how they are joined together). Also scholars study the final form of the text with an emphasis on its literary structure. Other scholars focus on the theological issues and ideas presented in the text. How Israel’s effort to theologically interpret it’s historical situation and social realities are reflected in the text. All of these approaches have merit.
We will take notice of some independent literary units that make up 1 and 2 Samuel. We will also notice the role prophets play in this story and we’ll notice where deuteronomistic language and theology are present. We will also need to think some about the historical and social situation of the times.
As Birch writes, “The narratives in 1 and 2 Samuel are not historical in the sense of our modern positivistic understandings of history. Rather, they blend historical realism with artistic and theological imagination. Attention to the imaginative elements of these narratives has led some to miss the historically realistic style by which these narratives depict the nature of this historical crisis and social transformation. Likewise, the historically realistic style has led others mistakenly to treat the books of Samuel as history writing and to overlook the artistic and imaginative freedom with which many elements of the story have been shaped.” (Birch, 957)
The final form of the text also displays some of the disagreements and tensions of the time. Mainly these books affirm and legitimate the monarchy and economic systems but not uniformly. There are parts of the narrative which tell of the resistance to these changes.
As always, we will want to be attentive to where and how God is at work. What does Israel think and believe God to be doing and how?
An Outline of First Samuel ( from Birch)
A. 1 Samuel 1:1-7:17 Samuel and the Crisis of Israel
1:1-4:1a Samuel and the Word of the Lord
4:1b- 7:1 The Philistine Crisis and the Capture of the Ark
B. 1 Samuel 8:1-15:35 The Kingship of Saul
8:1-22 Demand and Warning
9:1-11:15 Saul becomes King
12:1-25 Saul’s Address to Israel
13:1-15:35 The Exploits and Rejection of Saul
C. 1 Samuel 16:1-31:13 The Rise of David and the Decline of Saul
16:1-13 The Anointing of David
16:14-23 David Is Introduced to Saul’s Court
17:1-58 David Defeats Goliath
18:1-20:42 David and the Household of Saul
21:1-26:25 David as Fugitive
27:1-28:2 David in the Service of the Philistines
28:3-25 Saul and the Ghost of Samuel
29:1-11 David Dismissed from the Battle with Saul
30:1-31 David and the Amalekite Raid on Ziklag
31:1- 13 The Battle of Gilboa and the Death of Saul
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.