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
1:1-4:1a Samuel and the Word of the Lord
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.
6:1-7:1 The Return of the Ark: Notice how (as in chapter 5) the emphasis is not on the Ark but on the power of God. The Philistines recognize God’s power and know the exodus story. In verse 5 the Philistines know they meed to “pay honor” or “give glory” to the God of Israel. The guilt offerings may represent the five major Philistine cities. The objects are gold and therefore valuable and seem to represent the afflictions the Philistines have been experiencing. The Philistines devise a final test, evidently to be sure that Israel’s God is the source of their trouble. At the end of the story, Israelites are killed after the return of the Ark. To be near the presence of God is a dangerous thing. Possession of the Ark is not guarantee of safety and security.
7:2-17 Samuel as Judge of Israel: Samuel returns rather abruptly to the story. Recall at the end of chapter 3, Samuel has been identified as a prophet of God. In chapter 7 Samuel, in addition to his role as prophet, also is an intercessor for the people, and he serves as judge. Samuel calls the people to return to God. The water pouring ritual of verse 6 is not mentioned in other places. God is the one who provides victory over the Philistines, as happened in previous battle. An “ebenezer” is a stone of help. Samuel is the last of the Judges. His leadership is sufficient for Israel, both as prophet, who mediates the power of the Lord, and as one who serves justice and preserves the traditions.
B. 1 Samuel 8:1-15:35 The Kingship of Saul: The establishment of a king is a major transition for Israel. Thus far in Israel’s history there has been no human king. God has been the leader/king of Israel. Consider what has to change sociologically, politically, and theologically for there to be a human king. Is having a human king a rejection of divine kingship? Does this change the covenant in some way? How does having a king work out for Israel? Is the text for or against human kingship? Or both?
8:1-22 Demand and Warning: Once again the sons of the judge/prophet are corrupt. (recall Eli and his sons). What will happen after Samuel? The elders request a king. Why do you think Israel wants to be like the other nations? Does God’s response (V7-9) surprise you? Seeking a human king is a rejection of God as king, but God doesn’t seem too upset by this. God allows a king but has Samuel warn Israel about the behavior of kings. What Samuel describes fits the pattern of Israel’s kings but also the king of any nation. How are kings described? The elders are warned, if they are unhappy with their king, God will not respond to their cries. The elders still want a king. The desire for a king is perhaps not unreasonable considering Samuel’s sons. Does Samuel appear to be dragging his feet at their request? God appears a bit more willing than Samuel for there to be a king.
Being the people of God, in covenant with God and without a king- being quite different than other people- isn’t easy for Israel. Do you think there are any parallels for today, especially for the church?
9:1-11:15 Saul becomes King: This section has three different stories about how Saul became king. These chapters, like other sections of Scripture, have a complex literary history.
9:1-10:16 The Anointing of Saul: The subject and scene shift dramatically. Through the search for the lost donkeys, Saul meets Samuel. God tells Samuel what to do and Saul is anointed. Then a series of events happen to Saul ( as Samuel told him they would happen) and Saul receives God’s spirit and prophecies. The story is full of details. God is directly involved in Saul’s selection and Samuel’s actions. Notice that Saul is anointed “ruler” or “leader” but not “king”. But 10:16 does mention kingship. The word used nagid might refer to a king designate as it comes from the word for “to be made known” or “the designated one”. Saul, at this point in the story, is not yet king. Also notice that Israel does not get it’s kings in the “normal” way. Israel’s kings are chosen by God not by politics and power. Why do you think Saul doesn’t tell his uncle what happened when he got home?
10:17-27 Saul Among the Baggage: Now Israel is called together by Samuel and Samuel reminds Israel again that a king is not a very good idea. Lots were cast and finally Saul is chosen but no one can find him. It takes God to find him and point him out. It is a kind of amusing story but as with the previous story there is no doubt that God has chosen Saul. But then everyone goes home, a sort of anticlimactic ending. And there is the ominous ending when some ask “How can this man save us?”
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.