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
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:
15:1-35 Saul Rejected form Kingship: This text can be difficult for us, for it can appear that Saul is unfairly punished. We also struggle with the concept of holy war and destruction. The important point of the text has to do with obedience to a direct command of God. Saul is disobedient but also the people are (see verse 9). Remember in chapter 12 that God warns the people that they are accountable along with their king. ( 12:14,25) The chapter begins with a statement from Samuel which is a divine command. Notice how often the word “hear” ( which also means “obey”) occurs. The problem is that Saul and the people do not hear/obey the command of God. While the idea of “holy war”, where everyone and everything is destroyed is difficult for us to grasp. That violence as is involved in holy war could be something appropriate to be dedicated to God, let alone asked for by God is troubling. Scholars believe that this was not often practiced. For the purposes of this story, the problem is hearing/obedience rather than the appropriateness of the command. Another aspect of holy war was that God was the primary warrior. God delivers the victory and deserves the praise and credit. God takes care of Israel. Notice that Saul is concerned for his status (v 24-25,30). Verse 11 and 35 tell us God regrets making Samuel king. God expresses regret in other Old Testament stories as well. What do you think about this idea that God can regret a decision God has made?
Samuel meets Saul at Gilgal which is where Saul was confirmed as king. This time Saul is erecting a monument to himself and then hears from Samuel that God has rejected Saul as king. Notice how Saul tries to shift the blame to the people while presenting himself as blameless and obedient. Do verse 22 remind you of things other prophets will say? (Isa 1:10-13; Amos 5:21-24; Hos 6:6; Mic 6:6-8) Verses 24-29 present a despirate Saul, grasping at Samuel’s robe. Samuel’s statement foreshadows David’s kingship.
C. 1 Samuel 16:1-31:13 The Rise of David and the Decline of Saul: Now the story of David begins, but Saul still occupies the throne and Samuel is still God’s prophet.
16:1-13 The Anointing of David: This is a familiar story. God chooses David the youngest of the sons, so unexpected a choice that he isn’t even present when Jesse and the other sons are with Samuel to sacrifice to God. God’s spirit comes upon David (v13). Saul also received God’s spirit when he was anointed by Samuel. watch for similarities (and differences) in their stories. “Shepherd” was a common title for kings in Israel and the ancient Near East. David is the 8th son, so he is very far down the line of succession and an unlikely choice for king. God does not see as we see. Notice the name of the youngest son is not given until verse 13 and David does not speak. Notice also that all this takes place in Bethlehem.
16:14-23 David Is Introduced to Saul’s Court: Verse 14, God’s spirit has left Saul and and evil spirit torments him. To ease Saul’s torment, his servants bring David into the court unaware of who David is. As modern people we may wonder about the evil spirit which torments Saul. Perhaps it is sufficient to say that Saul is deeply troubled and there is a spiritual aspect to his suffering. Why do you think in verse 18 the servant says all those positive things about David? They are just looking for a musician. Does this begin to set up our picture of who David is? Notice how a personal relationship develops in the course of this chapter.
17:1-58 David Defeats Goliath: This is one of the Bible’s most well known stories and it is told in a dramatic style. However, this story doesn’t “fit” well with the previous two stories about David. The text seems unaware of the previous stories. David is presented quite differently. Here he is a boy ( as in 16:1-13) who lives with his family and serves as a go between between his father and brothers, rather than the man described in 16:14-23. Here David speaks and acts decisively. Scholars think that this sort of situation, a representative battle did happen. However such combats did not resolve the situation and often there was a battle between armies also; as we see in this story. Scholars differ on exactly how tall Goliath was, the important point is that he was tall, and very well protected by his armor. He is depicted as invincible. Saul and all Israel are afraid. After forty days, David appears and Goliath’s challenge is answered. But not by a man but rather by a boy and a boy without armor or weaponry. God is the one who will deliver Israel once again. David and Saul do not appear to know each other in this story. Notice how David, a boy speaks to Saul the king! Then notice how David speaks to the great warrior Goliath! Verses 46-47 are the point of the story- God is the one who delivers.
18:1-20:42 David and the Household of Saul: Now we come to chapters which tell us about David’s relationships with Saul and Saul’s family and Israel. Notice what these chapters tell us about David and Saul.
18:1-30 Saul’s Jealousy at David’s Success: There are four sections in this chapter, Jonathan’s love for David v 1-5; Saul’s increasing hostility to David v6-16; Merab and David v17- 19 and and Michal’s love for David and their marriage. Notice how this chapter interweaves David’s increasing popularity and reputation and Saul’s increasing hostility. Notice how many times the word “love” is used with respect to David. What is the relationship between love, success and hostility in this chapter? What words does the text use to describe Saul’s feelings for David? As you read verses 1-5 remember that Jonathan is Saul’s heir. Is the song in verse 7 meant to elevate David or belittle Saul? Verse 20 is the only place in the Hebrew Bible where a woman is said to love a man. Saul, of course, uses her love for his own ends. Recall the social conventions of the time. What does it say about Michal that she declared her love? What does the text tell us, or not tell us about how David felt?
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.