Introduction to 1 and 2 Samuel

INTRODUCTION TO 1 & 2 SAMUEL

Just to review: the first five books of the Old Testament are known as the Torah, or Pentateuch; Joshua through Esther are known as the Historical Books. As mentioned in the Introduction to Joshua, David Platt notes in his Survey of the Old Testament that these books are fairly chronological, but follow a three book pattern: two books which continue the story, punctuated by a “spotlight” book describing a particular time period occurring in one of the two previous books. Platt explains: 1) For the pre-monarchy period, Joshua and Judges continue the story followed by the book of Ruth detailing events possibly taking place around the time of Judges 10. 2) During the monarchy period, Samuel and Kings continue the story followed by Chronicles detailing events around the Davidic kingdom. 3) For the post-monarchy period, Ezra and Nehemiah continue the story followed by Esther detailing events taking place during the time of Ezra.

So, beginning with 1 Samuel, we are picking back up with events occurring in a general chronological order after the conclusion of the pre-monarchy period and approaching the monarchy period. As gotquestion’s Samuel Survey explains, “Originally, the books of 1 and 2 Samuel were one book. The translators of the Septuagint separated them, and we have retained that separation ever since.” In the Hebrew Bible they’re still one book, specifically the 3rd book of the “Nevi’im” or “prophets”. Britannica elaborates, “The Neviʾim comprise eight books divided into the Former Prophets, containing the four historical works Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, and the Latter Prophets, the oracular discourses of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve (Minor—i.e., smaller) Prophets—Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. The Twelve were all formerly written on a single scroll and thus reckoned as one book.”

We really don’t know for sure who wrote the books of Samuel. The NLT’s Introduction to Samuel writes, “The title ‘Samuel’ comes from the important role Samuel played in Israel’s transition to a monarchy. Samuel could have written parts of 1 Samuel, but he could not have written any part of 2 Samuel, as his death is recorded in 1 Samuel 25:1.” HCSB’s Introduction adds, “Many Bible students think Samuel along with Nathan and Gad had major input, pointing to 1 Ch 29:29 as evidence. Others think the books had a long history of composition with various narratives or narrative sources being composed from the time of the events until the time of the exile, when the ‘Former Prophets’ were gathered into one collection.”

Pinning down a date for the writing of these books is equally difficult. The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible’s Introduction says, “A possible scenario would see the book as containing early sources that have been edited to one degree or another in order to incorporate them into a larger corpus.” David Malick, writing for Bible.org’s Introduction to Samuel adds, “The textual clues seem to place the writing of the book sometime during the divided monarchy and yet before the fall of the northern kingdom.

 

1. Israel and Judah are distinguished (11:8; 17:52; 18:16)

2. Ziklag, the city of Philistia where David is sent by Achish, is described as belonging ‘to the kings of Judah to this day’ (27:6) This not only speaks of a time after the divided monarchy, but of a time when there had been ‘kings’ in Judah.

3. However, there does not seem to be any indication in the text that the northern kingdom had fallen

4. Therefore, it seems best to place the writing of Samuel sometime after the divided monarchy (931 B.C.) but before the fall of Samaria (722/21 B.C.).”

However, NLT’s Intro notes, “The book could have been near its final form during Solomon’s reign (971-931 BC).”

 

NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible gives an excellent overview of the historical setting, “The events described in the books of Samuel took place in the eleventh and early tenth centuries BC. This time period…was one in which the superpowers of the preceding Bronze Ages were having little impact in Syro-Palestine. The Anatolian kingdom of the Hittites had been essentially destroyed by the Sea Peoples and other land-based movements. The Egyptians exercised limited control along the coast of Canaan until the mid-twelfth century BC and then withdrew. The Assyrians were occupied with troubles closer to home…Babylonia too in the period in question, was incapable of giving much, if any, attention to Syro-Palestine…Thus, as the books of Samuel open, the land in which they are set was experiencing what has been described as an eclipse of the great powers. Conditions were ripe for the emergence of smaller territorial powers such as the kingdom ascribed to David in the text of Samuel…”

ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “The central theme of the books of Samuel is (1) how the Lord established a dynasty (‘house’) in Israel for David rather than Saul and (2) how he chose Jerusalem as the place where David’s successor would establish the temple (‘house’) for the worship of the divine King Yahweh.” HCSB’s Intro adds, “First and 2 Samuel play a pivotal role in the Bible for both historical and theological reasons. Historically, these books document the monumental transition that occurred in OT Israel as it moved from being a collection of 12 tribes with no national government to being a unified nation with a centralized government under the control of a king…The books also document the historical fulfillment of promises made by God in the Torah. The law of Moses had predicted the rise of kingship as an institution in Israel (Gn 17:16; 35:11; 36:31; Dt. 17:15); the events recorded in the books of Samuel show that the kingship became a historical reality. The Torah predicted that a member of the tribe of Judah would rule over Israel (Gn 49:10); this was borne out by the narratives in 1 and 2 Samuel with the ascent of David, of the tribe of Judah, to the throne. Furthermore, the promises that Israel would defeat Moab, Edom, and the Amalekites (Nm 24:17-20) were also shown to have been carried out. Finally, prophecies regarding the establishment of ‘a covenant of perpetual priesthood’ for the family of Eleazar the priest (Nm 25:13) were also moved toward fulfillment with the judgment enacted against the family of Eli.”

Gotquestions notes the following Christological foreshadowing, “The prayer of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 makes several prophetic references to Christ. She extols God as her Rock (v. 2), and we know from the gospel accounts that Jesus is the Rock upon whom we should build our spiritual houses. Paul refers to Jesus as the ‘rock of offense’ to the Jews (Romans 9:33). Christ is called the ‘spiritual Rock’ who provided spiritual drink to the Israelites in the wilderness just as He provides ‘living water’ to our souls (1 Corinthians 10:4; John 4:10). Hannah’s prayer also makes reference to the Lord who will judge the ends of the earth (v. 2:10), while Matthew 25:31-32 refers to Jesus as the Son of Man who will come in glory to judge everyone.”

We’ll be following the NLT’s outline for these 2 chapters which is as follows:

1 Samuel

1:1-7:17: Establishment of Samuel’s Leadership

8:1-12:25: Establishment of Saul’s Kingship

13:1-16:13: Rejection of Saul’s Kingship

16:14-31:13: Dissolution of Saul’s Reign

2 Samuel

1:1-27: Introduction: The Close to Saul’s Era

2:1-9:13: The Emergence of David’s Monarchy

10:1-20:26: The Peak of David’s Reign

21:1-24:25: The Celebration of David’s Reign

 

Finally, the NLT Illustrated Study Bible informs us that there are more manuscript discrepancies “in 1-2 Samuel than in other OT books.” They note, “The text of 1-2 Samuel that is found in the Septuagint (the Greek OT, 200s BC) is different in many places from the Hebrew (Masoretic) text (about AD 1000). The Hebrew text of Samuel in the Dead Sea Scrolls (about 250-50 BC) agree in some places with the Septuagint, in other places, with the Masoretic Text. In still other places the Dead Sea Scrolls have their own readings.” For this reason, the NLT readers, “will encounter notes such as ‘Hebrew lacks…’ or ‘Greek reads…” more frequently…” However, “Few of these variants significantly alter the meaning.”