The Books of Samuel

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By Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: I and II Samuel

Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Books of Samuel in conjunction with this article.

The Books of Samuel

As this month begins, we will take the opportunity to look at the books of I and II Samuel. I Samuel will be during the month of August and II Samuel will be during the month of September. The books of Samuel have been chosen based on the TaNaK1 order (the Hebrew Bible order) instead of the Christian Old Testament order, where Ruth follows Judges instead of the books of Samuel. Samuel is now a two-part book in both the TaNaK and the Old Testament. Prior to the Hebrew TaNaK being translated into the Greek Septuagint,2 Samuel was contained in a single scroll; an artificial break now exists in the books of Samuel at the death of Saul. With chapter divisions, I Samuel has 31 chapters; and II Samuel has 24.

Some History
In large measure, the books of Samuel record Israel’s transformation from the time period of the judges to the time period of the kings. Saul is Israel’s first human king,3 David being the second, and Solomon being the third. While many kings follow after these three, it is important to recognize that these are the only three kings to serve in a “united” kingdom. Following Solomon’s death, his sons divide the kingdom and it remained divided, which is important when one reads Jeremiah 31.31. The two houses referenced in that verse refer to the division and the new covenant that Jehovah will establish with them, the divided yet complete offspring of Israel (Jacob).

The books of Samuel primarily constitute the influences of three men on the nation of Israel. Those three are Samuel (who is first alluded to in chapter 1), Saul (who makes his first appearance in I Samuel 9), and David (who is first seen in I Samuel 16). Samuel helped to spiritually navigate Israel from judgeship to kingship (monarchy). It is probably fair to say that few people like to experience the winds of social change, so this time period of cultural and national transition must have been problematic at best, especially when we consider the attitude of blatant disregard that Saul portrays during the transition. It is his unwillingness to cooperate with Samuel, who is directed by Jehovah, which eventually leads him to lose his reign and his family’s political power in Jehovah’s kingdom. So unwilling is Saul to follow as instructed that Samuel informs him that a replacement will be sought, and that the new king will be “a man after [Jehovah’s] own heart”.4

Some Trivia
Samuel is an answer to a prayer offered by Hannah in the opening chapter of I Samuel. Hannah was grief stricken because she had never been blessed with children. She poured her heart out to God promising that if she was blessed with a male child, she would dedicate him to God, serving Jehovah for life in what appears to be a Nazarite vow.5

As we close, let us consider some tidbits mentioned in the NIV Archeological Study Bible. These provide additional points of interest which can enrich one’s reading of the Books of Samuel. Some information regarding I Samuel:6

  1. The ancient Greeks, to whom the Philistines were apparently related, sometimes decided issues of war through chosen champions who met in combat between the armies. This “trial by battle ordeal” was based upon the belief that the gods of each army actually fought or decided the battle (17:4).
  2. Using the normal conventions of Hebrew poetry – in which 10,000 was typically used as the parallel for 1,000 – the phrase “David his tens of thousands” was the women’s way of saying, “Saul and David have slain thousands” (18:7).
  3. Priests and diviners were sometimes forced, under penalty of death, to take oaths of loyalty to the king, committing to serve as his informants (22:9-18).
  4. Grasping the hem of a garment symbolized loyalty, but cutting off a piece of a person’s robe signified disloyalty and rebellion (24:4-5).

Some information regarding II Samuel:7

  1. It was customary for new kings to assume the harem of their predecessors (3:7).
  2. Ancient cultures viewed disability as a sign of sin or of God’s disfavor (4:4).
  3. Royal women played a significant political role in ancient societies (16:21-22).
  4. Threshing floors, normally on hills, were traditional sites for receiving divine messages (24:18-25).

1. “TaNaK” is an acronym for the Hebrew (Jewish) three sectional divisions of what the Christians call the Old Testament. The three divisions are T (Torah- the five books of Moses), N (Neviim- the Prophets) and K (Ketuvim- the writings); the a’s are simply vowel points for pronunciation. Additionally all books following Judges appear in an alternate order from the Christian Old Testament.
2. “Septuagint” or LXX was a Koine Greek (the same Greek as the NT) translation of the Hebrew TaNaK between the third and first century BC/BCE in Alexandria Eqypt; July 31, 2008.
3. “human king” – I make the distinction simply for the fact that God informs Samuel that Israel rejected their true king, Jehovah, (I Samuel 8.7-9) which was prophesied in Deuteronomy 17.14. Until Saul, Israel was governed as a true theocracy (which made Israel completely different from the nations around them) instead of the monarchical theocracy.
4. “man after [Jehovah’s] heart” – I Samuel 13.13-14
5. “Nazarite Vow” – Number 6.1-21, I Samuel 1.11
6. Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version, p. 396, ISBN-10: 0-310-92605-X.
7. Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version, p. 441, ISBN-10: 0-310-92605-X.