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1 Samuel

Author and Date

See Old Testament regarding authorship.

The Masoretic text ends its First Book of Samuel at what it describes as the mid-point of the book Samuel. The division is therefore arbitrary. Freedman[1] says Genesis–2 Kings have common emphasis, and must predate the return from exile or they would describe it; 1 Chronicles–Nehemiah have a very different emphasis, and must be more recent since they describe the return from exile. Anderson[2] p.xv and Koppers[3] agree that Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings show a unity of language, style and content, and are attributed to a hypothetical "Deuteronomistic Historian" or "circle". The editorial hand in Samuel is not as firm as it is in Joshua or 1–2 Kings. The text suffers from copying errors and 1 Samuel, especially chapter 11, is probably the part of the Bible that has benefited most from the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls [9]. References to "Judah and Israel" are probably from the later editor [4 p.196f].

Ancient tradition says that the prophet Jeremiah wrote 1 and 2 Kings. Jeremiah prophesied from 627 BCE [5]. The books of Samuel show common ancestry with them, yet signs of compilation from several sources, so perhaps Jeremiah edited the books Deuteronomy– Samuel into their present form.


1 Samuel 1–3: the emergence of Samuel as prophet;
1 Samuel 4–6: the departure of the Ark from liturgical life;
1 Samuel 7–12: Samuel takes control, but is pressed to anoint Saul as king
1 Samuel 13–15: Saul's kingdom;
1 Samuel 16–end: David's rise (1000 BCE)[2].

Audience and Content

The books of Samuel describe a period of social change during which new phenomena appeared: the wandering Hebrews settled, and kings and prophets arose. Throughout the monarchy the prophets tried to influence the kings, and there was often tension between the two. The book Samuel contains stories and comments from both traditions, which sometimes leads to duplicate but not identical accounts of events, but the overall tone is prophetic and critical of the monarchy.[4 p.196f]

Samuel was Israel's first prophet, and anointed its first king.[6] The trappings of Judaism, focussed on a tent at Shiloh containing the Ark of the Covenant, were well established, but society was morally lax. Through a military defeat in chapter 4 the people learned to associate God's presence not with the Ark but with special people, and to recognise that God did not support everything they did.

The opening chapters present Samuel as God's gift to Hannah, and Hannah's to the Temple. He became an important prophet and leader. When the people demanded a king, Samuel warned them of the consequences, but anointed Saul. Samuel seems to have struggled with his change of role from being last of the Judges to a prophet speaking from the margins.

Saul was a disappointment, so Samuel secretly anointed David king (1 Samuel 16:13). The tribes of Israel were oppressed by the Philistines (1 Samuel 31:7) who knew how to make metal weapons while Israel did not (1 Samuel 13:19–22). As Saul's general, David led the army to notable victories, but Saul was jealous and tried many times to kill David.

David fled to Gath in Philistia where he was welcomed as a deserter. The Philistines gave David the town Ziklag (1 Samuel 27:1f) as a vassal (1 Samuel 28:1) but forbade him to join a pitched battle against Israel (1 Samuel 29), so David and his men returned to Ziklag, to find it burned and the women captured by Amalekites (1 Samuel 30). They defeated the Amalekite group (1 Samuel 31) and rescued the women, while Saul and his sons died in the battle with the Philistines. Thus David is shown to have replaced Saul as king without personally shedding the blood of Saul or his family.[4 p.196f]

This book is titled "1 Kingdoms" in the Greek Bible.[11]

According to Nehemiah 8:17, the full Law was not followed throughout the period covered by this book.


The emergence of Samuel as prophet


See comment on Luke 1:39. Elkanah was "an Ephrathite", so he came from near Bethlehem Ephphratha (Micah 5:2) as did Jesus.


Jones[4 p.196f] suggests Elkanah took a second wife because Hannah was barren, as in Genesis 16:1–4.

Perhaps the custom of going up to worship only once a year (due to centralisation of the cult) made religion remote from daily life, leading to the lax morality of the age.


The tribe of Levi had a tradition of having Egyptian names.[4 p.196f]


The term "Nazirite" is defined in Numbers 6:1–21. Samson was also a nazirite (Judges 13:3–5) and this was essential to his greatness (Judges 16:17).


cf. 2 Samuel 12:16–20.


cf. Acts 2:13. It seems that Eli's interpretation of what he saw was based what he had allowed his own family to do (1 Samuel 2:12, 1 Samuel 3:13); a complete contrast with Isaiah 11:3–4.


Phillip Tovey[7] says "There seem to be many strong connections between the story of Hannah and Mary—​childbirth, songs of praise, visits to the temple, special children. They both stand at the beginning of a significant narrative of God at work."


These verses are know as The Song of Hannah which is comparable with The Song of Mary in Luke 1:46–55.


The reference to a king suggests that this poem was composed after the events.[6]


The story is written in such as way as to contrast Samuel's innocence with contempt and threats of violence from Eli's sons. According to 1 Chronicles 6, Samuel was descended from Levi, the priestly tribe, so he would be qualified to serve as a priest as soon as he came of age.


This verse could be said to capture the entire thesis of 1 and 2 Samuel. It is said that the quotation "He who honours me I will honour" was written on a piece of paper that was pressed into the hand of Eric Liddell as he went to run in (and win) the 400m final of the 1924 Olympics in Paris, having withdrawn from the 100m final because it was held on Sunday. (Harold Abrahams of Great Britain won the 100m, and Liddell also won Bronze in the 200m.)


A slaughter of an entire group of priests bar one is recorded in 1 Samuel 22:9–20.


Eli's sons died in 1 Samuel 4:11.


In 1 Kings 2:35 Zadok took over from Abiathar (who was banished in 1 Kings 2:27) as the sole priest with a secure position ...


...while other priests were destitute after the regional shrines were shut down by Josiah in 2 Kings 23:8–9, and the priests who refused to move to Jerusalem found themselves isolated, including Jeremiah.


These events took place not in the temple in Jerusalem (which had not been built then) but the tent-like structure that had been carried through the wilderness, now standing at Shiloh. That is why Samuel was used to hearing Eli's voice even when they were in different "rooms".


It seems odd to say "the word of God was rare" immediately after a prophecy, but we cannot force God to speak; he does it in his own way, in his own time. Or does the rarity arise from our failure to hear? Read on!


Why is Eli's blindness mentioned? It may point to ignorance about what his sons were doing; it may point to inability to cope with, let alone initiate, change; and perhaps it points to lack of spiritual discernment.


"The events take place at night; it is often away from the busyness of the day that we are able to hear God speaking." [12]


The prophecy about Eli and his family was not new; it confirmed the words of the "man of God" in chapter 2 vv 27–36.

The departure of the Ark from liturgical life


The focus changes to the Ark; after the first verse, Samuel is not mentioned at all. Jones[4 p.196f] says this is an ancient story copied into the later book of Samuel. The story is heavy with irony and humour[13].


Eben-ezer: see comment on 7:12 below.


The words "the Ark of the Lord" and "he" (not "it") show that in the people's minds God's presence was focussed on the Ark. They were trying to bring God himself into the battle; the correct way to do that is by praying.


It seems odd to say that Eli was "watching" when he was blind.


It also seems odd to say that Eli had been "judge" of Israel. Perhaps he was the person that people looked up to, in the absence of a notable hero.


Eben-ezer: see comment on 7:12 below.


The arrangement was a test to see whether the cows would walk away from their calves towards Israel, which would be quite unnatural. When it happened, everyone interpreted it as a sign that God was in charge of these events.

Samuel takes control, but is pressed to anoint Saul as king


The names are traditional Levite names, suggesting these people were priests.


Samuel straightened out the chaos and adopted the role of judge over Israel; but why did he wait twenty years (verse 2)?


Eben-ezer is used as a place-name in 1 Samuel 4:1 and 5:1, which seem to relate events before the place had that name.


This statement is at odds with 1 Samuel 9:16, 13:5, 17:1, 19:8, 28:1, etc.; perhaps it means that the situation was better than it had been.


It seems that the people thought Samuel was unwise and high-handed in setting his sons over Israel, and this led directly to the demand for a king.


The mention of Samuel's sons is puzzling, in that there was no precendent for the role of Judge being hereditary.

Rachel Boulding[8] suggests that the people wanted a king because they supposed that he would be less demanding of them than the Judges had been. This explains Samuel's response in verses 11f. But this passage is an example of God's people not wanting to witness to God's presence by being different, cf. Numbers 23:9. This was a tragic deriliction of their calling.


Perhaps Samuel resented power being taken away from him and his family. Speaking prophetically is very different from leading the nation.


cf. 1 Kings 21:1f.


cf. Deuteronomy 17:14, Nehemiah 9:37.


cf. John 6:15.


The word translated "king" is not the one for a hereditary absolute ruler, but for a chosen leader[4 p.196f]. Saul was not anointed king in the usual sense at this point.


Shekel: see Appendix 2 Money.


The words seem to deliberately echo God's words to Moses in Exodus 3:7–8.


Samuel was careful to make sure that he anointed Saul privately.


There was no precedent for a judge or prophet anointing a king, so after Samuel had anointed Saul privately, it was necessary to use the Urim and Thummim in public to confirm that Saul was God's choice, and even then (chapter 11) to confirm his kingship after a successful battle.


Samuel was unwilling to relinquish power to Saul; the kings and the prophets competed for the ear of the people throughout the monarchy. Samuel believed a king should operate under prophetic authority in the strength of God. Samuel used the word "sign" in the same way as John's Gospel. See also the comments on Mark 14:3.


It has been suggested that Samuel's list of predictions about how Saul's kingship would unfold warn Saul that he is entering a very different mode of life from the one he has known. It also shows that Samuel was not letting go of control to the new royal line, and that it is in the strength of God that he must rule (though in 19:20 the power of God and his prophets worked against him). Samuel used the word "sign" in the same way as John's Gospel.


Saul kept the news of his anointing secret until Samuel could convince most of the people that he was the right person to be king.


Saul was hiding, not from the enemy, but from his ordination. He didn't feel ready for what God had called him to do. That is a common experience in calling, and it should prompt us to rely on God's power rather than our own.


Even after the use of Urim and Thummim, some people still doubted that Saul was the man for the job.


The Qumran scrolls have a completely different, probably earlier, text than was known previously. It includes this opening to chapter 11:

"And Nahash, king of the children of Ammon, oppressed harshly the Gadites and the Reubenites. He would gouge out the right eye of each of them and would not grant Israel a deliverer. No one was left of the Israelites across the Jordan whose right eye Nahash, King of the Ammonites, had not gouged out. But there were seven thousand men who had fled from the Ammonites and had entered Jabesh-gilead." [9]


Samuel gave a farewell speech to mark the end of the era of the judges. But he still thought that Israel should be led by judges rather than kings.


Samuel contrasted his ministry with the taxes and conscription of kings.


Failure to pray is sin.

Saul's kingdom


Saul soon found it necessary to establish a standing army[4 p.196f].


Sacrifice: see Appendix 2 Sacrifice.


This verse does not represent the end of the Bronze Age and the start of the Iron Age, because the Israelites had already met iron chariots in Judges 1:19. See also Genesis 4:22.

See comments on 1 Samuel 17:23 and 21:9.


Only the top people had spears, so perhaps they were a sign of authority. Saul's was at his side in 1 Samuel 18:10, 19:9, 20:33, 22:6, 26:7, and 2 Samuel 1:6.


The Philistines had a base at Mishmash, in the territory of Benjamin, Saul's tribe. From there they sent out raiding parties in all directions, weakening Israel.


Urim and Thummim: See Appendix 2 Urim & Thummim.


Saul's disobedience was sudden and wide-ranging, including greed and rebellion (v.9) and pride (v.12). It caused trouble to future generations: Agag's descendents included Haman (Esther 3:1f).


cf. Psalm 51:16.

David's rise (1,000 BCE)


Once again Samuel secretly anointed the least member of a family[4 p.196f]. A curious chain of events drew David into the court, where he gained useful experience.

In chapter 16 David became Saul's armour bearer, but in chapter 17 Saul had never heard of him, and David was unfamiliar with Saul's armour. Ord and Coote[10] think these passages are either transposed or two irreconcilable accounts. An alternative explanation is that in chapter 16 David was a child but by chapter 17 he had grown into a man.


Evil: see Appendix 2 Evil.


Goliath: see comment on Genesis 6:1–4.


Shekel: see Appendix 2 Money.


1 Samuel 13:19f shows that Israel was unable to make arms of quality comparable with those of the Philistines. The sword of Goliath the Philistine reappears in 21:9.


cf. 1 Samuel 21:3, Matthew 14:17 (and parallels in Mark 6:41, Luke 9:13).


Goliath did not take the threat from David seriously, and that was his downfall. The shiel­dbearer going ahead of Goliath failed to stop the stone from hitting him.


For another account of the killing of a Goliath, see 2 Samuel 21:19. Perhaps Goliath was a generic term for a giant. It appears from 2 Samuel 21 that the Philistines had many giants, known as goliaths.


Jones[4 p.196f] draws attention to conflicting accounts of who slew Goliath in 2 Samuel 21:15–22 and 1 Chronicles 20:5. The various copies of the text differ in Goliath's height: some say over six cubits tall which is 9ft 6in (2.9m), while others say over four cubits tall which is 6ft 6in (2m).


The sword of Goliath the Philistine reappears in 21:9.


This account was written by someone who regarded Judah and Israel as separate entities, perhaps some years after the events took place.


The text implies a political treaty, rather than something emotional[4 p.196f].


See comment on 1 Samuel 16–17.


Again we find Saul holding his spear, a sign of authority; see 2 Samuel 13:22.


This account was written by someone who regarded Judah and Israel as separate entities, perhaps some years after the events took place.


Saul's schemes for killing David included placing him in military danger. In 2 Samuel 11:15 David used the same method to kill Bathsheba's husband Uriah.


This verse records the ceremony that made Michal and David become husband and wife, but the couple did not start to live together at once; in that respect it was a formal engagement. David demanded his wife in 2 Samuel 3:13–14.


Again we find Saul holding his spear, a sign of authority; see 2 Samuel 13:22.


In 1 Samuel 10:2–8 prophetic action was involved in establishing Saul as king; here it was a sign of its ending, and a blessing to God's new chosen instrument.


Bethlehem is south of Jerusalem, but David actually set off northwards in 21:1.


Saul's hatred of David was not shared by his family or the court, and caused division.


Again we find Saul holding his spear, a sign of authority; see 2 Samuel 13:22.


It has been claimed that this verse indicates a homosexual relationship between David and Jonathan, yet 2 Samuel 11 makes it clear that David's orientation was heterosexual. See comment on 1 Samuel 18:1.


Ahimech was son of Ahitub son of Phinehas son of Eli. Nob was a short distance north of Jerusalem[4 p.210].


David was lying.


cf. 1 Samuel 17:40, Matthew 14:17 (and parallels in Mark 6:41, Luke 9:13).


Jesus quoted this incident in Mark 2:25, using it to argue "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath" in Mark 2:27.


Doeg reported what he had seen to Saul in 1 Samuel 22:9 and carried out Saul's revenge in 1 Samuel 22:18–19.


1 Samuel 13:19f shows that Israel was unable to make swords of adequate quality. The sword of Goliath the Philistine (17:23) was an important asset. David had already used it in 17:51.


the saying about ten thousands arose in 1 Samuel 18:7.


David was now such a notorious outlaw that his parents were in danger. He moved them to Moab; his father's mother was Ruth the moabitess.


Again we find Saul holding his spear, a sign of authority; see 2 Samuel 13:22.


Doeg reported to Saul what he had seen in 1 Samuel 21:7.


Doeg engineered the entire massacre, by watching carefully in 1 Samuel 21:7, telling Saul in 1 Samuel 22:9, and then carrying out Saul's revenge. Thus Saul lost the service of priests, and the ability to consult God using Urim and Thummim, while David gained it.


Abiathar: see comments on Mark 2:26.


Psalm 52 is said to contain David's response to this bad news.


Abiathar: see comments on Mark 2:26.

Verse 9 does not mean that David put on the ephod, a priestly garment, but that he asked Abiathar to use the Urim and Thummim kept in the breast-piece mounted on it (Exodus 28:28–30) in answer to his questions, to discover God's will. Thus gaining the services of a priest saved David's life.


The Hebrew reference to "uncovering his feet" means he relieved himself, "feet" being a common euphemism for the private parts. So we could say that Saul went into the cave to "splash his boots"!


Nabal means fool.


Nabal knew that David was no longer in Saul's court, but a fugitive.


Abigail saw that the men were building up for a deadly fight, and took matters into her own hands. She apologised on Nabal's behalf, told David that his plan was not a good idea, and asked him to remember her kindness in years to come.

David's sword was probably the one that had belonged to Goliath: see 21:9.


David recognised the hand of God in Abigail's wisdom.


Nabal died and David married Abigail.


Again we find Saul beside his spear, a sign of authority; see 2 Samuel 13:22.


David gave the Philistine king the impression that he was fighting the enemies of Philistia, but actually he was fighting Israel's enemies and getting very rich[4 p.196f]. By killing all the witnesses he kept the truth secret.


In 1 Samuel 22:18–20 Saul persuaded Doeg to massacre the priests. Samuel was now dead. Saul now had no way to consult God, so in desperation he went to a medium. Jones[4 p.196f] suggests Saul changed into ordinary clothes to reach Endor safely.


Urim: see Appendix 2 Urim and Thummim.


Saul's phrase "bring me up" is consistent with the ancient idea that the when people die and are buried they descend to an after­life in which they are a shadow of their former selves. This is in sharp contrast to the view that this life is but a shadow of heaven.


Whether Samuel really came, or it was something imagined by the medium, or a spirit masquerading as Samuel, we cannot tell. But to Saul it was completely real, and as so often happens when people dabble in the occult, it lead to fear and weakness.


The philistine commanders rescued David from having to fight Saul and Israel. David rescued the women from the Amalekites while Saul and his sons died in the battle with the Philistines. David was now free to claim the kingdom.


the saying about ten thousands arose in 1 Samuel 18:7.


Abiathar: see comments on Mark 2:26.


cf. 2 Samuel 1:1–16. It is odd that there are two accounts both appearing to report Saul's death; and if both Saul and is armour-bearer both died in this incident, there would be no witnesses to record the incident for posterity. The accounts can be reconciled by assuming that in 1 Samuel 31 Saul tried to commit suicide but failed, so the Amalekite in 2 Samuel 1 found him writhing in agony and wanting to die.


  1. D Freedman "The Pentateuch" in Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (ed J Dunn & J Rogerson) Eerdmans 2003 p25–26
  2. A Anderson 2 Samuel in Word Biblical Commentary series (ed. D A Hubbard et al) Word Inc., Dallas 1989
  3. G Koppers "Deuteronomistic History" in Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (ed D Freedman) Eerdmans 2000 p341
  4. Jones, G. "1 and 2 Samuel" in The Oxford Bible Commentary (J Barton and J Muddiman, eds) OUP 2001
  5. "Jeremiah" in Britannica Encyclopaedia Online available from www.britannica.com/ accessed 17 June 2014
  6. Cambell, A. and Flanaghan, J. "1–2 Samuel" in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Prentice Hall, NJ 1990) p145f
  7. Phillip Tovey Preaching a Sermon Series with Common Worship W 178 (Grove Books, Cambridge 2004) page 23
  8. Rachel Boulding (Deputy Editor, Church Times) writing in Bible Reading Fellowship New Daylight 19 October 2007
  9. Meridian Magazine ©2000 available from http://donovanites.org/LDS/other/DeadSeaScrolls&LDS.html, accessed 17 June 2014. "Translation is by Donald W. Parry."
  10. Ord D and Coote R Is the Bible true? (Orbis, New York 1994) p54
  11. Holy Bible New Revised Standard Version Anglicized Edition, 1998 Oxford: OUP, 1989 & 1995
  12. Bob Mao writing in Bible Reading Fellowship New Daylight 29 May 2018
  13. Johnson, Benjamin J. M. "Humor in the Midst of Tragedy: the Comic Vision of 1 Samuel 4–6", in Journal of Biblical Literature Vol 141 no 1 2022 (Atlanta, USA) p.65f

© David Billin 2002–2024