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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

- 1 Samuel

by Thomas Constable



First and Second Samuel were originally one book called the Book of Samuel in the Hebrew Bible. The Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament (made ca. 250 B.C.) was the first to divide it into two books. The Septuagint translators titled these books 1 and 2 Kingdoms. That division has persisted ever since and has even been incorporated into subsequent editions of the Hebrew Bible (since A.D. 1517). The title "Samuel" was given by Jerome in his Latin translation, the Vulgate (ca. A.D. 400). The Jews gave the name "Samuel" to it because Samuel is the first major character in the book. Samuel anointed both Saul and David, so in this respect he was superior to both of them.


The writer did not identify himself as the writer in the book. Statements in the Book of Samuel imply that someone who had witnessed at least some of the events recorded wrote it. However someone, or more than one person, must have written most of it after Samuel’s death (i.e., 1 Samuel 25 -2 Samuel 24) and some of it even after the division of the kingdom following Solomon’s death (e.g., 1Sa_27:6). These features have made it difficult to date the book.

"Our guess is that the author was a high state official in frequent attendance at the court, enjoying the full confidence of David and his household, who served David throughout his reign in Jerusalem and also Solomon during the early years of his reign, and whose duties may have been connected with literary work." [Note: M. H. Segal, "The Composition of the Books of Samuel," Jewish Quarterly Review 55 (1964-65):334.]

Most conservative scholars prefer the view that Samuel may have written or been responsible for noting the record of earlier events in the book (chs. 1-24). Then some unidentifiable writer or writers put it in its final form later, perhaps soon after Solomon’s death. Critical scholars tend to believe it was the result of much more piecing together, and some of them date its final form as late as 500 B.C. [Note: For a refutation of this view, see Gleason L. Archer Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, pp. 284-85.] The Babylonian Talmud (ca. A.D. 500) attributed authorship of 1 Samuel 1-24 to the prophet Samuel, and the rest to Nathan and Gad. [Note: Baba Bathra 14b, 15a.] It is unlikely that Samuel wrote both books. [Note: See David M. Howard Jr., An Introduction to the Old Testament Historical Books, pp. 142-43.] One conservative estimate of the final date of composition is about 960 B.C. [Note: Eugene H. Merrill, "1 Samuel," in The Old Testament Explorer, p. 204.] Another guess is near 920 or 900 B.C. [Note: Roland K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 709.]


The Book of Samuel covers the period of Israel’s history bracketed by Samuel’s conception and the end of David’s reign. David turned the kingdom over to Solomon in 971 B.C. [Note: See Edwin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, pp. 51-52.] David reigned for 40 and one-half years (2Sa_2:11; 2Sa_5:5). This means he came to power in 1011 B.C. Saul also reigned for 40 years (Act_13:21) so he became king in 1051 B.C. We can estimate the date of Samuel’s birth fairly certainly, on the basis of chronological references in the text, to have been about 1121 B.C. [Note: See Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, pp. 149-50.] Thus the Book of Samuel covers about 1121-971 B.C., or about 150 years of history.

The first part of 1 Samuel overlaps historically with the end of the Judges Period that we find in the Book of Judges. Apparently Samson was born just a few years before Samuel. Samson’s 20-year judgeship evidently began shortly before the battle of Aphek (1104 B.C.) at which time Eli died (1Sa_4:18). [Note: Leon J. Wood, Israel’s United Monarchy, p. 23, wrote that the battle of Aphek happened about 1075 B.C. Though Wood is helpful in many respects, I do not think his dates are as accurate as those of Merrill and Thiele.] It ended not many years before the battle of Mizpah (1084 B.C.) when the Philistine domination of Israel ceased temporarily (1Sa_7:13). Samuel’s ministry, therefore, probably ran concurrent with that of Samson until Samson died. Saul began to reign about 35 years after Samson died (i.e., 1051 B.C.). Samuel evidently lived about 30 years after that. [Note: Merrill, Kingdom of . . ., pp. 149-50.]

Old Testament History
EventsBiblical References
Creation to Israel’s move to EgyptGenesis 1-50
The ExodusExodus 1-18
Israel at Mt. SinaiExodus 19 -Numbers 10
The Wilderness WanderingsNumbers 11-21
Israel on the Plains of MoabNumbers 22 -Joshua 2
The Conquest and Division of CanaanJoshua 3-24
The Amphictyony (rule by judges)Judges 1 -1 Samuel 7
The Reign of Saul1 Samuel 8-31; 1 Chronicles 10
The Reign of David2 Samuel 1-24; 1 Chronicles 11-29
The Reign of Solomon1 Kings 1-11; 2 Chronicles 1-9
Old Testament History (cont.)
EventsBiblical References
The Divided Monarchy1 Kings 12 -2 Kings 17; 2 Chronicles 10-31
The Surviving Kingdom of Judah2 Kings 18-25; 2 Chronicles 32-36
The Return under ZerubbabelEzra 1-6
The Return under EzraEzra 7-10
The Return under NehemiahNehemiah 1-13


A main purpose of the Book of Samuel seems to have been to record the establishment of kingship in Israel and to explain its theological significance. It deals with the Israelites’ initial request for a king, the establishment of that king (Saul), and the tragic results of that king’s reign. It then explains the consolidation of power under a second king (David), God’s promises to him, and his decline in his later years. The climax of the book comes in 2 Samuel 7, where God promises David an everlasting dynasty. The writer (or writers) clearly wanted to legitimatize the Davidic monarchy and dynasty. Whether and how the monarchy should be established are main subjects of 1 Samuel, and the question of who should be Israel’s king dominates much of 2 Samuel. [Note: Howard, pp. 141, 146-47.]

As with all the historical narratives of the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit’s purpose in giving us the books of 1 and 2 Samuel was not just to record events that transpired. It was primarily to teach spiritual lessons to the original readers, and to readers of all time, by revealing the causes and effects of various human responses to God’s grace. [Note: See Steven D. Mathewson, "Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming Old Testament Narratives," Bibliotheca Sacra 154:616 (October-December 1997):410-35, for help in preaching narrative portions of the Old Testament.] God guided the inspired writers of Scripture to teach theology as well as to record history. This is clear in all the so-called historical books of both Testaments. We can see this as we examine the reasons God selected the particular events and facts that He recorded for inclusion out of the mass of possible data that He could have set forth.

Scholars have disputed what it was that the writer chose to emphasize primarily in the Books of Samuel. Some have felt his unifying purpose was to demonstrate the sovereignty of God. [Note: E.g., Ludwig Kohler, Old Testament Theology, p. 94.] Some believe it was to show that God provides leadership for His people. [Note: Stanley D. Tucker, "The Theology of the Book of Samuel: A Study Of God’s Humiliation or Exaltation of Leaders," Biblical Viewpoint 12:2 (1978):152; and David F. Payne, I & II Samuel, p. 5.] Others have seen the purpose as something else. I believe those who see the record of what happens to individuals and nations, when they trust and obey God’s Word or fail to do so, have identified the primary purpose. [Note: E.g., Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, 1:26.]

For the Israelites, their commitment to obey the Mosaic Covenant out of trust in God, and gratitude for His calling them to receive His grace, would result in God blessing them (Deu_28:1-14). However if they despised His grace and departed from His will, as expressed for them in the Mosaic Covenant, He would curse them (Deu_28:15-68). Moses had explained God’s "blessing" in Deuteronomy. It included fertility for the Israelites personally as well as for their herds and crops, and it included the ability to defeat their neighbor enemies and to enjoy peace and prosperity. It also included other material and social advantages, as well as the enjoyment of an intimate spiritual relationship with God. God’s "curse," on the other hand, would be barrenness, defeat, oppression, and many other undesirable conditions.

In Samuel we have a record of how commitment to the will of God results in blessing for individuals, groups of individuals, and whole nations. This commitment should rest on an appreciation for God’s initiative in reaching out to undeserving sinners in grace. We also see how disregard for God’s Word, because of a failure to appreciate God’s grace, inevitably leads to blasting, a curse from God. These lessons are not new; the Books of Samuel are not emphasizing these things for the first time in Scripture. The Book of Joshua is a positive lesson that people who trust and obey God succeed. They even accomplish supernatural feats and prosper. The Book of Judges gives the other side of that coin. People who disregard God fail, become unproductive, suffer defeat, and sometimes die prematurely. The Books of Samuel continue the emphasis begun in Genesis and Exodus that Deuteronomy clarified, namely, that our response to God’s grace determines our destiny.


The books of Samuel are mainly narrative (stories) with some poetic sections interspersed. The main genre is theological history.

"No book of the Bible has been the object of such intense interest to literary analysts as has Samuel." [Note: Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 158.]


Longman and Dillard have identified several major themes in 1 and 2 Samuel, including the reversal of fortune, David as king, David as a man, and the Lord’s anointed. Some of the characteristic compositional techniques include: the repetition of key words, irony, and repetition. [Note: Ibid., pp. 159-61, 165.] Three important theological concerns of Deuteronomy play prominent roles in these books: the anticipation of a king for Israel, the anticipation of rest for Israel, and the anticipation of blessing for obedience and punishment for disobedience. [Note: Ibid., pp. 163-64.]


I.    Eli and Samuel 1Sa_1:1 to 1Sa_4:1 a

A.    The change from barrenness to fertility 1Sa_1:1 to 1Sa_2:10

1.    Hannah’s deliverance ch. 1

2.    Hannah’s Son_2:1-10

B.    The contrast between Samuel and Eli’s sons 1Sa_2:11-36

1.    Eli’s sons’ wickedness 1Sa_2:11-17

2.    Hannah’s godly influence on Samuel and its effect 1Sa_2:18-21

3.    Eli’s lack of influence on his sons and its effect 1Sa_2:22-26

4.    The oracle against Eli’s house 1Sa_2:27-36

C.    God’s first revelation to Samuel 1Sa_3:1 to 1Sa_4:1 a

1.    Samuel’s call 1Sa_3:1-18

2.    Samuel’s ministry 1Sa_3:19 to 1Sa_4:1 a

II.    The history of the ark of the covenant 1Sa_4:1 to 1Sa_7:1

A.    The capture of the ark 1Sa_4:1-22

1.    The battle of Aphek 1Sa_4:1-11

2.    The response of Eli 1Sa_4:12-18

3.    The response of Phinehas’ wife 1Sa_4:19-22

B.    Pagan fertility foiled by God ch. 5

C.    The ark returned to Israel by God 1Sa_6:1 to 1Sa_7:1

1.    The plan to terminate God’s judgment 1Sa_6:1-9

2.    The return of the ark to Bethshemesh 1Sa_6:10-18

3.    The removal of the ark to Kiriath-jearim 1Sa_6:19 to 1Sa_7:1

III.    Samuel and Saul 1Sa_7:2 to 1Sa_15:35

A.    Samuel’s ministry as Israel’s Jdg_7:2-17

1.    Samuel’s spiritual leadership 1Sa_7:2-4

2.    National repentance and deliverance 1Sa_7:5-14

3.    Samuel’s regular ministry 1Sa_7:15-17

B.    Kingship given to Saul chs. 8-12

1.    The demand for a king ch. 8

2.    The anointing of Saul 1Sa_9:1 to 1Sa_10:16

3.    The choice of Saul by lot 1Sa_10:17-27

4.    Saul’s effective leadership in battle 1Sa_11:1-11

5.    The confirmation of Saul as king 1Sa_11:12 to 1Sa_12:25

C.    Kingship removed from Saul chs. 13-15

1.    Saul’s disobedience at Gilgal 1Sa_13:1-15

2.    Saul’s struggle against the Philistines 1Sa_13:16 to 1Sa_14:23

3.    Saul’s cursing of Jonathan 1Sa_14:24-46

4.    Saul’s limited effectiveness in battle 1Sa_14:47-52

5.    Yahweh’s final rejection of Saul ch. 15

IV.    Saul and David chs. 16-31

A.    David’s rise as the new anointed 1Sa_16:1 to 1Sa_19:17

1.    God’s selection of David for kingship ch. 16

2.    The reason for God’s selection of David ch. 17

3.    The results of God’s selection of David 1Sa_18:1 to 1Sa_19:17

B.    David driven out by Saul 1Sa_19:18 to 1Sa_20:42

1.    God’s deliverance in Ramah 1Sa_19:18-24

2.    Jonathan’s advocacy for David ch. 20

C.    David in exile chs. 21-31

1.    David’s initial movements chs. 21-22

2.    Saul’s pursuit of David ch. 23

3.    David’s goodness to two fools chs. 24-26

4.    The end of Saul’s reign chs. 27-31

(Continued in notes on 2 Samuel)


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