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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

- 1 Samuel

by Editor - Joseph Exell


THE Books of Samuel are so called not because they were written by Samuel, though possibly some of the materials may claim him as their author, but because they describe his work for Israel; and it is not too much to say of him, that as Moses was the founder, so it was Samuel who reorganised and developed the political constitution of the Jewish nation, and enriched it with institutions which made it capable of taking the high place among the families of mankind to which the providence of God was calling it.

Its training was in every way remarkable. It had spent its childhood in Egypt, and owed a great deal to that progress in mental culture in which Egypt had outstripped the world. But it was in the wilderness, surrounded by the bracing desert, and under the command of one who had mastered all Egyptian learning, that Israel was formed into a high-souled people. And there Moses endowed it with a law, which, if valuable to us chiefly in its typical aspect, contains nevertheless so perfect a reenactment of the fundamental principles of morality that its "Ten Words" still hold their place as the best summary of the rules that should guide and control human life. In its civil and administrative aspect confessedly there was much in the Mosaic law conceded because of "the hardness of the people's hearts," or, in other words, because of their imperfect state of civilisation; but even this was intended to lead them onwards. Confessedly preparatory and educational, the institutions of Moses were but as a stage or scaffolding to aid in the erection of a more perfect building. But they pointed out what that building was to be, and can equitably be judged only in their relation to it. For we must not suppose that the mass of the people had attained to that high level on which Moses stood. Great as was the impress made upon them by his master mind, and noble as were the qualities of the Israelites themselves, yet as soon as the generation had passed away which had personally known Moses, the nation hurried back into barbarism. Instead of developing and realising the grand ideal which their lawgiver had sketched for them, they perpetually sank lower and lower. In the narratives contained in the Book of Judges we find them wild, rough, lawless, generous often, but oftener cruel; disgraced by fearful crimes, and punishing them with atrocious barbarity. The priests and Levites appear powerless and apathetic; the judges are brave soldiers, but with little administrative capacity. Even with them Gideon, an early judge, is far superior in character to Samson. Who would have thought that a nation, which seemed fast degenerating into a loose aggregate of Bedouin tribes, contained in it the germ of all that is best and noblest in modern culture, and of that pure and spiritual religion which alone has been found capable of satisfying the wants and longings of the human heart! And it was Samuel who arrested Israel's decay, and placed it upon the pathway which led it, though by an uphill and tangled route, to its high destiny of being the teacher of religion to mankind.
Never did time seem more hopeless than when Samuel arose. The Philistines, strengthened not merely by a constant influx of immigrants, but by the importation of arms from Greece, were fast reducing Israel to the condition of a subject race. It might contend on equal terms with Moab and Ammon, but the same superiority of weapons which had given Greece the victory at Marathon and Plataea made the Philistines more than a match for the rude levies of Israel. Samson with a bone might slay of the enemy heaps upon heaps, but the nation which had helmets and shields, and coats of mail, and swords and spears, must in the long run prevail. When the Assyrians had broken up Egypt into a number of petty districts, Psammetichus united them together again by means of his "brazen men;" for the cuirass made its wearer practically invulnerable. And so the loss of the sea coast, or the neglect to conquer and secure it in the days of Judah's strength (Judges 1:18, Judges 1:19), nearly lost Israel her independence, and made her forfeit her noble calling. Content with those rolling downs on which they found abundant pasture for their cattle, the princes of Judah forgot, or had never learned, that the empire of the sea carries with it the mastery of the land.

But just when it seemed that Israel must be crushed out from among the nations Samuel arose. There had been a gleam of comfort under his predecessor Eli. Of the early life of this remarkable man we know nothing. He was the head of the inferior house of Ithamar, the younger of Aaron's sons; but as the chiefs of both the priestly houses held a high place in the commonwealth of Israel, it may not after all be so extraordinary that we should find him at the commencement of the Books of Samuel possessed not only of the supreme civil power, but also of the high priesthood. We so carry back our modern notions into ancient times that any deviation from succession by right of primogeniture seems to us to require explanation. In ancient times it was the family, and not the individual, to whom the succession belonged. The more powerful of the kin, or the father's favourite, a Solomon, and not an Adonijah, took the father's place. It was this probably which led to that wholesale slaughter of relatives which usually accompanied the accession of an Oriental king. What is really remarkable is that Eli should be Israel's civil ruler. If he was strong enough to take this, no one would dispute with him the priesthood. And here Scripture is absolutely silent.
The whole tone, nevertheless, of the history sets Israel before us as enjoying under Eli a period of greater ease and prosperity than had been its lot under Samson. The hill land of Israel was so easy of defence, and the people so valiant, that under an able leader it repeatedly held its ground against the mail clad Philistines, and in Eli's days they had lost the supremacy which made even Judah during Samson's judgeship obey their commands. It was only after a long period of slow decay, of which Eli's worthless sons were the cause, that Israel lost its independence and had to submit to vassalage. It is an indication of the greatness of the reverse, that the minds of the people were so embittered against him that they have struck his name and the names of his race out of the genealogies, and have put the worst construction upon the prophecies to which the broken spirited old man submitted with such touching humility. To this cause perhaps is also due the suppression of all account of his earlier doings. What we have is taken probably from "the Acts of Samuel;" for there is a curious humour and play upon words running through all Eli's sayings such as none but a contemporary would record. Samuel, we may be sure, had a loving regard for Eli, but the people remembered him only in connection with the Philistine invasion and the cruelties which accompanied it, and of which the memory filled them with an intense horror. It was a calamity too great to be fully narrated in history, but the Psalmist speaks of it as the climax of Israel's degradation (Psalms 78:59-64), when God "greatly abhorred" them; and the mention of it by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26:0.) roused all Jerusalem to fury. It was thus from its deepest fall that Samuel raised the nation to a new life, and from its shattered ruins built it up into an orderly and progressive kingdom.

The foundation of all his reforms was the restoration of the moral and religious life of the people. Without this nothing was possible. But in spite of all its faults, Israel was still sound at heart, simple minded and primitive; backward indeed in culture, but free from those debasing and effeminate vices which too often make sensuality the companion of refinement. It was no sickly, sentimental people among whom Samuel preached; and when his words had brought conviction to them, with strong heart they followed him; and so he won for them an alleviation of the Philistine yoke, and prepared the way for its final destruction. In a year when the elements were greatly disturbed — for there was lightning during wheat harvest — a violent thunderstorm enabled the Israelites, rushing down the steep hill of Mizpeh, to break the terrified ranks of the Philistines, and God by the great deliverance wrought that day set his seal to the prophet's work.
But as long as a man's work depends upon his personal energy it has no enduring existence. Many men who in life have been all powerful have left behind them nothing more lasting than a Jonah's gourd. Samuel was too wise to trust to mere personal influence. If Israel was to be saved, it must be by institutions which would daily exercise their pressure, and push the people upward to a higher level. He seems to have studied the past history of his nation carefully, and to have clearly seen where its weakness lay. And so he set himself earnestly to the task of giving it mental culture and orderly government; externally security from danger, internally progressive development. The means he employed for the nation's internal growth was the founding of schools, and here the honour of the initiative belongs to him, as well as of the wise development of his institutions. What Walter de Merton long afterwards did for Oxford and England, that Samuel effected for Israel. But as regards the kingdom he was rather the regulator than the initiator of the movement. Still his wise mind saw the ripeness of the times for it, and to him is due its greatness and success.
Thus then, in prophecy and the kingdom, Samuel gave to Israel first education, and secondly constitutional monarchy. Samuel was the first founder of schools, and as the great and primary object of his life had been the internal reformation of the Jewish people, we can well understand how his personal work had led onwards to this attempt to redeem his countrymen from ignorance. In those long years which he spent in perpetual wanderings up and down the laud he must have constantly found that a chief obstacle to his work was the low mental state of the people. He had been brought up himself amidst whatever learning the nation had imported with it from Egypt; but Shiloh's sun had set. Was learning to perish with it? Nowhere in Israel were men to be found fit to bear office or administer justice. The decisive failure of one so highly gifted by nature as Saul, and who started with so much in his favour, and under Samuel's guidance, but who seems to have had no ideas beyond fighting, proves that Samuel was right in his hesitation about creating a king. The fitting man was nowhere to be found. Schools were the primary necessity. Through them the whole mental state of the people would be raised, and men be trained to serve God in Church and State. From these schools came forth a David. Without them the brave warrior, but fierce despot, Saul was all that was possible.
At the Naioth, or Students' Lodgings, for so the word means, near Ramah, his own patrimonial inheritance, Samuel gathered the young men who were to lift up Israel from its debasement. He taught them reading, writing, and music; he also impressed their minds with solemn religious services, and apparently made history and psalmody their two chief studies. These schools were termed Schools of the Prophets not only because Samuel was a prophet, and the teachers bore the same honoured name, but because the young men were trained expressly for the service of Jehovah. Of course Samuel did not expect his students to receive the gift of inspiration. That was the most rare and precious of gifts, to be obtained by no education, but bestowed directly by God; from whom it might come to a herdman, with only such learning as could be picked up in a country town (Amos 7:14, Amos 7:15), but was never given except for high purposes, and where there was a special internal fitness on the part of the receiver. But the word has a wide meaning in Holy Scripture. Any religious uninspired service, especially if musical, was called prophecy, David's trained singers prophesied with harps and other instruments (1 Chronicles 25:1-3). But all of them, inspired and uninspired, went forth to do work for Jehovah; not as priests, not necessarily as teachers, or as musicians, though they were Israel's bards. The institution was essentially free, was open to all comers, and when educated the prophet might return to his farm, or to some avocation of town life. But he was first of all an educated man, and, secondly, he had been taught the nature of Jehovah, how he was to be worshipped, and what was the life which every member of a covenant nation ought to lead.

Thus Samuel's schools not only raised Israel to a higher mental level, but were the great means for maintaining the worship of Jehovah, and teaching the people true and spiritual notions of the nature of God. As such we find future prophets earnest in maintaining them. Incidentally we learn that Elijah's last earthly work was the visitation of the prophetic schools at Gilgal, at Bethel, and at Jericho. He must have restored these schools, for Jezebel had done her utmost to exterminate the prophets. He must also have laboured with masterly energy; for within ten years after Elijah's great victory at Mount Carmel, Ahab, at Jehoshaphat's request, was able to collect at Samaria no less than 400 men who claimed to be "prophets of Jehovah." Of Elisha we have abundant evidence that the main business of his life was to foster these schools, and even personally teach in them (2 Kings 4:38). What we read of these two men was probably true of all the great prophets. At suitable places there were schools in which they gathered the young men of Israel, and the learning which at Shiloh had been confined within the sacred priestly enclosure was made by them general and national It ceased to be a special prerogative, and became the inheritance of the whole race. Apparently it culminated in the time of Hezekiah, and then came the Assyrian invasions, and with them the destruction of a high and noble civilisation. But under Ezra and the men of the great synagogue it revived, and Israel became again, and continued to be, a learned and intellectual nation.

This then was one part of the labours of Samuel. He laid the foundation and fostered the rapid growth of a grand system of national education. At Ramah he trained men to be Israel's teachers; but he did not confine himself to this. Most of the great ornaments of David's court were his disciples, and it is probable that large numbers of the wealthy and more promising youth of the kingdom went to his schools simply to learn something of those wonderful arts of reading and writing, which opened so new a world to the youth of a race always distinguished for its intellectual aptitudes. And through them Samuel raised the whole people mentally and morally. Trained men henceforward were never wanting for high service both at court and throughout the land. Other results followed of which the whole world reaps the benefit. The gift of a series of inspired men would have been impossible had Israel continued in the state of barbarous ignorance into which it had sunk in the time of the Judges. Brave fighting men there might have been plenty; occasionally a man of witty jest and proverb like Samson; an Isaiah never. He and his compeers were educated men, speaking to an educated people, and themselves foremost in the rank of teachers. When inspired prophecy ceased, gradually the scribes took the prophets' place; so much so that in the Chaldee Targum "prophet" is often translated "scribe;" and however inferior their work, yet they kept learning alive. The Old Testament was the fruit of Samuel's schools, and so also was the New. The noble tree which he had planted was still vigorous when our Lord traversed the land of Israel; for none but an educated people could have understood his teaching, and retained it in their memories, and taught it to mankind. If St. Paul added to the teaching of Gamaliel the intellectual training of a Greek university, it was in order that he might give to Christian teaching that many-sidedness which was necessary for its reception by Greek and barbarian as well as by Jew. But side by side with him in equal perfectness stands the Jewish St. John. Who will say which of the two shall carry off the palm? And it was Samuel who laid the broad foundations of that culture which, carried on first by prophets and then by scribes, made the Jews capable of writing the Bible, of translating the Old Testament into Greek, of teaching its principles in most of the cities of Greece, and finally of going forth as missionaries, carrying with them the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The other great labour of Samuel was concerned with the establishment of the kingdom, as an external necessity for Israel's orderly development. And here again we find a man far in advance of his age; for his great aim and purpose was to found a limited, or, as we might even call it, a constitutional, monarchy. To a certain extent he was an unwilling agent; for he saw that the times were not ripe. A limited monarchy is only possible among an educated people, and Samuel's Book of the Kingdom (1 Samuel 10:25) could have had but little influence upon a Saul, who could neither read nor write. Perhaps anarchy is inevitably renewed by despotism, and certainly Saul became too like what Samuel feared the king would be. It was only after he had trained David that there was a Jewish Alfred ready to sit upon the throne; and when we read so emphatically that he was a king after God's own heart, we must bear in mind that, with all his private faults, David never attempted to set himself above God's law, or even to pervert it to his own use. He strictly confined himself within the limits of a theocratic king, and his crimes were personal, and as such repented of, and the punishment humbly borne.

But the term theocracy is ambiguous, or at least has two sides according to the nature of its administration. As administered by the high priest it was a failure. The appeal to Jehovah by Urim and Thummim was seldom made, and then only under exceptional circumstances, and there was no orderly method of carrying out its commands. Those commands themselves were of the most general kind, confined apparently to a simple affirmative or negative. It was thus irregular, fitful, in abeyance in all calm and peaceful epochs, and when called into exercise was liable to terrible abuse, which it even seemed to sanction. When Israel set itself to exterminate the tribe of Benjamin, the people may have supposed that they had a sort of religious approval of their extreme measures in the fact that the oracle had encouraged them to make the third attack (Judges 20:28). Really the ferocity was their own, and the priest who had given an affirmative answer to their question may and ought to have been horrified at the cruelty which followed upon the victory, and which he was absolutely powerless to prevent. A theocracy has been tried again in the Papacy, with much the same result, of being actually one of the worst possible forms of government; and, like the theocracy of the time of the Judges, it must necessarily be a snare to the conscience, as claiming or appearing to give religious sanction to deeds that offend the moral sense.

The theocracy which Samuel endeavoured to establish was that of kingly power in the hands of a layman, but acting in obedience to the written law of God, or to his will as declared from time to time by the living voice of prophecy. It was a monarchy limited by the priest and the prophet, the former taking his stand upon the Mosaic law, the latter with a more free and active force giving a direct command in God's name, appealing to the king's moral sense, and usually representing also the popular feeling. To the old theocracy there had practically been no cheek, and, what was almost as bad, no person responsible for carrying out its commands. But it seems soon to have fallen into abeyance, and the judges were men raised up irregularly under the pressure of some extreme peril. Usually they did well, chiefly in expelling invaders from the land, but the priest with the ephod took in their exploits little or no share. Under so irregular a form of government there was small chance for the orderly development of the powers that lay dormant within Israel, and which were to make it a blessing to all the nations of the earth.
Samuel's object was to found a monarchy active and powerful for the maintenance at all times of order, but controlled by such checks as would prevent it from becoming a despotism. And here we have the key to his struggle with Saul. Samuel had a hearty detestation of mere arbitrary power, as we know from his own words to the elders (1 Samuel 8:11-18); but Saul with his bodyguard of 3000 men had both the will and the means of making himself absolute. Perhaps all minds of great military ability have a natural tendency to arbitrariness. Unqualified obedience is a soldier's duty, and a general knows that in discipline lies his strength. It is otherwise with a king. He is the best ruler who trains his people to habits of self-reliance, and to do what is right not because he orders it, but because they choose it. A nation drilled to obedience, a Church made orthodox by having its creed forced upon it, loses thereby all moral strength, because, alike in national and religious life, it is only by the exercise of a moral choice that human nature can advance upward. Samuel was labouring for Israel's growth in all that was good, and the only king of whom he could approve was one under whom Israel would be free to work out its own destiny; and such a king would be no tyrant, but one who would rule in submission to the same law as that which governed the people. The two particulars in which Saul set his own will above the command of Samuel may have been matters of no great primary importance. But the one happened soon after Saul's appointment, and thus showed a very early tendency on his part to make his own judgment supreme; the other was an express order, backed by Israel's past history; and both were given by the man who had called Saul to the throne. But the real point at issue was that Saul was moving so quickly towards despotism, and that when a second trial of him was made he had advanced a long way towards it; and never was despot more thorough than Saul when he stained his hands with the blood of the priests at Nob, and of their innocent wives and children, on the mere supposition of their complicity with David's escape. Possibly, if we knew the particulars, the slaughter of the Gibeonites was a crime of the same deep dye. It is at least significant that the cause of the famine was said to be "Saul and his bloody house." People in those days were not so tenderhearted as to have troubled much about putting a few men of a subject race to death, unless the deed had been done barbarously. The manner of it must have shocked them, or it would not have remained imprinted so deeply upon the conscience of the nation.

In David, trained by Samuel from his youth, we have a noble example of a theocratic king, and that notable fact, which I have already pointed out, that David, in spite of his terrible personal crimes, never set himself above the law, was due we may feel sure to Samuel's early teaching. He had in Joab the very man to he the willing tool of a despot. He would have delighted in playing a Doeg's part. David valued his faithfulness, appreciated his bravery and skill, nay, even used him for his crimes, but he shrank from his lawlessness. God was always in David's eyes greater than himself. His law, often violated in hours of lust, was nevertheless to be bowed before as supreme. And so as regards his subjects, there seems to have been no intentional oppression of them. The idea of law was ever a ruling one in David's mind, and thus he approached Samuel's ideal of "the anointed one," though his fierce passions brought upon him personally deep and terrible stains.
It was thus Samuel's lot to sketch out two of the main lines of thought which converge in Christ. The idea of the prophet and the idea of the king gain under him their shape and proportion. This is especially true as regards the latter. The king is ever in Samuel's eyes "the Messiah," Jehovah's anointed one. Again and again the word occurs with marked prominence. And it was the pregnant germ of a great future with the Jew. He never lost the idea, but carried it onward and forward, with David's portrait for its centre, as of one in whom Messiah's lineaments were marked in outline, feebly indeed and imperfectly, but with the certainty that a Messiah would come who would fill up with glorious beauty that faint, blurred Sketch.
Such then is a brief summary of Samuel's work, and it justifies us in claiming especial importance for this portion of Jewish history, independently of the interest connected with the development of two such extraordinary characters as Saul and David, and with the many remarkable persons grouped around them, such as Eli and Jonathan, and the brave soldiers who formed the court of the two kings.
As regards the external history and description of the Books of Samuel, the following are the points most worthy of notice: —

§ 1. NAME.

In Hebrew manuscripts the two Books form but one; it is in the Septuagint that we find them divided, and called the First and Second Books of the Kingdoms. The Vulgate has followed the Septuagint in its division, but calls them the First and Second Books of Kings. Finally, Daniel Bomberg, in the great Hebrew Bible published by him at Venice early in the sixteenth century, adopted this arrangement, and most modern Hebrew Bibles follow his example. But the division is most awkward. Saul's death is separated from David's pathetic lamentation over the fallen monarch, and the break in the narrative prevents the reader from following easily the development of David's character and history. In these days, When no matters of convenience require the disruption of the Book, a great advantage would be gained by once again arranging it as a whole, instead of following the Septuagint in its unphilosophical division. The name there, "Books of the Kingdoms," refers to the two monarchies of Israel and Judah, and is carried on through the two following Books of Kings.

§ 2. AUTHOR.

Who was the compiler of the Book of Samuel is absolutely unknown, and we are left also to gather our conclusions as to the date and character of its composition from incidental facts and allusions scattered through the history. One such conclusion forced upon us is that the Book is made up of a number of detached narratives, each of which is complete in itself, and carries the history down into its remoter consequences. Of these narratives we have five or six grouped together in 2 Samuel 21-24, without any attempt at arrangement. The execution of Saul's seven sons or grandsons, the list of victories over the Philistines, David's psalm of thanksgiving, his last words, the names of his heroes, and the numbering of the people seem placed thus at the end because the compiler had no means of knowing what was their proper place in the history. The "last words" might fitly form the conclusion of the whole, but the other narratives are entirely out of place, and conceal from the reader how little we know of David's conduct after he had returned to Jerusalem, penitent and saddened by the death of his beloved but unfilial son. The question thus arises as to what were the materials at the disposal Of the compiler of these Books.


First then and foremost there were the Acts or Memoirs of Samuel himself. For the words of 1 Chronicles 29:29 literally are, "And the Acts (or matters) of David the]dug, behold, they are written upon the Acts of Samuel the Roeh, and upon the Acts of Nathan the Nabi, and upon the Acts of Gad the Chozeh." It is interesting to find in these words the archaic title of Roeh (see 1 Samuel 9:9) still clinging to Samuel, but still more so to find that records were kept apparently by himself. He had been educated at Shiloh among all the learning of the priesthood, and the place, protected by the powerful tribe of Ephraim, had remained unravaged by war, so that whatever records had been laid up with the ark, or written since the days of Joshua, himself no mean scribe, had accumulated there. We may well believe that a youth with such great natural abilities as Samuel had made no ordinary use of such opportunities, and whatever was saved for the use of future times from the wreck of Shiloh was most probably removed through his exertions and wise forethought.

In 1 Chronicles 27:24 we also read of "the Chronicles of King David," or, more literally, "the Acts of the Days of King David," i.e. a digest of his acts arranged in chronological order. But when we read in 2 Samuel 8:16, 2 Samuel 8:17 of two officers of David's court, of whom one, Jehoshaphat, was recorder, the other, Seraiah, was scribe, we must not rashly conclude that their duties were historical The recorder, or, as the word means, remembrancer, was more probably a judge, whose business it was to enrol and publish royal decrees; while the scribe was a state secretary, concerned with the army and with the king's exchequer. It seems to have fallen to the lot of the prophets to write histories, probably for the use of the prophetic schools,, and certainly as the result of the bent given to their minds by their studies in those institutions.

Thus henceforward the prophets, and not the priests, became the custodians of Israel's literature. In the Books of Chronicles a numerous list of authors is given, who almost to a man are expressly said to have been prophets or seers. At every prophetic college there would be gathered stores of such writings, and also of psalms and poems. David probably arranged the ritual of the temple after the fashion of Samuel's services (1 Samuel 19:20), for which reason doubtless psalmody, as we have seen, was called prophesying, and consequently the temple would also have its library of hymns and musical compositions. Moreover, the prophet Gad is also supposed by many to have made the collection of songs and ballads called the Book of Jasher, i.e. the Upright, whence was taken David's spirited elegy over Saul and Jonathan. As Gad was David's companion in his wanderings from the time he took refuge in Moab (1 Samuel 22:5) till his death, his Acts must have contained full information of all the more important events of David's life.

But it is easy to overestimate the completeness and extent of these contemporary records. Literature depends very much upon the nature of the materials available for writing. Printing followed at once upon the discovery of paper. The copious materials now being brought to Europe illustrative of Assyrian history are the result of the use that people made of cheap tablets of clay. The materials most frequently referred to in the Bible are tablets of metal. With no cheaper or more convenient writing materials Gad's records would be but scanty, and David's psalms must have been for several years chiefly preserved by memory. The Canaanites had certainly known how to prepare skins for writing, and when Samuel's schools had caused a revival of learning, the art was probably restored. Perhaps it had never been entirely lost, and Samuel may have obtained such skins for writing Iris book upon "the manner of the kingdom" (1 Samuel 10:25); but we can hardly imagine that writing materials were easy to procure until the prosperous days of David's kingdom.

With skins of animals or plates of metal still used in Isaiah's days (Isaiah 8:1, where tablet is wrongly translated roll), the narratives would be short and each complete in itself. This fact has often been noticed in the Commentary. Thus the narrative in 1 Samuel 7:0. carries the history down to Samuel's death. The narrative in ch. 14. carries Saul's history down to the end of his victorious wars. That in ch. 16. gives us David's history up to the time when Saul began to envy and hate him. We may safely conclude that the Acts of Samuel, of Nathan, of Gad, and even the Chronicles of King David, were not well digested histories, but a series of brief stories each complete in itself. These the compiler, in days when they had not merely skins, but even rolls made of many skins sewn together, seems to have arranged, adding a note here and there, blending perhaps occasionally several narratives into one, but never attempting to form out of them a consecutive history, such as a Thucydides or a modern writer, formed upon classical models, would have done.

§ 4. DATE.

The next question refers to the compiler's date, and here some of our materials are sufficiently decisive. When we are told that "Ziklag pertaineth unto the kings of Judah unto this day" (1 Samuel 27:6), it is plain that he lived after the disruption of Solomon's kingdom. When he thinks it necessary to apologise for Samuel being called a roeh, it is plain that the name had ceased to be honourable, and, by that degradation which happens to so many titles of office or sex, had become a term of dubious respectability. There is too the frequent recurrence of the phrase "unto this day;" the change of the name of Saul's successor from Ishbaal to Ishbosheth; the distinction between Israel and Judah in passages like 1 Samuel 18:16, where nothing but subsequent usage would have made a writer so express himself; the note that even princesses wore the same dress as men (the men) in 2 Samuel 13:18, and so on. But besides these there are one or two other facts not so generally referred to, and which may be worth noting.

Thus, then, we have seen that the compiler places six narratives at the end of the second Book because, excepting David's "last words," there was nothing in them to show to what period of his reign they belonged. Evidently a considerable interval must have elapsed before tradition had so completely died out as to leave no trace behind for the historian's guidance. The same conclusion follows from his uncertainty as to the chronology of Saul's reign. The compiler uses the formula common in the Books of Kings, but he cannot fill it up. Literally he says, "Saul was one year old when he began to reign, and he reigned two years over Israel." Evidently the numbers one and two answer to our formula M and N. The compiler plainly knew neither Saul's age nor the length of his reign. St. Paul (Acts 13:21) says that Saul reigned forty years; but not only is forty with Hebrew writers a most indefinite number, signifying a "good long time," but it is very uncertain when these forty years begin and end. They certainly include the seven and a half years during which the house of Saul maintained a show of ruling, and possibly also several years during which Samuel was judge. Some think that as Saul is described as a "young man" (1 Samuel 9:2) when Samuel anointed him, but had a grown up son when he was made king, there was a long abeyance, either before he was chosen by lot as king, or possibly between that and his defeat of the Ammonites. But what was hard for the compiler is still harder for us, and the chronology of Saul's reign is beset with difficulties.

On the other hand, the style of the Hebrew is more pure and free from Aramaisms than that of the Books of Kings. Local worship, moreover, and sacrifices are spoken of without any doubt of their propriety, whereas in the Books of Kings they are condemned. It is a further note of antiquity that the compiler never refers to his authorities, nor are there any hints or allusions to late Jewish history. While then we can at best only give a conjectural date, yet we may feel sure that the compiler must have lived at some period between the reign of Rehoboam and the upgrowth of the strong disapproval of worship anywhere except at Jerusalem. The reign of Jehoshaphat is a not improbable era, for "the high places were not taken away" (2 Chronicles 20:33), though idolatry was sternly repressed. Had the compiler lived nearer to David's reign, he would probably have been able to give us more definite information as to Saul's age and the duration of his kingdom.


The Books of Samuel are classed by the Jews among the "Early Prophets" for the reason given above, that history was their especial study, and the compiler we may feel sure belonged to their order as well as did the writers of the various "books of acts" used by him. The "Early Prophets" comprise the Books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, and all these works were most probably written for the use of the prophetic schools, and certainly were the result of the mental activity awakened in Israel by Samuel, and maintained by those who after his decease presided over the colleges which he had called into existence.


The Books of Samuel naturally arrange themselves into four parts according to the chief actors. In Part I., consisting of chs. 1-7., we have the history of Samuel as the restorer of Israel. This again divides itself into two portions, of which the former, consisting of chs. 1-3., gives us the details of Samuel's birth and early life up to the time when he was acknowledged by all Israel as a prophet; while the latter, chs. 4-7., gives us Samuel as judge. With this the period of the Judges closes, and in Part II., chs. 8-15., we have the history of the first king, Saul, including the preparation for his appointment, his establishment as king, and his final rejection.

In Part III., chs. 16-31., David is the chief actor, but side by side with Saul, and we see the one daily declining in moral worth and external prosperity, while the other is ripening into the full stature of a theocratic king. During most of this period Samuel lived on no unconcerned spectator of the development of Jehovah's purpose, though devoting his own time to the training of the young men who came to his schools. Finally Saul falls so low as to become the dupe of a wicked charlatan, and dies by his own hand in battle.

In Part IV., 2 Samuel 1-24., David is the sole hero of the narrative. In the first section, chs. 1-10., we see him made king, and reigning in glory. In the second, chs. 11-17., his glory is tarnished by personal vices, imitated too readily by his sons; upon these follow bloodshed in his family, rebellion, and the loss of the royal power. In the third section, chs. 19., 20., we see him restored to his throne. In the last, chs. 21-24., we have an appendix, the contents of which have been already described. Naturally we long to know how David reigned after so severe a punishment, and would gladly have seen how he retrieved in his later years the crimes of his passion fraught manhood. But the ways of God are not as the ways of man. A veil is thrown over this portion of David's reign, but we may gather from his last words, and from his psalm of thanksgiving, that he returned to Jerusalem a changed man, and that his last years rivalled in piety his early promise.


The most important modern works upon the Books of Samuel are, in German, the commentaries of O. Thenius, 'Kurzgef. Handbuch z A. Test.,' 2te Auflage, Leipzig, 1864; C.F. Keil, ' Bibl. Com. u. das A. Test.,' Leipzig, 1864; C.F.D. Erdmann, in Lange's 'Theol. Horn. Bibelwerk,' Bielefeld, 1873; and Bunsen, ' Bibelwerk, die Propheten.'
On the text of the Books of Samuel there is a useful treatise by L.J. Wellhausen, Gottingen, 1871. In English the most important commentaries are that in the 'Speaker's Commentary' by the Bishop of Bath and Wells; Bishop Wordsworth's; and the translations of Keil and Erdmann, the latter in Dr. Schaffs edition of Lange, Clark, Edinburgh, 1877.
Other illustrative works are Ewald's 'History of Israel;' Stanley's 'Lectures on the Jewish Church;' Robinson's 'Biblical Researches;' Wilson's 'Lands of the Bible;' Thomson's 'The Land and the Book;' and Conder's 'Tent Work in Palestine,' a most valuable addition to our knowledge of the Holy Land.

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