International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Samuel, Books of
1. Life of Samuel (1 Samuel 1 through 15)
2. Reign and Death of Saul (1 Samuel 16 through 2 Samuel 1 )
3. Reign of David (2 Samuel 2 through 20)
4. Appendix (2 Samuel 21 through 24)
Two Main and Independent Sources
I. Place of the Books of Samuel in the Hebrew Canon.
In the Hebrew Canon and enumeration of the sacred books of the Old Testament, the two Books of Samuel were reckoned as one, and formed the third division of the Earlier Prophets ( נביאים ראשׁנים ,
II. Contents of the Books and Period of Time Covered by the History.
The narrative of the two Books of Samuel covers a period of about a hundred years, from the close of the unsettled era of the Judges to the establishment and consolidation of the kingdom under David. It is therefore a record of the changes, national and constitutional, which accompanied this growth and development of the national life, at the close of which the Israelites found themselves a united people under the rule of a king to whom all owed allegiance, controlled and guided by more or less definitely established institutions and laws. This may be described as the general purpose and main theme of the books, to trace the advance of the people under divine guidance to a state of settled prosperity and union in the promised land, and to give prominence to theocratic rule which was the essential condition of Israel's life as the people of God under all the changing forms of early government. The narrative therefore centers itself around the lives of the three men, Samuel, Saul and David, who were chiefly instrumental in the establishment of the monarchy, and to whom it was due more than to any others that Israel emerged from the depressed and disunited state in which the tribes had remained during the period of the rule of the Judges, and came into possession of a combined and effective national life. If the formal separation therefore into two books be disregarded, the history of Israel as it is narrated in "Samuel" is most naturally divided into three parts, which are followed by an appendix recording words and incidents which for some reason had not found a place in the general narrative:
A. The life and rule of Samuel (1 Samuel 1 through 15) (death 1 Samuel 25:1 ).
B. The life, reign and death of Saul (1 Samuel 16 through 2 Samuel 1 ).
C. The reign and acts of David to the suppression of the two rebellions of Absalom and Sheba (2 Samuel 2 through 20).
D. Appendix; other incidents in the reign of David, the names of his chief warriors and his Song or Psalm of Praise (2 Samuel 21-24 ).
III. Summary and Analysis.
To present a brief and clear analysis of these Books of Samuel is not altogether easy. For as in the Pentateuch and the earlier historical Books of Joshua and Judges, repetitions and apparently duplicate accounts of the same event are found, which interfere with the chronological development of the narrative. Even the main divisions, as stated above, to a certain extent overlap.
1. Life of Samuel (1 Samuel 1 Through 15):
(1) Visit of Hannah to Shiloh, and promise of the birth of a son (1 Samuel 1:1-19 ); birth and weaning of Samuel, and presentation to Eli at Shiloh (1 Samuel 1:19-28 ).
(2) Hannah's song or prayer (1 Samuel 2:1-10 ); ministry of Samuel to Eli the priest (1 Samuel 2:11 , 1 Samuel 2:18-21 , 1 Samuel 2:26 ); the evil practices of the sons of Eli and warning to Eli of the consequences to his house (1 Samuel 2:12-17 , 1 Samuel 2:22-25 , 1 Samuel 2:27-36 ).
(3) Samuel's vision at the sanctuary and his induction to the prophetic office (1 Samuel 3:1 through 4:1).
(4) Defeat of the Israelites by the Philistines, capture of the ark of God, death of the two sons of Eli and of Eli himself (1 Samuel 4 ).
(5) Discomfiture of Dagon before the ark of God at Ashdod; return of the ark to Beth-shemesh, with expiatory offerings of golden tumors and golden mice; its twenty years' sojourn at Kiriath-jearim (1 Samuel 5:1 through 7:4).
(6) Assembly of Israel under Samuel at Mizpah, and victory over the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:5-14 ); Samuel established as judge over all Israel (1 Samuel 7:15-17 ).
(7) Samuel's sons appointed to be judges and the consequent demand of the people for a king; Samuel's warning concerning the character of the king for whom they asked (1 Samuel 8 ).
(8) Saul's search for, the lost asses of his father and meeting with Samuel (1 Samuel 9 ).
(9) Saul is anointed by Samuel to be ruler over the people of Israel, and receives the gift of prophecy (1 Samuel 10:1-16 ); second assembly of the people under Samuel at Mizpah, and election of Saul to be king (1 Samuel 10:17-27 ).
(10) Victory of Saul over the Ammonites and deliverance of Jabesh-gilead (1 Samuel 11:1-13 ); Saul made king in Gilgal (1 Samuel 11:14 , 1 Samuel 11:15 ).
(11) Samuel's address to the people in Gilgal, defending his own life and action, and exhorting them to fear and serve the Lord (1 Samuel 12 ).
(12) Saul at Gilgal offers the burnt offering in Samuel's absence; gathering of the Philistines to battie at Michmash; the Israelites' lack of weapons of iron (1 Samuel 13 ).
(13) Jonathan's surprise of the Philistine army, and their sudden panic (1 Samuel 14:1-23 ); Saul's vow, unwittingly broken by Jonathan, whom the people deliver from the fatal consequences (1 Samuel 14:24-45 ); victories of Saul over his enemies on every side (1 Samuel 14:46-52 ).
(14) War against Amalek, and Saul's disobedience to the divine command to exterminate the Amaleldtes (1 Samuel 15 ).
2. Reign and Death of Saul (1 Samuel 16 Through 2 Samuel 1 ):
(1) Anointing of David as Saul's successor (1 Samuel 16:1-13 ); his summons to the court of Saul to act as minstrel before the king (1 Samuel 16:14-23 ).
(2) David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17 ).
(3) The love of David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:1-4 ); the former's advancement and fame, the jealousy of Saul, and his attempt to kill David (1 Samuel 18:5-16 , 1 Samuel 18:29 , 1 Samuel 18:30 ); David's marriage to the daughter of Saul (1 Samuel 18:17-28 ).
(4) Saul's renewed jealousy of David and second attempt to kill him (1 Samuel 19:1-17 ); David's escape to Ramah, whither the king followed (1 Samuel 19:18-24 ).
(5) Jonathan's warning to David of his father's resolve and their parting (1 Samuel 20 ).
(6) David at Nob (1 Samuel 21:1-9 ); and with Achish of Gath (1 Samuel 21:10-15 ).
(7) David's band of outlaws at Adullam (1 Samuel 22:1 , 1 Samuel 22:2 ); his provision for the safety of his father and mother in Moab (1 Samuel 22:3-5 ); vengeance of Saul on those who had helped David (1 Sam 22:6-23).
(8) Repeated attempts of Saul to take David (1 Samuel 23; 24 ).
(9) Death of Samuel (1 Samuel 25:1 ); Abigail becomes David's wife, after the death of her husband Nabal (1 Sam 25:2-44).
(10) Saul's further pursuit of David (1 Samuel 26 ).
(11) David's sojourn with Achish of Gath (1 Samuel 27:1 through 28:2,29); Saul and the witch of Endor ( 1 Samuel 28:3-25 ).
(12) David's pursuit of the Amalekites who had raided Ziklag, and victory (1 Samuel 30 ).
(13) Battle between the Philistines and Israel in Mt. Gilboa and death of Saul (1 Samuel 31:1-13 ).
(14) News of Saul's death brought to David at Ziklag (2 Samuel 1:1-16 ); David's lamentation over Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:17-27 ).
3. Reign of David (2 Samuel 2 Through 20):
(1) David's Seven and a Half Years' Reign over Judah in Hebron (2 Samuel 2:1 through 5:3).
( a ) Consecration of David as king in Hebron ( 2 Samuel 2:1-4 ); message to the men of Jabesh-gilead (2 Samuel 2:4-7 ); Ish-bosheth made king over Northern Israel (2 Samuel 2:8-11 ); defeat of Abner and death of Asahel (2 Sam 2:12-32).
( b ) Increase of the fame and prosperity of David, and the names of his sons ( 2 Samuel 3:1-5 ); Abner's submission to David, and treacherous murder of the former by Joab (2 Sam 3:6-39).
( 100 ) Murder of Ish-bosheth and David's vengeance upon his murderers ( 2 Samuel 4:1-3 , 2 Samuel 4:5-12 ); notice of the escape of Mephibosheth, when Saul and Jonathan were slain at Jezreel (2 Samuel 4:4 ).
( d ) David accepted as king over all Israel ( 2 Samuel 5:1-3 ).
(2) Reign of David in Jerusalem over United Israel (2 Samuel 5:4 through 20:26).
( a ) Taking of Jerusalem and victories over the Philistines ( 2 Samuel 5:4-25 ).
( b ) Return of the ark to the city of David ( 2 Samuel 6 ).
( 100 ) David's purpose to build a temple for the Lord ( 2 Samuel 7:1-3 ); the divine answer by the prophet Nathan, and the king's prayer (2 Sam 7:4-29).
( d ) Victories over the Philistines, Syrians, and other peoples ( 2 Samuel 8 ).
( e ) David's reception of Mephibosheth ( 2 Samuel 9:1-13 ).
( f ) Defeat of the Ammonites and Syrians by the men of Israel under the command of Joab ( 2 Samuel 10:1 through 11:1).
( g ) David and Uriah, the latter's death in battle, and David's marriage with Bath-sheba ( 2 Samuel 11:2-27 ).
( h ) Nathan's parable and David's conviction of sin ( 2 Samuel 12:1-15 ); the king's grief and intercession for his sick son (2 Samuel 12:15-25 ); siege and capture of Rabbah, the Ammonite capital (2 Samuel 12:26-31 ).
( i ) Amnon and Tamar ( 2 Samuel 13:1-22 ); Absalom's revenge and murder of Amnon (2 Samuel 13:23-36 ); flight of Absalom (2 Samuel 13:37-39 ).
( j ) Return of Absalom to Jerusalem ( 2 Samuel 14:1-24 ); his beauty, and reconciliation with the king (2 Samuel 14:25-33 ).
( k ) Absalom's method of ingratiating himself with the people ( 2 Samuel 15:1-6 ); his revolt and the flight of the king from Jerusalem (2 Sam 15:7-31); meeting with Hushai (2 Samuel 15:32-37 ); Absalom in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 15:37 ).
( 50 ) David's' meeting with Ziba ( 2 Samuel 16:1-4 ), and Shimei (2 Samuel 16:5-14 ); counsel of Ahitophel and Hushai (2 Sam 16:15 through 17:14); the news carried to David (2 Samuel 17:15-22 ); death of Ahitophel (2 Samuel 17:23 ).
( m ) David at Mahanaim ( 2 Samuel 17:24-29 ).
( n ) The revolt subdued, death of Absalom, and reception by David of the tidings ( 2 Samuel 18:1 through 19:8a).
( o ) Return of the king to Jerusalem, and meetings with Shimei, Mephibosheth, and Barzillai the Gileadite ( 2 Samuel 19:8b-43 ).
( p ) Revolt of Sheba the Benjamite, and its suppression by Joab with the death of Amasa ( 2 Samuel 20:1 , 2 Samuel 20:2 , 4-22); the king's treatment of the concubines left at Jerusalem (2 Samuel 20:3 ); the names of his officers (2 Samuel 20:23-26 ).
4. Appendix (2 Samuel 21 Through 24):
(1) Seven male descendants of Saul put to death at the instance of the Gibeonites (2 Samuel 21:1-14 ); incidents of wars with the Philistines (2 Samuel 21:15-22 ).
(2) David's song of thanksgiving and praise (2 Samuel 22 ).
(3) The "last words" of David (2 Samuel 23:1-7 ); names and exploits of David's "mighty men" (2 Sam 23:8-39).
(4) The king's numbering of the people, the resulting plague, and the dedication of the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite (2 Samuel 24 ).
IV. Sources of the History.
The natural inference from the character and contents of the Books of Samuel, as thus reviewed, is that the writer has made use of authorities, "sources" or "documents," from which he has compiled a narrative of the events which it was his desire to place on record. The same characteristics are noticeable here which are found in parts of the Pentateuch and of the Books of Joshua and Judges, that in some instances duplicate or parallel accounts are given of one and the same event, which seems to be regarded from different points of view and is narrated in a style which is more or less divergent from that of the companion record. Examples of this so-called duplication are more frequent in the earlier parts of the books than in the later. There are presented, for instance, two accounts of Saul's election as king, and an act of disobedience is twice followed, apparently quite independently, by the sentence of rejection. Independent also and hardly consistent narratives are given of David's introduction to Saul (1 Samuel 16:14-23; 1 Samuel 17:31 ff, 55 ff); and the two accounts of the manner of the king's death can be imperfectly reconciled only on the hypothesis that the young Amalekite told a false tale to David in order to magnify his own part in the matter. In these and other instances little or no attempt seems to be made to harmonize conflicting accounts, or to reconcile apparent discrepancies. In good faith the writer set down the records as he found them, making extracts or quotations from his authorities on the several events as they occurred, and thus building up his own history on the basis of the freest possible use of the materials and language of those who had preceded him.
However alien such a method of composition may appear to modern thought and usage in the West, it is characteristic of all early oriental writing. It would be almost impossible to find in any eastern literature a work of any length or importance which was not thus silently indebted to its predecessors, had incorporated their utterances, and had itself in turn suffered interpolation at the hands of later editors and transcribers. Accordingly, early Hebrew historical literature also, while unique in its spirit, conformed in its methods to the practice of the age and country in which it was composed. It would have been strange if it had been otherwise.
Two Main and Independent Sources:
Apart from the appendix and minor additions, of which Hannah's song or psalm in 1 Samuel 2 is one, the main portion of the book is derived from two independent sources, which themselves in all probability formed part of a larger whole, a more or less consecutive history or histories of Israel. These sources may, however, have been, as others think, rather of a biographical nature, presenting and enforcing the teaching of the acts and experience of the great leaders and rulers of the nation. The parallelism and duplication of the narrative is perhaps most evident in the history of Saul. The broad lines of distinction between the two may be defined without much difficulty or uncertainty. The greater part of the first eight chapters of 1 Samuel is in all probability derived from the later of these two sources, to which is to be assigned more or less completely 1 Samuel 10 through 12:15; 17 through 19; 21 through 25; 28, 2 Samuel 1 through 7. The earlier source has contributed 1 Samuel 9 with parts of 1 Samuel 10; 1 Samuel 11:1-15; 13; 14; 16; 20 and considerable portions of 1 Samuel 22; 23; 26 through 27; 29 through 31; 2 Sam 1 (in part); 2 through 6; 9 through 20. Some details have probably been derived from other sources, and additions made by the editor or editors. This general determination of sources rests upon a difference of standpoint and religious conception, and upon slighter varieties of style which are neither so pronounced nor so readily distinguished as in the books of the Pentateuch. It is reasonable also to bear in mind that a close and exact division or line of demarcation in every detail is not to be expected.
V. Character and Date of the Sources.
Attempts which have been made to determine the date of these two sources, or to identify them with one or other of the principal authorities from which the historical narratives of the Pentateuch are derived, have not been convincing. In the judgment of some, however, the later of the two sources should be regarded as a continuation of the narrative or document known as E, and the earlier be assigned to J. The style of the latter has much in common with the style of J, and is clear, vigorous and poetical; the religious conceptions also that are embodied and taught are of a simple and early type. The later writing has been supposed to give indications of the influence of the prophetic teaching of the 8th century. The indications, however, are not sufficiently decisive to enable a final judgment to be formed. If it is borne in mind that J and E represent rather schools of teaching and thought than individual writers, the characteristics of the two sources of the Books of Sam would not be out of harmony with the view that from these two schools respectively were derived the materials out of which the history was compiled. The "sources" would then, according to the usual view, belong to the 9th and 8th centuries before the Christian era; and to a period not more than a century or a century and a half later should be assigned the final compilation and completion of the book as it is contained in the Hebrew Canon of Scripture.
VI. Greek Versions of the Books of Samuel.
For an exact estimate and understanding of the history and text of the Books of Samuel count must further be taken of the Greek version or versions. In the Septuagint there is great divergence from the Hebrew Massoretic text, and it is probable that in the course of transmission the Greek has been exposed to corruption to a very considerable extent. At least two recensions of the Greek text are in existence, represented by the Vatican and Alexandrian manuscripts respectively, of which the latter is nearer to the Hebrew original, and has apparently been conformed to it at a later period with a view to removing discrepancies; and this process has naturally impaired its value as a witness to the primary shape of the Greek text itself. There are therefore three existing types of the text of Samuel; the Massoretic Hebrew and Codex Vaticanus and Codex Alexandrinus in the Greek. The original form of the Septuagint, if it could be recovered, would represent a text anterior to the Massoretic recension, differing from, but not necessarily superior to, the latter. For the restoration of the Greek text, the Old Latin, where it is available, affords valuable help. It is evident then that in any given instance the agreement of these three types or recensions of the text is the strongest possible witness to the originality and authenticity of a reading; but that the weight attaching to the testimony of A will not in general, on account of the history of its text, be equivalent to that of either of the other two.
VII. Ethical and Religious Teaching.
The religious teaching and thought of the two Books of Samuel it is not difficult to summarize. The books are in form a historical record of events; but they are at the same time and more particularly a history conceived with a definite purpose, and made to subserve a definite moral and religious aim. It is not a narrative of events solely, or the preservation of historical detail, that the writer has in view, but rather to elucidate and enforce from Israel's experience the significance of the divine and moral government of the nation. The duty of king and people alike is to obey Yahweh, to render strict and willing deference to His commands, and on this path of obedience alone will national independence and prosperity be secured. With the strongest emphasis, and with uncompromising severity, sin even in the highest places is condemned; and an ideal of righteousness is set forth in language and with an earnestness which recalls the exhortations of Deuteronomy. Thus the same is true of the Books of Samuel as is manifest in the preceding books of the canonical Old Testament: they are composed with a didactic aim. The experience of the past is made to afford lessons of warning and encouragement for the present. To the writer or writers - the history of the development and upbuilding of the Israelite kingdom is pregnant with a deeper meaning than lies on the surface, and this meaning he endeavors to make plain to his readers through the record. The issues of the events and the events themselves are under the guidance and control of Yahweh, who always condemns and punishes wrong, but approves and rewards righteousness. Thus the narrative is history utilized to convey moral truth. And its value is to be estimated, not primarily as recording the great deeds of the past, but as conveying ethical teaching; that by means of the history with all its glamor and interest the people may be recalled to a sense of their high duty toward God, and be warned of the inevitable consequences of disobedience to Him.
Upon all points of introduction, criticism and interpretation, the commentaries afford abundant and satisfactory guidance. The principal English commentaries. are by H. P. Smith in
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Samuel, Books of'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/s/samuel-books-of.html. 1915.