The Books of 1 and 2 Samuel

In the original Hebrew composition, 1 and 2 Samuel is one book. During the second half of the third century BC, 70 scribes translated the Hebrew Old Testament into the Greek Septuagint. Because the scrolls at that time did not have enough space for the content of Samuel, it was divided into two books (Neely 2014:399). Regardless of how many books and translations of Samuel there may be, the Holy Spirit inspired the original autograph. The Books of 1 and 2 Samuel should be read and studied as one book.

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Authorship of Samuel

According to a tractate of the Babylonian Talmud, ‘Samuel wrote the book which bears his name’, but this source is at best only partially correct (Merrill 2011:307). Since Samuel’s death is described in 1 Samuel 25, he was at best the author of 1 Samuel 1-24, with other authors inspired to write the rest of 1 & 2 Samuel. Whoever the human author(s) was (or were), sources such as the Book of Jashar (2 Samuel 1:18) as well as the Chronicles of Samuel the seer, the Chronicles of Nathan the prophet, and the Chronicles of Gad the seer (cf. 1 Chronicles 29:29-30) may well have been consulted. But again, the divine author is the Holy Spirit and so the original autograph was inspired. As for the identity (or identities) of the human author(s), while Samuel and/or Nathan and/or Gad could perhaps have written part(s) of it, we simply do not know the name of the human author(s) who wrote Samuel.

Historical Scope

The Books of 1 and 2 Samuel open with the conception of Samuel and close with the reign of David almost over. If we work backwards, David died in 971 BC, after he had reigned 33 years over all of Israel and 7,5 years over Judah (cf. 2 Samuel 2:5-6). Before David, Saul had also reigned for 40 years (Acts 13:21), thus Saul must have been anointed as king in 1051 BC. Through various further inductions (see Merrill 2008:192-197), Samuel must have been born sometime near 1124-1121BC. Thus the historical scope of the Book of Samuel covers about 150 years (cf. Neely 2014:400; Constable 2017:3).

Historical Context and Purpose

After the death of Joshua, a general but definite decline occurred in Israel as it fell into sin and then into God’s discipline, followed by oppression and servitude to other nations, after which Israel repented and experienced deliverance under a Judge only to once again fall into sin, thereby repeating the cycle (Judges 2:11-23). One refrain in Judges — ‘in those days there was no king in Israel’ (17:6; 21:25) — became an optimistic ring in the Book of Ruth as it ends with the genealogy of king David. In the Book of Samuel (1 & 2 Samuel), we see the transition from the last Judges, Eli and then lastly Samuel, to the monarchy in Israel. It was always God’s plan that Israel would have a king (Genesis 49:10; Numbers 24:17; Deuteronomy 17:14-20), but the king was to come from the Tribe of Judah, in God’s perfect time and not for the reasons Israel mentioned (cf. 1 Samuel 8:20). Still, after Saul came king David, a king after God’s heart, a king who loved God despite some failings (1 Samuel 13:14; 2 Samuel 11:1-27). It was always God’s plan that not only Israel but all the nations would be ruled by the ultimate Son of David, the Messiah and Lion from the Tribe of Judah. The Book of Samuel is therefore rich with types and typology, be it David who points to Christ or be it the house of Saul fighting with the house of David. A most important moment in Samuel is when God promised David that he would have an eternal house, an eternal kingdom, an eternal throne and an eternal Descendant (2 Samuel 7:12-16). After the death and resurrection of Christ, not only can the kingdom be restored to Israel in God’s perfect time (cf. Acts 1:6-7), but the cycle of sin-oppression-repentance-deliverance-sin etc. can also be reversed, as individuals and nations can enter into rest that God provides through Christ’s victory on the cross.

The Structure of Samuel

As also endorsed by Merrill (2011:311, n. 18), the following seven-part chiastic structure of the Book of Samuel is provided by Dorsey (1999:135):

A Samuel succeeds elderly Eli and rules over all Israel (1 Sam 1-7)
B Saul’s failure (1 Sam 8-15)
    C David’s initial rise to popularity in Saul’s kingdom (1 Sam 16-20)
      D Yahweh reverses fortunes of Saul and David (1 Sam 21-31)
    C’ David’s initial rise to power over all of Israel (2 Sam 1-8)
B’ David’s failure (2 Sam 9-20)
A’ David’s final years as ruler over all Israel to be succeeded by Solomon (2 Sam 21-24)

What is notable about the above structure is that Dorsey has identified chiastic structures for each of the seven elements of the structure (A, B, C, D, C’, B’ and A’). For example, Dorsey (1999:132) identified the following chiastic structure for the key section ‘D’:

A David flees; Saul has Yahweh’s priest Ahimelech & family killed (1 Sam 21:1-22:23)
B David saves Judean town of Keilah from Philistines (1 Sam 23:1-18)
    C Ziphites betray David & David spares Saul’s life (1 Sam 23:19-24:22)
      D Death of Samuel; David and Abigail (1 Sam 25:1-44)
    C’ Ziphites betray David & David spares Saul’s life again (1 Sam 26:1-25)
B’ David protects Judean towns while ‘protecting’ Philistines (1 Sam 27:1-12)
A Yahweh has Saul and his sons killed at the battle of Gilboa (1 Sam 28:1-31:13)

When Was Samuel Written?

It is difficult to say with certainty when Samuel was written. At least some of the events read like eyewitness accounts, but others, like 1 Samuel 27:6 (‘Therefore Ziklag has belonged to the kings of Judah to this day’), suggest a date after the kingdom had already divided. If weight is placed on 1 Samuel 27:6, then Samuel must have been written after 930 BC, even a date between 930 and 723/22 BC (Neely 2014:399). If one accepts the Jewish tradition that Samuel, Gad and Nathan were the human authors, and note that the last datable event mentioned in 2 Samuel 24:25 is 975 BC (David’s altar at the threshing floor of Araunag), then Samuel may have been written in about 975 BC (Merrill 2011:307). So it remains difficult to say with certainty when Samuel was written.

What is the Relevance of Samuel?

The genre of the Book of Samuel is historical narrative, written from God’s perspective (Neely 2014:400). But as with all the historical narratives of the Old Testament, the purpose of the Holy Spirit in giving us Samuel is not just to record historical facts, but to primarily 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 (Constable 2017:3). Or as Neely (2014:400) also exhorts, the ‘narrative demands our imaginative participation in the events themselves, thus helping us see how our own story by God’s grace can fit into and is part of the big story of redemption’. Even though the Book of Samuel may perhaps be called after its main character, that is, the ‘Book of David’ (cf. Dorsey 1999:129), readers can appreciate the superb literary skill and art of the narrator while appropriating and applying various spiritual lessons.

Conclusion[ref]The conclusion is taken from Constable’s notes on 1 Samuel (2017:6-9) and his notes on 2 Samuel (2017:2-4).[/ref]

The Books of 1 and 2 Samuel are really one story. It moves from the last Judge (Samuel) to the people’s choice of a king (Saul) to God’s choice of a king (David). Each man had his opportunities, made his response, and experienced the consequences of his response. Two obeyed God and one disobeyed. But three cooperated in fulfilling God’s ultimate purposes, either to his own blessing or to his own blasting.

Conformity to the will of God creates fitness for service. Conformity to the will of God depends fundamentally on our attitude toward God. It does not depend primarily on our ability, or on our ability to persuade God to do something. It depends on our abandonment to Him, and on our willingness to let God persuade us to do something. It depends on our commitment to Him and our faithfulness to Him. God does not measure us as other people do. We measure each other by external actions. God measures us by internal attitudes. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, ‘The Lord looks at the heart’. What is your attitude toward God? Do you really want to please God, or do you obey God simply because of your background and environment? Would you live a filthy life if you could get away with it? What is your real attitude toward God? Do you really want to do right? David was a man after God’s own heart, because he really wanted what God wanted. What do you really want? Be careful, because God will give you what you really want. Do you want to run your own life? God will let you do it, but He may let you run your life into a brick wall.

First Samuel stresses primarily negative examples of behaviour from Saul’s life as God’s anointed. Nevertheless, we saw in 1 Samuel that God’s ultimate victory does not depend on people’s attitudes toward Him. His people can be loyal or rebellious, and this will not affect His ultimate victory. In 2 Samuel, we learn that our ultimate victory in life depends on our attitude toward God. 2 Samuel stresses primarily positive examples from David’s life as God’s anointed.



Constable, T.L., 2017, Notes on 1 Samuel & Notes on 2 Samuel, 2017 editions.

Dorsey, D.A., 1999, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament: A Commentary on Genesis-Malachi, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids.

Merrill, E.H., 2008, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids.

Merrill, E.H., 2011, ‘The Books of 1 and 2 Samuel’, in E.H. Merrill, M.F. Rooker & M.A. Grisanti, The World and the Word, pp. 307-318, B&H Publishing Group, Nashville.

Neely, W.O., 2014, ‘’1 Samuel’ & ‘2 Samuel’, in M. Rydelnik & M. Vanlaningham (eds.), The Moody Bible Commentary, pp. 399-478, Moody Publishers, Chicago.

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