“Introduction to 1 Samuel,” Old Testament Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students (2014)
“1 Samuel,” Old Testament Study Guide
The book of 1 Samuel recounts the ministry of the prophet Samuel, who “restored law and order and regular religious worship in the land” (Bible Dictionary, “Samuel”) after the Israelites had forgotten the Lord and worshipped idols many times throughout the reign of the judges. One of the major themes of 1 Samuel is the importance of honoring the Lord. In 1 Samuel 2:30 we read, “Them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed” (see also 1 Samuel 2:9). In other words, the Lord will bless those who honor Him and keep His commandments, and those who do not will not receive His blessings.
Several accounts in 1 Samuel reflect this theme. Hannah honored the Lord and requested a child, and the Lord blessed Hannah with a son. Samuel, Hannah’s son, also was blessed because he listened to the Spirit and obeyed the Lord. Saul did not continue to honor the Lord, so the Lord appointed David to replace him as king. As a youth, David exercised faith in the Lord, who blessed him to be able to slay Goliath. As you study the book of 1 Samuel, you can increase your faith that you will also be blessed as you honor and obey the Lord.
“It is uncertain who the author was or when he wrote [the book of 1 Samuel]. In order to compile his narrative, he no doubt used various writings that he found already in existence, including the state chronicles (among which were writings by Samuel, Nathan, and Gad, [see] 1 Sam. 10:25; 1 Chr. 29:29)” (Bible Dictionary, “Samuel, books of”).
It is unclear when and where the books of Samuel were written. “Originally, 1 and 2 Samuel were one book in the Hebrew Bible. The division into two separate books probably occurred when this book of Samuel was translated into Greek, which necessitated putting the book on two scrolls instead of one” (Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Dana M. Pike, and David Rolph Seely, Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament , 190).
The book of 1 Samuel can be divided into three main sections, each of which focuses on a different person. Chapters 1–7 recount the actions of Samuel, the righteous priest, prophet, and judge. Chapters 8–15 focus on Saul, the first king of Israel. Chapters 16–31 describe the rise of David.
The first section begins with the account of Samuel’s mother, Hannah. Her dedication to God helped prepare her son to fulfill his role as a mighty prophet to an apostate people. This account is one of the significant few in the scriptures that portray a woman of remarkable faith in the Lord, and it highlights the influential role of women in fulfilling His purposes (see 1 Samuel 1–2).
Another distinctive feature of the book is its account of the transition from one form of government to another. After many years of a tribal confederation governed loosely and sporadically by judges, the children of Israel desired to have a king “like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5). Under the direction of the Lord, Samuel anointed Saul as the first king of Israel. However, Samuel warned the Israelites about what would befall them if they chose to be governed by a king (see 1 Samuel 8:11–22).
1 Samuel 1–7. Hannah pleads with the Lord to have a son. The Lord grants her request, and she bears Samuel. She presents Samuel early in his childhood at the tabernacle to serve under Eli. The Lord appears to Samuel and blesses him. The Philistines smite Israel and capture the ark of the covenant. Samuel preaches to the Israelites and exhorts them to stop worshipping idols and begin serving the Lord. The Israelites return to the Lord, and the Lord subdues the Philistines.
1 Samuel 8–15. The children of Israel desire to have a king. Samuel is displeased with their request and warns them of the oppression a king would bring upon them. The Lord consents to give them a king and directs Samuel to anoint Saul. Saul was called by the Lord and sustained by the people to be king. He reigns in righteousness for a time, but he eventually disobeys the Lord and is rejected by Him.
1 Samuel 16–31. The Lord directs Samuel to anoint a young man named David to be king. David defeats Goliath and is greatly honored by the people. King Saul becomes jealous of David and tries to kill him multiple times. David gains many supporters, including Saul’s son Jonathan. Saul is defeated and killed by the Philistines.