Introduction to First Samuel

This is the first in a new online Bible study hosted right here at In the Dailies. Now through May we’ll spend every other Thursday (and maybe a few other days here and there) diving into the book of First Samuel. This follows right on the heels of our study last fall of the book of Judges. At the bottom of this post you can download homework to prepare for our next discussion. If you plan to participate, please let us know in the comments section!

The book of Judges spanned approximately 350 years of history for ancient Israel. The Bible records 11 judges during that time. These people (10 men and 1 woman) served as military leaders and catalysts for revival among God’s people. Unfortunately, upon the death of each judge (and even during the lives of some), a downward spiral continued of cultural and moral decay.

Throughout all of this we witness God’s persistence in pursuing those He loves. Regardless of how many times the Israelites turned to false gods and engaged in hedonistic lifestyles, God never stopped trying to redeem them. He was incredibly forgiving and ceaselessly faithful. Even in the face of their brazen unfaithfulness.

So what happened next?

Samuel, whom we will soon meet, was the last of the judges. He was not only a judge, but also a prophet and a priest. Some call him “The Kingmaker”, but that sounds too much like a make-up clad wrestling star to me. Samuel was the last judge because God used him to select and anoint the first two kings of Israel: Saul and David.

About the Book:

The two books of Samuel were originally one. Like the books of Kings and Chronicles, the texts proved too cumbersome and were eventually divided into two. This happened when the Hebrew scrolls were translated into Greek Old Testament, also known as the Septuagint. English translations followed the division and, around the 15th century A,D., the Hebrew texts followed suit.

This division, however, does not alter the continuity of the books as a joint unit. It merely makes carrying and studying them slightly more manageable.

Author: The author is anonymous, though it is reasonable to presume that much of 1 Samuel was written by Samuel himself. That is until the part that describes his death (Ch. 25) and life thereafter. Based on 1 Chronicles 29:29, many attribute authorship also to Nathan and Gad.

Date: The history covered in 1 Samuel spans approximately 90 years, maybe 95. The only thing known for sure about when it was written is that it was after the division of the kingdoms (into Israel and Judah) and before the fall of Samaria. The kingdom was divided after Solomon’s death in 931 B.C.; Samaria fell in 722 B.C. Most scholars, therefore, put the completion of this text around 900 B.C.

Key Characters:

• Samuel: Judge, Prophet and Priest
• Saul: Israel’s First King
• David: Israel’s Greatest King

Key Themes: In Judges we learned that God can use anyone to accomplish His will and that He will tirelessly pursue those whom He seeks to save.

In Samuel those truths continue, but we will also learn that there are consequences for failing to follow God. Likewise, there are rewards for obeying God.

Consider this outline from Kristi Stephens:

• God prospers faithful Hannah/ Hinders Unfaithful Eli (1 Sam. 1-3)
• God hinders unfaithful Israel (1 Sam. 4-6)
• God prospers faithful Saul (1 Sam. 7-15)
• God hinders unfaithful Saul (1 Sam. 16-2 Sam. 1)
• God prospers faithful David (2 Sam. 2-9)
• God hinders unfaithful David (2 Sam. 10-20)

It is essential that, while we recognize a clear cause-and-effect relationship here, we not assume all negative circumstances are our responsibility or even a direct consequence of our choices. Consider the life of Job. Or John the Baptist. Or the Apostle Paul. Or even Jesus Christ. God’s blessing does not always translate to earthly blessings. Nor does His disapproval translate to earthly suffering. He is a gracious, loving God, but grace is rarely material.

I like that Kristi’s outline views the two books as one whole, but for the purposes of this study, we’re going to use a different outline that is a bit more detailed. Rather than focusing on faithful vs. unfaithful, we’re going to look at shifts in leadership, both in specific leaders (Eli to Samuel to Saul to David) and in forms (judge to priest to prophet to king).

I made a nifty little chart for us. Check it out here: Outline of 1 Samuel

Homework

If you want to join us in this study, you can download the homework here: 1-3 Homework. It’s not a lot. I’ve broken it down into seven days, but you have two weeks to complete it. We’ll embark on chapters 1–3 on January 26th.

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