1 and 2 Samuel
The book of Samuel (divided by the Septuagint translators as “First and Second Books of Kingdoms”) covers the period from the birth of Samuel (c.1105) to the end of David’s reign (970). The unknown author, possibly Zabud son of Nathan the prophet, probably lived shortly after Solomon’s death (930) and the division of the kingdom. Samuel established kingship in Israel and provided for covenant continuity in the transition from the period of judges. The monarchy he establishes is not to be an autonomous one (which would be a sinful rejection of the Lord) but subject to the law of the Lord and the word of the prophet. Saul is unwilling to submit to the theocratic requirements of the office. David represents the true, though imperfect, representative of the ideal theocratic king, a standard by which all future kings will be compared despite his many failings.
The barren Ephraimite Hannah prays for a son (Samuel) and pledges him to the Nazirite vow for life. She praises his birth and thanks the Lord in the “Magnificat of the OT.” She prophecies “He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn [symbolizing strength] of his anointed.” (“Anointed” is the English translation of the Hebrew word transliterated as “Messiah” and translated into Greek as “Christos”).
She gives him to the priest Eli. The Lord appears to Samuel and he grows up to be a revered prophet. The ark is captured in battle by the Philistines after the Israelis foolishly take it in to battle at Shiloh, thinking it will somehow bring them victory. Eli’s two evil sons are killed and he dies upon hearing of the tragedies. The possession of the ark brings God’s wrath on the Philistines and after seven months they return it. Samuel is made leader of the people at Mizpah and begins a period during which the Philistines were subdued and did not invade Israeli territory again. His sons are appointed to follow him as judges but they are dishonest and the people clamor for a king to lead Israel, like the other nations have. This violates the covenant with God but, after the people ignore a stern warning from God through Samuel, he agrees to follow God’s plan to give them a king.
God instructs him to anoint the Benjaminite and donkey herder Saul as the new king. God changes Saul’s heart and the Spirit of God comes on him. Some are skeptical of the new king’s abilities. Samuel writes down the new regulations of kingship to clarify the role of the king versus the God of Israel. Saul slaughters the Ammonites that besiege Jabesh Gilead, after which the people are united in their support for him. He is formally made king at Gilgal. Samuel warns that the people and the king must follow the Lord.
At Gilgal during battle, Saul violates Samuel’s instructions to wait seven days for him before making a burnt offering. As a result Samuel advises him that his kingdom is doomed to fail. Saul’s son Jonathan shows great courage in battle and, with the help of a divine earthquake, routs the Philistines. Saul unwisely declares that his men cannot eat all day. Jonathan defies the ban, eating honey and Saul condemns him to death. He is rescued by Saul’s men. Saul fights the Amalekites but violates the command of God to put their king Agag, their cattle, and their sheep to death. Samuel rebukes him, tells him that the Lord has rejected him as king, and slays Agag.
Samuel follows the instructions of the Lord and travels to Bethlehem, where he secretly anoints Jesse’s youngest son, the shepherd David. David is unknowingly called to Saul’s court because of his fame as a noted harpist and warrior and plays for Saul, giving him relief from his evil thoughts. David slays the giant Philistine Goliath, armed only with a sling and his faith in God. Saul is jealous of David and he tries unsuccessfully to kill him. He offers his daughter’s hand, hoping that David will die fighting the Philistines, but David is victorious and takes Michal in marriage. Saul plots again to kill David, but Jonathan warns his friend and David flees.
At Nob, the priest Ahimelech gives David consecrated bread for nourishment [an incident used by Jesus to illustrate the subordination of ceremonial law to doing good and saving life.] David leaves his parents with the king of Moab. Saul has the priests at Nob killed for assisting David. He pursues David into the desert, where David spares Saul’s life in a cave. Saul concedes that David is to be king but David remains wary. Samuel dies and is mourned. Nabal denies David and his men food, but his wife Abigail provides for them–Nabal dies and David takes her as a wife. David again spares Saul’s life in a sneak attack. David flees to the Philistines in Gath.
Saul asks a witch at Endor to conjure up Samuel’s spirit, who fortells Saul’s death that day. David leaves the Philistines and battles the Amalekites while Saul fights the Philistines. Saul kills himself after being wounded and his sons are killed (c. 1010). This ends 1 Samuel.
David mourns the deaths of Saul and his sons, expressing his grief in a lament. As God instructs, David travels to Hebron in Judah where he is anointed king of Judah. David wars with his contender, Saul’s son Ish-Bosheth, who is manipulated by Abner. After David concludes an treaty agreement with Abner, David’s warrior Joab finds and murders Abner to avenge his brother Asahel’s death. David condemns Joab’s action and maintains his own innocence. Ish-Bosheth is murdered in his home by two Benjaminites and present his head to David. But David orders them put to death for killing an innocent man in his own house. With no viable contenders from the house of Saul, David is finally anointed as king by all of Israel.
In 1003, David conquers the Jebusites and takes Jerusalem (“the fortress of Zion”), calling it the “City of David.” He again defeats the Philistines. He has the ark brought to Jerusalem and dances in celebration. Michal rebukes him and lives out her life childless.
David is told through Nathan’s prophecy from God that “…I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son…. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me…. ” David gives a prayer of wonder and thanks to God.
Many victories follow, with Joab in charge of the army. Jonathan’s lame son, Mephibosheth, is given back Saul’s lands and belongings. Joab defeats the Ammonites.
David spots Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite, from the roof of the palace as she bathes. He has her brought to him, after which she conceives. David unscrupulously arranges for her husband to die in battle so and afterwards claims her as his wife. Nathan condemns his action, telling a parable about how a rich man robs a poor man of his only ewe, and predicts calamity for David’s house (Absalom’s rebellion). David confesses his sin. Bathsheba’s new infant dies but in time gives birth to Solomon (named “Jedidiah” by God through Nathan).
David’s oldest son Amnon, the crown prince, rapes his half-sister Tamar. Her brother Absalom has him murdered and flees. Joab arranges for a widow to make an appeal to David that convinces him to bring Absalom back, though isolated from the king. After two years, David takes him back, though Absalom shows little sign of repentance. Absalom gradually becomes assertive, gets a chariot, and “…steals the hearts of the men of Israel.” In Hebron, Absalom announces himself to be king. David flees Jerusalem, leaving ten concubines behind. Absalom returns to Jerusalem, where he lays with his father’s concubines, symbolizing assumption of royal power.
While Joab prepares for battle, David begs him to “be gentle” with Absalom. Absalom’s army is defeated, he catches his head in a tree, and Joab stabs him to death with three javelins. When David hears of his death, he cries “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom. If only I had died instead of you–O Absalom, my son, my son!” Joab rebukes him for not honoring his victorious men. David crosses the Jordan and returns to Jerusalem as king, forgiving those who turned against him. Some of the Israeli’s desert him and follow the Benjaminite Sheba, but Joab pursues him and brings back his head.
Other events in David’s reign are summarized: The Gibeonites ask for redress against for Saul’s killings and David grants them the death of seven of Saul’s male descendants. David sings to the Lord his Song of Praise (Psalm 18) David takes a census of his fighting men, an act offending the Lord because of the implied lack of faith in the Lord (in I Chronicles it is said to have been incited by Satan) and bringing a plague on Israel. He purchases the threshing floor for an altar (the eventual site of the temple) and the plague stops.