1 Samuel

The books we know as First and Second Samuel were one book in early manuscripts. In these notes, the two books are treated separately, but this distinction is artificial.

Authorship and Audience

According to Jewish tradition, Samuel wrote First Samuel chapters one through twenty four while Gad and Nathan finished the rest of First Samuel and all of Second Samuel.1 The primary difficulty with this claim is that 1 Samuel 27:6 implies that the author (or editor) was writing during the time of the divided monarch. Thus, First and Second Samuel could not have been written in their final forms by Samuel, Nathan, or Gad because none of them lived during the time of the divided monarchy. It is certainly possible that the books we know as First and Second Samuel incorporated writings and accounts from Samuel, Nathan, and Gad, but the final author (or editor) remains unknown to us.2.

Date and Historical Context

Assuming this book was written during the time of the divided monarchy, it was probably written ca. 931–722 BC.3

Literary Context

The book of Samuel continues from Judges as the first, main character (Samuel) is a judge (see 1 Samuel 7:15). The book of Judges graphically presents Israel's need for a Godly king. In the book of Samuel, we see two kings: Saul and David. Based on 1 Samuel 9:2, we know that Saul was very handsome and looked, outwardly, like a king. Throughout Saul's reign, however, we find that he is not faithful to God and is, therefore, not a good king. Next we have King David who has a heart that longs to seek and honor God (see 1 Samuel 16:7). David is presented as the solution to the problem identified in Judges; this is the Godly king that Israel has needed. In Second Samuel, God makes a covenant with David and promises that one of David's seed will rule forever. This is fulfilled in the New Testament in the person of Jesus Christ (see Luke 1:32 and Revelation 22:3, 22:16).


I. Samuel [1:1 - 8:22]

A. Hannah's Son [1:1 - 2:11]

B. Samuel Contrasted with Eli's Sons [2:12 - 3:21]

C. Isreal's Unfaithful Battle: Defeat and Capture of the Ark [4:1 - 7:2]

D. Israel's Faithful Battle: Victory and Samuel's Judgeship [7:3 - 8:3]

E. Israel Asks for a King [8:4-22]

II. Saul [9 - 15]

A. Saul is Chosen [9:1 - 10:27]

B. Saul's First Victory [11:1-13]

C. Samuel's Farewell Speech [11:14 - 12:25]

D. Saul's Failures [13:1 - 15:35]

  1. Hasty Offering [13:1-14]

  2. Foolish Vow [13:15 - 14:52]

  3. Blatant Disobedience [15:1-35]

III. David [16 - 31]

A. David Chosen [16]

B. David and Goliath [17]

C. David Pursued by Saul [18:1 - 27:12]

  • Notice that throughout this time, David and Jonathan (the heir to Saul's throne) become close friends.

D. Saul Seeks Council from a Medium [28]

E. David's Challenges in Philistia [29:1 - 30:31]

F. Saul and His Sons Die [31]

Theological Themes

Each of the themes below are introduced in Hannah's prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10.

  • God has ultimate control. God's power and control is celebrated in Hannah's prayer and is later demonstrated when God defeats the Philistines and one of her gods without an army and causes David to defeat Goliath. As Hannah prayed: "not by might shall a man prevail" (2:9).
  • God considers the heart. Throughout this book, there is a lot of emphasis on a person's heart. Starting in 2:3, we see that with God "actions are weighed". According to Samuel, God is looking for "man after His own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14). After rejecting Saul, God Himself says "man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" (16:7). There are many examples in this book of people doing good external things while their hearts are not right with God (e.g. Hophni and Phineas carrying the ark into battle in 4:4).
  • God reverses situation and uses unexpected means to accomplish His ends. Because God is in control and considers a man's heart, He does things which are unexpected. We would expect a nine-foot tall soldier trained in combat since childhood to defeat a small shepherd boy, but the powerful God who considers the heart has other plans (see 1 Samuel 17:45-47).
  • God will appoint a king. The last verse of Hannah's prayer (2:10) is fascinating because Israel did not yet have a king (although the rules of kingship were given in Deuteronomy 17:14-20 and rule was promised to Judah in Genesis 49:10). It demonstrates her understanding and confidence that God would appoint a king through whom He would judge the world and exact justice. In the rest of 1 Samuel, we witness the beginning of kingship in Israel and get to see what kind of king God desires.


  • The name of one of Eli's sons is "Phineas" which is an ironic reference to the faithful priest in Numbers 25. Unlike the first Phineas, Eli's son is neither faithful nor jealous for God's glory; in fact, he robs God of the glory through his disregard for the sacrificial system (2:12-17).
  • When we read of the remarkable friendship between David and Jonathan, keep in mind that Jonathan was the next in line for the throne as Saul's heir. In 1 Samuel 18:4, Jonathan representatively hands the kingdom over to David by giving David his robe and armor.
    • When Israel asks for a king in 1 Samuel 8, there are two major problems. First, Israel wants a king "like the other nations". The fact that Israel is trying to be "like the other nations" is a sign that they are probably not seeking to live as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:6). Second, there is an implicit assumption that having a king will alleviate the oppression they are facing from the nations around them. Israel thinks that if they have a king, they will no longer be oppressed. In reality, Israel is oppressed because they were not faithful to God (for example, see Joshua 23:6-13). Israel views a king as a way to get rid of the consequences of their sin without being faithful to God.
  • This book makes it clear that David's right to the throne is legitimate and that he is not a usurper. Saul is always the aggressor in this book, David spares Saul's life on a couple occasions, and David mourns the death of Saul (at the beginning of Second Samuel). Additionally, Michael (Saul's daughter) marries David and Jonathan (Saul's son and the heir to Saul's throne) is a good friend of David's.


1. "Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Baba Bathra," Babylonian Talmud: Baba Bathra 15, December 25, 2002, accessed November 17, 2017, http://come-and-hear.com/bababathra/bababathra_15.html.

2. "First Samuel," Grace to You, February 22, 2010, accessed November 17, 2017, https://www.gty.org/library/bible-introductions/MSB09.

3. Ibid.

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