Introduction to 1 Samuel




The books of 1 and 2 Samuel highlight a significant transition time in Israel’s history. As 1 Samuel begins, Israel is a loosely organized tribal league living under poor spiritual leadership. God’s plan for his people nonetheless continued as he raised up Samuel to guide Israel’s transition from a theocracy to a monarchy. Saul’s kingship constitutes the remainder of 1 Samuel, while David’s kingship is largely the focus of 2 Samuel.

The Anointment of David by Paolo Veronese (1528-1588)

The Anointment of David by Paolo Veronese (1528-1588)


AUTHOR: Early tradition suggests 1 and 2 Samuel were originally one book. Some scholars believe Samuel was largely responsible for the material up to 1 Samuel 25, and that the prophets Nathan and Gad gave significant input to the rest (based on 1Ch 29:29). This proposal, however, must remain speculative because the books name no authors. First Samuel 27:6 suggests the book was not completed until perhaps a few generations after the division of the kingdom around 930 BC. This verse states that Achish gave the town of Ziklag to David. The writer goes on to say that, at the time he was writing, Ziklag still belonged to the kings of Judah. The reference to “kings of Judah” places the writing of 1 and 2 Samuel well after the kingdom divided.

BACKGROUND: After Israel’s conquest of the land during the days of Joshua, Israel entered a time of apostasy. The book of Judges describes recurrences of a cycle with predictable phases. First, the people sinned against the Lord and fell into idolatry. Second, the Lord raised up an adversary to afflict them and turn them back to him. Third, the people cried out to the Lord in repentance. Fourth, the Lord brought deliverance for them through a judge whom he raised up. The famous verse in the book of Judges, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever seemed right to him” (Jdg 21:25), aptly describes the period. The book of 1 Samuel picks up the historical record toward the end of those stormy days.


LEADERSHIP: The books of 1 and 2 Samuel provide numerous examples of good and bad leadership. When leaders focused their attention on the Lord and saw their leadership roles as instruments for his glory, they flourished; when they abandoned the Lord and used their offices for their own gain, they failed. The lives of Eli and his sons, plus the lives of Samuel, Saul, David, and others consistently illustrate these principles.

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY: The books of 1 and 2 Samuel highlight God’s provision at Israel’s every turn. He provided good spiritual leadership through Samuel, and he provided Israel its first king, though kingship was not his perfect will for his people at that time. He provided his people the leaders and resources they needed to defeat their enemies and to live out his purpose in the land, though both people and leaders often failed him.

SIN’S CONSEQUENCES: The books of 1 and 2 Samuel take sin seriously, describing in detail the awful consequences of sin—even forgiven sin. Saul’s disobedience of God led to his estrangement from his son Jonathan and from David, and ultimately led to his death in battle. David’s sin with Bathsheba, though forgiven, brought consequences that haunted David the rest of his life.

COVENANT: The books of 1 and 2 Samuel describe God’s relationship with his covenant people and his faithful response to the terms of that covenant. The Lord also established a special covenant with David, a covenant that ultimately found its fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ.


The books of 1 and 2 Samuel describe Israel’s transition from a loosely organized tribal league under God (a theocracy) to centralized leadership under a king who answered to God (a monarchy). Samuel’s life and ministry greatly shaped this period of restructuring as he consistently pointed people back to God.

Saul’s rule highlighted the dangers to which the Israelites fell victim as they clamored for a king to lead them. Samuel’s warnings fell on deaf ears (1Sm 8:10-20) because God’s people were intent on becoming like the nations around them. In the end, they got exactly what they asked for, but they paid a terrible price. Saul’s life stands as a warning to trust God’s timing for life’s provisions.

David’s rule testified to the amazing works the Lord could and would do through a life yielded to him. Israel’s second king seemed quite aware of God’s blessing on his life and displayed a tender heart toward the things of God (2Sm 5:12; 7:1-2; 22:1-51; 23:1-7). Later generations would receive blessing because of David’s life (Is 37:35). God’s special covenant with David (2Sm 7:1-29) found its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus, the son of David (Lk 1:32-33). The consequences of David’s sin with Bathsheba, however, stand as a warning to all who experience sin’s attraction. God holds his children accountable for their actions, and even forgiven sin can have terrible consequences.


The first seven chapters of 1 Samuel describe Samuel’s birth, call, and initial ministry among the Israelites. Chapter 8 is a major turning point as the people ask for a king to rule them “the same as all the other nations have” (1Sm 8:5). Chapters 9-12 then describe Saul’s selection—at God’s direction, yet not his perfect will for the time (1Sm 12:16-18).

First Samuel 13-31 describes Saul’s victories and failures. Saul was a king with great physical stature and military skill (1Sm 14:47-52), but his heart was not one with the Lord (1Sm 13:14). His unwillingness to obey the Lord’s commands ultimately outweighed his accomplishments, and chaps. 16-31 describe his reign’s downward spiral. During this time God raised up David and was preparing him for the day he would succeed Saul—a fact Saul gradually realized (1Sm 15:28; 24:20-21; 28:17).

Second Samuel 1-4 describes the struggle for Israel’s throne that began with Saul’s death. David was anointed king by the men of Judah (2Sm 2:4), but Abner anointed Ish-bosheth, Saul’s oldest surviving son, as king over Israel (2Sm 2:8-9). A two-year civil war resulted in Ish-bosheth’s death and in David’s becoming king over all Israel.

Second Samuel 5-24 presents highlights of David’s reign. God established a special covenant with David, promising to establish the throne of his kingdom forever (2Sm 7:1-29). David’s sin with Bathsheba, however, brought disastrous consequences to his reign and became a turning point in 2 Samuel. In the end, David’s repentance confirmed his designation as a man after God’s heart, but his sin showed that even the king is not above breaking God’s laws.


I.Samuel’s Ministry (1:1-12:25)

A.Samuel’s birth and call (1:1-3:21)

B.The ark narrative (4:1-7:17)

C.The people ask for a king (8:1-12:25)

II.Saul’s Reign (13:1-31:13)

A.Saul’s battles with the Philistines (13:1-14:52)

B.Saul’s failure against the Amalekites (15:1-35)

C.David’s selection as Saul’s successor (16:1-23)

D.David’s victory over Goliath (17:1-58)

E.David’s struggles with Saul (18:1-26:25)

F.Saul’s reign ends (27:1-31:13)

1350-1150 BC

Deborah 1360?-1300? Gideon 1250?-1175?

The Olmec civilization flourishes in Central America, establishing a foundation for subsequent civilizations in the Americas. 1200

The process of iron smelting is developed in Armenia. 1200-1000

World’s first recorded labor strike, Thebes, Egypt 1170

1150-1000 BC

Jephthah 1200?-1150? Ruth 1175?-1125?

Events in Ruth 1140?

Botanical gardens are developed by Assyrians during the reign of Tiglath-pileser I. 1114-976

Events in 1 Samuel. 1105?-1010

Saul is anointed king. 1050

David becomes king of Judah. 1010

Events in 2 Samuel. 1010-970

Events in 1 Chronicles. 1010-970

David becomes king over all Israel. 1003

1000-970 BC

Samson 1120?-1060? Samuel 1105-1025

Iron technology advances throughout India. 1000

The Chinese store ice for use in refrigeration. 1000

Oats are cultivated in central Europe. 1000

David conquers Jerusalem. 1000?

David moves the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. 1000?

Absalom’s revolt. 975?

Solomon becomes king. 970

970-900 BC

Saul 1080-1010 David 1050-970

Solomon begins construction of the temple in Jerusalem. 966

The temple is dedicated. 959

Ascendancy of Neo-Assyrian Empire 950

The Kingdom divides. 931?

Israel: The Northern Kingdom 931-722

Judah: The Southern Kingdom 931-586

Etruscans emigrate from Lydia to Italy as a result of an extended famine. 900