Books of Samuel

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The Book of Samuel is a book in the Hebrew Bible and two books (1 Samuel and 2 Samuel) in the Christian Old Testament. The book is part of the narrative history of Ancient Israel called the Deuteronomistic history, a series of books (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) that constitute a theological history of the Israelites and that aim to explain God's law for Israel under the guidance of the prophets.[1]

According to Jewish tradition, the book was written by Samuel, with additions by the prophets Gad and Nathan.[2] Modern scholarly thinking posits that the entire Deuteronomistic history was composed circa 630–540 BCE by combining a number of independent texts of various ages.[3][4]

The book begins with Samuel's birth[5] and Yahweh's call to him as a boy. The story of the Ark of the Covenant follows. It tells of Israel's oppression by the Philistines, which brought about Samuel's anointing of Saul as Israel's first king. But Saul proved unworthy, and God's choice turned to David, who defeated Israel's enemies, purchased the threshing floor[6] where his son Solomon would build the First Temple, and brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. Yahweh then promised David and his successors an everlasting dynasty.[7]

In the Septuagint, a basis of the Christian biblical canons, the text is divided into two books, now called the First and Second Book of Samuel.


Ernst Josephson, David and Saul, 1878

1 Samuel

The childless Hannah vows to Yahweh of hosts that, if she has a son, he will be dedicated to Yahweh. Eli, the priest of Shiloh, where the Ark of the Covenant is located, blesses her. A child named Samuel is born, and Samuel is dedicated to the Lord as a Nazirite—the only one besides Samson to be identified in the Bible. Eli's sons, Hophni and Phinehas, sin against God's laws and the people, a sin that causes them to die in the Battle of Aphek. But the child Samuel grows up "in the presence of the Lord."

The Philistines capture the Ark of the Covenant from Shiloh and take it to the temple of their god Dagon, who recognizes the supremacy of Yahweh. The Philistines are afflicted with plagues and return the ark to the Israelites, but to the territory of the tribe of Benjamin rather than to Shiloh. The Philistines attack the Israelites gathered at Mizpah in Benjamin. Samuel appeals to Yahweh, the Philistines are decisively beaten, and the Israelites reclaim their lost territory.

In Samuel's old age, he appoints his sons Joel and Abijah as judges but, because of their corruption, the people ask for a king to rule over them. God directs Samuel to grant the people their wish despite his concerns: God gives them Saul from the tribe of Benjamin.

Shortly thereafter, Saul leads Israel to a victory over Nahash of Ammon. Despite his numerous military victories, Saul disobeys Yahweh's instruction to destroy Amalek: Saul spares the Amalekite ruler and the best portion of the Amalekite flocks to present them as sacrifices. Samuel rebukes Saul and tells him that God has now chosen another man to be king of Israel.

God tells Samuel to anoint David of Bethlehem as king, and David enters Saul's court as his armor-bearer and harpist. Saul's son and heir Jonathan befriends David and recognizes him as the rightful king. Saul then plots David's death, but David flees into the wilderness where he becomes a champion of the Hebrews. David joins the Philistines, but he continues to secretly champion his own people until Saul and Jonathan are killed in battle at Mount Gilboa.

2 Samuel

At this point, David offers a majestic eulogy, where he praises the bravery and magnificence of both his friend Jonathan and King Saul.[8]

The elders of Judah anoint David as king, but in the north Saul's son Ish-bosheth, or Ishbaal, rules over the northern tribes. After a long war, Ishbaal is murdered by Rechab and Baanah, two of his captains who hope for a reward from David. But David has them killed for killing God's anointed. David is then anointed king of all Israel.

David captures Jerusalem and brings the Ark there. David wishes to build a temple, but Nathan tells him that one of his sons will be the one to build the temple. David defeats the enemies of Israel, slaughtering Philistines, Moabites, Edomites, Syrians, and Arameans.

David commits adultery with Bathsheba, who becomes pregnant. When her husband Uriah the Hittite returns from battle, David encourages him to go home and see his wife, but Uriah declines in case David might need him. David then deliberately sends Uriah on a suicide mission, and for this, Yahweh sends disasters against David's house. Nathan tells David that the sword shall never depart from his house.

For the remainder of David's reign, problems occur. Amnon (one of David's sons) rapes his half-sister Tamar (one of David's daughters). Absalom (another son of David) kills Amnon and rebels against his father, whereupon David flees from Jerusalem. Absalom is killed following the Battle of the Wood of Ephraim, and David is restored as king and returns to his palace. Finally, only two contenders for the succession remain: Adonijah, son of David and Haggith, and Solomon, son of David and Bathsheba.

2 Samuel concludes with four chapters (chapters 21 to 24) that lie outside the chronological succession narrative of Saul and David, a narrative that will continue in The Book of Kings. These four supplementary[9] chapters cover a great famine during David's reign;[10] the execution of seven of Saul's remaining descendants, only Mephibosheth being saved;[11] David's song of thanksgiving,[12] which is almost identical to Psalm 18; David's last words;[13] a list of David's "mighty warriors";[14] an offering made by David using water from the well of Bethlehem;[15] David's sinful census;[16] a plague over Israel which David opted for as preferable to either famine or oppression;[17] and the construction of an altar on land David purchased from Araunah the Jebusite.[18]

The chronological narrative of succession resumes in the first Book of Kings, which relates how, as David lies dying, Bathsheba and Nathan ensure Solomon's elevation to the throne.

David and Bathsheba, by Artemisia Gentileschi, c. 1636. David is seen in the background, standing on a balcony.

Manuscript sources

Three of the Dead Sea Scrolls feature parts of Kings: 1QSam, found in Qumran Cave 1, contains parts of 2 Samuel; and 4QSama, 4QSamb and 4QSamc, all found in Qumran Cave 4. Collectively they are known as The Samuel Scroll and date from the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE.[19][20]

The earliest complete surviving copy of the book(s) of Samuel is in the Aleppo Codex (10th century CE).[21]


Hannah presenting Samuel to Eli, by Jan Victors, 1645

The Book of Samuel is a theological evaluation of kingship in general and of dynastic kingship and David in particular.[22] The main themes of the book are introduced in the opening poem (the "Song of Hannah"): (1) the sovereignty of Yahweh, God of Israel; (2) the reversal of human fortunes; and (3) kingship.[23] These themes are played out in the stories of the three main characters, Samuel, Saul and David.


Samuel answers the description of the "prophet like Moses" predicted in Deuteronomy 18:15–22: like Moses, he has direct contact with Yahweh, acts as a judge, and is a perfect leader who never makes mistakes.[24] Samuel's successful defense of the Israelites against their enemies demonstrates that they have no need for a king (who will, moreover, introduce inequality), yet despite this the people demand a king. But the king they are given is Yahweh's gift, and Samuel explains that kingship can be a blessing rather than a curse if they remain faithful to their God. On the other hand, total destruction of both king and people will result if they turn to wickedness.[25]


Saul is the chosen one: tall, handsome and "goodly",[26] a king appointed by Yahweh, and anointed by Samuel, Yahweh's prophet, and yet he is ultimately rejected.[27] Saul has two faults which make him unfit for the office of king: carrying out a sacrifice in place of Samuel,[28] and failing to exterminate the Amalekites, in accordance to God's commands, and trying to compensate by claiming that he reserved the surviving Amalekite livestock for sacrifice[29].[30]


One of the main units within Samuel is the "History of David's Rise", the purpose of which is to justify David as the legitimate successor to Saul.[31] The narrative stresses that he gained the throne lawfully, always respecting "the Lord's anointed" (i.e. Saul) and never taking any of his numerous chances to seize the throne by violence.[32] As God's chosen king over Israel, David is also the son of God ("I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me..." – 2 Samuel 7:14).[33] God enters into an eternal covenant (treaty) with David and his line, promising divine protection of the dynasty and of Jerusalem through all time.[34]

2 Samuel 23 contains a prophetic statement described as the "last words of David" (verses 1–7) and details of the 37 "mighty men" who were David's chief warriors (verses 8–39). The Jerusalem Bible states that last words were attributed to David in the style of Jacob[35] and Moses.[36] Its editors note that "the text has suffered considerably and reconstructions are conjectural".[37]

1 Kings 2:1-9[38] contains David's final words to Solomon, his son and successor as king.

See also



  1. Gordon 1986, p. 18.
  2. Hirsch, Emil G. "SAMUEL, BOOKS OF".
  3. Knight 1995, p. 62.
  4. Jones 2001, p. 197.
  5. 1 Samuel 1:1–20
  6. 2 Samuel 24:24
  7. Spieckerman 2001, p. 348.
  8. 2 Samuel 1:17–27
  9. Sub-heading in Jerusalem Bible
  10. 2 Samuel 21:1
  11. 2 Samuel 21:2–9
  12. 2 Samuel 22:1–51
  13. 2 Samuel 23:1–7
  14. 2 Samuel 23:8–39
  15. 2 Samuel 23:13–17
  16. 2 Samuel 24:1–9
  17. 2 Samuel 24:10–17
  18. 2 Samuel 24:18–25
  19. "1qsam | The Way To Yahuweh".
  20. Rezetko & Young 2014, p. 671.
  21. "Scholars search for pages of ancient Hebrew Bible". Los Angeles Times. September 28, 2008.
  22. Klein 2003, p. 312.
  23. Tsumura 2007, p. 68.
  24. Breytenbach 2000, pp. 53–55.
  25. Klein 2003, p. 316.
  26. 1 Samuel 9:2: King James Version
  27. Hertzberg 1964, p. 19.
  28. 1 Samuel 13:8–14
  29. 1 Samuel 15
  30. Klein 2003, p. 319.
  31. Dick 2004, pp. 3–4.
  32. Jones 2001, p. 198.
  33. Coogan 2009, pp. 216, 229–33.
  34. Coogan 2009, p. 425.
  35. see Jacob's Blessing, Genesis 49
  36. see Blessing of Moses, Deuteronomy 33
  37. Jerusalem Bible, footnote at 2 Samuel 23:1
  38. 1 Kings 2:1–9


External links

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Christian translations
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Books of Samuel
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