In the Hebrew Bible what came to be known as the First and Second Books of Samuel were written on a single scroll and formed the single book of Samuel. It was split into two parts in the Greek Septuagint translation, with the rise of David marking the division point for the two halves. The Latin Vulgate translation made the same division, and so did the KJV in its time. First Samuel records the transition in Israelite history from the chaotic disunity among the loosely federated tribes in the era of the judges toward a centralized monarchy. The key events of this transition to kingship involve three of Israel's early national heroes: Samuel, the last judge, Saul, the first king, and David.
The book begins with the story of Samuel, reporting his birth, his calling and dedication to God as a youth, and his long career as both judge and prophet. It is Samuel who grudgingly yields to popular pressure for a king, one the people hoped would unite the tribes and make the nation more organized and less vulnerable to invading enemies. There were mixed feelings among the people regarding kingship. Having a king with absolute power is the model of top-down control that they had rebelled against in Egypt. When the Israelites first settled in Canaan they had hoped that a loose federation of tribes under the leadership of judges would prevent any one tribe from taking such all-encompassing control over the others. Yet the system was not working and some kind of centralization was needed. Samuel astutely voices the concern about royal power and his speech in 8.11-18 is a brilliant summary of the old adage that “power corrupts,” preparing readers for the eventual disappointments that will be visited upon the people when the united Israelite kingdom divides in the First and Second Books of Kings.
It is the farmer and military hero, Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin, who is chosen as the first king over Israel. Saul enjoyed successes in battle with the Philistines, but seemed to lack sound and confident ruling sense. After Saul has a serious falling-out with Samuel, God directs Samuel to anoint Saul's successor—the youthful shepherd boy, David. The young David was asked to sing and play his harp in the court to help Saul overcome his melancholy, but David's fame from his victory over the Philistine giant, Goliath, only increased Saul's anxiety and paranoia. Soon David was forced to flee the court and was repeatedly hunted in the desert by Saul's troops. During those years on the run, David built up strong support among the clans and cities in the southern hill country of Judah. First Samuel ends with the death of Saul in battle with the Philistines. Second Samuel continues the story with the rise of David to power.
Samuel as Judge (1.1—7.17)
Saul Is Chosen to Be Israel's King (8.1—11.15)
Saul's Troubled Reign (12.1—15.35)
The Tense Interactions between Saul and David (16.1—30.31)
The Death of Saul and His Sons in Battle (31.1-13)
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