Saul, jealous over David’s growing renown

Who is in 1 Samuel?
Prominent people in 1 Samuel include Samuel, King Saul, and King David. The giant Goliath, the priest Eli, and Jonathan, who was both Saul’s son and David’s friend, also appear in the book.

What is 1 Samuel about?
1 Samuel is the ninth book in the Bible, and takes place after the events of Judges. Samuel was given to the Lord and ministered under Eli. Samuel started prophesying, which Eli confirmed was from God, to Eli’s dismay, as the prophecy was about the downfall of his own house for Eli’s sons misbehaving and the failure of Eli to follow the Lord’s procedures for dealing with them. The Lord raised up a more faithful priest in Samuel after Eli passed away. When Samuel was old, he appointed his sons to judge over Israel, but they did not follow Samuel’s example. The elders were unsatisfied and demanded a king for Israel, effectively rejecting God as their king. Nevertheless, the Lord granted their request, but with a warning that their king could not save them where God could. God locates the person who will be the first king, Saul, and he has Samuel go out to anoint him. At first, Saul has military victories and brings Israel to the Lord. After some time, however, Saul started disobeying the Lord in things such as making unlawful sacrifices, making vows rashly, and not devoting to destruction what the Lord specified after military conquests. The Lord regretted making Saul king, and sent Samuel to anoint a second king, who was David.

Saul brought David in as an armor-bearer, and it was during David’s time in service to Saul that David defeated Goliath. David became so great that he overshadowed Saul, and Saul grew to resent that, especially when his failed attempts to kill him showed that the Lord was with David. With Jonathan’s help, David evaded capture by fleeing throughout the land, gaining supporters as he did so. Finally, in a battle against the Philistines, Saul, as well as his sons, including Jonathan, all died on the same day, leaving David free to become king.

Who wrote it?
There is no writer explicitly given for 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 Chronicles 29:29 makes reference to ‘the Chronicles of Samuel the seer’, which is said to mention David in some detail, leading some to think that Samuel had a large hand in composing the book (note, however, that Samuel dies in 1 Samuel 22:1). Others believe that the book is a compilation of separately recorded events.

When does it take place?
The book’s events take place over about a century, encompassing the entire life of Samuel and beyond. In The Complete Book of When and Where: In the Bible and throughout History, the birth of Samuel is dated at 1105 B.C., Saul is anointed king at 1050 B.C., David at 1025 B.C., and David began his reign (after Saul’s death) in 1012 B.C.

When was it written?
The ESV Study Bible notes that the book may have been written/edited in stages, in accordance with the compilation theory in the above question. For at least one part of 1 Samuel, we can look at 1 Samuel 27:6, which says that ‘Ziklag has belonged to the kings of Judah to this day’. As with some prior books, the inclusion of ‘to this day’ is very valuable for dating purposes. In this case, Ziklag was captured by Egypt in 925 B.C., so that part, at least, could not have been written later than that.

Why was it written?
1 Samuel functions largely as a historical record, like most of the other books before it except for Ruth, which was unconcerned with precise dates and more concerned with telling a story of faithfulness. 1 Samuel tells of the rise of the kingship in Israel. It also tells what the king SHOULDN’T be like via Saul’s long but increasingly vengeful rule. While Saul is primarily concerned with how his kingdom thinks of him, David is more concerned of how God thinks of him.

How does 1 Samuel apply to me today?
A human king is no substitute for a divine one. God makes this clear explicitly in 1 Samuel 8, and the rule of Saul attests to this fact too. At our core, we are sinful beings, even the leaders among us. Our salvation comes from aligning ourselves with God, not anything we may try to do on our own. Also, David’s plight in 1 Samuel, when Saul tries earnestly to kill him, makes it clear that God’s supreme plan cannot be thwarted. Through all David experiences, he is able to outrun Saul and even gains an army during his travels.

Other notes:
It is worth mentioning that 1 Samuel carries some parallels with other parts of the Bible. 1 Chronicles 10 retells the death of Saul and his sons. Also, some of the Psalms were composed by David during his travels in 1 Samuel. Psalm 59, for example, was written when Saul was trying to kill David.


Recommended resources:

As for all posts in this series, a book introduction in a good study Bible will provide more information than listed here. The ESV Study Bible is one recommendation.


Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984. Released under new license, CC-BY-SA 3.0