First Samuel

John Bennett, Pinxton, Nottingham [SEE PROFILE BELOW]

Category: Exposition

Precious Seed


First Samuel is a book of contrasts. There are the themes of light and darkness that pervade the book. The times of spiritual darkness might be summarized by the writer’s comments in chapter 3, ‘And the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision’, v. 1. In contrast, there are the gleams of light that shine through, displaying God’s spiritual care for His people and the provision that He makes in times of departure. Thus, as chapter 3 closes, the writer records, ‘the Lord revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord’, v. 21.

Chapters 1 and 2 display aspects of the darkness, demonstrating the condition of the nation in that transition period between the judges and the kings. Even the glimmer of light in the call of Samuel is set against the background of the loss of the ark in the battle with the Philistines in chapter 4. Any emergence from the darkness, as the ark is returned in chapter 6, has the shadow of the death of many in Beth-shemesh as a consequence of their folly in looking into the ark.

But even in times of moral and spiritual darkness there is evidence of the movement of God. In the exercise of Hannah, chapter 1, in the call of Samuel, chapter 3, and in the ministry of Samuel, chapter 7, there is the seed-plot that might provide the basis of revival in the nation. Here in 1 Samuel is a man and a woman who are prepared to commit themselves to the work of the Lord.

As the book progresses from the ministry of Samuel to the reign of Saul, the same contrasts continue. We see the king of the nation’s choice contrasted with the man after God’s own heart. In Saul there was a man who had potential – the guidance and help of a true man of God in Samuel; a new heart from God, 10. 9; the Spirit of God who came upon him, 10. 10; 11. 6; supporters who were valiant men, 10. 26; and the confidence of the people, 11. 15. How sad to see one who once knew the help of God, 10. 7; 11. 13, rejected by God because of disobedience. So begins the decline of the man of Benjamin who, at the end of the book, commits suicide upon the field of battle, having been defeated by the Philistines.

In David, who appears in chapter 16, we have a man who, in spite of failure, was the man of God’s choice, 16. 1. It is worth contrasting the attitude of Saul when battling against the Ammonites, and David as he took on Goliath in the valley of Elah. David’s confidence in his God is evident, 17. 45-47. Yet, sadly, such a man is hated, pursued, fleeing for his life from a man, Saul, who has given himself up to lawlessness. But out of that state of Saul’s mind and heart, God is preparing His man for the throne of Israel and for the blessing of His people.

The Purpose of the Book

The record of the books of Samuel is one of transition – the transition from the rule of the judges to that of the kings. The gradual decline of the judges into a period of lawlessness is traced through the book of that name, but here, in 1 Samuel, we have men who rise out of that lawlessness as men that God can use.

This is a book that contains much to encourage believers in times of moral and spiritual darkness; much to challenge, as it faithfully records the consequences of disobedience and departure; and much to assure believers as to the sovereign purpose of God that cannot be thwarted.

The Plan of the Book

Anderson offers the following outline (adapted):

‘I. Transition from Judges to Kings – 1 Samuel 1:1 – 10:27 

A. Samuel’s birth and dedication 1:1 – 2:11 

B. Samuel’s rise at Shiloh 2:12 – 4:1a 

C. The capture and return of the ark 4:1b – 7:2 

D. Samuel’s judgeship 7:3-17 

E. The selection of a king 8:1 – 10:27 


II. Reign of Saul – 11:1 – 31:13 

A. Early events of Saul’s reign 11:1–15:35 

B. Transition from Saul to David 16:1–31:13’.1 

In many ways the book might be divided into two sections around two of its main characters, Samuel, chapters 1 to 7 and Saul, chapters 8 to 31. However, that would be to ignore the parts played by Hannah, chapters 1 and 2, Eli, chapters 2 to 4, Jonathan, chapters 13 and 14, and 18 to 20, and David, chapters 16 to 31. Equally, we will see the emergence of men like Joab and Abishai, of whom more will be seen in the second book of Samuel. The scene is being set for the reign of the man after God’s own heart, and that man, David, is being shaped and moulded in the hands of his God. 

A detailed outline is as follows:

Chapters 1-7, the days of Samuel

The conditions at that time, 1. 1-8 
The character of Hannah, vv. 9-18
The compassion of the Lord, vv. 19-28

The worship of Hannah, 2. 1-11
The wickedness of Eli’s sons, vv. 12-26
The wisdom of the man of God, vv. 27-36

The Lord’s appearance, 3. 1-10
The Lord’s announcement, vv. 11-18
The Lord’s appointment, vv. 19-21

The battle against the Philistines, 4. 1-11
The broadcast of defeat, vv. 12-18
The birth of Ichabod, vv. 19-22

The eviction of Dagon, 5. 1-5
The emerods at Ashdod, vv. 6-9
The Ekronites destroyed, vv. 10-12

The jewels and the trespass offering, 6. 1-9
The journey back to Israel, vv. 10-18
The judgement of the men of Bethshemesh, vv. 19-21

The collection of the ark, 7. 1, 2
The conquest of the Philistines, vv. 3-12
The circuit of Samuel, vv. 13-17


Chapters 8-10, the decline of Samuel and emergence of Saul

The problem of Samuel’s sons, 8. 1-5 
The prayer of Samuel, vv. 6-9
The prophecy of Samuel, vv. 10-18
The people’s refusal, vv. 19-22

Saul seeking asses, 9. 1-14
Samuel sacrificing, vv. 15-27

Saul’s anointing and prophecy, 10. 1-16
Saul’s acceptance before the people, vv. 17-27


Chapters 11-15, Saul’s enthronement and disobedience

The reproach of Israel, 11. 1-3 
The response of Saul, vv. 4-9
The rout of the Ammonites, vv. 10, 11
The rejoicing of the people, vv. 12-15

The forbearance of Samuel, 12. 1-5
The faithfulness of God, vv. 6-15
The fear of the Lord, vv. 16-25

The fear of the people, 13. 1-7 
The folly of Saul, vv. 8-16
The forging of weapons, vv. 17-23

The daring of Jonathan, 14. 1-15 
The defeat of the Philistines, vv. 16-23
The distress of the people, vv. 24-46 
The digest of Saul’s reign, vv. 47-52

The remembrance of the Amalekites, 15. 1-5 
The rout of the Amalekites, vv. 6-9
The revelation of the problem, vv. 10-23 
The resolution of the problem, vv. 24-35


Chapters 16-31, Saul’s decline and death alongside David’s exploits and escapes

The journey of Samuel, 16. 1-5 
The judgement of God, vv. 6-13
The joylessness of Saul, vv. 14-23 

The challenge of Goliath, 17. 1-11
The coming of David, vv. 12-31
The confidence of David, vv. 32-37
The conquest of David, vv. 38-51
The chase of the Philistines, vv. 52-58

The love of Jonathan, 18. 1-5 
The lauding of David, vv. 6-9
The Lord was with David, vv. 10-16
The love of Michal, vv. 17-21
The levy upon the Philistines, vv. 22-30

A reconciliation, 19. 1-7 
A relapse, vv. 8-17
A refuge, vv. 18-24 

The plea of David, 20. 1-10
The plan of Jonathan, vv. 11-23
The passion of Saul, vv. 24-34 
The place of archery, vv. 35-42 

The meeting with Ahimelech, 21. 1-9
The madness of David, vv. 10-15

Mizpeh of Moab, 22. 1-5
Massacre of the priests, vv. 6-19
Meeting with David, vv. 20-23

The conflict with the Philistines, 23. 1-15
The covenant with Jonathan, vv. 16-18
The concord with the Ziphites, vv. 19-29

The wilderness of En-gedi, 24. 1-8
The witness of David, vv. 9-15
The words of Saul, vv. 16-22

The wickedness of Nabal, 25. 1-13
The word to Abigail, vv. 14-17
The work of Abigail, vv. 18-31
The witness against Nabal, vv. 32-38
The wedding of Abigail, vv. 39-44

The spear of Saul, 26. 1-12 
The speech of David, vv. 13-20
The sin of Saul, vv. 21-25 

David’s escape to Gath, 27. 1-7
David’s exploits in battle, vv. 8-12

Saul’s dilemma, 28. 1-6 
Saul’s deception, vv. 7-14
Samuel’s declaration, vv. 15-20 
Saul’s departure, vv. 21-25

Philistine disquiet, 29. 1-5 
David’s defence, vv. 6-11

David’s distress, 30. 1-10
David’s destruction of the Amalekites, vv. 11-20
David’s decision, vv. 21-31

The death of Saul, 31. 1-6 
The defeat of Israel, vv. 7-10
The demise of Saul, vv. 11-13

The Author and Date of the Book

The narrative of the book spans the hundred-year period from the birth of Samuel to the death of Saul upon Mount Gilboa. It begins at the close of the period in which Israel was ruled by judges, of which Samuel is the last. It describes the transition from that system of rule to the establishment of the theocratic monarchy.

When, however, the book was written, and by whom, is difficult to determine. Davis puts it succinctly when he states, ‘We know neither the date nor author(s) of 1 and 2 Samuel’.2 But to this pithy summary we should add that, ‘Although it could be suggested that Samuel–Kings is a compilation of historical records that were gradually made by one prophet after another over a period of four hundred years, in fact the work bears the marks of a single author; the same key turns of phrase and historical and theological emphases are found throughout’.3 Whilst we may not know who the human penmen were, we know the divine author!


1 Stephen Anderson, Interpretive Guide to the Bible, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014, pp. 41, 42.

2 Dale Ralph Davis, 1 Samuel, Christian Focus Publications, 2005, pg. 12.

3 Stephen Anderson, Interpretive Guide to the Bible, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014, pg. 38.

AUTHOR PROFILE: JOHN BENNETT is a member of the Precious Seed committee.

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