Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Introduction to the First Book of Samuel
The first book of Samuel deals with the process from the judges to the kings. In this book we have the history of the people from the last of the judges, Samuel, through the troublous times of Saul to the beginning of the reign of the king chosen by God, David. The book naturally falls into three sections, around the names of these three men.
I. Samuel.—The story of the life at Shiloh reveals two movements going forward simultaneously in Israel, those namely of degeneration and regeneration. The corruption of the priesthood was appalling. Within the precincts of the Tabernacle Samuel was preserved from pollution, and grew in the fear of the Lord. The crisis of judgment foretold by Samuel came in connexion with the Philistine attack upon the people. A dark period of twenty years is passed over without detailed record. During that time Israel was under Philistine rule, and Samuel was advancing from youth to manhood, and approaching the hour of his leadership. In a brief paragraph the story of his actual judgment is told.
II. Saul.—The book now merges into its second division, which has to do with Saul. The people clamoured for a king. The occasion of their request was the maladministration of the sons of Samuel, and their sinful practices. The real principle underlying it was a desire on their part to be, as they said, 'like all the nations'. In the pursuit of his filial duty Saul was led into contact with Samuel; while they were alone he communicated to him his Divine appointment, and his formal presentation to the people took place at Mizpeh. Two chapters give an account of the wars Saul waged. While he was victorious, he was disobedient in that he spared Agag and part of the spoil. The two men are seen in striking contrast at this point. Saul, the man of great opportunity, miserably failing, and passing along the pathway of disobedience to ruin. Samuel, rejected long ago of the people, still mighty in his allegiance to God.
III. David.—Samuel was rebuked for his prolonged mourning, and was commissioned to arise and await the new king. Immediately the two men are seen in the presence of a national danger. David without human resource, but conscious of the true greatness of his people, and sure strength of God, gained his victory over Goliath. One of the most charming love-stories of the Bible is that of the friendship between Jonathan and David. Coincident with the commencement thereof, the hatred of Saul against David deepened, and manifested itself in deeply laid schemes and unworthy methods in which he attempted to rid himself of his rival. During this period Samuel died. So terrible was the pressure of these dark days that David himself became pessimistic. The closing chapter of this book tells the story of the end of one of the most disastrous failures. Saul died upon the field of battle by his own hand.
—G. Campbell Morgan, The Analysed Bible, p. 141.
The Message of the First Book of Samuel
The books of Samuel are so named from the circumstance that Samuel is the prominent figure at the opening of these books and in the history with which they deal. The use of his name has nothing whatever to do with their authorship. The books of Samuel are undoubtedly compilations. While there is much in them to show that in their present form they came to us from one hand, there is also very much to show that the compiler in his work had the assistance of numerous contemporary documents. The composition of the books of Samuel falls in the golden age of Israel's history. In these books we find perhaps the best and purest Hebrew that the Bible contains. In this chapter we deal with the first book. From this book in its three sections there came to us three lessons which are the main messages of the book.
I. From the first section comes the word, 'God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth'. The teaching of this section is a strong protest against ritualism. The idea that the presence and the blessing of God can be secured by the use of sacred vestments, and sacred postures, and sacred acts performed by or on sacred persons in specially sacred places, is an idea not a whit less superstitious than the idea that victory would be secured by sending the ark into the battlefield.
II. From the second section of the book comes the word, 'Whosoever shall keep the whole law and yet offend in one point is guilty of all'. This is a lesson that comes to us from the history of Saul. God, for the fulfilment of His purpose with Israel, wanted a king who should be really Jehovah's servant. But Saul, in his treatment of Amalek, showed that he set himself above God. In this matter, which some would call little, Saul manifested a spirit which made him utterly unfit to be God's king. He offended in one point, but was guilty of all. And the sequel showed that the man who was capable of setting aside the command of God in this one point, was also capable of ranging himself in definite opposition to the purpose of God to set David on the throne.
III. From the third section of this book comes the word, 'The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, and the thoughts of His heart to all generations'. In reading this history we cannot lose sight of the fact that it is typical of David's Son and David's Lord. It is the counsel of the Lord that Jesus Christ shall yet reign as King over the whole earth. God has sworn by Himself that in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ every knee shall bow. At present this often seems but little likely! Yet, we cannot lose heart. We read the story of David. We see him a fugitive, an outlaw, an outcast, with a mere handful of men to uphold his cause; we read on and find him after a little seated on the throne, and those who had shared his suffering sharing in his glory. 'The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, and the thoughts of His heart to all generations'.
—G. H. C. Macgregor, Messages of the Old Testament, p. 115.