of Samuel stands midway between the book of Judges and the book of Kings. As we have already seen, the Deuteronomic book of Judges in all probability ran into Samuel and ended in ch. xii.; while the story of David, begun in Samuel, embraces the first two chapters of the first book of Kings. The book of Samuel is not very happily named, as much of it is devoted to Saul and the greater part to David; yet it is not altogether inappropriate, as Samuel had much to do with the founding of the monarchy. The Jewish tradition that Samuel was the author of the book is, of course, a palpable fiction, as the story is carried beyond his death.
[Footnote 1: Two books in the Greek translation, as in modern Bibles; originally one in the Hebrew, but two from the year 1517 A.D.]
The book deals with the establishment of the monarchy. Its ultimate analysis is very difficult; but, if we regard the summary notices in 1 Samuel xiv.47-51 and 2 Samuel viii. as the conclusion of sections -- and this seems to have been their original intention -- the broad outlines are clear enough, and the book may be divided into three parts: the first (1 Sam. i.-xiv.) dealing with Samuel and Saul, the second (i Sam. xv.-2 Sam. viii.) with Saul and David, and the third (2 Sam. ix.-xx., concluding with I Kings i., ii.) with David, xxi.-xxiv. being, like Judges xvii.-xxi., in the nature of an appendix.
The book opens in the period of the Philistine wars. Samuel's birth, call and influence are described (I Sam. i.-iii.), and the disastrous defeat which Israel suffered at the hand of the Philistines. Jehovah, however, asserted His dignity, and the ark, which had been captured, was restored to Israel (iv.-vii.). But the peril had taught Israel her need of a king, and, by a providential course of events, Saul becomes the chosen man. He gains initial successes (viii.-xiv.).
But, for a certain disobedience and impetuosity, his rejection by God is pronounced by Samuel, and David steps upon the arena of history as the coming king. His successes in war stung the melancholy Saul, who at first had loved him, into jealousy; and the tragedy of Saul's life deepens. Recognizing in the versatile David his almost certain successor, he seeks in various ways to compass his destruction, but more than once David repays his malice with generosity. Saul's persecution, however, is so persistent that David is compelled to flee, and he takes refuge with his country's enemy, the Philistine king of Gath. At the decisive battle between Israel and the Philistines on Gilboa, Saul perishes. Soon afterwards, David is made king of Judah; and emerging successfully from the subsequent struggle with Saul's surviving son, he becomes king over all Israel, seizes Jerusalem, and makes it his civil and religious capital (1 Sam. xv.-2 Sam. viii.).
The story of his reign is told with great power and candour, and is full of the most diverse interest -- his guilty passion for Bathsheba, which left its trail of sorrow over all his subsequent career, the dissensions in the royal family, the unsuccessful rebellion of his son Absalom, the strife between Israel and Judah (2 Sam. ix.-xx.). The story is concluded in 1 Kings i., ii., by an account of the intrigue which secured the succession of Solomon, and finally by the death and testament of David. The appendix, which interrupts the story and closes the book of Samuel (xxi.-xxiv.) consists of (a) two narratives, with a dominant religious interest, which chronologically appear to belong to the beginning of David's reign -- the atonement by which Jehovah's anger, expressed in famine, was turned away from the land, xxi.1-14, and the plague which, as a divine penalty, followed David's census of the people (xxiv.); (b) two psalms -- a song of gratitude for God's gracious deliverances (xxii.=Ps. xviii.), and a brief psalm expressing confidence in the triumph of justice, xxiii.1-7; (c) two lists of David's heroes and their deeds, xxi.15-22, xxiii.8-39.
In the book of Samuel, even more distinctly than in the Hexateuch, composite authorship is apparent. Little or no attempt has been made by the redactor to reduce, by omissions, adaptations, or corrections, the divergent sources to a unity, so that we are in the singularly fortunate position of possessing information which is exceedingly early, and in some cases all but contemporary, of persons, events and movements, which exercised the profoundest influence on the subsequent history of Israel. The book has been touched in a very few places by the Deuteronomic redactor -- not to anything like the same extent as Judges or Kings. The few points at which he intervenes, however, are very significant; his hand is apparent in the threat of doom pronounced upon Eli's house (1 Sam. ii.27-36), in the account of the decisive battle against the Philistines represented as won for Israel by Samuel's intercession (1 Sam. vii.3-16), in Samuel's farewell address to the people (1 Sam. xii.) and -- most important of all -- in Nathan's announcement to David of the perpetuity of his dynasty (2 Sam. vii.). A study of these passages reveals the didactic interest so characteristic of the redactors.
Such a book as Samuel offered little opportunity for a priestly redaction, but it has been touched here and there by a priestly hand, as we see from 1 Samuel vi.15, with its belated introduction of the Levites to do what had been done already, v.14, and from the very significant substitution of "all the Levites" for "Abiathar" in 2 Samuel xv.24, cf.29.
The composite quality of the book of Samuel could hardly fail to strike even a careless observer. Many of the events, both important and unimportant, are related twice under circumstances which render it practically impossible that two different incidents are recorded. Two explanations are given, e.g., of the origin of the saying, "Is Saul also among the prophets?" I Sam. x.11, xix.24. Similarly, the story of David's magnanimity in sparing Saul's life is twice told (1 Sam. xxiv., xxvi.), and there is no allusion in the second narrative to the first, such as would be natural, if not necessary, on the assumption that the occasions were really different. There are also two accounts of David's sojourn among the Philistines and of his speedy departure from a situation fraught with so much peril (1 Sam. xxi.10-15, xxvii., xxix.). Of course there are not unimportant differences between these two narratives: the voluntary departure of the one story becomes a courteous, though firm, dismissal in the other; but in the light of so many other unmistakable duplicates, it is hard to believe that these are not simply different versions of the same story. There are two accounts of the death of Saul: according to the one, he committed suicide (1 Sam. xxxi.4), according to the other he was slain by an Amalekite (2 Sam. i.10). The Amalekite's story may, of course, be fiction, but it is not necessary to suppose this.
The differences between the duplicate accounts are sometimes so serious as to amount to incompatibility. In one document, e.g., teraphim are found in the house of a devout worshipper of Jehovah, 1 Sam. xix.13, in another they are the symbol of an idolatry which is comparable to the worst of sins, 1 Sam. xv.23. Again, there is no reason to doubt the statement in the apparently ancient record of the deeds of David's heroes, that Elhanan slew Goliath of Gath, 2 Sam. xxi.19. But if this be so, what becomes of the elaborate and romantic story of i Samuel xvii., which claims this honour for David? The difficulty created by this discrepancy was felt as early as the times of the chronicler, who surmounts it by asserting that it was the brother of Goliath whom Elhanan slew (1 Chron. xx.5). Connected with this story are other difficulties affecting the relation of David to Saul. In this chapter, Saul is unacquainted with David, 1 Samuel xvii.56, whereas in the preceding chapter David is not only present at his court, but has already won the monarch's love, xvi.21. The David of the one chapter is quite unlike the David of the other; in xvi.18 he is a mature man, a skilled and versatile minstrel-warrior, and the armour-bearer of the king; in xvii.38, 39, he is a young shepherd boy who cannot wield a sword, and who cuts a sorry figure in a coat of mail. Many of these undoubted difficulties are removed by the Septuagint which omits xvii.12-31 ,41, 50, 55-xviii.5, and the question is raised whether the Septuagint omitted these verses to secure a more consistent narrative, or whether they were wanting, as seems more probable, in the Hebrew text from which the Greek was translated. In that case these verses, which give an idyllic turn (cf. ch. xvi.) to the story of David, may have been added after the Greek version was written, i.e, hardly earlier than 250 B.C., and a curious light would thus be shed upon the history of the text and on the freedom with which it was treated by later Jewish scholars. Equally striking and important are the conflicting conceptions of the monarchy entertained in the earlier part of the book. One source regards it as a blessing and a gift of Jehovah; the first king is anointed by divine commission "to be prince over my people Israel, and he shall save my people out of the hand of the Philistines," 1 Sam. ix.16; the other regards the request for an earthly king as a rejection of the divine king, and the monarchy as destined to prove a vexation, if not a curse (viii.). Centuries seem to separate these conceptions -- the one expressing the exuberant enthusiasm with which the monarchy was initiated, the other -- perhaps about Hosea's time (cf. Hosea viii.4) -- reflecting the melancholy experience of its essential impotence.
These considerations suggest that at any rate as far as 2 Samuel viii. -- for it is universally admitted that 2 Samuel ix.-xx. is homogeneous -- there are at least two sources, which some would identify, though upon grounds that are not altogether convincing, with the Jehovist and Elohist documents in the Hexateuch. One of these sources is distinctly early and the other distinctly late, and the early source contains much ancient and valuable material. Its recognition of Samuel as a local seer willing to tell for a small piece of money where stray asses have gone, its enthusiastic attitude to the monarchy, its obvious delight in the splendid presence and powers of Saul, its intimate knowledge of the ecstatic prophets, its conception of the ark as a sort of fetish whose presence insures victory -- all these things bespeak for the document that relates them a high antiquity. The other document represents Samuel as a great judge and virtual regent over all Israel, it has a wide experience of the evils of monarchy, it idealizes David, and it regards Saul as a "rejected" man. It is possible that these documents, in their original form, were biographical -- Saul being the chief hero in the one and David in the other. A biography of Samuel, which may or may not have included the story of the war with the Philistines (I Sam. iv.-vii.2), possibly existed separately, though in its present form it is interwoven with the story of Saul.
It would be difficult to overpraise the literary and historical genius of the writer who in 2 Samuel ix.-xx. traces the checkered course of David's reign. He has an unusually intimate knowledge of the period, a clear sense of the forces that mould history, a delicate insight into the springs of character, and an estimable candour in portraying the weakness as well as the strength of his hero. The writer's knowledge is so intimate that one is tempted to suppose that he must have been a contemporary; and yet such a phrase as "to this day," 2 Sam. xviii.18, unless it be redactional, almost compels us to come lower down. Probably, however, it is not later than the time of Solomon, whose reign appears to have been marked by literary as well as commercial activity.
The last four chapters, which interrupt the main narrative, contain some ancient and some late material. The two tales, xxi.1-14, xxiv., which have much in common, were preserved because of their religious interest; and although part of ch. xxiv. (cf. vv.10-14) is in the later style, both stories throw much welcome light on the early religious ideas of Israel. Of the poems 2 Samuel xxii. in its present form can hardly be David's, and the same doubt may be fairly entertained with regard to xxiii.1-7. Even if v.1 be not an imitation of Numbers xxiv.3, 15, it is hardly likely that David would have described himself in terms of the last clause of this verse. The eschatological complexion of vv.6, 7 also suggests, though perhaps it does not compel, a later date; further, it is not exactly in favour of the Davidic authorship of either of these psalms that they are found in a section which was obviously interpolated later. On the other hand, there can be no reasonable doubt that the incomparable elegy over Saul and Jonathan in 2 Samuel i.19-27 is David's. Poetically it is a gem of purest ray; but, though its position in the book of Jashar shows that it was regarded as a religious poem, it strikes no distinctively religious note. The little fragment on the death of Abner, 2 Sam. iii.33ff., is also no doubt his.
The book of Samuel offers a large contribution to our knowledge of the early religion of Israel. It presents us with a practical illustration of the rigorous obligations of the ban (1 Sam. xv.), of the effects of technical holiness (1 Sam. xxi.4, 5), of the appearance of the images known as teraphim (1 Sam. xix.13), of the usages of necromancy (1 Sam. xxviii.), of the peril of unavenged bloodshed (2 Sam. xxi.), of the almost idolatrous regard for the ark (1 Sam. iv.), of the nature of the lot (1 Sam. xiv.41, lxx.), of the place of fasting and the inviolability of oaths (1 Sam. xiv.). To the student of human nature, the book is peculiarly rich in material. The career of David and still more that of Saul -- David with his weakness and his magnanimity, and Saul, a noble character, ruined by jealousy and failure combined working upon a predisposition to melancholy -- present a most fascinating psychological study. The ethical interest, too, though seldom obtruded, is always present. In the parable of Nathan, it receives direct and dramatic expression; but the whole story of David's reign is haunted by a sense of the Nemesis of sin.