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- 1 Samuel
by John Dummelow
1. Scope and Contents. The two books of Samuel were in the original Hebrew reckoned as one, and classed, like Judges, among ’the earlier prophets.’ In LXX they are divided and called the first two ’books of the kingdoms’: a title which the Vulgate altered to ’books of the kings.’ Our own translation keeps the original name and the later division. The whole work embraces the history of the chosen nation from the end of the period of the Judges to the beginning of the reign of Solomon (1 Kings 1, 2 really belong to the period covered by the books of Samuel and in LXX are counted as 2 Sa 25, 26). The two books fall into three broad divisions, viz. 1 Samuel 1-14, 1 Samuel 15 -2 Samuel 8, and 2 Samuel 9-24 giving the stories (1) of Israel under the Philistines and Samuel; (2) of Saul and the rise of David; and (3) of David’s reign over all Israel. The whole period is about a century (see § 6); at its close we find ourselves in an atmosphere completely different from that in which we start, though the change is made entirely natural by the narrative.
The first of the three sections opens with the birth, consecration and call of Samuel (chs. 1-3), and passes to the death of Eli and his sons (c. 4), the captivity and restoration of the ark (chs. 5, 6), and the deliverance from the Philistines under Samuel (c. 7). The Israelites then demand a king; Samuel protests and warns (c. 8); Saul is revealed to Samuel as the future king, anointed, and accepted (chs.9, 10); a victory over Ammon strengthens Saul’s position (c. 11); and Samuel formally retires from leadership (c. 12). The Philistines are attacked and defeated (chs. 13, 14), but Saul, for his disobedience after the conquest of Amalek, is rejected (c. 15).
The second section introduces us at once to David; he is secretly anointed (1 Samuel 16:1-13) and brought before Saul (c. 1 Samuel 16:14-22). He is victorious over Goliath (c. 17), and wins first Saul’s favour and then his jealousy (c. 18). This is followed by a long and detailed account of Saul’s pursuit of David, who is soon reduced to live the life of an outlaw (chs. 19-26), and at last takes refuge with the king of Gath (c. 27). Meanwhile, Saul is compelled to face the Philistines on Mt. Gilboa (c. 28); David is expelled from the Philistine army, and sacks Ziklag (chs. 29, 30); and Saul is defeated and slain (c. 31). David is then anointed as king of Judah (2 Samuel 1), and gradually wears down the rivalry of Israel (chs. 2-4); he is made king of the whole nation, captures Jerusalem, defeats the Philistines (c. 5), and brings the ark to his new capital (chs. 6, 7).
In the third section we find him first showing courtesy to Meribbaal (c. 9), and subduing Ammon and the Syrians (c. 10). Then follows the Bathsheba episode (11- 1 Samuel 12:25), with the final conquest of Ammon (12:26-31). Absalom, revenging Amnon’s crime, is banished, and recalled (chs. 13, 14); his usurpation of the throne leads to his defeat and death, and to David’s unopposed return (chs. 15-19). Sheba’s revolt is subdued (c. 20). The avenging of the Gibeonites (1 Samuel 21:1-14) and sundry exploits of David’s heroes (21:14-22) are related; two psalms of David are given (22- 1 Samuel 23:7), and another list of David’s heroes (23:8-39); and the book closes with an account of the census and repentance of David (c. 24). The revolt of Adonijah, which clouded the last days of David, is related in 1 Kings 1, 2.
2. Structure of the Book. As stated above, 1 and 2 Samuel fall into three divisions; but none of these divisions have been written as they stand. Each (like so many other books of the Old Testament) is a compilation from earlier documents. Within the first two sections we meet constantly with different accounts of the same events, coupled with differences in the point of view. This will be clear from the following:—
1 Samuel 1-15. (a) chapters 1-4 contain the story of Samuel’s childhood, 7 and 8 his position as recognised head of all Israel—a point of view which is maintained in 1 Samuel 10:17-27; 1 Samuel 12, 15. (b) On the other hand, 9, 1 Samuel 10:1-16 give a separate version of Saul’s accession, and 11, 13, 14 follow continuously on 1 Samuel 10:16 the account of Saul’s rejection in 1 Samuel 13:8-14 being quite distinct from that of 15. Hannah’s song in 2 (which inspired some of the noblest thoughts of the Magnificat) contains conceptions which are inconsistent with what we know of the more primitive religion of this early period, and is probably a later poem, here ascribed to Hannah. The account of the ark in 5 and 6 has no notes of time, except that it must follow the battle of Aphek: it reminds us strongly of the narratives in Judges. Of the two main divisions of this section, the second (b), which is chiefly occupied with Saul, must be the earlier. From 1 Samuel 13:20, etc., we can hardly think that such a total defeat of the Philistines as is implied in 1 Samuel 7:13. took place at so early a period.
1 Samuel 16 -2 Samuel 8. In this section we find double narratives of David’s introduction to Saul, Saul’s offer of a daughter of his to David, and David’s sparing of Saul’s life. The inconsistencies thus resulting (of which the most noticeable is that while David is brought to Saul as a young warrior in 16, he appears in 17 as a shepherd lad of whom Saul is quite ignorant) may be avoided if we place together 2 Samuel 16:14-23; 2 Samuel 18:6-29 (with the exception of 1 Samuel 1:14-19); 2 Samuel 19:11-17; 2 Samuel 21:1-10; 2 Samuel 22:1 to 2 Samuel 23:14; 2Sa 25-27; 2Sa 29-30. The rest of 2Sa 16-31 reads almost as one continuous narrative. There is less difficulty about the first 8 chapters of 2 Samuel: the whole section concludes with a general summary of David’s power and prestige; and in chapter 2 we have an undoubted poem of David himself.
2 Samuel 9-24. chapters 9-20 form a very clear and picturesque narrative, which is quite selfconsistent, and must have been written near to the events which it describes. For the distinctness in its portraiture of minor characters as well as of David himself, and for its faithful description of the dark as well as the bright side of the court of Israel’s great and beloved king, it is unequalled among all the fine narratives of the Old Testament.
21-24 form an appendix; 2 Samuel 21:1-14 would seem to refer to the earlier years of David’s reign; the two psalms (the first of which is almost identical with Psalms 18) are strangely wedged in between the notices of David’s ’mighty men’;
24 should at any rate find a place in 9-20, and 1 Kings 1, 2 should properly follow 2 Samuel 20.
3. The Rise and Growth of the Monarchy. To our minds the word ’king’ suggests a definite constitution. Even an absolute monarch must govern according to fixed laws. To the Hebrews, the idea of such a constitution was foreign. The growth of our European monarchical constitutions has been controlled by two factors: the military organisation of the Teutonic nations, and the Roman Law. The Hebrews had nothing corresponding to either of these. In the time of the Judges (see Intro, to Judges) we find the nation composed of a number of tribes largely independent of each other, though held together (as were the ancient Greek states) by certain moral and religious customs, and also by a common faith in Jehovah, the national God. From time to time military leaders of strong personality (’Judges’) arise; but the sphere of their influence is limited, and only in one case (Gideon and Abimelech) is there any attempt to establish the principle of heredity.
The great difference between the Judges and Saul is that, unlike the former, the latter is solemnly chosen by all Israel at a gathering presided over by the moral and religious head of the nation, Samuel. Saul is simply a military leader, chosen to offer an otherwise impossible resistance to the Philistines. It was thus the Philistine oppression which welded the Israelites, under Saul’s leadership, into a nation. His first ’kingly’ act is to summon the whole nation to arms (1 Samuel 11:7, cp. Judges 19:29): when he sacrifices, it is as the head of the army (1 Samuel 13:9): he, like the Judges, receives guidance and command from Jehovah, though, unlike them, indirectly through Samuel: his military leadership, absolute from the side of the nation, is thus strictly limited from the side of Jehovah.
What was the effect of his rule on Israel’s internal life? We are merely told that he put away soothsayers and diviners out of the land (1 Samuel 28:9). This in itself implies a great deal; it does not imply, however, that the king was expected to make new laws, but only to enforce the old ones; at most, like Asa (1 Kings 15:18) and Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:4), he was a reformer.
If Jonathan had survived the battle of Gilboa, the whole course of Israel’s history might have been different. As it was, Saul’s son was at once accepted as king by the greater part of the nation (2 Samuel 2:9). Not until Ish-bosheth’s death was David acknowledged as king of all Israel. He began where Saul left off, as recognised military head of the nation. Unlike Saul, he needed no prophet to place him on the throne; but, like Saul, he gained and held his position by his personal popularity (2 Samuel 3:36). At first he is nothing more than the warrior; and all through his reign he is a ’man of war’ (2 Samuel 17:8). But by his conquest of Jerusalem and his removal thither of the ark, he becomes the religious head of the nation also, appointing and supervising the priests (2 Samuel 8:18; 2 Samuel 20:26 cp. 1 Kings 2:35). He is now in a position to form foreign alliances and to institute an elaborate and thoroughly Oriental court life (2 Samuel 5:13). He is also the fountain of justice (2 Samuel 12:5; 2 Samuel 14:4.); but while he enforces the traditional law, he does not make fresh laws. The basis of his internal authority (like that of the Roman emperors) is military supremacy: when this is broken he must take refuge in flight (2 Samuel 15:14). He has his captains and high officers (2 Samuel 20:23-26). He numbers and taxes his people (2 Samuel 24:2), but they have free right of access and complaint (2 Samuel 14:5; 2 Samuel 24:3), and he acknowledges the moral authority of the prophets (2 Samuel 12:25; 2 Samuel 24:11). He is throughout the father and the shepherd more than the monarch of his people: he is Jehovah’s representative in their midst. He made the kingship what it remained for four centuries, a rule limited by no written laws (save perhaps that of 1 Samuel 10:25, which is only ’constitutional’ in a restricted sense), but distinctly limited by the extent of the king’s military prowess and authority, and moral influence with his people, by the laws of the nation (cp. 1 Kings 21:3), and by the will of Jehovah as expressed by the prophets.
4. The Beginnings of Prophecy. It is generally agreed that the root from which comes the Hebrew word for ’prophet’ (nabi) means to ’announce’ or ’forth-tell.’ The Hebrew prophets, however, were ’forth-tellers’ of a special kind. Their messages always had to do with the nation and with Jehovah, the nation’s God and protector. They were the heralds at once of patriotism, national unity, and religion. We meet them very early in ’bands’ or ’schools’ (1 Samuel 10:5-10); they seem to wander up and down the country excitedly proclaiming their message; and they have often been compared to Mahommedan dervishes. We are expressly told that Samuel was not held to be a prophet in this technical sense; but he organised the prophetic bands (1 Samuel 19:20), and this organisation lasted on till the times of Elijah and Elisha (e.g. 1 Kings 20:35; 2 Kings 6:1). These ’bands’ probably gathered round some teacher or leader of influence. We have no information as to their mode of life and means of support. Possibly, when thus ’banded’ together, they bore to Samuel the same relation as Wycliffe’s preachers bore to Wycliffe himself. But from the reign of David, and even (according to Judges 6:8) much earlier, we meet with individual prophets, whose function is to recall the nation, or more often the king, to obedience to the will of Jehovah; in many cases they announce the punishment which is to follow upon disobedience (cp. 2 Samuel 7:2; 2 Samuel 12:25; 2 Samuel 24:11). In later times both Elijah and Elisha are credited with miraculous powers; but Elisha is the only prophet whose activity seems to have been as much private as public. Later still, in the middle of the 8th cent., the great series of the ’writing’ prophets begins with Amos; but in the last stages of the history of the prophetic order, as in the first, the prophet is one who appears suddenly from retirement or seclusion, charged with a special message to people or king, like an embodied conscience.
Hence, prophecy is not the opponent of monarchy; it is rather the divinely appointed means for keeping monarchy true to its task. In the reign of Saul, Samuel performed this function (cp. 1 Samuel 15:3-23 and see § 6). His condemnation of the Israelite demand for a king is quite distinct from the general attitude of the prophets, who accepted the kings as Jehovah’s appointed servants; but, like the later prophets, Samuel claimed that the prophetic word was to receive even from the king absolute and unquestioning obedience. It is easy to see from the above how completely the books of Samuel justify their place in the Hebrew canon as prophetic books. They describe and emphasise the ideals of the prophets, and are full of the prophetic spirit—the deep conviction that Jehovah is Israel’s God, and that to Jehovah’s service Israel is irrevocably bound.
5. The Ark and the Priesthood. In the books of Samuel the ark appears as the seat or dwelling-place of Jehovah; where the ark is, there in some special sense is Jehovah Himself (see also Joshua 3, 4, 6 Judges 20:27). It is placed in Shiloh, the centre of worship, where the sacred tent (’temple,’ 1 Samuel 1:9) is set up. After Israel’s defeat by the Philistines it is (to the dismay of the Philistines) taken to battle, but captured and carried off to various Philistine cities, in each of which it causes plagues. It is then returned to Kirjath-jearim, where Eleazar is ’sanctified’ ’to keep’ it (1 Samuel 3-7). After the conquest of Jerusalem David brings the ark thither (2 Samuel 6). In Israel its presence brings blessing: to foreigners, or those who touch it profanely, it causes disaster. Later, it is brought into Solomon’s temple, after which it disappears from history (Jeremiah 3:16). Probably the ark was, in form, a throne, on which Jehovah was regarded as sitting.
Priests (as in Judges 17, 18) are men specially consecrated to superintend worship and guard, sacred places and objects (1 Samuel 21:6 cp. 2 Kings 25:18). Both Eli and his degenerate sons are priests at Shiloh (1 Samuel 2:13-15). The Philistines also have priests for their god (1 Samuel 5:5; 1 Samuel 6:2). The priest, wearing his official symbol—the ephod—consults Jehovah on behalf of the worshipper (1 Samuel 14). The office is hereditary (1 Samuel 14:3; 2 Samuel 8:17), and we also find a number of priests dwelling together (1 Samuel 22:19). We read of men being consecrated to serve apparently as priests (1 Samuel 7:1; 2 Samuel 8:18). After the ark was established at Jerusalem, we find the priests in close connexion with the royal court (2 Samuel 8:17; 2 Samuel 15:35; 2 Samuel 19:11; 2 Samuel 20:25). Later, Solomon, like subsequent kings, is anointed by the priest (1 Kings 1:39), as Saul and David had been anointed by Samuel (1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Samuel 16:13); the king is ’the Lord’s anointed’, and the same word (Messiah, ’anointed’) is applied par excellence to the ideal king of the future.
The priests, like the prophets, thus stand in a direct relation to the monarchy as soon as the monarchy is established. Their presence is not, however, essential to worship. Saul sacrifices at Gilgal (1 Samuel 13:8), and he is blamed, not for dispensing with a priest, but for not waiting for Samuel. Samuel sacrifices at Bethlehem (1 Samuel 16:3) and David at Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:13-17).
6. Samuel. The foregoing discussion has been necessary in order to avoid obscurity, otherwise inevitable, in the portraiture of the leading characters and events in these books. Without it, we should find difficulty in defending them from the charge of carelessness and inaccuracy; with it, we can pass behind the actual narratives to something like the reality which the Israelites so lovingly handed on from generation to generation.
To take the case of Samuel first. In one instance (a), he is a little-known seer, who, however, has the insight to recognise the need of a king, and to find the fitting man in the youthful Saul. In the other (b), he is the acknowledged leader of Israel (a kind of civil Judge), whose headquarters are at Mizpah, and who bitterly resents Israel’s wilfulness in repudiating the traditional theocracy. There can be little doubt that (a) gives the more correct picture; but it is easy to see how the Samuel of (a), who at a critical time takes the decisive step in the history of the nation, was elevated in the memory of Israel into a position higher than that of Deborah or Eli, and almost recalling the glory of Moses. The dread of the monarchy, so clearly set forth in (b), but absent in (a), reminds us of the attitude taken up towards it by the prophets Hosea, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. In 1 Samuel 9:9, the actual title of ’prophet’ is denied to Samuel; but his relation to the kingdom after the accession of Saul is very similar to that of Isaiah to Ahaz and Hezekiah, just as his position previously had been similar to that of the earlier Judges. His action is uniform, consistent and highminded; and there is every reason for the veneration with which he came to be regarded in after years (Psalms 99:6; Jeremiah 15:1).
He has been called ’the last of the Judges and the first of the Kings.’ In reality, he was neither a judge (in the sense in which Ehud and Jephthah were Judges) nor a king. But he found Israel a loosely knit body of tribes; he left it a united people. Recognised as he was by the whole nation, he made a national monarchy possible; and at the foundation of it he laid firmly the conception of the responsibility of the national ruler to God.
7. Saul. In the case of Saul, as of Samuel, we find two distinct views of his character. He is first shown as a brave and vigorous hero, ably seconded by his son; for his ’rejection,’ the incidents of 1 Samuel 13:9 and even 1 Samuel 15:9 hardly seem sufficient cause. As the melancholy of 1 Samuel 16:14 deepens on him, his character becomes less and less favourable; he is morose, jealous, cunning, violent, though not without gleams of a better nature (1 Samuel 24:17); and in the tragic isolation of his last days he reminds us of Macbeth. Yet it is noteworthy that from his accession onwards, his position is never seriously challenged, as was that of David himself subsequently. From his first years, he sets himself to the great business of his reign, the long struggle with the Philistines; he inflicts upon them blows they have never suffered before, and though he finally falls before them (or under the mental disease which paralysed his powers), his successor is able to bring all serious danger from them to an end. After the appearance of David, the interest of the book in Saul’s career apart from David comes to an end; but it is noteworthy that not even in Judah did David, for all his charm and reputation, succeed in producing any real disloyalty to Saul. If, in his last days, he had recourse to necromancy, he had zealously enforced the laws against superstition in earlier times; and our judgment on his persistent hostility to David must be modified by David’s own verdict upon his ’loveliness and pleasantness,’ which throughout his life kept his people true to his rule. On the length of his reign, see § 9.
8. David. The strongest argument for the truthfulness of the portrait of David is that so much therein is repellent not only to our feeling, but to that of Israel also. He is preeminently a warrior (a ’man of war,’ 1 Samuel 16:18; 1 Chronicles 28:3), with a true warrior’s resourcefulness and perception of the need of the moment; relentless towards his foes, yet possessed of a peculiar personal charm which endeared him to his own people and to strangers alike; he can make himself at home with Achish of Gath, and one of his closest followers in later years is Ittai, another Gittite Philistine. He has notable skill in music (1 Samuel 16:18 cp. Amos 6:5). It is probable that his large harem was formed in part as the result of political considerations; in weakness and irresolution in dealing with his own family, he is like many otherwise vigorous Oriental monarchs—as also in his liability to sudden outbursts of strong feeling, both evil and good (2 Samuel 11:2; 2 Samuel 12:5, 2 Samuel 12:13;). He pushed the frontiers of Israel to their furthest extent—an achievement which was the easier since at this time both Egypt and Assyria and Babylon were occupied within their own borders, and never approached Palestine; he developed the simple rule of Saul (cp. 1 Samuel 22:6) into the royalty of a court and a capital; but subsequent events showed that he did not destroy the rivalry between the southern and northern halves of the kingdom. Curiously enough, the strength of Absalom’s rebellion was in the king’s own tribe of Judah. He was exalted by the affectionate memory of later years into the Saint and the Psalmist. It is no wonder that in thinking of the glorious future king of Israel, men should neglect David’s degenerate successors and form the picture of their ideal, as ’a son of David,’ on the frank generous character and strong vigorous rule of the man whom, in spite of all his faults, they felt to be after God’s own. mind (1 Samuel 13:14). Not only was he ’prudent in speech’ and ’of a comely person,’ but ’Jehovah was with him’ (1 Samuel 16:18).
9. The Chronology of the Period. The biblical writings themselves give us. the lengths of various periods (judgeships and reigns) and of the intervals between events (e.g. 1 Kings 6:1). In the Assyrian canon we are able to fix the exact year of certain events; working back from these, and reckoning the reigns of David and Solomon as each equal to 40 years (2 Samuel 5:4; 1 Kings 11:42), we arrive at 1017 b.c. as the date of David’s accession and the death of Saul. The events of David’s reign cannot well have been comprised in any shorter time. The Old Testament does not mention the length of Saul’s reign; the 40 years of Acts 13:21 are certainly too long; Saul can hardly have been older than 60 (if so old) at the battle of Gilboa, while almost at the beginning of his reign his eldest son is a powerful warrior. His actual age at his accession is wanting in the Hebrew text (1 Samuel 13:1), and the narrative of his reign suggests a very much shorter period than David’s. We should therefore date his accession between 1040 and 1030 b.c.
For the length of Samuel’s judgeship we have no information; he is introduced to us as already occupying his position; possibly he obtained it quite gradually after the death of Eli (of the date of this event, also, we are in ignorance). From 1 Samuel 7:2 (RM) it might be inferred that for 20 years after the deposition of the ark at Kirjath-jearim, Israel was satisfied with Jehovah and Samuel; hence we should place the beginning of Samuel’s office in 1060-1050 b.c.; and as he would hardly have been much less than 30 years old when he became Judge, or than 50 years old when he committed the kingdom to Saul, we must place his birth somewhere about 1085 b.c.
10. The Religious Significance of the Book. The main religious lesson of the book is similar to that of Judges; it is that Israel’s safety as a nation lies in union under the guidance of Jehovah and resistance to foreigners. Of this union, the kingship is a symbol. As we have seen, there are two views of the origin of the kingship in the elevation of Saul to the throne; but that of 1 Samuel 15 (as a defection from loyalty to Jehovah) is certainly not maintained, or even referred to, later on in the book. Both Saul and David were firm worshippers of Jehovah; in spite of their moral lapses, we hear nothing in their reigns of that falling away into idolatry which is so common both before and after. The references (without any suggestion of blame) to the ’teraphim’ (1 Samuel 19:13-16 contrast 1 Samuel 15:23) and to the offering of sacrifices in other places besides the central sanctuary, and by others than priests, as well as the omission of all those ritual details which fill the pages of the parallel narrative in Chronicles, show that the religious ideas of the time (as also of the time in which the book was written) are still somewhat primitive (cp. also 2 Samuel 16:14, ’the evil spirit from Jehovah,’ and 2 Samuel 24:1 contrasted with 1 Chronicles 21:1; ’the Satan stood up’). But though we are still in the childhood of Israel’s religion, it is a childhood that is full of promise; for it rests, with a loving confidence which is unshaken, on the firm mercy and judgment (Psalms 101:1) of Israel’s God.
11. Date, Text, etc. A few miscellaneous points remain to be considered. When was the book written? This question must mean, in view of § 2, when did the two books reach their present form? It is impossible to reply with certainty; the bulk of the three large narratives must have been written comparatively soon after the events they refer to, though we can have no means of knowing when the poetical additions were actually made. Apart from these, there is very little to suggest a date later than the 8th cent.
What is its relation to Chronicles? The reader will easily see the similarities and the differences in the two parallel narratives. That Chronicles was written at a far later date is shown, apart from internal evidence, by its place in the Hebrew canon, almost at the end, and not, like Samuel, among the ’prophets’—a fact which is emphasised in the name which the book bears in the Septuagint, ’things left out.’ These omissions are for the most part lists and genealogies and details connected with the ark or (later on) the Temple, which are either new, or much more fully given in the later book (cp. 1 Chronicles 11:26. 1 Chronicles 12:15 with 2 Samuel 6:12-19 and the additions in chapter 21). On the other hand, some of the most interesting and vividly narrated events in Samuel are passed over entirely, especially anything (except David’s numbering of Israel) which is to the disadvantage of the king himself (including the story of Bathsheba and the whole rebellion of Absalom). In the earlier book, Israel is as important as Judah, apart from the fact that David’s prominence gives special weight to the southern tribe; in the later book (written long after the disappearance of the northern kingdom) Israel is of no importance at all. It is certain that the books of Samuel were among the sources used by the Chronicler, and the smaller additions seem intended either to be didactic, or to fill up apparent gaps in the earlier narrative. See Intro. to Chronicles. A careful comparison with Chronicles will bring out very clearly the impartiality and thoroughness of the books of Samuel.
Have we the best text of Samuel before us? This question is suggested by the fact (pointed out several times in the notes) that the text is often very corrupt, and also by the divergences constantly to be observed in the Greek translation (the Septuagint—LXX). This Greek translation is itself found in three types of text; where they agree, we may conclude, with Prof. H. P. Smith, that they represent an ancient Hebrew text. This text (now only recoverable through the Greek translation) would seem to have been free from several errors contained in the Hebrew text from which our own translation has been made. It is, however, unsafe to argue that because a reading is simpler, it is therefore more correct; in some cases, the reading of our text has been misunderstood; but in others, we must certainly make corrections by the help of the Greek version.
the Second Week of Advent