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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

- 1 Samuel

by Editor - Joseph Exell



The Writer of the History

Ichabod! the glory was gone; the palladium of truth and liberty was departed from Israel; chaos and confusion covered the land. Who has told the tale of these hundred years of shame, of sorrow, and of triumph? He made his purpose clear in writing this short history of the “No-Glory” when faith, cut loose, as it was in his days, from the ancient moorings, drifted on a sea of uncertainty, till it was at last piloted back to its anchorage of safety by Samuel and David. He has written on the forefront of his work that this undoing of an evil past was his object and plan. Who was he? A soldier would have written as he writes; a prophet, retired to one of the schools of Samuel, would have touched as lightly as be does on their sins and failings. He is no mere annalist writing bald chronicles and genealogies at a king’s court. The clew of eternal youth glistens on his pages. To conceive the writer as a soldier-prophet, like Gad, who followed David in his flight from Saul, who took part in his campaigns and knew intimately the secrets of his court and camp, but retired to some calm and holy sanctuary, where he might spend the evening of life in the way a pious and veteran soldier would like to do, meets nearly all the requirements for fixing the authorship of this history. Who, then, best meets the requirements? It is not difficult to say. Sometimes in these memories--for such the history is--situations occur in which no one but David could have recounted the events set down. He was the only survivor of the anointing scene (1 Samuel 16:1-23), and fear of Saul would have held back both Samuel and Jesse from committing it to writing. Of the journey to Saul’s court, the return home, and the fight with Goliath there are many touches whereof he alone knew; and knew so well that the idea of a reader misapprehending his words did not enter his mind. The same thing is true of the plots formed against his life, and revealed to him by Michal and Jonathan. And who but David himself would or could have written out the stories told of his life among the Philistines, of his last interview with Jonathan, of his speeches and appeals to Saul, of his feelings towards Nabal and Abigail, and of his midnight conversation with Abishai in Saul’s camp? It is questionable if any one but the King would have had the courage to recount his sins in the matter of Uriah the Hittite, his repentance, and the terrible doom that befell his household. Of 106 Hebrew pages in the two books of Samuel, David could have written, as no other man could, 78 pages from his personal knowledge of facts; while of the remaining 28, he could have derived his knowledge, as no other man could, from those most intimately concerned with the history, Samuel and Jonathan. It is round David that nearly the whole history of this period of “No Glory” may be said to turn, and the charm of a poet’s pen is felt on every page of the narrative. But probability does not rise to certainty here. That he was the writer of this history involves no serious difficulty, while it clears away not a few. The work bears the stamp of David’s hand and heart; and the manuscript may have been entrusted to his friend and counsellor, Nathan the prophet, a more likely view than to suppose that Nathan or Gad wrote the book. (The Temple Bible.)

The Jews universally believed that the early portion of the First Book, down to the end of the twenty-fourth chapter, was written by Samuel, but on what grounds that belief rested is unknown; while the remainder of the first, and the whole of the second book, they ascribed to Nathan and Gad, founding this opinion on 1 Chronicles 29:29. Modern scholars, however, are divided about the matter, some supposing that the statements in 1 Chronicles 2:26; 1 Chronicles 3:1, indicate the hand of the judge himself, or a contemporary; while others think that 1 Samuel 5:5; 1Sa 5:18; 1 Samuel 12:5; 1 Samuel 30:25, also 9:9 (Thenius); 2Sa 4:8; 2 Samuel 6:8; 2Sa 18:18; 2 Samuel 21:2, that its composition must be referred to a later age. It is highly probable, however, that, these supposed marks of an after period were interpolations of Ezra (Eichhorn). In fact, there is strong internal evidence that these two books were in existence and well known in the ancient church before either Kings or Chronicles were published, for in both of the latter a variety of circumstances are contained, which are evidently derived from the book of Samuel. The old Jewish opinion which ascribes the greater part of the first book to the prophet is likely to stand. (Robert Jamieson, D. D.)

The Books of Samuel probably original and independent compositions

In advancing a single step beyond the songs of the Book of Samuel, we enter into the region of conjecture as to the materials which were at the command of the author . . . The truthful simplicity and extraordinary vividness of some portions of the Book of Samuel naturally suggest the idea that they were founded on contemporary documents or a peculiarly trustworthy tradition . . . On the other hand, it is to be remembered that vividness of description often depends more on the discerning faculties of the narrator than on mere bodily presence. “It is the mind that sees,” so that 200 years after the meeting of the long Parliament a powerful imaginative writer shall portray Cromwell more vividly than Ludlow, a contemporary who knew him and conversed with him. Moreover, Livy has described events of early Roman history which educated men regard in their details as imaginary; and Defoe and Swift and the authors of the Arabian Nights have described events which all men admit to be imaginary with such seemingly authentic details, with such a charm of reality, movement, and spirit, that it is only sometimes by a strong effort of reason that we escape from the illusion that the narratives are true. In the absence, therefore, of any external evidence on this point, it is safer to suspend our judgment as to whether any portion of the Book of Samuel is founded on the writing of a contemporary, or on a tradition entitled to any peculiar credit. (W. Smith, D. D.)

Meaning of the Title

The title Samuel does not denote authorship, but, like the titles Joshua, Ruth, and Esther, commemorates the prominent actor in the events recorded in the book. Its adaptation shows a true insight into the connexion of the history it contains. The second Book of Samuel must seem a strange title for a book of which not a line was written by Samuel, and in which his name is not once mentioned, unless these two considerations are borne in mind:

(1) that the division of the book into two parts is not original,

(2) that Samuel’s direct work really reaches all through the book. (A. F. Kirkpatrick, M. A.)

Date of the Books of Samuel

There are some indications as to the date of the work, and yet no precision is attainable. Evidence on this head is either external or internal. The earliest undeniable external evidence of the existence of the book would seem to be the Greek translation of it in the Septuagint. The exact date, however, of the translation itself is uncertain, though it must have been made at some time between the translation of the Pentateuch in the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, who died B.C. 247, and the century before the birth of Christ. The next best external testimony is that of a passage in the second Book of Maccabees (2:13), in which it is said of Nehemiah that “he founding a library, gathered together the acts of the kings, and the prophets, and of David, and the epistles of the kings concerning the holy gifts.” Now, although this passage cannot be relied on for proving that Nehemiah himself did, in fact, ever found such a library, yet it is good evidence to prove that the “Acts of the Kings” were in existence when the passage was written; and it cannot reasonably be doubted that this phrase was intended to include the Book of Samuel, which is equivalent to the two first books of Kings in the Septuagint. Hence there is external evidence that the Book of Samuel was written before the Second Book of Maccabees. The passage in 1 Chronicles 29:29, seems likely to prove externally that the Book of Samuel was written before the Chronicles. This is not absolutely certain, but it seems to be the most natural inference from the words that the history of David, first and last, is contained in the history of Samuel, the history of Nathan, and the history of Gad. For as a work has come down to us entitled Samuel, which contains an account of the life of David till within a short period before his death, it appears most reasonable to conclude (although this point is open to dispute) that the writer to the Chronicles referred to this work by the title History of Samuel. In this case, admitting the date assigned, on internal grounds, to the Chronicles by a modern Jewish writer of undoubted learning and critical powers, there would be external evidence for the existence of the Book of Samuel earlier than 247 B.C., though not earlier than 312 B.C., the era of the Seleucidae. If, however, instead of looking solely to the external evidence, the internal evidence respecting the Book of Samuel is examined, there are indications of its having been written some centuries earlier. (Wm. Smith, D. D.)

The Chronology of the Books

Samuel differs in a marked degree from Judges and Kings in the absence of a regular chronological scheme. It is evident, however, that the period covered by the book is practically equivalent to the long life of Samuel (cf. 1 Samuel 28:14), with David’s reign of forty years in addition, in all rather more than a hundred years. This is confirmed by the repeated references to the descendants of Eli, of whom we can trace no fewer than five generations, ending with the youthful Jonathan, the son of Abiathar (1 Samuel 14:8; 1 Samuel 22:18, 2 Samuel 15:27). For the later part of this period we have the trustworthy editorial note, 2 Samuel 5:4 f., and several invaluable data in 2 Samuel 13:1-39 ff. Assuming that Solomon reigned from 970 B.C (cf. Skinner’s tables in his Kings), David ascended the throne of Judah in 1010, and that of all Israel 1003-02. Since Amnon and Absalom, both born before 1003 (see 2 Samuel 3:2), are grown up in ch. 13, we may place the episode of this chapter circa 985. Between this point and Absalom’s rebellion eleven years elapsed (13:23, 38, 14:28, 15:27 marg.), bringing us down to circa 974. In the following four years will fall the incidents of the Great Rebellion, Sheba’s abortive insurrection (ch. 20), and the events of 1 Kings 1:1-53, a period of time by no means too large (note the change in David, 1 Kings 1:1). As regards the reign of Saul we are less fortunate. The chronological scheme in 1 Samuel 13:1 has unfortunately been left a blank. Since the estimate of David’s forty years’ reign (2 Samuel 5:4 f) has just proved itself correct, the accompanying statement that he was thirty years of age at his accession must also be accepted. Now if we assume that Jonathan was approximately of the same age--he must have been, by a few years, the elder of the two--and bear in mind that he was at least from eighteen to twenty years of age at the beginning of his father’s reign (1 Samuel 13:2), we are compelled to limit that reign to some fifteen years at most, from ± 1025-1010. For the preceding period the materials for a trustworthy estimate are entirely wanting. It can only be said that the birth of Samuel must fall somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1080-75 B.C. (The Century Bible)

The Antiquity of the Books

The high antiquity of the books of Samuel, or of the sources whence they were principally derived, in comparison with that of the Kings and Chronicles, appears from the absence of reference to older sources or authorities in the former, such as is frequently made in the latter. It hence appears that the compiler did not live at any great distance from the events which he relates, and therefore does not deem it needful to refer his readers to sources already known to them; whilst the original sources have for the most part all the marks of having been written by persona contemporaneous with the events described. There is little reason for supposing that any part of the work was composed even so late as subsequently to the division of the kingdom. For the expression “Israel and Judah,” which is claimed as proof of an origin after the division of the kingdom under Rehoboam, has no such force, as must be obvious from 2 Samuel 2:4; 2 Samuel 2:9-10; 2 Samuel 2:17; 2 Samuel 2:28; 2Sa 18:6-7; 2 Samuel 18:16; 2 Samuel 19:9, compared with 12, 15, 16, from which it is clear that the phrase, if not already in use, originated in the circumstances that at first only the tribe of Judah adhered to David, whilst the remaining tribes under the common name of Israel formed a separate kingdom for seven and a half years under Ishbosheth, and afterwards for a short time under Absalom. With this claim to high antiquity, the internal evidence so far as it goes entirely agrees. (P. Fairbairn, D. D.)

The sources from which the Books are a compilation

What were these sources? Ingenious attempts have been made to analyse the component parts of the book. But apart from these conjectural theories we have several indications of the sources from which the compiler draw his materials.

1. The chief sources were probably contemporary prophetical histories. The compiler of the Book of Chronicles (probably Ezra) expressly names as the original authority for the history of David’s reign “the Chronicle (lit. words) of Samuel the seer and the Chronicle of Nathan the prophet, and the Chronicle of Gad the seer.” It has been maintained that Samuel, Nathan and Gad were the subjects, not the authors, of the works referred to. Even if this was so, it is evident that they confined much valuable material for the history of David’s reign . . . It has also been maintained that the works referred to by the compiler of Chronicles actually were the present book of Samuel. But it is evident that the document which he was using contained much more than these books, while at the same time certain sections of Samuel, and Chronicles, agree almost verbally. The most natural conclusion is that both compilers drew from the same authority. If, then, the Book of Samuel was compiled largely from the Chronicles of Samuel, Nathan and Gad, supplemented by other records preserved in the Schools of the Prophets, it follows that it rests upon the best possible authority. Samuel is the historian of his own lifetime, which included the greater part of Saul’s reign: Nathan and Gad together give the history of David’s reign. The events of David’s life must have been familiarly known in the Schools of the Prophets of Ramah. An incidental notice suggests that Gad was the medium of communication between the college at Ramah and David during his outlaw life; both Gad and Nathan appear to have occupied official positions in David’s court; and both appear his monitors in important crises in his life. To Nathan we probably owe the full history of David’s sin and repentance; to Gad may be due the account of the Numbering of the People and its consequences.

2. The Chronicles of King David, 1 Chronicles 27:1-34; 1 Chronicles 24:1-31, which appear from this allusion to have been of the nature of statistical state records, may have been consulted. From them may have been derived the formal summaries of wars such as are given in 2 Samuel 8:1-15, and lists of officials such as those in 2 Samuel 8:6-8; 2Sa 20:23-26; 2 Samuel 23:8-39.

3. Express mention is made in 1 Samuel 10:25 of the fact that Samuel committed to writing the “charter of the kingdom,” and “laid it up before the Lord,” possibly as an addition to the book of the law.

4. “The national poetic literature” was laid under contribution,1 Samuel 2:1-10; 1 Samuel 2:1-10, 2 Samuel 3:33-34, 2 Samuel 22:1-51, 2Sa 23:1-7, 2 Samuel 3:18-27.

5. Oral tradition may perhaps have supplied some particulars. (A.F. Kirkpatrick, M. A.)

Comparison of the Civil with the Church History of the Hebrews

Although the Civil history of the Hebrews was more closely mixed up with their Church history than is usual in modern nations, it is plain that some even of their historical books gave greater prominence to the one than to the other. In a churchman’s view priests, Levites, and Nethinim or Temple serfs stood out for special mention and special honour. Elkanah, the father of Samuel, was, as we learn from the Book of Chronicles, a Levite of the Kohathite clan, closely connected with and living a few miles from Shiloh; but his presence there bulked so little in the eyes of the writer of Samuel, or was esteemed so much a matter of course, that we cannot be certain whether his yearly visit to the town was on the occasion of one of the great feasts, or for the discharge of his duties as a Levite in attendance on the priests at the Tabernacle. A Church historian would have been more definite. The narrative in Samuel is Civil history more than Church history. In the book of Chronicles, again, David’s second at, tempt to bring up the ark to Jerusalem is successful because he did not repeat the mistake of moving it on a cart (1 Chronicles 15:2-13). This minute detail of ritual is found in the Church history of Chronicles, while in the Civil history of Samuel it has to be inferred, but is not directly mentioned. Samuel and his two sons are known to have been Levites; but, though judges in the land, and no one was reckoned more honourable or more worthy or more likely to rule than they, they are never called priests. Nor is there the slightest evidence that Samuel ever consulted the Lord about Saul or David’s affairs by Urim and Thummim, although priests, who were not true high priests, repeatedly did so, and with satisfactory results. Samuel was called the seer or the prophet; he was also a Levite, but he was not a priest, and is never so called. Between the priests of the Tabernacle, and Levites like Samuel, his father and his sons, there was an impassable official barrier in the days of No-Glory. Surely there are grounds sufficient in a Civil history, so brief and compact as the First Book of Samuel, for recognising, as underlying it, the Books of Moses. Without them the history in Samuel is unintelligible from beginning to end. In the Book of Samuel the gorgeous veils of the palace tent, of Jehovah are passed over in silence where they might have been spoken of; but after a silence of more than a thousand years, comes, from a Church history of the day, a reminder of what was first made in the time of Moses, “he made the yell of blue, and purple, and crimson, and fine linen” (2 Chronicles 3:14). (The Temple Bible.)

The relation of the Books of Samuel to the Pentateuch

In the unsettled times of the judges the observance of the ritual enjoined in the books of Moses had fallen greatly into disuse. The Pentateuch seems go exert little influence on the habits of the people as described in Samuel, or on the ideas and language of the writers. There are, indeed, fewer allusions to Moses and his writings in Samuel than in any other of the early books of Scripture. But this may, doubtless, be in part accounted for by the disorganised and somewhat anomalous state into which matters fell in consequence of the capture of the ark by the Philistines, and the essentially new era which was shortly afterwards introduced by the institution of the kingdom, with the stirring events that followed in the personal histories of Saul and David. The name of Moses occurs fifty-six times in Joshua, in Judges three, in Samuel two, in Kings ten, in Chronicles thirty-one. The law of Moses is never once named in Samuel. (P. Fairbairn, D. D.)

The relation of the Books of Samuel to the Books of Chronicles

It can scarcely be maintained that, the author of the Chronicles has derived from the books of Samuel all the materials for the narratives which are common to both works. There are so many variations between the history as related by the Chronicler and as related in Samuel as to render it, probable, not that the Chronicler derived everything from Samuel, but that, he had access to the sources used also by the compiler of Samuel. This may be explained by a comparison of 2 Samuel 5:1-10; 2 Samuel 23:8-39 with 1Ch 11:1-47; 1 Chronicles 12:1-40. The Chronicler has placed in continuous narrative David’s anointing as King of Israel at Hebron, the capture of Jerusalem, the building of the city of David, and the list of David’s heroes with t, heir deeds, probably as he found them connected in the documents which he used; whilst, in Samuel they are detached, the list of heroes being placed separately in the history of the latest period of the life of David. So in 1 Chronicles 3:1-24, the list, of David’s children is given in a form probably drawn from some official register to which the writer of Samuel had access, as he gives the list in two portions to suit the course of his narrative, 2Sa 3:2; 2 Samuel 3:5; 2 Samuel 5:14-16. (P. Fairbairn, D. D.)

The Books of Samuel and the Books of Chronicles compared

Much that contained in Samuel is omitted in Chronicles, and much of the information in Chronicles is supplementary to the narrative of Samuel . . . In general the compiler of the Book of Samuel gives a history of David’s reign with special reference

(1) to the vicissitudes through which he was raised to be the head of a mighty kingdom;

(2) to matters of, comparatively speaking, private interest in his life;

(3) to the chastisements by which he was punished for his sin. He thus portrays David the man as well as David the king.

The compiler of Chronicles gives prominence

(1) to all matters of religious ceremonial, calling special attention to the agency of the Priests and Levites;

(2) to the chief steps in the rise and progress of David’s kingdom, omitting the reverses which from time go time checked its growth. These differences correspond remarkably to the age and object of the two historians. The unknown compiler of Samuel was undoubtedly a prophet, and his narrative is penetrated by a prophetic spirit, He drew up, no long time after the events, a narrative of the foundation of the Theocratic Monarchy, selecting such matter as illustrated God’s providential dealings with the king he had chosen. The Book of Chronicles was written after the return from captivity . . . Its purpose is didactic rather than historical, and its tone, in accordance with the profession of the author, priestly rather than prophetic. (A. F. Kirkpatrick, M. A.)

David’s reign.--The main results of David’s reign may be summed up as follows:--

1. He consolidated the tribes into a nation, binding together the discordant elements of which it was composed into a vigorous unity, not without struggles and opposition. Short as was the duration of this unity, it gave a new strength and new aspirations to Israel.

2. By his conquests he secured to Israel the undisputed possession of its country, thereby ensuring the free field which was indispensable for the expansion and development of the nation, and through it of the true religion which had been entrusted to its guardianship. In these two points Saul had to some extent anticipated him, and made his success possible.

3. But the noblest result of David’s work was the harmonious union of all the highest influences for good which were at work in the nation. For once the religious and the secular powers acted in perfect cooperation, each contributing to the other’s efficiency. David, though not without relapses and failures, on the whole realised the ideal, and was Israel’s greatest, because truest, king.

4. His reign was always looked back to as the golden age of the nation, the type of a still more glorious age, to which the national hope looked forward as the crown and consummation of its destiny. (A. F. Kirkpatrick, M. A.)

Contents of the Books

The prominent, dominant idea is “The Kingdom”: its matter, manner, renewal, and rending; its translation from Saul the Apostate, its deliverance from Absalom the Usurper, and its establishment in the hands of David. The name “Messiah” is first found here (1 Samuel 2:10, Hebrew). The narrative abounds in suggestions.

1. Poetical retribution finds examples in Saul’s history; also in David’s, whose great sin brought corrective punishment in its own line, in the death of the child of his crime, and the incest of Amnon and Absalom.

2. Implicit obedience is enforced. David’s attempt to bring up the ark on a cart issued in the death of Uzzah; three months later he had it borne on the shoulders of the Levites, as God had directed.

3. Godly repentance is illustrated. The guilt of adultery, treachery, and murder lay heavy on David. Nathan’s parable of the ewe-lamb touched the spring of godly sorrow which overflows in Psalm Ii.

4. Grace finds illustration in David’s treatment of Absalom and Mephibosheth, and in the arrested judgment at Araunah’s threshing floor, which became the site of the Temple with its Altar of Atonement. (Arthur T. Pierson, D. D.)


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