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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
Samuel Books of
Samuel, Books of. The two books of Samuel were anciently reckoned as but one among the Jews, and that they form only one treatise is apparent from their structure.
The contents of these books belong to an interesting period of Jewish history. The preceding book of Judges refers to the affairs of the republic as they were administered after the Conquest, when the nation was a congeries of independent cantons, sometimes partially united for a season under an extraordinary dictator. As, however, the mode of government was changed, and remained monarchical till the overthrow of the kingdom, it was of national importance to note the time, method, and means of the alteration. This change happening under the regency of the wisest and best of their sages, his life became a topic of interest. The first book of Samuel gives an account of his birth and early call to the duties of a seer, under Eli's pontificate; describes the low and degraded condition of the people, oppressed by foreign enemies; proceeds to narrate the election of Samuel as judge; his prosperous regency; the degeneracy of his sons, the clamor for a change in the civil constitution; the installation of Saul; his rash and reckless character; his neglect of, or opposition to the theocratic elements of the government. Then the historian goes on to relate God's choice of David as king; his endurance of long and harassing persecution from the reigning sovereign; the melancholy defeat and death of Saul on the field of Gilboa; the gradual elevation of the man 'according to God's own heart' to universal dominion; his earnest efforts to obey and follow out the principles of the theocracy; his formal establishment of religious worship at Jerusalem, now the capital of the nation; and his series of victories over all the enemies of Judea that had used to molest its frontiers. The annalist records David's aberrations from the path of duty; the unnatural rebellion of his son Absalom, and its suppression; his carrying into effect a census of his dominions, and the Divine punishment which this act incurred; and concludes with a few characteristic sketches of his military staff. The second book of Samuel, while it relates the last words of David, yet stops short of his death. As David was the real founder of the monarchy and arranger of the religious economy; the great hero, legislator, and poet of his country; as his dynasty maintained itself on the throne of Judah till the Babylonian invasion; it is not a matter of wonder that the description of his life and government occupies so large a portion of early Jewish history. The books of Samuel thus consist of three interlaced biographies—those of Samuel, Saul, and David.
The attempt to ascertain the authorship of this early history is attended with difficulty. Ancient opinion is in favor of the usual theory, that 1 Samuel 1-24 was written by Samuel, and the rest by Nathan and Gad. Various arguments have of late been brought against this opinion, but they are more ingenious than solid. The striking circumstance that these books do not record David's death, though they give his last words—his last inspired effusion—afford, to say the least of it, a strong presumption that they must have been composed before that monarch 'slept with his fathers.'
The design of these books is not very different from that of the other historical treatises of the Old Testament. The books of Kings are a history of the nation as a theocracy; those of Chronicles have special reference to the form and ministry of the religious worship, as bearing upon its re-establishment after the return from Babylon. Samuel is more biographical, yet the theocratic element of the government is not overlooked. It is distinctly brought to view in the early chapters concerning Eli and his house, and the fortunes of the ark; in the passages which describe the change of the constitution; in the blessing which rested on the house of Obed-Edom; in the curse which fell on the Bethshemites, and Uzzah and Saul, for intrusive interference with holy things. The book shows clearly that God was a jealous God; that obedience to him secured felicity; that the nation sinned in seeking another king; that Saul's special iniquity was his impious oblivion of his station as only Jehovah's vicegerent, for he disdained the prophets and slew the priesthood; and that David owed his prosperity to his careful culture of the sacred principle of the Hebrew administration. This early production contained lessons both for the people and for succeeding monarchs, bearing on it the motto, 'Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning.'
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Samuel Books of'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/s/samuel-books-of.html.