“The Books of Samuel” — Bible Study Summary with Videos

Questions / Introduction


Before delving into the text of the books of Samuel, let's answer a few preliminary questions to help familiarize yourself with the accounts therein of Samuel, Hannah, Saul, Jonathan, Jesse, Goliath, David, Bathsheba, Nathan, Joab, Absalom, and Solomon. See each person's exploits in this creative poster that you can download, print, and save for future reference.

Who was Samuel?  Samuel is a figure in the Old Testament who played a key role in this narrative, which depicts the transition from the period of biblical judges to the institution of kings, as highlighted by the first kingdom of Israel under Saul. Add to that the transition of kingship and leadership from Saul to David.

How much of the books of Samuel do you remember?   Do you recall key verses from your previous readings and studies of 1 and 2 Samuel? Here are a few:
1 Samuel 1:11;    2:3;    3:4;    4:5;    10:11;    13:13;    15:22–23;    16:1;    17:45–47;    18:1;    2 Samuel 1:26;    6:14–15;    7:22;    11:2–3;    18:33;    22:31–32;    24:25.

Introduction to “1 and 2 Samuel” and Its Author

This is the story of an eternal King (i.e., God) and his eternal kingdom. The books of 1 and 2 Samuel tell the stories of Samuel, Saul, and David — three broken heroes used by God to establish a kingdom for his people. Samuel was the revered last judge; Saul the impressive first king of Israel; David the flawed poet-warrior. First and Second Samuel are named after the person God used to establish kingship in Israel. Samuel not only anointed both Saul and David — Israel's first two kings — but he also defined the new order of God's rule over Israel that began with the incorporation of kingship into its structure.

Originally one book, 1 and 2 Samuel were divided into two parts by the translators of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament). Who the author is cannot be known with certainty since the book itself gives no indication of his identity. Whoever the author was, he must have lived shortly after Solomon's death (930 BC) and the division of the kingdom. Also, he doubtless had access to records of the life and times of Samuel, Saul, and David. The Samuel books begin with the desperate prayers of a heartbroken woman named Hannah (highlighted in our summary of 1 Samuel 1:1–2:10).

First Samuel begins with a beautiful picture of a woman's heart, bowed earnestly before the LORD of all creation, asking for what only God can give. And while all the stories in this study will not be quite so tender, they all point to the same reality: The LORD of Hannah — and Samuel, Saul, David, and Israel and each of us — is our one true LORD who reigns continually throughout all generations.

Contents and Theme: “1 Samuel”

First Samuel portrays the establishment of kingship in Israel. The author effectively depicts its complexity. These events provide both historical and theological context for the birth of the monarchy: (a) The birth, youth, and calling of Samuel (chs. 1–3); (b) the "ark narratives" (chs. 4-6); (c) Samuel as a judge and a deliverer (ch. 7); (d) the narratives of the rise and establishment of kingship in Israel (chs.8–12); (e) Saul's selection of his armies while Samuel reproves him (chs. 13–15); (f) Samuel's anointing David as king, prior to defeating Goliath and subsequently escaping Saul's attempts to kill him (chs. 16–23); and (g) David's humble decision to spare Saul's life despite the eventual death of him and his three sons (chs. 24–31).

Milestones throughout “1 Samuel”

First Samuel focuses on the characters Samuel, Saul, and David, and their roles in shaping God's growing nation Israel. When reading 1 Samuel, note the realistic depictions of real people in history. Each one had their own strengths, weaknesses, and goals, just as we do.

Hannah and Samuel  God answered Hannah's anguished prayers for a son. She dedicated Samuel to the LORD's service. Samuel grew wise, becoming Israel's judge and leading prophet.

The Philistines vs. Israel  Israel struggled with the Philistines' continued rise in power. They irreverently brought God's ark into battle and it was stolen, but God's mercy brought it back.

Israel Wants a King  The nation Israel insisted that Samuel give them a king like other nations have. This displeased Samuel and he asked God who'd chosen Saul to become the first king.

The Tragedy of Saul  Saul became proud and disobeyed God, who tore Israel away from him and gave it to someone else. Saul descended slowly into madness and eventually was killed.

David — God's King  Samuel anointed young shepherd David as God's new king. David defeated Goliath and became Saul's assistant, but Saul hunted David who continued to trust God wholeheartedly.

Contents and Theme: “2 Samuel”

Second Samuel depicts David as a true [albeit imperfect] representative of the ideal theocratic king (chs. 1–4). His leadership was decisive and effective. He captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites and made it his royal city and residence (ch. 5). Shortly afterward, he brought the ark of the LORD from the house of Abinidab to Jerusalem, publicly acknowledging the LORD's kingship and rule over himself and the nation (ch. 6).

While under David's rule, the LORD caused the nation to prosper, to defeat its enemies, and, in fulfillment of his promise (see Genesis 15:18), to extend its borders from Egypt to the Euphrates, allowing David to rule in glory and success (ch. 8–9). Chapters 10–20 depict the darker side of his reign, describing his weaknesses and failures. He fell far short of the God-honoring ideal, suffering the disciplinary results of his disobedience. His sin with Bathsheba and his leniency with the wickedness of his sons led to intrigue, violence, and bloodshed within his own family and nation (chs. 12–18). Nonetheless, the LORD was gracious to David; his reign became a standard by which the reigns of latter kings were measured.

Second Samuel ends with elderly David's own words of praise to God, who'd delivered him from all his enemies (22:31–51), and with words of expectation for the fulfillment of God's promise that a king will come from the house of David and "rule over people in righteousness" (23:3–5). These songs echo many of the themes of Hannah's song (1 Samuel 2:1–10); together they frame (and interpret) the basic narrative. David would finally build an altar and, on it, sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. The LORD then answered David's prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was curtailed (24:25).

Milestones throughout “2 Samuel”

As 2 Samuel picks up where 1 Samuel left off, the themes of humility and pride continued, as David mourned for the loss of Saul and Jonathan. His faithfulness to God ushered in a united Israel that finally defeated the surrounding Philistines and established a kingdom in the land.

A New King  David lamented the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. In time, he became king of Judah, then of Israel. He captured Jerusalem, making it Israel's capital.

Davidic Covenant  Once in his palace, David wanted to build God a rightful house. Instead, God promised David an eternal royal house that would come from his descendants.

David and Bathsheba  When David committed terrible sins, God spared him. But the damage was done: a future of family strife embroiled in politics, rebellion, and death would begin.

Sin and Consequence  Family strife continued as Amnon raped Tamar, and vengeful Absalom (David's son) murdered Amnon two years later, then attempted to usurp David's rule but was violently killed. David grieved.

Future Hope  Despite his failures, David remembered God's goodness in his life; he believed that God would deliver the promised Messiah through David's descendants — and that's exactly what God did.

Discipleship Lessons Abound in the Life of David

Why do readers — believers and not-yet-believers — love David's story in 1 and 2 Samuel?

David's story is exciting  David and Goliath, caves and deserts, beautiful women and palace intrigue, last-minute escapes and pursuits by two kings. . . It's exhilarating!

David's story is inspiring  David was both a committed believer and a prolific singer-songwriter. He learned to trust Yahweh in the depths of depression, the extremes of danger, and the heights of jubilation.

David's story is human  You'll watch this flawed man fall very low and find repentance, grace, and forgiveness. He'll ultimately be restored and redeemed.

David's story is hearty  Do you approach God faithfully? Indeed! David, the great warrior and leader of men, integrated the faith of God into his life and lasting career. So can we. So stay tuned for the life-changing tips that David will reveal to you.

David's story is morally challenging  He lived in a world far from our own — with palaces and harems, as well as encounters with giants and fierce hand-to-hand combat. But underlying the differences and challenges we'll see him face are the moral guidelines that are designed to keep us steady as we walk the LORD's straight, well-lit path, as David did.

Come along with us as we begin our hearty study of 1 and 2 Samuel. As you read, study, and discuss it, may you never be the same. When you're ready to dig in, start here with the Hearty Boys' Bible study of the books of Samuel.

Intro Video: “The First Book of Samuel”

 Watch this introductory video clip created by The Bible Project on bibleproject.com.

It Makes You Wonder . . .
  • Q. 1  Assuming that you've read 1 and 2 Samuel at least once, what about them is meaningful to you? Is there an element of David, or another character's behavior, that you're using today? If so, what is it?
  • Q. 2  If Samuel were dropped from the Bible, what would be missing from the story of God's redemptive work in history?