Useful Bible Studies > 1 Samuel Commentary > Study Guide

1 Samuel: a study guide

About the Book of 1 Samuel - its author, date and purpose

Although they are separate books in modern Bibles, the Books of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel were originally one book. Someone separated it into these two parts in order to make it more convenient to copy. Of course, it was necessary to copy books by hand at that time.

The Books of 1 Kings and 2 Kings continue the history at the place where 2 Samuel ends. So, these 4 books of the Bible form a series that records the complete history of the kings of Israel and Judah.

Various people kept records of the principal events during each kingís rule. They did this for the purposes either of government or of religion.

(1) Government officials kept records so that the king and other important people knew the main events during his rule. The Bible often mentions those records (for example 1 Kings 15:23), but none of them still exist.

(2) Prophets (holy men) and, perhaps, priests also kept records. For example, 1 Chronicles 29:29 says that the prophets Samuel, Nathan and Gad kept such records. They were the principal prophets in Israel during Davidís life.

The most important duty of a prophet is to speak the messages that God gives to him. So, the usual purpose of a book by a prophet is to record messages from God. In the Bible, there are several such books. Each one has the name of a prophet as its title; the book records the messages which that prophet received from God.

However, there was another important reason why a prophet would write a book. Israel is Godís people, and their king was Godís servant. God might tell a prophet to write a book in order to record how God had dealt with them. Such a book would teach people in future centuries about Godís character and about how his people should behave.

The Bibleís history books are this last kind of record. The first Christians believed that the authors of every book in the Old Testament (the first part of the Bible) were prophets (Hebrews 1:1; 1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:19-21). They taught that these books are Godís word (2 Timothy 3:15-17). They urged Christians to study the whole Bible carefully so that they can learn its lessons (Romans 15:4).

We have called the books Ďhistory booksí. However, it would be better to describe them as Ďsacred records of some events in the lives of Israelís kings and prophetsí. The authors did not try to write complete accounts of this period of history. In fact, they did not even try to record all the main events. Instead, they only wrote about those events that God directed them to include in their books.

So, for example, the author of 1 Samuel tells us that Saul fought major wars against Moab, Edom and Zobah (14:47). However, he gives no other information about any of those wars. The authorís explanation would be that God had not guided him to write about those wars.

Another example is Saulís attack against the people in Gibeon. That was one of the most cruel and wicked things that Saul ever did. However, the account of Saulís life in 1 Samuel does not even mention that terrible incident. The reader of the Bible only discovers it, long after Saulís death, in 2 Samuel chapter 21.

It should be clear, therefore, that the prophets prepared these books with much prayer. They did not consider the preparation of these books to be less important than their duty to speak Godís messages. They considered that these books were messages from God. They did not just want God to show them which incidents they should include. They were asking God to guide them in every word that they wrote. Only God knew the truth about the inner thoughts and attitudes of the people in these books. Only God really understood what was happening during these events. Therefore, only God could show them how to record these things in the right and true manner that would please him.

An ancient name for a prophet was a Ďseerí (9:9). In other words, someone who sees things that other people cannot see. That was especially the prophetís task when he wrote these books. Israelís principal prophets had personal knowledge of the most important events during their lives; they were witnesses of those events. However, they did not depend on their personal knowledge; they depended on God. The Bible is Godís word, and this is his account of these events.

We may ask whether the Books of Samuel and Kings are the work of one prophet, or a series of prophets. A period of almost 600 years passes between the first incident in 1 Samuel and the last incident in 2 Kings. In each of the books, the authors frequently write as witnesses would write. Witnesses include many small details that other people would not know about.

If a single prophet wrote these books, then clearly he wrote after the last incident in the last book. That incident was after Babylonís army had completely destroyed Jerusalem. For a period of 70 years, all Israelís people had to live in foreign countries. When they began to return to Israel, their nation was very weak for a long time. It would be extremely hard to write such books as this in such difficult circumstances.

A popular idea is that someone wrote these books not as an author, but as the editor of older books. We do not like this idea. It does not respect the thoughts that Godís people expressed about Godís word. The Bible says that Godís word is perfect (Psalm 19:7-11). Therefore, nobody can ever change it (Revelation 22:18-19). People considered it very wicked to change the words that Godís Holy Spirit had guided a prophet to write.

We guess that these books are the work of a series of prophets. We cannot be sure, because the Bible does not tell us. However, we do know that people needed to copy the books of the earlier prophets. In a period of several centuries, books wear out. So the nation would lose the books of earlier prophets unless someone copied them by hand. Of course, that work would naturally be the duty of the later prophets. They would consider themselves to be the students of the earlier prophets.

Among those books was this sacred record of how God had dealt with their nation.

The Holy Spirit had guided the earlier prophet to begin these books. In the same manner, the Holy Spirit guided the later prophets to continue this record until it was complete. In the end, the Books of Samuel and Kings dealt with the whole period of history when kings ruled Israel.

We would think therefore that the booksí authors were the principal prophets in Israel during the rule of its kings. During the period that the Books of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel deal with, the prophets were Samuel, Nathan and Gad (1 Chronicles 29:29). They lived about 1000 B.C. (that is, 1000 years before the birth of Christ). They each wrote about the events that happened during their own lives. That is our opinion; other people may have different opinions.

Next part: Why the Book of 1 Samuel is important


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© 2014, Keith Simons.