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Introduction to Samuel, Kings and Chronicles (1 Samuel 1) October 16

After Judges, the next books of the Prophets section of the Hebrew Bible are Samuel and Kings. We will read Samuel and Kings and the rest of the Prophets in harmony with most of Chronicles and with certain other Old Testament writings, such as some of the Psalms. Though Chronicles also belongs to the Writings—in fact, concludes that section—most of it overlaps Samuel and Kings in great detail. Therefore, a harmony of these books will give us a more complete picture of what happened during this period of time. (The genealogies at the beginning of Chronicles will be read with the Writings section.)

The books of 1 and 2 Samuel were originally one book in the Hebrew canon. Samuel certainly wrote parts of the book bearing his name. In 1 Chronicles 29:29 he is mentioned as an author. However, he is dead after 1 Samuel 24 (his death is recorded in 1 Samuel 25:1). According to Jewish tradition, Nathan and Gad were the other authors. The Nelson Study Bible points out in its introduction to 1 Samuel that "another editor at a later date could have taken the memoirs of Samuel, Nathan, Gad, and others and woven them under the guidance of the Holy Spirit into the wonderfully unified book we have today." It further points out in its introduction to 2 Samuel: "Indeed, some notes may have been added even after the division of the monarchy in 930 b.c. (1 Sam. 27:6). In the absence of any reference to the fall of Samaria, the capital of the northern Kingdom, it is reasonable to assume that the books were complete by 722 b.c. The majority of composition of the Books of Samuel may have been done during David and Solomon's reigns (c. 1010-930 b.c.), with only a small number of notations coming from later periods."

Then we come to 1 and 2 Kings, which were also originally one book, a compilation of a nearly 400-year period. Though its authorship is contested by some scholars today, Jewish tradition maintains that the prophet Jeremiah wrote 1 and 2 Kings. The author was at least a contemporary of Jeremiah. Other records would have to have been available to the author—among them "the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah" (1 Kings 14:29), "the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel" (verse 19), "the Chronicles of King David" (1 Chronicles 27:24), "the Chronicles of Samuel the seer" (29:29).

The books of 1 and 2 Chronicles were also one book originally. Nelson's introduction states: "The overall consistency of style in the book indicates that although several contributors might have worked on it at various stages, one editor shaped the final product. Jewish tradition identifies the editor as Ezra... [a view that] can be accepted if it is remembered that Ezra was a compiler. He used sources and documents that account for the stylistic differences between the Book of Ezra and Chronicles.... The chronicler made use of the books of Samuel and Kings for about half the narrative." Thus our decision to read the accounts contained within them in harmony.

As the book of 1 Samuel opens, Eli the priest is judging Israel (1 Samuel 4:18). As we shall see, his judgeship has some problems. God has determined to use a transitional figure as a prophet-judge in Eli's place, who will also be used to anoint the first two kings of Israel as the nation moves into the period of the monarchy.

The Birth of Samuel (1 Samuel 1)

Verse 1 refers to Elkanah, the father of Samuel, as an Ephraimite (Ephrathite in the KJV), and further adds that he dwelt in the mountains of Ephraim. He is from the town of Ramah, introduced here by its full name Ramathaim-Zophim (see verse 19). Ramathaim is rendered in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament as Arimathaim, which would seem to make it synonymous with the New Testament Arimathea—the home of Joseph of Arimathea, who gave his tomb to be Jesus Christ's burial place. In Joshua 18:25, a Ramah is listed as a town in the territory of Benjamin, located about 5 miles north of Jerusalem and about 4 miles south of the Benjamite border with Ephraim. This is probably the same town, in the mountainous area that mostly belonged to Ephraim. Also, cities sometimes overlapped with another tribe's rural territory and Ephraim may have claimed it at this time (compare Joshua 16:8-9). However, Elkanah was clearly a Levite, as his genealogy in 1 Chronicles 6:33-38 points out. Levites had no territory of their own, and Elkanah is apparently being identified here by his place of residence, rather than by his ancestral tribe.

Note also in this genealogy that Samuel was a direct descendant of Korah—the same Korah who died along with his companions and his companions' immediate families for their presumptuous attempt to expropriate priestly duties (see Numbers 16:10). Korah, first cousin to Moses and Aaron (see Exodus 6:18-21), was probably about the same age as Moses, and his sons were likely well along in years with families of their own at the time of the rebellion. Apparently Korah's sons did not participate in their father's sin, for it is clear they did not die with him (see Numbers 26:9-11). It seems ironic that his descendant Samuel apparently ended up exercising certain priestly duties in his obedience and faithfulness to God—some of the duties Korah died trying to usurp.

Elkanah journeys to the tabernacle at Shiloh yearly to worship and sacrifice (1 Samuel 1:3, 7, 21; 2:19). This was undoubtedly referring to Passover, as this was the only time the people were required to bring a sacrifice. At one of these visits, Hannah, who was barren, prays for a son. Part of her vow was that "no razor shall come upon his head" (1 Samuel 1:11), indicating that Samuel would be a Nazirite from birth (compare Numbers 6:2-6), as Samson was (see Judges 13:5).

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