The books of Samuel were originally one book. They were separated into two documents when translated into Greek in the third century B.C. That separation continued into our English Bibles. The Hebrew Bible kept them united until the appearance of the first printed edition about 500 years ago. In the Greek translation, Samuel was known as First and Second Kingdoms, a designation that continued until the Latin Bible of the 4th century AD (and can be seen in the King James Bible’s title: “The First Book of Samuel, otherwise called The First Book of Kings). The Hebrew Bible kept the designation Samuel.
Samuel is named for the central character at the beginning of the book. In the list of judges of Israel, Samuel is the last. He is also the means by which God anoints the first two kings, Saul and David. Samuel may be outlined as follows:
I) Samuel (1 Samuel 1-7)
II) Saul (1 Samuel 8 – 15)
III) Saul and David (1 Samuel 16 – 31)
IV) David (2 Samuel)
David was considered the greatest King of Israel. In fact, the writer of the book of Chronicles evaluates the Kings of Judah by comparing them with David. Yet Samuel does not present to us a flattering picture of either David or his predecessor Saul.
Samuel opens with the failure of Eli (Israel’s 14th Judge) to lead his own house and Israel. Samuel, Eli’s successor, begins with great promise, but his story ends in a similar way, with an inability to lead either God’s people or his own family. The story of Saul begins with great promise, but ends in failure. In fact, most of the account of Saul’s reign deals with his rebellion against God. The story of David likewise begins with great promise, but his reign is checkered with failure. In fact, the largest single section of Samuel tells of David’s adultery (unmentioned by the writer of Chronicles) and the resultant rebellion in his family. Like Eli and Samuel before him, David failed as a leader in his own house.
Judges described the darkest part of Israel’s history. It calls for a King to lead the people. But Samuel points out that a King is not the answer, for the darkness of the days does not disappear with the rule of a King. What is needed is a changed heart. This will be the key to blessing and the approval of God. It remains that way to this very day.