We don’t know who wrote 1st Samuel. It wasn’t Samuel because, though he was the central character, he died before the end.
This book gives us a full account of Samuel’s birth and reign as judge. The first two verses of chapter one get us into a most interesting story right away:
1 There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 2 He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.
Oh, can’t you just imagine the problems in that household? Let’s look at the names because they so often help us understand things. Ramathaim means “double high place”; Elkanah means “whom God possessed”, Hannah means “gracious” and Peninnah means “coral” or “pearl”. Now if you keep reading the story you’ll find mentioned in the very next verse the sons of Eli. Now they didn’t have to be named here, yet they are: Hophni (pugilist) and Phinehas (mouth of a serpent). (For cool connections to the Hebrew alphabet see CROSSING THE SCRIPTURES.) The story continues with Hannah making a vow that if she conceives a son she will dedicate him to the Lord for all the days of his life. She prayed so earnestly that unconsciously she was moving her lips and the priest, Eli, saw her and thought she was drunk. After she explains that she had not been drinking, but rather was pouring out her heart to God, Eli tells her to go in peace and may God grant her prayer. Hannah did conceive and bore a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.” The name “Samuel” sounds like the Hebrew expression for “heard of God” or “asked of God”.
Samuel is raised by the priest Eli and during that time the ark of the covenant is captured by the Philistines.Here is chapter 4:
1 And Samuel’s word came to all Israel.
Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines at Aphek. 2 The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield. 3 When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the LORD bring defeat on us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the LORD’s covenant from Shiloh, so that he may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.”
4 So the people sent men to Shiloh, and they brought back the ark of the covenant of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim. And Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.
5 When the ark of the LORD’s covenant came into the camp, all Israel raised such a great shout that the ground shook. 6 Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, “What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?”
When they learned that the ark of the LORD had come into the camp, 7 the Philistines were afraid. “A god has come into the camp,” they said. “Oh no! Nothing like this has happened before. 8 We’re doomed! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness. 9 Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!”
10 So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. 11 The ark of God was captured, and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died.
12 That same day a Benjamite ran from the battle line and went to Shiloh with his clothes torn and dust on his head. 13 When he arrived, there was Eli sitting on his chair by the side of the road, watching, because his heart feared for the ark of God. When the man entered the town and told what had happened, the whole town sent up a cry.
14 Eli heard the outcry and asked, “What is the meaning of this uproar?”
The man hurried over to Eli, 15 who was ninety-eight years old and whose eyes had failed so that he could not see. 16 He told Eli, “I have just come from the battle line; I fled from it this very day.”
Eli asked, “What happened, my son?”
17 The man who brought the news replied, “Israel fled before the Philistines, and the army has suffered heavy losses. Also your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.”
18 When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell backward off his chair by the side of the gate. His neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man, and he was heavy. He had led Israel forty years.
19 His daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant and near the time of delivery. When she heard the news that the ark of God had been captured and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she went into labor and gave birth, but was overcome by her labor pains. 20 As she was dying, the women attending her said, “Don’t despair; you have given birth to a son.” But she did not respond or pay any attention.
21 She named the boy Ichabod, saying, “The Glory has departed from Israel”—because of the capture of the ark of God and the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband. 22 She said, “The Glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”
You’ll have to read the rest on your own to find out what else happens. We’re moving on. Samuel is the judge and when he grew old he appointed his sons as judges, but they were dishonest, accepted bribes, and perverted justice so all the elders of Israel came to him and demanded that he appoint a king. He talks to God about it – you see, they don’t need a king if they would just serve the Lord. But God says to warn them what will happen. No dice – they still want a king. Let’s see who God picks. Samuel 9: 1, 2:
1 There was a Benjamite, a man of standing, whose name was Kish son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bekorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin. 2 Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.
Saul sounds pretty good, in fact, most translations say “a choice young man, and goodly”. Saul is made king. Later Samuel makes a farewell speech. Here it is in chapter 12: 20 – 25:
20 “Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. 21 Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. 22 For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own. 23 As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. 24 But be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. 25 Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will perish.”
Did you notice that he is going to teach what is good and right. Yes, that word “tov” in the Hebrew comes up a lot. In fact, if you look at just the Old Testament History books (Joshua through Esther) and graph the times that the word “tov” appears, this is what you get:
And 1st Samuel edges the rest out with more instances of the word good. (I’m not surprised since "tov" is a key word that starts with the 9th Hebrew letter - more about the incredible relationship between the order of the Hebrew alphabet and each book in the Bible in CROSSING THE SCRIPTURES.)
The choice of David, his struggles with Saul, Saul's ruin at last, and the opening of the way for David to the throne finish out this book.
The major themes of this book are the personal history of Samuel, a record of the last of the judges, the taking of the Ark of the Covenant, the reign of King Saul and the calling of David. Other things you’ll find in 1st Samuel are the story of David and Goliath, David and Jonathan, and David sparing Saul’s life.