Date: Probably Tenth Century B.C.
These two books carry us into the period of time following the judges. Samuel, as the last of the judges, was the leader just before a king was appointed for the nation. Things were still chaotic, with new problems arising with regrettable regularity. The religious affairs of the nation were getting worse. The economic situation was bad. But most difficult of all was the presence of the Philistine army, which threatened to destroy the nation of Israel. In an epic battle, Israel was defeated and the Ark of the Covenant captured.
In the midst of this national confusion, Saul was appointed to be the first king. He was a strange figure, who alternated between doing the reasonable thing and insane acts of violence. Because of Saul’s fear of others, David in particular, he spent excessive amounts of time fighting the wrong people. Rather than concentrating on ridding the nation of its enemies, he was in effect chasing out its friends. Things could not last long that way, and in the end Saul died an inglorious death in battle with the Philistines. It was a sad chapter in the history of Israel.
David was a different sort of king. He showed his military ability early, but he had remarkable administrative skills as well. When the time came, he was ready to structure the people along national lines and establish a government that would work. His biggest job was to defeat the Philistines in battle, and he did this. We are not told how, but it must have been a resounding victory because the Philistines never again presented any serious threat to Israel.
David was not perfect, however. At one point during a crucial battle he allowed his passions to overcome his reason and seduced the wife of one of his soldiers. He later deeply regretted that act, composing a psalm of repentance that even today is moving to read (Psalm 51).
Theological Themes in the Books of I and II Samuel
Several theological principles shine through the pages of these two books. Foremost is the continued fact that God is active in history to work out his purposes. He could impose his will on us, but he chooses not to do so. Rather, he weaves his purposes through our acts in such a way that our good is affirmed and our evil is judged. It is a great mystery how God can keep it all straight, but we are encouraged to believe that all will turn out well because God is in control.
Another important point is that God cannot be manipulated. When the Israelites were losing the war, they thought that bringing the ark into battle would bring them the victory. But God will not be forced like that. If our lives are not right, no amount of superficial piety will save the day.
God’s love and forgiveness also stand out. On numerous occasions, God was forbearing toward those who offended him. The marvel of it all is that God does not deal with us according to our sins, but in mercy.
Outline for the Book of I Samuel
- The life of Samuel I Samuel 1:1-8:22
- The life of Saul until his split with David I Samuel 9:1-20:42
- David in exile until the death of Saul I Samuel 21:1-31:13
Outline for the Book of II Samuel
- The rise of David as ruler II Samuel 1:1-4:12
- The life of David as king of Israel and Judah II Samuel 5:1-14:33
- Rebellion within the nation II Samuel 15:1-20:26
- David’s latter years II Samuel 21:1-24:25