Originally the two books of Samuel were one, and provided a continuous history of Israel from the time of the judges to the end of the reign of David. The books do not name their author, though they indicate that material in them was collected from various written records, such as those of Samuel, Nathan, Gad, David and the author(s) of the book of Jasher (1 Sam 10:25; 2 Sam 1:18; 1 Chron 27:24; 29:29).
The title ‘Samuel’ is taken from the man who is the leading figure in the early part of the story, and who anointed the two kings whose lives are followed through the rest of the story. The period covered by the two books is between eighty and one hundred years.
From judges to kings
The opening chapters of 1 Samuel carry on the record of Israel’s history from the book of Judges. During the time of the judge Eli, Israel’s political and religious life followed the pattern of the period of the judges, with the people turning away from God and falling under the power of their neighbours (1 Sam 2:12,32; 3:11-13; 4:10-11,18; cf. Judg 2:13-15). But when Samuel, probably the greatest of the judges, successfully urged the people to put away their false gods and turn again to Yahweh, God in his mercy rescued them from their enemies (1 Sam 7:3-6,13,15-17; cf. Judg 2:18; 3:9,15).
However, Samuel was not able to bring about any lasting change in the nation. His sons who succeeded him as judges were worthless, and the people demanded that the system of government be changed. Instead of government by judges, they wanted a monarchy similar to the monarchies of neighbouring nations (1 Sam 8:1-5). The outcome was the appointment of Saul as Israel’s first king, but Samuel warned that this would not solve the nation’s problems. Under the judges God had punished Israel for its unfaithfulness (1 Sam 12:9-11), and under the kings he would punish it just the same (1 Sam
During the early days of the Israelite monarchy, the nation’s leadership retained many of the features of the leadership that operated during the time of the judges. This was seen particularly in the way the leaders received the special power of God’s Spirit to save Israel from its oppressors and carry out other tasks given to them (1 Sam 10:6; 11:6-11; cf. Judg 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 14:6,19). Thus, when Saul rebelled against God and was rejected, the Spirit of God departed from him and came upon David (1 Sam 16:13- 14).
But David was the last of the Spirit-gifted leaders. The people wanted, and received, a system of government where such leaders were not needed. With a firmly established monarchy, the leadership would pass automatically from father to son (1 Sam 8:19-22).
In contrast to Saul, David submitted to God and desired to carry out God’s will (Ps 89:20; Acts 13:22). With David a new era began, and Israel at last found the stability it had been looking for. The remainder of 1 and 2 Samuel deals with the reign of David, whom Israelites of later ages regarded as Israel’s greatest king. He established the dynasty that produced the promised Messiah (2 Sam 7:12-16; Matt 22:42; Luke 1:32-33).