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5.1 1 Samuel -- Transition from Judges to Samuel

The two books of Samuel were originally considered one work in the Jewish canon.  Authorship of this book is ascribed to a succession of prophets by the Bible itself: Samuel, Nathan, Gad (1 Chron 29:29).  However, a later author collected and edited their histories sometime following the death of Solomon, in the 900s BC. 


Samuel is an extremely important record of the transition of Israel from judgeship to monarchy.  The timespan is very short -- only two generations.  But it was a time of tremendous instability and transformation within the political and social structure of Israel itself, and consequently in the entire region.  The passing of the rule of the Spirit-appointed judges in favor of a succession of kings is presented as man-initiated and a sinful rejection of the rulership of God!   Talk about starting off on the wrong foot  -- but God permitted it.  And yet God's own choice of Israel's first king proved to be a dud.  What does this say about God's foreknowledge and human freedom?


The hero of the book is of course Samuel, but he serves as just the precursor of David, who is the Anointed of God.  The whole career of this nation-building warrior is depicted, saving only his final years and departure.  What would Western history and literature be without the battle of David and Goliath, or for that matter, the romance of David and Bathsheba?  In this book, the Bible presents itself at its best, in the form of history as biography, as the deeds of courageous individuals.  There is little power or interest in social history -- the Philistines attacked Gob,  Israel went up against Amalek  -- so what?  The Bible focuses on those individuals who stood out from the masses, and in fact moved and molded those masses through decisive actions.  There was Jael pounding a tent-peg into Sisera's head, Jonathan and his armor-bearer climbing the hill to attack the Philistines,  David dancing riotously before the Ark as it moved slowly up from Kiriath Jearim while Michal scornfully looked on.  These examples, and the numerous other words and acts recorded in the Nevi'im, are the stuff of sacred history, and the raw material of faith.


More than this, though, the whole nature of divine action in history is made clearer.   God is not "moving upon" mankind in a generalized, disengaged, impersonal manner, as natural laws operate.   But it is through intimate involvement with individuals that He impacts a family, a tribe, a nation. This is true of the great leaders, such as Abraham, Moses and David.  But they are only representative of the entire pattern of God's relationships with people in the Old Testament.  God's personal involvement holds true for "lesser lights" like Sarah, Ishmael, Caleb, Ruth,  Hannah.  It even covers the failures too -- Pharaoh, Esau, Samson, Saul.  Saul's failure was not primarily political, or even mental.  The Bible makes clear that it was disobedience to the divine command that brought about not only his own tragic downfall, but that of his entire house.  This is the history that Samuel relates.

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