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- 1 Summary
- 2 Historical setting
- 3 Discussion
- 4 Outline and page map
- 5 Unanswered questions
- 6 Prompts for life application
- 7 Prompts for further study
- 8 Resources
- 9 Notes
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Story. First and Second Samuel are a single continuous story of the judgeships of Eli and Samuel and the kingships of Saul and David. Samuel is treated here in five major sections:
- 1 Samuel 1-3 / 5-8: Judgeships of Eli and Samuel. The judge Eli fails to discipline his sons, for which he and his house are destroyed. When Samuel's sons take bribes, the people insist both that Samuel's sons not succeed him, and that the less formal role of judge be replaced with a formal king. At the conclusion of this section the Lord instructs Samuel to acquiesce in anointing a king.
- 1 Samuel 9-15: Saul's early kingship. This section begins with Samuel anointing Saul to become king. Saul proves to be an energetic king, and his kingship quickly gains popular support. But then he twice disobeys the Lord's instructions given through the prophet Samuel. At the conclusion of this section the prophet Samuel abandons king Saul, never to see him again.
- 1 Samuel 16-31: Saul's late kingship. This section begins with Samuel anointing David to succeed Saul as king, and David then entering the service of king Saul. Saul is cut off from the word of the Lord through the prophet, and he is jealous of David who he realizes will succeed him as king. Saul spirals downward into murder and witchcraft until, at the end of this section, his heir Jonathan is killed in battle and Saul himself commits suicide.
- 2 Samuel 1-10: David's early kingship. Upon the death of Saul, David's kingship is accepted immediately in the south of Israel and eventually in the north. David defeats numerous external threats and captures Jerusalem.
- 2 Samuel 11-24: David's late kingship. This section begins with David not going out to battle with his troops, committing adultery with Bathsheba, and arranging the intentional death of Uriah. Unlike Saul, however, David acknowledges his sin without excuse, is not cut off from the word of the Lord through the prophet, and does not go into a self-destructive spiral. But throughout the remainder of his reign, tragedy is played out in the lives of David's children as he fails to discipline his sons when they commit crimes and rebel. The book of Samuel concludes with David installing Solomon as his successor.
Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Samuel include:
- Comparisons and contrasts between the four main characters of Eli, Samuel, Saul, and David.
This section should be brief and explain facts about the historical setting that will help a reader to understand the book. Click the "edit" link to edit or add content to this section. →
A broader treatment of the history of ancient Israel, including Samuel, is found at Old Testament: Historical Overview.
This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the "edit" link to edit or add content to this section. →
Four main characters: Eli, Samuel, Saul, David
- The four main characters in Samuel are the judges Eli and Samuel, and the kings Saul and David. This grid is a useful way to think of the relationships:
- Samuel does not draw explicit comparisons between these four people. But Samuel does juxtapose these four main characters in a way that appears intended to invite such comparison.
- Sin, punishment, and submission to the will of God.
- Saul. The most tragic portrayal in the book of Samuel is of king Saul. Saul's major sin was the two occasions on which he disregarded instruction from the prophet Samuel. On both occasions Saul was confronted with his sin by the prophet. On both occasions Saul refused to accept the charge and instead made excuses. (1 Sam ___; ___). After the second incident, Samuel announced the punishment that the kingship would be taken away from Saul's house. (1 Sam ___). Saul likewise refused to accept the punishment. He actively sought to be succeeded by his son Jonathan rather than David, the Lord's chosen. This rebellion led Saul into a self-destructive spiral in which he attempted to murder David, did murder the priests of God, was cut off from all communication with God, and finally lost all hope and committed a dishonorable suicide.
- David. David's major sin was his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband Uriah. But in contrast to Saul, when David was confronted with his sin, he acknowledged his fault. ( 2 Sam ___). He begged God for mercy to avert the announced punishment, but he did not rebel against that punishment. As a result, David did not descend into a self-destructive spiral and instead enjoyed further favor and communication from God.
- (This comment intentionally ignores D&C 132:__ because this comment is not about David the person nor about the eternal consequences of murder, but is instead about the message of the book of Samuel, and this comment must therefore take Samuel on its own terms.)
- Eli. Eli's major sin was failing to restrain his sons who desecrated the priestly office. Unlike Saul and David, Eli was not confronted with his sin in a way that invited him to either accept or reject the charge, he was simply informed of the charge and the punishment all at once. But when that punishment was announced, Eli's response was "___." (1 Sam __). As a result, although Eli suffered punishment like David, also like David he did not self-destruct. A major purpose of the short account of Eli's judgeship appears to be serving as a foil against which to contrast Saul's rebellion and self-destruction.
- Samuel. We are not informed of any significant sin by Samuel.
- Children. Saul is portrayed less favorably than the other three main characters. And yet, of the four, only Saul's children turn out generally well. Eli's sons blaspheme the priestly office. (1 Sam __). Samuel's sons are sufficiently corrupt that the elders of Israel inform Samuel that they will simply refuse to accept the leadership of his sons. (1 Sam __). David likely had many good children, but the ones we are told most about are rapists, rebels, and moral reprobates. (___, Absalom, ___). In contrast, the children of Saul that get described in Samuel are the upright and loyal Michal and Jonathan. Indeed, the most important character in all of Samuel to be completely devoid of flaws is Jonathan.
Three sons of Zeruiah: Abishai, Joab, Asahel
- David's sister Zeruiah had three sons who figure prominently in the story of Samuel. Understanding the relationship between the three brothers, and between them and David, will make it easier to understand some of the action in the story.
Saul as tragedy
- The arc of Saul's story is similar to that of a five act Shakespearean tragedy. Applying this Shakespearean framework provides a way of relating the parts of Saul's story to each other and emphasizes the lesson taught in Samuel.
- Act 1: 1 Sam 1-8: Introduction to the situation. (1) Samuel is called as a prophet and tells Eli the punishment that will befall Eli's house. Eli accepts this punishment, saying "It is the Lord: let him do what seemeth him good." (1 Sam 3:18). (2) The Lord fulfills his punishment. A runner tells Eli of the death of his sons in battle, upon which Eli himself falls over dead. (3) The Israelites do not require a king to win in battle, but need only to be led by a man of God. The prophet Samuel leads the people in sacrifice and then leads them in battle to defeat the Philistines. (4) The people nevertheless insist that Samuel find them a king.
- Act 2: 1 Sam 9-12: Saul's humility and success. (1) While searching for a lost donkey, Saul takes counsel from his servant to consult the prophet Samuel. (2) Samuel leads Saul out of town and, over Saul's protests, privately anoints Saul to be king. (3) All Israel gathers for the selection of their king. The lot falls on Saul who, despite having already been anointed as king, is hiding among the baggage and has to be dragged out to the gathering to be appointed as king. (4) While plowing his own fields, Saul receives word that the town of Jabesh-gilead is besieged. He raises an army and liberates the town. (5) The victorious Israelites again gather and confirm Saul as king. Saul's supporters start seeking out those who had previously questioned Saul's appointment as king, but Saul announces that they are to be forgiven, and he attributes the victory to God rather than his own leadership. Saul thus begins humbly, willing to take counsel from those of lower social station, accepting kingship only reluctantly, tolerant of those who criticize him, and claiming only to be an instrument in the victorious hands of God.
- Act 3: 1 Sam 13-15: Saul's pride, disobedience, and rejection by God. This central third act is where the otherwise admirable Saul reveals a tragic flaw that will lead him in Act 4 on a path that in Act 5 will result in his destruction. (1) In the face of a Philistine invasion, Saul's army begins to desert. Saul fears man and the worsening military odds more than he fears God and the instruction from Samuel the prophet to await Samuel's arrival. Rather than waiting for Samuel to arrive and offer sacrifice, Saul offers the sacrifice himself. When confronted about this disobedience, he says the disobedience was unwilling, "I forced myself," because Samuel had not arrived. Samuel responds that, for his disobedience, Saul is rejected as king. (1 Sam 13) (2) Saul's heir Jonathan attacks a Philistine garrison. This leads to a general battle. Saul has commanded that the army should fast that day in devotion but Jonathan, not being present, is unaware and violates the instruction. Saul is at this point willing to sacrifice his own heir in order to keep a religious vow to God until the people persuade him to relent. (1 Sam 14). (3) Saul is instructed by Samuel to attack and wipe out Amalek, including both all people and all animals. But Saul keeps alive the king and best animals of Amalek. When he meets Samuel, Saul boasts that "I have performed the commandment of the Lord." (1 Sam 15:13). When confronted, he insists that he did obey then that it was the people who kept the best animals to sacrifice. Samuel identifies Saul's tragic flaw when he says "When thou wast little in thine own sight," you were made king, but now you disobey God. "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." (1 Sam 15:17, 22). Saul finally acknowledges his sin, but Samuel again announces that the Lord has rejected Saul as king. Samuel leaves and never again sees Saul's face. (1 Sam 15). This is the turning point from which everything now moves only downhill for Saul as his tragic flaw leads to his destruction.
- Act 4: 1 Sam 16-26: Saul's spiral of rebellion and self-destruction. Samuel anoints David to succeed Saul as king, but Saul rejects the sentence announced by Samuel that Saul and his house have been rejected as king. Saul's efforts to have his son Jonathan succeed him in place of God's anointed successor David, lead Saul down a spiraling path of further distancing from God and self-destruction. Saul commits five pairs of acts of increasing evil. (1-2) Saul sends David on risky military missions hoping that David will be killed by the Philistines. (3-4) Saul hurls a javelin at David, and later hurls a javelin at Jonathan for befriending David. (5-6) Saul berates his daughter Michal and later kills 85 priests who have helped David. (7-8) Saul twice pursues David in the wilderness with his army. (9-10) Meanwhile, David twice passes up opportunities to kill Saul.
- Act 5: 1 Sam 28, 31: Saul's loss of hope and suicide. (1) Saul is confronted by an enormous Philistine army but, in open rebellion against the decrees of God, and with the blood of many priests on his hands, Saul can get no answer from God. But he is so desperate for communication with God that, despite having previously tried to eradicate witchcraft, he is reduced to consulting a witch. She summons a spirit claiming to be the dead Samuel, who reproves Saul for disobeying God in the matter of Amalek, and foretells defeat for Israel and death for Saul and his sons. (1 Sam 28) (2) The battle with the Philistines goes against Israel, and Saul's heir Jonathan is slain. Saul asks his own armor-bearer to slay him before falling in the hands of the Philistines, but is refused. Saul then kills himself. (1 Sam 31) Some cultures have considered suicide to be honorable, but in the Old Testament suicide is portrayed as such a sorry end that the only other Jewish leader to commit suicide was Abimelech who in Judges 9 killed his 70 brothers. While Jonathan also dies in Act 5, as Eli did in Act 1, Saul's death is the finale to a path of complete self-destruction.
David as tragedy
- The arc of the story of David is also similar to that of a five act Shakespearean tragedy - but with a twist. Applying this Shakespearean framework can help to clarify the similarities and differences between the stories of David and Saul, and thus to bring out the contrasts between the two principal stories in Samuel.
Outline and page map
This section contains an outline for the entire book. Items in blue or purple text indicate hyperlinked pages that address specific portions of the book. Click the "edit" link to edit or add content to this section. →
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Prompts for life application
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Prompts for further study
This section is for prompts that invite us to think about a passage more deeply or in a new way. These are not necessarily questions that beg for answers, but rather prompts along the lines of "Have you ever thought about ..." Prompts are most helpful when they are developed individually, thoughtfully, and with enough background information to clearly indicate a particular direction for further study or thought. Click the "edit" link to edit or add content to this section. →
This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the "edit" link to edit or add content to this section. →
Translations and Lexicons.
Related passages that interpret or shed light on Genesis
- The Joseph Smith Translation made changes to the following verses in Samuel. This list is complete:
- 1 Samuel 15:11, 35
- 1 Samuel 16:16, 23
- 1 Samuel 18:10
- 1 Samuel 19:9
- 1 Samuel 28:9-15
- 2 Samuel 12:13
- 2 Samuel 24:16-17
References cited on this page.
- Wayment, Thomas A., ed. The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of the Old Testament, p. 132-35. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2009. (ISBN 1606411314) BX8630.A2 2009
Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.
- Wayment, The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of the Old Testament, p. 132-35.