The book of 1 Samuel describes the transition of leadership in Israel from judges to kings. Three characters are prominent in the book: Samuel, the prophet and last judge; Saul, the first king of Israel; and David, anointed as king but not yet recognized as Saul's successor.

The two books of Samuel were originally one in the Hebrew text, but were divided when they were translated into Greek. Thus the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) and English translations divide Samuel into two books, even though this introduces an artificial division into what is actually one continuous account.


The book of 1 Samuel is anonymous. Jewish tradition claims that the prophet Samuel wrote the books that bear his name, while the prophets Gad and Nathan supplied supplementary information concerning the years following Samuel's death (1Sa_25:1). Nevertheless, there is no reference to an author in the book. The biblical text does indicate that Samuel made some written records (1Sa_10:25) and that prophetic figures (Samuel, Nathan, and Gad) chronicled many of the acts of King David (1Ch_29:29). Because Old Testament prophets generally served as historians of their times, it is not unlikely that the books of Samuel were compiled by an unnamed prophet from the writings of Samuel, Gad, and Nathan, as well as from other unnamed sources.


Because of references (e.g., 1Sa_27:6) which presuppose the division of Israel into northern and southern kingdoms and because there is no reference to the fall of Samaria, the final composition of the books of Samuel probably took place between the division of the kingdoms in 931 B.C. and the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C. It is likely that Samuel was composed early in the divided kingdom, perhaps around 900 B.C.

First Samuel covers the ninety-four-year period from the birth of Samuel to the death of Saul (c. 1105-1011 B.C.). Much of it deals with conflicts with the Philistines, against whom Saul and David repeatedly fought.

Themes and Literary Structure

First Samuel records the crucial transition from the theocracy under the judges to the monarchy under the kings. The book is built around three key figures: Samuel (chs. 1-7), Saul (chs. 8-31), and David (chs. 16-31).

The book describes the growing desire on the part of the people of Israel for a king, and the roles that various individuals played in the beginning and continuation of the Hebrew kingship. Kingship is depicted as ultimately a theological rather than a political matter. The God of Israel continues to be the true King of Israel. The earthly king would represent the nation before God and would be ultimately responsible to Him. Indeed, the book clearly reveals that the success or failure of the anointed king would be determined by his obedience or disobedience to the Law and his commitment to the will of God.

In introducing the kingship, 1 Samuel also introduces Israel's greatest king, David, who is chosen by God to replace Saul. Though by no means perfect, David proves to be a man after God's "own heart" (1Sa_13:14), and 2Sa_7:4-17 records the institution of the Davidic Covenant, in which God promises David that the throne of his kingdom will be established forever, a promise fulfilled in the eternal reign of David's descendant Jesus.

David is one of the primary Old Testament types of the person of Christ. He was born in Bethlehem, works as a shepherd, and rules as king of Israel. He becomes the forerunner of the messianic King; the New Testament specifically calls Christ the "seed of David according to the flesh" (Rom_1:3) and "the Root and the Offspring of David" (Rev_22:16).

Samuel also highlights the consequences of sin. First Samuel 15 records the tragic transition of kingship from Saul to David. As in all three leadership changes recorded in 1 Samuel, God removes His blessing from one and gives it to another because of sin. "Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king" (1Sa_15:23).