The Books of Samuel - Introduction
William Trew, Cardiff
The Books of Samuel originally formed one undivided work, and in the Hebrew mss, they still do so. The division into two books originated with the Alexandrian translators (LXX), and in the sixteenth century was introduced into our editions of the Hebrew Bible. In the Septuagint these books are reckoned as belonging to the Books of the Kings, and are called 'The Books of the Kingdoms', evidently with reference to the fact that each of them contains an account of the history of a double kingdom, the Books of Samuel providing us with the account of the history of the kingdoms of Saul and David, and the Books of Kings giving us a record of the history of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel,
The Books of Samuel seem to be divided into five main sections, each developing its own particular thought in a connected story that serves to show the need of the presence of the Divine King, of whose coming David's last prophetic message (2 Sam. 23. 1-7) speaks. Uniting in Himself the offices of prophet, priest and king, the Christ will exercise a ministry by which all will be unfailingly secured for the pleasure of the heart of God, and the eternal blessing of man.
These main sections of the books are as follows:
1.1 Sam. 1-7. The sovereign rule of God among His people.
2.1 Sam. 8-15. The repudiation, on the part of the people, of the Theocracy.
3.1 Sam. 16-2 Sam. 9. The restoration of the rule of God.
4.2 Sam. 10-12. Failure that proves the need of the Divine King with whom there can be no failure.
5. 2 Sam. 13-24. The Throne of God vindicates itself in active government.
In these historical books the Holy Spirit develops truth concerning three closely related subjects:
(a) The history of the failure of the priesthood in Israel.
(b) The history of the failure of the prophet in Israel.
(c) The history of the failure of the king in Israel.
Priestly ministry has in view ministry Godward, begotten of the deep enjoyment of holy communion with Him. Prophetic ministry is from God to men, the setting forth of His will, the communicating of His thoughts. Kingly ministry is the service of rule for God among the people of God. The first speaks of the enjoyment of intimate fellowship with God in the sanctuary. The second is the direct result of the first. God is no longer silent to us, but from His Holy Oracles is speaking again in power, and His voice is heard once more among His people. Thus the rule of God in absolute authority becomes practical again in the midst of His saints. These are principles that remain for us today with their practical demands. The observance of these will mean spiritual prosperity and power. Failure must result in barrenness and death.
The first section of the book closes at the end of ch. 7 with a summary of Samuel's life-long ministry as the prophet-judge, We have suitably described the character of this first section, and Samuel the prophet is the agent of the divine sovereignty. 'He stands for the rule of the Most High, into collision with which the rule of man comes so readily' (GRANT),
The self-will of the people, and their repudiation of the theocracy, is what characterises the second section.
'All the elders of Israel gathered themselves together . . . And said unto him . . . make us a king to judge us like all the nations. But the thing displeased Samuel . . . And Samuel prayed unto the LORD. And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them' (1 Sam. 8. 4-7).
The first king was speedily set aside, and the third section of the book tells how David was chosen of God and given the kingdom. Described by God, possibly seven years before he was born, as 'a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will' (Acts 13. 22; 1 Sam. 13. 14), he early revealed his devotion and determination to restore the ark of God to its rightful place at the centre of the spiritual life of the people (Ps. 132). The ark of God was the throne of God 'who dwelleth between the cherubim' (1 Sam 4. 4, Webster's). It was the longing of David's heart that God should be 'enthroned upon the praises of Israel' (Ps. 22. 3, R.V.M.). The king acted only as the viceroy of God. Under his reign, the priesthood became vital in its influence, and its ministry was set in order according to the mind of God (1 Chr. chs 23-27). And once again the voice of God was heard in the land, as witnessed not only the ministry of Nathan, and of Gad, and of many another, but the lovely, inspired, prophetic utterances of David himself, 'the sweet psalmist of Israel' (2 Sam. 23. 1).
Concerning the last two sections little need be said. It is a story of sad failure that proves the need of the presence of the Divine King of whose coming both Hannah and David so sweetly sing (1 Sam. 2. 10; 2 Sam. 23. 1-7). David is but the shadow of the true King with whom there can be no failure. 'The pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand' (Isa. 52. 10). Exalted now at His Father's right hand, He will one day sit upon His own throne. The blessing of the earth awaits the manifestation of the King Priest.
Meanwhile, let us 'seek . . . first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness', and, as the rule of God is established in our hearts individually, and in our midst collectively, His presence will be manifest in power and glory, and His blessing will enrich all.