Samuel 1 & 2 Themes

The major theme in the Books of Samuel (sometimes referred to as 1/2 Kings) is the birth of the monarchy in the territory occupied by the Chosen People; this may seem like a cautious formulation and this is because the period when the twelve tribes of Israel were united under one king were very rare, requiring both charisma and military strength.

1 Samuel opens with the dedication of the young child as a Prophet and Priest (an unusual combination) which casts a shadow forward to the antecedents of the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:46-55). The Israelites suffer a catastrophic defeat by the Philistines and this puts pressure on Samuel (God) to replace the makeshift rule of Judges by Kings. Samuel points out all the dangers of tyranny but the people insists and The Lord says the reform is not Samuel's failure but the failure of the people to place themselves in the hands of God.

Although the mission and history of Samuel dominate the early Chapters of 1 Samuel, the main protagonists are Israel's first two Kings:

Saul - a Benjamite of little initial political significance, a brave but somewhat erratic character who is apt to take precipitate decisions. Samuel treats him harshly and he falls from favour whereupon his erratic behaviour becomes more acute. Initially, he has a love/hate relationship with David but the balance steadily shifts towards hate until David is driven into exile. The Book ends as it begins, with Israel suffering a disastrous defeat by the Philistines which kills Saul and his precious son, Jonathan.

David - The youngest of Jesse's son and a shepherd, David is chosen by Samuel to succeed Saul. He kills Goliath and serves as a courtier, befriended by Saul's son Jonathan as he is threatened by Saul. In exile he holds aloof from Saul as far as he can and twice denies himself the opportunity of killing him. When he succeeds to the throne his is forced to build from a base in Hebron before becoming the leader of all twelve tribes. Except for his one serious act of adultery with Bathsheba which results in this murder of Uriah the Hittite, David is a near perfect King. Nonetheless, he is the victim of a number of plots including that by his beloved son Absalom and the Appendix to Samuel 2 depicts a King ravaged by misfortune.

The characterisation of both Kings falls into the customary mould begun with Moses that no matter how virtuous the servants of The Lord, they are not perfect; there is no panegyric.

The authors of Kings and their successors glorified the extent and richness of David's Kingdom in a way that recent archaeological scholarship does not merit. Following Abraham and Moses, David was the last great emblematic figure in the Biblical history of Israel.


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