We begin a new series in the great historical narrative of Israel’s history named after the book’s first (though not primary) hero – Samuel. The author, according to Jewish tradition, was Samuel himself, though he could only have been responsible for, at most, up to 1 Samuel 25, which records his death. Many scholars believe that an unknown editor, during Israel’s exile, compiled and edited the book forming what we know today as the book of Samuel. Originally compiled as a single book, it is believed to have been divided into two around 400 B.C. with the translation of the Greek Septuagint; it is believed that the narrative was just too long to fit onto a single scroll, so it was divided into two, forming what we refer to in our Bibles as 1st and 2nd Samuel. The division of the two books helps us to see two distinct aspects of the dawning of the kingdom of Israel. While 1st Samuel echoes the darkness of the book of Judges, 2nd Samuel reveals more about king David, the progenitor of Israel’s Messianic King. For this reason, I am entitling the series in 1 Samuel, “Twilight Kingdom,” a reference to the time of darkness before the dawn; God willing, the series in 2 Samuel will bear the title, “Shadow Kingdom,” alluding to the idea that the sun has risen and shadows formed pointing to fulfillment in Christ our King.
1 Samuel is the story of three men – Samuel, Saul, and David – who have held a fascinating place in history, art, literature, and exposition. It traces the development of the kingdom of Israel from the dark anarchy expressed in the book of Judges, to the establishment of a theocratic monarchy. The narrative, which covers about 100 years, begins with the story of the birth and childhood of Samuel (chapters 1-3); this is followed by a narrative about the transfer of the ark of the covenant and its power (chapters 4-6). The book’s remaining chapters relay stories of Samuel’s interactions with Israel’s first king, Saul, and future king David. 1 Samuel concludes with the tragic death of king Saul.
While it takes place during a very dark time in Israel’s history, 1 Samuel is not without hints of light. The book is not merely a political history; it is spiritual in that it concerns the sovereign work of God among His, at times, faithful and, at times, faithless people. It reveals God’s divine purpose in history, as He ordains the affairs of men and overthrows their plans to establish His purposes. Though in darkness, God’s people are not left alone at the mercy of some impersonal dark force; for the Lord is King of kings! In our King, hope shines through our darkest times. As the metaphor says, “it’s always darkest just before the dawn.”