The historical record of the Hebrew people beginning with the birth of Samuel, the last of the judges, continuing with the establishment of the monarchy under Saul, and covering David's reign practically to its close. In all ancient Hebrew manuscripts 1 and 2 Sa appear as one volume, called Samuel, which in the Hebrew canon stood among the Former Prophets (Jos through 2 Ki, except for Ruth). The Masoretes noted that 1 Sa 28:24 was at the middle of the book as it appeared in the text of their time. The division of Sa into 2 parts was first made by the translators of the LXX about the 3rd cent. b.c., under the titles, "First of Kingdoms" and "Second of Kingdoms." In this arrangement 1 and 2 Ki appeared as "Third of Kingdoms" and "Fourth of Kingdoms." In the Latin Vulgate, translated by Jerome near the end of the 4th cent. a.d., the titles were changed to read "Kings" instead of "Kingdoms."
The books of Samuel provide no information as to who their author or authors may have been. According to Jewish tradition Samuel himself composed the first 24 chs of 1 Sa (to the death of the prophet), with the remainder of 1 Sa and all of 2 Sa written by the prophets Nathan and Gad (see 1 Chr. 29:29). When the book was divided in Hebrew Bibles in a.d. 1517, and later in English Bibles, the original name "Samuel" was applied to both parts even though his name is not once mentioned in the 2nd part. It appears for the last time in 1 Sa 28:20. Doubtless Samuel's name was attached to the whole because his life and ministry dominate the 1st half of the book in its combined form. Irrespective of the question of authorship, this title was appropriate in view of his important role as the last of the judges, as one of the greatest of the prophets, as the evident founder of the schools of the prophets, and as God's appointed agent in the establishment of the Hebrew kingdom. If the combined book represents the continuous work of 1 author, it must have been composed after the death of David (2 Sa 23:1). It seems more reasonable, however, to conclude that 1 Sa and 2 Sa represent composite authorship and that they are the collection of 2 or more narratives, each of which is complete in itself. However this may be, 1 and 2 Sa constitute an inspired record of an important period of Hebrew history.
The LXX varies in some parts from the Masoretic Hebrew text, notably in 1 Sa 17 and 18. That the variant readings go back to a Hebrew recension which differed from that used by the Masoretes and which became the standard Hebrew text has become evident through the discovery of a Sa manuscript among the Dead Sea scrolls. About 2/3 of a scroll of 1 and 2 Sa has been reconstructed from numerous fragments found in Qumran Cave 4. This scroll reveals a close relationship to the LXX. See Scrolls, Dead Sea.
First Samuel records the transition of Hebrew government from administrative and military "judges" to the united monarchy, which lasted for nearly a cent. (c. 1100 c. 1011 b.c.), and 2 Sa deals exclusively with the reign of David, about 40 years (c. 1100 c. 971 b.c.). The somewhat sudden transition from centuries of pure theocracy operating through prophets and judges to the monarchy was a time of difficult adjustment for the Hebrew people. This was followed by the golden age that began with the glorious reign of David. The account of David's last years and death appears in the first 2 chapters of 1 Ki.
The narrative opens with the birth of Samuel, his appointment to serve in the sanctuary, and his call to the prophetic ministry (1 Sa 1:1 to 4:1). When Samuel succeeded Eli in office as priest, judge, and prophet, Israel lay prostrate before the Philistines, but the course of the nation's fortunes soon turned (chs 5 7). Late in Samuel's judgeship, popular demand for a king led to the elevation of Saul to the throne (chs 8 12). The early years of Saul' reign were marked by intermittent war with the Philistines and other neighbouring nations (ch 14:47). During this time Saul on two occasions flagrantly disobeyed the explicit instructions of the Lord through the prophet Samuel (chs 13 15). With God's rejection of Saul as king, Samuel secretly anointed David, and the remaining chapters of 1 Sa are largely taken up with Saul's jealous attempts to destroy David (chs 16 27). Finally in a battle between the Philistines and the Israelites, Saul was slain (chs 28 31). Thereupon David became king over Judah, and after about 71/2 years of strife the other tribes acknowledged him as king also (2 Sa 1:1 to 5:5). Chapters 5 10 recount the glories of the early years of David's reign, while chs 11 21 are devoted largely to his sin and to family difficulties affecting the throne. Chapters 22 24 form a sort of appendix that contains David's song of thanksgiving, his last words of instruction, and a roster of his mighty men and their exploits. The record closes with his sin in numbering the people of Israel, and its sad result (ch 24).
Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.