The story of Ruth transitions from the time of Judges into the time of Kings. This progression is spelled out more clearly in the two books of Samuel. The books of 1 & 2 Samuel are titled because they open with the narrative of Samuel. But it isn’t really the best title for the books because Samuel is not the principal focus of the book. In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) and the Vulgate (the Latin translation of the whole Bible), 1 & 2 Samuel are paired with 1 & 2 Kings and named 1-4 Kings or 1-4 Reigns or Kingdoms. 1 & 2 Samuel are particularly focused on the rise and fall of another person, David. David is the real hero of these books.
There are three main sections in 1 Samuel. The first section details the birth and rise of the last judge to lead Israel, Samuel. 1 Samuel opens with the fervent prayers of Hannah. Her womb had been closed, but she prayed that if the LORD would give her a son, she would give him to the LORD. Eli, the priest, observed Hannah praying (and after determining that she wasn’t drunk) and answered that the LORD would grant her prayer. The LORD makes good on his promise to Hannah, and then Hannah makes good on her promise to God. She gives her son Samuel up to serve in the temple. The LORD calls Samuel and he was established in the land as a prophet.
Samuel grew and was respected in the land. He became a judge over Israel. But as Samuel grew older, the people were dissatisfied with him. They wanted a king like the other nations. Samuel tried to convince the people that they were not like the other nations. They were God’s people. But the people persisted. And the Lord granted their request. Samuel anointed Saul as king.
Saul was the kind of person you would expect to be king. He was handsome. He was tall. He was a competent military commander. He is who the people would have picked. But Saul lacks faith in the LORD. Saul fails to keep covenant. He does not obey God’s prophet (1 Sam 13-15). Samuel confronts Saul in his disobedience and Saul continually shifts the blame to others. Samuel rejects Saul and separates from him.
Samuel finds himself in Bethlehem. He comes to the family of Jesse, from whom God will reveal to Samuel the next king of Israel. Samuel assumes the oldest and tallest son will be chosen. But he is wrong. It is none of the sons whom Jesse has presented. At Samuel’s urging, they call in the son who in the family’s judgment was too insignificant for the feast, David. David is chosen king. He is ruddy and handsome, but his appearance does not influence his selection. David is anointed as king. Now, based on the promise of God’s Word, David risks his life by entering into royal court.
As Saul descends into a psychotic state, David rises in power and stature. The people begin to sing of David’s valor in comparison to Saul’s. “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” This enrages the already mentally unstable Saul. Saul repeatedly attempts to kill David, but he remains patient and faithful to God’s anointed king, Saul. On several occasions, David chooses to preserve Saul’s life when he easily could have ended it. This was out of faithfulness to the Lord.
Saul dies in battle with the Amalekites, and David becomes king. As David becomes king, three major shifts have been realized in Israel. First, there is a shift in the leadership of the nation. They have moved from warlord judges to kings. Second, there is a shift in national stature. The nation of Israel is no longer a tribal league, but now it is a unified kingdom. Third, the worship of the LORD has shifted from Shiloh to Jerusalem.
The book of 2 Samuel opens with David hearing of Saul’s death and his rise to the throne. Where 1 Samuel revolved around the narratives of three men, 2 Samuel will focus on David. It will detail the rise and fall of the King. David’s reign as king will document a number of huge successes. The boundaries of the land will spread from Egypt to the Euphrates. David will demonstrate a tremendous faithfulness to the LORD. He will provide a model for repentance. But David’s reign also documents some spectacular failures. David failed to fully follow God’s Word. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah. David’s son Absalom led a bloody rebellion against him. David sinned again by taking a census when God had instructed him not to.
The rise and fall of David demonstrates that while David was God’s chosen and anointed king, David was not God’s ultimate king. There were great successes under David. But David’s failure pointed to another greater king. David was a man after God’s own heart, but he was not the ultimate king. God did promise David, however, that his seed would be that king. The narrative in 1 & 2 Kings shows that Solomon would not be that king either. But generations later, there would be a Son of David born in Bethlehem who would be that greater king.