Print this page

1 Sam 8:4-20, 11:14-15

1 Samuel 8:4-20, 11:14-15

Background to the Book of 1 Samuel (Historical Setting the Book of 1 Samuel)

The story contained in the books of Samuel tells of the extraordinary change in the way Israel is governed. Up to this time, there had been various tribes who on occasions had come together to combat a threat from other nations. In each instance in the book of Judges, we are told how a person was raised by God to lead the tribes on this particular occasion. The Spirit of God settles on the person and even when this is not overtly mentioned in the story it is clear from the way the story progresses that we know God's hand is directly involved in the successful consequences.

1 and 11 Samuel tell us about the immense political and new government structures, which take place around the end of the 10th century BCE. The centre of government during the time of the judges was at Shiloh and by the time we get to the end of 11 Samuel, the centre of what is now an empire, has moved to Jerusalem.

The voices for setting up a monarchy became stronger and it fell to Samuel, the last of the judges, to be instrumental in the forthcoming tussle between those who wanted a monarch and those who believed that God would continue to raise up leaders as required.

The amount of material, which focuses on Samuel, Saul and David compared with the space given to the remainder of the Kings of Israel, is quite disproportionate. A total of fifty five chapters is given to these three people and forty seven chapters to all the remaining kings of both the northern and southern kingdoms.

We read in the books of Joshua and Judges about the gradual settlement of the Israelite tribes into Palestine, some encroaching from the south, others from the east and the north. It was clear there was fighting with other tribes and we become familiar with the names of the Edomites and the Moabites. However, the greatest threat became the Philistines who had settled in the west of Palestine along part of the coast. Because they had perfected the art of iron casting, they were able to make wheels and other tools which gave them a superiority in war. The settlement process took at least two hundred years from the time the tribes started to enter into Palestine.

One of the ancient traditions tells of the conquest of Canaan by slow stages, with each tribe fighting alone or, at best, in coalition with other tribes. Another tradition tells about the invasion, which attacked first the southern hill country, where Judah and Simeon defeated Adonibezek, took Hebron, Debir, and Hormah, but could not gain control of the coastal plain. The house of Joseph invaded the central highlands and captured Bethel. To the north, the tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali settled among the Canaanites, and, as they grew stronger, gradually forced them into slave labour. To the west, the tribe of Dan was hemmed in against the highlands and could not conquer the plains.

The books of Samuel tell us how first Saul became king and was commissioned to defeat the Philistines who were a very real threat to the survival of Israel. Next, we see the gradual disintegration of Saul's mental and physical health and the rise of David after his defeat of Goliath. David is portrayed positively as he saves Saul's life and negatively as he betrays his own people and fights for the enemy, although never against Israel itself. The Philistines thought he was doing this but David was fighting other tribes and killing everyone so there was no one alive to tell the Philistine commander what David was doing. Some of the negative qualities of David's actions and character are omitted in a later telling of his story (Books of Chronicles). It is well that we remember he was a person of mixed motives, great faith, courage, love, greed, need for power, who killed those in opposition to his desires, he was cruel and had fits of anger. His grief at the death of Saul and Jonathon is beautifully portrayed in the lament of 2 Sam 1:19ff.
In the second book of Samuel, we read of the rise and fall of David's reign.

Dates of the first 3 Kings of the United Kingdom


c.1020-1004 BC


1004 - 965



Literary Background to the Book:
In the English translations 1 Samuel comes after the book of Ruth which has finished with the genealogy of David and we move now into the story of how Israel got its first king and then David.

Martin Noth's publication of his book (1943) in which he proposed that the body of material from Deuteronomy to the end of Second Kings was called the Deuteronomic History has been accepted, in some form, by most people. He suggested that early in exile an author/group created this history using many different sources and traditions to compose this body of work in order to explain to the people in exile why that were there. It begins with the laws given to Moses (Deuteronomy) and demonstrates in the stories following the Book of Deuteronomy how the people, priests and especially kings disobeyed the law with the consequence that they lost the land and ended up in Babylon. They gained the land (Joshua & Judges) because it was given by Yahweh and lost it because they went after other gods and were generally disobedient in their religious and ethical practices.

There is one voice in the Deuteronomic History which believes the people tried to displace Yahweh as King when they called on Samuel to give them a king like the surrounding countries. This belief becomes a major factor in their punishment and exile because they failed to trust in Yahweh and their Kings were disobedient also.

There are many books which give introductions to the Deuteronomic History and the Old Testament Guides list some idea.

Context of 1 Samuel 8:4-20, 11:14-15
This chapter begins a new section in which alternate chapters are positive or negative about the need for a king. Since the call of Samuel by the Lord in 1 Samuel 3, there have been ongoing battles between the Israelites and the Philistines and in 1 Samuel 4 the Isrealites were defeated and in consequence decided to bring the ark from Shiloh to lead them inot battle. Instead the Philistines not only defeated the Israelites but captured the ark. The news caused the death of Eli. The Philistines blamed the presence of the ark for the constant falling down of their god Dagon from his pedestal. This and the sickneses that came upon the people of Ashdood were attributd to the presence of the ark as was the case when the Philistines tried putting it in other Philistine towns. Consequently they sent the akr back to Israel together with gifts of gold. the ark was seven months with the Philistines and twenty years with the people of Kiriath-jearim. This story of the ark is followed by Samuel preaching to the people (1 Sam 7) entreating them to put away foreign gods and worship only the Lord. After this the Israelites defeated the Philistines regaining much of the territory that had been taken by the Philistines in earlier battles. There appears to be a time of peace as Samuel went around the various shrines judging and ensuring that justice prevailed.
Insights/Message of 1 Samuel 8:4-20, 11:14-15
Literary structure:1 Samuel 8 is the first chapter in what appears to be a deliberate literary structure which shows that the call for a king was a wrong decision and would lead to disaster. Columns 1, 3, and 5 are the negaive ones about kingship and surround the positive columns which tell of the anointing in columns 2 and 4. This indicates the writer wants us to believe that kingship was a wrong choice for Israel as it meant the people had rejected their king, Yahweh.

1 Sam 8:1-20: Request for a king & warning about the consequence
1 Sam 9:1-10:16: King sought and anointed:
1 Sam 10:17-27: Further warning at rejecting God and appointing a king
1 Sam 11: Saul defeats the Ammonites and anointed a second time
1 Sam 12: Samuel preaches against kingship & prophecies disaster

Verses 1-3 of chapter 8 help to justify the people's call for Samuel to make a king for them. If his sons had been honest and just, they would have succeeded Samuel as leader. Verses 4-8 have the elders gather to make the request to Samuel who disapproved but prayed to the Lord for guidance. We are told the words spoken by the elders, however we are not told what Samuel said to God, but only the Lord's reply. This is conveyed to the people in vv.10-18 in which the ways of kings are described in detail. The people speak in vv. 19-22 and their reply is told to God by Samuel. God says let them go ahead and Samuel tells the people to return to the city. The centre verses of chapter eight spell out in detail the sort of unjust actions the king will do to families to cause hardship. The verb 'to take' isrepeated several times in eight verses which emphasises the behaviour of kings. Kings will take who and what they like without any thought given to the justness of their actions.

Message/Theology: The people are worried about their future, because while the Philistines have been quiet for a number of years they clearly need to expand from the coast eastwards while the Israelites need to expand west to survive. It is the land beween the coast and the mountains that each group of people are fighting for because it is needed for growing food. The people perceive that having a king gives a nation the leadership needed in battle. However, God points out that they have been looked after from the time they came out of Egypt, and it was God who raised up judges to deliver them when they called out for help. Now they have forsaken God. Samuel is loyal and true to God and is not happy with the people's request for a king. One wonders how Samuel felt when God agreed to give them a king. It is part of human nature to want a human person as leader. A similar reaction occurred when Jesus was not the wordly king about to defeat the Romans, or again when Jesus was crucified and the disciples found it hard to believe that Christ's Spirit would be present with them. In Christian communities it is mainly individuals who have on their conscience those times when they have not trusted in God, but wanted to rely on some human agent for delivery. However, there have also been times when communities have followed a human leader who has caused suffering and people have not been strong enough to trust in God.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament: 2 Cor 4:13 Paul has taken and quoted part of the verse from Psalm 116:10. He shares similar afflictions as the Psalmist and has the faith that enables him to speak the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is interesting that Paul quotes this verse from the Old Testament immediately prior to his witness to the resurrection. Paul stands in line with those who have witnessed to God in the Old Testament but now it is the witness through the birth, life & death of Jesus Christ.

Resources/Worship for 1 Samuel 8:4-20, 11:14-15
The dialogue in these verses could be adapted so that it makes it come more alive. Some of the context would help people understand the urgent request from the people for a king.
Resources: Commentaries:
The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the books of Samuel, eg. If you want to know more about the Philistines there are details given of several articles/chapters in books that can help with this topic.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the 1990's is more up to date than some earlier works.

Anderson, A.A. 2 Samuel. WBC. Dallas: Word Books, 1989
Birch, B. The First and second Samuel. NIB. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998.
Brueggemann,W. First and Second Samuel. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990
Gordon, R.P. 1 & 2 Samuel. OTG. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1984
Gunn, D.M. The Story of King David. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1978
Hertzberg, H.W. 1 & 11 Samuel. OTL. London: SCM Press, 1964.
Klein, R. 1 Samuel. WBC. Waco., Texas: Word Books, 1983.
Mauchline, J. 1 and 2 Samuel. NCB. London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1971.
Schniedewind,W.M. Society and the Promise to David: The Reception History of 2 Samuel 7:1-17. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources:

Previous page: 1 Samuel 3:1-20
Next page: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13