Books of Samuel

It is no secret that 1 & 2 Samuel were, at one time, one book. The same is true for 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles. Yet, as we focus on Samuel, it is important to note that Bruce C. Birch sets the scene well when he wrote: “The books of 1 and 2 Samuel witness to one of the most crucial periods of transition and change in the story of ancient Israel. At the opening of 1 Samuel, Israel is a loose federation of tribes, experiencing both external threat from the militarily superior Philistines and internal crisis because of the corruption of the priestly house of Eli at Shiloh, where the ark was maintained and covenant traditions were preserved. At the conclusion of 2 Samuel, an emerging monarchy is firmly in place under David. He has weathered various threats to the integrity of the kingdom, and is preparing to establish a hereditary dynasty in Israel.” (New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume II, Introduction to 1 & 2 Samuel, p. 949.)

There are endless stories and examples of transition in Israel as they moved from the loose federation of tribes to a united monarchy. These transitions bring about a significant social transformation of Israel. According to Walter Brueggeman, there are three distinct factors at work to bring this social transformation: 1) the influence of political power, social pressure, and technological possibility, 2) the extraordinary personality of David, and 3) Yahweh, the God of Israel. (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, 1 & 2 Samuel, pp. 2-3)

The human factors leading to Israel’s transformation impacted Israel internally and externally. The pressures from the Philistines, the growing power among the different tribes, divisions and factions within the tribes, wealth, urbanization, and the struggles for land were all factors in the changing landscape of ancient Israel. The leadership of David and those who were compared to David radically shaped how Israel understood itself. Each of the transitions in leadership, situation in relationship, and new technological developments brought a new day for Israel. Yet, these transitions in and of themselves did not bring about radical transformation.

Yahweh, the God of Israel, was actively working to bring about radical transformation for Israel. Throughout the narrative of Samuel, Yahweh intervenes to move Israel from where they were to where they are to be. Yahweh’s intervention in 2 Samuel 7 may have been the most profound transition to bring about this radical transformation.

In 2 Samuel 7, the prophet Nathan brings a word of divine blessing on David’s house (explore the interplay of house – “palace”, “temple”, “dynasty”, and “family status” – for yourself to gain greater meaning of this text – it’s good stuff). Nathan’s oracle removes the conditional nature of God’s relationship with Israel to where God’s grace provides the bedrock for Israel’s hope for all things to come. To this point, all of Yahweh’s commitments with Israel have been based on some condition – circumcision, keeping the law, building an ark, etc. Now, God’s unconditional promise of an enduring line for David becomes the foundation for Israel to build its faith – unconditional grace, a messianic promise, and everlasting life. This is a huge theological shift for Israel and builds massive possibilities for Israel’s relationship with God and the transformation of its life.

Often it seems that transition is a four-letter word. It means change and change is unsettling and uncomfortable. The truth is we are always changing. Our day to day experiences change who we are and how we understand the world. There is transition in every moment of everyday. Added together, if we are paying attention, these transitions can truly transform the nature and understanding of our lives.

I think about my life that included the slow transitions from single adult to husband to dad of one, now dad of two have brought a major transformation to my life. No longer can I only think of myself when I make decisions and set priorities (even though in my most selfish moments I do). My existence on this planet is not about me – it’s about my family and my care for them (and ultimately, our care for each other).

• What transitions are happening in your life that might bring radical transformation for you? Who or what is driving these transitions? Is it internal or external?
• How is God speaking to you in these times? Is it subtle or blatant? Is it hidden or conspicuous?
• How do you understand God’s bedrock promise of unconditional love for you?
• How does this understanding motivate you to live differently, as one transformed by the grace of God?

Unfortunately, we don’t stay tuned into God’s grace for our lives. We get distracted with political, social, economic, and cultural forces/events/activities of our day. We get blinded by a charismatic leader. We believe that we are the most important thing in our lives. We miss the power of God speaking to us in the form of wise friends, awareness of circumstance, and/or a still small voice (coming up in Kings) that promises life abundant life on earth.