What is the Book of Samuel About?

Read this 3-minute introduction to help you find your bearings in the Bible story, and be inspired to read Samuel!


Historical Context

The author of 1 and 2 Samuel is anonymous. First Samuel 10:25 indicates that Samuel wrote a book, and this suggests that he may have written part of 1 and 2 Samuel. Other possible authors of 1 and 2 Samuel include the prophets Nathan and Gad (see 1 Chronicles 29:29).

—Henrietta Mears 

Source: This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

From Remember that the ultimate author of every book of the Bible is the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). He has written this book to equip you for life, to help you know the true God, and to give you hope (2 Timothy 3:16; Romans 15:4). The Holy Spirit wrote Samuel for your good and to lead you into joy.

It is likely that 1-2 Samuel was written after the division of the kingdom between Israel and Judah in 931 BC. That Ziklag “has belonged to the kings of Judah to this day” (1 Samuel 27:6 ESV) means that the author had to have been living when there would have been kings in Judah! Therefore, it is likely that 2 Samuel was written during the period of the divided kingdom (931 BC—722 BC). 


These books recount the stories of Samuel, Saul, and David. Saul’s reign began between 1050–1030 BC and ended in 1010. David then reigned until 971. The books were probably written soon after the end of his reign.

—ESV Global Study Bible

Also note that though our Bible separates 1 and 2 Samuel into two books, in the earliest Hebrew manuscripts, 1 and 2 Samuel were originally one book that told the one story of the beginning of the kingdom in Israel. When the Old Testament was translated into Greek (called the Septuagint), the translators divided 1 and 2 Samuel into two books.


The Setting of 1 Samuel 

c. 1050 BC

The book of 1 Samuel is set in Israel during the transition between the period of the judges and the period of the monarchy. It opens with Samuel’s birth and the describes his role as judge over Israel. When the people ask for a king, the Lord instructs Samuel to anoint Saul as Israel’s first king.

The Setting of 2 Samuel 

c. 1000 BC

The book of 2 Samuel recounts David’s reign over Israel and his battles to establish Israel as the dominant power in Syria and Palestine. David expanded Israel’s borders from Saul’s smaller territory. By the end of his reign, David controlled all of Israel, Edom, Moab, Ammon, Syria, and Zobah. Other kingdoms, such as Tyre and Hamath, established treaties with him.

—ESV Global Study Bible

1-2 Samuel spans over 100 years of Israel’s history. It begins with the birth of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:1-28), the prophet God uses to establish the kingdom, and ends with the death of David (2 Samuel 23:1-7). Therefore, this is probably between 1105 BC and 971 BC. It takes place in and around the land of Israel as God sovereignly works out his promises to the nation of Israel.


Unless otherwise indicated, this content is adapted from the ESV Global Study Bible® (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright ©2012 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Message Series

The Life of David by Colin Smith

This extensive 3-part series, each including several messages on the book of 2 Samuel, includes engaging messages from Pastor Colin Smith that will help you get to know the characters in David’s life and see God’s hand at work in David’s relationships, family, and calling. These are tremendous messages to listen to as a family.

Samuel Dictionary

As you read through Samuel, you might come across words and ideas that are foreign to you. Here are a few definitions you will want to know! Note that this dictionary was created for the New International Version (NIV) translation of the Bible.

Nomadic, warlike people inhabiting the region southwest of the Dead Sea. Because of their vicious attack against the Israelites after the exodus from Egypt, God pronounced judgment on them. Battles against the Amalekites were fought by Joshua, by several of the judges, by Saul, and by David; they were finally destroyed in the days of Hezekiah.

Descendants of Ben-Ammi, grandson of Abraham’s nephew, Lot. They lived east of the Dead Sea and were nomadic, idolatrous, and vicious. The Ammonites often opposed Israel.

Descendants of Canaan, a son of Ham and grandson of Noah. Because of their wickedness, God told Abraham of future destruction he would bring. This punishment occurred under Moses and Joshua, and their land was given to the tribe of Reuben.

To pour oil on a person or thing. A person was anointed to show that God had chosen him or her to do a special job. Samuel anointed David to show that God had chosen him to be king.

An agreement. In the ancient Near East, sometimes covenants were made between two people or groups of people. Both sides decided what the agreement would be. However, in the Bible, the word usually refers to agreements between God and people, when God decides what will be done and the people agree to live by the covenant. The old covenant of law set standards of behavior in order to please God. The new covenant of grace presents God’s forgiveness based on faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

(1) A request that harm come to someone; (2) blaspheme. In the Bible, curse does not mean to swear or to use bad language. When a person cursed something, he or she wished evil or harm to come to it. When God cursed something, he declared judgment on something.

(1) In the Old Testament, an older man in a family, tribe, or town. (2) Also in the Old Testament, a member of a group of older men in a town. The town elders made major decisions for the town. (3) In the first four books of the New Testament, the Sanhedrin—the group of men who governed the Jewish people in Jesus’ time. (4) In the Early Church, the church leaders.

(1) One of the sons of Jacob and Leah. (2) The descendants of Jacob and Leah’s son of the same name, who became the tribe of Judah. (3) The southern kingdom when the Israelites divided into two separate countries after the death of King Solomon. (The northern kingdom was called Israel.)

A person who helps people settle their disagreements. When the Israelites were settling in the Promised Land after the death of Joshua, God chose leaders called judges to rule the people. Often these judges led the people in battle against their enemies. Some of the judges were Deborah, Gideon, and Samuel. After kings began to rule Israel, judges once again settled disagreements and took care of official business.

The people of Philistia, a region along the southeastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. During most of Old Testament history, the Philistines were major competitors with Israel for territory and power. The Philistines, whose origins may be traced to Crete or Greece, were far ahead of the Hebrews in technology, having mastered skills in working with metal. They adopted at least some of the Canaanite gods and often controlled much of ancient Israel, until a series of decisive defeats at the hand of David. Still, battles with Judah and Israel continued for centuries.

A gift or offering given to God. A sacrifice usually involved killing an animal to pay for sin. The New Testament tells us that Jesus died as the once-for-all sacrifice for sinners and that no further sacrifices for sin are necessary.

A person who works for the comfort or protection of others. Jesus said he is a servant. He instructed his followers to be servants to each other instead of trying to have authority over each other. In the Bible, servant sometimes means slave.

A town in the hill country west of the Jordan River, between Bethel and Shechem. For about 400 years, from the time of Joshua until the building of Solomon’s Temple, Shiloh was home to the tabernacle. However, when the ark of the covenant was captured by the Philistines in the days of Samuel, Shiloh gradually faded in importance.

This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. 

Tough Questions

We have found answers to some tough questions that we anticipate may arise as you read this book of the Bible. We know we can’t answer every question you will have; therefore, we have written this article, so you know how to find answers for your kids: How Do I Answer Tough Questions About the Bible?


The following insights are from pastors and scholars who have spent significant time studying the book of Samuel.

First Samuel records the failure of the people’s [Israel’s] king, Saul. Second Samuel describes the enthronement of God’s king, David, and the establishment of the house of David through which the Messiah, Jesus Christ, would later come. When Christ comes again, he will sit upon the throne of David (see Isaiah 9:7; Luke 1:32).  

Second Samuel is occupied with the story of David as king (see 2 Samuel 5:3). It does not tell the whole story, for the story actually begins in 1 Samuel and continues in 1 Kings. First Chronicles deals with it also but from another point of view.  

—Henrietta Mears 

Source: This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. 

Again and again as we read 2 Samuel we have to shake ourselves and say, “This is not about David; it is not even about covenant kings; it is about a covenant God who makes covenant promises to a covenant king through whom he will preserve his covenant people.” That must be our perspective. 

—Dale Ralph Davis 

Source: Davis, Dale Ralph. 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity. Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 2013.

The book of Samuel is a book of history that tells us about real events and real people. However, because it is history, we don’t find explicit denunciations of the evil behavior that occurs within its pages. In other words, the narrator doesn’t always tell us whether people’s actions are acceptable in God’s sight or not. For example, the narrator does not condemn David for having multiple wives, though we know polygamy is forbidden for Israel’s kings (Deuteronomy 17:17). Instead, the narrator shows us the negative consequences of David’s sin and how it almost destroys his kingdom. This means we have to consider for ourselves whether people’s actions recorded in the book of Samuel are godly or not, based on what we know of God’s instructions from other parts of his Word.


The stories of 1–2 Samuel are not first and foremost moral examples for us to imitate or shun. Rather, these narratives primarily teach us about our need for a righteous ruler, a rescuer, a warrior king who will crush the enemy for good. They teach us about God’s faithfulness to provide righteousness and peace through his Son (see Psalm 2), in God’s own timing and way. Studying 1–2 Samuel should produce thankfulness to God that the true Son has come and a perfect kingdom has been ushered in (Matthew 4:17). This should lead us to submit ourselves to this good King, represent him well to the world, and continue to pray “your kingdom come” as we await the final day when the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of Christ (Revelation 11:15).

The narratives of 1–2 Samuel do, however, secondarily provide examples that should either inspire or warn us (see Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11 for this use of the Old Testament). At times, David is an incredible example of courage, kindness, worship, and/or humility—how can we not be instructed and inspired! At other times, he or others (especially Saul) provide a warning regarding the power of temptation and the ugliness of sin.

—Ryan Kelly

Source: Content taken from 1-2 Samuel: A 12-Week Study © 2015 by Ryan Kelly. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

In brief, the Bible’s story prior to David’s reign may be summarized as follows: God created all things by his sovereign will and word (Genesis 1, 2). His kingdom is seen in creation itself. However, humankind repudiated God’s good and wise rule, and the goodness of the whole creation was disrupted by this upheaval (Genesis 3-11). And yet, despite humanity’s corruption, God promised to yet bring blessing to the world through a nation descended from Abraham (Genesis 12-50; especially Genesis 12:1-3), a nation in which his rule would be honored. He redeemed this nation from bondage to another king, Pharaoh of Egypt (Exodus-Leviticus) and brought them into the land he had promised Abraham (Numbers-Joshua). Sadly, this nation repeatedly turned away from God (Judges), ultimately demanding a human king so that they could be like the pagan nations around them rather than the people over whom the Lord God was king (1 Samuel 8:4-8; 12:12, 17, 19). Astonishingly God gave them the king they asked for (1 Samuel 8:22), but he refused to forsake the people he had made his own (1 Samuel 12:22). They could have their king only so long as both king and people followed the Lord (1 Samuel 12:13-15). Saul was that king (1 Samuel 10:1, 24; 11:15). But he failed to fulfill the condition of his kingship (1 Samuel 13:13; 15:10, 17-23; 28:17-19). When God rejected Saul, he promised that he would provide a different king, one of his choosing . . . and therefore ‘better’ than Saul (1 Samuel 15:28). This king was David. In contrast to Saul, he was not chosen by the people for themselves (1 Samuel 8:18; 12:17, 19), but he was a king provided by God for himself (1 Samuel 16:1).

—John Woodhouse

Source: Content taken from 2 Samuel: Your Kingdom Come © 2015 by John Woodhouse. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Appearances can be deceptive. The fact that we cannot see what God is doing does not mean that he is doing nothing. The Lord has his own timetable. It is we who must learn to adjust to it, not vice versa. When God’s time comes nothing will stand in his way. We can therefore wait for him with this happy confidence: “As for God, his way is perfect” (2 Samuel 22:31 NIV).  

—Sinclair Ferguson

Source: Ferguson, Sinclair. Discovering God’s Will. Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth, 1982. Quote retrieved from Grace Quotes at

Samuel Playlist

Discover music inspired by the message and content of the book of Samuel.

There Is None Like You
by Lenny LeBlanc | Praise & Worship
Voice of Truth
by Casting Crowns | Contemporary
Hail to the Lord's Anointed
by Indelible Grace Music feat. Sandra McCracken | Folk
Cave of Adullum
by Sara Groves | 70s 80s 90s
by David Crowder Band | Contemporary
Holy (1 Samuel 2:2)
by Shane & Shane feat. Kingdom Kids | Praise & Worship
Psalm 18
by Psallo Collective | Scripture Reading
After God’s Own Heart
by Steve Camp | 70s 80s 90s
Shout to the Lord
by The Worship Initiative and Shane & Shane | Praise & Worship
Still on the Throne
by Victory Worship | Praise & Worship
More Songs
Featured Resource
by Sight & Sound Theatres
With original music inspired by the Psalms, DAVID is a state-of-the-art theatrical experience for the whole family. Witness one of the most legendary Bible stories as it comes to life with spectacular special effects, massive sets, and live animals in this brand-new stage production from Sight & Sound Theatres.