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Passage: 1 Samuel 1:1-7:17

1 Samuel 1:1-7:17 – Samuel the “Segue”


First Samuel begins with the rise of Samuel the prophet and the fall of the house of Eli the priest. Sandwiched between these narratives is a rollicking account of the journeys of the ark of the covenant as it is captured by the Philistines and eventually makes its way back to the Israelites.


A first reading of these chapters leaves the impression that one is still reading the book of Judges. Chronologically speaking, of course, this is true. First Samuel continues the story begun in Judges (the delightful short story of Ruth that separates Judges from Samuel in our English Bibles appears at another place in the Hebrew Bible). The Philistines are still a threat, Israel still has no centralized government, and Samuel appears as a charismatic leader like the so-called "judges" who deliver Israel from their Philistine oppressors.

But there is change in the air as well. Though it appears here, the crushing pattern of disobedience followed by oppression, repentance, and deliverance, only to return to disobedience again--so familiar in the book of Judges--is not as rigidly presented.

  • Samuel is introduced as a gift of God both to Hannah, his barren mother, and to Israel, at peace for now; a gift that keeps on giving through his early childhood where his sensitivity and openness to God's calling is deftly contrasted with the priestly shenanigans of Eli's sons (chapters 1-3).
  • That it was about time for God to raise up a mediator like Samuel is clarified in the tale of the ark's adventures where the hostilities between Israel and the neighboring Philistines provide an informative background. Though Samuel is hardly mentioned in this section, the wicked sons of Eli are done away with (chapters 4-6).
  • This sets the scene for the reintroduction of Samuel as the last (and greatest) of the "judges," who calls the people to repentance and delivers them from the Philistines (chapter 7).

As such, Samuel functions as a transitional figure between the judges and the monarchy.