Study Guide

1 Samuel

1 Samuel Introduction

the-bible-samuel

Welcome to 1 Samuel, the original Game of Thrones (cue awesome theme here). Oh, yes, that's right. As much as you've probably heard that the story of 1 Samuel is about the little guy (David) fighting the big guy (Goliath), that's actually not the whole point of the book. We're here to tell you that the plot of 1 Samuel is really about control of the throne of Westeros... errr... Israel.

Allow Shmoop to break it down for you:

  1. Written at about 1000 B.C. by the Deuteronomists, the book starts off with a man named Eli serving as God's priest. But God decides that a young man named Samuel should be in charge, so when Eli eventually dies, Samuel takes over as priest and prophet. Everything's coming up Samuel. Hence the title. 
  2. The people of Israel decide they need a king, so God makes Samuel appoint a man named Saul, who's kind of the worst. To make a long story short, Saul is a terrible king, so Samuel has to go find someone else. 
  3. After a long search, Samuel ends up in Bethlehem (way before Jesus was born there), where he meets an adorable young shepherd named David. Ol' Sammy can tell this David is a special guy, so he anoints David on the spot. 
  4. Fast-forward a good long while, and the Israelite army is ready to fight the Philistines. Every Israelite solider is too scared to fight Goliath, the Philistine champion, so David steps forward like a champ. Overly confident, Goliath is defeated by a stone being flung through his skull by David. Boom. Now everyone loves David. Even Saul... sort of. Well, maybe not so much Saul.
  5. Now that David has gone from zero to hero, everyone has the David fever except for Saul. He tries to kill David several times out of jealousy for his newfound fame and power. And the Game of Thrones has begun. What follows until the end of 1 Samuel is a series of plot twists, battles, more plot twists, and more battles until (spoiler alert) Saul is killed on the battlefield. 1 Samuel ends on a cliffhanger, but don't worry, as with all good action adventures, there's a sequel.

Political intrigue? Check. Power plays? Check. Epic battles? Check. Seriously, Shmoopers, 1 Samuel has all the makings of every awesome R-rated movie or rated Mature TV show to grace the HBO airwaves. And our man David's the star.

So here is the real question: if the book is really about David, why is the book titled Samuel?

Any guesses?

Fine, we'll just tell you. Although the book has got David fever along with the rest of the Israelites, as Prophet-in-Residence, Samuel's there every step of the way. In fact, it's because of Samuel that most of the events transpire. He's the Gandalf to David's Bilbo. The Dumbledore to his Harry. Without the old gray wizard to guide, there is no unexpected journey and adventure. Without Samuel, there's no Game of Thrones for Israel.

What is 1 Samuel About and Why Should I Care?

Because you loved The Mighty Ducks, Rudy, and Star Wars. Because no one—and we mean no one—has ever said no to a good underdog story, and 1 Samuel is a classic.

Some of our greatest tales are based on the old little-dude-defeats-big-dude plot, and this one's no exception. From his very humble beginnings as a shepherd boy, David has to contend with all kinds of Big Bads every step of the way. See, 1 Samuel is one of the original underdog stories and it's not just about one big foe. David is constantly struggling to be the bigger man, whether it's against Goliath, Saul, or even himself at times.

Think of 1 Samuel as a precursor to all those people-pleasing blockbuster franchises making the big bucks in theaters these days. It's got all the awesome elements that pack people in those seats: violence, romance, power struggles, dashing heroes, and even a soundtrack (David's got a bit of a musical knack).

And yes—it even has a sequel.

1 Samuel Resources

Websites

Are You a Philistine?
In the Bible, the Philistines are the enemies of the Israelites. Over time the word "Philistine" has come to mean an uncultured person who lacks the proper appreciation for art and beauty. This quiz will help you to determine whether or not you are like cheap art or a person of impeccable taste.

Biblical Art
Need help picturing the stories in the Bible? This site provides you with art for events in the Bible. Check out the first time that Samuel meets Saul.

Tribal Map
This map will show you the territories of the twelve tribes of Israel. Pretty handy, no?

David and Goliath's Battlefield
Check out pictures of the area where David and Goliath fought their epic battle.

Bible Atlas
Need a quick peek at a place in the Bible? Then check out this atlas.

Bible Places
This website offers pictures and information about places in Israel.

Ancient Plagues
When the Philistines capture the Ark of God, God punishes them with a plague in I Samuel 5. This website discusses other plagues in the ancient world. And there were a lot.

1 Samuel Bible Quiz
Test your knowledge of the book of 1 Samuel.

The Brick Testament (Lego Bible)
Check these scenes of the story of David and Goliath. But be warned: just because they're Lego scenes, it doesn't mean they're all appropriate for kids.

The Lyre
Want to know more about ancient instruments like the lyre? This website can help.

Movie or TV Productions

Ba'al: The Storm God
This movie envisions the rebirth of the storm god Baal, which sounds kind of exciting—we're not gonna lie.

Baal in Stargate SG-1
The ancient god Baal is a character in Stargate SG-1. Because why not?

King David
Richard Gere plays David in this 1985 film. Interesting casting, if we may say so.

A Story of David: The Hunted
Follow David as he tries to escape from Saul in this 1961 film. A little suspense for your Sunday.

Saul and David
This old-school 1909 film tells the story of David's rise from shepherd boy to king.

Kings
This 2009 television series placed the story of David in modern times. And it's got Ian McShane. Need we say more?

"Giant Killer"
David meets Xena: Warrior Princess in a episode of the series. Epic mash-up, right?

Historical Documents

The Baal Cycle
Scroll down on this site to read the text of the Baal Cycle. Baal was a Canaanite god that the Israelites were not supposed to worship. His stories come to us from the city of Ugarit.

The Merneptah Stele
In 1 Samuel 15:12, Saul sets up a monument so that others will remember his defeat of the Amalekites. Lots of ancient kings set up similar monuments. These stones were known as steles. You can check out some of Israel's steles at this site.

The Mesha Stele
The Mesha Stele is also known as the Moabite Stone. Mesha was a Moabite king who wanted to commemorate his victories over Israel. The stone may contain the name of David. But the stone is broken, which makes it pretty tough to tell if David is truly named.

Video

Saul is Anointed King
Samuel anoints Saul. The guy playing Samuel looks a lot like Mr. Spock from Star Trek. Oh wait, that's because it is him. Live long and prosper, Samuel.

David and Goliath
Cartoon battle? Sign us up.

David and Goliath Vintage Cartoon
Check out this early Melo-Toons version of the battle.

Ancient Lyre
David played an instrument known as a lyre, which has a really cool sound.

The Tomb of the Prophet Samuel
You can visit the site of Samuel's tomb. Just don't try to raise him from the dead like the witch of Endor.

Ancient Heroes: King David
The story of King David is told in pictures, for the five millionth time.

Audio

Audio Version of 1 Samuel 2
Listen to 1 Samuel 2, featuring different readers.

Shepherd Boy
Listen to this song about David's rise from shepherd boy to king.

Images (Copyrighted or Permissions Unknown)

The Philistine Pentapolis
The Philistine are associated with the fives cites of Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, and Gath.

Modern Day Beth-Shemesh
The Philistine cart takes the Ark of God to Beth-Shemesh in 1 Samuel 6. Here's a picture of the city in modern times.

Philistine and Israelite Territory
The Valley of Sorek served as a natural boundary between Philistine and Israelite territory. But each side wanted to take more land.