Not much, Shmoopers. Samuel's one of the central figures of the story, and much of the beginning of this book focuses on his perspective.
So who is this Samuel guy? Well, for the full rundown, you should definitely check out his Character Analysis. But for now, we'll just tell you that he's a super famous Israelite who was a priest, prophet, and judge. In fact, he's the last judge in Israelite history.
Although Samuel plays an intricate role in Israelite history, he's not the major player of the book. We believe that award goes to the once shepherd and future king David.
"But Shmoop, why is the book named after Samuel?" you ask. "Great question!" say we.
Our guess is that while David is the main player, no one can argue that without Samuel, the book wouldn't exist and David would never be king. See, he's the one who's charged by the Israelites and their God to find their kingdom a king. And he's got advice, insight, and prophecies that shape key events throughout the book. If that doesn't give him title credit, we don't know what does.
Like the majority of the Bible, 1 Samuel takes place in the kingdom of Israel. First called Canaan, Israel is the land of Abraham. Long story short, Abraham's descendants (Jacob and sons) moved out of Canaan, decided they wanted back in (thanks Moses) and came back. After some conquest (thanks Joshua), the Hebrews settled themselves into Canaan, eventually renaming it Israel after Jacob.
When we first start reading 1 Samuel, Israel is not a united country. The twelve tribes that make up the kingdom of Israel are divided and leaderless. They cry out to Samuel to anoint a king to unite everyone together. First comes Saul, but he stinks, so here comes David. Does he unite the kingdom?
Well, you'll have to read 2 Samuel to find out. But what's important here is that Israel needs a good king. It's a place that needs a leader more than it needs anything else. That sets the scene for David's meteoric rise to power, because we watch him, time and again, gain followers through his charisma and faith. By the time the end of 1 Samuel rolls around, the stage is set for David to take the throne and unite the twelve tribes of Israel once and for all.
The Israelites had very strict rules for making any images that looked like God. If you've read the Ten Commandments, then you know that this is one of the very first rules. The Israelites were totally against statues of gods and they definitely weren't going to make an image of their God. False Idols = Very Bad.
And yet. They had a symbol that represented their God. And that symbol was the Ark.
This man-made symbol of Indiana Jones fame is called the Ark of the Covenant. If you want to know what it looked like, check out this picture or read Exodus 25. The Ark was made of gold and had cherubim adorning it. Fun fact: most people think of cherubim as the fat baby angels, but they're usually represented as a lion or bull with eagle's wings and a human face. Here's hoping you don't find one of those in the crib.
In 1 Samuel 4, the Israelites take the Ark into battle against the Philistines. The Ark represents the fact that God is with them, but apparently not too much because the Philistines defeat the Israelites and take the Ark for themselves. The joke's on them though because they eventually have to return it to Israel after it causes… ahem… uncomfortable medical problems.
1 Samuel 15:27-28 contains a cute little parable meant to show that God has taken the kingdom from Saul.
Here's the lowdown. In this chapter, Saul disobeys God. Well, if we're being honest, Saul disobeys God in almost every chapter, but we're just trying to prove a point here. Saul was supposed to completely wipe out the Amalekites and their animals, however, he chose to let their king and their animals live.
Why you ask? Because he's Saul.
The prophet Samuel is very angry with Saul for his rebellion. Samuel's all like "how dare you let things be alive?" and Saul's all like "Ah c'mon man, be cool!" Samuel is so infuriated, he drops the word bomb and tells Saul that God has rejected him from being king.
When Samuel turns to leave, Saul grabs a part of his robe and a piece tears off. Samuel tells Saul that this is an example of how God has taken the kingdom from him and given it to someone else. The kingdom has been torn away from Saul just like the piece of robe has been torn away from Samuel.
Torn robes have a great significance in the Bible. Although it might not seem like a big deal, there's a longstanding tradition of broken clothes as a symbol of mourning and loss. Here's a small rundown in case you want to do some connecting the dots:
• Reuben tears apart his clothes when Joseph is not in the pit (Genesis 37:29)
• King David mourns for Abner (2 Samuel 3:31)
• The prophet's robe is torn into twelve pieces, representing the divide of the kingdom from Solomon (1 Kings 11:29-35)
• The high priest Caiaphas rips his robes at the blasphemy of Jesus (Matthew 26:62-65)
• Paul and Barnabas tear their robes as a sign of protest against the pagans (Acts 14:11-15)
BOY: I've come here to fight you.
GIANT: Ha, I laugh at you. Ha.
BOY: Come at me, bro.
The giant charges at the boy. Quick as lightning, the boy loads the sling hidden behind his back and whips a stone right into the giant's skull. The behemoth falls down dead.
That was our really short version of the battle between David and Goliath. We're awaiting our Pulitzer Prize thank you very much.
Whether you're familiar with the biblical canon or not, the tale of the underdog against the unstoppable foe is one that resonates throughout the Big Book. Whether the hero is against a person, nature, or himself, we always root for the underdog. There's something undeniably fulfilling about the weak conquering the strong. In the tradition of Noah, Moses, and Joshua, David conquers the Big Bad Goliath through faith, reason, and a little bit of trickery.
In the context of 1 Samuel, David defeating Goliath isn't just about the shepherd and the giant. This story is also parallels the soon-to-occur battle between Saul and David. The Bible states when we first meet Saul that he is head and shoulders taller than all the other Israelites (9:1-2). How interesting that David faces two giants on his journey to become king. Maybe what the story of David is trying to show us is that there will always be giants after us. To win, we must stand tall ourselves, resolved to not back down in the face of fear. Hey, it worked for David twice, right?
Although it could be easy to pass the story told in 1 Samuel as "R," we've seen plenty of violent movies get slapped with a good old PG-13. If you're looking for action, intrigue, and a hero whose charm and chivalry know no bounds, then this would be the story for you. Although the constant battles and attempted murders might be a lot on the little ones, teenagers and up can enjoy this story no problem. Just mind the blood. There's a lot of it out there.
Barren Women of the Bible
Hannah is one of many women in the Bible who cannot have children. Abraham's wife Sarah eventually has a child when she is very old. Isaac prays for his wife Rebekah to have children, and she has twins. The story of Hannah and her rival Peninnah is most like the story of Jacob's wives, Rachel and Leah (1:1-6).
There Be Dagon
Dagon was a Philistine deity. A city called Beth-Dagon is mentioned in Joshua 19:27. In Judges 16:23, the Philistines credit Dagon with helping them to defeat Samson. I Chronicles 10:10 repeats the story of the Philistines placing the head of the Israelite King Saul in the temple of Dagon in I Samuel 5. Dagon proves to be no match for Yahweh, the God of Israel (I Samuel 5).
The Philistines have heard about the plagues that God brought on the Egyptians in Exodus 9-11 (I Samuel 6).
In I Samuel 8, the Israelites ask Samuel for a king. He warns them of the consequences. The king will take their sons and their daughters to serve him. He will also take their fields and vineyards. Deuteronomy 17:14-20 tries to restrict the king of Israel from becoming too wealthy. The passage may be thinking about King Solomon who will have lots of wealth and many wives.
Spirit Is as Spirit Does
In 1 Samuel 11:6, Saul is empowered by the spirit of the Lord. The same thing happens to David in I Samuel 16:13-14. This also happens to most of the leaders in the book of Judges.
In Exodus 17, the Amalekites fought against the Israelites. In I Samuel 15, the Lord tells Saul to wipe out the Amalekites. We're guessing God doesn't like them too much.
In 1 Samuel 15:27-28, Saul tears Samuel's robe. The piece of torn robe symbolizes the fact that the kingdom has been torn away from Saul. In I Kings 11:29-32, we have a similar story. A prophet tears his robe in pieces to show that the kingdom of Israel will be divided. For more, see Torn Robes in "Symbols, Imagery, and Allegory."
Other Biblical References
Ah, the famous sculpture of David in all his naked glory. And yes, a ninja turtle was named after the sculptor.
This one's another naked statue of David—and even more famous than the last. Oh, and this sculptor also had a ninja turtle named after him.
This David is clothed, for once. And alas, there's no Teenage Mutant Ninja Bernini.
Did David really kill Goliath or did someone else? This book offers an interesting take on the legend of David.
David discusses his flaws.
David and Goliath
This nonfiction book by Malcolm Gladwell invites the reader to challenge the way we look at obstacles, beginning with the story of David and Goliath.
King David: A Biography
Does David protest too much about not killing Saul?
King David: The Real Life of the Man Who Ruled Israel
The title almost makes it sound like the author got an interview with the real David.
David's Secret Demons
Is David a messiah, murderer, traitor, or king? All of the above?
Your mom's favorite '80s romantic hero Richard Gere portrayed the warrior king in this 1985 film.
The Story of David
This 1976 TV movie tells the story of David in a rousing 191 minutes.
This TV miniseries focused on a lot besides David, but he's in there somewhere.
This modern oratorio features songs by Tim Rice and Alan Menken, two of the big names behind most of your favorite Disney music.
This 2009 NBC series was a modern retelling of the classic story. With Ian McShane as the maybe-crazy Saul. Need we say more?
The PBS classic Wishbone episode entitled "Little Big Dog" featured David's battle with Goliath.
Xena: Warrior Princess
The season 2 episode entitled "Giant Killer" featured David and Goliath because why not?