The Content And Significance Of The Books Of Samuel: Their Place And Purpose Within The Former Prophets -- By: William J. Dumbrell

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 33:1 (Mar 1990)
Article: The Content And Significance Of The Books Of Samuel: Their Place And Purpose Within The Former Prophets
Author: William J. Dumbrell


The Content And Significance Of The Books Of Samuel:
Their Place And Purpose Within The Former Prophets

William J. Dumbrell*

We are not concerned in this paper to assess the relative worth of the many studies made in recent years into the tradition history underlying the final form of 1 and 2 Samuel. We acknowledge the worth of such enterprises and are grateful in many cases for the interpretative insights they have either made themselves or made possible. Our interest, however, lies in the theological contribution finally expressed in the two canonical books as we now have them.1 We ask such questions as these: “What is the point being made by this material? … What is the contribution to the salvation history of Israel that is being advanced by the content of the two books?” In asking questions of this character or reaching decisions about them we are required to read 1 and 2 Samuel in the context of the former prophets in which they occur. The book of Judges had spoken of the apostasy of the Israel of the period of early settlement and yet of Israel’s remarkable preservation. 1 and 2 Kings, which follow Samuel, bring us from the high point of Israel’s political history, the reign of Solomon, to the extinction of political monarchy that resulted in 586 s.c. The books of Samuel outline the rise of Israelite monarchy but, more than that, point to the underlying theological assumptions within which such a political concept as monarchy in Israel could gain point.

The books of Samuel on the one hand provide a natural continuance of the book of Judges. We therefore begin the two books of Samuel with action located at the corrupt shrine of Shiloh, staffed by a degenerate priesthood. The quiet piety of Hannah (1 Samuel 1) provides a fitting contrast to the censured conduct of Eli and his two sons Hophni and Phinehas. We conclude the second book of Samuel on the other hand with the choice and purchase of the temple site by David from Araunah the Jebusite (2 Samuel 24), and we thus end 2 Samuel with the prospect of the building of a permanent shrine in Jerusalem. The total vision that these

* William Dumbrell is dean of graduate studies and lecturer in Biblical studies at Moore College in Newtown, Australia.

two books provide seems therefore to be concerned with a movement of the central sanctuary from Shiloh to Jerusalem, a movement that in itself provides for the reversal of apostate yet formal worship that we see prevailing in 1 Samuel 1–3. Since worship is the official response in the cult...

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