The purpose of the books of 1 and 2 Samuel is to tell the story of the establishment of the kingship covenant with David. When read together, the books of Samuel transition the reader from the period of the judges to the establishment of Israel’s monarchy. The author of the book gives an incredible amount of effort to preserve the fact that David is the true Deuteronomy 17 king for Israel. David is shown to be God’s legitimate choice for the throne, through which a new covenant will be established.
In regards to 1 Samuel, the true theological high point of the work arises in chapter 8. Samuel was David’s precursor. No matter how well he led the people of Israel, acting like a judge, he was not a king. It was this condition that led to the request by the people that Samuel presides over a change in the form of government, from judges to kings. The elders of Israel asked Samuel to appoint for them a king, one that will judge them like all the other nations. This request displeased Samuel greatly. The reader should interpret this request as a signal that the spiritual condition of the people was steeped in paganism and syncretism. In short, the Israelites were not practicing strict monotheism. Samuel approached the Lord but the Lord responded in chapter 8 verse 7, “Listen to all that they people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” Yahweh tells Samuel to give the people what they ask for, but to explain to them what a king will do to them.
Deuteronomy 17: 15-20 outlines God’s requirements for a king. The Lord says that a king should be an Israelite, should not multiply horses for himself, should not multiply wives, should not increase silver and gold, and should write a copy of the Torah for himself in front of the priests. In 1 Samuel 8:10, Samuel describes a king to contradict each of the requirements set forth in Deuteronomy. Even when there was a human king, he was supposed to be only the representative of the divine king. Saul, the man chosen by Samuel to be king over Israel, ultimately is the wrong man for the job. However, God allows the Israelites to live in the hole that they have dug for themselves to refine their faith.
Saul never developed into a man who sought after the Lord, thus he was a failed leader. One major theme of 1 Samuel is the fact that David did not cause Saul’s failure; rather Saul had disqualified himself before David ever came on the scene. Details in 1 Samuel authenticate David as the true king. In the account of Goliath, King Saul chooses to sit out of the battle. David recognizes that a true leader would be with his troops, and also realizes that the battle is not his, but the Lord’s. David trusts in the Lord wholeheartedly, relying on Him to fight his battles.
A modern reader of 1 Samuel should realize that the Lord gives humanity free will, although He knows what is best. He allowed the Israelites to appoint a king, like the pagan nations, and will allow each person to follow their own plans, which may lead to futility. Oftentimes, a person may believe that they know best. The Lord allows people to dwell in the hole that they dig themselves, revealing that they must rely on Him in order to have a fulfilling life. Through this process, the Lord refines the faith of His people. Despite the faults or short comings of humanity, the Lord will pursue his children. This is evidenced by the fact that God appointed David to the throne to return the Ark of the Covenant, and God’s presence, back to Israel. Ultimately, God will lead us to a place where we can have fellowship with Him.