The Books of Samuel: A Brief Overview
Written by Yajenlema
The books of Samuel describe Israel’s demand for a king and the origin of a kingdom, in the transition from the time of judges (Eli and Samuel) to the united monarchy (Saul and David). People started losing hope in the judges, because instead of upholding the righteousness of God, judges such as Joel and Abijah, Samuel’s sons, were corrupt and prevented justice. In this quest for establishing an earthly monarch, the people in 1 and 2 Samuel find themselves either being the ones who have power over others or the ones on whom power is exercised.
The books of Samuel are tales of betrayal, war, broken family, lust, revenge, murder, and rejection. But they are also tales of loyalty, hope, love, friendship, restoration, and God’s heart. They are not simply the story of a good king versus a bad king, or the rise and fall of a nation. They are a story about resilience in the midst of hopelessness. They are about people on the periphery and their journey to attain justice.
As we hear from the characters in the books, let us remember that these voices are true even today. We should ask ourselves, “What do we learn about God’s heart? What do we learn from the people on the margins? Can something meaningful be found in broken lives? Where can we find hope, or rather, on whom can we place our hopes?”
Character descriptions below written by Joshua Woodsmith
Hannah was the mother of the prophet Samuel, her firstborn and God’s answer to her prayer for children. Hannah promised to give Samuel to God to be raised in the house of the Lord at Shiloh by the priest Eli. “Hannah’s Song” (1 Sam 2:1-10), which she sings in joyful response to the news that she will bear a child, provides the grounding vision of justice for the Books of Samuel. It will also be the inspiration for the song Mary, the mother of Jesus, will sing many years later, when she learns that the child she is carrying will be called the Son of God.
Many years have now passed since Samuel’s birth, and Hannah’s song of praise to God has become an important part of her family’s story. It will continue to be. Samuel is now the judge of all the tribes of Israel, and a renowned prophet of the Lord, and Hannah, now an old woman, is looking back over a life that she knows is filled with blessing.
The voice you will hear is Youngshin Song.
Saul was the first king of the tribes of Israel, anointed by Samuel the prophet. His reign was marked by continuous battles against Israel’s neighbors, and he struggled to do what the Lord asked of him. After David, a young shepherd, killed Goliath of the Philistines, Saul made David a military commander.
Saul is speaking here after another successful campaign against the Philistines. David’s repeated successes in battle have made him hugely popular with the people, and have begun to make Saul jealous and uncertain of David’s loyalty.
The voice you will hear is La Ronda Barnes.
3. JONATHAN AND MICHAL
The next two monologues are spoken by a brother and sister: Jonathan and Michal.
Jonathan was the oldest son of King Saul, a commander in Israel’s army, and David’s closest friend. The text says Jonathan loved David as he loved his own soul. Michal was King Saul’s second daughter, the sister of Jonathan, and the first wife of David. Saul was frequently plagued by evil spirits, and as he grew more suspicious and paranoid of David’s power and popularity, both Jonathan and Michal were forced to choose between loyalty to their father and loyalty to David. They chose David, which infuriated their father. Jonathan managed to maintain a kind of double life at the palace, helping David secretly on several occasions, but Michal had to face her father’s wrath. After David fled into the wilderness, with Michal’s help, Saul annulled her marriage to David and married her off, instead, to a man named Palti.
In his monologue, Jonathan is speaking the night before he and his sister finally help David escape the palace for good, just after their father’s violence has gone too far.
Michal’s monologue takes place many years after Jonathan’s, when she has been Palti’s wife for quite some time. After years of living separately from her father and brother and life at the palace, she has just learned of the deaths of both Saul and Jonathan on the same day at the hands of the Philistines.
The voices you will hear for Jonathan and Michal are Becca Leland and Nell Herring.
Abigail met David while he was hiding from Saul in the wilderness, with the small army of men—mostly outlaws—who had joined him. David and his band had been eluding Saul for months, and had demanded a protection payment from Abigail’s wealthy husband, Nabal. When Nabal refused, it was up to Abigail to save her household from David’s wrath—and she was a strong woman with intelligence and wit to match David’s.
After Nabal’s death, Abigail became David’s wife and followed him into the wilderness. She is speaking here years later on the day of David’s coronation on Mount Hebron, where he will be named King of all Israel and Judah.
The voice you will hear is Yajenlemla.
5. NATHAN THE PROPHET
Nathan was the prophet through whom God most often spoke directly to David. Nathan was the one who revealed God’s covenant to David’s royal line, and he was the one who confronted David about his adultery with Bathsheba. Or as many interpret it, David’s rape of Bathsheba; he was a man with power who took a woman without it, by force.
Nathan is speaking on the day he learns of the death of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband—and that David is the one who ordered it. David told his commander, Joab, to send Uriah to the front lines of battle where the fighting was fiercest, and then to draw back, so that Uriah would be killed. Nathan is now deliberating about what to do.
The voice you will hear is David Manyara.
Bathsheba was a Jerusalemite woman and the wife of Uriah, an officer in David’s army. David saw her bathing on a roof while the army was at war, and plotted to take her, and then later, to make her his wife.
This monologue is set a year or two after Bathsheba has lost her first child with David—the one she conceived when he forced her to his bedchamber. Nathan the Prophet said the death of that child was David’s punishment for his sin. Here, Bathsheba is cradling her second son, Solomon, and preparing for the future.
The voice you will hear is Onica Stewart.
7. ABSALOM AND TAMAR
The next two monologues are spoken by another brother and sister: Absalom and Tamar.
Absalom was the third son of David, born to Maacah, the daughter of King Talmai of Geshur, across the Jordan River from Israel. Tamar was his sister, and so also the daughter of David and Maacah. Tamar was raped and then rejected by Amnon, Absalom and Tamar’s half-brother, and David’s firstborn son, next in line to the throne. Tamar lived the rest of her days in Absalom’s house. It was for her that Absalom named his daughter, and as revenge for her suffering that he killed Amnon in front of the rest of their brothers. Absalom then went on to incite a rebellion against his father, King David, leading the northern Israelite tribes against the throne in Judah.
In his monologue, Absalom is speaking on the day he learns of his sister Tamar’s rape at the hand of their half-brother, Amnon.
Tamar will speak many years later, on the day she learns of Absalom’s death and the failure of the rebellion.
The voices you will hear for Absalom and Tamar are Becca Leland and Nell Herring.
Joab and his two brothers were nephews of King David, and first joined him when David was hiding from Saul in the wilderness. When David became king, he placed Joab over the entire army of Israel and kept him there, even when Joab made the serious political error of killing Abner, a successful commander from Saul’s army, who had defected to David. Joab did David’s behind-the-scenes work: he frequently killed and had people killed for the king. He also managed to retain his power in the court even after he was officially replaced as commander of the royal army.
Joab is speaking many years after these events, when David is an old man on his death bed, and Solomon has just been crowned the new king. Joab, who did not support Solomon, is anticipating that he is about to be executed for supporting David’s other son, Adonijah.
The voice you will hear is Joshua Woodsmith.
Rizpah was a concubine of Saul and the mother of their two sons, Armoni and Mephibosheth. After Saul’s death, Rizpah’s sons and the five sons of Merab, Saul’s daughter, were the last in the line of Saul—and it cost them their lives. All seven of Rizpah’s and Merab’s sons were handed over to the Gibeonites as payment for blood guilt: war crimes Saul was said to have committed years ago. David was the one who agreed to let them be executed, sparing only Jonathan’s son, because of the covenant between them.
Rizpah is speaking here on the day after King David’s death. She is standing at the tomb of Kish, Saul’s father, where her sons’ remains, as well as the remains of Saul, Jonathan, and the five sons of Merab, are buried.
The voice you will hear is Greta Dunn.
…AND THE DONKEYS.
There are so many striking characters in the books of Samuel, and some of them aren’t human; they’re equine. The donkeys of Kish caught our attention from the first night of class: “Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul’s father, had strayed. So Kish said to his son Saul, ‘Take one of the boys with you; go and look for the donkeys'” (1 Sam 9:3). It seemed to us that those wandering donkeys were the first step in Saul’s anointing and maybe the whole kingship enterprise; God, it appears, can do much with a donkey. We thought of the donkey Solomon would ride into Jerusalem, after his anointing. We thought of the donkey that spoke to Balaam, and the one that carried Mary to Bethlehem, and the one Jesus road into Jerusalem for his triumphal entry: donkeys (and sons-of-donkeys, mules) play key roles in the stories that unfold in Scripture, and they do in the Samuel books, too.
We started to look for them, as we read. And then we started to play them, in rehearsal, and write them into the monologues. Listen for where they show up: the donkeys, we agreed, would be our version of Where’s Waldo? in this audio performance. The Song of Hannah would be the vision of justice that weaves the stories into one. But the donkeys would just keep wandering through one monologue and another.
Because Piglet, Becca’s dog, was such a frequent visitor to class (well, she mostly slept through class), and because her ears were so cooperative as costume wear, we decided to give her the honorary role of the Donkeys-of-Kish. Which we now think of as the Donkeys-of-Piglets-of-Kish.