How to Read 1 and 2 Samuel

Part 1: 1 Samuel


Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application. 

1 and 2 Samuel walk through the rise and fall of the first two kings of Israel. These videos from The Bible Project provide an overview of the books. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the story of 1 and 2 Samuel, discover what it teaches us, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use the questions below as a guide as you watch this first video about 1 Samuel. 




Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the book at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: God heard and answered Hannah’s prayers for a son.


Observe: As you watched the video, what observations did you make about 1 Samuel? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters.)
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Where an observation determines what the book says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the book means. We’ve asked what the book says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) God heard and answered Hannah’s prayers for a son. (Interpretation) God hears and answers our prayers.


Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of 1 Samuel? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes.)
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Contextualization looks at how the book fits into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: Throughout the Bible, the people of God pray to Him. Moses interceded for Israel, David cried out to God, and even Jesus prayed in the garden before His death. Paul also entreated the church to pray continually. 


Contextualize: What themes does 1 Samuel seem to establish? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy), Joshua, and Judges?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this book applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: Since God hears and answers my prayers, I can approach Him with confidence. Even when it seems like my prayers bounce off the ceiling, unheard by God, I can trust that He hears and will answer. His answer may not be what I want or in my timing, but I should still pray in all circumstances—when I buy groceries, share the gospel with a family member, or decide to move to a new city.


Apply: How does the truth from 1 Samuel affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week?
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As you finish this first section on 1 Samuel, thank God for how He’s speaking to you so far. Ask Him to continue to teach you as you dive into the next part of the story in 2 Samuel.


 
Part 2: 2 Samuel


The previous section of this post focused on 1 Samuel. This final session covers what happened after David became king as described in 2 Samuel. As with the last section, the goal of this post is to help you navigate the story of 1 and 2 Samuel, see what it teaches us and how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and, finally, to apply it to our lives. 




Now that you have an overview of  1 and 2 Samuel in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in 1 and 2 Samuel. Read God's covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7:8–16. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about 2 Samuel 7:8–16.  

2 Samuel 7:8-16 (ESV)

8Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel.9 And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.10And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly,11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men,15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Remember that observation asks the basic who, what, where, and when questions. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. 

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about 2 Samuel 7:8–16? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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We've asked what these verses say about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.


Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What do they mean? What is the main message of 2 Samuel 7:8–16? How does it connect with the main message of 1 and 2 Samuel? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 


Contextualize: What themes does 2 Samuel 7:8–16 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of 1 and 2 Samuel? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible?
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Application considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.


Apply: How does the truth from this passage affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some practical ways you can live out the truths found in these verses this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video. 


Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about 1 and 2 Samuel, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through 1 and 2 Samuel this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice.



To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.