So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron,
and King David made a pact with them in Yahweh’s presence at Hebron,
and they anointed David as king of Israel.
2 Samuel 5:3

In the two Books of Samuel, originally one book, Israel is transformed from a loose federation of tribes to a powerful monarchy. This change is set in motion by Samuel, a prophetic and holy man who anoints the first two kings of Israel: Saul and King David.

Samuel, whose story dominates the first eight chapters of the book, has serious misgivings about establishing a king. He’s worried the people will turn away from their true ruler, God, and will place too much authority in the hands of a human being. But he caves in when God gives him the OK— Israel is getting its butt kicked by the Philistines and needs an earthly ruler who can lead them in battle.

Saul proves to be a great military leader, defeating many of Israel’s enemies, including the Philistines. But his moody, rash temperament eventually does him in. The tide turns when David, Saul’s armor bearer and musician, defeats Goliath— a behemoth Philistine warrior–with a mere slingshot. David quickly becomes the darling of the kingdom and the bane of Saul’s existence. By the end of the first book of Samuel, Saul is dead and David steps up as king.

The second book of Samuel centers on David’s reign. The first eight chapters show how he consolidates power and unites Judah and Israel into a single empire. The latter part of the book is a soap opera tale of David’s dashed hopes as discord within his own family weakens his reign. His troubles begin when he seduces Bathsheba and has her husband murdered. God, mightily displeased with David’s abhorrent behavior, tells him his house will “never be free of the sword”— and it isn’t.

Through all of this storm and stress, God protects and remains faithful to David. Despite his imperfections, David was loyal to God, consulting him at every turn and (mostly) keeping his commandments. This won him God’s favor, as well as God’s promise to make his dynasty endure forever. This promise becomes the basis of future hope for a Messiah, and for Christians it is fulfilled in Jesus.

The Books of Samuel are the fourth and fifth of the Historical Books in the Old Testament. They were written over a long period of time, from the 10th century B.C. to the 5th century B.C.