Book Review: The First Book of Samuel, Part III

Tsumura, David Toshio. The First Book of Samuel. NICOT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007. (WTS Book Store)

Part I can be found here.
Part II can be found here.

The final sections of David Tsumura’s introduction deal with the following topics:

V. Grammar and Syntax
VI. Discourse Analysis
VII. Prose and Poetry
VIII. Literary Structure and Themes
IX. Theology of 1 Samuel
X. Purpose of 1 Samuel
XI. Outline of 1 Samuel
XII. Bibliography

Because each of these sections is relatively short (the longest, dealing with Prose and Poetry is eleven pages), I’m going to discuss the topics more thematically than structurally according to his organization. This means that Grammar, Syntax, Discourse Analysis, Prose and Poetry and Literary Structures will be discussed together and then Themes, Theology, and Purpose will be discussed together. I will dispense with a discussion of the outline, though I will give some comments on the Bibliography.

1) Grammatical, Linguistic and Literary Issues:

Tsumura’s discussion of the grammar and syntax in Samuel functions chiefly to make the readers aware of a few of the particular difficulties of the Hebrew text. These include but are not limited to unusual topicalization and the usage of relative clauses within main clauses.

Tsumura’s discussion of discourse analysis is a brief, but helpful six page introduction to a topic that has been particularly helpful in the study of Hebrew narrative. He gives the simply definition, “Discourse analysis is the analysis of linguistic expressions beyond the sentence unit” (49). He points out the challenges of doing discourse analysis in a foreign language, which is caused by a lack of knowledge of pitch and tempo within that language. Tsumura admits the this particular method is rather new as a whole, and even newer in its application to the Biblical text. And this is exactly what makes David Tsumura’s commentary so exciting. This volume is the first commentary to thoroughly apply discourse analysis theory to 1-2 Samuel.

He describes the basic narrative structure of Samuel as containing the following format:


The brackets around “TRANSITION” indicate optionality.

In general, these terms are relatively self-evident as to what they mean. SETTING preliminarily prepares for the EVENT, which is the focal point, ending with the TERMINUS and possibly containing a TRANSITION to the next event.

Each of these sections contain particular linguistic elements to indicate where the SETTING ends and the EVENT begins. For example, Tsumura writes, “The EVENT begins with a verb-initial wayqtl verb, normally with a stated subject (i.e., the subject is not just implied by the verb), and consists of one or more ‘subparagraphs'” (51).

In his discussion of prose and poetry in 1 Samuel, Tsumura’s main point is that often times, it is incredibly difficult to distinguish between prose and poetry in Hebrew. His first subsection here, is entitled, “Vertical Grammar – The Grammar of Parallelism” (55). And anyone who has spent time reading the Old Testament, especially Proverbs and Psalms where parallelism is extremely evident even in English translation, knows that this particular device is pervasive in Hebrew writings. Tsumura’s perspective on parallelism is expressed in two ways, the words, “one through two lines” and also the therm “Vertical Grammar,” a term he has coined in this commentary (57n249).

In the sections, “Discourse Analysis,” “Prose and Poetry,” and “Literary Structures,” Tsumura continues to affirm that each of the methods of analysis and study he has applied to the text have the potential for solving a significant number of problems that exist in the so called corrupt Hebrew text of Samuel.

2) Thematic and Theological Issues:

In his discussion of the themes of 1 Samuel, Tsumura only actually introduces one theme: “The Reversal of Human Fortunes” (68), which begins with Hannah in the very first chapters of the book and continues with Saul and David until the very end.

Theologically, there are three topics Tsumura focuses upon, all of which examine what 1 Samuel says about God himself, that is, the theological themes focus upon Theological Proper. He argues that as early 1 Samuel 2.10, which describe the Lord as the “judge the ends of the earth” in the context of kingship. The Lord is not directly named as king, but the concept, Tsumura argues, is clearly present.

Some may not appreciate the direct quotes of New Testament passages in a commentary on Samuel (though I see it as a positive), but Tsumura begins his second point, “God’s Providential Guidance,” by quoting Romans 8.28. “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (NRSV). This verse, he states, “summarizes well what the author of 1 Samuel means to convey to readers (71). Throughout the book, God clearly guides the lives of Hannah, Samuel, David, and even Saul; his chosen individuals.

“In 2 Samuel 7, Yahweh, King of the Universe, promises David to establish David’s house that is, his dynasty, as eternal. Thus, this promise to, or “covenant” with, David was a turning point in the outworking of god’s saving purposes. Matt. 1:1 in fact summarizes God’s whole plan of salvation, placing David at the middle point, as follows: An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. (NRSV)” (71).

Finally, with regard to theology, Tsumura point out the emphasis in the book on God’s sovereign will and power, “the God of true knowledge” (1 Sam. 2.3b, 71). Tsumura observes that at times God’s will might appear to change from a human vantage point, but as 1 Samuel 15.29 states, “God does not change his mid, for is not not a man that he should change his mind.”

To be sure, the Lord as the sovereign deity may change his way of dealing with individuals according to his plan and purpose. But his decision is always just and right; at the same time, he is merciful and gracious to sinful human beings (72).

For this reason, obedience is the essential human response to God.

Tsumura concludes his discussion of theology in 1 Samuel informing his readers that they will have to wait until the introduction to volume 2 on 2 Samuel to hear his thoughts on the Messianic promise (73).

The purpose of 1 Samuel is to highlight the establishment of the monarchy in Israel and then the preparation of David to sit on the throne. This is because technically, Saul only reigned as king for two years. He may have sat on the throne for the rest of his life, but his kingship was void. He was no longer “the vice-regent of Yahweh, the King of the Universe” (73).

3) Bibliography:

Tsumura’s “Select Bibliography” covers 18 pages and contains for the most part recent works, though there are several older, “classic” works on Samuel, such as Driver’s Notes on the Hebrew Text of Samuel from 1913 and M. S. Smith’s ICC volume on Samuel. Less than surprising is the fact that, Tsumura, an established scholar of Ugarit, list no works by Dahood at all. I was impress that he was also able to cite himself eight times in his select bibliography.


Overall, I’m quite excited by this volume and look forward to the second. Tsumura’s proposition that much of the difficulty in the text of Samuel is a result of the fact that Samuel is an aural text to be heard rather than read is intriguing. It will be interesting to see how his thesis and use of textual criticism in Samuel is accepted in the coming years. Tsumura offers innovating solutions to challenging problems in Samuel.

I also appreciate his sensitivity to the New Testament, without reading NT meaning into the text, but rather observing the outcomes of Samuel’s themes and theology impacting the revelation to come in Jesus Christ year later.

This is an excellent commentary worth owning and a worthy addition to the NICOT series, which has had a number of excellent volumes in recent years: Block on Ezekiel, Waltke on Proverbs, and Longman on Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: The First Book of Samuel, Part III

  1. Hallow Dear in Jesus christ. congration for good job you request to you is that i want to ask you to help to know the theologica themes of the 1nd 2samuel and the aplication of to day.
    thanks i wish you in Jesus christ.

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