As mentioned before, the end of Judges seems to set the stage for the book of Samuel. Judges ends with the tribes of Israel in a state of chaos: facing constant external invasions and even internal battling. The constant refrain at the end of Judges longs for the stability of a future king.
Into this fray steps Samuel. While the first few chapters of 1 Samuel only cover his childhood, Samuel serves as a bridge between the judges and the monarchy. But is life really so cut and dry? Is there room for overlapping stories between these two books?
In his commentary on 1 & 2 Samuel, Peter Leithart argues for precisely this: there is overlap between Eli, Samson, and Samuel. He does this by placing each of the three individuals in the context of the greater conflict between Israel and the Philistines occurring at the time. As Judges 13:1 suggests, this conflict lasted 40 years. Leithart proposes that the 3 separate battles led by these men can fit in this 40 year window.
The main battle under Eli’s leadership is the battle at Aphek (1 Samuel 4), in which the ark is captured and Eli and his sons die. The ark is taken to Ashdod, where it is placed in the temple of Dagon. But a plague affects the town, as well as any other Philistine village the ark was taken. Eventually, the ark was returned to Israel, as described in 1 Samuel 6.
Twenty years after this battle, Samuel leads Israel in a definitive victory over the Philistines. Held close to the site of the last battle, the victory at Ebenezer (1 Samuel 7) signaled the end of Philistine oppression during the leadership of Samuel. And, according to Leithart, this would be the end of the 40 years of Philistine oppression mentioned in Judges 13:1.
The editorial comment in Judges 13:1 introduces the 4 chapters devoted to Samson. He is born during the occupation by the Philistines, and he judges Israel for 20 years (Judges 15:20). His main battle with the Philistines would be at his death, when he collapses the Gaza temple of Dagon on the collective heads of the Philistine leadership (Judges 16:23–31). Leithart argues that, assuming Samson was 18–20 when he began leading Israel, the collapse of the Gaza temple would have been near the end of the Philistine occupation, around year 39. This would place the bulk of Samson’s narrative after the battle of Aphek and before Samuel’s victory at Ebenezer.
This harmony of Judges and 1 Samuel proposed by Peter Leithart is novel, and to my knowledge no commentary on Samuel has engaged with yet. This view does help the reader place these disjointed narratives within the larger context of Israel’s battle with the Philistines. It also introduces a greater narrative of conflict—that between Israel’s God and Dagon, the god of the Philistines. This is a conflict that is introduced in Samson’s story, highlighted in the days of Eli and Samuel, and drawn to a definitive conclusion in the battle between David and Goliath.Tweet