Matthew Poole on 1 Samuel

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You are cordially invited to join us, as we work through these precious pages of Sacred Writ.


What do you mean by Sacred Writ? If you are referring to Poole I would rephrase that. He is valuable but to put him on par with Sacred Writ is a bit of an over exaggeration. Just my humble opinion. It just sounds strange to my 21st century ear.

I actually think better of you and think you mean the scriptures. At the same time your invite is to work through Poole's studies on the Sacred Writ.
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Sorry. Yes, you are right: The "pages of Sacred Writ" is a reference to the pages of 1 Samuel.
I am beginning a translation of Matthew Poole's "Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters" (a verse-by-verse history of interpretation) on the Book of 1 Samuel.

It might be helpful to get acquainted with Matthew Poole (

Now, about Poole's "Synopsis"...

Matthew Poole’s Synopsis Criticorum (Synopsis of Interpreters) is nothing less than a verse-by-verse summary of the history of interpretation. Poole covers the entire gamut: the old Jewish doctors, the early Church Fathers, Medieval Rabbis, Reformation-era Romanists, Lutherans, and the Reformed. But this raises a question: Why should I exert so much effort in the study of the history of interpretation?

It seems that many in Evangelicalism have adopted the “me-and-my Bible” approach to the study of the Word of God. The general idea seems to be that, if I spend time reading my Bible, the Spirit of God will help me to interpret it correctly. I am not in need of the help of human teachers. Consequently, the preaching of the Word of God is held in little regard (a mere formality) and the great commentary books are largely neglected. Ironically, this is not a Biblical approach to the study of the Scriptures. God has super-abounded to His people in blessing them with the Word and the Spirit, blessings surpassing sublimity. But God has also blessed His people with faithful preachers and teachers, and that in all ages.

Under the Mosaic administration, the priests and Levites were set apart to teach God’s people. This was their commission and charge from the Lord; Deuteronomy 33:10a: “They shall teach Jacob thy judgments, and Israel thy law.” During the time of Malachi, the priests had been unfaithful in this their sacred charge; but their duty remained the same. Malachi 2:7: “For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.” There are actually two duties here expressed: 1. the priest’s duty, his lips should preserve and dispense the knowledge of the Law of God; 2. the people’s duty, they should seek instruction in the Law from the priest’s mouth. So, we see that God set apart teachers and instructed the people to have recourse unto them to the end that they might learn the Scriptures.

This situation has not changed under the new administration. We find the Lord Jesus Himself and His apostles preaching and teaching. This was the charge given to the apostles and to all of those succeeding them in the teaching office until the end of the world. Matthew 28:18-20: “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” It is not surprising then to find Paul, as He discusses the gifts that the ascended Christ has given to His Church, focusing upon the teaching offices. Ephesians 4:11-13: “And he [the ascended Christ] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ…” Three of these teaching offices were extraordinary for that first age of the Church, namely, apostles, prophets, and evangelists; but the offices of the pastor and teacher continue and will continue “till we all come in the unity of the faith…unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Here, the Church is likened unto a man advancing from infancy unto maturity. Pastors and teachers have a God-ordained role in pressing the Church forward in growth. This process will not be complete until the Church is perfected by Christ at His return.

What does this have to do with the study of the history of interpretation and reading Poole’s Synopsis? Everything. Poole’s Synopsis is a verse-by-verse record of what these teachers, the gift of our ascended Lord, believed and taught. It only remains for us tolle, lege, to take up and read.

If there is to be another Reformation of the doctrine and practice of the Church, and a spiritual revival in the hearts of God’s people, there must first be an increase in Biblical knowledge, the means by which these things are accomplished. It is our hope and prayer that many Christians, longing for Reformation, revival, and greater intimacy with the Lord Jesus, will join us in the study of the Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, with the learned Matthew Poole as our guide through the history of interpretation. (The reader should be able to keep up with only a little reading each day.)
Let's jump into this study of 1 Samuel...

Jonathan Edwards' "Prayer-hearing God": 'He sometimes manifests his acceptance of their prayers, by special discoveries of his mercy and sufficiency, which he makes to them in prayer, or immediately after. While they are praying, he gives them sweet views of his glorious grace, purity, sufficiency, and sovereignty; and enables them, with great quietness, to rest in him, to leave themselves and their prayers with him, submitting to his will, and trusting in his grace and faithfulness. Such a manifestation God seems to have made of himself in prayer to Hannah, which quieted and composed her mind, and took away her sadness. We read (1 Samuel 1) how earnest she was, and how exercised in her mind, and that she was a woman of a sorrowful spirit. But she came and poured out her soul before God, and spake out of the abundance of her complaint and grief; then we read, that she went away, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad, 1 Samuel 1:18, which seems to have been from some refreshing discoveries which God had made of himself to her, to enable her quietly to submit to his will, and trust in his mercy, whereby God manifested his acceptance of her.—Not that I conclude persons can hence argue, that the particular thing which they ask will certainly be given them, or that they can particularly foretell from it what God will do in answer to their prayers, any further than he has promised in his word; yet God may, and doubtless does, thus testify his acceptance of their prayers, and from hence they may confidently rest in his providence, in his merciful ordering and disposing, with respect to the thing which they ask.—Again, God manifests his acceptance of their prayers, by doing for them agreeably to their needs and supplications. He not only inwardly and spiritually discovers his mercy to their souls by his Spirit, but outwardly by dealing mercifully with them in his providence, in consequence of their prayers, and by causing an agreeableness between his providence and their prayers'
I am beginning a translation of Matthew Poole's "Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters"

As a historical side note, I've always wondered why Poole didn't take the opportunity to incorporate any of Luther's and relatively little of Calvin's or other Reformed divines' work in his Synopsis, which was an update and expansion (in terms of included authors) of the earlier Critici sacri. Any idea why?
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As a historical side note, I've always wondered why Poole didn't take the opportunity to incorporate any of Luther's and relatively little of Calvin's or other Reformed divines' work in his Synopsis, which was an update and expansion (in terms of included authors) of the earlier Critici sacri. Any idea why?
In the Preface to the Synopsis, Poole expressly addresses why he did not refer much to Calvin. Two reasons: 1. Calvin had already been thoroughly digested by interpreters that are included in the Synopsis (so Calvin is usually only mentioned by name, if his view was unique in some way). 2. Calvin is more of a "practical" than a "critical" interpreter. I suppose these thoughts could serve equally well for Luther.

Poole does incorporate Reformed expositors. In portions of Scripture upon which the Reformed commented much, they are incorporated much; on portions that received less in the way of comment, they receive less treatment. So, for example, you will see the incorporation of more Reformed expositors in Genesis than in 1 Samuel.
Fisher's Catechism: 'Q. 72.8. What is Polygamy?

A. It is the having more wives or husbands than one at the same time, Malachi 2:14.

Q. 72.9. Is this a sin contrary to the law of nature?

A. Yes; for it is contrary to the first institution of marriage; God having created but one woman, as a help meet for man; Genesis 2:22-25, compared with Matthew 19:5-6.

Q. 72.10. Is it a sin prohibited in scripture?

A. Yes; Leviticus 18:18: "Thou shalt not take a wife to her sister, to vex her—in her lifetime."

Q. 72.11. What is the meaning of taking a wife to her sister?

A. The meaning is, (according to the marginal reading,) Thou shalt not take one wife to another; that is, thou shalt not have more wives than one at a time.

Q. 72.12. But may not this be a prohibition of incest, namely, of marrying the wife's sister?

A. No; because it is said, Thou shalt not do it in her lifetime; whereas it would be incestuous in a man to marry his sister-in-law, after his wife's death, as well as to do it in her lifetime; so that the meaning is, Thou shalt not take another wife to her whom thou hast married, by which means they would become sisters.

Q. 72.13. Who was the first polygamist we read of in scripture?

A. Lamech, of the posterity of Cain, who had two wives. Genesis 4:19.

Q. 72.14. Were not several of the godly likewise guilty in this matter, as Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon, and others?

A. Yes; but though these and other bad actions of good men are recorded in scripture, they are not approved of, nor proposed for our imitation; but rather set up as beacons, to prevent our making shipwreck on the same rocks.

Q. 72.15. Has not God even testified his displeasure at the sin of polygamy, in the godly, though we do not read of his reproving them for it in express words?

A. Yes: he has testified his displeasure in the course of his providence, by the emulations, quarrels, and disturbances, that were thus occasioned in their families; as in the instances of Sarah and Hagar, in Abraham's family, Genesis 21:10-11; of Leah and Rachel, in Jacob's, Genesis 30:1,15; and of Hannah and Peninnah, in Elkanah's family, 1 Samuel 1:6.

Q. 72.16. Does not God seem to approve of polygamy, when he says to David, "I gave thee thy master's wives into thy bosom?" 2 Samuel 12:8.

A. It being the custom of those times, for succeeding kings to take possession of all that belonged to their predecessors, the meaning is, I have made thee king, in room of Saul, and have given thee the property of all that appertained to him: but we do not read of David taking any of Saul's wives into his bed.'
George Swinnock's The Christian Man's Calling: '"The Lord grant," saith Naomi, "that each of you may find rest in the house of her husband," Ruth 1:9. Rest, not rigour; courtesy, not cruelty; a competent maintenance, not a niggardly allowance, is expected in the house of a husband. Whilst thou livest, let her maintenance be according to thy wealth. Thou wilt not, possibly, under-keep thy cattle, and why shouldst thou under-keep thy wife? When thou diest, let her be left so that she may live like thy wife; and do not, as one saith, beat her when thou art dead, by causing her, through thy churlishness, to want, or to hang upon the cradle. Jesus Christ gave his church his own flesh, rather than she should want food, and his own robes, rather than she should want raiment. Surely that head, husband, wants wit, that suffereth the body, his wife, to go hungry or naked. Christ took great care of his spouse when he was dying; then his love shewed itself in all his colours. Friends at parting shew most kindness. The love of a husband to his wife must outlast this life. He must not, when dying, so much remember that he is a father, as to forget that he is a husband, but mind the root before the branches.

In all her troubles thy duty is to be tender of her. When Hannah was perplexed for her want of children, how affectionately doth Peninnah persuade her: "Why weepest thou? Why is thine heart troubled? Am not I better to thee than ten sons?" 1 Samuel 1:8. So be thou her comfort, not as many are, her corrosive.'
Thomas Boston's Doctrines of the Christian Religion: 'Be much exercised in religious duties. Go often to your knees, and pour out your hearts before the Lord, and tell him all your wants. This gave Hannah a sweet ease, 1 Samuel 1:18. Go often to your Bibles, and hear the good news there from the far country, that is above the clouds, where there is neither cloud nor rain, Psalm 73:16-17, and 119:92. There are springs of consolation there, which a person never tastes of, till he be brought into the condition for which they were placed there.'
Matthew Henry: 'Here is...The return of Elkanah and his family to their own habitation, when the days appointed for the feast were over, 1 Sam 1:19. Observe how they improved their time at the tabernacle. Every day they were there, even that which was fixed for their journey home, they worshipped God; and they rose up early to do it. It is good to begin the day with God. Let him that is the first have the first. They had a journey before them, and a family of children to take with them, and yet they would not stir till they had worshipped God together. Prayer and provender do not hinder a journey. They had spent several days now in religious worship, and yet they attended once more. We should not be weary of well-doing.'
The Birth of Samuel

Robert Hawker's Poor Man's Portion: '"She bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, because I have asked him of the Lord."—1 Samuel 1:20

It is really both blessed and profitable to observe, how holy men of old made memorandums of the Lord's kind dealings with them, as well in providence as grace, by way of preserving alive a due sense of divine mercies upon their souls. A night or two since, the evening portion remarked a beautiful instance of this sort in the case of Hagar: and in the scripture I have brought forth for our present meditation, is another, equally beautiful in the instance of Hannah. In the former, the memorial was set up to perpetuate the place of the Lord's graciousness; in this latter, the dedication is of the person concerning whom divine favour was shewn. But in both, the design is one and the same, to glorify God. I pause by the way, to remark, how much to be lamented it is, that this truly scriptural and pious custom is so little followed by Christians, and even believing Christians too in the present hour. What a number of unscriptural, and frequently heathenish names, are now given to children of parents professing the great truths of the gospel? Whereas, with those early followers of the Lord, they called their children by somewhat that should be always significant of divine mercies. So that, whenever their children were at any time called upon, or looked to, the very name might bring to remembrance past blessings, and refresh their souls in the recollection of the mercies which occasioned them. This instance of Hannah is beautifully in point, by way of illustration: she called him Samuel, which signifies, "asked of the Lord." For we find in her history, with what earnestness she sought a child from the Lord. Hence, therefore, we may suppose, upon numberless occasions, in after-days, whenever she heard her Samuel mentioned, or she called him herself, the soul of Hannah went forth in faith, and love, and praise, to the Author and Giver of this blessing. And it is but reasonable to suppose, that if the name reminded the mother of her mercy, and she called her son by this name purposely, that she might remember the Lord in his bounty; no doubt, she was not forgetful to instruct her Samuel also in the same thing. We may, indeed, conclude that Hannah betimes made Samuel acquainted with the cause of his name. And from the sequel of the prophet's history, we find that he who was a child of prayer, and asked of the Lord, was a servant to his praise, and given to the Lord. Reader! methinks it is blessed, it is gracious, and sure I am it is right, thus to keep up intercourse with heaven. You and I have our Samuels; I mean our asked blessings, whether in children, or in other providences. Oh! for grace, while receiving mercies, to make those mercies the memorandums of the great Giver! If what we ask from God in prayer, we give back again to God in praise, and in the stream of creature enjoyments, find a tenfold relish in them, from living upon the Creator fulness; then we shall find cause to call many a blessing Samuel, because "it hath been asked," and often given unasked, of the Lord.'
God is greatly glorified in the swearing of lawful oaths and vows. He is called upon as the alone omniscient One, to judge of the sincerity of our hearts. He is called upon as the alone omnipotent One, to reward faithfulness and punish infidelity, even when no other power can.

Having glorified the Lord in the swearing, let us be sure to pay.

What Hannah does here could not have been easy...
Oh Lord! visit our children with saving grace...

Matthew Henry: 'The child Samuel did his part beyond what could have been expected from one of his years; for of him that seems to be spoken, He worshipped the Lord there, that is he said his prayers. He was no doubt extraordinarily forward (we have known children that have discovered some sense of religion very young), and his mother, designing him for the sanctuary, took particular care to train him up to that which was to be his work in the sanctuary. Note, Little children should learn betimes to worship God. Their parents should instruct them in his worship and bring them to it, put them upon engaging in it as well as they can, and God will graciously accept them and teach them to do better.''

Poole on 1 Samuel 1:26-28.
Life in a fallen world is dangerous.

Happily, as Christians we have a rock of strength and safety in our God!

George Swinnock's Incomparableness of God: 'The power of God hath no fellow, no parallel. There is no rock, i.e., no strength, rocks being strong natural fortifications; vide 1 Samuel 14:4; Judges 6:16, like our God, 1 Samuel 2:2.'

Poole on 1 Samuel 2:2.
As Christians in a fallen world, we will certainly come into conflict with enemies: the world, Satanic powers, and even our own sin.

We can also expect the mouths of our adversaries to be filled with lies, slander, and hate (not an easy thing to face).

Let us persevere, knowing that ultimately the Lord close the ravenous mouths of our adversaries, and shut lying lips...delivering us unto peace and felicity forever in His presence!

Poole on 1 Samuel 2:3.
Poole on 1 Samuel 2:5.

As the world begins to feel the economic impact of the Corona virus, the words of Matthew Henry are worthy of consideration by the children of the Most High: 'The rich are soon impoverished and the poor strangely enriched on a sudden, 1 Samuel 2:5. Providence sometimes does so blast men's estates and cross their endeavours, and with a fire not blown consume their increase, that those who were full (their barns full, and their bags full, their houses full of good things, Job 22:18, and their bellies full of these hidden treasures, Psalm 17:14) have been reduced to such straits and extremities as to want the necessary supports of life, and to hire out themselves for bread, and they must dig, since to beg they are ashamed. Riches flee away (Proverbs 23:5), and leave those miserable who, when they had them, placed their happiness in them. To those that have been full and free poverty must needs be doubly grievous. But, on the other hand, sometimes Providence so orders it that those who are hungry cease, that is, cease to hire out themselves for bread as they have done. Having, by God's blessing on their industry, got beforehand in the world, and enough to live upon at ease, they shall hunger no more, not thirst any more. This is not to be ascribed to fortune, nor merely to men's wisdom or folly. Riches are not to men of understanding, nor favour to men of skill (Ecclesiastes 9:11), nor is it always men's own fault that they become poor, but (1 Samuel 2:7) the Lord maketh some poor and maketh others rich; the impoverishing of one is the enriching of another, and it is God's doing. To some he gives power to get wealth, from others he takes away power to keep the wealth they have. Are we poor? God made us poor, which is a good reason why we should be content, and reconcile ourselves to our condition. Are we rich? God made us rich, which is a good reason why we should be thankful, and serve him cheerfully in the abundance of good things he gives us. It may be understood of the same person; those that were rich God makes poor, and after awhile makes rich again, as Job; he gave, he takes away, and then gives again. Let not the rich be proud and secure, for God can soon make them poor; let not the poor despond and despair, for God can in due time enrich them again.'
"Never waste an affliction. If we can come out of the fires of affliction with a little less spiritual dross, and a little more spiritual gold, it will have been worth it:" Philip Henry.

Henry Scudder's Christian's Daily Walk: 'Consider well, that whatsoever the trouble and cross be, and whosoever be the instrument of it, either in the sense of evil, or in the want of good promised, it comes from God your Father, (1.) Who does all things according to the wisdom and counsel of his own will; (2.) Who doth afflict with most tender affection; (3.) Who corrects and afflicts in measure; (4.) Who has always holy purposes and ends in all afflictions, directing them for your good.

1. Consider that it was God who did it. There is no evil, that is of punishment, in a city, which the Lord has not done, saith Amos, Amos 3:6; 2 Samuel 16:10.—It is the Lord, let him do what seems him good, saith Eli, 1 Samuel 3:18. I opened not my mouth, saith David, because thou, Lord, didst it, Psalm 39:9. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord, saith Job 1:21; Hosea 6:1; 1 Samuel 2:6-7.

2. All this God does to his children with a fatherly affection, in much love and pity, Hebrews 12:5-6. He has your soul still in remembrance, while you are in adversity, Psalm 31:7. Yea, he bears some part of the burden with you: for, speaking after the manner of man, he saith, that in all the afflictions of his children he is afflicted, Isaiah 63:9. He delights not in afflicting the children of men, Lamentations 3:33, much less his own children.If you ask, Why then does he afflict, or why does he not ease you speedily? I ask you, why a tender-hearted father, being a surgeon, who is grieved and troubled at the pain and anguish, which he himself causes his child to feel by necessary operation, does notwithstanding apply the burning irons, and suffer those plasters to afflict him for a long time? You will say, Sure the wound or malady of the child required it, and that else it could not be cured. This is the case between God and you: God's heart is tender, and yearns towards you, when his hand is upon you: therefore bear it patiently.

3. God afflicts you in measure, Isaiah 27:8; fitting your affliction for kind, time, and weight, according to the strength of grace which he has already given you, or which certainly he will bestow upon you. He does never lay more upon you, than what you shall be able to bear, 1 Corinthians 10:13, and will always with the cross and temptation, make a way to escape. The husbandman will not always be ploughing, Isaiah 23:24-25, and harrowing of his ground, but only gives it so much as it hath need of, or as the nature or situation of the soil requires. So likewise he threshes his divers sorts of grain, with divers instruments, according as the grain can endure them: the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is the cart-wheel turned about upon the cummin: bread-corn is bruised, because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen, Isaiah 28:26-28. If the husbandman do all this by the discretion wherewith God has instructed him; can you think that God, who is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working, Isaiah 28:29, will plough and harrow any of his ground, or thresh any of his corn, above that which is fit, and more than his ground and corn can bear? Should not his ground and corn therefore be patient at such tillage, and at such threshing?

4. God's end in afflicting, is always his own glory in your good; as, to humble you, and to bring you to a sight of your sin, to break up the fallow ground of your heart, that you may sow in righteousness and reap in mercy, Hosea 10:12, to harrow you, that the seed of grace may take root in you. All God's afflictions are to remove impediments of grace. By this, saith Isaiah, shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged, and this is all the fruit, to take away his sin, Isaiah 27:9. All the ploughing is but to kill weeds, and to fit the ground for seed; all the threshing and winnowing is but to sever the chaff from the corn; and all the grinding and bolting by afflictions, is but to sever the bran from the flour, that God's people may be a pure offering, acceptable to him, Isaiah 66:20. Or else he afflicts, that his children might have experience of his love and power in preserving and delivering them, or that they might have the exercise, proof, and increase of faith, hope, Romans 5:4, love, and other principal graces, which serve for the beautifying and perfecting of a Christian. God does judge his children here, 1 Corinthians 11:32, that they may repent, and be reformed, that they may not be condemned with the world. God's end in chastening you, will be found to be always for your good, that you shall be able to say, It was good for me to be afflicted, Psalm 119:67,71. For it is that you may be partakers of his holiness, Hebrews 12:10-11, and accordingly of his glory and happiness. Bear therefore all afflictions patiently, for they are for your good.'
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