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Samuel (Prophet)

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This article is about the prophet Samuel. You may be looking for the books of First or Second Samuel.

Samuel was a judge and prophet of God who led Israel for over forty years. Samuel also anointed the first king of Israel, Saul, and his successor David. Samuel possibly wrote the books of Judges, Ruth,and large portions of First Samuel.

Born as the answer to the prayers of his mother, his name reflected this. The name Samuel means "God has heard." A Nazarite from birth, Samuel began service as a young child under the tutelage of the high priest Eli at an early structure at Shiloh which served as the temple in those days.

By the time Eli had died, Samuel had already begun his career as a judge over the land. He worked a large circuit which included Bethel, Gilgal and Mizpeh. In his later years he anointed his sons to judge in the far south, on the boarder at Beer-Sheba.

When his sons, Joel and Abiah, proved to be corrupt judges, the people of Israel demanded a king. Against Samuel's wishes, he followed the direction of the LORD and anointed Saul to be king. When Saul failed to live up to the standard that God had included in the Law, a new king was chosen--a man not even alive when Saul began his forty year reign. This man was anointed to be the next king years before Saul died in battle. That man was David, son of Jesse.

Samuel died sometime during Saul's years of pursuing David, but the disgraced king would see the old prophet one more time. When the king found that he could no longer talk to God--he had killed the priesthood, leaving only one, who was with David--he sought out a spiritist, a witch at Endor. To her surprise, apparently, the witch was able to call up the ghost of Samuel. At that point Samuel informed Saul that he would die the next day.

Biography

Background

For centuries, the people of Israel had been a theocracy, ruled by judges who served as saviors of the people after times of oppression. The judge and high priest in these days was a man named Eli. After Samson had killed most of their leadership[1], the Philistines had begun to once again oppress the tribes of the south.

Early life

Samuel (Heb: Received from God) was the son of Elkanah and his wife Hannah in the town of Ramah. It had happened that Elkanah, a Levite, had taken a second wife when Hannah had been found to be barren[2]. This wife, named Peninnah, bore children and made Hannah's life miserable with her taunting[3].

Despite her husband's reassurance of his love, Hannah begged God for a child when she visited the tabernacle. She had been so timid in her public prayer that she only moved her lips, leaving the impression that she might be drunk. When she explained to Eli, he assured her that God would hear her prayers[4].

Samuel was conceived soon after this, and Hannah fulfilled her vow to God that the child would be a Nazarite from birth. Additionally, she sent word to Eli that Samuel would be dedicated to service to God--beginning as a young child in the tabernacle[5]. In the following years, as Samuel grew, his mother would bring him a new robe, reinforcing her commitment to his continuing growth in service to God[6]. At the same time Eli's sons, having grown up with no parental discipline, had become dispicable men. In the end, they had resorted to extortion and prostitution while supposedly serving as priests[7].

In the process of time, while Samuel was still young, the LORD came to him at night in a voice calling his name. Each time Samuel would run to Eli, thinking the priest had called him. After the third time, Eli understood that though long silent, the LORD had spoken to the lad. When Samuel listened to God, he understood Him to be the God of whom he had only heard stories[8].

The message from God was not a pleasant one, but when Eli insisted, he told the old priest that his family would one day be destroyed and another priestly line would arise[9]. Eli received the news with grace. Soon his sons would die in battle, having foolishly brought the ark of the covenant with them. The ark would be captured and Eli would die when he heard the news[10].

Adult Life

Judge

Eli had served as judge of Israel from his post at Shiloh for forty years[11]. When he died at the age of 98 years old[12], his student and assistant Samuel arose as the last judge of Israel. Unlike Eli, he traveled all over the land serving as arbiter and voice of justice to the people. His circuit included Bethel, Gilgal, Mizpah and his hometown of Ramah. As a Levite, he served the function of the village priest at Ramah[13].

Priest

As a prophet and priest, Samuel was the voice of the LORD heard by everyone in Israel. After the ark had been returned to Israel, it had ended up in the fortified city of Kirjath-jearim (or simply Kirjath), a town in Benjamin in the hill country about 10 miles west of Jerusalem. It was there that a local Levite, Eleazar, son of Abinadab, was set apart as the new high priest[14]. However, since this city was near Ramah, it is certain that Samuel often visited there.

The capture of the ark, though, had led many Israelites to lose confidence in the true God. They had returned to their old ways, accepting the gods and idols of the people around them. With Shiloh gone, the trappings of the tabernacle were lost for decades. But as the most respected priest in the land, Samuel was able to ralley the people at Mizpah, a town he regularly visited in his circuit as judge.

The gathering proved effective, as everyone in attendance gave up all the old false gods to once again worship the LORD. The purpose of the gathering was to prepare the people to observe the power of God over their enemy, the Philistines. As the people gave up both water and food in a fast, Samuel prepared a burnt offering for the the people as a sin offering[15].

Having heard of the gathering at Mizpeh, the Philistines had taken the opportunity to come against the town with their armies. This proved to be a big mistake, for Samuel's prayers had truly reached the LORD, who sent such a noise of thunder from heaven that the enemy of Israel was frightened and began to run away. The Israelite army pursued and killed many of the Philistines[16]. After this great victory, Samuel set up a stone altar, calling it "Ebenezer" (ie, "Stone of Help), witnessing to the fact that the LORD had helped in a mighty way. As the cities that had fallen to the enemy were restored, Israel had no more problems with the Philistines while Samuel was alive[17].

Prophet

All his days, even during the days of Eli, Samuel had shown himself to be a mighty prophet of God. It was his duty to tell everyone in the nation about the power of the LORD. The message was powerful, if not always effective. As his sons Joel ("Yah is God") and Abiah ("Yah is Father") grew older, they did not live up to the names they had been given. In fact, they became very corrupt as they judged out of Beer-Sheba. As word of this corruption spread, the people of the nation began to worry that they would not have the protection from God when Samuel died[18].

They demanded, instead, that they might have a king like the nations around them had. Samuel did not like this, but he went to God with his complaint. Being told by the LORD that the people would have it no other way, he returned to speak to the elders of the people[19]. In the sternest of language he told them that God had warned him that the king would demand a lot from the people. Life under the king would be much like slavery to many of them. And then, he sent them back to their cities to wait for the right man to be found[20].

The LORD sent Saul, son of Kish the Benjaminite, to be that man. The young man, much taller than everyone around him, was hard to miss. Samuel called the elders of the city together with Saul and had a covenant meal, making sure that the young man received a kingly portion that he had saved for him. Later, after dinner, Samuel talked with Saul privately. The next morning, before escorting Saul and his servant out of town, Samuel once again called Saul to the roof for a private conversation. It was there that Samuel pulled out a flask of oil from his pocket. In a private ceremony, Samuel anointed Saul to be "leader of [the LORD's] inheritance," that is to say, leader of Israel[21].

Having given Saul time to be tested among the lesser prophets (giving rise to the proverb "Is Saul also among the prophets?"), Samuel once again called the elders from the tribes to Mizpeh. In order to show that the choice of the new king was from God, Samuel called for a lottery. As each tribe was brought forward, its delegation was eliminated until the tribe of Benjamin was left. Out of all the families represented, the family of Matri was singled out. Its representative was Saul, son of Kish[22].

After the reluctant Saul was found attempting to hide--an impossible task for a man so tall and well known--he was presented to the people as their new king. Saul would return to his hometown, which would become his headquarters and the capitol during his reign. After Saul had proven himself on the battlefield against the Ammonites, Samuel once again remember what a king would require of them. After that, Samuel preaches to the people, calling on them to follow God's Law or to suffer the consequences that they had seen in past generations[23].

Samuel against Saul

The fact that Saul had become the king did not give him authority over Samuel. This would become evident after only two years of the rule when king Saul would be tested--and fail miserably. It had been an easy task: wait for the Prophet before going into battle against the Philistines. Getting nervous as word of the approaching enemy reached him, Saul called for a sacrifice to be made. This was not within his authority[24].

When Samuel arrived soon after the sacrifice had been made, he was very upset. He informed Saul that had he only obeyed, he would have been the first king of a long dynasty. But in usurping the priest's authority, Saul had forfeited the right to the throne. The search for the right man then began even though Saul would serve as king for a long time afterwards[25].

Years later, Samuel would finally break off all contact with Saul. The enemy in those days was the Amalekites. The instructions this time were grim. The failure of the previous generations against this ancient adversary had amounted to a grave problem to the kingdom of Israel. Samuel commissioned Saul and his armies to conduct a total purge of the godless people from the land. This was to be in the same way that Joshua had done to many cities in the his day. Everything was to be destroyed -- both people and animals, as well as property. The city-state of Amalek was supposed to be utterly destroyed[26].

Saul decided to do it his own way. He would claim that "the people" forced him to spare the best of the flocks "for a sacrifice." In addition, he had spared the king of the city. With a national army of twelve thousand men, Saul refused to wage the war that was necessary. When Samuel showed up, he heard the sound of the sheep and the cattle, and found the captured king Agag still alive. This had been Saul's last chance[27].

Though Saul showed remorse, it was not enough. Samuel told him that the LORD had chosen another man--a neighbor--to be the new king to whom a new dynasty would be born. As Samuel left, Saul grabbed his mantle, tearing the old garment in two. Samuel used it as an object lesson: as his garment had been torn, so God would tear the kingdom from Saul. Samuel's last act in Saul's company was to kill the captured king Agag[28]. During this exchange, Samuel declared as a prophet concerning the importance of obedience over ceremony, and of the nature of the sin of rebellion[29].

Samuel anoints David

Samuel prayed every day for the king. This displeased the LORD[30], who came to him and told the prophet to go to Bethlehem where he would find the next King of Israel. There among the many sons of Jesse, was to be found the "man after {God's} own heart[31]."

The prospect of going into the nearby town frightened Samuel, for he feared Saul's reaction to a direct threat to his reign. God told the old prophet that it would be as a priest that he would enter the town. A celebration of worship would be called with Jesse's family, along with the elders of the city, in attendance. The plan was to anoint one man there to be the next leader of Israel[32].

As it turned out, the youngest son of Jesse was not at the feast. Young David had been left to watch the sheep. The voice of God had inwardly spoken to Samuel as he had wanted to choose the larger and stronger older brothers. God told him that it was not the brawn but the inner man--the heart-- that mattered. Samuel insisted that the young shepherd be brought in. This time, the true king, the one prophesied by Jacob to his son Judah, would be anointed publically with plentiful oil from a horn rather than a tiny flask in private[33].

Death and burial

Several years later, after quietly having retired to Ramah, Samuel died. He had already been "old" when he had been called on to anoint Saul[34]. Since Saul reigned forty years[35], and Samuel had grown sons as an "old" man of perhaps fifty years old, the aged prophet was around ninety when he died.

Once again, "all the Israelites" gathered to see the man who had given them their king. It is not known if either David or Saul showed up at the funeral, but the whole land mourned Samuel's death. He was buried where he had been born and served as prophet, priest and judge, in the town of Ramah in the territory of Ephraim during the reign of Saul[36].

Legacy


The Ghost of Samuel

After Samuel had died, Saul expelled all the magicians and sorcerers from the land[37]. However, when facing the impending invasion by the Philistine army, Saul became fearful. But after God did not answer him[38], he disguised himself and found a witch[39]. While there, he asked the witch to call up the ghost of Samuel[40], for he wanted to consult him about the encroaching Philistine army.

When the witch summoned Samuel, she screamed in horror[41], seeing that the ghost was apparently real. Seeing through Saul's disguise, she feared the king had set her up. Assured of her safety, the witch (or medium) described to Saul that the figure she saw was a phantom rising from the earth[42]. When she further described that it was an elderly man wearing a robe, Saul knew indeed it was Samuel[43].

Disturbed that he had been called in such a way, Samuel asked why the king had summoned him. The sad story of being cut off from God did not impress the prophet. He reminded him that if the priest couldn't help, neither could he. His last message was not one Saul wanted to hear. The campaign against the Philistines would fail[44].

Place in History

Samuel was revered greatly by the people of Israel and by God so much that Samuel was used in comparison by God to say (in his revelation to Jeremiah) "even if Samuel were to stand before me"[45]. Samuel was also remembered for his faith[46], because he called on God[47]. This man made such an influential impact on his time period his era soon became referred to as "the days of Samuel"[48] or the "times of Samuel"[49].

Samuel held three roles in the service of the LORD. He was first a priest of the family of Kohath, the son of Levi. As a servant Levite, he was of the tribe which had the honor of transporting the sacred items of the tabernacle, and later, the temple. It was his sacred flask and horn that carried the special anointing oil made to specification by skilled experts based on the Law of God. His hands established the everlasting Kingdom of the Messiah when he publicly anointed David, son of Jesse.

Secondly, Samuel was a prophet of the likes of Moses. He was the voice of God in a transition period of the people of God comparable to John the Baptist, the greatest of the prophets. Though his voice to the people was a warning of the danger of the monarchy apart from obedience to God, his message to the monarchy was that success came only through adherence to the Law of God.

Thirdly, Samuel was a judge. He was the last in a long line of flawed individuals that saved the sons of Israel from oblivion. These individuals had been tools in the hands of the LORD in building a flawed tabernacle reserved for the earthly life of the Great Judge of the World: Jesus, the Son of God. He foreshadowed the ministry of the promised Messiah in the midst of a nation that had rejected the rule of the true king, the Creator and Sustainer of the whole Earth.

Literary Works

The works of Samuel carry the history from the days of Joshua to the days of David, both types of Jesus Christ. It can be argued that Samuel is a possible, if not probable, author of Judges, Ruth and the bulk of I Samuel. First Samuel, formerly the first volume of the First Book of the Kingdoms, took on his name some two thousand years after his death. Ironically, the second volume of the Hebrew "First Book of the Kingdoms" became Second Samuel, though he disappeared from the history near the end of the first volume.

Verses

  1. Judges 16:30 (Link)
  2. 1 Samuel 1:1-5 (Link)
  3. 1 Samuel 1:6-9 (Link)
  4. 1 Samuel 1:10-18 (Link)
  5. 1 Samuel 1:19-28 (Link)
  6. 1 Samuel 2:18-19 (Link)
  7. 1 Samuel 2:22-25 (Link)
  8. 1 Samuel 3:4-9 (Link)
  9. 1 Samuel 3:12-14 (Link)
  10. 1 Samuel 4:4-18 (Link)
  11. 1 Samuel 4:18 (Link)
  12. 1 Samuel 4:15 (Link)
  13. 1 Samuel 7:15-17 (Link)
  14. 1 Samuel 7:1-6 (Link)
  15. 1 Samuel 7:7-9 (Link)
  16. 1 Samuel 7:10-11 (Link)
  17. 1 Samuel 7:12-13 (Link)
  18. 1 Sam 8:1-5 (Link)
  19. 1 Samuel 8:6-9 (Link)
  20. 1 Samuel 8:10-22 (Link)
  21. 1 Samuel 9:14--10:1 (Link)
  22. 1 Samuel 10:10-21 (Link)
  23. 1 Samuel 10:22-25 (Link)
  24. 1 Samuel 13:1, 8-9 (Link)
  25. 1 Samuel 13:10-14 (Link)
  26. 1 Samuel 15:1-3 (Link)
  27. 1 Samuel 15:4-9 (Link)
  28. 1 Samuel 15:10-26 (Link)
  29. 1 Samuel 10:22-23 (Link)
  30. 1 Samuel 16:1 (Link)
  31. 1 Samuel 13:4; 16:7 (Link)
  32. 1 Samuel 16:2-5 (Link)
  33. 1 Samuel 16:6-13 (Link)
  34. 1 Samuel 8:1 (Link)
  35. Acts 13:21 (Link)
  36. 1 Samuel 25:1 (Link)
  37. 1 Sam 28:3 (Link)
  38. 1 Sam 28:5-6 (Link)
  39. 1 Sam 28:7-10 (Link)
  40. 1 Sam 28:11 (Link)
  41. 1 Samuel 28:12 (Link)
  42. 1 Samuel 28:13 (Link)
  43. 1 Samuel 28:14 (Link)
  44. 1 Samuel 28:19 (Link)
  45. Jeremiah 15:1 (Link)
  46. Hebrews 11:32 (Link)
  47. Psalms 99:6 (Link)
  48. 2 Chronicles 35:18 (Link)
  49. Acts 3:24,13:20 (Link)

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