|Topical Bible Study||November 1955|
The People of the Bible
Article X—I Samuel, chapters 1 – 25:1
Samuel, Judge and Prophet
SAMUEL was one of those who served Israel as a judge, as had Gideon, Jephthah, and others. But Samuel was more than a judge in Israel. The Apostle Peter places him as being the second of the Old Testament prophets, Moses being the first. (Acts 3:22, 24) “All Israel, from Dan even to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord.” (I Sam. 3:20) He was a faithful, God-fearing servant of Israel. He was the last of the judges, for it was during his time that the nation began to be ruled by kings.
The circumstances leading up to Samuel’s birth, as well as the experiences of his childhood days, had an important bearing on his life as a servant of God. His father’s name was Elkanah, and his mother’s name, Hannah. Hannah, although married for some years, was childless. She was distressed about this, and when she went with her husband to Shiloh, to the house of the Lord, “she wept, and did not eat.” (ch. 1:4-7) Hannah’s husband loved her dearly and said, “Why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons?”—vs. 8
But Hannah could not thus be comforted. She went to the house of the Lord and there poured out her heart to the God of Israel. While Eli the priest was seated by a post in the temple, she “prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore. And she vowed a vow, and said, O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look upon the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.”—vss. 10,11
At that time Eli was Israel’s high priest. He noticed from his vantage point the tenseness of Hannah while she was so earnestly praying, and he supposed she was intoxicated. He said to her, “How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee.” (vs. 14) Hannah denied this charge and explained, “Out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto.”—vs. 16
“Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him.” (vs. 17) And the God of Israel did grant her petition. When her son was born she named him Samuel, saying, “Because I have asked him of the Lord.” (vs. 20) It was this Samuel who became such a powerful figure in Israel and a prophet of God.
Hannah was true to the promise she made to the Lord, for as soon as her child was weaned she took him to Shiloh, to the house of God, and said, “As long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord”; or, as the marginal translation reads, “He whom I have obtained by petition shall be returned.” Samuel, even at so tender an age, entered into the spirit of his mother’s desire, and “he worshiped the Lord there.”—vs. 28
The boy Samuel became a servant to Eli, the priest. Eli himself evidently loved the Lord and desired to serve him faithfully as priest; but his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who would be the underpriests, were wicked. The record says, “The sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord.” (ch. 2:12) Their father knew of his sons’ misbehavior in connection with their service but seemingly did nothing to rectify the situation. He was either afraid of his sons or allowed his love for them to blind him to his responsibility toward them.
First the Lord gave a message to Eli by an angel, referred to as “a man of God.” It was a message of condemnation and a declaration of condemnation against the house of Eli, in which it was stated that the two wicked sons would die, “in one day.”—ch. 2:27-36
Then the boy Samuel enters the scene, and his first official assignment from the Lord was to confirm to Eli the message of condemnation and judgment which had been given him by the angel. We read that “the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision.” (ch. 3:1) This means, evidently, that there was no prophet in the land who could speak authoritatively for the Lord. While the Lord had miraculously directed and blessed various of his servants such as Joshua, Gideon, and others, none since Moses had been constituted a seer, or prophet; none, that is, until Samuel. But now this young man was about to be initiated as a prophet, and his first message was to be far from a pleasant one.
Samuel was initiated into the Lord’s service as a prophet while he was still very young, and in a very unique manner. From early childhood he had served Eli in the house of the Lord. Then one night it came to pass “when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see; and ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep; that the Lord called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I.”—ch. 3:2-4
Samuel did not know that this was the Lord calling him. He supposed that Eli had spoken to him, needing some assistance. He was surprised to learn that Eli had not called. He went back to bed, only to hear his name spoken again, and again he reported to Eli. He had the same experience for the third time, and then Eli perceived that it must be the Lord who was speaking to the boy, and he told him that if he heard his name called again, to answer, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.”—vss. 5-10
The Lord did speak to Samuel again, and he responded as Eli had instructed. Then the Lord gave this new prophet in Israel his first message to deliver. It was: “In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house (ch. 2:27-36): when I begin, I will also make an end. For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.”—ch. 3:12,13
This was a difficult message for Samuel to deliver to Eli, to whom he was loyal. But the next morning, Eli, suspecting that the young man had received a message for him from the Lord, insisted that he tell it all, which Samuel faithfully did. It was a blow to Eli, but he took it well, and said, “It is the Lord: let him do what seemeth him good.”—vs. 18
In due course the judgment fell upon the house of Eli, just as Samuel had prophesied in his confirmation of the angel’s message which previously had been given directly to Eli. Thus was this young servant of God confirmed as a prophet. The record is that “Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan even to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord.”—vss. 19,20
Samuel Delivers Israel
As a judge, Samuel wrought a great deliverance for Israel from the hands of the Philistines, but not until these enemies of the nation had been permitted to destroy the sons of Eli and thus carry out the divine judgment against them. See I Samuel, chapters 5,6. True to the method employed by all whom the Lord raised up as judges to deliver Israel, Samuel’s first step was to call the nation back to the worship of the true God.
The record states, “Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve him only: and he will deliver you out of the hands of the Philistines.” (ch. 7:3) The people heeded this exhortation, and then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel to Mizpeh, and I will pray for you unto the Lord.”—vs. 5
It was a great test of Samuel’s faith. While the people were gathered at Mizpeh, they were surrounded by the Philistines. But Samuel offered sacrifice to the Lord and continued to pray. Meanwhile “the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel: but the Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them; and they were smitten before Israel.”—vss. 10,11
“Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” (vs. 12) The Philistines were subdued, not only in that one encounter, but, as the record states, “they came no more into the coast of Israel: and the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel”—the “days,” that is, during which he served as judge.—vs. 13
The People Ask for a King
Samuel’s judgeship was terminated before his death by the demand of the Israelites that they have a king to rule over them. Samuel had appointed his sons to succeed him as judges, but they were wicked. “His sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.”—ch. 8:1-3
“Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah. And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” (vs. 4,5) Samuel was greatly displeased with this request, evidently for the reason that he interpreted it as a rejection of him and a failure, perhaps, to appreciate the faithful service he had rendered to the nation.
Samuel took the matter to the Lord in prayer, and the instructions he received were: “Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.”—vss. 7,8
The Lord explained in comforting Samuel that the people had for centuries been treating him just as they were now treating Samuel. But the Lord’s mercy was very enduring, and he told Samuel to hearken to the voice of the people but also to “protest solemnly unto them, and show them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.” (vs. 9) Samuel did this, and in chapter 8, verses 10 to 18 we have the prophet’s eloquent account of the burdens that would be heaped upon the people and the difficulties they would encounter under the rulership of kings.
“Nevertheless, the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us.” (vs. 9) How much this is like the attitude of all whose hearts are not perfect toward the Lord and whose ears are dulled to the warnings which he so lovingly gives to those who are turning in the wrong direction. In effect, the people said to God’s prophet, “We hear all you say, but we are not so sure you are right; and in any case, we want a king.”
Saul, the First King
While in reality the nation had rejected both Samuel and the Lord, the people did not go so far in their rebellion as to select and anoint their own king. Superficially, at least, they looked to the Lord and to Samuel to cooperate in their demand. “The Lord said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto his city.”—ch. 8:22
The latter part of chapter 10 and chapter 11 relate the circumstances leading up to the choosing and anointing of Saul as the first king of Israel. Samuel said to the people: “Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there. And all the people went to Gilgal: and there they made Saul king; … and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.”—vss. 14,15
It is in chapter 12 that we discover the real stature of Samuel as a servant and prophet of the Lord. He had yielded obediently to the instructions of the Lord to anoint a king over Israel, knowing that their demand for a king was a rejection of the Lord and of himself as a representative of the Lord. Then he presented himself to the people and asked them to bear witness if he had at any time, through his whole lifetime of service to the nation, ever defrauded or oppressed them in any way.
The people answered, “Thou hast not defrauded us, nor oppressed us, neither hast thou taken ought of any man’s hand.” (vs. 4) Then Samuel continued, “The Lord is witness against you, and his anointed is witness this day, that ye have not found ought in my hand. And they answered, He is witness.” Then briefly, yet eloquently, Samuel reminded the people of the wonderful way the Lord had cared for the nation from the time of the great deliverance from Egypt.
In this oration Samuel stressed particularly the wonderful manner in which the Lord had delivered the people every time they cried to him for help and gave up their worship of false gods. On every such occasion the Lord provided one who, working as his instrument, delivered them from the hand of their enemies. He brought the lesson up to date by reminding them that he himself had been used to deliver them from the oppressive hand of the Philistines.
Then, referring to a current situation in which the nation was in sore need of help, Samuel said, “When ye saw that Nahash the king of the children of Ammon came against you, ye said unto me, Nay; but a king shall reign over us: when the Lord your God was your king. Now therefore behold the king whom ye have chosen, and whom ye have desired! and, behold, the Lord hath set a king over you. If ye will fear the Lord, and serve him, and obey his voice, and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then shall both ye and also the king that reigneth over you continue following the Lord your God.”—vss. 12-14
Samuel also warned that if the people and their king did not continue faithful, “then shall the hand of the Lord be against you, as it was against your fathers.” (vs. 15) With the object, seemingly, of impressing upon the people the fact of their great sin in asking for a king to rule over them, Samuel called upon God, who “sent thunder and rain that day: and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel. And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God, that we die not: for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king.”—vss. 18,19
Having received this confession of sin from the people, Samuel then said, “Fear not: ye have done all this wickedness: yet turn not aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. … For the Lord will not forsake his people for his great name’s sake: because it hath pleased the Lord to make you his people. Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way: only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for you. But if ye shall still do wickedly, ye shall be consumed, both ye and your king.”—vss. 20-25
Samuel’s Unpleasant Task
From the time Saul became king in Israel, Samuel’s chief role was that of prophet. God’s ancient and holy prophets served not only as seers to forecast future events but also to relay messages from the Lord to the nation of Israel, through its kings and otherwise. It was in this role that Samuel gave Saul instructions from the Lord to “go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”—ch. 15:3
It is only from the standpoint of God’s plan to restore the dead to life and give them an opportunity to accept Christ, obey the laws of the messianic kingdom, and live forever, that we can understand such instructions as coming from a God of love. For the protection of the Israelites it was necessary for the Amalekites to be destroyed, and even from the natural standpoint it was more humane to destroy the women and children together with the men, rather than to leave them behind to mourn and to suffer privation and want.
But Saul did not fully comply with these instructions, and then Samuel had the unpleasant duty to inform him that he had been rejected by the Lord. Saul’s excuse for disobedience was that the people had kept some of the best of the cattle to offer in sacrifice, whereupon Samuel explained that “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.”—vs. 22
Following this unhappy experience, Samuel was instructed by the Lord to seek out and to anoint a successor to Saul to be king of Israel. Samuel hesitated, asking, “How can I go? if Saul hear it, he will kill me. And the Lord said, Take an heifer with thee, and say, I am come to sacrifice to the Lord.”—ch. 16:2
Samuel was instructed by the Lord to go to the house of Jesse, in Bethlehem, for he had chosen one of Jesse’s sons to be the new king. Samuel learned another valuable lesson in this experience. Jesse had a number of sons, sturdy and kingly in appearance, but none of these was the Lord’s choice. David, the youngest of them, who was tending his father’s sheep, was the one the Lord indicated as his choice. He explained to Samuel, “The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”—ch. 16:7
In conformity with the Lord’s wishes, Samuel anointed the boy David to be king of Israel. This, apparently, was Samuel’s last official act of service for the Lord. From boyhood to old age he had served the cause of the Lord and of righteousness faithfully, and he is named by Paul in Hebrews 11:32 as one of the ancient heroes of faith, one of those who endured so much and so faithfully in order that they might obtain a better resurrection.
In all that the record reveals of the experiences of Samuel, no flaw of character is manifested. He was loyal to the Lord, even though called upon to render distasteful tasks, as in confirming the judgments of the Lord against the house of Eli and informing Saul that he had been rejected by the Lord. In these things his life of faith and faithfulness should be a great stimulus to us, as in “this present evil world” we seek to know and to do our Heavenly Father’s will.
I Samuel 19:18-24 reveals that David, when persecuted, fled to Samuel and together they “went and dwelt in Naioth.” This record indicates that the presence of Samuel, the prophet of the Lord, served as a protection for David, although nothing is said of any message, or messages, which Samuel may have communicated under these circumstances. Our next record of him is found in I Samuel 25:1, where we are told that “Samuel died; and all the Israelites were gathered together, and lamented him, and buried him, in his house at Ramah.”