Samuel’s life showed promise from even before he was born. He was born to two godly parents, Elkanah and Hannah (I Sam. 1:1,2). Elkanah was of the line Kohath, whose descendants were in charge of bearing the holy furniture and utensils of the tabernacle (Num. 4:15). Both Elkanah and Hannah were faithful in their yearly worship at the tabernacle at Shiloh (I Sam. 1:3). That his mother Hannah fiercely believed in God is evidenced by her prayer to Him for a son (I Sam. 1:10,11). Her faith is further demonstrated by her acceptance of what Eli the Judge told her concerning God blessing her with a son (I Sam. 1:18). It is once more demonstrated by her keeping her vows to dedicate her son to God after he was born (I Sam. 1:11, 22). Even the name “Samuel,” which means “asked of God,” demonstrates her faith in God (I Sam. 1:20). Being born into a God-fearing family is a blessing.
Though loved by his mother and father, Samuel grew up not at their home in Ramah (I Sam. 1:19), but lived at Shiloh and studied at the feet of Eli where he ministered unto the Lord, girded with a linen ephod, even though he was but a child (I Sam. 2:11,18). His character and life is contrasted to that of Eli’s sons, who are described as “sons of belial,” who knew not the Lord (I Sam. 2:12). Samuel had a winning personality, for he grew in favor with both God and man (I Sam. 2:26). Eventually, all Israel came to understand that the Lord was with him, letting none of his words fall to the ground, or not come to pass, and “knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord” (I Sam. 3:19).
The times in which Samuel grew up were troubled times, ones in which many people were not faithful to the Lord. Men abhorred the offering of the Lord (I Sam. 2:26). Women were committing immorality with the priests (I Sam. 2:22) and the priests were stealing from and committing violence against those who came to worship (I Sam. 2:13-16). God spoke to no one perhaps because there were so few of that age worthy to receive a revelation from God (I Sam. 3:1). However, in these days when the word of God was precious God chose to speak to Samuel, even while a young child, instead of the aged but compromised Eli (I Sam. 3:2–8). Samuel, having never experienced a revelation before, did not understand at first that God was calling him (I Sam. 3:4,5,7).
When Samuel had ran to Eli three times to see what he wanted, for he thought it was Eli that was calling him, not Jehovah, Eli instructed him to listen to God (I Sam. 3:8,9). This is good advice for all of us, advice Eli, himself, should have taken with regard to his sons. The Lord chose to deliver this powerful warning to Eli through this young man Samuel. Another aspect of Samuel’s character reveals itself when Samuel is reluctant to inform Eli of God’s judgements against him until he is commanded to do so by Eli. He feared to show Eli the vision, perhaps out of concern for Eli (I Sam. 3:17). But when he was pressed by Eli, Samuel told him everything and held nothing back (I Sam. 3:18). He was faithful in revealing the word of God. It is now Samuel’s word that is heard by Israel as Eli dies at the news that the ark of the covenant is taken (I Sam. 4:1,15-18).
Samuel’s first test as a leader came when he rallied Israel to repent from their worshiping of false idols and to turn to God and serve only Him. It was only then that the Lord could deliver them from the yoke of the Philistines (I Sam. 7:3). Israel hearkened unto Samuel and put away their idols of baalim and astaroth and served the Lord only (I Sam. 7:4). It was then that Samuel cried unto the Lord and the Lord heard him (I Sam. 7:9). After God miraculously stops the advance of the Philistines, the Israelites pursue after and defeat them and Samuel raises a memorial stone, Ebenezer, or, stone of help (I Sam. 7:12). In our own worship we often sing of this Stone of Help.
Just as it was in Eli’s life, the great flaw in Samuel’s life was his sons. We learn from Samuel, himself, for he is the author of this book, that his sons did not walk in his ways (I Sam. 8:5). They were hungry for dishonest gain and were willing to pervert judgement in order to get their money (I Sam. 8:3). The goal in obtaining money this way is usually to fund some kind of profligate living. We are not told how it came to be that his sons were sinful, but, while every child is ultimately responsible for his own conduct, the path upon which he travels is determined by his upbringing in the home (Prov. 22:6). Eli did not restrain his sons when they made themselves vile (I Sam. 3:13). Perhaps Samuel was too busy to make the right choices regarding his son’s training.
Samuel is reckoned as the last of the judges (I Sam. 7:15,16). It is during this time that the children of Israel asked for a king. Because Samuel’s sons were wicked and Samuel was growing older, the children of Israel requested a king to rule over them so that they could be like the nations round about them (I Sam. 8:6). Samuel didn’t like it but the Lord told him that they were not rejecting him but were rejecting God (I Sam. 8:7). Samuel anointed the first king, Saul, who turned out to be just what Samuel had warned them against. It was also Samuel who told Saul that God rejected him from being king because he had rejected the word of the Lord (I Sam. 15:23). Finally, Samuel anointed the second king of Israel, king David (I Sam. 16:12,13).
While Samuel was last of the judges, he was first of the prophets (Acts 13:20; 3:24). While Moses was a prophet, and even Enoch had prophesied before him (Jude 14), and others are declared to be prophets, there was no regular succession of prophets until Samuel. We have seen that when Samuel came on the scene there was no open vision (I Sam. 4:1). During his days, however, there sprang up schools of prophets (e.g., I Sam 10:5; I Sam. 19:19-24). The Jews referred to Samuel as the “chief of the prophets.” In scripture, he is sometimes placed beside Moses (Ps. 99:6; Jer. 15:1). It is in his books that we find the prophecy that God would build a house for David and a throne (II Sam. 7:12ff – though these sections were probably added later by Nathan and God). Luke records that it is Christ who was the fulfillment of these prophecies (Acts 3:24).
Eric L. Padgett