The Life of Samuel

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I’m sure we are all familiar with the stories of Samuel’s early life, how he was prayed for by Hannah, and then given back into the service of the Lord from a young age, but later on perhaps we tend to only see him as a background character in the lives of others, such as Saul and David.

Following on from the heroic efforts of Samson, he was a great man in the history of Israel transforming the children of Israel from a divided nation under the judges and corrupt priesthood and unites them together under King David.

Israel had to learn to repent from their sins without the external influence of an oppressor and Samuel was the man who was to break that cycle that we see in the Book of Judges and move them into the era of the kings.

They are a divided community, ready to fight against each other rather than with each other, 12 tribes with fierce loyalties and we can see from our own ecclesias how hard it is sometimes to get everyone to work together for God, but this is what Samuel does and prepares the nation for it’s new life under the rule of kings.

The nation however was in a sorry state when Samuel entered the service of the Lord. We are introduced to Eli and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas in the first chapter of 1 Samuel and told of the sorts of things they were doing in 1 Sam 2:12-17

Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the LORD. The custom of the priests with the people was that when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come, while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand, and he would thrust it into the pan or kettle or cauldron or pot. All that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is what they did at Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there. Moreover, before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, “Give meat for the priest to roast, for he will not accept boiled meat from you but only raw.” And if the man said to him, “Let them burn the fat first, and then take as much as you wish,” he would say, “No, you must give it now, and if not, I will take it by force.” Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the LORD, for the men treated the offering of the LORD with contempt. (1Sa 2:12-17)

So you can see that the sons of Eli were corrupted to the core, they were more interested in having a good barbeque than they were in offering a good service to the Lord. They pleased themselves echoing the final words from the Book of Judges

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.(Jdg 21:25)

Even Eli knew of all the terrible things that his sons were doing and yet did very little about it.

Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting. And he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all the people. No, my sons; it is no good report that I hear the people of the LORD spreading abroad. (1Sa 2:22-24)

Later in chapter 4 we are told of more terrible actions when his sons take the Ark of the Covenant and use it as a weapon. The priesthood had no respect for the things of God and used them for their own desires. I’m sure we wouldn’t compare ourselves to the example of Hophni and Phinehas, but perhaps the example of Eli may be more applicable to us. Eli had faith, but he first served his sons and his stomach before he served God. Eli, although the spiritual leader, finds himself unable to assert himself as a proper leader and a messenger from God says this to him in 1 Sam 2:29

Why then do you scorn my sacrifices and my offerings that I commanded, and honor your sons above me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel?’ (1Sa 2:29)

This was the problem that Eli had, he was given over to laziness and gluttony, he had a bad attitude towards God and he was put to shame by a young boy in his service, a young boy called Samuel.

The word child in 1 Sam 3:1 can mean anything from an infant to a young man and it can also be used to indicate a servant. The word for servant in v10 is a different word, and is more along the lines of bondservant which was a big commitment for such a young person. You can see throughout the first few verses how he runs to Eli each time he is called, responding to the call, and then trusts in Eli when he is told to respond to the Lord. You can see the innocence of the child here, a genuine wish to serve others, free from the trappings of an adult and that spirit must be found in us.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, (Mat 18:1-5)

Jesus in this passage focuses on the humility of the child, and at his age Samuel hasn’t developed an ego, he doesn’t seek to please himself, he has no pride and he has nothing preventing him from taking on God’s work, and he is doing it for God and not for himself. He is trusting and will listen to whatever God tells him because he had that sincerity to listen and trust and obey, unlike the other priests who were just going through the motions, saying what they had to say with no real sincerity and only caring about what they could get out of it.

Samuel was to change all that, he was to be a breath of fresh air for the people. He was to love sincerely, with his actions not just with his words.

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1Jn 3:18)

You can see Samuel’s eagerness to serve, for even though it was the middle of the night he was ready to get up and answer without question what he thought was Eli’s call. Then when he realises it is God speaking to him he is ready to serve him. I doubt very much that he slept that night,

Samuel lay until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the LORD. And Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. (1Sa 3:15)

As soon as it was morning he was up to open the doors of the temple, he couldn’t perform any of the priestly duties, but he could at least open the doors first thing in the morning. His eagerness to serve was in complete contrast to the other priests.

As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years. (1Sa 4:18)

Eli was a slow man, he lacked energy and his life of greed had made him heavy. When he heard about the ark he fell off his chair and broke his neck. We can have so many blessings in our life, but do we fill up on them and forget our duties to God? We have plenty of time to please God, or please ourselves, but where are our priorities? Do we serve through faith and love or are we just going through the motions each week? Are we like Eli or do we have the zeal of Samuel?

Samuel was a real blessing to the nation of Israel, and they could all see that he was a man of God, always leading by example, but when the people rejected him and God, and asked for a king instead he didn’t give up on them and goes on serving God and the people maintaining his trust and integrity throughout his life despite all the evil going on around him.

Samuel wore many different hats, fulfilling so many different roles for Israel.

He was a prophet.

And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. (1Sa 3:19)

The Lord was always with Samuel and God was not going to let any of his words fail. Samuel would teach the people, not through running into battles and killing like many of the judges, not through miracles, but through the spoken word. His name means heard of God because God heard Hannah’s prayer, but his name is very fitting for his life because every word Samuel spoke God heard and never let any of his words fall to the ground.

Peter in his address saw Samuel as one of the first prophets of Israel.

And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. (Act 3:24)

He was also a priest to the people. He wasn’t from the tribe of Levi, as his father was an Ephraimite, but he took on many of the priestly roles. When Saul is out looking for the donkeys, we read this in 1 Sam 9.

As they went up the hill to the city, they met young women coming out to draw water and said to them, “Is the seer here?” They answered, “He is; behold, he is just ahead of you. Hurry. He has come just now to the city, because the people have a sacrifice today on the high place. As soon as you enter the city you will find him, before he goes up to the high place to eat. For the people will not eat till he comes, since he must bless the sacrifice; afterward those who are invited will eat. Now go up, for you will meet him immediately.” So they went up to the city. As they were entering the city, they saw Samuel coming out toward them on his way up to the high place. (1Sa 9:11-14)

The priesthood was a mess and Samuel helped put it back together.

Samuel was considered to be the last of the judges, not an ox-goad wielding hero, but more of a Deborah type, solving the problems of the people through words.

And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the LORD only. Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the LORD for you.” So they gathered at Mizpah and drew water and poured it out before the LORD and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the LORD.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah. (1Sa 7:3-6)

So Samuel as judge is really able to reach the hearts of the people and get them to recognise their sins before the Lord. Samuel also lists himself in the judges.

And the LORD sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you lived in safety. (1Sa 12:11)

Samuel was also a teacher, educating the people in the law, as shown by the young women who knew all about Samuel and the sacrifices. They also rejected Samuel’s sons because they did not walk in the same ways as their father had taught.

and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” (1Sa 8:5)

There is also evidence that he set up a school of prophets for the people that had a far reaching effect.

Then Saul sent messengers to take David, and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied. (1Sa 19:20)

After that you shall come to Gibeath-elohim, where there is a garrison of the Philistines. And there, as soon as you come to the city, you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them, prophesying. Then the Spirit of the LORD will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. (1Sa 10:5-6)

He was also a scribe, recording the history of the people when he was alive.

Now the acts of King David, from first to last, are written in the Chronicles of Samuel the seer, and in the Chronicles of Nathan the prophet, and in the Chronicles of Gad the seer, (1Ch 29:29)

He felt it was very important to write down the life of David, for he knew how important his life would be. He wanted people to know that David was a man after God’s own heart.

He was also a mediator for the people. In Jeremiah 14 the prophet is told not to bother praying for the welfare of the people, and in chapter 15.

Then the LORD said to me, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go! (Jer 15:1)

So, it’s saying Moses and Samuel were two of the finest mediators for the people, with Samuel being comparable to Moses, and yet not even they would be able to save the people.

Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called upon his name. They called to the LORD, and he answered them. (Psa 99:6)

This Psalm is in the context of God on the mercy seat, and these were singled out as those who called on the Lord and God answered them.

And the people of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the LORD our God for us, that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” So Samuel took a nursing lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the LORD. And Samuel cried out to the LORD for Israel, and the LORD answered him. As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the LORD thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were routed before Israel. (1Sa 7:8-10)

The people begged Samuel not to cease praying for them, and Samuel in his priestly role offered up a lamb, the Lord heard him and he saved the people from the Philistines. Also when Israel realised they had made a mistake in asking for a king they saw him as their mediator.

And all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.” And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. (1Sa 12:19-20)

Is this the attitude we have towards our brethren and sisters? Are we constantly praying for each other? If we have a dispute do we stop praying, or do we continue to pray like Samuel did even though he felt rejected by the people when they asked for a king to judge over them.

So Samuel was a great man for the nation of Israel. He was a servant, a prophet, a judge, a teacher, a scribe, a priest and a mediator, a man who trusted in God with a child-like humility, never lost faith, always turned to God for help and put the needs of others before himself. We can see the obvious parallels with Christ, both born through promise to mothers with a very close relationship with God, and it’s no coincidence that Mary draws on Hannah’s prayer in her own.

There is no real record of Samuel sinning, though we know from scripture that he wasn’t sinless like Christ, but his life does show us that even when the world around is dedicated to sin it is possible to live a near Christ-like life. As we continue reading through the life of Samuel we should regard him in his own right, not as a side character, as the great mediator, prophet and judge for the people of Israel, a forerunner of the even greater one to come.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Php 2:5-8)

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