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OT Survey 113 Seminar 10 Samuel

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Andrew Hodge                                                                                                     23rd June 2006

Old Testament Survey OTE 113

Seminar 10


Jensen, Irving L. Jensen’s Survey of the Old Testament 1978, Moody Press, Chicago pp 169-180; 1 Samuel 1-15, 25:1




Explain the political, social and spiritual conditions of Israel when Samuel became a priest:

            Politically, the Eisodus of Israel allowed some occupation of the Land rather than the entry of an all-conquering force which might have immediately subdued the whole of the land promised to them. Although the Nation wandering in the wilderness was governed centrally, theocratically and as a unified body, entry into Canaan and the tribal allocation of land split the style of government into local elders and regional judges who exercised a form of theocratic socio-political and military leadership. There was no central government for the period from the death of Joshua (~1380 BC) to David (~1050 BC), who was finally able to unite the tribes and resume a central theocracy.

            The physical and social isolation of the tribes from each other meant that they were generally easy pickings for the well-organised military nations around them. These nations did their best to keep the Israelites under foot by slavery, tribute, outright plundering and restricting the means to make weapons of war. The Philistines were the local early champions for many decades for they held onto their knowledge of making weapons from iron without sharing it - even forcing the Israelites to take their farming implements to Philistia for sharpening (1 Samuel 13:19-20). Eventually the secret leaked out and the Canaanites built 900 chariots of iron. It is obvious how afraid the Israelites would have been when God told them to confront such a large army with farm tools (Deborah and Barak Judges 4; Saul and Jonathan against the Philistines 1 Samuel 13:21-22).

            Spiritually, the nation had been stuck in (at least 6) cycles of Rest - Rebellion - Retribution - Repentance - Restoration (Jensen p 158; Judges 2:16-19) as the Chosen Nation chose to worship the deities and idols of the surrounding nations; God choosing to use the military and number superiority of those nations to chastise His own Nation. It is God’s nature to allow humanity a ‘free’ choice and because He continued to love the ‘apple of His eye’ His corrections were relatively short, sharp and severe, culminating in long periods of prosperity (apart from after two judges - Jephthah and Samson - see Appendix 1).

            The writer of Judges (probably Samuel) has left us in no doubt as to the spiritual state of Israel when Samuel was ready to assume leadership: Judges 17:6 (and 21:25) “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes”. [1] This included the priesthood. Eli, a Godly but weak and ineffectual man, who had allowed his sons (Hophni and Phinehas - spiritual sons of Belial) to desecrate the Temple and God’s Laws, sending both into the depths of disrepute (1 Samuel 2:12-17). God stops all of Eli’s descendants from inheriting the privilege of carrying on the priesthood, and transfers it to Samuel.

Judges 17:6 also gives an insight into why there was rebellion and discord - the people thought they should have a king.

There was no focus on the God Who had given them the land and the power to possess it and make it a blessing. Instead there was deliberate apostasy away from Jehovah toward the idols of the surrounding nations that they had not been obedient in eliminating, which thus remained a snare to them (Psalm 78:56-64). In addition, they longed for the military successes, peace and prosperity of their neighbours - the supposed key being unity under a king, just like everybody else (1 Samuel 8:19-20 cf Deuteronomy 17:14-15). Without realising it, the Nation had formed a view that was completely opposite to the view Jehovah desired for them (1 Samuel 8:7); in turning away from Him, they turned away from the source of all their desires. It is no wonder that He was angry, and determined, in His sovereignty, to allow the nation to reap what it had sowed (1 Samuel 8:22); it is also a wonder that Jehovah’s love for His people was more than enough to refrain from (another) summary destruction for a fresh start.

            God raised Samuel to begin to return the Nation to its proper social, political and spiritual path (eg 1 Samuel 7).


Discuss the significance of Israel’s demand for a king:

            Samuel’s anointing of Saul as king was requested by God but done under sufferance (1 Samuel 8:6), Samuel repeatedly warning the nation of the folly and consequences of what they wanted to do (1 Samuel 8:10-18; 12:25). But by this time the nation had rejected the concept of kingship by God. What God wanted was a properly functioning theocracy ie where God reigned through central government by a mostly Godly ruler eg David, Solomon, Josiah.

            See below.



Compare Samuel’s life and character as a good role model for Christians today and support your thoughts with specific Scripture passages:

            Samuel had Godly parents, particularly his mother, Hannah (1 Samuel 1:10-11) who vowed that if the LORD would give her a much-desired son, then she would dedicate him back to the LORD as a Nazarite. God grants her request; she fulfils her vow, giving Samuel to service in the Temple under Eli when Samuel was weaned. Samuel’s father, Elkanah, was a Levite (1 Chronicles 6:26) and must have seen the piety and commitment of his wife in giving up her only (at that time) son to the service of God, and agreed to it.

The age at which Samuel left his home is not known - weaning is a process culturally determined and may last several years; 1 Samuel 1:24 shows that he was at least a young child. (Smith’s Bible Dictionary: “and when a young child, 12 years old according to Josephus”[2]).

Although there is no reference to Samuel actually being raised as a Nazarite, the importance of having Godly parents is high, and the disciplines of Temple life would not have been too far removed from what would have been required in any case. 1 Samuel 1:28, although not perhaps a chronological statement, describes Samuel as worshipping in the Temple, as it were from Day 1.

If a Hebrew name is a reliable index of character, Samuel is either “the Name of God”, “his name is God”, “his name is mighty” or “heard of God” (Jensen p 173).

Hannah kept in as close contact with Samuel as she could, coming to visit him yearly when the whole family made the Passover journey to Jerusalem, and making him clothes (2:19).

1 Samuel 2:21 “And the LORD visited Hannah, so that she conceived, and bare three sons and two daughters. And the child Samuel grew before the LORD.” [3] This is reminiscent of Mary and the blessings she received, and the maturation of the Lord (see also 2:26, 3:1, 19).

The blessing of God to the nation in Samuel is directly predicted to Eli when his failure to be responsible to his office is exposed (2:35). God says “I will raise me up a faithful priest” indicating the action of God and God alone in our own salvation, causing us to respond in faithful obedience (Ephesians 2:8-10), just like Samuel. The preparation of Samuel for his ministry by his parents is shown in the fact that Samuel never criticises his mentor Eli in person or position as do Eli’s own sons - he was focused on God from the beginning.

It should be noted that Eli and his sons - the generation before - and Samuel’s sons - the generation after - did not have the same spiritual commitment or qualities. Parents today may do their best but cannot guarantee Godly offspring. ‘Civilised Westerners’ live in societies today where the majority of Godly parents mourn the unspiritual state of their children (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Samuel grew up in a time when the Word was not freely available (3:1), which must have been a major drawback for his early education; our children grow up in a time when the Word is more freely available than at any other time, but it is no longer valued or taught - children starve in the midst of plenty (Mark 13:22).

God works directly on Samuel as He does with us: in Samuel’s case by speaking directly (1 Samuel 3:2-10) until He got Samuel’s attention, in our case by any means appropriate to us as individuals. He is the Author of faith (Hebrews 12:2; Galatians 2:20) and gives us the power to live as He wishes (John 1:12, 15:5).

In the temporary absence of the written word, God has to spell out to Samuel what He is going to do in fulfillment of prophecy (3:11-14); we have God’s full revelation already.



Evaluate the life and character of Samuel:

            Jewish tradition esteems Samuel as a social and governmental leader only second to Moses (Psalm 99:6; Jeremiah 15:1), and like Moses an interceding priest.

            Samuel is the last of the Judges (1 Samuel 7:6, 15-17; Acts 13:20) and the first of the new order of Prophets (1 Samuel 3:20; Acts 3:24, 13:20. Jensen p 173-174). He was probably the founder of a ‘school for prophets’ (1 Samuel 10:5, 19:20. Jensen pp 174, 1 78). Easton’s Bible Dictionary goes further: “He established regular services at Shiloh, where he built an altar; and at Ramah he gathered a company of young men around him and established a school of the prophets. The schools of the prophets, thus originated, and afterwards established also at Gibeah, Bethel, Gilgal, and Jericho, exercised an important influence on the national character and history of the people in maintaining pure religion in the midst of growing corruption. They continued to the end of the Jewish commonwealth.” [4]

            Tyndale Bible Dictionary: “Samuel overcame many problems through piety, perseverance, and dedication to the service of the Lord. His overriding concern was for the good of his people. Wise and courageous, he boldly rebuked king, elders, and people when necessary, always from the sure ground of the revealed will of God.”[5]

            It might be said that Samuel was the paradigm of a prophet in that he was a leader in a (quasi-)military sense, a judge and a priest. The people sought him out for even the smallest of things (1 Samuel 9:7-8) and a feast was not ‘kosher’ unless Samuel was present or had blessed it (9:13).

            Samuel dies at about 80 when David’s wanderings are coming to a close. His impact is reflected in the fact that “all the Israelites were gathered together, and lamented him” (1 Samuel 25:1). He well deserves his place in the Hall of Fame (Hebrews 11:32).




Understand Samuel’s successes and failures and relate these to God’s plan for a king:

            See below.

Samuel had many successes because he was obedient to God, which included a ‘circuit’ ministry and close involvement with the locals. He was so successful that “all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD” 1 Samuel 7:2.

His ‘failures’ have to be seen in the light of what God wanted for His Nation eg the anointing of Saul and the subsequent disaster was not pleasant for Samuel to experience but was in accord with God’s plan for the nation.



Evaluate Samuel’s impact on Israel (1 Samuel 25:1):

            Samuel’s impact began early, before he was ‘officially’ appointed as the nation’s judge-priest (3:20-21) which is as it should be. A person is appointed to a role by God usually long before the fact is recognised by men, and is the principle to be followed in appointing Deacons (1 Timothy 3:10) and missionaries (2 Corinthians 8:22).

            His very first prophecy, given directly by God, was to reluctantly inform Eli of the demise of his house (3:11-14) and therefore the end of Eli’s family priesthood - a major blow which Eli weakly accepts.

            Samuel is not able to influence the whole of the Nation until after Eli and his sons’ death, and after the loss and return of the Ark from the Philistines. The Ark “abode in Kirjath-jearim….twenty years: and all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD” (7:2). During this time Eleazar the son of Abinadab was sanctified to keep the Ark (7:1). Why wasn’t Samuel selected for this? Too young? Not well enough known? Politically difficult? Tribal jealousy? Fear of further retribution from the Lord? Not immediately available? God (unrecorded) said No?

            Whatever the reason, both Samuel and the Nation are now ready to listen to what God has to say (7:3-6) and obey. Samuel gathers ‘all’ of them to Mizpeh to seek the Lord. The Philistines’ and God’s responses are immediate - the Philistines gather a large army to put down the new Israeli unity, and God supernaturally sends them fleeing before the rag-tag Israeli farmers (7:10-11). Known to all Israel, this was preceded by Samuel’s intervention with God (7:5-10), Who continued to keep the Philistines at bay (7:13), and to restore Israel’s cities, and give them peace with the Amorites (7:14). The text does not say that Samuel acted as a military leader in this battle, but he was fervent in intercession on Israel’s behalf. After this victory, Samuel sets up a stone - Ebenezer - as a memorial on the spot where the Ark had been lost 20 years before (7:1-12).

            In preparation for this, Samuel had made a point of travelling to minister to the Nation as judge and priest although his circuit was restricted to the southern part of Ephraim (his tribe of origin 7:15-17). It is surprising that in view of his subsequent importance, that Samuel did not make himself known personally to the rest of the Nation. Was he still tied to a tribal mentality at this stage?

            Samuel’s corrupt sons ministered as ‘judges’ in Beersheba (8:1). Whether or not this was the faraway southern town in Judah, their odiousness affected all the elders of Israel who beg the aging Samuel for a ‘real’ king (8:1-5). In spite of Samuel’s accurate prophecy of disaster, the people are rebellious enough against God to have their way (8:19-20), and Samuel, with God’s permission and revelation, anoints Saul as king (10:1). This is subsequently confirmed before the people by lot in Mizpeh of Benjamin (10:19-24) and before the LORD in Gilgal after the slaughter of the Ammonites at Jabesh-gilead (11:11-15). Before letting the happy people go, Samuel “told the people the manner of the kingdom, and wrote it in a book, and laid it up before the LORD” (10:25).

            Saul became only a king in the military sense and early in his reign God allowed him a number of successes which tended to draw the nation together. Samuel remained as priest, and Saul looked to him for Godly advice. On more than one occasion, Samuel had to extract Saul from sticky situations eg 11:12-13; 15:31-33.

            Although anointed by God to reign and prophesy, Saul was inherently rebellious and it was not long before he sought to run the kingdom his own way without God (13:7-10, 15:1-3 cf vv10-28). As a consequence, Samuel tells him that the kingdom will be removed from him (and his successors - 13:13-14), fulfilled when Saul failed to annihilate the Amalekites as ordered by God through Samuel (15:28).

            Samuel therefore acts under God both to elevate Saul and to bring him down.





Jensen, Irving L. Jensen’s Survey of the Old Testament 1978, Moody Press, Chicago p156



[1]  The Holy Bible : King James Version. electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version. Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995.

[2]William Smith, Smith's Bible Dictionary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997).

[3]  The Holy Bible : King James Version. electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version. Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995.

[4]M.G. Easton, Easton's Bible Dictionary (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996, c1897).

[5]Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley Comfort, Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Tyndale reference library, 1157 (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001).

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