1 Samuel1to25: THE LIFE OF SAMUEL

Introduction. Read 1 Samuel chapters 1 to 25.

This exposition provides a thumb sketch of Samuel's life. I include it with the other studies of Israel's judges because Samuel was the last and greatest of them all. He is a transitional figure as he both leads Israel and also anoints the first two kings of the united kingdom.

Samuel was more like Moses than any other Old Testament character. He was:

(1) A priest. 1Sam1v1and2 is misleading in this respect. It gives the impression that Samuel's father, Elkanah, was an Ephraimite. However the genealogy in 1Chr6v33to38 reveals that Samuel was in fact a Levite. So Elkanah was a Levite who lived in Ephraim.

Samuel was a priest by birth but even more significantly he was a priest by upbringing under Eli's supervision in the Tabernacle. Throughout his life Samuel officiated at sacrifices.

(2) A prophet. The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beesheba recognised that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD. 1Sam3v19.

(3) A war leader. Samuel mounted a successful campaign against the Philistines - Israel's chief enemy. Throughout Samuel's lifetime, the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines.

(4) Lord Chief Justice. He spent his entire adult life settling disputes between Israelites in each of the twelve tribes. Samuel continued as judge over Israel all the days of his life. 1Sam7v15. This means he was still acting as an arbitrator during the reign of Saul.

Yet despite being competent in all four roles Samuel was rejected! None of the other judges was rejected in their lifetime - yet by far the greatest was. This exposition attempts to provide an explanation and also draws some lessons for today.

(B) Samuel was rejected despite his many stirling qualities.

He was:

(1) Conscientious in all things.

Samuel was dutiful as a child. And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favour with the LORD and with men. 1Sam2v26. His willingness to serve is graphically illustrated by his response to God's call. Three times the boy went to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me." 1Sam3v8. Most youngsters hearing the third call would have ignored it, turned over and gone back to sleep.

Samuel was a very active judge. He made things easier for the Israelites by going on circuit and setting up court in three separate centres: Bethel, Gilgal and Mizpah - although they were not that far apart!

Even after Saul was appointed king, Samuel did not retire. He told the Israelites: As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. 1Sam12v23.

There are Christians, who when they retire from their secular employment, consider that they can also retire from their church commitments and please themselves. They seem to lose interest in the well being of the fellowship to which they belong. Instead these retired Christians spend their time visiting family and friends, travelling or at their second holiday home. There are other believers who carry on working in one capacity or another until the day they die. My brother has retired from being the pastor of a Baptist Church in London and moved to Hastings. He and his wife have thrown themselves into the life of their local Anglican Church serving in a wide variety of ways. It says something for the Anglicans that they are prepared to use a Baptist in so many different capacities! My old friend and fellow elder, Edward, retired as church secretary when he was 70. But his interest and commitment to the church was undiminished. He did all he could for as long as he could in the service of his master. Christians who shed all their responsibilities should be very thankful that Jesus is not resting on his laurels but intercedes unceasingly for his own before the throne of God. Would we want a part-time Saviour?

(2) Incorruptible.

As a judge Samuel was absolutely honest and fair. He took no bribes and he oppressed no one. His judgments were impartial and just. See 1Sam12v1to5.

Samuel wasn't in it for the money. He didn't need a bonus to do his job properly. His people had great confidence in him. That is why he was entrusted with choosing a king for Israel. The elders instructed him: "Now appoint a king to lead us."

The well-being of any society depends considerably upon the integrity and impartiality of its judges. If a judge allows considerations of advancement, public popularity and celebrity or the planks of bias and prejudice distort his judgement people will suffer. I rather fear that certain judgements recently in England have reflected a certain bias against, and ignorance of, Christianity.

Church leaders must always remember to put the interests of others before their own. This is a good rule of thumb and will help us to be honest and fair.

In his book Loving God, Charles Colson draws attention to an incident involving an Indiana judge named William Bontrager. Bontrager had to pass sentence on Fred Palmer, a decorated Vietnam veteran who was found guilty of burglary. The crime was caused partly by involvement with drugs and alcohol. Indiana law required a sentence of ten to twenty years for Palmer's offense.

However, new regulations designating a lesser penalty had gone into effect eighteen days after Palmer's arrest. To complicate matters, Palmer had become a Christian in jail and seemed to have changed. Should the judge sentence Palmer, a man who had never been in jail, to ten years or more? Or should he declare the older statute in violation of Indiana's constitution and give him a lighter sentence? Bontrager did the latter. Fred Palmer was out of jail in seven months, had a job, and was paying back his former victims.

The events that followed received national attention. The Indiana Supreme Court reversed the judge's decision and ordered Fred Palmer be sent back to prison. The judge's attempts to fight the court's decision during the next two years led to his own indictment for criminal contempt of court and, finally, his forced resignation. Fred Palmer was sent back to prison, only to be released twenty months later by the governor. Bontrager's convictions cost him his job, but not his integrity.

(3) Involved.

Samuel was deeply involved in many aspects of life. He was involved in the mundane, local and homely as well as affairs of state and issues of national importance. For example we read in chapters 9 and 10 that Samuel:

  • Could be consulted about missing donkeys.

  • Was asked to bless a community sacrifice.

  • Presided over the feast that followed.

  • Asked the kitchen staff to hold back a leg of lamb for the future king's dinner.

  • Anointed Saul King of Israel.

I like this about Samuel! There are some church leaders who concentrate on preaching and spend a lot of time in the study. They do not take much interest in some of the other activities of the church. My dear old father during his time as a pastor of the Baptist Church at Brockley enjoyed being with his people and joined in all the activities of the church. He attended the youth service, the choir practices and the Sunday School treats! A good headmaster knows how important it is to take an interest in everything that is going on in his school. He needs to put in an appearance at orchestra practice, the cricket nets, the occasional Geography field trip, the debating society and the line dancing club. A Christian leader needs to get as involved as possible with the people in the church.

The only way to really know your flock is by making contact with them as this experiment shows:The University of Northern Iowa once offered a general art course that included a most unusual exercise. The teacher brought to class a shopping bag filled with lemons and gave a lemon to each class member. The assignment was for the student to keep his lemon with him day and night - smelling, handling, examining it. Next class period, without warning, students were told to put their lemons back in the bag. Then each was asked to find his lemon. Surprisingly, most did so without difficulty.

(4) Forthright.

Samuel never beat around the bush; he told it as it was. There are several instances where he bluntly communicated the unpalatable truth. For example:

  • He made it very clear to the elders of Israel what would happen if a king was appointed. The king would take, take, take; the people would give, give, give. See 1Sam8v10to18

  • When King Saul presumed to offer sacrifices to the LORD rather than wait for Samuel the priest to officiate he was roundly rebuked. Samuel said to him: "You acted foolishly. You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you ..... . But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people because you have not kept the LORD's command." 1Sam13v13and14.

  • Samuel gave Saul strict instructions on how to conduct a military campaign against the Amalekites. Everyone was to be put to death and everything that belonged to them was to be totally destroyed. But Saul spared Agag the king of Amalek and the best of the livestock. The aging prophet said to Saul: "The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbours - to one better than you. He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind."" 1Sam15v28.

Samuel would have agreed with Don Shula, coach of the Miami Dolphins. He was talking to a reporter about a player's mistake in practice. He said, "We never let an error go unchallenged. Uncorrected errors multiply." Then the reporter said, "Isn't there benefit in overlooking one small flaw?" Shula said, "What is a small flaw?" I think about that all day long. What is a small flaw? I see that with my children. I've let a lot of things slide by because I was too tired. I didn't want another confrontation. But uncorrected errors do multiply. You've got to face them some day. You might as well face them on the spot. If I could do it over again with my children, I'd face the errors on the spot. It's easier on them and on you. That works in relationships with anyone. If there's something under the surface, something you sense, you might as well just bring it right out. Face it right then. Success lies in the details. Every job is a self-portrait of the person who did it. Autograph your work with excellence. (With thanks to Marabel Morgan in Homemade, February 1987).

I was a forthright teacher and told my pupils when they were going wrong. It is not only the best way but also the kindest way. Sad to say, as the elder of my small Christian fellowship I am much less forthright.

(5) Loyal.

I admire Samuel for his loyalty. It is a virtue I strongly identify with. Samuel was loyal to:

  • His mentor Eli. After God spoke to Samuel about the calamity that would befall the family of Eli we read: He was afraid to tell Eli the vision. 1Sam3v15. I think the little Levite was genuinely attached to the fat, old, High Priest and didn't want to upset him.

  • Saul. There are several instances of Samuel's faithfulness to Saul. After Samuel told Saul that because he had rejected the word of the LORD, the LORD had rejected him as king, he never went to see him again. But tellingly we are told: Though Samuel mourned for him. 1Sam15v35. Indeed, God had to gee Samuel up with: "How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel?" 1Sam16v1.

  • His home village. We are told after each great event in his life: Samuel then went to Ramah. 1Sam16v13. Samuel did not move away from his own people but chose to live in the village of his birth near to his brothers and sisters. When Samuel died they buried him at his home in Ramah. It is not common practice for great men to live in the communities in which they grew up. Jimmy Carter, former president of the U.S.A., is a rare exception. On losing the presidential challenge for a second term he returned to his farm in Plains, Georgia and that is where he intends to be buried. You need a certain level of integrity to be famous and to live comfortably amongst your own folk.

  • To his fellow Israelites. Even though rejected by his own people Samuel had no intention of abandoning them. He told them: "As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right." 1Sam12v23.

Samuel was slow to give up on anybody! He was, perhaps, even more reluctant than God to give up on Saul! When God told Samuel how disappointed he was with Saul, the old prophet was troubled and he cried out to the LORD all that night. 1Sam15v11.

These are days when loyalty does not seem to count for much. I love this story: Norman Geisler, as a child, went to Sunday School classes because he was invited by some children in his neighbourhood. He went back to the same church for these classes for 400 Sundays. Each week he was faithfully picked up by a bus driver. Week after week he attended church, but never made a commitment to Christ. Finally, during his senior year in High School, after being picked up for church over 400 times, he did commit his life to Christ. What if that bus driver had given up on Geisler at 395? What if the bus driver had said, "This kid is going nowhere spiritually, why waste any more time on him?"

(With thanks to Max Lucado, God Came Near, Multnomah Press, 1987, p. 133.)

(6) Godly.

The thing that really distinguished Samuel from the other judges was his godliness. There is no evidence that Sampson or Ehud were godly men. Even Deborah, Gideon and Jephthah fall far short of the devotion Samuel showed to the LORD his God. He was fortunate to have devout parents who made a regular annual pilgrimage to Shiloh and tuition from Eli the High Priest. Eli took more care over Samuel than he ever did of his own two, wayward sons. Samuel's godliness is shown in several ways:

(a) He was a student of God's word. The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word. 1Sam3v21. The young Levite had the inestimable advantage of access to God's written word in the Tabernacle. There is no substitute for it.

(b) He was a man of prayer. What was Samuel's immediate reaction when the elders of Israel demanded a king? So he prayed to the LORD. 1Sam8v6. He did what Moses so often did in time of trouble - laid it before the LORD.

(c) He, like Moses, was concerned for God's honour. He called upon the Israelites to rid themselves of foreign gods and commit themselves to the LORD to serve him only. After Saul was crowned king, Samuel in his farewell speech, urged king and people to fear the LORD and serve and obey him. 1Sam12v14to18

(d) He understood what God's number one priority was. In rebuking Saul for his disobedience over the Amalekites Samuel uttered some timeless words: Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. 1Sam15v22.

There is no virtue rarer than true godliness. I am afraid that like the Israelites in the time of Samuel and the Jews at the time of Christ we do not always find this as attractive as we should.

(C) Reasons why Samuel was rejected.

There are at least five possible reasons:

(1) He was old.

This is one of the reasons the elders of Israel gave Samuel for wanting a king. They told him: "You are old." 1Sam8v4. He hadn't the energy to administer justice as he had done in his youth. It is significant that his son's, Joel and Abijah, had been put in charge of the region around Beersheba in the far south of the country. I don't think Samuel's abilities were in decline. He retained much of his authority well into Saul's reign. Maybe some were growing tired of the dominance of the old prophet. However, I think the main motivation of the elders was to provide for the future. Samuel could not go on forever.

We all have to accept that age takes its toll. I used to be very influential in my cricket club. People listened to what I had to say. But by the time I was sixty my powers had waned! A new group of young players emerged who could not even remember, let alone believe, that I had been a very capable opening batsman. Less and less heed was paid to my contributions in committee meetings. It was time to resign as club secretary.

Sometimes Christians don't realise when it is time to stop. The voice of the soloist deteriorates. I know a man who had a wonderful baritone voice in youth and middle age. He is deaf now and cannot sing in tune - yet he still performs solos. An organist may reach a stage when it is difficult to hit the right notes at the right pace - but carries on rather than relinquish the role to someone younger and more competent. When a preacher begins to ramble and repeat himself he would be better sitting in the pew listening to someone else.

(2) His sons were corrupt.

We read in 1Sam8v3: But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

It seems incredible that Samuel allowed this situation to develop. He had witnessed God's extreme displeasure at the corrupt behaviour of Eli's sons. Eli allowed himself to be compromised by the choice cuts of meat his son's gave him and upon which he grew very fat. God brought the severest judgment down upon Eli, Hophni and Phinehas. Samuel did not in any way benefit from the venality of his two sons in Beersheba but neither did he put a stop to their dishonesty.

It is possible that Samuel, like so many very busy men, neglected his sons when they were young. Samuel lost the moral authority to discipline them when they grew up because he felt guilty about his earlier neglect. He was blind to their misdemeanours.

Unfortunately this is a reoccurring problem. Some Christians are so involved with their ministry that their own children do not get the attention that they need. The children of famous Christian preachers and teachers do not always turn out well.

Clovis Chappell, a minister from a century back, used to tell the story of two paddleboats. They left Memphis about the same time, travelling down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. As they travelled side by side, sailors from one vessel made a few remarks about the snail's pace of the other. Words were exchanged. Challenges were made. And the race began. Competition became vicious as the two boats roared through the Deep South.

One boat began falling behind. Not enough fuel. There had been plenty of coal for the trip, but not enough for a race. As the boat dropped back, an enterprising young sailor took some of the ship's cargo and tossed it into the ovens. When the sailors saw that the supplies burned as well as the coal, they fuelled their boat with the material they had been assigned to transport. They ended up winning the race, but burned their cargo.

God has entrusted cargo to us, too: children, spouses, friends. Our job is to do our part in seeing that this cargo reaches its destination. Yet when the program takes priority over people, people often suffer. How much cargo do we sacrifice in order to achieve the number one slot? How many people never reach the destination because of the aggressiveness of a competitive captain? (Taken from: In the Eye of the Storm by Max Lucado Word Publishing, 1991, pp. 97-98.)

(3) He had none of the trappings of royalty.

Samuel did not live in a palace. He wore no costly robes, owned no chariots, had no attendants, recruited no standing army and levied no taxes. Samuel lived humbly in the family home at Ramah. Perhaps his modest life style was one of the reasons his sons decided to feather their nests. Compared to the kings of surrounding nations Samuel failed to look the part of national leader.

It is important to look the part. I can remember my head master telling me that he had invited the Bishop to speak at an assembly. He said, "I've given him strict instructions to wear all his regalia." The head wanted the Bishop to look like a Bishop!

Many Christians want their clergymen to look the part. For some, the more they dress up the better. I think all Christian leaders should bear in mind that Jesus could not be identified by his splendid robes. It took Judas' kiss to identify him. Paul, by his own admission, went about in rags. The greatest of all Christian theologians would have been scarcely noticed as he sat cross-legged in the dust mending sandals.

One of the hardest lessons to learn is that appearances can be deceptive. This was actually a lesson Samuel himself had to learn. He jumped to conclusions about which of Jesse's sons he should annoint as king. God had to tell him: The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." 1Sam16v7.

In 1884 a young man died, and after the funeral his grieving parents decided to establish a memorial to him. With that in mind they met with Charles Eliot, president of Harvard University. Eliot received the unpretentious couple into his office and asked what he could do. After they expressed their desire to fund a memorial, Eliot impatiently said, "Perhaps you have in mind a scholarship." "We were thinking of something more substantial than that... perhaps a building," the woman replied. In a patronizing tone, Eliot brushed aside the idea as being too expensive and the couple departed. The next year, Eliot learned that this plain pair had gone elsewhere and established a $26 million memorial named Leland Stanford Junior University, better known today as Stanford! (Taken from Today in the Word, June 11, 1992.)

We should never underestimate the plain man!

(4) He wasn't a bundle of fun.

Sampson amused and entertained the tribes of Israel. Samuel did nothing amusing. I can't imagine him singing and dancing before the LORD as David did.

There are three incidents that reveal the stern type of man Samuel was:

  • When Samuel went to Bethlehem to annoint a new king the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, "Do you come in peace." 1Sam16v4. The prophet inspired fear and respect. He didn't get a warm and carefree welcome!

  • Samuel severely reprimands Saul twice. See 1Sam13v13and14 and 1Sam15v26. On neither occasion does Saul retaliate. He most certainly does not show contempt for the man of God. Samuel was not the sort of man you would oppose or answer back.

  • When the captured king of the Amalekites, Agag, was brought before Samuel he thought the danger of death had passed. But Samuel said, "As your sword has made women childless, so will your mother be childless among women." And Samuel put Agag to death before the LORD at Gilgal. 1Sam15v33.

There is no doubt that people prefer an amiable, approachable, likeable leader. During my time as a school master it was very evident that the majority of children did not feel comfortable with a teacher who was too strict, too severe, too demanding - to scary! I'm afraid some thought I was scary!

There is no doubting Oliver Cromwell's competence. England became a very powerful and respected state during his protectorate. But the people of these shores were only too pleased to welcome frivolous and pleasure seeking King Charles the Second to the throne after Cromwell died.

(5) He was a victim of his own success.

About 21 years after the death of Eli, Samuel was the undisputed leader of Israel. See 1Samv6. He was able to persuade the people to get rid of foreign Gods and serve the LORD. Following this he had the authority to assemble an armed force at Mizpah that inflicted a heavy defeat on the Philistines. During his leadership the Philistines never threatened Israel. Samuel administered justice over all the 12 tribes.

It is clear that the Israelites were united under Samuel as they were under Moses and Joshua. He demonstrated all the advantages of strong, decisive leadership. The elders doubtless considered that the best way to maintain powerful, effective leadership and to maintain inter-tribal unity was to appoint a king. In view of the corruption of Samuel's sons there was no indication where the next judge was coming from. It seemed unlikely that another Samuel would arise. However, there was a son of Jesse that could have eventually taken on Samuel's role under God.

The Israelites chose to go the way of the world. They wanted a king such as all the other nations have. 1Sam8v5. They had their way but it did not maintain the unity of Israel. In the reign of Rehoboam, only the third king of the united kingdom, ten tribes split away from Judah and Benjamin never again to be united.

It does not pay to ape the world. One of the most tragic instances of this is the policy of the Roman Catholic Church in Japan in the 17th Century. In order to attract converts they became more Japanese than the Japanese themselves. The priests bathed, ate and dressed like Japanese. The Church abandoned care for the poor and became increasingly hierarchical and powerful. Unfortunately, the Japanese rulers began to perceive the church as a threat and eventually, mercilessly, wiped it out.

Even today in many denominations a hierarchical system of church government exists because of the decision of the church hundreds of years ago to use the Roman Empire as a model. Long gone is the plurality of elders that governed each individual church in the first century after Christ.

(D) Conclusion.

There is an old story that illustrates the merits of Samuel and all in the church like him.

In U.S. Navel Institute Proceedings, the magazine of the Naval Institute, Frank Koch illustrates the importance of obeying the Laws of the Lighthouse. Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities.

Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing reported, "Light, bearing on the starboard bow."

"Is it steady or moving astern?" the captain called out.

The lookout replied, "Steady, Captain," which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.

The captain then called to the signalman, "Signal that ship: 'We are on a collision course, advise you change course twenty degrees.'"

Back came the signal, "Advisable for you to change course twenty degrees."

The captain said, "Send: "I'm a captain, change course twenty degrees.'"

"I'm a seaman second-class," came the reply. "You had better change course twenty degrees."

By that time the captain was furious. He spat out, "Send: 'I'm a battleship. Change course twenty degrees.'"

Back came the flashing light, "I'm a lighthouse."

We changed course.

You don't mess with a lighthouse! You don't argue with it and you ignore it at your peril. A lighthouse is there for a purpose. It has great integrity of purpose. Its purpose is to warn you off the rocks, to keep you on course - to get you safely to your journey's end.

There could be no better description of the work of Samuel. He had integrity of purpose - to warn his people off conduct dishonouring to God and to point them to the Glory of Israel who does not change.

Thank God for all those who share Samuel's integrity - men and women who are beacons in the darkness - who by word and deed keep us on course for the heavenly harbour.

ANY COMMENTS FOR JOHN REED: E-mail jfmreed@talktalk.net