Samuel is the son of Hannah, a wife of Elkanah. Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah was able to give him children, but Hannah was barren and not able to have children. She prayed to God, asking for a son. God heard Hannah’s prayer, and blessed her with a son whom she named Samuel, meaning “God heard.” She gave the son back to God, devoting his life to the work of the temple in Shiloh. Samuel heard the voice of the Lord as a boy and continued to hear from God was seen as a prophet.
He is often viewed as the last and greatest of all the judges of Israel. One reason for this view can be seen in 1 Samuel 7:3-17. Prior to this episode, Israel has been at war with the Philistines. They had battled and battled, and then remembered that the Ark of the Covenant had been left at Shiloh. The act of forgetting the ark, the symbol of the presence of Yahweh, suggests that Israel, Walter Harrelson says, “has acted without consulting Yahweh at all.” After brining the ark out, the ark is captured by the Philistines – but not for long. Everywhere the Philistines take the ark, plagues follow.
Though Yahweh was not consulted, Yahweh is still in the battle. In the seventh chapter, Samuel gathers all of Israel together at Mizpah. He is the leader, one that is like that of Moses. In the midst of Canaanite culture and religion, along with the Philistine threat, the people are easily distracted and were putting their loyalty in other places. God called Samuel to refocus Israel’s loyalty back to Yahweh.
Samuel renews Israel’s commitment to God and the people start fresh. Samuel inspires new beginning. Samuel remained judge and leader of Israel until he reached an old age. It is his role, as Harrelson highlights, in the “establishment of the kingship” that marks “him as more than just another of the judges.”
As Samuel got older, the fun continued. The people requested that they have a king like all the other nations around them. They felt threatened by the growing, neighboring nations and did not have confidence in Samuel’s sons to be their judges. Samuel was not happy about this. How can they ask for a king to rule them on earth when their one sovereign God rules in both heaven and earth? Even so, Samuel seeks counsel from God.
God tells him to listen to the people’s request and give them a king. Samuel does so, but warns them first about what it will be like having a king (1 Samuel 8:10-18). Samuel concludes in verse 18 with a harsh truth:
In that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.
This statement makes it clear that Samuel did not approve of a monarchy. However, Samuel set aside his own personal thoughts and sought counsel from God.
How do you seek counsel from God?
Resources: Brueggemann, Walter. First and Second Samuel. John Knox Press, 1990. Harrelson, Walter. Interpreting the Old Testament. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964.