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Notebook: The Life of Samuel the Prophet

J Grant

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Background

During the long period of forty years when the Children of Israel were in the wilderness after their refusal to enter Canaan, there was only one event that was recorded in the Word of God. This was the rebellion of Korah who sought to usurp the priesthood (Num 16-17). That two chapters are occupied with this rebellion is a mark of the importance of what took place. The judgment which came upon them was that the earth opened up and swallowed the rebels. The children of Korah, however, were preserved. Such was the dark nature of the sin committed by these rebels that it might have been thought that there would be no future for such a family. However, the son of Elkanah became the last judge of Israel, and he it was who anointed David to be king.

The grace of God, however, was at work and at the beginning of the first book of Samuel a family who were descended from the sons of Korah are introduced. Their genealogy can be traced by reading 1 Chronicles 6.33-38 (the Shemuel mentioned in v.33 is Samuel). Elkanah, although living in the territory of Ephraim, and thus by custom named as an Ephrathite, was a Levite, a Kohathite descended from Korah. Let all take heart that family background is not a bar to progress in the things of God (neither is a good spiritual background a guarantee of progress being made in spiritual matters).

The home of Elkanah

The problem of Elkanah having two wives is brought before the reader. It is probable that Hannah was his first wife, as she is first mentioned (1.2), and the fact that she had not borne children caused her husband, wrongly, to take a second wife. "Hannah" means "Grace" and "Peninnah" means "Red Pearl" or "Coral". It may be, therefore, that Hannah’s beauty was spiritual and Peninnah’s merely physical. Thus, this home was a home of divided affections, a situation that mirrored the condition of the nation (see 7.3; 12.20; 2 Sam 15.13 where the hearts of the people are mentioned).

It is clear from reading the vow of Hannah (1.11) that her desire for a child was not only to satisfy her longing to be a mother. She prayed for a "man child", doubtless with the dire spiritual condition of Israel in view and the resultant great need for revival. Her prayer was answered and Samuel was born.

Samuel’s young years

Chapters 2-3 are occupied mainly with the formative years of Samuel. There are precious lessons to be learned regarding the bringing up of this child. First, there was the influence of his godly mother. She was a woman of prayer, and one whose example would shape the thoughts of the child. Second, there was the word of God that came to him. Third, there was the House of God to which his mother had taken him. All these moulded the young Samuel, but without the personal dealings he had with God these would have yielded no fruit.

Notice the behaviour of Samuel. He "did minister unto the Lord" (2.11); he "ministered before the Lord" (2.18); and "Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him" (3.19). Thus was his progress marked until "the word of Samuel came to all Israel" (4.1). It is sad to note that despite Samuel’s word Israel went to war with the Philistines with disastrous results.

Revival

Twenty years passed with no record of Samuel. It may be that he held his peace until the time was right to speak again. These were long years of defeat under the heel of the conqueror. But what took place, recorded in ch.7, was the greatest revival seen in Israel since the time of Joshua. The first fact to notice is that there was lamentation (v.2). It is good when there is genuine grief in such a situation. The next stage in this revival was that there was sanctification. Idols had to be put away and their hearts had to be prepared to serve the Lord only (vv.3-4). He is a jealous God and will share His glory with none other. Their confession that they had sinned was followed with the sacrifice of a lamb for a burnt offering. The third stage was manifestation. The Lord manifested His power when He "thundered with a great thunder" (v.10) and made it possible for Israel to destroy them. Little wonder that the stone Eben-ezer was raised to commemorate this victory (v.12). Truly it could be said that up to that point the Lord had helped them.

Following this triumph there were years of peace for Israel. Samuel the judge went on his yearly circuit from his home at Ramah to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah judging the nation. Nothing more is written of these years, but what a contrast it must have been to be under the rule of such a man as Samuel rather than being under the control of the Philistines.

Failure

But the sons of Samuel were not like their father. Their greed caused them to take bribes, and the love of money caused them to go astray. This gave Israel the excuse to ask for a king to reign over them. The real motive behind this request, however, was the desire to be like the nations. In rejecting Samuel’s guidance they were rejecting the Lord. Any desire to be like the world is dangerous and will lead to the loss of love for the Lord and neglect of submission to His Word.

A further warning is that the failure of leaders will gave carnal men the opportunity to seek solutions that are not according to the Word of God. Attempts to bring in such worldly solutions will have no beneficial results. Humbling oneself before God and seeking His face for forgiveness is the only answer. The people and Samuel and his sons should have done so and a happier answer would have been found. Samuel warned the people of what would take place if a king were appointed. What he predicted did come to pass, but the people were not prepared to listen to him, despite the long years during which he had led them to victory and to the enjoyment of the fruit of that triumph. This was the background to the appointment of Saul as King of Israel.

The reign of Saul

The reign of Saul is not the subject of these notes, but it is necessary to look at His rejection as king. The first of the acts that led to Saul’s rejection took place during the war with the Philistines (1 Sam 13.8-14). Saul had been told to wait for seven days until Samuel came (10.8), but in the crisis that had developed as the Philistines drew near to do battle he failed to obey Samuel. In addition to that, he usurped the office of Samuel by offering a burnt offering.

The second act was when Saul was commanded to go and smite the Amalekites and destroy them and their flocks. Saul, however, spared Agag the king of the Amalekites and the best of their cattle and flocks. When Saul stated that the flocks were spared so that they could be sacrificed, the answer of Samuel was, "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (1 Sam 15.22). By this folly Saul lost the kingdom. He had been given everything that was necessary to rule well. The loss of the kingdom could be blamed on no-one but himself.

The anointing of David

This is the climax of Samuel’s life (1 Sam 16). It was a great day when the victory of 1 Samuel 7 was gained, but this was a greater day when he anointed as king the one who was after God’s own heart (Acts 13.22). This was truly the greatest act and greatest privilege of his long service - to provide the king whose throne would always be associated with the coming Messiah.

The death of Samuel

Some years passed after David was anointed, but Samuel would not live long enough to see David sitting on the throne. In 1 Samuel 25.1 it is recorded that when Samuel died "all the Israelites were gathered together, and lamented him". His testimony was good, right to the end, amongst all of the people. The babe born into the home at Ramah had finished his course. What a lesson to learn! Samuel made his mistakes, but so do we. Nevertheless, despite facing disappointment and failure, he kept going on. Surely this is an example to be followed.

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