Priest, prophet and judge, Samuel helped transform Israel form a nation led by charismatic figures called "judges" to one ruled and led by kings, who were to exercise thee authority not as other kings did, but as men who belonged to God. He anointed Israel's first two kings, Saul and David.
Samuel was eager to hear God's voice and more than willing to speak his word, even when doing so meant rebuking a king and risking his very life. A spiritual leader who won military victories against the Philistines, he reminded the people of God's faithfulness and of the vital importance of their obedience. Sadly, he failed to pass on these same character traits to his sons, who acted corruptly as judges in his stead. His greatest sorrow is that Saul, the first anointed king failed to obey God and went his own way and his triumph was to help shape Israel into a theocratic monarchy whose kings were to be God's chief servants, thus apparently receiving recognition from neighboring pagan kingdoms and nations.
Every time Hannah held her boy in her arms, it was like holding the tangible evidence of God's never-ending kindness. For the Lord had heard the sincerity of the prayer she uttered so fervently at the temple in Shiloh. She wanted a son and God presented her with one. Hannah promised to dedicate the gift of her child to God, not just for a few years, but for the rest of his life. Now that Samuel was three and no longer nursing at her breast, Hannah knew it was time to make the journey up to Shiloh again, this time to entrust her boy to care of the priest Eli.
But Eli was not every mother's dream of what a spiritual father should be. His own sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were grown men who cared nothing for God, intent as they were on indulging their grossest appetites. As priests, they made regular practice of stealing the best meat from the sacrifices and sleeping around at random with the women who served at the entrance to the Meeting Tent. But instead of correcting and punishing them, the old priest simply looked the other way, too tired perhaps, to do more than half-heartedly scold them.
True to her promise, Hannah left the child in the hands of our heavenly Father and those of Eli, confident the Lord would watch over Samuel in the temple. She had enormous faith, so great that her prayer for a child was repeated almost verbatim by the ever-Virgin Mary when the angelic visitor came to her announcing the impending birth of Christ the Saviour centuries later. Her confidence was not misplaced and God did watch over Samuel. Year after year the boy grew in favor with God and the people. And each year he received a new little robe from his mother who came to Shiloh to pray at the annual sacrifice. In those days the word of the Lord was rarely heard in Israel and there were not many visions. One night as Samuel was lying down in the temple where the Ark of God was enshrined, he heard someone calling his name. Obediently running straight to Eli the priest, he said, "Here I am; you called me?"
But Eli said, "I did not call you; go back and lie down." Again the boy heard a voice calling, "Samuel!" and he got up once again and went to Eli and repeated, "Here I am; you called me?" But Eli said once again, "I did not call you; now go back and lie down." But the boy heard the same voice all over again, "Samuel!" So he immediately went to Eli and announced, "Here I am; you did call me!"
Perplexed, Eli said, "My son, I did not call; return to your bed and rest." Realizing at last that God was calling the boy, Eli advised him, "Go and lie down and if you hear the voice again, say, 'Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening."' When the boy heard the voice once again, calling for the fourth time, "Samuel, Samuel," he responded as instructed, 'Speak, Lord, your servant is listening."'
The Lord's word was clear. His message to Samuel concerned Eli and his two wicked priest sons. "See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family. For I told him I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible and he failed to restrain and correct them."
The next morning Samuel was afraid to tell Eli the contents of the vision and message, but the old man continually pressed him for an explanation. Finally, after Samuel confided in him, Eli merely responded, "He is the Lord; let him do what Is good in his eyes." There was no fear, no remorse, no eagerness to correct the situation about which he was aware.
No doubt our God was protecting the vocation of Samuel from the horrible scandalous model provided by Eli and his priest sons. He wanted submission, fidelity and obedience from Samuel in spite of what the young man saw and experienced in the behavior of these renegade priests. It is astounding our God prepared a great judge in salvation history at the knees of a reprobate priest and his family. Samuel was called upon to exercise his own judgment and put into effect God's values. Samuel learned quickly what he was to avoid since no doubt even our Lord, centuries later must have been referring to this incident when He commented and observed about the unchanged behavior and attitude of his contemporary temple priests, "The scribes and the Pharisees have succeeded Moses as teachers, therefore do everything and observe every thing they tell you, but do not follow their example. Their words are bold, but their deeds are few..." Matthew 23: 3, 4.
One day after the Israelites suffered another crushing and demoralizing defeat at the hand of the Philistines, the elders suggested the Ark of the Covenant be brought from Shiloh and carried into battle "...so that it may go well with us and save us from the hand of our enemies." When desperate, the non-believers hoped in God's protection. They did what they thought out of superstitious inspiration. So Hophni and Philehas brought the Ark out, treating it like a charm that would magically restore them and insure a victory.
Instead because of the insult offered our heavenly Father, the Ark was quickly captured and thirty thousand Israelites were killed including Eli's good-for-nothing sons. When the old priest, who refused to deal with the sin he knew all about, heard that the Ark had been captured and his sons perished in the conflict, he fell out of his chair and broke his neck. The same day the wife of Phinehas died while giving birth to a son name Ichabod, saying, "...the glory has departed from Israel, for the Ark of God has been captured."
Despite this miserable woman's assessment of the situation, our heavenly Father was still with his people, raising up a leader who would speak his word clearly and faithfully, inciting the Israelites to repentance and obedience. Through the years that followed, God spoke to the man who longed to hear his voice, to the great prophet Samuel, whose service of ministry began the moment he responded to the Lord with these words, "Speak Lord, for your servant listens."
Years passed after the death of the priest Eli and his sons and Samuel was growing old, his own sons more like those of Eli than he cared to admit. He judged Israel faithfully for many years, but the leaders were incessantly clamoring for a change, insisting Israel needed to be just like all the other nations surrounding them and be ruled by a king, not by God's appointed judge. This demand for a king seemed to Samuel like more evidence of their waywardness. The stiff-necked people were impossible to lead, always so certain they knew what was best for them and resisting the commands of God as inferior to the judgments of neighboring kingsrulers. Samuel railed against the idea until people became so adamant that he made it a matter for prayer. He heard a surprising answer from the Lord: "Samuel, listen to all the people are saying; it is not you they have rejected; but they have rejected me as their king-ruler. As they have done from the day I brought them out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are now doing to you as my representative. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do." So Samuel described in frightening detail all the demands a king would place on them, drafting their sons and daughters to work and die for him, devouring the fruits of their labor, requiring so much that they would feel enslaved by him. But the elders would not listen and insisted, "We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations with a king to go out before us as we fight our battles."
So God gave them a king named Saul, a man who stood a head taller than most other men, yet a man who was no better at following the Lord than they had been. This was the king God directed Samuel to anoint, the king he had to guide and advise. The king he also finally had to pass judgment on, delivering a message many would fear to render a king, that God intended to tear the crown from his head and give it to another man.
Then The Lord told Samuel to fill his shofar horn with oil and go to Jesse of Bethlehem because one of his sons was to be king. Though Samuel feared Saul's wrath if he were to anoint a new king, he did as the Lord commanded and as soon a he saw Jesse's eldest son, he was certain he had found Israel's next king. But the Lord thought otherwise, for He said, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I reject him. The Lord does not look at things man thinks important. Man looks at outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart." Finally came David, the youngest of the sons, a shepherd boy, strong and solid on the inside as he looked on the outside. Samuel was inspired to take the horn of olive oil and poured it over David's head, consecrating and anointing him in the presence of his brothers.
Years passed before David finally ascended the throne of Israel but by then Samuel was already dead. But the man who had been an answer to his devoted mother's prayer and who had been dedicated to God before birth and in a special way for the whole of his life time had fulfilled God's purpose, helping Israel make the transition from the chaotic period of the judges, when every man did what was right in his own eyes, to the period of the kings of Israel, when the Lord searched for a ruler who would be a man after his own heart.
Unlike Samson who delivered the Israelites from their Philistine overlords through sheer muscle power, Samuel initiated Israel's deliverance by helping people face the root cause of their lack of might and influence in the world which was their continued on-going disobedience and idolatry. Because Samuel realized God's promise of protection depended on their obedience, he led the people through a time of repentance and intercession that restored their relationship with our heavenly Father and called for his protective care (1 Samuel 7: 10).
Today we ask why the people were so insistent about having a king to be like others in the fallen world? Are we not like that when we insist on doing our own thing so we can be like the pagans who surround us? What does the period in which Samuel lived say about our own need to repent so we will be delivered from our enemies, the corruption of sin, the influence of the devil and the temptation of the world and the flesh?