Samuel: Prophet, Priest, and Judge

Samuel lived during a unique span of time as he witnessed the close of the era of Judges who led Israel to the anointing of the first kings of Israel. But Samuel did not simply live during those days as thousands of others did, but he, himself, led Israel as their Judge, and he was the one who anointed Israel’s first king, Saul, and he later anointed the next king, David. This alone makes him a great man, but there is so much more to Samuel than these actions. Since boyhood, Samuel ministered to the Lord in the Tabernacle (that title had already morphed to be called “the Temple”, 1 Samuel 3:3). Samuel lived and slept within the temple courts; his life was dedicated solely to God. Another unique point to be made concerning Samuel is that it was also during his boyhood that God called him to be a prophet and revealed His will to Samuel. Then the text reports that “Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the LORD.” (1 Samuel 3:19-20). The fascination that the Lord revealed his word to Samuel does not rest alone on that he was only a boy at the time, but that God did not really speak to any man during that era. 1 Samuel 3:1 tells us that “the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.” The biblical record only mentions one who is called a prophet between Moses and Samuel, and he is unnamed and lived hundreds of years before Samuel (Judges 6:8). In the New Testament, The Holy Spirit through Peter said this: “Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.” (Acts 3:22-24). From this, we can note a couple of things. There is a 400-year gap in the line of the great prophets from Moses to Samuel, after which, there is a fairly steady stream of prophets until the gap between Malachi/Zechariah and John the Baptizer, which also happens to span 400 years. Secondly, Peter also notes that Samuel prophesied concerning Jesus, the church, and the fall of the old covenant people in the first century. This was truly a great and godly man.

Samuel’s greatness is evident by the witness of God elsewhere in scripture. 500 years after Samuel’s death, God said this to Jeremiah: “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go!” (Jeremiah 15:1). God speaks of both Moses and Samuel as men highly favored by Him; men who have reached out to God on behalf of His disobedient people and God answered their plea because of who they were, not because of who the people were. Israel was spared from death a number of times because of Moses (Exodus 32:11, Numbers 14:13). In the days of Eli, when the Israelites had adopted the practice of worshipping idols, they were defeated by the Philistines in battle twice. 34,000 Israelite soldiers died in the war. But when Samuel rose up as Judge over Israel, he spoke directly to the Israelites, saying, “If you return to the LORD with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths from among you, and prepare your hearts for the LORD, and serve Him only; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.” (1 Samuel 7:3). And the people listened to Samuel and followed his wise counsel; they put away all the idols and began to serve only the Lord. Then, as Moses had in the past, Samuel cried out to the Lord on behalf of Israel… “and the Lord answered him.” (1 Samuel 7:9).

Take a look at how the Lord answered Samuel’s petition: “Now as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel. But the LORD thundered with a loud thunder upon the Philistines that day, and so confused them that they were overcome before Israel.” (1 Samuel 7:10).

“So the Philistines were subdued, and they did not come anymore into the territory of Israel. And the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.” (1 Samuel 7:13).

Samuel was dedicated to the Lord throughout his life and was insistent that the word of God be followed in all that the Israelites did, and late in his life, King Saul kept Samuel busy with his relaxed approach to serving and worshipping God. Samuel’s commitment to the commandments of God is possibly most evident over 350 years after Samuel’s life. For in the days of King Josiah, Josiah led a great restoration back to the ways of God, and in the eighteenth year of his reign, the people of Judah observed the Passover in accordance with the Law of Moses. 2 Chronicles 35:18 reports that “There had been no Passover kept in Israel like that since the days of Samuel the prophet; and none of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as Josiah kept, with the priests and the Levites, all Judah and Israel who were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” This is not saying that there had not been Passovers in the days of some of the previous kings, but that Josiah’s Passover observation was one of pure devotion with a strict adherence to what is found in the Law of Moses and a disregard to the traditions and customs of men. Such purity and honor for the word of God had not been witnessed since Samuel led the people. What a great witness to the life and influence of the man Samuel.

It is of no surprise that the writer of Hebrews makes mention of Samuel (Hebrews 11:32) in the short catalog of people who had tremendous faith in God, and by that faith, did remarkable works for God and His people. I hope to write soon concerning the latter days of Samuel, his sons, and Samuel’s anointing of the first kings of Israel.

Article by Tanner Campbell