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Samuel by Rachelle Gilmour

The biblical portrait of Samuel comes almost exclusively from the book of 1 Samuel. Despite being the eponymous hero, Samuel recedes from the narrative after 1Sam 16 and dies in 1Sam 25:1, although he does appear when summoned from the grave by the woman of Endor in 1Sam 28. He is not mentioned by name in 2 Samuel, and he is mentioned only in passing in parallel accounts of the early monarchy in the book of Chronicles.

Prophet, priest or judge?

Samuel is never explicitly called a priest in the book of 1 Samuel. However, his mother, Hannah, brings Samuel as a child to “minister to the Lord” (1Sam 2:11) before Eli, the priest at Shiloh. Samuel wears a linen ephod (1Sam 2:18), a typical priestly garment worn also by the Eli and his sons (1Sam 2:28). And Samuel’s model behavior (e.g., 1Sam 2:26) is juxtaposed throughout 1 Samuel 2-3 with the corruption of Eli’s sons as priests (e.g., 1Sam 2:22-25; 1Sam 2:27-36).

When God tells Eli, “I will raise up for myself a faithful priest” to replace Eli’s house in 1Sam 2:35, the immediate context suggests that Samuel will be that priest. In the role of judge, in 1Sam 7, Samuel leads the people during a threat from the Philistines. In the pattern of judges in the book of Judges, Samuel continues to judge Israel during a time of peace “all the days of his life” according to 1Sam 7:15.

Samuel is named as a prophet explicitly in 1Sam 3:20, after receiving a message from God announcing the end of the house of Eli. Samuel will also be the bearer of news from God when Saul is rejected as king in 1Sam 13 and 1Sam 15.

Although attempts have been made to attribute Samuel’s roles of prophet, priest, and judge to different traditions underlying the composition of the book of 1 Samuel, in the present form of the text, each of the roles interweaves and interlocks with one another.

Similar to the biblical portrayal of Moses (who also holds multiple roles), Samuel is unafraid to question, complain, and even challenge God’s decisions. In 1Sam 8, Samuel is told by God to “listen to the voice of the people” three times (1Sam 8:7, 1Sam 8:9, 1Sam 8:22) before he obediently departs to anoint a king for Israel. In 1Sam 15:11, Samuel is angry and pleads with God regarding the decision to reject Saul as king. In each of these examples, Samuel is conspicuously unsuccessful at intercession. In contrast, Samuel’s intercessory role is affirmed in 1Sam 12:17-18, when he calls upon God for a sign, and God sends thunder and rain. In 1Sam 7:5-6, Samuel’s intercession brings about success in the face of a Philistine threat.

Kingmaker or king-breaker?

Samuel is sent by God to make, and break, Israel’s leaders, with much of the narrative attention directed towards Samuel’s relationship to King Saul. There are a number of reasons for suspicion regarding Samuel’s motives and reliability when he announces (or orchestrates?) the rejection of Saul.

In 1Sam 8, Samuel is hesitant to obey God and anoint a king, a response that can be traced to Samuel’s own role as judge; in particular, he is a judge who has appointed his own sons as judges after him (1Sam 8:1-3). Judges and kings share many of the same functions, and a key distinction is that only kingship is hereditary. Therefore, when Samuel appoints his sons as judges, he is acting in a king-like manner. It is no wonder that God must remind Samuel in 1Sam 8:7, “they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” Is Samuel against the idea of monarchy because the people have abandoned God or because his own powerful position as judge is threatened?

Hints of Samuel’s antipathy towards the monarchy continue throughout the story of Saul. In 1Sam 12, Samuel effectively sidelines the king before the people, offering his own services as teacher and intercessor (1Sam 12:23). Crucially, in 1Sam 13, Samuel indicts Saul for not waiting until Samuel’s arrival to make a sacrifice prior to battle with the Philistines. However, Samuel is pointedly late for his appointment, due to arrive within seven days but conveniently turning up only moments after Saul has made the sacrifice himself, ready to condemn Saul for his actions (1Sam 13:10).

Some scholars have suggested that Samuel’s grief at the second rejection of Saul (1Sam 15:11) is a result of the realization that the king will no longer be under his control. Certainly, Samuel does not enjoy the same influence over David during his reign that he exercises over Saul, and during the rise of David, Samuel recedes from the story.

Rachelle Gilmour , "Samuel", n.p. [cited 22 Jun 2021]. Online: https://bibleodyssey.org:443/en/people/main-articles/samuel

Contributors

Gilmour-Rachelle

Rachelle Gilmour
Bromby Senior Lecturer in Old Testament , Trinity College, University of Divinity (Melbourne)

Rachelle Gilmour is Bromby Senior Lecturer in Old Testament at Trinity College, University of Divinity (Melbourne). Her monographs include Representing the Past: A Literary Analysis of Narrative Historiography in the Book of Samuel (Brill, 2011), and a forthcoming volume, Divine Violence in the Book of Samuel (Oxford University Press).

Samuel is a powerful judge, prophet, and priest in stories about the early days of the United Monarchy in ancient Israel.

Did you know…?

  • The meaning of Samuel’s name is not clear. Suggestions include “Heard of God,” “One who is from God,” or “His name is El.”
  • The explanation that Samuel’s mother, Hannah, gives for naming her son Samuel in 1Sam 1:20 is “I have asked him of the Lord,” which is a play on Saul not Samuel’s name.
  • When the woman of Endor summons Samuel from the dead in 1 Samuel 28, Saul recognizes Samuel from his “robe” or outer garment (1Sam 28:14). Samuel’s robe is mentioned only two other times throughout the narrative of 1 Samuel (1Sam 2:19; 1Sam 15:27).
  • Outside of the book of Samuel and the book of Chronicles, Samuel is mentioned in two other places in the Hebrew Bible, Ps 99:6 and Jer 15:1.

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

A system of rule with a monarch as its head; or the hereditary system passed from one monarch to another.

A written, spoken, or recorded story.

In the New Testament, elements or stories that are preserved by more than one source, e.g., Jesus feeding the multitude in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew.

1Sam 16

David Anointed as King
1The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil a ... View more

1Sam 25:1

Death of Samuel
1Now Samuel died; and all Israel assembled and mourned for him. They buried him at his home in Ramah.
Then David got up and went down to the wil ... View more

1Sam 28

1In those days the Philistines gathered their forces for war, to fight against Israel. Achish said to David, “You know, of course, that you and your men are to ... View more

Following to the biblical text, the period of Israelite history in the 10th century B.C.E. when all the Israelite tribes were unified under a single monarchy, headed first by David and then by his son Solomon. The united monarchy ended after Solomon's death, when the northern tribes rebelled and became their own kingdom (Israel). The tribe of Judah alone remained in what became the southern kingdom and continued to be ruled by a king of the Davidic line. Some scholars debate whether there was really a united period or whether the two kingdoms were always separate.

Relating to the priests, the people responsible for overseeing the system of religious observance, especially temple sacrifice, depicted in the Hebrew Bible.

1Sam 2:11

11 Then Elkanah went home to Ramah, while the boy remained to minister to the Lord, in the presence of the priest Eli.

1Sam 2:18

The Child Samuel at Shiloh
18Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy wearing a linen ephod.

1Sam 2:28

28 I chose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to offer incense, to wear an ephod before me; and I gave to the family of ... View more

1Sam 2:26

26 Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people.

1Sam 2:22-25

22 Now Eli was very old. He heard all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting. ... View more

1Sam 2:27-36

27 A man of God came to Eli and said to him, “Thus the Lord has said, ‘I revealed[a] myself to the family of your ancestor in Egypt when they were slaves[b] to ... View more

1Sam 2:35

35 I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in ... View more

1Sam 7

7 1 And the people of Kiriath-jearim came and took up the ark of the Lord, and brought it to the house of Abinadab on the hill. They consecrated his son, Eleaza ... View more

1Sam 7:15

15 Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life.

1Sam 3:20

20 And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

1Sam 13

Saul's Unlawful Sacrifice
1Saul was . . . years old when he began to reign; and he reigned . . . and two years over Israel.2Saul chose three thousand out of Isr ... View more

1Sam 15

Saul Defeats the Amalekites but Spares Their King
1Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the ... View more

1Sam 8

Israel Demands a King
1When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel.2The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; ... View more

1Sam 8:7

7 and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from be ... View more

1Sam 8:9

9 Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

1Sam 8:22

22 The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice and set a king over them.” Samuel then said to the people of Israel, “Each of you return home.”

1Sam 15:11

11“I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me, and has not carried out my commands.” Samuel was angry; and he cried out to the Lor ... View more

1Sam 12:17-18

17 Is it not the wheat harvest today? I will call upon the Lord, that he may send thunder and rain; and you shall know and see that the wickedness that you have ... View more

1Sam 7:5-6

5 Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.” 6 So they gathered at Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before th ... View more

1Sam 8

Israel Demands a King
1When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel.2The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; ... View more

1Sam 8:1-3

8 When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in ... View more

1Sam 8:7

7 and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from be ... View more

1Sam 12

Samuel's Farewell Address
1Samuel said to all Israel, “I have listened to you in all that you have said to me, and have set a king over you.2See, it is the king ... View more

1Sam 12:23

23 Moreover as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you; and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.

1Sam 13

Saul's Unlawful Sacrifice
1Saul was . . . years old when he began to reign; and he reigned . . . and two years over Israel.2Saul chose three thousand out of Isr ... View more

1Sam 13:10

10 As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, Samuel arrived; and Saul went out to meet him and salute him.

1Sam 15:11

11“I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me, and has not carried out my commands.” Samuel was angry; and he cried out to the Lor ... View more

The set of Biblical books shared by Jews and Christians. A more neutral alternative to "Old Testament."

1Sam 1:20

20In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”

1Sam 28:14

14 He said to her, “What is his appearance?” She said, “An old man is coming up; he is wrapped in a robe.” So Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with hi ... View more

1Sam 2:19

19 His mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year, when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.

1Sam 15:27

27As Samuel turned to go away, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore.

Ps 99:6

Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
    Samuel also was among those who called on his name.
    They cried to the Lord, and he answered them.

Jer 15:1

15 Then the Lord said to me: 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 ... View more

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