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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible
SAMUEL . The life of Samuel is viewed from widely differing standpoints in different sections of the books that bear his name. In the oldest narrative, found in 1 Samuel 9:1-27 , he appears as a seer from the land of Zuph, to whom Saul and his servant, who are seeking the lost asses of Kish, Saul’s father, apply for help. Saul had hesitated about applying to the man of God, on the score of not having a gift to present, but the servant produced the fourth part of a shekel of silver with which to compensate the seer. Samuel, who had been Divinely apprised of their coming, met them while he was on his way to worship at the high place, and after they had partaken of his hospitality and passed the night with him, he nominated and anointed Saul as Israel’s coming king. He further gave Saul signs by which he should know that the promises would he fulfilled, and committed him to the Spirit of God. In another narrative (chs. 1 3), which differs in point of view rather than in trustworthiness, are recited the incidents of Samuel’s early life and relations to the kingdom. Hannah , his mother, the wife of Elkanah , was barren. During the celebration of the yearly feast she vows that if God will give her a son she will give him to Jehovah. Samuel is therefore the son of answered prayer, and is in due time dedicated to the Temple service at Shiloh, where he assists Eli , is warned by Jehovah of the coming destruction of Eli’s house, and receives the call to the prophetic office.
After the death of Eli and the return of the ark from the Philistines, Samuel becomes ‘judge’ of Israel, calls the people to repentance at Mizpah, and saves them miraculously from the invading Philistines (ch. 7). He is succeeded in the judgeship by unworthy sons, and Israel, outraged at their sinfulness and worthlessness, demands a king a proposition, in the estimation of Samuel, tantamount to a rejection of Jehovah, though no such suggestion was made when he voluntarily appointed Saul. Nevertheless he yields to their wish, hut describes in sombre colours the oppressions they must endure under the monarchy (ch. 8). Accordingly the people are assembled at Mizpah, again accused of forsaking Jehovah, and Saul is selected by lot (1 Samuel 10:17-24 ). Samuel now makes his farewell address (ch. 12), defends his administration, warns the people, by references to their past history, of the danger of disobeying Jehovah, and compels nature to attest his words by a thunderstorm in harvest time.
The insignificant rÃ´le played by Samuel in the first narrative cited is very noticeable when compared with the position accorded him in that which follows. In the first he is an obscure seer, and takes but a minor part in the establishment of the kingdom. In the latter he is a commanding and dominating figure. He is a judge of the people, adjudicating their affairs yearly at Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah. Saul, as well as the monarchy, is controlled and directed by him.
The narrative of Samuel’s prominence is succeeded by an account (ch. 13) from a different source of Saul’s attack on the Philistines. The story is interrupted at 1 Samuel 13:8-15 by a complaint that Saul had disobeyed in offering sacrifice before the battle, although he had waited the required seven days as instructed by Samuel. It is difficult to see wherein Saul was guilty. Samuel had not appeared according to agreement. The Philistines were closing in upon Saul, his army was fast melting away, it was necessary to give battle, and it would have been considered irreligious to inaugurate the battle without sacrifice. For this rebellion Samuel informs him that his kingdom is forfeit, and that Jehovah has chosen another, a man after His own heart, to take his place.
Again Saul is instructed by Samuel (ch. 15) to destroy Amalek men, women, children, and spoil but he spares Agag and the best of the booty. All his excuses are rejected, and Samuel now attributes the loss of his kingdom to the new disobedience. This narrative does not seem conscious that the kingdom was already lost to Saul. The king confesses his fault, and after repeated persuasion Samuel agrees to honour him before his people by worshipping with him. Agag is then brought before Samuel, who hews him to pieces before the Lord. After this Samuel is sent to the home of Jesse to select and anoint a successor to Saul. One by one the sons of Jesse are rejected, till David , the youngest, is brought from the field, and proves to be the choice of Jehovah (ch. 16). With this significant act Samuel practically disappears. We find an account of his keeping a school of the prophets at Ramah, whither David flees to escape Saul ( 1 Samuel 19:18-24 ). Later we have a short account of his death and burial at Ramah ( 1 Samuel 25:1 ). There is also a mention of his death in ch. 28, and the story of Saul’s application to the witch of Endor to call up Samuel from the dead.
J. H. Stevenson.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Samuel'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/s/samuel.html. 1909.