Click here to get started today!
Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature
Sam´uel, the last of those extraordinary regents that presided over the Hebrew common wealth under the title of Judges. The circumstances of his birth are detailed at length in the first chapter of the book of Samuel. His mother vowed that if Jehovah should give her a man-child, she would devote him to the Lord all the days of her life. Her prayer was heard, and when the birth of a son fulfilled her hopes, this child of prayer was named Samuel (heard of God). In consequence of his mother's vow, the boy was from his early years set apart to the service of Jehovah, under the immediate tutelage of Eli.
The degeneracy of the people at this time was extreme. The tribes seem to have administered their affairs as independent republics, the national confederacy was weak and disunited, and the spirit of public patriotic enterprise had been worn out by constant turmoil and invasion. The theocratic influence was also scarcely felt, its peculiar ministers being withdrawn, and its ordinary manifestations, except in the routine of the Levitical ritual, having ceased; 'the word of the Lord was precious in those days, there was no open vision' (). The young devotee, 'the child Samuel,' was selected by Jehovah to renew the deliverance of his oracles. As he lay in his chamber adjoining the sacred edifice, the Lord, by means adapted; to his juvenile capacity, made known to him his first and fearful communication—the doom of Eli's apostate house. Other revelations speedily followed this; the frequency of God's messages to the young prophet established his fame; and the exact fulfillment of them secured his reputation. The fearful fate pronounced on the head and family of the pontificate was soon executed. Hophni and Phinehas, Eli's sons, both fell in one day; the Israelites were defeated with a great slaughter, and the ark of God was taken. Their father sat by the wayside to gather the earliest news of the battle, for his 'heart trembled for the ark of God;' and as a fugitive from the scene of conflict reported to him the sad disaster—Israel routed and fleeing in panic, Hophni and Phinehas both slain, and the ark of God taken—this last and overpowering intelligence so shocked him, that he fainted and fell from his seat, and in his fall 'brake his neck and died' (). When the feeble administration of Eli, who had judged Israel forty years, was concluded by his death, Samuel was too young to succeed to the regency, and the actions of this earlier portion of his life are left unrecorded. The ark, which had been captured by the Philistines, soon vindicated its majesty, and after being detained among them seven months, was sent back to Israel. It did not, however, reach Shiloh, in consequence of the fearful judgment of Bethshemesh (), but rested in Kirjathjearim for no fewer than twenty years (). It is not till the expiration of this period that Samuel appears again in the history. This long season of national humiliation was to some extent improved. 'All the house of Israel lamented after the Lord,' and Samuel, seizing upon the crisis, issued a public manifesto, exposing the sin of idolatry, urging on the people religious amendment, and promising political deliverance on their reformation. The people obeyed, the oracular mandate was effectual, and the principles of the theocracy again triumphed (). The tribes were summoned by the prophet to assemble in Mizpeh, and at this assembly of the Hebrew comitia, Samuel seems to have been elected regent ().
This mustering of the Hebrews at Mizpeh on the inauguration of Samuel alarmed the Philistines, and their 'lords went up against Israel.' Samuel assumed the functions of the theocratic viceroy, offered a solemn oblation, and implored the immediate protection of Jehovah. He was answered with propitious thunder. A fearful storm burst upon the Philistines they were signally defeated, and did not recruit their strength again during the administration of the prophet-judge. The grateful victor erected a stone of remembrance, and named it Ebenezer (the stone of help). From an incidental allusion () we learn, too, that about this time the Amorites, the Eastern foes of Israel, were also at peace with them. The presidency of Samuel appears to have been eminently successful. From the very brief sketch given us of his public life, we infer that the administration of justice occupied no little share of his time and attention. He went from year to year in circuit to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpeh, places not very far distant from each other, but chosen perhaps because they were the old scenes of worship.
The dwelling of the prophet was at Ramah, where religious worship was established after the patriarchal model, and where Samuel, like Abraham, built an altar to the Lord.
In Samuel's old age two of his sons were appointed by him deputy-judges in Beersheba. These young men possessed not their father's integrity of spirit, but 'turned aside after lucre, took bribes, and perverted judgment' (). The advanced years of the venerable ruler himself, and his approaching dissolution, the certainty that none of his family could fill his office with advantage to the country, the horror of a period of anarchy which his death might occasion, the necessity of having someone to put an end to tribal jealousies and concentrate the energies of the nation, especially as there appeared to be symptom of renewed warlike preparations on the part of the Ammonites ()—these considerations seem to have led the elders of Israel to adopt the bold step of assembling at Ramah and soliciting Samuel 'to make a king to judge them.' The proposed change from a republican to a regal form of government displeased Samuel for various reasons. Besides its being a departure from the first political institute, and so far an infringement on the rights of the divine head of the theocracy, it was regarded by the regent as a virtual charge against himself, and might appear to him as one of those examples of popular fickleness and ingratitude which the history of every realm exhibits in profusion. Jehovah comforts Samuel in this respect by saying, 'They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me.' Being warned of God to accede to their request for a king, and yet to remonstrate with the people, and set before the nation the perils and tyranny of a monarchical government (), Samuel proceeded to the election of a sovereign. Saul, son of Kish, 'a choice young man and a goodly,' whom he had met unexpectedly, was pointed out to him by Jehovah as the king of Israel, and by the prophet was anointed and saluted as monarch. Samuel again convened the nation at Mizpeh, again with honest zeal condemned their project, but caused the sacred lot to be taken. The lot fell on Saul. The prophet now formally introduced him to the people, who shouted in joyous acclamation 'God save the king.'
Not content with oral explanations, this last of the republican chiefs not only told the people the manner of the kingdom, 'but wrote it in a book and laid it up before the Lord.' What is here asserted of Samuel may mean, that he extracted from the Pentateuch the recorded provision of Moses for a future monarchy, and added to it such warnings, and counsels, and safeguards as his inspired sagacity might suggest. Saul's first battle being so successful, and the preparations for it displaying no ordinary energy and promptitude of character, his popularity was suddenly advanced, and his throne secured. Taking advantage of the general sensation in favor of Saul, Samuel cited the people to meet again in Gilgal, to renew the kingdom, to ratify the new constitution, and solemnly install the sovereign (). Here the upright judge made a powerful appeal to the assembly in vindication of his government, and the whole multitude responded in unanimous approval of his honesty and intrepidity (). Then he, still jealous of God's prerogative and the civil rights of his people, briefly narrated their history, showed them how they never wanted chieftains to defend them when they served God, and declared that it was distrust of God's raising up a new leader in a dreaded emergency that excited the outcry for a king. In proof of this charge he appealed to Jehovah, who answered in a fearful hurricane of thunder and rain. The terrified tribes confessed their guilt, and besought Samuel to intercede for them in his disinterested patriotism.
It is said () that Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. The assertion may mean that even after Saul's coronation Samuel's power, though formally abdicated, was yet actually felt and exercised in the direction of state affairs. No enterprise could be undertaken without Samuel's concurrence. His was an authority higher than the king's. We find Saul, having mustered his forces, about to march against the Philistines, yet delaying to do so till Samuel consecrated the undertaking. He came not at the time appointed, as Saul thought, and the impatient monarch proceeded to offer sacrifice—a fearful violation of the national law. The prophet arrived as the religious service was concluded, and rebuking Saul for his presumption, distinctly hinted at the short continuance of his kingdom. Again we find Samuel charging Saul with the extirpation of the Amalekites. The royal warrior proceeded on the expedition, but obeyed not the mandate of Jehovah. His apologies, somewhat craftily framed, for his inconsistencies availed him not with the prophet, and he was by the indignant seer virtually dethroned. He had forfeited his crown by disobedience to God. Yet Samuel mourned for him. But now the Lord directed him to make provision for the future government of the country (). To prevent strife and confusion it was necessary, in the circumstances, that the second king should be appointed before the first sovereign's demise. Samuel went to Bethlehem and set apart the youngest of the sons of Jesse, 'and came to see Saul no more till the day of his death.' At length Samuel died (), and all Israel mourned for him, and buried him in his house at Ramah.
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Samuel'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/s/samuel.html.