By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Prophets

  • Israel was in moral chaos prior to Samuel's birth. The Israelites were waiting for a king who would protect, guide, and defend them as well as give legitimacy to the community.
  • Samuel's father had an impressive genealogy, but his mother was barren.
  • His mother vowed that if Yahweh gave her a son, she would consecrate him to the Lord and give that son to the temple. ("Not a razor shall touch his head" implies a Nazarite vow - the Hebrew word "nazar" means to separate or consecrate.)
  • Hannah named Samuel - his name means, "the name of God is 'El'." His name commemorates the power of God. Hannah's explanation because "I have asked him of the Lord" is really the etymology for the name Saul.
  • Samuel was a very young boy when he took up residence in the temple.
  • Eli's own sons were morally unfit and Eli was unable to rein them in. He, therefore, shared in their guilt, which led to the downfall and demise of his family.
  • Scholars do not know how old Samuel was when the Lord called him three times.
  • The purpose of this call sequence was to legitimize new leadership and depose the old.
  • Eli instructed Samuel how to respond to the call of his name.
  • Samuel followed those instructions - showing his dependence on Eli.
  • Samuel then had to tell Eli about the oracle that was against Eli. The words are harsh, unrelenting, and devastating. Eli's house was supposed to last forever. Now it will be punished forever.
  • Neither Eli nor Samuel questioned the verdict. The Lord is now with Samuel.
  • Samuel's credibility was rooted in God's resolve to do a new thing.
  • In 7:3, Samuel, acting as judge, summarized the covenantal faith, much like Moses had in the past. (The similarities are certainly intentional.)
  • Samuel urged them to have a single heart, to look to the Lord in every need.
  • The people responded positively; Samuel gave them a new beginning.
  • When the Philistines attacked, Samuel prayed and offered sacrifices. The Lord answered with thunder and the Philistines were summarily routed on behalf of Israel.
  • Samuel functioned effectively as a judge for the rest of his days.
  • Unfortunately, his sons "did not walk in his ways." They were failures.
  • The elders of Israel brought up the idea of a monarchy; after all, everyone else had a king.
  • Samuel was alarmed, displeased. He saw this as a fundamental shift in Israel's commitment to the covenant.
  • Yahweh was the one who convinced Samuel to accept their proposal. Yahweh did not endorse it, but he did not oppose it. Israel had a long history of dissatisfaction with Yahweh; this was simply one more step in that direction.
  • The Lord instructed Samuel to warn them, to let them know the costs involved in their decision.
  • Samuel held nothing back in criticizing the monarchy, telling them they would eventually be like "slaves." (Do you see the irony here, remembering that these people had lived in bondage under the Egyptians and what they went through to become liberated?) The people were undaunted; they wanted the security of being "like all the nations."
  • Yahweh did not abandon his people; instead he took the initiative and revealed to Samuel what he must do, how he would meet the future king, and that he was to anoint him.
  • When Samuel and Saul met, the Lord confirmed that Saul was the one.
  • Saul was looking for his father's missing donkeys, and before he even had a chance to open his mouth, Samuel told him that they had been found.
  • Saul was so impressed that he followed Samuel's leadings without question.
  • Samuel's first anointing of Saul was done privately; Saul would need to grow into his position in order to garner the support of his fellow countrymen.
  • Later, Samuel called the people to Mizpah for the purpose of selecting a king - by casting lots. Saul was the one who was chosen.
  • Samuel wrote up the "manner of the kingdom" and "laid it up before the Lord." The monarchy was now part of the covenantal agreement between Yahweh and Israel.
  • Samuel's next task was to hand over the administrative duties to the new king - and to go home.
  • An attack from the Amorites intervened and after Saul led them to victory, Samuel asked to renew the covenant one more time. This provided him with the occasion for his farewell speech to the nation.
  • Samuel began by vindicating his own career, then reminding them of their covenantal relationship with Yahweh (essentially vindicating Yahweh as well), and then reiterating his doubts and warnings about the monarchy. He essentially subsumed the kingship under the covenantal structure of blessings and curses. The king would have no theological authority. Samuel invoked a thunderstorm to sanction his words - no king could do that.
  • The king would only have the power to be obedient; prophets would have decisive authority. The real authority belonged to Samuel and the torah.
  • For one brief shining moment, the people saw the dangers ahead. Samuel reassured them, instructing them to serve the Lord with "all your heart." And if they didn't, no king would be able to save them.
  • As a result of these speeches, job descriptions should have been clear: Samuel was supposed to do the praying and sacrificing; Saul would be in charge of the fighting.
  • Yet during the very next battle when Samuel was delayed, Saul, not wanting to lose momentum, jumped in to do the sacrifices and prayers. Samuel was outraged and told him what "might have been." Had Saul been obedient, his kingdom would have been established forever.
  • Scholars struggle with these events because they seem so harsh to us, but obedience was the #1 quality required of a king. (Remember: his job was to work in the service of the Lord.)
  • Things worsened after the next battle with the Amalekites when Saul took some of the spoils for himself. Again, he did not obey his instructions to "utterly destroy all that they have." Then Samuel "grieved over Saul" and the Lord "was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel."
  • Samuel was then commissioned to go to Jesse and anoint a new king from among his sons.
  • This act was not without risk - anointing a king when there already was a king is risky business.
  • Even the townspeople were nervous when Samuel showed up in their city - they knew he was a king-maker, as well as a king-breaker. Nonetheless, Yahweh gave Samuel the words to say, and Jesse's sons passed by him, one by one.
  • When Samuel saw David, he was told, "David is the one."
  • Samuel privately anointed David. (The oil is binding, and the spirit came upon David.)
  • Samuel's last recorded activity was to protect David. Saul had sent men to kill David, but they forgot their intentions when in the presence of Samuel. The spirit of the Lord came upon them and they prophesied. The same thing happened to Saul when he went to do the job himself. He forgot his murderous intentions and "prophesied." The "would be killer" of God's anointed was powerless in the presence of Samuel.
  • Samuel's death is noted in a single verse in chapter 25. He was mourned and buried.
  • Samuel's power haunted Saul even after his death. Saul asked a witch to raise up Samuel so he could ask his advice - an indication that the Lord was no longer with Saul.
  • Samuel's words were devastating for Saul: both he and his sons would be killed in the upcoming battle. The Lord had departed from Saul and was now his enemy.
  • On that ominous note, Samuel disappears from the story.


Alter, Robert and Frank Kermode. The Literary Guide to the Bible. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press. 1987.

Brueggeman, Walter. "1 & 2 Samuel." Interpretation. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1990.

Evans, Mary. "1 and 2 Samuel." New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000.

Mills, Watson and Richard Wilson. Mercer Commentary on the Bible. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1995

Newsom, Carol and Sharon Ringe. The Women's Bible Commentary. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992.

Payne, David. "I & II Samuel." The Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1982.

Peterson, Eugene. "First and Second Samuel." The Westminster Bible Companion. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999.

Robinson, Gnana. "1 & 2 Samuel, Let Us Be Like the Nations." The International Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans, 1993.

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