Throughout the Historical Books we encounter a variety of prophets and other people who act as spokesman for the LORD. All of them rose up in times of need and through the guiding of the Holy Spirit were able to deliver messages and be the conduits of both miracles and nation changing events. Each prophet was important to their specific day and time but there is one of these prophets which has had perhaps the most long reaching effect in Israel’s post-wilderness existence. It is therefore my opinion that Samuel was the most influential prophet during the time of the Historical books.
The World of the Prophet Samuel
Before we can look at the prophet Samuel, the man, we must first understand the world in which he was operating within. The story of Samuel comes about at the end of the Early Iron Age between 1200BC and 1000BC. “This period was a relatively quiet one, both in Canaan and internationally” as most of the major powers including the Egyptians, Hittites, and Assyrians were in a state of relative decline. This paved the way for the period of Samuel to me marked more by skirmishes between smaller neighbouring states.
Israel at this time was primarily facing against oppression from the Philistines, who despite a set back caused by Samson had re-established themselves as the primary oppressor of Israel. They extended this oppression into the economic sphere by monopolizing the metal working industry. This included banning Israelites from obtaining weapons and by charging over inflated prices for the sharpening of farm tools. The time period which marked the entry of Samuel’s birth and ministry consisted of military and economic on Israel by the Philistines. This makes Israel’s cry for a king later in Samuel’s life much more understandable.
Knowing the background of Samuel’s place in history we can now survey the life of the prophet himself. Samuel’s story begins with his barren mother in 1 Samuel chapter one. We find Samuel’s mother Hannah weeping and praying at the tabernacle offering a promise that if she would conceive she would dedicate the child to the LORD and that no razor would touch his head (a form of a modified Nazarite vow). Both Eli and God head her prays and a couple of years later (1120BC) she returns with the young child named Samuel which name means “name of God,” or “His name is El” (El: God of strength and power).
The Calling of the Prophet Samuel
For about a decade Samuel served at the house of the LORD under the watch of Eli until one fateful night, the night the LORD reached out to him. Samuel heard a voice and thought it to be Eli’s but it wasn’t, then it happened a second time, finally the third time Eli the high priest realized what was happening.
1 Samuel 3:8-11 “8 A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ “So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 11 And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle…” (NIV)
At the utterance of that now famous phrase “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” Samuel entered into his prophetic calling as the LORD stood before him and spoke about the coming judgment on Eli. As time went on 1 Samuel 3 shows that “19 The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.” In being thus recognized, Samuel was qualifying for his leadership role in serving the nation.”
This recognition lead Samuel to occupy the roles of prophet, judge and priest in the nation these “three roles are combined in this passage as he leads them in repentance in order to bring about their deliverance.” We see this call to repentance in 1 Samuel 7 following the return of the ark of the Covenant to Israel from Philistine territory. “At the Mizpah national assembly, Samuel ‘judged the people’, calling for repentance and fasting.”  As the people were assembled the Philistines came up to fight against this assembly which they interpreted as a rebellion, Samuel acted in the office of judge and priest though the offering of a sacrifice and in the call to battle. With the Philistines pushed back but still causing trouble and peace with the Amorites Samuel took up a regular routine of travelling between Bethel, Gilgal, Mizpah and Ramah to perform his roles of prophet, priest and judge. It is also believed that at this time Samuel established the school of the prophets and routinely visited them on his regular circuit.
Samuel Anoints a King
After many years of Samuel’s oversight of the nation the people called out to Samuel to give them a king so that they could be like all of the other nations around them. After conversing with the LORD twice about the matter Samuel was told to “Listen to them and give them a king.” This event is one of the reasons why Samuel is seen as the most influential prophets in the Historical Books as it was through him that Israel transformed from a theocratic tribal confederacy to a monarchy. Samuel proceeded to tell the people the price they would have to pay and endure because of this demand but they did not relent.
By their demands they had taken the first step into having a monarchy like those around them. For “the kings of the ancient world enjoyed nearly limitless power and authority, and regularly claimed divine support for their rule. Kingship was believed to have been lowered from heaven and to have its roots in the original creation and organization of the world. The king functioned as vice-regent for the divine ruler, and it was his duty to preserve order and justice in society.” This is what the people wanted and they felt that first Samuel could not deliver that and secondly, they did not want any of Samuel’s sons to assume the role of judge for they were going down the same path as Eli’s sons.
When we move to 1 Samuel 9-10 we see Samuel in the role of “king maker” through his discovery and anointing of Saul son of Kish from the tribe of Benjamin. A man literally head and shoulders above the rest who apparently fit the mold of what the people wanted in a king. With the monarchy in place Samuel still remained a prominent figure in Israel and still continued to act as a prophet and a priest. As “with the initiation of kingship, the role of the prophet would now become an advisory one. Rather than leading the people as the recipient of divine messages, the prophet would offer guidance to the king, who would retain the freedom to accept or reject it.
Samuel as an Intercessor
1 Sam 12:19 also emphasizes the intercessory role of the prophet.” For the next several chapters we encounter several rough encounters between Samuel and Saul. In chapter 13 we see Saul’s impatience get the better of him and he offered the sacrifice in Samuel’s place. Samuel responded to this overstepping of Saul’s authority by proclaiming in 1 Samuel 13:13-14 “13 “You have done a foolish thing you have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.” (NIV) The stage had now through the prophet had been set for a new dynasty to emerge in Israel.
Unfortunately, Saul did not learn his lesson about heading the words of the prophet, as we see against further disobedience in 1 Samuel 15. Here Samuel had commanded Saul to strike down the Amalekite for what they did to Moses and the people in the wilderness. Samuel commanded that they were to be totally wiped out people and animals, none were to be spared. Saul won the battle but he allowed the people to keep the best of the animals and left king Agag alive. The LORD being grieved at what had happened spoke through Samuel and told Saul “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.”
After hearing that Saul fell down and tore the hem of Samuel’s robe (a symbol of his prophetic office) as he grabbed it in a plea for mercy. Samuel then proclaimed in 1 Samuel 15:28-29 “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you. 29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.” The last part appears to be a rebuke of how Saul changed his mind and allowed the people to keep the best of the spoils. After that judgement, Samuel in what could be called a momentary reactivation of his role as judge killed king Agag before he left.
Samuel’s Search for a New King
From here Samuel set out in his next mission to find the king of the new dynasty which would be a man after God’s own heart. In 1 Samuel 16 we find the prophet in Bethlehem and his divinely appointed meeting with a man called Jesse who had eight sons. Among those sons was the youngest, a tender-hearted shepherd named David after the LORD had rejected the other sons. “12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, ‘Rise and anoint him; this is the one.’ 13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.”
Going forward Samuel only takes on a minor role in the narrative but it is evident that David remained in contact with him to some degree in the coming years. When David was fleeing Saul, Samuel is one of the people he went to for help, as we see in 1 Samuel 19:18-20. Later in that story Saul himself would come out and begin to prophesy in front of Samuel, in some ways everything had come full circle as upon his anointing Saul also was found among Samuel’s disciples prophesying. This marks the last major event in Samuel’s earthly life as he is not mentioned again until 1 Samuel 25 which speaks of his death and the nations mourning of their loss. This just leaves one final event in the life of Samuel, well not life but afterlife of Samuel. Saul when he was facing the Philistine army desperately wanted to hear from the LORD so he employed the services of a necromancing with in Endor. Through deception he convinced her to summon the prophet Samuel so he could get a message from the LORD. The message he received is recorded in 1 Samuel 28:16-19:
“Why do you consult me, now that the Lord has departed from you and become your enemy? 17 The Lord has done what he predicted through me. The Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors—to David. 18 Because you did not obey the Lord or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the Lord has done this to you today. 19 The Lord will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.”
The legacy of Samuel and how he fits into the rest of the Historical Books is found primarily in the monarchy which endured until the exile to Babylon. “Samuel has been called the connecting link between theocracy and monarchy” as he closed out the era of judges and brought in a system of government which effected the rest of Israel’s history. Through Samuel we have the reign of Saul and the reign of David. Through the reign of David we have the Davidic covenant and the promise of the coming Messiah. The remainder of the Old Testament is mere ripples of effect which begun with the life and ministry of Samuel. Samuel also created a precedent of the proper relationship between prophets and kings which would mark the rest of the historical books. There is then “no question, however, that he was a major precursor of the great prophets of the eighth century bce.” Samuel became the model prophet for generations to come and also established the school of the prophets which was still in operation in the days of Elisha.
After exploring the life of Samuel, I remain committed to the concept that Samuel was the most influential prophet during the time of the Historical books. Even the other writers of scripture place this high opinion on Samuel. Jeremiah declares in Jeremiah 15:1 “Then the Lord said to me: “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go!” Even the Psalmist in Psalm 99 elevates Samuel to the level of Moses in verse 6 “Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel was among those who called on his name; they called on the Lord and he answered them.”
 Howard, David M. An Introduction to he Old Testament Historical Books (Chicago IL; Moody Publishers,
 Holdcroft, L. Thomas. The Historical Books (Abbotsford BC: CeeTeC Publishing, 2000), 97
 Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1890.
 Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 1 Sa 7:6.
 Joyce G. Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 37.
 Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 1 Sa 8:6.
 Ibid, 1 Sa 12:19.
 Holdcroft, L. Thomas. The Historical Books (Abbotsford BC: CeeTeC Publishing, 2000), 107
 Richard R. Losch, All the People in the Bible: An A–Z Guide to the Saints, Scoundrels, and Other Characters in Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 370.
Who is the Prophet Samuel Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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