Samuel – The Leader

The character of Samuel may be studied from different angles. But today we study his character from leadership point of view.

God had called Samuel to be the leader of Israel as a result of the crisis in Israel.

  1. The Crisis in Israel
  1. The crisis in Israel was created by the corruption and immorality of priesthood.

In those days Eli was priest in the temple of the Lord at Shiloh (I Sam. 1.9). God had elected Eli’s family to be priests (I Sam. 2.27-29). Eli was also a judge over Israel (I Sam. 4.18). That means, in those days Israel was under the leadership of a family of priests.

Though Eli was righteous, his two sons Hophni and Phinehas, who were also priests at Shiloh, were extremely corrupt and immoral. On the outside they did their priestly duties, offering sacrifices in the temple, but inside they lived corrupt lives and carried out their system of filth and corruption behind the closed doors.

Eli’s sons treated with contempt the offerings of Yahweh (I Sam. 2.17). Not surprisingly, they performed their duties as priests in an improper fashion (I Sam. 2.12-17). They also slept with women serving at the entrance of the tent of meeting (I Sam. 2.22). This meant that the leadership in Israel had become corrupted.

Though Eli rebuked his sons, he could not control them (I Sam. 2.22-25). He was held accountable for all the improper behavior of his sons (I Sam. 2.29). Therefore, Eli was guilty of what his sons were doing and no amount of proper priestly functions on his part could make up for their evil actions. As a consequence, Eli and his family came under God’s condemnation, and the lineage of priesthood would end with Eli and his sons (I Sam. 2.30, 36). The promise of I Sam 2.35 is designed to address this problem.

What lessons can be learned from the fate of Eli’s sons:

–          Being a good and righteous leader does not mean that his/her children will also be righteous.

–          Positions of power can be easily abused;

–          Yahweh may reject anyone already holding an important position, if the conduct of that person is flawed.

–          Divine promises of succession may be broken by Yahweh due to immorality and corruption of leadership (I Sam. 2.30, 35-36). 

  1. Need of God’s word

I Sam 3.1: “The word of the Lord was rare in those days, visions were not widespread.”

During this time Israel was suffering from the absence of Yahweh’s word.

Into this situation Samuel was born in order to solve the crisis.

  1. Family into which Samuel was born

Elkanah, Father: Elkanah loved his wife Hannah “though the Lord had closed her womb” (I Sam. 1. 6). In that culture a woman, who was barren, was looked down. Such women did not have respect both in their families and society. But Elkanah loved her, although she was barren. For him the “baggage” she carried was immaterial. He loved her as she was.

Elkanah was also an understanding person (1.8). He was there whenever she was down. He consoled her and comforted her whenever she was sad.

Hannah, Mother: She had deep faith in God. Notice what she did before God: she wept bitterly and confessed that she was in distress (1.11); she “poured out her soul before the Lord” (1.15); she spoke out her “great anxiety and vexation” (1.16). That means, she was honest before God. She just poured out before God what she had on her mind and heart. Expression of our feelings, emotions, doubts, questions and hurts before God and a trusted person is not unspiritual.

  1. Transition of Leadership from Eli and His Family to Samuel and His Family

The transition of leadership from Eli and his family to Samuel and his family (1 Sam. 3, 8.1-3]) is highlighted because the transition is not simply from one man or family to another, but from one kind of leadership, namely priestly, to another kind, namely prophetic.

Initially Samuel was apparently being trained as an apprentice under Eli. Samuel ministered as Eli’s assistant (2.11, 18; 3.1), wore an ephod (2.18), offered sacrifices (even after being established as a prophet; cf. 7.9-10), built an altar (7.17), and later was expected to carry out routine priestly functions (16.2-5).But at the same time that Samuel was being groomed as a priestly aide, there are indications that he was destined to be primarily a prophet. His priestly duties were subordinated to his position as prophet.

Israel’s new prophet functioned as its new leader. As Eli the priest had, so Samuel the prophet also “judged” Israel (1 Sam. 7.15). Thus, Samuel was a priest, prophet and judge.

God began to speak again to his people through Samuel. Israel, which at this time had been suffering from the absence of Yahweh’s word and vision, as a result of the call and the prophetic activity of Samuel once more came to hear the divine word. People acknowledged that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet (I Sam. 3.19-24).

Thus, through Samuel the crisis of corrupt leadership and the rarity of God’s word had been solved.

Samuel is recognized as the last judge of Israel, prior to the establishment of kings. He was also God’s appointed kingmaker. His anointing of Saul and David would have given legitimacy to these kings in the eyes of the people and showed that it was God’s doing.

  1. Strengths of Samuel
  1. Obedient to God

Samuel obeyed God’s call to the ministry of priest, prophet and judge. He faithfully carried out the tasks God gave him by speaking the truth to the people, even when it hurt and even when it might be considered dangerous (like when he told Eli what would happen to his sons; and when he rebuked King Saul for disobeying God). He didn’t sugarcoat things (1 Samuel 3:18, 13:12-14; 15:10-31).

What lesson can we learn from Samuel in this? This kind of truth-speaker seems more and more rare these days. See 2 Timothy 4:3, Matthew 4:4, Acts 20:27. The world wants people to tickle their ears and normally they get just that. A lot of these mega churches get to be mega churches because their pastors say only what people want to hear. They don’t rebuke, or warn, or truly exhort to righteous conduct. Why? It makes them uncomfortable and it makes the audience uncomfortable. They wouldn’t be as popular if they spoke the hard truth. We should follow Samuel’s example to share the gospel and teach the word of God truthfully without sugarcoating it and without regard to how we will be perceived or how our audience will react. 

  1. Obedient to Eli (I Sam. 3.1-9)

Even in the middle of the night, Samuel got up and went to Eli three times immediately when he thought he called. He then followed Eli’s instructions when God called him again. Finally he obeyed Eli by telling him the contents of what God had spoken to him, even though Eli could have reacted angrily to Samuel.

See Matthew 7:21-23.

  1. Samuel Continually exhorted Israel to follow the Lord (I Sam. 7:3-12:14-16/12:20-25).

When he reached the distinction of being a prophet, we read that he traveled among his people to teach and promulgate the word of God with religious fervor (I Sam. 7:16). We read of Samuel’s reaction when the Philistines threatened the people of Israel (Ch. 7). Verses 8 and 9 describe the prayer and sacrifices which he initiated to promote successfully the defense of his people. He used prayer and sacrifices to increase his countrymen’s confidence in God.

  1. Weaknesses of Samuel
  1. Samuel seemed to have taken it personally when the people of Israel wanted a king (1 Samuel 8:1-9). It is difficult to reconcile Samuel’s feelings concerning the crowning of a king and the laws of monarchy as set down in Deuteronomy (Dt. 17.14-20). The Law of Moses permits Israel to appoint a king. The only precondition is that the king should be a member of their community. Of course, the Law also specifies how a king should be (Dt. 17.16-20).

The reason for the people of Israel to ask for a king was that Samuel’s sons were corrupt. Eli’s sons corrupted the office of priest, whereas Samuel’s sons corrupted the office of judge. Samuel’s sons, Joel and Abijah “were judges in Beersheba. Yet his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribe and perverted justice” (I Sam. 8.2-3).

Samuel’s reaction to their request for a king was displeasure (I Sam. 8.6). The people were simply asking for something written in the Torah. Then why should Samuel be displeased with their request? The reason is: they asked him, “Give us a king to JUDGE (or govern) us” (I Sam. 8.6). As we know Samuel was not only a priest and prophet, but also a judge. When people asked for a judge, that means they were rejecting Samuel and his sons as judges! That means, the people were rejecting their leadership! This displeased Samuel. This displeasure and anger remained in Samuel and he kept bringing it before the people again and again by saying that they did wrong by asking for a king (I Sam. 8.18-19; 10:17-19; 12.1-12; 12.17).

I want to state that this is a perfectly understandable human quality, and I believe that the Bible wants to emphasize this point. Even though Samuel was likened to Moses in many ways (Ps. 99.6; Jer. 15.1), we should not forget that he was human and simply could not tolerate the request to have another ruler or “judge” in his place. Therefore we have this entire story, up to the point where he tried to convince the people that they were mistaken in asking for a king, irrespective of what is written in Deuteronomy.

Samuel was deeply offended by the nation’s request and just could not get over it. But we never see in the Bible that Samuel ever acknowledged the sins of his sons and corrected them. He was only offended by the people’s request for a king, but never focused on the reason for their request (i.e. the corruption of his sons), nor offended by the evil conduct of his sons.

  1. Samuel looked at the outside of man, instead of the heart (I Sam.16:6). Again, this is a very natural thing, but Samuel should have known better. He was a prophet for decades. He knew how God worked.

Remember that God’s will is not based on a person’s external appearance or a “baggage” such as academic qualification, social status, economic status, family background, physical appearance etc. God looks at the heart.

Just think what we focus on at the time of choosing a life-partner. We set criteria according to OUR WILL and DESIRES to choose a partner, and then present it as God’s will.    

  1. Samuel failed to raise his children in God’s ways (I Sam. 8:1-5). He did not learn from Eli. Instead he made the same mistake that Eli did.

It’s true that parents can not control 100% how their children turn out to be. But there is a strong correlation. Perhaps Samuel was too busy doing ministry, so he did not have enough time for his family. It is also true with majority of those doing ministry (particularly leaders) that they tend to correct others easily, but not their own children.

Children don’t automatically follow in the footsteps of their parents. We see the same story occur again and again in the Bible where the father or one generation follows God and his/their children don’t. Examples: David, the time of Joshua, many kings of Judah in the Old Testament. You cannot neglect your family to make money or even because you are a busy pastor. Godly men and women should recognise that their families are one major part of their ministry. They represent the best chance to raise up disciples and make a difference in the world for Christ. 

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