Who was Samuel?
"Samuel" signifies "name of God," or "his name is El" (God). Other interpretations of the name that have been offered are almost certainly mistaken. The play upon the name in 1 Samuel 1:20 is not intended of course to be an explanation of its meaning, but is similar to the play upon the name Moses in Exodus 2:10 and frequently elsewhere in similar instances.
Outside of 1st Samuel the name of the great judge and prophet is found in Jeremiah 15:1; Psalm 99:6 and in 1 and 2 Chronicles. The reference in Jeremiah seems intended to convey the same impression that is given by the narrative of 1 Samuel, that in some sense Samuel had come to be regarded as a second Moses, upon whom the mantle of the latter had fallen, and who had been once again the deliverer and guide of the people at a great national crisis.
Sources and Character of the History
The narrative of the events of the life of Samuel appears to be derived from more than one source. The narrator had before him and made use of biographies and traditions, which he combined into a single consecutive history.
The completed picture of the prophet's position and character which is thus presented is on the whole harmonious and consistent, and gives a very high impression of his piety and loyalty to Yahweh, and of the wide influence for good which he exerted.
There are divergences apparent in detail and standpoint between the sources or traditions, some of which may probably be due merely to misunderstanding of the true nature of the events recorded, or to the failure of the modern reader rightly to appreciate the exact circumstances and time. The greater part of the narrative of the life of Samuel, however, appears to have a single origin.
In the portion of the general history of Israel contained in 1 Samuel are narrated the circumstances of the future prophet's birth (chapter 1); of his childhood and of the custom of his parents to make annual visits to the sanctuary at Shiloh (1 Samuel 2:11 , 1 Samuel 2:18-21 , 1 Samuel 2:26 ); of his vision, and the universal recognition of him as a prophet enjoying the special favor of Yahweh (3 through 1 Samuel 4:1 ).
The narrative is then interrupted to describe the conflicts with the Philistines, the fate of Eli and his sons, and the capture of the ark of God. It is only after the return of the ark, and apparently at the close of the 20 years during which it was retained at Kiriath-jearim, that Samuel again comes forward publicly, exhorting the people to repentance and promising them deliverance from the Philistines.
A summary narrative is then given of the summoning of a national council at Mizpah, at which Samuel "judged the children of Israel," and offered sacrifice to the Lord, and of Yahweh's response in a great thunderstorm, which led to the defeat and panic-stricken flight of the Philistines. Then follows the narrative of the erection of a commemorative stone or pillar, Eben-ezer, "the stone of help," and the recovery of the Israelite cities which the Philistines had captured (1 Samuel 7:5-14 ).
The narrator adds that the Philistines came no more within the border of Israel all the days of Samuel (1 Samuel 7:13 ); perhaps with an intentional reference to the troubles and disasters of which this people was the cause in the time of Saul. A brief general statement is appended of Samuel's practice as a judge of going on annual circuit through the land, and of his home at Ramah (1 Samuel 7:15-17 ).
No indication is given of the length of time occupied by these events. At their close, however, Samuel was an old man, and his sons who had been appointed judges in his place or to help him in his office proved themselves unworthy (1 Samuel 8:1-3 ).
The elders of the people therefore came to Samuel demanding the appointment of a king who should be his successor, and should judge in his stead. The request was regarded by the prophet as an act of disloyalty to Yahweh, but his protest was overruled by divine direction, and at Samuel's bidding the people dispersed (1 Sam 8:4-22).
At this point the course of the narrative is again interrupted to describe the family and origin of Saul, his personal appearance, and the search for the lost asses of his father (1 Samuel 9:1-5 ); his meeting with Samuel in a city in the land of Zuph, in or on the border of the territory of Benjamin (Zuph is the name of an ancestor of Elkanah, the father of Samuel, in 1 Samuel 1:1 ), a meeting of which Samuel had received divine pre-intimation (1 Samuel 9:15 f); the honorable place given to Saul at the feast; his anointing by Samuel as ruler of Israel, together with the announcement of three "signs," which should be to Saul assurances of the reality of his appointment and destiny; the spirit of prophecy which took possession of the future king, whereby is explained a proverbial saying which classed Saul among the prophets; and his silence with regard to what had passed between himself and Samuel on the subject of the kingdom (1 Sam 9:6 through 10:16).
It is usually, and probably rightly, believed that the narrative of these last incidents is derived from a different source from that of the preceding chapters. Slight differences of inconsistency or disagreement lie on the surface. Samuel's home is not at Ramah, but a nameless city in the land of Zuph, where he is priest of the high place, with a local but, as far as the narrative goes, not a national influence or reputation; and it is anticipated that he will require the customary present at the hands of his visitors (1 Samuel 9:6-8 ).
He is described, moreover, not as a judge, nor does he discharge judicial functions, but expressly as a "seer," a name said to be an earlier title equivalent to the later "prophet" (1 Samuel 9:9 , 1 Samuel 9:11 , 1 Samuel 9:19 ). Apart, however, from the apparently different position which Samuel occupies, the tone and style of the narrative is altogether distinct from that of the preceding chapters.
It suggests, both in its form and in the religious conceptions which are assumed or implied, an older and less elaborated tradition than that which has found expression in the greater part of the book; and it seems to regard events as it were from a more primitive standpoint than the highly religious and monotheistic view of the later accounts. Its value as a witness to history is not impaired, but perhaps rather enhanced by its separate and independent position.
The writer or compiler of 1 Samuel has inserted it as a whole in his completed narrative at the point which he judged most suitable. To the same source should possibly be assigned the announcement of Saul's rejection in 1 Samuel 13:8-15.
The course of the narrative is resumed at 1 Samuel 10:17 ff, where, in a second national assembly at Mizpah, Saul is selected by lot and accepted by the people as king ( 1 Samuel 10:17-24 ); after which the people dispersed, and Saul returned to his home at Gibeah (1 Samuel 10:25-27 ). At a solemn assembly at Gilgal, at which the kingship is again formally conferred upon Saul, Samuel delivered a farewell address to his fellow-countrymen.
A thunderstorm terrified the people; they were reassured, however, by Samuel with promises of the protection and favor of Yahweh, if they continued to fear and serve Him (11:14 through 12:25). Later the rejection of Saul for disobedience and presumption is announced by Samuel (1 Samuel 13:8-15 ). The commission to destroy Amalek is delivered to Saul by Samuel; and the rejection of the king is again pronounced because of his failure to carry out the command.
Agag is then slain by Samuel with his own hand; and, the latter having returned to his home at Ramah, the narrator adds that he remained there in seclusion until the day of his death, "mourning" for Saul, but refusing to meet him again (1 Samuel 15). Finally the death and burial of Samuel at Ramah, together with the lamentation of the people for him, are briefly recorded in 1 Samuel 25:1 , and referred to again in 1 Samuel 28:3 .
Two incidents of Samuel's life remain, in which he is brought into relation with the future king David. No indication of date or circumstance is given except that the first incident apparently follows immediately upon the second and final rejection of Saul as recorded in 1 Samuel 15.
In 1 Samuel 16:1-13 is narrated the commission of Samuel to anoint a successor to Saul, and his fulfillment of the commission by the choice of David the son of Jesse, the Bethlehemite. And, in a later chapter ( 1 Samuel 19:18-24 ), a second occasion is named on which the compelling spirit of prophecy came upon Saul, and again the proverbial saying, "Is Saul also among the prophets?" is quoted (1 Samuel 19:24 ; compare 1 Samuel 10:11 , 1 Samuel 10:12 ), and is apparently regarded as taking its origin from this event.
The anointing of David by Samuel is a natural sequel to his anointing of Saul, when the latter has been rejected and his authority and rights as king have ceased. There is nothing to determine absolutely whether the narrative is derived from the same source as the greater part of the preceding history. Slight differences of style and the apparent presuppositions of the writer have led most scholars to the conclusion that it has a distinct and separate origin. If so, the compiler of the Books of Samuel drew upon a third source for his narrative of the life of the seer, a source which there is no reason to regard as other than equally authentic and reliable.
With the second incident related in 1 Samuel 19:18-24 , the case is different. It is hardly probable that so striking a proverb was suggested and passed into currency independently on two distinct occasions. It seems evident that here two independent sources or authorities were used, which gave hardly reconcilable accounts of the origin of a well-known saying, in one of which it has been mistakenly attributed to a similar but not identical occurrence in the life of Saul. In the final composition of the book both accounts were then inserted, without notice being taken of the inconsistency which was apparent between them.
Yet later in the history Samuel is represented as appearing to Saul in a vision at Endor on the eve of his death (1 Samuel 28:11-20 ). The witch also sees the prophet and is stricken with fear. He is described as in appearance an old man "covered with a robe" (1 Samuel 28:14 ). In characteristically grave and measured tones he repeats the sentence of death against the king for his disobedience to Yahweh, and announces its execution on the morrow; Saul's sons also will die with him (1 Samuel 28:19 ), and the whole nation will be involved in the penalty and suffering, as they all had a part in the sin.
The high place which Samuel occupies in the thought of the writers and in the tradition and esteem of the people is manifest throughout the history. The different sources from which the narrative is derived are at one in this, although perhaps not to an equal degree. He is the last and greatest of the judges, the first of the prophets, and inaugurates under divine direction the Israelite kingdom and the Davidic line.
Character and Influence of Samuel
It is not without reason, therefore, that he has been regarded as in dignity and importance occupying the position of a second Moses in relation to the people. In his exhortations and warnings the Deuteronomic discourses of Moses are reflected and repeated. He delivers the nation from the hand of the Philistines, as Moses from Pharaoh and the Egyptians, and opens up for them a new national era of progress and order under the rule of the kings whom they have desired.
Thus, like Moses, he closes the old order, and establishes the people with brighter prospects upon more assured foundations of national prosperity and greatness. In nobility of character and utterance also, and in fidelity to Yahweh, Samuel is not unworthy to be placed by the side of the older lawgiver.
The record of his life is not marred by any act or word which would appear unworthy of his office or prerogative. And the few references to him in the later literature (Psalm 99:6 ; Jeremiah 15:1 ; 1 Chronicles 6:28 ; 1 Chronicles 9:22 ; 1 Chronicles 11:3 ; 1 Chronicles 26:28 ; 1 Chronicles 29:29 ; 2 Chronicles 35:18 ) show how high was the estimation in which his name and memory were held by his fellow-countrymen in subsequent ages.
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