(ssa' myoo ehl) Personal name in the Ancient Near East meaning, “Sumu is God” but understood in Israel as “The name is God,” “God is exalted,” or “son of God.” The last judge, first king-maker, priest, and prophet who linked the period of the judges with the monarchy (about 1066-1000 B.C.). Born in answer to barren Hannah's tearful prayer (1 Samuel 1:10), Samuel was dedicated to the Lord before his birth (1 Samuel 1:11) as a “loan” for all his life (1 Samuel 1:28;
1 Samuel 2:20). Eli raised Samuel at the Shiloh sanctuary (1 Samuel 2:11). As a child, Samuel grew “both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men” (1 Samuel 2:26 NAS; compare
Luke 2:52). Samuel met God and received his first prophetic mission as a young lad (1 Samuel 3:1,1 Samuel 3:11-14). God's initial word to Samuel concerned God's rejection of Eli's family from service as priests as punishment for the sins of Eli's sons.
Samuel was responsible for a revival of the Shiloh sanctuary (1 Samuel 3:21).
Psalms 99:6-7 relates that God spoke with Samuel from out of the pillar of cloud as God had previously with Moses and Aaron. God “was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground” (1 Samuel 3:19; also
1 Samuel 9:6). Jeremiah regarded Samuel and Moses as the two great intercessors of Israel (Jeremiah 15:1).
Following the death of Eli and his sons, Israel experienced twenty years (1 Samuel 7:2) of national sin and Philistine oppression. Samuel reemerged in the role of judge, calling Israel to repentance and delivering them from foreign domination. Samuel also exercised the judicial role of judge, administering justice at Bethel, Gilgal, Mizpah, and Ramah (1 Samuel 7:15-17).
Samuel served as the prototype for future prophets in tension with the kings of Israel and Judah. The sins of Samuel's sons and the Philistine threat led the elders of Israel to appeal to Samuel for a king “like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:3,1 Samuel 8:5,1 Samuel 8:20). Samuel rightly understood this call for a king as rejection of God's rule (1 Samuel 8:7;
1 Samuel 10:19). Samuel warned Israel of the dangers of a monarchy—forced labor, seizure of property, taxation (1 Samuel 8:10-18)—before anointing Saul as Israel's first king (1 Samuel 10:1). Samuel's recording of the rights and duties of kingship (1 Samuel 10:25) set the stage for later prophets to call their monarchs to task for disobedience to God's commands and for overstepping God's limits for kingship in Israel. Samuel foreshadowed Elijah in his call for rain during the wheat harvest, the usual dry season, as vindication of his word of judgment concerning Israel's demand for a king (1 Samuel 12:17-18).
Samuel's relations with Saul highlight the conditional nature of kingship in Israel. Israel's king was designated by God and served at God's pleasure. Saul's presumption in offering burnt sacrifice before battle with the Philistines (1 Samuel 13:8-15) and his disregard of God's command to leave no survivors among the Amalekites or their flocks (1 Samuel 15:1) occasioned Samuel's declaration of God's rejection of Saul's kingship. Obeying God's call to anoint another king amounted to treason in Saul's eyes, and Samuel had concerns for his life. Samuel was, however, obedient in anointing David as king over Israel (1 Samuel 16:13). Later when Saul sought David's life, David took refuge with Samuel and his band of prophets at Ramah (1 Samuel 19:18-24). Finally, Samuel's death brought national mourning (1 Samuel 25:1;
1 Samuel 28:3). It also left Saul without access to God's word. In desperation he acknowledged Samuel's power and influence by seeking to commune with Samuel's spirit (1 Samuel 28:1). Thus in life and death Samuel cast a long shadow over Israel's history of worship, rule, prophecy, and justice.