YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!
“Ichabod!” “The glory has gone!” The glory had indeed gone. The Ark of the Covenant, the palanquin of truth and liberty was stolen from Israel while the “hero of faith” that we are about to evaluate was only developing in pre-pubescence. At the very moment that the Philistines ran off with the Ark, Samuel was probably just a small boy. There is a chance he may have been in early youth. Whatever! His character was still unfolding and maturing when this catastrophe, with more repercussions than the bang of Krakatoa, took place. Chaos and confusion covered the land. In the midst of it all a dying mother screamed “Ichabod”, as her son “blinking, stepped into the sun”. The cry was assumed to be the name for the child given by the mother. And as it was her last word spoken, indeed, her very last breath, the locals accepted it. That same word, that name, that cry, has been taken by theologians, historians, Rabbi’s and preachers to be a profound and accurate commentary of the era in which the child was born.
These were indeed the days of Ichabod. When Israel cut herself loose from her ancient moorings of faith, as she was in the days of which we are speaking, the nation was decimated by a tidal wave of anxious uncertainty, and was only piloted back to its anchorage of safety by the man of whom we are hopefully to discern a little: Samuel.
I remember back in late 1974 when a completely unknown politician ran for the Presidency of the USA. He was so unknown that when he appeared on a TV game show where the panel had to discover the occupation of various mystery guests. Even though he was governor of a State, the panel was defeated. That man was Jimmy Carter. His lack of profile in his home town was such, that when he announced his candidature for the election, the paper ran the famous headline, “JIMMY WHO? FOR WHAT?” I remember the striking clip where he held the Newspaper up high for the crowd to see. He then quietly and humbly said, with that incredibly infectious grin of his, “My name is Jimmy Carter. And I’m running for President”. And wow! Did the crowd cheer!
In the same vein of under estimated, and undervalued persons, you might ask me, “What’s the fuss? Why write about such a man? I answer, “His name is Samuel. I think he’s the greatest”. That is why I am writing these pages. Samuel ben Elkanah has my vote for the most influential man of God in the whole of the Old Testament. Yes! Even rivalling Moses.
For Israel, Ichabod meant a crisis. Crises in many nations, at pivotal points of history have produced their greatest men and women. Some are remembered forever. This man Samuel, virtually single handedly, under God, saw Israel through a dilemma of identity.
It could be argued that because he has two books named after him in the Old Testament, and because his life is suitably noted in scripture, that this man is well remembered. But, I ask, is he recalled in the full context of his culture and time? Is he perceived in any way other than in the simplest of cursory observations i.e. that he was the man who poured oil on David‘s head? As a general rule I suspect not.
Think on the following facts.
He led Israel from a loose aggregation of semi Bedouin tribes to a unified nation with backbone. He led them through the torturous crisis of being an ill behaved theocracy to a well disciplined and better landed monarchy. From a people long harassed by their warlike neighbours, they became very definitely the “head and not the tail”. All this came about under Samuel’s leadership. The “glory” was restored to the nation, climaxing in David and the early days of Solomon some fifty to seventy years after his death.
Samuel’s leadership, however, was not voted in through a well used democratic system. He was not sought after nor did he seek the position he assumed. An entire nation just acknowledged him as their authoritative leader on the simple basis of his awe inspiring relationship with God, his lifestyle and his character. They all viewed him. Talked about him. Thanked God for him, and one day – a day that we will discuss later, they submitted to him as a leader of incredible impact. This fact alone makes him an incredible Deliverer. Samuel was a giant character for God in his lifetime, and afterwards.
Again, Samuel virtually, single handedly, led them through a time when they were without the steeling and unifying factor of the Tabernacle and the high profile activity of the priesthood; a time without the solidifying presence of the Ark of the Covenant. After seven months in Philistine hands (during Samuel’s younger days) the next hundred years without the proper use of the Tabernacle had the Ark resting in somebody’s front room (Where else would one put God’s box?) in an Israeli backwater, gathering dust, seemingly neglected (King Saul attempted to reinstate the priesthood and the ark once Samuel had disowned him, but with little impact or success).
In such circumstances what form should the formal worship of Jehovah take? How were the people to worship when the very means ordained by God for that worship were just not in proper placement. The Tabernacle was without the Ark. So what use was that? The Tabernacle was created simply to house and centre the worship focus around the Ark. No Ark, really suggested no Tabernacle. So – as ludicrous as it sounds- with no Ark, I believe for most of the time people were still sacrificing at the Tabernacle. We shall enlarge on that later. So what next? No single alter? Where to now for worship? The answer was wonderfully supplied by Samuel, and the baton of his teaching passed on to David, and the prophetic guild that surrounded him – a prophetic guild that was inaugurated by Samuel. It is arguable that without Samuel, David would never have risen to the heights of popularity that he did after Samuel’s death, nor would the later Temple worship have been so ordered, nor would David had started to collect all the “battle booty” with which the later Temple was furnished.
At the opening ceremony of the Temple, known popularly as “Solomon’s,” the glory, quite literally returned. Viva la Samuel.
Samuel was the last of the Judges (Acts 13 verse 20). But he judged Israel in a way that no other did. He did not enter into battle himself, yet the manner in which he personally put an end to Agag the Amalekite shows that there was absolutely nothing sissy about the man. He judged them in a regular circuit through years of comparative “peace”, though constantly in political tension and fear, possibly even of death. Samuel, unlike other Judges, judged the entire nation of Israel.
The “sin, sorrow, repentance and revival” syndrome, so common throughout the days of the earlier Judges was broken in Samuel’s life time. He brought consistency and stability into the spiritual experience of Israel. All the other Judges were just part of the “revival” moments in the centuries of those saviours and/or deliverers. All the other Judges, only delivered the losses of parts of the nation. Samuel took oversight of all twelve tribes, as well as the Levitical aspect of the people, and became the Apostle for Israel that rebuilt the entire structure of an entire wayward Israel.
As well as being the last Judge (Acts 13 verse 20) Samuel was noted as the first of the prophets (Acts 3 verse 24). This is strange as there were obviously other prophetic figures before his day. Unlike the other Judges who were Samuel’s predecessors, this man’s prophetic output was the archetype, prototype and the ensuing stereotype of what an Old Testament prophet was all about. He foretold the future as well as having a very definite and awesomely accurate insight into the contemporary scene. He was God’s PR man and he certainly knew his business, as well as knowing His business.
Samuel acted in a priestly roll. It seems from the book that we know as First Samuel, that he assumed the most vital and lofty roll as “main” priest of the nation, although he is never referred to as High Priest. Ahitub, the grandson of Eli assumed the role in the days of King Saul, so the rightful heir of Eli’s line to the position of High Priest was living at the same time Samuel was “strutting his stuff” on the wet cement of Israel’s history. Yet, Samuel was never challenged concerning the lofty roll he played in Israel’s life. Samuel was in his lifetime, plainly, the virtual none legitimised, non constitutionalised leader of the nation, “High Priest” by default, prophet by calling, cum-king by authority. His righteous character brought the glory of God back to Israel.
The nation of Israel’s confines altered in Samuel’s days from the occupation of the odd hill or valley, in a land that was Divinely goaled to be all their very own, to true and total ownership of nearly all that God had promised. Israel’s influence, in David’s day, was acknowledged over a great extent of the continent of South Western Asia. Samuel was the catalyst that made it all happen for David, who bequeathed the glories of the Israeli empire to Solomon.
From a cultureless, inartistic dark age of degeneracy, by Samuel’s actions at the head, the body of Israel had arisen to a place where the arts, literature and general affluence were keenly cultivated. A culture that was definitively their own was birthed and started to develope in Samuel’s life time. Learning in general, together with a complex system of government and worship was conceived by Samuel, gestated via Saul, birthed by David and reached its zenith of maturity in the first half of Solomon’s reign.
The first book of Samuel tells us that the prophet Samuel wrote a book, the only one that is mentioned, about the role and activity of the king that was “to come,” after a monarch had been asked for, and before one had been chosen. This was Samuel’s directives that finished up, of course, addressed to David about the worship that brought about the temple and its worship system. Is it any wonder that Jeremiah placed Samuel on par with Moses? Samuel’s life’s work and character mark him as a man of heavenly glory.
What strange chain of events had spawned this metamorphosis from Ichabod into a period that even today the Jews refer to as the “Golden Age” of their people. How could a single human being, even under the inspiration of God, set in motion events that would change the course of his nation, and thus, the world?
HOW DO WE HAVE THE BOOKS OF SAMUEL?
It is conjectured by some of the professional scholarly types that a scribe from the school of the prophets at the time of Solomon was commissioned by his peers to answer such questions as stated above, and to put them in a book. The title of that book, this theory continues, is what we know as the first book of Samuel.
The rest of this study is an examination of the life of Samuel from the first verse of First Samuel ending at chapter 25 and verse 1 in the same scroll. This is an attempt to discover Samuel’s true worth in the history of Israel, his concepts of the prophetic, and his understanding of the spiritual. The man’s characteristics and emotional depths will be plain for us to see. Familial roots will be open to scrutiny and reveal a lot about the personal make-up of this giant of the faith.
The glory had certainly departed during Samuel’s youth. It is the glory of God we are referring to. That same glory had surely returned in a huge measure by the time of Samuel’s death.
We will drink deep of the Spirit as we go. There is lots to chew on: Prophetics; Soteriology; Pneumatology; Psychology; Psalmody; and even a little Eschatology. Whatever we discover the Spirit has to say on these issues, let’s have ears to hear it. We will discover secrets of faith, Godly character, and the prophetic personality as we relive the story. We will glimpse the white of the Philistine eye, and the gleam of the Amalekite sword, as well as the lusty kingliness of the son of Jesse. And we shall also mentally image the sorrowful persistent routine of Hannah’s son; Shmuel ben Elkanah, the last Judge and the first prophet
- On 1 Samuel 1-4 (reflectingchristian.wordpress.com)
- Samuel: A Study In Character – “The Afterthought” (presbymusings.com)
- God Still Speaks. Are You Listening? (pastorbenk.com)