First Prophet? Samuel?
The title of this blog is “Samuel – The Last Judge, The first Prophet.” Really?
It cannot be argued against, that Samuel was indeed the last Judge.
When we use the term, “Judge,” we are referring to those God given, Holy Spirit raised leaders that were all divinely anointed for the benefit of the nation of Israel in that biblical volume we refer to as, “The Book of Judges,” and a few years after those days, as per the book and the person of Samuel. The title of the seventh biblical volume, and the intrinsic nature of “the Judges” themselves has not so much to do with their wisdom in judging what we would refer to as, “courtroom,” type cases (although there are indications of that kind of function being fulfilled by one or two of their number) – as their anointing and gifting of God to set Israel, or sections of Israel, free from various types of tyranny and bondage. We are talking, quite literally of a series of both spiritual and physical fighting people.
There were several periods of repetitive significance in the book of Judges, and each of these periods of time had the same order of repetitive occurrences. Firstly, the people would habitually and purposefully sink into an idolatrous morass of evil. Next, this depression into sin would result in some other nation of idolaters invading part of the Israeli’s promised land. Thirdly, in the midst of the poverty, hardship and shame that the various occupations brought to the Israeli’s, somewhere in the heart of the twelve tribes was the memory of Yahweh, and they thus prayed from their hearts for deliverance. Finally, each time this happened a man (and on one occasion a woman) emerged from their own ranks, who had some gift, some plan and/or some commission from heaven, and some even had supernatural gifts, that would rid them of their evil taskmasters. A period of peace and rest and prosperity would then smother the nation for a while. The people would walk with God until the joy of their supernatural deliverance had subsided, and then the people got back to idolatry again, and the circle restarted. The highs and lows of this graph were of different lengths of time, just as each of the charismatic Judges were each totally different than anybody who had gone before. These collapses and occupations by other nations was not always nationwide in Israel. Some of them were quite local to a single tribe.
The Book of Judges refers to twelve characters who functioned as Judges.
Othniel, Judges 3:7-11
Ehud, Judges 3:12-30
Shamgar, Judges 3:31
Deborah (and Barak) Judges 4,
Gideon, Judges 6, 7,
Tola, Judges 10:1-2
Jair, Judges 10:3-4
Jephthah, Judges 11, 12:1-7
Ibzan, Judges 12:8-10
Elon, Judges 12:11-12
Abdon, Judges 12:13-15
Samson, Judges 13, 14, 15, 16
Even though neither Eli, nor Samuel are mentioned in the book of Judges, the two of them are added to the list by scholars and academics, making fourteen judges in all.
It was an incredibly dark and dramatic period in Israel’s history, something similar to the dark ages of the church. Several times, Israel seemed to be on the verge of, at worst, annihilation, or at least, assimilation into the godless cultures around them. It was a seriously confused time in Israel’s history.
The word translated as “Judge” could also legitimately be translated as Deliverer, Leader, or even Saviour.
Samuel was judge in Israel during the transition between those dark and rough days that the book of Judges portrays so starkly, and the introduction of the first king that Israel had pleaded for, begging Samuel to, “negotiate with the Almighty,” and supply them with the sort of man they wanted. So! “Last Judge” Samuel definitely was! No problem! He could not have been anything else.
But, hold on now! “First Prophet?” Any five year old Sunday school scholar would hurry to raise their hand and excitedly exhibit their basic Bible knowledge by saying, “Excuse me, sir! What about Enoch, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph? What about Moses and Joshua? It is plainly not correct to call Samuel, “The First Prophet!” And one would have to give the child a gold star for accuracy and factual understanding. We, obviously, need to define our terms.
So; why am I referring to Samuel as, “The First Prophet”?
Let me defer your problematic queries about this appellation being awarded to Samuel. I point the finger at somebody else who is by far superior in knowledge and authority than you or I, namely, the apostle Simon Peter. It was the apostle Peter that made this claim, not Keith Lannon.
In Acts 3 : 24, in only the second New Testament sermon ever recorded, the Apostle Peter declared, that, “From Samuel onwards …,” there was something special and particular going on in the general ministry of the prophets. He couldn’t have really deemed that Moses was not a prophet before Samuel, as he had only seconds before referred to Moses and quoted scripture that infers clearly that Moses was indeed a mighty prophet. And Moses lived centuries before Samuel. “From Samuel onwards all prophets have talked of Christ’s suffering” declared the apostle.
So what did Peter actually mean when he said, “from Samuel onwards?” In what way did it all start with Samuel?
In a nutshell, Samuel was the very first prophet to address the entire nation of Israel in the land of Israel. Israel as a nation, of course, could not have been in existence before Jacob was born. Although all prophets in someway refer to Christ, Samuel was the first who stepped forward and spoke what God gave him to the delivered twelv tribes living in the Promised Land, and the entire nation of Israel acknowledged him as a prophet. That context, I believe is why Peter refers to him as the “The First Prophet.”
In his sermon in Acts 3, Peter makes vital statements concerning the person of Christ and the kingdom of God. To teach the people that he was not inventing his teaching, and was perfectly orthodox and consistent with their scriptures, he explains the whole issue of Christ’s suffering, death, burial, resurrection and ascension by referring to the Old Testament prophets.
Verse 18 of Acts 3 informs us that, “Those things, which God before had shown by the mouth of all His prophets, that Christ should suffer, he has so fulfilled” (A.V). As I write, I have an issue with what Peter says, for I scour through the whole of the Old Testament and there are some prophets that I study long and hard, and in my heart and mind, I cannot find references directly or indirectly, plainly or cryptically to the sufferings of Christ. Obadiah for instance. What about Elijah and Elisha as well? My eyes are dim on this one.
It is my conviction that Samuel was the first prophet that modelled that lofty, precious, prophetic gifting in the same manner as all those later prophets did addressing Israel, and giving prophetic instructions on how heathen gentile nations were to be treated, yet in a manner that was utterly dissimilar to those that had gone before. Moses talked with God “face to face” and dialogued with God in a different way than prophets of later days did. If we give credibility to the Book of Enoch, the “seventh from Adam” also interacted with God and with angels, with a level of intimacy on par with how we today chat with our next door close friends or neighbours. Abraham also had several Theophanies of God and angels in his “prophetic dealings.” God actually told the Pharaoh of Egypt at one point that, “He (i.e. Abraham) is my prophet.” There are those that fight for God, and there are those that God fights for. God fights for His prophets. These early prophets, even though it is clear that they all received words from heaven that were pointing to Christ, did not have the same modus operandi as Samuel and all the prophets that succeeded him. Samuel was a unique and lone servant to the nation.
Samuel was the first prophet to be addressing the entire nation in the prophetic office, as received and acknowledged in that office by the whole nation of Israel. “From Samuel onwards,” there were many Hebrew prophets who did the same – and in this Samuel was clearly the prototype. It is undoubtedly correct to perceive Moses and Joshua as prophets, but Samuel was the first after the settling into the promised land to lead the nation by a prophetic gift. Joshua’s prophetic gift was always in the context of possessing the Land that was promised the Israelis.
So we assert with Peter, Samuel was the first Hebrew prophet in the land of Israel.
The prophet Samuel was the first of his kind addressing all the tribes of the nation of Israel, and acknowledge to be so by the very force of his character and gift. He was like John the Baptist who fearlessly spoke the words of God without regard to his personal image or reputation. Samuel was a spiritually minded man with unwavering absolutes. He listened to and obeyed the voice of God alone, providing a godly example for the nation of Israel to follow.
Samuel, the first prophet, emerges to preside over the rise of Saul, Israel’s first king, to be the agent of Saul’s rejection, and to anoint David as Israel’s second king and the first established head of a Hebrew royal dynasty. The book of 1 Samuel captures the work of God through the life of Samuel within the interplay of all facets of life, ie: what people refer to in the twenty first century as the socio – political forces of the day.
By this explanation, we assertively justify our title; “Samuel. The Last Judge. The First Prophet.