You will have noticed elsewhere on this website that the towering figure of Samuel is my favourite. For me, Samuel stands larger than life in biblical history, not merely as an Old Testament prophet of archaic depictions, but as a vibrant, active ministry whose influence reverberates into the life of the Church today. Why? His life and ministry, recorded primarily in the books that bear his name, encapsulate ‘go-to’ themes of obedience, leadership, and the pursuit of God’s will—themes as pertinent now as they were then.
Divine Destiny and Parental Hope
Samuel’s story starts before he does! Before Samuel drew breath, his destiny was divinely etched. His mother, Hannah, pledged her long-awaited child to the Lord’s service, a narrative we find unfolding in the opening chapters of 1 Samuel. ‘Samuel,’ derived from the Hebrew, speaks of divine acknowledgment—”God has heard.” She asked God, and was heard by God – a lesson for us today that when our words are uttered towards heaven they are never left unheard.
Prophetic Beginnings and Hard Truths
It was in Shiloh, under the guidance of the old, overweight Eli, that Samuel’s formative years as a prophet commenced. In these early days, he established his reputation as God’s spokesperson, even when it meant delivering grim news that precipitated the downfall of Eli’s very own household.
Samuel’s story is worth musing over because, if we are careful enough we can see the debris of our own life and times there too.
Dark Times and Glorious Hope
Samuel’s story is worth musing over because, if we are careful enough we can see the debris of our own life and times there too. The era of Samuel was marred by turmoil, particularly noted in 1 Samuel 4, where the loss of the Ark of the Covenant to the Philistines paralleled the spiritual and political declension of Israel. Things were not going well for them. Yet, it was amid this darkness that Samuel’s leadership became a huge reason for hope.
He rallied the Israelites, urging them with passion and conviction to renounce idolatry (Israel’s number one enemy – and even ours today) and serve the Lord only, leading to a divine intervention at Mizpah. The subsequent (and somewhat expected) victory over the Philistines was monumental, with Samuel erecting a stone named Ebenezer, writing the event into history, eternally reminding Israel of God’s deliverance.
The Heart of a Leader
Samuel’s way of leading was unconventional—he traversed the land, dispensing wisdom and justice, ensuring his godly leadership was never a burden to those he served, reflecting a model of itinerant, servant-hearted ministry.
In an age when Israel sought to mirror the nations with a monarchical system, Samuel initially resisted. The judges, including Samuel, had led the tribes with a significant degree of independence, as seen in the story of Gideon in Judges 8. Israel’s demand for a king was a staggering, heart-wrenching pivotal moment for Samuel, one where personal affront gave way to divine insight. Although reluctant, Samuel unwillingly shrugged and following God’s counsel gave in to them, anointing Saul as Israel’s first king upon God’s directive, a concession that opened up a seismic shift in Israel’s governance.
Samuel’s importance to the Church today cannot be overstated. In Hebrew history, he is a hinge between the very testing period of the judges and the monarchy—a fulcrum balancing the theocratic ideals of Israel with its monarchical aspirations-but usually tipping towards chaos. Those moments usually ended with Israel crying out to God for help and deliverance. Again. Samuel represents a bridge between two covenantal eras, embodying the transition with personal and national fidelity to God.
For us, the story of Samuel is a call to the Church to be such a bridge in our own times—understanding, connecting and explaining the pictures of law, justice and judgment in the Old Testament with the liberating message of the gospel and grace demonstrated in the Gospel of the New Testament; heralding the ancient ways of God with the current paths we walk that lead to life in the fullest.
Today, culture impacts our lives in different ways but with similar challenges. It impacts us in the Church by constantly presenting new “kings” to anoint—be it wealth, fame, or self-determination—and the accompanying idolatry is heavily disguised.
The clamor of competing voices can us to an altar where God is not loved, worshiped, or adored.
Like Israel, we may find ourselves entranced or distracted by the influencers around us, tempted to trade God’s kingship over us for the tangible trappings of society and all that it purports to offer. In such a world as ours (which is still rightfully God’s),
Samuel’s life, ministry, and calling remind us to seek God’s will above the mega-decibel frenzy of business, gadgets, unsocial media, and life to listen for His guidance. The clamor of competing voices can us to an altar where God is not loved, worshiped, or adored.
We often speak of legacy, and I am not always sure we know what we mean, for me the legacy of Samuel is multifaceted. It is about hearing God’s voice and responding with action, as demonstrated when Samuel was called as a boy in the temple of Shiloh. We wonder if we have the capacity or will to hear God, but thankfully, God is persistent, and in His grace, He has given prophets who equip us to not just learn to listen, but to obey. Also, it is about boldness in leadership, not shying away from God’s difficult commands, evident when Samuel confronts Saul. That’s not something we have to do often, but we do have to hold each other accountable. Happily it’s also about the legacy of mentorship and anointing in the future, which we see in Samuel’s relationship with David-a man after God’s heart.
The New Testament echoes this legacy powerfully; Jesus, like Samuel, balanced the things of God and those of mankind, taught with authority, and served with humility. The epistles continue with a call to believers to live out their faith with a similar blend of conviction and gentleness—a reflection and echo of Samuel’s character.
What about today with the immense challenges we face?
For the Church today, the life of Samuel epitomises the crossroad of divine summons and our duty to respond, which means that his example of bravery, honesty, and steadfast belief is a model for leadership grounded in adherence to the Lord. Samuel’s narrative invites us to examine how we heed God’s call, implying that true leadership is about serving others selflessly and communicating the tenets of faith with conviction, no matter the challenges faced.
I will see Samuel one day, when I do I’ll discover that there were even more lessons to be learned, but for now, this will do!