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Biblical People
Samuel (samu-el), KJV once Shemuel (shemu-el). [Heb. Shemuel, meaning uncertain. It has been interpreted as meaning “name of God,” but his mother apparently intended it to mean “God has heard,” a combination of the verb shama and the noun El; Gr. Samoueµl.] The 1st of the great prophets of Israel after Moses, being placed side by side with the great lawgiver Moses by Jeremiah (Jer 15:1). His father Elkanah was a Levite of the family of Kohath (1 Chr 6:26, 33, 34) who lived in the territory of Ephraim and therefore was also called an Ephraimite (1 Sa 1:1). His home town was Ramathaim-zophim, also called simply Ramah (chs 1:1, 19; 2:11). This town has been variously identified, but it was most probably at the site of modern Ramallah (see SDACom 2:458, 459). Elkanah had 2 wives, Hannah and Peninnah. The former was his favorite wife, but she was barren (1 Sa 1:2, 7, 8). After much heart searching and prayer, Hannah vowed that if God would give her a son she would dedicate him to God as a Nazirite. God heard her prayer and she gave birth to a son whom she named Samuel. After he was weaned she took him to the high priest Eli at Shiloh to have him trained in the Lord's service at the tabernacle (1 Sa 1:9-28).

At Shiloh, Samuel lived in a room connected with the sanctuary and in close proximity to the room of the high priest. He was dressed in a simple linen ephod, a garment worn by priests and Levites, and performed simple duties such as opening the doors of the sanctuary in the morning (1 Sa 2:18; 3:1, 3, 4, 15). While he was still a boy, 12 years of age according to Josephus (Ant. v. 10. 4), the Lord revealed to him the doom that would overtake Eli's house for the criminal behavior of the high priest's sons, and for the failure of their father to correct them (ch 3:1-18). The Lord appeared to Samuel again at a later time, although the specific message of that revelation is not recorded. The outcome of this was that the whole nation recognized him to be a prophet by the time he had grown to manhood (vs 20, 21). Eventually God's judgment fell on Israel and the house of Eli. His sons were slain in battle, the ark fell into the hands of the Philistines, and the high priest died, possibly of a heart attack, when he heard the news of the disaster (ch 4:1-18). Archeological evidence reveals that Shiloh was destroyed about this time. The Philistines may have done so on this occasion. Shiloh  is never mentioned again as the sanctuary city, but only as a desolate place (Jer 7:12, 14; 26:6), and when the ark was returned to Israel it was left at Kiriath-jearim and kept there for many years (1 Sa 7:1, 2).

Samuel now became a leader, prophet, and judge of Israel. He admonished the people to discard their idols and serve only the true God. At Mizpah, probably modern Tell enÐNasbeh, he gathered the people to make a covenant with God. The Philistines thought that this large gathering was held with hostile intentions, and attacked them. Encouraged and led by Samuel, the Israelites fought valiantly and won a great victory over their enemies, and thus regained their liberty. As long as Samuel was their leader they remained unmolested by the Philistines (1 Sa 7:3-14). He was now undisputed judge of the country. Every year he held court at Gilgal, Bethel, and Mizpah, besides Ramah, his home town (vs 15-17). In his task Samuel apparently was aided by prophets who lived together in communities. These prophets are mentioned for the first time in his days (chs 10:5; 19:20).
As Samuel advanced in years he appointed his 2 sons as additional judges, and placed them in Beer-sheba, at the southernmost border of the country. However, they, unlike their father, were corrupt judges, and the people complained about them. Dissatisfied with the lack of continuity in strong leadership, the Israelites thought that a kingship would be the best solution for their political ills. Hence they requested Samuel to appoint a king over them. Samuel disapproved of this request, even took it as an expression of distrust in his administration. However, the Lord bade him accede to the people's demand, pointing out that, in their desire to exchange their theocratic form of government for that of a kingship, they were not rejecting him, but their higher leader, God Himself. Samuel was instructed to warn them clearly of the disadvantages of their move and the inevitable consequences this change in government would have on all their lives (1 Sa 8:1-22). Following God's directions, Samuel anointed Saul king, at first privately in Ramah, and later in a public ceremony at Mizpah (chs 9; 10). A 3d ceremony was performed at Gilgal after Saul's victory over Nahash, the king of the Ammonites (chs 11:14 to 12:25).

Saul's behavior, however, soon revealed to Samuel that there were reasons for grave concern. The new king began to manifest a spirit of independence and stubborn disobedience with regard to divine leadership. Consequently Samuel was obliged to tell him first that his kingship would not continue (1 Sa 13:8-14), and later that the Lord had taken it from him (ch 15:22-29). Samuel did not see Saul again after that event, although he grieved over him (v 35). Later, Samuel, at God's command, performed the dangerous task of anointing David as king over Israel, although Saul was still in full power (ch 16:1-13). When persecuted by Saul, David sought temporary refuge with Samuel (ch 19:18, 19). Shortly after that the old prophet died, and David went as a fugitive to the southern Wilderness of Judah (ch 25:1).

Samuel's name appears once more in connection with the visit of King Saul to a spirit medium, who illegally practiced her profession at En-dor. Saul certainly knew that such manifestations were the work of the devil, for he had earlier expelled necromancers from the country. Yet he requested the woman to establish contact with the departed Samuel. The spirit that manifested itself to the woman in her séance claimed to be the spirit of Samuel and predicted Saul's death (1 Sa 28:3-19). That the spirit was not that of the dead Samuel is clear from the Scriptures, which teach that there is no consciousness after death, and which condemn necromancy and spiritualism as the work of the devil
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Samuel was a great man. The NT lists him with the heroes of faith (Heb 11:32). He revealed himself as a political leader, who regained for his people independence and liberty, and who was able to retain it during the long period of his successful administration. He was in communion with God from his childhood and constantly acted according to divine directions. As a judge he was held in high esteem by the people for his impartiality, loyalty, and honesty. As the founder of the kingdom of Israel, he showed humility and prudence by stepping aside when the people demanded a new leader. On the other hand, he was a man who permitted no compromise when the honor of God was at stake, or when a direct command of the Lord had not been carried out. His bloody severity against Agag (1 Sa 15:33) is an illustration of this. Yet, Samuel had a warm heart. He constantly prayed for his people (ch 12:23) and could not cease to love Saul even after he had been forced to reject him as king. Unfortunately, his sons did not follow in his footsteps (ch 8:3).

Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.

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