Faith places obedience over disappointment.
“32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised, who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.” (Hebrews 11:32-34).
Could we add those who “overcame disappointment” to the list in Hebrews of people known for their faith? In Samuel’s case that addition might just fit. Disappointment in his mentor, disappointment in his sons, disappointment in his people, disappointment in the one to whom he would serve as a guide and mentor. Never being disappointed in his God would be the one exception for Samuel. It takes faith to keep your eyes on God and continue to follow Him when everyone around you who should be following Him fails to live up to those expectations.
But let’s go back to the beginning of the story.
Faith is not hereditary, but Samuel’s mother, Hannah, certainly exercised faith in praying for a son. This part of the story is told in 1 Samuel. Hannah was a second wife to Elkanah. His first wife, Peninnah, has produced sons and daughters but Hannah was unable to conceive. This caused her great sorrow and great frustration as her rival Peninnah mocked her for her inability to produce offspring. So Hannah went to Shiloh with her husband at the time Jews went to offer their sacrifices to pray for a child.
“In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, ‘Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
You’ll remember from the story of Samson that one of the expressions of Samson’s vow as a Nazarite was to never cut his hair. It appears that Hannah was making that same vow on behalf of her unborn, and as yet unconceived, child. He would be one dedicated to the Lord for all his life.
God granted Hannah’s request and she had a son whom she named Samuel. In keeping with the promise she had made to God in her prayer, she turned him over to Eli, the priest at Shiloh.
“After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh…‘now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he shall be given over to the Lord.’ And he worshipped the Lord there...the boy ministered before the Lord under Eli the priest.”
It was written of Hannah’s son that: “…the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord…the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favour with the Lord and with men”.
Samuel arrived on the stage of history just at the end of the period of the judges of Israel. The spiritual health of the people was poor, as was the health of the nation’s spiritual leaders. Eli’s sons followed their father as priests as was the tradition, but they were corrupt, taking portions of the sacrifices brought to Shiloh that were not theirs to take and taking advantage of their position to exploit women.
“Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord…This sin of the young men was very great in the Lord’s sight, for they were treating the Lord’s offering with contempt…Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance of the tent of meeting. So he said to them, ‘Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. No, my sons; the report I hear spreading among the Lord’s people is not good. If one person sins against another, God may mediate for the offender, but if anyone sins against the Lord, who will intercede for them? His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the Lord’s will to put them to death…In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions”
1 Samuel 2:27 mentions the arrival of “a man of God” in the midst of this situation. A prophet is usually named and his place of origin noted—but not in this case. He appears and he disappears. The phrase “a man of God” generally refers to a prophet, or messenger from God, and is used to describe people like Moses, Samuel, Elisha, Elijah and others, and the expression frequently appears in the Book of Kings. But between the time of Deborah and now no mention of a prophet being active in Israel.
The test of a true prophet of God was whether or not what he said actually came true. This man was a true prophet, as events would prove.
Eli, as the chief priest, was responsible for the actions of those under him—the “buck stops” at his desk. He has not reined in his sons who have abused the priesthood and the people and through this unnamed man of God the indictment on Eli and his sons is delivered.
Speaking for God, he said: “Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling? Why do you honour your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?...Those who honour me I will honour, but those who despise me will be disdained. The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of your priestly house, so that no one in it will reach old age.”
God would find someone else to be “a faithful house” to act as priest in the place of Eli and his sons.
Since it was rare for the Lord to appear to anyone in those days, probably because of the spiritual condition of the nation, the events that are described to us in 1 Samuel 3:2-4 are significant. God would again appear, not to a weak and ineffective Eli, but to the boy Samuel.
“One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.”
But Samuel didn’t recognize who it was calling him. Despite his being day and night in the house of God and under the tutelage of the priest since he had been weaned, a telling statement is made about Samuel in 1 Samuel 3:7. He “did not yet know the Lord.” The same thing is said about Eli’s sons but without the “yet” indicating that they never did come to know the Lord—a scary thought when we consider that we assume our religious leaders actually DO know the One they purport to serve.
Samuel thought it was Eli calling him and three times he went running to see what his mentor wanted.
“This verse explains why Samuel failed to recognize the Voice. ‘Knowing the Lord’ here denotes not the general religious knowledge of a pious Israelite, but the special knowledge communicated by a personal revelation. The phrase is used in a different sense in 1 Samuel 2:12.”
Matthew Poole comments that Samuel was used to running to answer Eli’s call even in the middle of the night. But the fact that he did it three times in response to a voice that wasn’t the old priest’s must have triggered some trepidation in Eli. He already knew from the unnamed prophet that his house was doomed. So what now might the Lord say?
But another fascinating little detail in this story acts as another indication of the depth to which the spiritual life in Israel had fallen. The comment is made that the lamp had not yet gone out. This could simply mean that it was truly night when God called Samuel. The tending of the lamp was one of the priest’s duties. The lamp was supposed to burn without interruption during the night but the phrase used here could indicate that at this time that duty was sometimes neglected.
The lamp was just outside the entrance to the Holy of Holies. Samuel was sleeping close by. Some speculate that he was sleeping inside the Holy of Holies, but that would have spelt death for anyone other than the High Priest, Eli, who is said to be sleeping in “his own place” was likely in one of the chambers set aside for that purpose for those serving in the Tabernacle. My guess is that though Samuel had not yet had a personal encounter with the Lord, his job might have been to be on duty to make sure the lamp did not go out so he stationed himself near the veil that separated the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies.
Some suggest that the voice Samuel heard came from the ark which lay in the Holy of Holies.
It took three calls before Eli realized that it was God who was speaking to Samuel and he wasn’t sure if God would call again! “Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’”
In verse 10 we read that “The Lord came and stood there.” The Voice is now a Vision, a physical manifestation. There can be no mistake now.
Samuel’s first prophetic message is a terrible one and the next morning he hesitates to tell Eli what the message is. If he had not been aware of it before, Samuel now knew that God was not pleased with the behavior of those whose example in the community should have been stellar. But Eli knows something is up and prompts the boy to tell him what God has said to him and tells him not to hide anything.
1 Samuel 3:19, 20 gives us a clue that tells us that this appearance was the spiritual turning point in Samuel’s life. He knows the voice of God, and as a man of faith that mitigates the influences of those around him who could lead him astray. In following God rather than those influences, Samuel is blessed.
“The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.”
We might ask why God did not deliver the message directly to Eli since it concerned him and his family. Eli had already heard the voice of the Lord through the unnamed prophet but in his poor spiritual condition he had not responded to God either in repentance or in doing anything more than rebuking his sons. So now God will appoint a new prophet in Samuel. The Lord was with Samuel and in keeping with the characteristics of a true prophet of God, everything he said happened. Everyone recognized him for who God had called him to be.
As Samuel grew up in the closed community of tabernacle life he may not have realized how God was working in his life to fulfil His purposes. That, no doubt, would change when Samuel came to that point where he “knew” God and understood his calling. Then he would look back even to his birth and his mother’s vow and have that “aha” moment that seals his calling to obedience.
This is a reminder to us that God is not absent in the lives of anyone regardless of whether they acknowledge Him or not. His mission is to restore Eden, to bring a lost people back to Him so He works in every life, though not every life will find its eternity in Him through faith in Christ.
Eli’s sons managed to lose the ark to Israel’s enemies, the Philistines. It would not be until many years later that Samuel, now leader in Israel, was to be instrumental in bringing it back to the tabernacle and bringing peace to the nation.
“Samuel continued as Israel’s leader all the days of his life. From year to year he went on a circuit from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all those places. But he always went back to Ramah, where his home was, and there he also held court for Israel. And he built an altar there to the Lord.”
1 Samuel 8 begins the saga of Israel’s downward spiral .
Samuel’s family life
“When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders…But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.”
Judgeship in Israel was not an inherited position. Samuel should have learned from Eli’s mistakes but even a man of faith can forget that “it won’t happen to me” isn’t always true.
We are not told why Samuel would indulge in this kind of nepotism. Because his sons were no better than Eli’s sons, Samuel actually set the stage for Israel’s request for a king. The people got tired of corrupt leadership and wanted a change.
There is no indication that Samuel ever dealt with the evils perpetrated by his sons, but, as a man of faith and obedience to God, the discovery of their sins would have been yet another disappointment for him. But he persevered.
Samuel’s response to the nation’s request for a king
Israel had looked around at her neighbours and felt that a king would be the solution to the problem of corrupt leadership. So they came to Samuel to ask him to find them one. It was not that God had no plans to give Israel a king. That had been announced since Genesis and confirmed in Exodus. The Lord had even described the kind of king that Israel needed in Deuteronomy.
The problem was that Israel wanted a king like their pagan neighbours had, one very different from what God had laid out as the kind of king they should have. They asked for a king to lead them in battle supposing that his presence would guarantee victory. This only demonstrated a lack of faith in, and an insult to, the God who had, to this point, always given victory to an obedient nation. Perhaps they thought they wouldn’t have to obey God, and would still be victorious even when God sent their enemies against them as judgement, if they had a king. It was the same sin that brought defeat to Israel during Eli’s last days. His sons believed that the presence of the ark would bring them victory and that God wasn’t necessary in the equation.
Samuel’s response to God’s commands regarding Israel’s request
Samuel was told to warn the nation that their request for a king would cost them dearly. The king would take their property, their children, their money. He would make them his slaves and oppress them. They would be sorry they asked. But still they were not discouraged.
Put yourself in Samuel’s sandals. You have faithfully served God and Israel since early childhood, and done your work well. Now the nation has basically rejected your leadership, not even wanting to wait until you are dead to replace you and your unfaithful sons. They neither recognize your fine work nor revere their true king—God.
Samuel’s reaction reflects faith in the midst of what must have been a terrible disappointment.
“…‘Give us a king to lead us,’ this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord.”
We have no record of whining and complaining, no feeling sorry for himself, no quitting. He was rightfully unhappy about the insult to God. However, Samuel simply goes to God and then does what God has told him to do, appoint a king, even though he disagrees with the nation’s choices and knows that those choices will lead to no good. There is faith here, a faith that moves beyond disappointment to believe that though there is trouble ahead, there is a God above it all, and in it all.
Perhaps nowhere does Samuel’s faith shine more clearly than in his message to Israel in 1 Samuel 12 as his leadership is transferred over to Saul as the first king.
As Moses once did for the children of Israel, Samuel reviews the past before turning over the reins to what Israel had chosen as their future.
“Let me remind you…”
At the end of his tenure, Samuel contrasts his role among the Israelites with that of the king they have chosen. He has taken nothing from them. The king has, and will, take everything. They are witnesses to his integrity. In keeping with that integrity, he then rehearses their history, God’s faithfulness and their unfaithfulness, the insult to God, their king, when they rejected Him and asked for another in His place.
Then comes the “however.” Despite what they have done God is still faithful. “If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord you God, it will be well. But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king.”
Such is Samuel’s connection with the Lord that he immediately gives them proof that what he says is true—in keeping with his calling as prophet.
“‘Now, then, stand still and see this great thing that Lord is about to do before your eyes! Is it not wheat harvest now? I will call on the Lord to send thunder and rain. And you will realize what an evil thing you did in the eyes of the Lord when you asked for a king.’ Then Samuel called on the Lord, and that same day the Lord sent thunder and rain. So all the people stood in awe of the Lord and of Samuel.”
Rain was rare during the wheat harvest, so calling down thunder and rain was a sign to be taken seriously—which the people did! Samuel could so easily have simply walked away IF it were a question only of his relationship with the people. His disappointment and their rejection would have been more than enough to cause most to abandon the role of the nation’s conscience. But his relationship is with the God who called Him and the call has not been declared invalid. He would not reject them though they had rejected him and their God.
Samuel’s final statement shows us the heart of a man whose focus is on serving the Lord faithfully even though he has cause to be bitter, to complain, to throw in the towel, a man whose faith is strong enough to overcome all those things and more:
“And all the people said to Samuel, ‘Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.’ And Samuel said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name's sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.’”
Samuel will continue to instruct them and, more importantly, continue to pray for them, despite everything. He will continue to try to serve as guide to Saul despite his personal feelings about how this part of Israel’s history is going to end. And he will continue to intercede for both Saul and the people.
One of the key passages from Samuel’s life and ministry is found in 1 Samuel 15. The story also reveals much to us about the uncanny ability of the human heart to refuse to see the obvious.
Saul has turned out to be a “dud.” He refused to do what God instructed him to do. Eventually God would reject him as king, which is where we pick up the story in 1 Samuel 15.
Samuel begins this conversation with Saul by practically presenting his credentials.
“‘I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord…” Saul is to go and attack Israel’s enemies and then destroy them and all that belongs to them. There seems a certain element of warning here in Samuel’s approach. Saul has already blatantly disobeyed specific instructions and has not learned his lessons.
One commentator on this passage uses the term “holy war” in describing God’s instructions to Saul. The destruction of the Amalekites was to be complete. This was not unusual in ancient—nor apparently in modern times among those who adhere to many of the middle Eastern extremist groups. An enemy and his goods are dedicated to a deity by total destruction. It is like using the “language” of the people under the ban to teach them a lesson. This judgment on the Amalekites was pronounced because of their opposition to Israel’s journey to the Promised Land described in Exodus 17:8-13.
The Pulpit Commentary: “Verse 1. - Samuel also said. Better literally, ‘And Samuel said.’ There is no note of time, but probably a considerable interval elapsed before this second trial of Saul was made. God does not finally reject a man until, after repeated opportunities for repentance, he finally proves obdurate. David committed worse crimes than Saul, but he had a tender conscience, and each fall was followed by deep and earnest sorrow. Saul sinned and repented not. Just, then, as Eli had a first warning, which, though apparently unconditional in its terms (1 Samuel 2:27-36), was really a call to repentance, and was only made irrevocable by his persistence for many years in the same sins (1 Samuel 3:11-14), so was it with Saul. The prophet's words in 1 Samuel 13:13, 14 were a stern warning, and had Saul taken them to heart, God would have forgiven him his sin. He repented not, but repeated the offence, and so the sentence was confirmed.”
Saul does not carry out the instructions given to him. When Samuel discovers that Saul has again been disobedient and spared the life of Agag, king of the Amalekites and has kept the best of the booty rather than destroying it, we are told that “Samuel was angry, and he cried to the Lord all night.” It is unlikely he was angry at God, so we can imagine that he was angry at Saul? Perhaps he was angry at the Israelites for wanting a king in the first place and rejecting their True King. We aren’t told. Perhaps, like Moses, he spent the night interceding for Saul since the Lord had expressed his sorrow for making Saul king in the first place.
Saul seems totally oblivious to the significance of what he has done, even making a monument “in his own honor” as he makes his way to his encounter with Samuel.
And when Samuel arrives at his meeting with Saul, the king proceeds to say “I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” To which Samuel responds, perhaps somewhat sarcastically: “what then is this bleating of sheep in my ears and the lowing of oxen that I hear?”
Samuel’s classic answer to Saul is a lesson to us all: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”
We can play at being religious, at being spiritual, but the test of true religion and true spirituality is obedience.
This time Saul repents, though it appears he is directing his plea to the wrong offended party. He needs to ask God’s forgiveness not Samuel’s. Whether or not the repentance was genuine, it makes no difference. It was too late. The kingdom was lost to Saul and to his descendants.
“Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him…The Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel?’” (1 Samuel 15:35-16:1). It appears that some time passed between Samuel’s last encounter with Saul and God’s conversation with Samuel about Saul. I Samuel 8:6 suggests that Samuel could easily have been resentful of Saul, and yet now he appears to have mourned over what has happened for a long time. Considering that Samuel was against appointing Saul in the first place, considering that Saul had been such a disappointment, and considering his repeated rebellion against God, Samuel mourns his loss. Rather than writing him off, “good riddance to bad rubbish,” Samuel mourns. The damage done is huge to all of the community. The relationship, as frustrating as it must have been, is destroyed. Samuel mourns. The heart of this man of faith who must have continued to believe that anything and anyone was salvageable is broken.
Samuel distances himself from Saul—the consequences are now inevitable and though Samuel could have continued to urge Saul to repent, it almost becomes a case, as it was in the life of Pharaoh, that the Lord has hardened a heart that once too often hardened itself in resistance to the Lord.
There comes a point of no return.
Keil and Delitzsch: “For a man’s repentance or regret arises from his changeableness, from the fluctuations in his desires and actions. This is never true with God This is never the case with God; consequently He is ישׂראל נצח, the unchangeable One, in whom Israel can trust, since He does not lie or deceive, or repent of His purposes. These words are spoken θεοπρεπῶς (theomorphically), whereas in 1 Samuel 15:11 and other passages, which speak of God as repenting, the words are to be understood ἀνθρωποπαθῶς (anthropomorphically; cf. Numbers 23:19).”
Saul’s rejection as king resulted in one last mandate for Samuel. God sends him out to the house of Jesse to look for Saul’s replacement. After Samuel appoints David as king, he basically disappears from the stage of Israel. His death is noted in 1 Samuel 25.
But even after death, Samuel has a role to play in Saul’s life. Saul, cut off from God, consults with a medium to speak to Samuel just before his last, and fatal, battle with Philistines described in 1 Samuel 31.
Samuel was disappointed in his mentor. Samuel was disappointed with the people for rejecting God. He was disappointed with Saul. But through all those challenges in life the prophet’s faith in One who is never a disappointment plays a huge role.
CONVERSATIONS AND CONSIDERATIONS
1. Describe a time when you have faced a major disappointment. What role does faith play in dealing with the disappointments of life?
2. Perhaps there are no better people or places to apply Samuel’s example of faith than to those engaged in ministry. What lessons can be learned from Samuel that would be valuable for those who serve as pastors, missionaries, or others in spiritual leadership?
3. Hannah is a key player in Samuel’s story. Though she made a promise to give her son back to the Lord, how difficult do you think it might have been to actually do that and leave her young son at the door of the Tabernacle? How does faith play a part when it comes to how loosely we hang on to our children when they are dedicated to the service of the Lord, particularly in far-away places?
4. Report on how you are doing in strengthening your relationship with God as a vital part of your faith journey.
 1 Samuel 2:21 cf. Luke 2:52
 1 Samuel 2:12, 17, 22-25; 3:1
 1 Samuel 4:11; 14:3; 22:18-23; 1Kings 2:27
 1 Samuel 2:29-31
 1 Samuel 2:35; 2 Samuel 8:17; 1 Chronicles 24:3, 31
 1 Samuel 3:9
 1 Samuel 3:15-18
 Deuteronomy 18:21, 22
 1 Samuel 7:15, 16
 Genesis 17:16; 35:11; 49:10
 Exodus 19:6
 Deuteronomy 17:14-20
 1 Samuel 12:14, 15
 1 Samuel 12:19-25