By far the most notable of the Sons of Korah is Samuel, the prophet and judge. In order to make an account of his life and work more easily comprehensible, we will examine his career in two parts–the first dealing with his childhood and judging, the second dealing with his important role as a prophet during the early monarchy period of Israel. During this particular section we will deal with Samuel’s upbringing, Samuel’s call by God during childhood, Samuel’s service as a judge, and Samuel’s failing as a father that led (in part) to the demands of Israel for a king.
As has been discussed elsewhere  , Samuel was both the son of Elkanah, a Levite of the Sons of Korah, and the grandfather of the illustrious and wise Heman. His genealogy is provided in 1 Chronicles 6:33-38. However, as a result of the vow of his mother Hannah, Samuel was raised in the tabernacle by the High Priest Eli. Let us note two elements of his upbringing that are particularly notable: the love of his mother for him, and the failures of Eli to provide a good example of parenting or leadership.
1 Samuel 2:18-21 gives a very touching account of Samuel’s relationship with his mother and father: “But Samuel ministered [served] before the Lord, even as a child, wearing a linen ephod. Moreover his mother used to make him a little robe, and bring it to him year by year when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. And Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “The Lord give you descendants from this woman for the loan that was given to the Lord.” Then they would go to their own home. And the Lord visited Hannah, so that she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile the child Samuel grew before the Lord.”
This account demonstrates that Samuel stayed in contact with this family and was remembered and thought of fondly, and that he possibly also got the chance to know his younger brothers and sisters. It also suggests that Samuel was a conscientious and serious-minded child, since he served from such a young age. The importance of this faithful and early service is a notable response from the ungodly activity going on around him.
1 Samuel 2:12-17 provides an example of the ungodly behavior committed by Eli’s two sons, who were corrupt priests before God: “Now the sons of Eli were corrupt, they did not know the Lord. And the priests’ custom with the people was that when any man offered a sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come with a three-pronged fleshhook in his hand while the meat was boiling. Then he would thrust it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot, and the priest would take for himself all that the fleshhook brought up. So they did in Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there. Also, before they burned the fat, the priest’s servant would come and say to the man who sacrificed, “Give meat for roasting to the priest, for he will not take boiled meat from you, but raw.” And if the man said to him, “They should really burn the fat first; then you may take as much as your heart desires,” the would answer him, “No, but you must give it now, and if not, I will take it by force.” Therefore the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord, for men abhorred the offering of the Lord.”
Let us examine this particular sin, as it is important in understanding what sins corrupt leaders commit even now regarding the offerings and sacrifices of God’s people. The Bible carefully limited the sorts of offerings that were to be enjoyed by the priests, demanding that the fat be burned as a “sweet aroma” to God before the priest got his share and enjoyed a meal with the believer bringing the sacrifice, all of which was carefully prescribed in the Law (see Leviticus 7:22-38). However, the sons of Eli were not content to have the portion that the Lord had marked out for them, but wished to have their full hunger sated without any regards to the tenets and limitations of divine law that commanded for God to be honored before the priest could eat–and the selfishness and greed of those hirelings led men to hate sacrificing to the Lord because it meant profiting those corrupt and ungodly men. By setting a bad example of obedience to God, the sons of Eli caused people to disrespect God, a challenge to His authority and legitimacy that required severe judgment.
The wickedness of the sons of Levi extended beyond their selfish seizure of the sacrifices for their own greedy lusts and appetites, but also included over unsavory lusts, as the Bible records in 1 Samuel 2:22-26: “Now Eli was very old, and he heard everything his sons did to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all the people. No, my sons! For it is not a good report that I hear. You make the Lord’s people trangress. If one man sins against another, God will judge him. But if a man sins against the Lord, who will intercede for him?” Nevertheless they did not heed the voice of their father, because the Lord desired to kill them. And the child Samuel grew in stature, and in favor with the Lord and men.”
Here we see that Eli did rebuke his sons, albeit somewhat weakly, in light of the immense nature of their sins, but that God hardened their hearts because He wished to kill them. While Samuel himself (as a result of his godly service) grew in favor with both God and men, the sins of the sons of Eli were both a theft of God’s sacrifice as well as sexual sins among the people. Like other corrupt leaders or the children of ministry, they had no self-control over their lusts but freely committed adultery and fornication even on church property, showing no respect for God or men. This sort of behavior by people who are ordained as servants of God brings upon it harsh condemnation and judgment, just as godly conduct brings approval and blessing.
And so, God provided a warning message from an anonymous man of God to Eli concerning his sons, in 1 Samuel 2:27-36: “Then a man of God came to Eli and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Did I not clearly reveal Myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt in Pharaoh’s house? Did I not choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be My priest, to offer upon My altar, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod before Me? And did not I give to the house of your father all the offerings of the children of Israel made by fire? Why do you wick at My sacrifice and My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling place, and honor your sons more than Me, to make yourselves fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel My people? Therefore the Lord God of Israel says, ‘I said indeed that your house and the house of your father would walk before Me forever.’ But now the Lord says, ‘Far be it from Me; for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed. Behold the days are coming that I will cut off your arm and the arm of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house. And you will see an enemy in My dwelling place, despite all the good which God does for Israel. And there shall not be an old man in your house forever. But any of your men whom I do not cut off from My altar shall consume your eyes and grieve your heart. And all the descendants of your house shall die in the flower of their age. Now this shall be a sign to you that will come upon your two sons, on Hophni and Phineas: in one day they shall die, both of them. Then I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall walk before My anointed forever. And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left in your house shall come and bow to him for a piece of silver and a morsel of bread, and say, “Please, put me in one of the priestly positions, that I may eat a piece of bread.’ ”
This is a harsh and stinging prophecy with messianic overtones. The Bible has harsh words for those leaders who love their children more than they love the standards of God, and who bend the rules and corrupt themselves to protect ungodly men who abuse and sin with impunity, lacking restraint from their “godly” fathers in positions of high authority. Let us note that this man of God appears not to have been from the priestly hierarchy, but was a man of God with God’s Holy Spirit giving a message of rebuke and judgment, showing that even early on God went outside the hierarchy when that hierarchy showed itself to be too corrupt to heed God’s word and follow God’s laws in an impartial manner. This severe judgment from God shows just how highly God cares about the dignity of the sacrifice of His people and His standards of sexual morality among the ordained leadership and their families.
This lengthy examination of the corruption of Israel’s priesthood within Samuel’s youth is important because of how it shaped Samuel’s call, his behavior as a judge, and his example as as father. Now let us turn to Samuel’s call, and examine its three elements: Samuel’s lack of recognition that it was God calling him, the warning God gave to the boy, and the faithfulness of Samuel in delivering that warning message to his foster father Eli.
1 Samuel 3:1-9 gives a very lengthy account of God’s patient calling of the young Samuel: “The boy Samuel ministered to the Lord before Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation. And it came to pass at that time, while Eli was lying down in his place, and when his eyes had begun to grow so dim that he could not see, and before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle of the Lord where the ark of God was, and while Samuel was lying down, that the Lord called Samuel. And he answered, “Here I am!” So he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” And he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” And he went and lay down. Then the Lord called yet again, “Samuel!” So Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” He answered, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” (Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, nor was the word of the Lord yet revealed to him.) And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. So he arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you did call me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord had called the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and it shall be, if He calls you, that you must say, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
This particular passage is notable for several reasons. For one, when there is massive corruption and disobedience among God’s people, there is no widespread revelation of God, for it is our sins that cut us off from God. Likewise, Eli’s failure to perceive God’s word, despite his own relative godliness, is manifest by the fact that he assumed that Samuel was being a silly boy by coming to him, instead of realizing that God had been calling to him without response so many times. It took three visits by the precocious boy for Eli to realize that God was indeed calling Samuel, showing that Eli lacked spiritual perception as a result of his own blindness to the sins of his sons and of the age. His physical blindness was only an aftereffect of his preexisting spiritual blindness. Finally, we see that God is indeed patient in the call, coming again and again to call Samuel.
The call from God to Samuel and the prophecy given is told in 1 Samuel 3:10-14: “Now the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel answered, “Speak, for Your servant hears.” Then the Lord said to Samuel: “Behold, I will do something in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them. And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”
Here we see that God placed the house of Eli under the ban, declaring holy war against them for all eternity because of their presumptuous sin, for which there is no atoning sacrifice, only the solemn and fearful expectation of judgment . The prophecy given to Samuel confirms the warning given in the word of the man of God, and also warns that this day of judgment is soon approaching, and that the theft of God’s property and sexual immorality by ordained leadership or their families is accounted by God as vile and worthy of the most severe punishment when parents among the ordained leadership do not restrain their children from evil.
Finally, we see in 1 Samuel 3:15-4:1 the response of Samuel to the warning message given to him by God: “So Samuel lay down until morning, and opened the doors of the house of the Lord. And Samuel was afraid to tell Eli the vision. Then Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son!” He answered, “Here I am.” And he said, “What is the word that the Lord spoke to you? Please do not hide it from me. God do so to you, and more also, if you hide anything from me of all the things that He said to you.” Then Samuel told him everything, and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good to Him.” So Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel had been established as a prophet of the Lord. Then the Lord appeared again in Shiloh. For the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord. And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.”
This call, which began the judgeship of Israel, was itself a direct theophany of a type that is very rare, but one that clearly caught the attention of Israel. Samuel, despite his concern about upsetting Eli, told him all that God had spoken. It is striking that Eli put a stronger curse on Samuel to tell him what God had spoken to him than he had ever placed, so far as it is recorded in scripture, on his sons for their flagrant and presumptuous behavior in stealing from God or in fornicating with the daughters of Israel. Nonetheless, he patiently accepted the judgment from God on his own failures, and accepted the divine election of Samuel as a prophet and judge in Israel.
Samuel As Judge
After the judgment of God in Israel and the House of Eli for their sins is shown by the capture of the Ark of the Covenant by the Philistines and the death of Hophni and Phineas on the same day, we see in 1 Samuel 7 what occurred during the time of Samuel’s judging over Israel. First, let us see Samuel’s call to repentance. Then, let us examine the God-given victory over the Philistines. Finally, let us examine the peripatetic habits of Samuel as a judge.
1 Samuel 7:2-6 gives the call of repentance by Samuel for Israel: “So it was that the ark remained in Kirjath Jearim a long time; it was there twenty years. And all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord. Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, “If you return to the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths from among you, and prepare your hearts for the Lord, and serve Him only; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.” So the children of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and served the Lord only. And Samuel said, “Gather all Israel to Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.” so they gathered together at Mizpah, drew water, and poured it out before the Lord. And they fasted that day, and said there, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the children of God at Mizpah.
Twenty years after the Ark of the Covenant had been moved to Kirjath Jearim the children of Israel were finally moved in their lamentation over the decline of their nation to repent to God and put away the false idols and the evil worship that had ensnared them. In order to experience a revival of their circumstances, it was first necessary to repent and then be reconciled to God and each other. When they showed the heart to repent of their sins, put away evil practices, and reconcile together, they went at Mizpah to draw water (symbolic of baptism?), and fast before God. The drawing of water at Mizpah appears very similar to what Elijah did at Mount Carmel in similar circumstances (1 Kings 18:30-37) in a call to repentance of the people of Israel.
1 Samuel 7:7-14 gives the triumph of Israel, thanks to God, over the Philistines: “Now when the Philistines heard that the children of Israel had gathered together at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the children of Israel heard of it, they were afraid of the Philistines. So the children of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” And Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it as a whole burned offering to the Lord. Then Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him. Now as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel. But the Lord thundered with a loud thunder upon the Philistines that day, and so confused them that they were overcome before Israel. And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and drove them back as far as below Beth Car. Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” So the Philistines were subdued, and they did not come anymore to the territory of Israel. And the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. Then the cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron to Gath; and Israel recovered its territory from the hands of the Philistines. Also there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.”
Here we see that just when God is bringing up a time of repentance and restoration that Satan seeks to stop the work through persecutions and threats. However, as is often the case, these persecutions serve as opportunities for God to show His favor to His people, and the glorious victory of Israel (thanks to God’s thundering) over the Philistines was decisive enough to lead Israel to a restoration of fortunes during the lifetime of Samuel. Israel’s peace with the Amorites and the Philistines during the time of Samuel’s judging out to have been a lesson to the Israelites that it was not form of government that led to peace and security, but the obedience and closeness to God. This lesson, sadly, was never learned by Israel.
Finally, let us note Samuel’s travels in 1 Samuel 7:15-17: “And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. He went up from year to year on a circuit in Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah, and judged Israel in all those places. But he always returned to Ramah, for his home was there. There he judged Israel, and there he built an altar to the Lord.” It was in places like Bethel and Gilgal that guilds called the “sons of the prophets” were set up lasting from the time of Samuel well into the divided monarchy period (Elijah and Elisha associated often with them), and it is possible that some of the other prophets (like Ahijah and the lying prophet of 1 Kings 13) may have been involved at some point with these various guilds as well, showing an example of godly obedience as well as a certain flamboyance of style to the people of Israel. Nonetheless, we see here that Samuel always maintained a close bond with his family, setting up his home in Ramah.
Samuel As Father
Nonetheless, despite the notable successes of Samuel as a judge over Israel, as a father he showed many of the same failings, in lesser severity, as did his own foster father Eli. As the Bible says in 1 Samuel 8:1-5: “Now it came to pass when Samuel was old that he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes ,and perverted justice. Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge like all the nations.”
Here at this point let us stop and reflect a moment about the importance of justice. Though Samuel’s grandson, Heman, was an honorable man, Samuel’s son Joel was not. Instead of taking his opportunity to serve as a blessing from God (which it was), he used his position for selfish and dishonest gain, showing himself a hireling instead of a servant of God. Sometimes the children of leaders expect to be made leaders themselves when they lack the heart of service of their fathers, seeking dynastic rule instead of showing first the necessary obedience to God and concern for His justice that it takes to be qualified to rule in a godly realm. Likewise, we see in Israel that despite the godly rule of Samuel that there were no godly leaders being trained up to follow after Samuel’s example, as there appears to have been a lack of godly leadership among Israel as a whole. Despite their obedience to God they had not fully understood or accepted God’s desire to be seen and recognized as their king and ruler, with other leaders being trained and mentored to follow in His example as servants of His children. Samuel failed to replicate his own devotion to God among others, for whatever reason. Nonetheless, God did not judge Samuel as harshly as he judged Eli, because he did not wink at their misconduct.
Conclusion to Part One
Let us conclude the first part of this biographical sketch of Samuel by examining what we have uncovered so far. For one, there was a long chain of corrupt actions on the part of Israel’s leaders at this time concerning theft, bribery, and sexual immorality, corrupt action that we see in the Church currently by hirelings and wicked leaders. The judgment by God on this behavior is the same now as it was then–for God’s standards and anger against evildoers who pretend to be ordained leaders has not changed one bit. Let us also note that God’s providence is directly connected to the obedience of the people–it is not only leaders whose sins separate a people from God, but also the corrupt state of the people themselves. National restoration must be preceded by national repentance. The existence of a godly leader like Samuel will provide an example for others to follow, but each and every person remains accountable to God for their actions, and those who lead will be subject to an even harsher standard because of the public nature of their examples and because the presumption of the legitimacy of authority they possess as a result of that position. Let us therefore examine the history of Samuel in search of the proper godly example of faith and obedience as well as the sober warning of eternal judgment against those who will use their positions of authority to exploit the brethren and fulfill their own selfish lusts.