Most of us recognize that Samuel, the last judge of Israel and the prophet who anointed the first two kings of Israel, was a great leader. How well do we know the legacy of godly leadership that he established for many generations, though? The legacy of Samuel’s leadership extended not only into the reigns of Saul and David, but extended for long afterward, for hundreds of years. Let us therefore take the time to look today at how Samuel left a legacy of godly leadership long after his own lifetime.
Samuel As Judge
Sadly, what many people remember most about Samuel’s time as a judge over Israel was the tragic way in which it ended, thanks to the corruption of his sons. We read of this sad tale in 1 Samuel 8:1-5. Let us turn there today to start. 1 Samuel 8:1-5 reads: “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 us like all the nations.”
Let us recognize briefly some often neglected aspects of this otherwise familiar passage. First, we should recognize that Samuel placed his sons as judges over Beersheba, at the far south of where Israel had settled, to help them become godly leaders. He was trying, as best as possible, to let his sons learn how to be godly leaders without the pressure of them being under the spotlight. However, his sons rejected Samuel’s example of godly leadership and proved themselves to be so corrupt that they got a bad reputation around the whole nation. In fact, the sins they committed—accepting bribes, using their positions for dishonest profit, and perverting justice, is itself what ungodly leadership looks like in general. However, sadly, the elders of Israel did not only reject Samuel’s sons as unworthy leaders, but also rejected the model of godly leadership that Samuel had done his best to show for decades as a judge over Israel. They wanted a king, and a king they would receive, since they had rejected God as their king.
However, we may not be very aware about Samuel’s behavior as a judge, or the places he went as a judge, so that we may see his legacy. We find a short but revealing statement about Samuel’s activities as a judge in 1 Samuel 7:15-17. 1 Samuel 7:15-17 reads: “And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. He went from year to year on a circuit to 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.”
Are we to assume that Samuel simply judged the people of Israel without any plan of the future in light of his behavior in trying to improve the leadership capabilities of his own sons? I think that would be an unwise assumption, and I would like to spend the rest of my sermon today discussing the legacy of Samuel’s leadership in greater detail. Let us remember the two aspects of Samuel’s leadership example that we have seen so far—the places where he visited, Ramah, Mizpah, Bethel, and Gilgal, as well as his efforts in training leaders to succeed after him. We will discover that Samuel was more fortunate in many of his efforts than he was with his own corrupt sons.
Samuel’s Family Legacy
We have one example within scripture of a case in which David and Samuel were discussing and planning for David’s time as king. We see this story in 1 Samuel 19:18-24. 1 Samuel 19:18-24 reads: “So David fled and escaped [from Saul], and went to Samuel at Ramah, and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and stayed at Naioth. Now it was told Saul, saying, “Take note, David is at Naioth in Ramah!” Then Saul sent messengers to take David. And when they saw a group of prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as leader over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied. And when Saul was told, he sent other messengers, and they prophesied likewise. Then Saul sent messengers again the third time, and the prophesied also. Then he also went to Ramah, and came to the great well that is at Sechu. So he asked, and said, “Where are Samuel and David?” And someone said, “Indeed, they are at Naioth in Ramah.” So he went there to Naioth in Ramah. Then the Spirit of God was upon him also, and he went on and prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. And he also stripped off his clothes and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Therefore they say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”
This story is the second time in the Bible where Saul prophesied and of which it is asked, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” We will later talk about the first time where this happens. Let us note, though, that in this story Samuel is shown as being the leader of a group of prophets. He was not only a prophet, but he was also interested in helping to guide other prophets in the proper worship of God. We will talk about this more later, but let us remember this fact for now. Let us also note that David’s stay with Samuel was long enough for news to reach Saul of David being in Ramah and for four groups of people, the last one Saul himself, to visit Samuel and David at Ramah and prophesy before God. Such a visit must have been at least a week or two, if not longer, for all of that travel to take place.
And what did David and Samuel talk about during that time? We know that David told Samuel all of what Saul had done to him in trying to kill him, but do we have evidence of any other subjects that they talked about? As it happens, we do. Let us look at 1 Chronicles 9:22-23. 1 Chronicles 9:22-23 shows that David and Samuel chose the Levites (some of whom, as we will see, were Samuel’s own relatives), for leadership positions: “All those chosen as gatekeepers were two hundred and twelve. They were recorded by their genealogy in their villages. David and Samuel the seer had appointed them to their trusted office. So they and their children were in charge of the gates of the house of the Lord, the house of the tabernacle, by assignment.” We find out from 1 Chronicles 9:26 that they were Levites. 1 Chronicles 9:19 tells us that one of the gatekeepers in the time of Phineas was Shallum the son of Kore, the son of Ebiasaph, the son of Korah. This man’s descendants continued, for many generations, until after the Babylonian captivity, to serve as gatekeepers in the tabernacle and temple.
As it happens, this man Shallum and his descendants were relatives of Samuel. We find that Samuel and Shallum were both descended from the same son of Korah, Ebiasaph. We find this evidence with additional evidence of Samuel’s concern for helping to promote the leadership abilities and opportunities of his relatives, in looking at Solomon’s grandson Heman, a godly son of the corrupt Joel. This man Heman, who I discussed in a sermon last July , was chosen by David to be one of the people in charge of the Levite musicians, quite possibly on the recommendation of Heman’s grandfather. We find this piece of information out in 1 Chronicles 6:31-38, which reads: “Now these are the men whom David appointed over the service of song in the house of the Lord, after the ark came to rest. They were ministering with music before the dwelling place of the tabernacle of meeting, until Solomon had built the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they served in their office according to their order. And these are the ones who ministered with their sons: Of the sons of the Kohathites were Heman the singer, the son of Joel, the son of Samuel, the son of Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Eliel, the son of Toah, the son of Zuph, the son of Elkanah, the son of Mahath, the son of Amasai, the son of Elkanah, the son of Joel, the son of Azariah, the son of Zephaniah, the son of Tahath, the son of Assir, the son of Ebiasaph, the son of Korah., the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, the son of Israel”
From the biblical evidence we have discussed so far, Samuel spent a great deal of time seeking to ensure his family legacy of leadership by promoting the interests of his family members. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, so long as they are qualified to lead and (more importantly) have godly character. Samuel’s sons Joel and Abijah did not have godly character, but fortunately Samuel’s other family members, including his distant cousins, the sons of Shallum, as well as his grandson Heman, were far better servants of God. Samuel’s legacy lived on for many generations through the godly service of Heman’s family as musicians in the Temple.
The Sons of the Prophets
The second and equally lasting part of Samuel’s legacy takes a while to explain. I commented earlier that it was important to remember the places where Samuel traveled along his circuit while serving as a Judge (the cities of Ramah, Bethel, Mizpah, and Gilgal), and also the fact that Samuel was associated with groups of prophets. In order to understand this aspect of Samuel’s legacy we have to piece together evidence to make a case that Samuel was not only interested in training up leaders among his own family, but also among a group of people that lasted for centuries known as the Sons of the Prophets. Let us make that case now.
I mentioned earlier that when Saul prophesied in front of Samuel and David at Ramah it was the second time he had done so. Ironically enough, the first time he had done so was just after he had been anointed king over Israel. Let us find this story in 1 Samuel 10:1-13. 1 Samuel 10:1-13 gives the story of Saul’s anointing as king over Israel, and what happened that day. It reads: “Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him and said: “Is it not because the Lord has anointed you commander over His inheritance? When you have departed from me today, you will find two men by Rachel’s tomb in the territory of Benjamin at Zelzah; and they will say to you, ‘The donkeys which you went to look for have been found. And now your father has ceased caring about the donkeys and is worrying about you, saying, “What shall I do about my son.” Then you shall go forward from there and come to the terebinth tree of Tabor. There three men going up to God at Bethel will meet you, one carrying three young goats, another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a skin of wine. And they will greet you and give you two loaves of bread, which you shall receive from their hands. After that you shall come to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is. And it will happen, when you have come there to the city, that you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with a stringed instrument, a tambourine, a flute, and a harp before them; and they will be prophesying. Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. And let it be, when these signs come to you, that you do as the occasion demands; for God is with you. You shall go down before me to Gilgal; and surely I will come down to you to offer burnt offerings and make sacrifices of peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, till I come to you and show you what you should do.” So it was, when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, that God gave him another heart; and all those signs came to pass that day. When they came to the hill, there was a group of prophets to meet him; then the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them. And it happened, when all who knew him formerly saw that he indeed prophesied among the prophets, that the people said to one another, “What is this that has come upon the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” Then a man from there answered and said, “But who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb: “Is Saul also among the prophets?” ”
There are a couple of things I would like to note about this story. One of them is that this is an extremely specific prophecy that happened exactly as it was told that very day. Most prophecies in the Bible are not that specific, and most of them take a long time to come to pass, but here is an example of a very literal prophecy, down to the number of people and loaves of bread involved, that came to pass that exact day. What did not happen that day is Saul doing “what the occasion demanded,” which was attacking the Philistine garrison near Bethel and then going to wait at Gilgal for seven days to wait for Samuel to offer sacrifices and give him instructions from God. Instead, it was not until two years later that Saul’s son Jonathan took the garrison, and Saul was impatient after waiting for Samuel and offered the sacrifices himself, after which Samuel told him that his kingdom would not endure. We read of this in 1 Samuel 13, which is not part of our present topic of interest.
What is of interest today is that both Bethel and Gilgal were among the places where Samuel traveled on his circuit, and at Bethel there is a group of people called the sons of the prophets. As the person from the area of Bethel notes, “who is their father?” The sons of the prophets were not people from wealthy or famous families, but instead came from obscure backgrounds. Saul’s background was slightly more famous than that of the sons of the prophets whom he prophesied with, as he was known outside of his immediate hometown even as a fairly young man. Nonetheless, despite the obscure background of the sons of the prophets, Samuel cultivated the leadership abilities of these young people in the cities where he traveled. We have already seen these people in Ramah in 1 Samuel 16, and we see them as well in Bethel in this story in 1 Samuel 10. It is therefore reasonable to conclude, though it is not directly stated here in scripture, that Samuel was also responsible for setting up and leading a school for the sons of the prophets in Gilgal and Mizpah just as he is said to have done in Bethel and Ramah. Though it may not seem so right now, it is an important point to make.
It is an important point because there is, as it would happen, record of the school for the sons of the prophet still in operation two hundred years later or so in the time of Elisha the prophet, who worked with precisely this school of the sons of the prophets. First, 2 Kings 2:3 notes the sons of the prophets from the city of Bethel, and 2 Kings 2:15 notes the songs of the prophets from Jericho. Later, we find two stories of the Bible connecting Elisha with the sons of the prophets at Gilgal. Let us read these stories and learn what lessons we can from them. The first story is found in 2 Kings 4:38-41. 2 Kings 4:38-41 tells of a miracle that Elisha performed with the Spirit of God for these sons of the prophets at Gilgal, and it reads: “And Elisha returned to Gilgal, and there was a famine in the land. Now the sons of the prophets were sitting before him; and he said to his servant, “Put on the large pot, and boil stew for the sons of the prophets.” So one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine, and gathered from it a lapful of wild gourds, and came and sliced them into the pot of stew, though they did not know what they were. Then they served it to the men to eat. Now it happened, as they were eating the stew, that they cried out and said, “Man of God, there is death in the pot!” And they could not eat it. So he said, “Then bring some flour.” And he put it into the pot, and said, “Serve it to the people, that they may eat.” And there was nothing harmful in the pot.”
Let us now look at the second story before we make conclusions about the Sons of the Prophets. We find this story in 2 Kings 6:1-7. 2 Kings 6:1-7 tells the story of the floating ax head. It reads: “And the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, “See now, the place where we dwell with you is too small for us. Please let us go to the Jordan, and let every man take a beam from there, and let us make there a place where we may dwell.” So he said, “Go.” Then one said, “Please consent to go with your servants.” And he answered, “I will go.” So he went with them. And when they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees. But as one was cutting down a tree, the iron ax head fell into the water; and he cried out and said “Alas, master! For it was borrowed.” So the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” And he showed him the place. So he cut off a stick, and threw it in there; and he made the iron float. Therefore he said, “Pick it up for yourself.” So he reached out his hand and took it.”
Here we see two stories about the sons of the prophets at Gilgal. These sons of the prophets, even though they are godly people, were far from wealthy or famous. In the first story one of them picks wild gourds because apparently their own garden was not big enough to feed them, and only through a miracle from God were they able to avoid being poisoned to death. In the second story these hardworking men had to cut down trees themselves to build a house for themselves because their existing building in Gilgal was too small for them. They were not lazy, but they were poor enough that at least one of the men had to borrow an axe because they did not own enough axes themselves for everyone to have one.
The picture that 2 Kings tells us about the sons of the prophets is similar to the picture given in 1 Samuel. Neither Samuel nor Elisha had enough money for the sons of the prophets in the various cities to be wealthy, but the men were godly and hardworking and greatly enjoyed having the prophets of God with them to teach them. They were not lazy, they were not famous, and they were not wealthy. They were godly students of God’s ways, and they were blessed by the work of Samuel and Elisha, and who knows how many people in the two hundred years between these two prophets. Though we cannot prove that these sons of the prophets were connected, the fact that they have the same behavior, the same purpose, the same location, and the same name in the Bible in both places suggests that the school for the sons of the prophets endured for hundreds of years and had volunteer prophets like Elisha to teach them for periods of time. This was the crowning legacy of Samuel’s work.
We see therefore that Samuel left his legacy in the Bible in at least two ways. Besides having two books of the Bible named after him, besides a lifetime of godly service himself, and besides anointing the first two kings of Israel—Saul and David, Samuel left a legacy of godly leadership that lasted after him. He did this first by helping to provide David with godly leaders from among the Levites, Samuel’s near and distant relatives, who could serve as gatekeepers and temple musicians, one of whom was Samuel’s own grandson Heman the Ezrahite, author of Psalm 88  . However, Samuel’s legacy of godly leadership extended beyond his wise advice to David about which leaders to select over the Levite servants of the tabernacle, and the later the temple, to his own efforts to teach and train leaders from among the poorer righteous folk of Israel. His efforts led him, from the Bible’s account, to set up schools for the sons of the prophets. These people from obscure families learned how to serve God and work hard, and their efforts, in Bethel and Gilgal at least, lasted at least until the time of Elisha, who helped teach later groups of the sons of the prophets. Samuel’s legacy of promoting godly leadership among the common people of Israel is a legacy that has been nearly forgotten by Bible readers today, but it remains in the pages of scripture for us to learn. Let us honor the legacy of Samuel’s godly leadership, and seek to follow it ourselves.