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Samuel and Saul: Prophecy and Monarchy

The First Book of Samuel

Sometimes Eli and sometimes Samuel are called the last of the Judges. But neither of these was a judge in the same exclusive sense as Gideon or Samson. Eli was the high priest, but exercised the office of judge for his time. Samuel was a prophet, who also "judged Israel" in the interval between Eli's death and Saul's accession. Both men mark the time of transition between the period of the Judges and the monarchy. And the two names are most closely linked, for it was under Eli's instruction, at the sanctuary in Shiloh, that Samuel grew up.

The story of Hannah and her dedication of her little son to God as a "Nazirite," I Sam. 1:11; compare Num. 6: 1-8, to dwell all his life at the house of God, I Sam. 1:28, has a peculiar charm for young and old. It gives a picture of personal piety in a rude age, and thus serves to correct our idea of the times. Beginning at a very early age, I Sam. 3:1 to 4:1, Samuel became the chosen and recognized mouthpiece of Israel's God.

That is the essential meaning of a prophet — one who speaks for God. Exodus 4:16 is instructive, for it shows that as Aaron was to be "a mouth" to Moses, while Moses was "as God" to Aaron, so the prophet was God's mouthpiece or spokesman. Of course a prophet was often a person who also spoke before — one, that is, who predicted what should come to pass. And the fact that his words were actually fulfilled became a proof of his divine commission, both in theory, Deut. 18:22, and in practice, Isa. 44:26. But the bulk of the prophets' messages were, like those of Samuel, addressed to their own time. They were preachers of righteousness, warners against sin, the nation's conscience, and the Lord's remembrancers.

It is the chief glory of Samuel that he was not only first in the long line of the Hebrew prophets — the most remarkable succession of men the world has ever seen — but also the founder of the prophetic order. By the prophetic order we mean the prophets as a group conscious of their solidarity, the identity of their principles and aim. Samuel gathered about his dominating personality those persons who were sympathetic with him in spirit, and who shared with him some of that