Samuel Character Bible Study Background and Lessons
Meaning of name: Literally means “name of God”, but sounds like “heard by God.” She named Samuel this because God listened to and answered her prayers.
Ancestry and family life: Samuel was born into an interesting family where his father was married to two women. However, he did not grow up with his family. He grew up serving the Lord in the tabernacle in Shiloh. From a very young age it was known that he was dedicated to the Lord. Eli watched over him and clearly taught him the ways of the Lord. As a young boy in the tabernacle, it is likely he would run errands and do various tasks to serve and help out.
When and where he lived: He was born in roughly 1100 BC. He lived in the time when Israel was still a unified nation, “kingless” at the beginning of his life, and a unified kingdom with a king later on in his life. The time period of David to Solomon was Israel’s golden age. It was most powerful and rich during this time. Samuel grew up in Shiloh and later lived in Ramah (7:17). However, his job as prophet and judge took him from city to city so he traveled a lot. (7:15-17)
Events surrounding birth: Like many other women in the Bible, Hannah was barren. Although she attempted many times to get pregnant she could not. This issue at that point was almost life defining for her. Her husband’s other wife continuously scoffed and tormented her because she bore many children, but Hannah hadn’t had any. It often happens in the Bible when a woman is barren and then gives birth that this is a sign the child will be very special.
Hannah prayed earnestly to the Lord for a child. One of her prayers (she likely prayed many times more) is recorded in the text. It shows her sincerity and her strong faith. She made a special vow to God that if He would give her a son, she would dedicate this child to serving the Lord his entire life. We should take note that a husband had the right to overrule his wife’s vow (Numbers 30:6-15). Also the vow to not cut his hair is phrased the same as Samson who was a Nazarite. This was a special kind of vow of dedication to the Lord for a period of time. In Samuel’s case it was to be applied to his entire life. Clearly when Samuel grew up he willingly devoted himself to the Lord and took up this promise made by his mother as his own responsibility.
Training and occupation: Samuel was trained almost as an apprentice at the tabernacle. He was not a Levite and he was not a priest, so he likely wouldn’t have been involved in the sacrifices in the tabernacle as laid out in the Mosaic law. Samuel’s role would have likely been more as a helper/servant/counselor/judge/leader/prophet. While just a boy, he was called by the Lord to be a prophet. His first message was to be delivered to Eli as a word of judgment from the Lord. As he grew older (3:19-21) it was clear to everyone that Samuel was a prophet, probably because Samuel acted as a messenger of the Lord and because of his upright character and God’s divine blessing on him.
Samuel is recognized as the last judge of Israel, prior to the establishment of kings. As judge and prophet he settled disputes and unofficially led the nation. He was also God’s appointed kingmaker. His anointing of Saul and David would have given legitimacy to these kings in the eyes of the people and showed that it was God’s doing.
Place in history: Samuel was the last judge (and perhaps most upright) of Israel. He was very important to Israel’s transition from a loosely nit tribal alliance to a bonafied kingdom. He lived during a very corrupt era for leaders. The head priests, Eli’s two sons, were extremely corrupt and immoral. On the outside they kept running the tabernacle as normal, but inside they lived decadent lives and carried out their system of filth and corruption behind closed doors. As the head priests, they were very influential and foolishly counseled Israel to take the Ark to fight the Philistines (leading to its capture). Samuel stood out as a man of integrity and uprightness.
1. Failed to raise his children well. 8:1-5 – Sadly, this seems typical of many great leaders in the Bible. It was also true of Eli, but Samuel did not learn from Eli. Instead he made the same mistake that Eli did. Its true that it is not necessarily Samuel’s find that his children didn’t follow God. A parent cannot control 100% how their kids turn out. But there is a strong correlation. Perhaps Samuel was too busy doing ministry (judging Israel), so didn’t have enough time for his family. Perhaps he just left the raising of his children to his wife or to hired help. We don’t know the exact reason his children turned out this way, but these are both poor excuses. The responsibility falls finally on the head of the family, the father/husband.
2. Seemed to take it personally that Israel wanted a king, perhaps because of pride or feeling that he was losing “his” following. See 1 Samuel 8:1-9. Why did Samuel think they wanted a king? God told Samuel that they were rejecting Him and not Samuel. Why did God feel the need to tell Samuel this? Probably because Samuel felt they had rejected him and was depressed that all of his hard work and leadership would be so easily spurned. It is not hard to imagine how Samuel felt. For any of us who have done much ministry, it is easy to feel a personal stake in it and feel under-appreciated if those we invest in reject the Lord (and therefore us too). Take an example from the business world. Let’s say Chris becomes a famous accountant. He spends years training and apprentice. Day after day he tells the apprentice everything he knows. He hopes that this apprentice will become his partner. But instead of helping Chris, his apprentice abandons Chris and goes to a rival company where he uses the knowledge Chris taught him to try to steal Chris’ customers. This is perhaps a bit like the feeling of betrayal Samuel had and the one we might have as well if those we minister to ultimately reject us. What should our response be during these times? How can we avoid this feeling of rejection? See John 15:18, Matthew 10:22. We need to realize at all times that the work we do is for God’s glory not our own. When people reject it, they reject God not us. When people accept it, they are accepting God and all the glory and credit is to God, not us. On a side note, why was demanding a king bad? What is the problem with having a king? 8:7-9, 8:19-22 (The king would serve his own interests instead of the people’s. God would serve their interests)? What did Jesus say is the different paradime between God’s model for leadership and man’s? Their motivation for wanting a king was to be like all of the other nations. This is a very bad motivation. Israel was to be different. They should have accepted God as a ruler and the prophets/judges as His representatives. But the culture around them was very strong and they wanted to fit in. Fitting in or conforming ourselves to the world should never be our motivation. We should do things out of a desire to serve God, not be popular.
4. Fear of Saul – 1 Samuel 16:1-3 – Instead of rejoicing that God was going to choose a new king, Samuel responded to this news in fear for his life, knowing that if Saul found out Saul might try to have him killed. This was certainly a natural reaction, which shows us Samuel is indeed human. But at the same time, this reaction shows that at that moment his faith was a little bit weak.
5. Looking at the outside of man instead of the heart – 16:6 – Again, this is a very natural thing, but Samuel should have known better. He was a prophet for decades (likely 5-6 decades at this point). He knew how God worked. He knew that Saul, who was very handsome and tall, did not serve the Lord from his heart. He had surely had many other encounters with people who had secret motives, plans, and schemes. Yet his first impulse was to judge who would make a good king based on outward appearance. To his credit, he listened to God and anointed the one God chose, even when David wasn’t the most handsome or strong.
1. Obedient to Eli – 3:1-9: Even in the middle of the night, Samuel got up and went to Eli three times immediately when he thought he called. This is very different from most children nowadays who routinely ignore their elders and parents. He then followed Eli’s instructions when God called him again. Finally he obeyed Eli by telling him the contents of what God had spoken to him, even though Eli could have reacted angrily to Samuel. Matthew 7:21-23.
2. Continually exhorted Israel to follow the Lord/7:3-12:14-16/12:20-25 –
3. Proclaimed the Word of God/9:27 – This was the staple of Samuel’s ministry. Whatever God told him, he passed on to the people. See 1 Samuel 3:19 He didn’t do it for personal gain like Balaam. He didn’t run from the task like Jonah did originally. He didn’t mince words. He didn’t sugarcoat things (1 Samuel 3:18, 9:10-18, 10:17-19, 15:10-31, 13:12-14). He faithfully carried out the tasks God gave him by speaking the truth to the people, even when it hurt and even when it might be considered dangerous (like when he told Eli what would happen to his sons, when he told Israel what the king would do to them and when he rebuked King Saul for disobeying God.) What lesson can we learn from Samuel in this? This kind of truth speaker seems more and more rare these days. See 2 Timothy 4:3, Matthew 4:4, Acts 20:27. The world wants people to tickle their ears and normally they get just that. A lot of these mega churches get to be mega churches because their pastors say only want people want to hear. They don’t rebuke, or warn, or truly exhort to righteous conduct. Why? It makes them uncomfortable and it makes the people they speak to uncomfortable. They wouldn’t be as popular if they spoke the hard truth. We should follow Samuel’s example to share the gospel and teach the word of God truthfully without sugar coating it and without regard to how we will be perceived or how our audience will react.
4. Upright, just, righteous, and fair – 12:1-5. Unlike Eli’s sons and even his own sons, Samuel didn’t take bribes when handing down judgments and dispensing verdicts. His hands and his heart were clean. Everything he had done, he had done for God and the people. This honesty and justice stood out at a time when many of the leaders of the people were crooked and corrupt. This is why God used Samuel in a great way in Israel and even used Samuel to anoint the kings, David and Saul, a visible sign of God’s stamp of approval for these two first kings.
5. Samuel was a finisher – He started off well as a young boy, but even when he was a very old man he was still serving God. Can you think of some who didn’t finish well? Saul, Solomon, Joash (I think)
6. No mercy towards sin – See how he killed Agag as the Lord had instructed. Saul wanted to save some of the best spoils for himself including their king as a picture of his superiority and power. Samuel, in contrast, was willing to do whatever God asked at any price to himself. He didn’t obey 50 or 60 or 95%. He obeyed 100%. He didn’t make excuses like Saul did for disobedience such as “the people made more do it” or “I obeyed, but.” He simply did what was necessary. Why did God give this command to destroy all the people? Why was it so important to follow out God’s instructions to the letter?
6. Samuel was compassionate – He didn’t just do his ministry because he had to or it was his responsibility. He didn’t do it as an outward ritual. He truly cared about the people he ministered to. Their sins touched him deeply. See 1 Samuel 15:35. This is a sign of true love. If we love someone, we will grieve when they sin. This is the opposite of indifference which says I don’t care about others or their problems. It is the opposite of coldness, which might even take delight in someone getting their just punishment. Ask yourself if you feel grieved when you see others sinning. Does it upset you? Does it upset you enough to try to do something about it? Or do you just not care? Not caring is a sign of selfishness, focusing on yourself instead of others.
Important acts and events:
- Responding to God’s call.
- Beginning of prophetic ministry by sharing God’s message with Eli.
- Anointing Saul.
- Anointing David.
How he died: 1 Samuel 25:1 – He apparently died of old age, the last of the judges. His influence was so far flung that all of Israel gathered together to lament his death.
Lessons from his life:
1. Children don’t automatically follow in the footsteps of their parents. We see the same story occur again and again the Bible where the father or one generation follows God and his//their children don’t. Examples? David, the time of Joshua, many kings of Judah in the Old Testament, Eli to some extent. Why does this happen so often? For whatever reason, raising the children to follow God isn’t the priority of the parents. The father tends to be focused on business such as running the kingdom or doing ministry instead of his family. However, this is a terrible mistake. Family responsibilities are second only to God. You cannot neglect your family to make money or even because you are a busy pastor. Godly men and women should recognize that their families are one major part of their ministry. They represent the best chance to raise up disciples and make a difference in the world for Christ. Parents cannot guarantee the salvation of their children, but they can train them up well and from a young age teach them the truths of the gospel so that they have every opportunity to come to faith. Do not outsource the raising of your kids to anyone including grandparents, ayis, or the government. Ephesians 6:4, Deuteronomy 6:7.
2. God can accomplish great things through someone sold out to him, willing to answer His call on their lives. Contrast the influences of Samuel’s life with Eli’s sons and even with Eli himself. During their era, Israel fell deeper into idolatry. They were repeatedly beaten by the Philistines. Even the Ark was stolen. Largely through Samuel’s influence, there was a semi-revival during his day. The nation was changed as well as countless individuals. Notice also that for much of his life Samuel was not THE leader. First it was Eli and towards the end of his life it was Saul and David. God accomplished much of his work for Israel through those two kings, especially David. But to some extent it wouldn’t have been possible without Samuel. Samuel was not always in the front and center. He served God when and where God put him.
3. This one is simple, but you are never too young to serve God. Even when Samuel was only a boy, he began serving the Lord. He was called by the Lord. He answered that call and he dedicated his life to the Lord. He began the prophetic ministry even as a boy. Another example is the boy who offered his food to Jesus at the feeding of the five thousand.
4. As discussed in Samuel’s weaknesses, God’s workers are not always appreciated. If we work for God, we also have to live with this and accept it. We shouldn’t be doing it for the appreciation of people. Colossians 3:23-26.
5. We should listen to God and accept His calling in our lives without making excuses. Samuel is a good example in this. There are a lot of excuses he could have made. He could have said, “I am too young.” 1 Timothy 4:12. He could have said, “Eli might beat me.” He could have said, “I don’t know enough.” But unlike other Biblical characters like Moses, there is not one record of Samuel making any excuses.
6. Samuel survived the evil influences around him and didn’t allow those influences to overcome him. There were lots of evil things going on around, even in the temple with Eli’s sons. From the world’s standpoint because of peer pressure it would have been very likely Samuel would have grown up like them. Because of God’s grace he didn’t. We need never give in to others’ evil influences. For example, many people lie, cheat, bribe or take bribes. We can be different and set apart, not because we are much better than others, but because of God’s grace. God can enable us to have victory, even in the darkest environments.
E-book – If you found this character study helpful, get our Character Studies E-book, with this and 8 different practical lessons on important Bible heroes of the faith.
Character Study E-book Study Guide
Mordecai and Haman
Joseph step-father of Jesus
John the Baptist
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