We recently learned about Bible characters responding to God’s call with the phrase, “Here I am!” Samuel also answered God’s call with these same words, but he didn’t know it was God calling. In fact, Samuel was just a child when God first called out to Him. His is a unique story- let’s unpack the story of Samuel in the Bible and find lessons for our own lives!
Hannah and Samuel Bible Story
The story of Samuel in the Bible begins with his mother, Hannah. She was a godly woman who could not conceive for many years.
She prayed unceasingly and fervently for a son. Hannah promised to dedicate him in service to God if He would answer her prayer.
Year after year, Hannah went with her husband to the tabernacle as he made his offering. One year, as they were having a ceremonial meal at the tabernacle, Hannah became distraught.
Crying and unable to eat, she took her anguish to God in prayer. Eli, the high priest, noticed Hannah and accuses her of being drunk.
Hannah calmly explains her situation with Eli, who kindly responds, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” (1 Samuel 1:17)
Birth of Samuel
God answers her prayer and Hannah became pregnant. She gave birth to a son and named him Samuel.
Appropriately, the Hebrew meaning of Samuel is “God has heard.” God had answered Hannah’s prayer in His perfect timing, as we will see as Samuel’s life plays out.
Samuel Dedicated to the Lord
In the years after his birth, Hannah kept her baby son home with her, foregoing the annual visit to the tabernacle.
She told her husband that after she had weaned Samuel, she would “take him and present him before the Lord, and he will live there always.” 1 Samuel 1:22.
How Old was Samuel when He was Weaned?
According to Jewish tradition, weaning could take place anywhere from 18 months to 5 years of age. While we have no proof of Samuel’s exact age when he went into service, he was most likely a very young boy.
After he was weaned, Hannah took Samuel to the annual tabernacle visit with her husband. They brought Samuel to Eli, reminding him of their previous meeting and answered prayer.
1 Samuel 1:28
“So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.”
While you and I probably cannot imagine giving up any of our young children to be raised by an elderly priest, they did it to keep their promise to God.
The Story of Samuel and Eli
Eli was the High Priest of the tabernacle. His sons were priests, but corrupt and wicked. They cheated and stole from God’s people and were sexually immoral.
The Israelites warned Eli to reign in his sinful sons, but he did not discipline them adequately.
Samuel, meanwhile, ministered in the tabernacle with Eli, wearing a pint-sized version of the priest’s robes. (1 Samuel 2:18) Even though he was just a child, he served God faithfully.
Each year, Hannah made him a little robe and took it to him when they visited the tabernacle. Eli would bless Hannah and pray for more children for her.
How Many Siblings Did Samuel Have?
According to 1 Samuel 2:21, “The Lord was gracious to Hannah; she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters.”
God Calls Samuel
This was a dark time in Israel’s history- no prophets were speaking messages from God. The people were ignoring His previous messages and going their own sinful ways.
1 Samuel 3
One night, before dawn, Samuel lay sleeping in the tabernacle. Then the Lord called Samuel.
“Samuel answered, ‘Here I am.’” Isaiah 3:4.
He runs to Eli saying, “Here I am, you called me.” V5.
But Eli had not called to Samuel, and he sent him back to bed.
How Many Times Did God Call Samuel?
God called out to Samuel three times in this way before Eli realizes it is God calling to Samuel. Eli tells him to lie down, and if He calls again to say:
“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Samuel went back to bed to await God’s call- he made himself available to hear God’s voice.
The Lord calls out to Samuel a fourth time, and he gives the response: “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” God gives Samuel words of judgment against Eli and his sons, who were to be removed as priests.
Come morning, Samuel is afraid to tell Eli what the Lord had said. But Eli calls to Samuel and again, in obedience, he says, “Here I am.” V16.
Eli demands a full and honest report, which Samuel gives out of obedience to God’s plan.
How Old was Samuel when God Called Him?
The Bible doesn’t mention Samuel’s age, but Josephus, a Jewish priest, scholar, and historian, wrote many works on Jewish history. According to his writings and chronological findings, Samuel was about 12 when God called him.¹
But we are told Samuel continued to serve Eli, “grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men.” 1 Samuel 2:26.
Was Samuel a Prophet?
“The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up and he let none of his words fall to the ground.” V19.
The phrase “let none of his words fall to the ground” meant God made sure everything Samuel spoke came with His divine authority and came true.
“And all Israel… recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord… The Lord revealed Himself to Samuel through his word. And Samuel’s word came to all Israel.” Vv20,21.
Samuel was now a prophet of God.
Was Samuel a Judge?
God used judges in the Old Testament to administer justice in disputes and to lead His people back to true worship.
In Samuel’s time, the Philistines defeated Israel in a bitter battle, and they captured the Ark of the Covenant. Eli’s sons were killed, as well as 30,000 Israelites. When Eli heard the news, he fell over and died.
Israel mourned and sought after the Lord for 20 years. Samuel assumed the role of the last judge of Israel and rallied the nation to repent of their sin of idolatry.
“Samuel continued as judge over Israel all the days of his life. From year to year, he went on a circuit… judging Israel.” 1 Samuel 7:15-16.
We are not told of Samuel’s wife, but in 1 Samuel 8:1, we are told Samuel appointed his sons as judges for Israel. Their names were Joel and Abijah.
Unfortunately, they turned out to be like Eli’s sons, corrupt and did not follow God.
Israelites Demand a King
The elders came to Samuel and said, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” 1 Samuel 8:5.
The people had a King- but wanted to be like other nations. They were rejecting God yet again.
This troubled Samuel. He prayed to God, who, as always, gave Samuel the words to respond. Samuel gave the people God’s prophecy- a snapshot of what living under an earthly king would entail:
●Sons and daughters would be taken to serve the king at his whim.
● A king would take portions of their land, crops, and animals, and eventually enslave the Israelites.
● They would cry out for relief from the king, but God would not listen to them.
Their response? “No! We want a king!”
Samuel relates their response to God, and He answers: “Listen to them and give them a king.” 1 Samuel 8:22.
Samuel Anoints Saul
God tells Samuel that he will anoint a king for the people of Israel. When Samuel meets Saul, God confirms Saul is to be king.
Samuel takes a flask of oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him. He tells him the Spirit of the Lord would come upon him, giving him power and the gift of prophecy.
Samuel brings the people together to introduce them to their new king, Saul, and “retires” with a farewell speech.
He warns them that if Saul or themselves disobey, God’s “hand would be against them.” 1 Samuel 12:15.
But Saul disobeyed, and God then rejected Saul as king. God grieved over Saul’s change in heart not to follow Him. This troubled Samuel too, and he “cried out to God all night.” 1 Samuel 15:11.
We know we are close to God’s heart when the things that grieve His heart grieve us, too.
Samuel Anoints David
God picks Israel’s new king and sends Samuel to choose him from one of Jesse’s sons. Saul remained on the throne for now, so Samuel was hesitant; fearing Saul would kill him.
He obeys God’s instructions, however, and heads to Bethlehem.
As Jesse paraded his sons past Samuel, God finally chooses the youngest son, David. Samuel anoints him with oil and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David.
Death of Samuel
“Now Samuel died, and all Israel assembled and mourned for him; and they buried him at his home in Ramah.” 1 Samuel 25:1
How Old was Samuel When He Died?
“Guesstimates” range from 96 to 110 years old. Samuel tells us in 1 Samuel 12:2 that he is “old and gray” at the time Saul becomes king. Saul reigns for many years before we hear of Samuel’s death.
Lessons from the Life of Samuel in the Bible
●God knew the exact timing and mother needed for Samuel to be born and fulfill his purpose.
Waiting was excruciating for Hannah. We question God’s timing sometimes in His answers to our prayers. Samuel’s life shows us why Hannah had to wait- God needed her to be Samuel’s mother and at a certain time in history.
●God uses faithful followers regardless of age, position, titles, or occupations.
God worked through the life of Samuel from a very young age. We are never too young or too old to be used by Him. What we accomplish for the Lord comes from our faithfulness, obedience, trust, and love for God.
●Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord- training he would need to fulfill his roles as priest, judge, and prophet.
Hannah had only a small window of teaching and caring for Samuel, yet was a godly mother and instrumental in his upbringing. His life in the tabernacle helped him learn to serve the One and only True God.
●Samuel shows us what absolute obedience to God looks like.
Even though Samuel grew up and worked alongside Eli’s wicked sons, he consistently obeyed God and served him. Samuel put God first in everything, despite the people of Israel turning away from God.
●Samuel and His Strong Prayer Life
Samuel’s rich prayer life helped him earn the respect of the people and allowed him to be a successful judge and prophet.
He sought insight from God in all things and obeyed God’s wishes, even if he didn’t understand. He even faithfully prayed for Saul through all his bad choices and disobedience.
●Samuel was quick to respond to God’s voice.
His response “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” showed he was ready and available. He humbles himself by calling himself God’s servant and tells God he is listening for His Word.
How does our response of making ourself available, humbling ourselves, and listening to His Word compare with Samuel’s?
Life of Samuel the Prophet
Samuel stands out in the Old Testament as trusting and obedient to God from the time he was a very young boy until his death in old age. The author of Hebrews mentions Samuel in the “Hall of Faith” in Chapter 11 as one whose faith was exceptional and uncompromising.
A life surrendered to God looks like Samuel’s. He was responsive and receptive to God’s voice throughout his life. Leaning on our relationship with God in all things, trusting His plan, and following through with His direction keeps us on the right path.
May we always be like Samuel and say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” How different would our lives be if this was our wakening thought?
All Scripture is taken from the NIV unless specified otherwise.
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