Bibliology 102: Samuel


".... now come the days of Samuel..." 


“The people came to Samuel and said: 
Place a King over us, to guide us.

And Samuel said to them: 

"This is what a King will do if he reigns over you: he’ll take your sons and make them run with his chariots and horses. He’ll dispose them however he wants: he’ll make them commanders of thousands or captains of fifties, he’ll send them to plough, to reap, to forge his weapons and his chariots. He’ll take your daughters to make perfume for him, or cook his food or do his baking. He’ll take your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves – oh, he’ll take the very best of those and give them to his cronies. He’ll take much more. A tenth of your grain and your wine – those will go to his favourite aristocrats and faithful servants. Your manservants and your maidservants, your best men, your donkeys – yes, he’ll take those for his own use. He’ll take one tenth of your flocks “and you yourselves will become his slaves. On that day, believe me, you will cry out for relief from this King, the King you asked for, but the Lord will not answer you on that day."

But the people would not listen to Samuel. They said: 

"No. Give us a King over us. So that we can be like all the other nations. Give us a King to guide us and lead us into battle."

When Samuel heard what the people said, he told it to the Lord.

The Lord answered:

"Give them a king.”

― 1 Samuel 8

(שְׁמוּאֵל, shemu’el; Σαμουὴλ, Samouēl)

A prophet, priest, and the last judge of Israel.

Son of Elkanah and Hannah.


The Hebrew name Samuel (שְׁמוּאֵל, shemu’el) comes from the words for “name” (שֵׁם, shem) and “God” (אֵל, el). Taken this way, Samuel would mean “his name is God.”

Alternatively, Samuel can be understood as a combination of the root “to hear” (שׁמע, shm’) and “God” (אֵל, el). Taken this way, it would mean something like “heard by God.”

The second understanding of Samuel’s name is better, as his mother, Hannah, named him Samuel because God “heard her prayer” for a son (1 Sam 1:20).

Biblical Account

The genealogy of 1 Chronicles shows that Samuel was a Levite from the descendants of Kohath (1 Chr 6:16–28).

As a child, he served at the tabernacle with the priest Eli.

He is often described as a prophet or seer (1 Chr 9:22; 2 Chr 35:18) and is associated with Moses (Psa 99:6; Jer 15:1).

He was also a judge who went on an annual circuit to judge Israel (1 Sam 7:15–17).

The New Testament writers associate Samuel with the prophets (Acts 3:24; Heb 11:32) and describe him as both a prophet and judge (Acts 13:20).


Samuel is one of the few biblical characters to have a detailed birth narrative.

First Samuel records that while she was at a yearly festival in Shiloh, Hannah, who was barren, vowed to give any son she had to Yahweh as a Nazirite (1 Sam 1:11). Yahweh answered Hannah’s prayer, and she gave birth to Samuel. After she had weaned him, she fulfilled her vow by bringing Samuel to the priest Eli at the tabernacle in Shiloh (1 Sam 1:22–25).


Samuel was raised by the priest Eli.

First Samuel 2:18 indicates that as a child, Samuel ministered before Yahweh and wore an ephod. The text further notes that the young Samuel was a faithful servant who had God’s favor (1 Sam 2:26; 3:1, 19). The narrative in 1 Sam 3:4–14 records an instance in which Yahweh spoke to Samuel while he was sleeping, and the young boy mistook His voice for Eli’s. This happened three times until Eli realized that it was Yahweh speaking. That night, God spoke to Samuel and told him that He was punishing the house of Eli because of Eli’s sons (1 Sam 3:10–14). Samuel then gained the reputation throughout Israel as a prophet of Yahweh (1 Sam 3:20).


There is a gap of 20 years in the record of Samuel’s life following the death of Eli (1 Sam 7:2).

When he next appears, he had become a leader in Israel. First Samuel 7 describes how Samuel led the Israelites away from idolatry (1 Sam 7:4), judged Israel (1 Sam 7:6), and interceded on behalf of the nation in a priestly fashion (1 Sam 7:8–10). He also led Israel to a national repentance and victory over the Philistines (1 Sam 7:5–14).

After this, he became judge over Israel (1 Sam 7:15–17).

Several mentions of Samuel in the biblical text offer a positive portrayal of him as a leader. Second Chronicles 35:18 indicates that Samuel led the people in keeping the Passover, indicating that he led Israel faithfully in religious ordinances. Both Psalm 99:6 and Jer 15:1 compare Samuel to Moses and indicate his prophetic status, as do three New Testament references to Samuel (Acts 3:24; 13:20; Heb 11:32). First Samuel 3:20 describes his sphere of influence, stating, “all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet from the Lord.”

Establishment of Monarchy

As Samuel aged, he appointed his sons as judges over Israel.

His sons were corrupt, however, prompting the leaders of Israel to ask Samuel to appoint a king (1 Sam 8:1–9).

Samuel reluctantly agreed and anointed Saul as Israel’s first king.

Samuel continued to be active during Saul’s reign, acting as a priest and prophet (1 Sam 13:8–15; 15:1–3). In 1 Samuel 11:14–12:25, he led Israel in a covenant renewal ceremony at Gilgal, where he gave what is known as his farewell address (1 Sam 11:14–12:25; Vannoy, Covenant Renewal, 160–191). In this address Samuel expressed his feelings about the monarchy and cleared himself of any wrongdoing. He also encouraged Israel to pray to Yahweh and serve Him faithfully.

Additionally, he expressed that he would continue to pray and instruct the nation in the right way (1 Sam 12:23).

After Saul disobeyed God’s instruction to destroy the Amalekites, God rejected Saul and instructed Samuel to anoint David instead (1 Sam 15:26–16:13). Samuel obeyed, and then returned to his hometown of Ramah.

After Saul began to threaten David’s life, David fled and lived in proximity to Samuel at Naioth in Ramah (1 Sam 19:22).

When Saul attempted to find David there, Saul and his servants prophesied and were unable to capture him (1 Sam 19:18–24).


Following his death, Samuel was buried at Ramah, and all Israel gathered and mourned his death (1 Sam 25:1).

However, there is one additional narrative concerning Samuel after his death: 1 Samuel 28:8–14, in which a necromancer conjures the spirit of Samuel for Saul.

In this episode, Samuel foretells the death of Saul and his sons, the victory of the Philistines over Israel, and David inheriting Saul’s kingdom. This forms a fitting end to the narratives concerning Samuel, as his ministry begins by prophesying the end of Eli’s house and ends by prophesying the end of Saul’s house.


Samuel served as the pivotal transitional figure between the time of the judges and the inauguration of the monarchy. He led Israel in several roles:
• Prophet
• Seer
• Priest
• Judge
• Father


Samuel is referred to as a prophet one time in the Old Testament (1 Sam 3:20) and three times in the New Testament (Acts 3:24; 13:20; Heb 11:32).

However, he is referred to as a seer on multiple occasions (1 Sam 9:11, 18, 19; 1 Chr 9:22, 26:28, 29:29).

First Samuel 9:9 indicates that the terminology of “seer” and “prophet” are synonymous and used to describe the same office. Yet the term “seer” is the favored term when discussing Samuel’s prophetic activity.

As a prophet, Samuel’s ministry included such things as (Leuchter, Samuel, 51):
• interceding for Israel (1 Sam 7:3–14)
• giving prophecy from Yahweh (1 Sam 3:21)
• instituting legislation concerning kingship (1 Sam 10:25)
• commissioning civil leaders (1 Sam 10:17–27; 12:1–2)


The biblical text never explicitly refers to Samuel as a priest. Psalm 99:6 seems to refer to him as such indirectly, as it describes Moses and Aaron as priests and then places Samuel in parallel with them, referring to him as “among those who called upon his name” (Steussy, Samuel, 29).

First Chronicles 6:1–28 also traces Samuel through the lineage of Levi.

Samuel is also presented as a priest by his undertaking of priestly duties.

Multiple texts describe Samuel as offering sacrifice:
• In 1 Samuel 7:9 Samuel offers a whole burnt offering
• First Samuel 10:8 records that Samuel was going to Gilgal to offer burnt offerings and peace offerings. Samuel, under Yahweh’s direction, uses the offering of sacrifices as a way to distract Saul when he goes to Bethlehem in 1 Sam 16.
• First Samuel 7:17 indicates that Samuel built an altar in his hometown of Ramah.


Samuel was the last judge presented in the Bible. He is described as a judge in two places.

In 1 Samuel 7:6 he judged the people at Mizpah.

Also, 1 Samuel 7:15–17 records that he judged Israel all of the days of his life and travelled on a circuit throughout Israel.

Additionally, in 1 Sam 12:6 he tells the people that he is entering into judgment with them.

Samuel is also presented in a list of judges who presided over Israel in 1 Sam 12:11 (Stuessy, Samuel, 35–36).

Part of his duties in being a judge seem to have been calling Israel to battle (1 Sam 4:1) and subduing the Philistine threat (1 Sam 7:13).

Father Samuel was the father of two sons, Joel and Abijah (1 Sam 8:2; 1 Chr 6:28). Samuel appointed Joel and Abijah to the office of judges (1 Sam 8:1–2), but they are described as taking bribes, perverting justice, and not walking in Samuel’s ways (1 Sam 8:3, 5).

This description appears to serve as a comparison between Samuel and Eli, whose sons were also described in unfavorable terms (1 Sam 2:12, 22).


Robert Gordon designates Samuel as the kingmaker, referring to his role in anointing both Saul and David as king (Gordon, “Who Made,” 255–70).

However, Samuel has strong personal objections to a king being appointed over Israel (1 Sam 8:6; 1 Sam 12) and his role in the rejection of Saul as king (1 Sam 13:1–13; 15:1–35).

Tribal Affiliation

Samuel’s tribal affiliation is debated.

First Samuel 1:1 identifies Samuel’s parents as being from the hill country of Ephraim; the text also describes Elkanah as being an Ephrathite. In contrast, 1 Chr 6 indicates that Samuel was a descendant of Levi. Several attempts have been made to explain Samuel’s tribal affiliation.

• Rather than trying to reconcile the accounts, Tsumura suggests Elkanah may have been from Bethlehem, as the designation “Ephrathite” can mean either from Ephraim or from Bethlehem Ephrath (Tsumura, The First Book of Samuel, 106).

• Evans suggests Ephraim may be an indicator of the family’s geographical dwelling, while 1 Chr 6 traces him and his father to a Levitical line. She further notes that Samuel was not a descendant of Aaron, and thus was not supposed to function as a priest. She proposes that this might not have been as important before the installation of priests in the temple; alternatively, Samuel’s adoption into the family of Eli may have made his priestly ministry acceptable (Evans, “Samuel,” 863).

• Polk believes Samuel was from the tribe of Ephraim but was considered a Levite through adoption due to the focus on Levites within 1 Chronicles (Polk, “The Levites,” 5; Gordon, I & II Samuel, 331).

• Klein, like Polk, believes Samuel was from Ephraim, but the 1 Chronicles gives him a Levitical lineage to “exonerate him from inappropriate [priestly] activity” (Klein, 1 Chronicles, 201).
• In line with Klein and Polk, Laato believes the genealogical links were made between Samuel (an Ephraimite) and the tribe of Levi in order to legitimate his ministry (Laato, “The Levitical Genealogies,” 80).

• Leuchter believes, based on two arguments, that Samuel was associated with the tribe of Levi: He believes the term “Ephrathite” has often been misunderstood as a reference to Ephraim. He believes the association with Levi was permeable by outsiders. In Leuchter’s view, Samuel replaced the Levitical family of Eli and is presented as being the true heir of Moses’ authority. Thus, regardless of Samuel’s lineage, he is to be associated with the tribe of Levi (Leuchter, Samuel, 22–40).

Source Critical Issues

The second point of discussion regarding Samuel centers around source critical issues—particularly issues that concern competing ideologies of the Israelite monarchy. The study of the person of Samuel can largely be traced through the trends within Old Testament interpretation.

Early Approaches.

Over the past century and a half, source critical concerns have been key to many scholars’ handling of the biblical text of Samuel. This can be seen especially in the extension of the Pentateuchal sources into the books of the primary history. This intersects the person of Samuel especially in regards to the proposed conflicting sources on kingship.

The early study of kingship was dominated by the view that there were differing sources with opposed ideologies stitched together—a view that Wellhausen and others espoused about the books of Judges—Kings. This view of differing sources is captured most clearly in the leading commentaries of the time, especially those of Henry Preserved Smith and Samuel Driver. Wellhausen himself viewed the character of Samuel as unfolding in successive stages of development with the texts of Samuel.

In his view, the first narratives were about Samuel’s childhood and early ministry, which depicted him as a seer.

The second stage of development is seen in Samuel’s rejection of Saul.

The third and final stage is seen in Samuel’s transfer of power from Saul to David.

Wellhausen believed that this last stage comes from the exilic period and advanced the position of theocracy (Wellhausen, Prolegomena, 270–271). The ideology of kingship was an important concern within Noth’s understanding of the Deuteronomistic history. The discussion of an ideological viewpoint of kingship was focused on certain passages in the books of Samuel and Kings.

Noth believed that kingship was viewed negatively within the Deuteronomistic history. This was largely a comment on the ending of the book of Kings (Noth, The Deuteronomistic History, 98).

There were some, like von Rad, who disagreed with Noth’s general conclusions concerning kingship (von Rad, Old Testament Theology, 343; von Rad, Studies in Deuteronomy, 90–91).

Out of this tension arose other studies that advocated a double redaction of the Deuteornomistic history that accounted for the differing ideologies (especially those concerning kingship).

The work of Frank Moore Cross gained special notoriety. Cross advocated the two editions (or a double redaction) view of the Deuteronomistic history (Cross, “The Themes,” 285). While Cross’ study was focused on the book of Kings, the implication spanned the entirety of the Deuteronomistic history. Cross argued that the first edition was composed during the time of Josiah and was pro-monarchial and in support of his reforms. The second edition “retouched or overwrote the Deuteronomistic work to bring it up to date in the Exile, to record the fall of Jerusalem, and to reshape the history, with a minimum of rewording, into a document relevant to exiles for whom the bright expectations of the Josianic era were hopelessly past” (Cross, “The Themes,” 285). This second edition then accounts for the more anti-monarchial texts.

Samuel is especially visible in the middle of this perceived difficulty. His speeches in 1 Sam 8 and 12 are considered two of the more anti-monarchial texts, whereas 1 Sam 9–11 are generally considered pro-monarchial. Noth believed the older traditions represented the pro-monarchial strains found primarily in 1 Sam 9–11 and the anti-monarchial strains to be the work of the Deuteronomist found largely in 1 Sam 7–8 and 12, which are chapters that feature Samuel prominently (Noth, Deuteronomistic, 80–83). The Deuteronomist therefore used some older elements of the Samuel story that were more favorable to monarchy and added a portrait of Samuel as judge who was opposed to the monarchy (Noth, Deuteronomistic, 83–84).

These earlier approaches appealed to source critical theories to solve the difficulty of these texts being side by side. In the past few decades, however, the interpretive framework has shifted from a diachronic source critical perspective to a synchronic holistic perspective.

These studies tend to avoid assigning a text the label of pro- or anti-monarchial; instead the “assertion of the literary critics [is] that kingship is a complex question” (Steussy, Samuel, 33). Modern Approaches. The modern literary approach has advocated a reading of the text as a whole and trying to understand the text as it stands. The works of Polzin, Steussy, and Leuchter exemplify the presentation of Samuel within this literary context.

In his work on Samuel, Polzin identifies the larger structure of the books of Samuel within the Deuteronomistic history, but he discusses them through the lens of literary criticism. Polzin views the characterization of Samuel as complex and changing throughout the narrative. The presentation of Samuel in 1 Sam 7, for instance, is that of a triumphant king (Polzin, Samuel and the Deuteronomist, 76). However, the characterization of Samuel in 1 Sam 8 is that of a stubborn and self-interested judge (Polzin, Samuel and the Deuteronomist, 83–84).

Two other recent works on the person of Samuel contain similar approaches. Steussy examines the person of Samuel within a literary framework, while at the same time acknowledging the difficult and complex source critical theories that have characterized studies on the books of Samuel and Samuel in particular. In doing so, Steussy looks both at Samuel’s various roles and gives a sequential reading of the prominent texts in which Samuel is involved within the book of 1 Samuel. Under this approach, Samuel is ultimately presented as someone with immense power, but with severe weaknesses. This portrayal is complicated by the dissonance displayed within the relationship between Samuel and Yahweh (Steussy, Samuel, 96–98).

The other recent work is that of Mark Leuchter, who also views Samuel through a Deuteronomistic lens. Leuchter believes the diverse roles that Samuel plays within the narrative tradition of 1 Samuel can be attributed to “hermeneutical creativity on the part of the redactors who recognized Samuel’s liminality and its potential as an interface between traditions” (Leuchter, Samuel, 21). After establishing this link, Leuchter employs literary readings to understand Samuel’s roles as Levite, prophet, and judge. Leuchter seems to view Samuel as a character who is used both within the redaction of the text and in later portrayals by communities as an “interface between disparate ideologies” that is used to “shape their own traditions and identity” (Leuchter, Samuel, 97).

The literary studies are mixed in their presentation of Samuel, but they generally see the narratives as presenting him in a more complex manner that is not as idealistic as the earlier approaches portrayed him.

~ Daniel S. Diffey and Miles Custis, “Samuel the Prophet,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

Selected Resources for Further Study:

Cross, Frank Moore. “The Themes of the Book of Kings and the Structure of the Deuteronomistic History.” Pages 274–289 in Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973.

Daniel S. Diffey and Miles Custis, “Samuel the Prophet,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

Eslinger, Lyle M. Kingship of God in Crisis: A Close Reading of 1 Samuel 1–12. Bible and Literature Series. Sheffield: Almond Press, 1985.

Evans, M.J. “Samuel.” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books. Edited by Bill T. Arnold and H.G.M. Williamson. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2005.

Gerbrandt, Gerald Eddie. Kingship According to the Deuteronomistic History. SBL Dissertation Series 87. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986.

———. “Who Made the Kingmaker? Reflections on Samuel and the Institution of the Monarchy.” In Faith, Tradition & History. Edited by A.R. Millard, J.K. Hoffmeier, and D.W. Baker.

McCarter, P. Kyle. 1 Samuel: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.

Polk, Timothy. “The Levites in the Davidic-Solomonic Empire.” Studia Biblica et Theologica 9 (1979): 3–22.

Polzin, Robert. Samuel and the Deuteronomist. A Literary Study of the Deuteronomistic History: 1 Samuel. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989.

Reiss, Moshe, “Samuel and Saul: A Negative Synbiosis.” Jewish Quarterly Review 32 (2004): 35–43.

Rendtorff, Rolf, “Samuel the Prophet: A Link Between Moses and the Kings.” In The Quest for Context and Meaning: Studies in Biblical Intertextuality in Honor of James A. Sanders. Edited by Craig A. Evans and Shermaryahu Talmon.

Leiden: Brill, 1997. ———. “The Birth of the Deliverer: “The Childhood of Samuel” Story in Its Literary Framework.” In Canon and Theology: Overtures to Old Testament Theology. Translated by Margaret Kohl. London: T&T Clark, 1993.

Schultz, S.J. “Samuel.” Pages 299–302 in The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, Volume 5: Q—Z. Rev. ed. Edited by Moisés Silva and Merrill Chapin Tenney. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Smith, Henry Preserved. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Books of Samuel. International Critical Commentary. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1902.

Steussy, Marti J. Samuel and His God. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2010.

Tsumura, David. The First Book of Samuel. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007

Vannoy, J. Robert. Covenant Renewal at Gilgal: A Study of 1 Samuel 11:14–12:25. Cherry Hill, N.J.: Mack Publishing Company, 1978.

Von Rad, Gerhard. Old Testament Theology. Vol. 1. Translated by D.M.G. Stalker. London: SCM Press, 1953. ———. Studies in Deuteronomy. London: SCM, 1953.

Wellhausen, Julius. Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel. Edinburgh: Adam & Charles Black, 1885.

Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1994. Irwin, W.A. “Samuel and the Rise of the Monarchy.” The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures 58 (1941): 113–34. Klein, Ralph W. 1 Chronicles. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006.

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