Old Testament Survey - Lesson 15


In this lesson, you will learn about the multifaceted roles of Samuel in the biblical narrative, as he transitions from the period of judges to the establishment of monarchy in Israel. It explores Samuel's unique impact as a judge, priest, prophet, and king-maker. As a judge, Samuel is distinct from other judges in the Bible, focusing more on governance than military leadership. His priesthood, initiated by his mother's dedication, intertwines with his upbringing under Eli, despite complexities regarding his actual status as a high priest. Samuel's prophetic role is emphasized from his childhood, recognized by all from Dan to Beersheba. The lesson also reflects on his pivotal role in the anointing and moral guidance of King Saul. 

Daniel Block
Old Testament Survey
Lesson 15
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I. Structure and Composition of Samuel-Kings

A. Original Unity and Division

1. Originally a single narrative known as the Book of Kingdoms

2. Divided into four books due to length and material constraints

B. Misleading Titles

1. Samuel's role decreases by the end of 1 Samuel

2. Books named for Samuel but content primarily about David and Israel's kings

II. Samuel's Multidimensional Ministry

A. Samuel as Judge

1. Governed and administered Israel's affairs

2. Differed from traditional judges by not being a military leader

B. Samuel as Priest

1. Served under Eli and performed priestly functions post-Eli's death

2. Questioned legitimacy as a high priest due to lineage and practices

C. Samuel as Nazirite

1. Devoted by his mother's vow from birth

2. Role and significance differ from other Nazirites like Samson

D. Samuel as Prophet

1. Recognized across Israel for his prophetic insights

2. Advocated for obedience and delivered God's messages reliably

III. Samuel and the Transition to Monarchy

A. The Emergence of Kingship

1. Responded to Israel's request for a king to address military threats

2. Involved in the anointing and rise of Saul

B. Samuel's Ongoing Influence

1. Functioned as a divine conscience for kings and Israel

2. Less visible in narratives involving Saul's decline and David's rise

IV. Samuel's Legacy and Final Appearances

A. Samuel's Role in Saul's Reign

1. Addressed spiritual crises and leadership failures

2. Predicted Saul's downfall and the rise of David

B. Supernatural Appearances Post-Mortem

1. Consulted by Saul through the Witch of Endor

2. Prophesied Saul's imminent death before the battle

  • Learning about the First Testament's language, geographical, and cultural contexts, and how these factors contribute to its frequent misinterpretation and underappreciation in modern times.
  • Gain insights into the literary and cosmic foundations of grace and glory in the Torah, understanding its role as more than law.
  • Learn that to be made in God's image entails embodying divine qualities and functioning as His representative on Earth, which extends a universal dignity upon all humans and shapes a theological ethic that influences how you treat others.
  • Genesis 1-3 frames human response to divine creation, emphasizing human dignity, work's moral role, free will's consequences, and the persistent grace amid sin.
  • This lesson reviews the Israelite covenant, understanding its stages, implications, and its role in God's redemptive plan.
  • Gain insights into Abraham's covenant with God, exploring his faith and God's promises.
  • Learn how the Exodus from Egypt marked Israel's transformation from a family to a nation under Yahweh.
  • Understand how the covenant at Sinai transforms Israel from slaves into a treasured nation destined for a divine mission, fulfilling God's ancient promises.
  • This lesson covers the covenantal expectations at Sinai. The covenantal agreement provided a constitutional and ethical framework for societal living, focusing on community rights and responsibilities.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into how the tabernacle was both a physical manifestation of God's presence and a profound symbol of His grace, emphasizing the holiness and detailed guidance He provided to the Israelites for worship and daily life.
  • Gain insights into Deuteronomy, recognizing its focus on teaching rather than legislation, and understanding Moses' role as an instructor of Yahweh's will.
  • In this lesson, you explore how to interpret the First Testament's historiographic writings, emphasizing the divine inspiration and literary artistry that guide the selective storytelling and theological themes.
  • Learn how the books of Joshua and Judges illustrate the fulfillment and failure of Israel's covenant with Yahweh, highlighting divine promise, cultural assimilation, and the cyclical nature of faith and apostasy.
  • The Book of Ruth, highlights divine providence, social justice, and personal righteousness while exploring the role of Boaz as a pivotal figure in maintaining the lineage of King David.
  • Samuel had a significant yet complex role in Israel's history; judge, priest, prophet, and crucial figure in establishing monarchy.
  • Learn of David's central role in the Bible, understanding his unique portrayal and the extensive attention he receives compared to other figures.
  • Learn about the Davidic covenant's role in shaping biblical history and theology, emphasizing its eternal impact on Israel and beyond.
  • The books of Kings and Chronicles use historical events to underline theological themes, highlighting the role of scribes in documenting Israel’s history.
  • In this lesson on 1 and 2 Kings, review the downfall of Israel through kings' forgetfulness of God's covenants.
  • Learn about Solomon's temple's historical and theological significance, its divine design and purpose, and its role in Israelite worship and communal life.
  • Gain insights into the transformation and resilience of the Judean people during their exile in Babylon from 586-539 BC, exploring their struggles and adaptations in a new socio-political and religious context.
  • Learn about Daniel's exemplary life in Babylon, his integrity, and his prophetic visions, which highlight divine sovereignty and the vindication of the faithful amidst calamities.
  • Review the Persian period's impact on the Jewish diaspora, analyze the Book of Esther's literary and theological significance, and reflect on divine providence and cultural identity.
  • Explore the crucial roles of Ezra and Nehemiah in reconstructing the Jewish community and faith post-exile, understanding their historical significance, source materials, and theological insights.
  • Gain insight into the roles and significance of prophets in ancient Israel, learning about their historical context, and their critical function in guiding and correcting the nation through direct communication from Yahweh.
  • Learn about the lives and ministries of prophets Amos and Hosea, their calls for justice and return to divine covenant amidst Israel's political and spiritual turmoil, through prophetic books that blend personal biography with national prophecy.
  • This lesson reviews Jonah's struggle with divine grace and Micah's advocacy for justice and the messianic hope.
  • In this lesson, you learn how Isaiah's vision portrays the Messiah as king, servant, and conqueror, emphasizing his divine roles and global mission.
  • Learn of the political and social contexts of Jeremiah and Ezekiel's exile, including Babylon's rise, Jerusalem's fall, and the crisis of faith portrayed in Lamentations, emphasizing hope amid despair through God's faithfulness.
  • Learn about Jeremiah's life and prophetic ministry, navigating challenges with kings, themes in the Book of Jeremiah, and profound passages on true religion and a future covenant, offering lessons on prophetic burdens, God's faithfulness, and spiritual transformation.
  • Explore Ezekiel's life as a priest in exile, his bizarre actions, and profound messages revealing Yahweh's passion and eternal promises of judgment and restoration.
  • Learn about Nahum and Joel's prophecies on judgment, hope, and Yahweh's character. Explore the day of the Lord and the expansion of the covenant community.
  • Explore Obadiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah's prophecies. Discover themes of judgment, faith, and restoration in God's plan.
  • Gain insight into Haggai's role in motivating temple rebuilding during the Persian rule. His brief yet impactful ministry fosters hope and action amid community disillusionment, recoginizing God's presence and reign.
  • Gain deep insight into Hebrew poetry: its forms, parallelism, acrostics, and emotional depth. Explore its celebration and lamentation of Yahweh's glory.
  • Gain insight into Psalms which reflect diverse emotions and experiences. Structured into five divisions, attributed to various authors, their interpretation involves understanding Torah context, literary devices, and applying timeless principles to life.
  • Explore biblical wisdom's depth: from practical skill to moral insight, rooted in the fear of Yahweh. It contrasts with secular knowledge, emphasizing God's order and universal application.
  • Engage with Proverbs to unravel its diverse wisdom, from aphorisms to discourses. Understand its practical guidance for righteous living and leadership.
  • Discover the Song of Songs, a rich exploration of love's nature. From its allegorical interpretations to its celebration of covenantal love, it examines human relationships with wisdom and depth.
  • The book of Job offers insights into faith and suffering, exploring theological themes and character dynamics. It emphasizes trust in God amid life's most difficult trials.
  • Uncover Ecclesiastes' profound journey from despair to hope. Koheleth's existential ponderings contrast with the narrator's faith, urging a shift from worldly pursuits to finding fulfillment in God's sovereignty.

This Old Testament Survey course offers a deep exploration of the Old Testament's literary structure, divine covenants, and historical context. Lessons cover the Pentateuch, emphasizing its narrative over legalistic interpretations, and extend through key biblical figures like Abraham and Moses. Topics such as the covenant at Sinai, the concept of imago Dei, and the tabernacle rituals highlight the continuity of God's grace and the ethical implications of divine laws. The course critically addresses common misconceptions, the role of the Torah as instruction, and the portrayal of God’s plan, underscoring the relevance and complexity of these ancient texts.

Dr. Daniel Block 
Old Testament Survey
Lesson Transcript


The grace and glory of God demonstrated in raising up Samuel as prophet, priest, and king-maker in Israel. 1 Samuel 1-2, or should we call it 1 and 2 David? This is an important question. Although two of the books of the First Testament bear the name Samuel, this is misleading on two counts.

First, originally these books were one. Indeed, most scholars agree that Samuel Kings originally circulated as a single narrative, perhaps called the Book of Kingdoms. But in its present form, the Hebrew canon has divided this material into four books of more or less equal length.

1 Samuel, 13,260 words from the birth of Samuel to the death of Saul. 2 Samuel, 11,036 words from the death of Saul to the end of David's reign. 1 Kings, 13,140 words from the Solomon to the death of Ahab.

And 2 Kings, 12,280 words from Ahaziah to the fall of Jerusalem. But these divisions are obviously artificial. The natural sequel to the death of Saul, David's lament, appears not at the end of 1 Samuel.

Compare the story of Moses' death in Deuteronomy 34. It's at the end of his book. But the celebration or lament over Saul's death happens in 2 Samuel.

While 2 Samuel is devoted entirely to the reign of David, his death and the transfer of power to Solomon are delayed to 1 Kings, 1 Kings 1 and 2. The division between 1 and 2 Kings falls right in the middle of the Elijah narratives. The division into two parts was necessitated by the length of the composition. It could not all fit on one scroll, so it would be divided into two.

And in the case of Samuel and Kings, divided into four. Actually, the narrative continues into 1 and 2 Kings. The narrative of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel continues into 1 and 2 Kings, which were probably originally combined with 1 and 2 Samuel to form one long book of the kings of Israel and Judah.

But there's a second note we need to make, and that is following the example of Joshua, which is named after the main human character, we expect that the books of Samuel must be about Samuel. He is indeed an important character in the first half of the first book that goes by his name, but by the end of 1 Samuel he is dead, and he never appears in 2 Samuel. As we will see, these books would have been better named after David, who is anticipated from the beginning of 1 Samuel and dominates the narrative from 1 Samuel 16 through 2 Samuel and into 1 Kings chapters 1 and 2. Nevertheless, in order to bring our discussion of writings that deal with a pre-monarchic period to a conclusion, I have isolated the Samuel narrative for separate consideration.

So this lesson is all about Samuel. What can we say about Samuel, the man Samuel? Straddling the fence between the period of the judges and the institution of the monarchy, Samuel occupied a unique position in the history of Israel. We may grasp this by noting the multidimensional nature of his ministry.

First, Samuel was judge, that is, governor and administrator. Samuel apparently served Israel as the last of a series of judges who governed in Israel between the death of Joshua and the coronation of Saul. The basis for this opinion is found in 1 Samuel 7 15 to 17, which notes that he judged Israel at Bethel, Gilgal, and Ramah.

Compare that with Deborah in Judges 4-5. But the comparison with the book of Judges is not quite accurate, since Samuel is never presented as a deliverer. He was raised up by Yahweh to deliver Israel from an enemy oppressor.

Compare him with Judges 2-16 and 18 and other places. Samuel was the agent through whom Yahweh announced that Yahweh will rescue the Israelites, deliver them into the hands of the enemy, chapter 28 verse 19. Nor does Samuel ever lead the Israelites in battle or defeat the enemy.

In fact, when the people request a king, the petition is motivated by the need for one to deliver the Israelite from the Philistine menace. He's never done it. Obviously, the people were not looking upon Samuel as a judge in the sense of deliverer in the book of Judges.

Saul was chosen to fulfill that role in 1 Samuel 10 27. Nor does Samuel's character fit the pattern of the judges in the previous book, with the exception perhaps of the first one or two, Othniel. The earlier judges had been part of Israel's problem.

Not one had shown any inclination to address the nation's spiritual crisis. In this regard, Samuel's sons were more like the rascals of judges than like their father. Second, notice that Samuel was a priest.

Now, the link between Samuel and the priesthood began even before he was born. He was the Lord's answer to his mother's prayer at the tabernacle, and after he was born, she dedicated him to Yahweh, 1 Samuel 1 27 to 28. He did indeed serve Yahweh as Eli's apprentice in the temple of Yahweh where the ark of God was, that is in Shiloh, 3 1 to 3 and 3 21.

And after Eli died, Samuel performed the functions of a priest. Was he high priest? He built altars to Yahweh, 7 17. He offered burnt offerings, 7 10, and in 13 8 to 15, he failed to show up for a priestly moment.

He officiated at communal sacrificial meals at the high places, 9 12 to 14, 19 and 22 to 14, in chapter 11, and in chapter 16. The genealogy of the chronicler in the book of Chronicles places Elkanah, Samuel's father, and Samuel in the Kohathite lines of the Levites from which Aaron also came. So theoretically, according to Chronicles, he would have qualified for priestly or Levitical duty, 1 Chronicles 6 28.

But was he a bona fide priest? His father Elkanah is identified as an Ephraimite, 1 1 to 2. He's never portrayed as officiating at the main cult center at Shiloh, that is Samuel isn't. The genealogy in Chronicles does not place Samuel in the Aaronite line of Kohathites, 1 Chronicles 6 49 to 53. And during Samuel's tenure, Ahijah, a great grandson of Eli, wore the official breastpiece of the high priest, 1 Samuel 14 3. But there's another role that we need to consider for Samuel, and that is the role of a Nazirite.

According to the vow of Hannah in 1 11, 1 Samuel 1 11, Samuel would abstain from beer all his life, never have his hair cut. These are two of the conditions of the Nazirite vow as described in Numbers 6 1 to 21. This invites the reader to compare Samuel with his predecessor or contemporary, we don't know, Samson, who like him was designated a Nazirite prenatally, and who also had to deal with the Philistine menace.

So there are a couple of parallels here. But Samuel's Nazirite status was different from both that of Samson, whose role was appointed by Yahweh, and that described in Numbers 6, where the vow was personal and voluntary. Here it was his mother who devoted him to God as a Nazirite all his life.

Samuel also fulfilled a fourth role, Samuel the prophet. This was undoubtedly the role that the narrator viewed as most significant. We may examine his prophetic status from several angles.

Called by Yahweh to prophetic service when he was a mere child, he was formally labeled a prophet in 320, compare also 99. In fact, all Israel from Dan to Beersheba quickly recognized him as the prophet of Yahweh. Elsewhere, he was referred to as a seer because of his ability to see reality as God sees it, 1 Samuel 9 9, and a man of God, another epithet title for prophets.

Verse 6 describes this man of God as one whom the people held in high esteem and one whose pronouncements came true. That's proof of a true prophet. Deuteronomy 18.

As a prophet, Samuel served as a reliable spokesman for God, 1 Samuel 8 10, 10 18, 15 1 to 2. The Lord did not let any of his words fall, and all that he said came true. As a prophet, Samuel called on his people to repent, 7 3, and he preached to the people in accordance with the Torah of Moses, chapter 8 10 12, compared Deuteronomy 17. His conviction of the primacy of obedience over sacrifice is fundamental to Mosaic religion.

What does the Lord now require of you? 1 Samuel 15 17 to 23. But we must add another note. The significance of Samuel for the rise of the monarchy in Israel, the primary concern actually in the books of Samuel, his significance for the monarchy is reflected in the fact that almost two-thirds of the Samuel narrative is devoted to his relationship with Saul, 274 out of 431 verses.

The prophet continued to move in and out of the narrative, but he functioned increasingly as a behind-the-scenes divine conscience for the king and through him to the people. Occasionally Samuel was out of the picture for extended sections of the narrative altogether. Compare chapters 11 and 14 where he doesn't appear.

But let's see how the narrative actually treats Samuel by hopping, skipping, and jumping through the first few chapters of this book. I give the title to this section of 1 Samuel, Samuel the man of the hour. God called him particularly for this turning point in Israel's history.

The story begins with the birth of Samuel, 1 1 to 2 11 a. There's the account of his birth in 1 1 to 28, and then the celebration of Samuel's birth when Hannah, his mother, presents him in the temple to the high priest, and she bursts out in a prophetic song. In fact, at that point, at the beginning of chapter 2, the Aramaic Targum refers to Hannah as a prophet. No ordinary people would speak the way this song comes out of her lips.

This was obviously inspired of God. The second part of his narrative involves the call of Samuel. This is chapter 2 verse 11b to 4 1a.

The crisis of leadership in Israel, 2 11 to 36, gives us the context for the call, but the nature of the call actually is recounted for us in chapters 3 to chapter 4 1a, where we need spiritual leadership in this country. This is chapter 3. It's a time when it is very dark in Israel's spiritual history. The word of the Lord was rare, and God wasn't speaking through the prophets, and that's when Samuel appears.

The public ministry of Samuel takes up chapters 4 through 7. It begins in chapter 4 with the context of Samuel's ministry, the national emergency represented by the Philistine threat. This is a military emergency, chapter 4 1 to 2, but it's also a spiritual emergency, 4 3 to 7 2. And what you have in the verses that follow is the symptom of the crises, and then the response to the crisis, and finally the complication, the loss of the ark in this crisis. It is a dark day in the history of worship in Israel.

That's the context of Samuel's ministry. Number two, the nature of Samuel's public ministry, his response to the emergency. In chapter 7 verses 3 to 14, we have his immediate response and his ongoing response in verses 15 to 17.

But by then, the people are getting desperate. The Philistines are a problem, and they don't know how to solve this problem. This leads to the phase of Samuel's life when he is the kingmaker of Israel.

Samuel and the emergence of kingship in Israel takes up the next eight or nine chapters, chapter 8 verse 1 to 16 23. So now we've got a couple of plots intersecting. The rise of Samuel recedes into the background a little bit.

He plays a supporting role, but now the narrative begins to focus on Saul. In chapters 8 to 12, we have the account of the rise of King Saul. Again, it's a crisis of leadership in Israel.

In Deuteronomy 17 verses 14 to 20, Moses had anticipated this moment when he contemplates a situation in the future when the people will come and ask for a king like the nations have. And then Moses tells the people, you may indeed put a king over yourself, but he shall be one whom the Lord chooses. And then he gives a description of how that king operates, and it is precisely the opposite of the way the nation's kings operate.

But in this case, the Philistines continue to be a problem. The people have no confidence in Samuel's sons, so they come to Samuel and say, give us a king like the nations. Well, what does God do? Samuel takes this personally.

He said, they've rejected me. But when he takes it to the Lord, the Lord tells him, don't you feel badly about yourself. This is not about you.

It's about me. They have not rejected you. They've rejected me, which leads then to the divine commissioning of the king, Saul.

God gives them a king, Saul, 9-1 to 10-16. The divine election of the king, 10-17 to 26. And then the divine authentication of the king, 10-27 to 11-13.

There's a very complicated narrative in this one. Saul seems to be publicly presented three times. He's commissioned, he is elected, and he is authenticated.

But it is God's hand at work in answering the people's requests. Give us a king like the nations. God gives them a king like the nations.

He gives them Saul, the Benjaminites. Now from the ending to the book of Judges, we know what Benjaminites were like. They were like the people in Sodom and Gomorrah, and of the tribe of Benjamin, only 600 men had remained in the civil war with which the book of Judges ends, the rest of the nation against Benjamin.

Only 600 men were left, and then the Israelites had to go through great legal gyrations to try and figure out, how can we rescue the tribe of Benjamin by getting wives for the kings, when they had all made a vow never to give their daughters to Benjaminite men. But in the end, apparently, they got wives for all of them, and Saul the son of Kish emerges here, head and shoulders above everybody else. I have a theory that Kish must have been one of those 600 men who survived the civil war, and for whom the Israelites had provided wives.

We don't know who Saul's mother was, but in any case, we know who his father was. He was a Benjamite son of Kish. This is the man God chose.

You want a king like the nations? I'll give you a Benjaminite. But of course, Samuel should have protested at this point, shouldn't he? Samuel should have said to God, could have said to God, didn't you say through the mouth of Jacob that the scepter shall not depart from the tribe of Judah? How can you give us a Benjaminite? But of course, as we read the narrative, we know that Saul is a foil for the real king who is coming. This is a human solution to a spiritual problem, and God says human solutions don't work, so I'll give you Saul.

He did not fix the problem. Samuel's response to the crisis that is raised by the anointing of King Saul is described in chapter 11, verse 14 to 12, 25. Things don't get any better just because we have a king.

In fact, they only get worse. So chapters 8 through 12 are about the rise of Saul, but four chapters later, it's the demise of Saul, 13.1 to 16.23. This all starts with another Philistine crisis. They wanted Saul so that the Philistine problem would be resolved once and for all, but it obviously hasn't, and now we have another one of these crises involving the Philistines in 13.1 to 14.52, and of course, Saul's performance here is less than heroic.

In a stupid move before the battle with the Philistines, he tells them, nobody is supposed to eat until we've won the victory in this one. Of course, that's ridiculous, isn't it? If you know anything about military engagement, your people have to be nourished, and in the process, obviously, somebody must have eaten something because it ends up in a total failure, and the heroism of it turns out that Jonathan becomes the hero of this story who had eaten some honey in the process, but he is the one who resolves the problem. Saul's rule was one crisis after another.

He was elevated in a moment of crisis. The Philistine crisis dominated his world, and then in the end, it is the Amalekite crisis in chapter 15. The Amalekites were a migratory tribe from the south.

Sometimes they were in the Transjordan, sometimes they were in the Sinai Peninsula, but they appeared on the scene to test Saul, and in the process of this, this was the Lord's testing of Saul. In the process of this, Saul failed the test totally, and as a result of his failure of the Lord's test, Samuel comes and announces the Lord's final rejection of Saul, which leads then to a spiritual crisis, resulting in the divine election of David, chapter 16, verses 1 to 13, followed by the divine rejection of Saul, and now we have two kings that have been anointed as kings living at the same time. This crisis is not solved until the end of the book, when Saul is actually killed by the Philistines up on Mount Gilboa, but after this, Samuel disappears from the scene.

We're talking here about Samuel. Samuel hasn't been seen for a while until later on Samuel comes to haunt Saul. In the last chapters, chapter 19, 18 to 24, and 28, 3 to 5, we have the haunting role of Samuel.

First of all, you have his prophetic power over Saul in 19, 18 to 24, with warnings and then final demonstration that Saul is done. But in leapfrogging quickly then over to chapter 28, we have what I call Samuel's necromantic power over Saul. Now we know from Deuteronomy 17, verses 9 to 14, that Israelites were not to have anything to do with sorcerers, witches, fortune tellers, anything of that consulting the dead.

But at the beginning of chapter 28, this is nearing the end of Saul's reign, at the beginning of the chapter, God isn't answering him. Samuel has died. Samuel is long gone, and Saul can't get through to God, either with prophets or with omens or with the urim and tumim, God isn't talking.

And so in a desperate move, Saul consults a witch at Endor who apparently is one of the survivors of a purge of sorcerers and witches that Saul had conducted. We don't know much about that purge, but here is one of the sorcerers or witches who had survived that purge, and Saul consults with her and asks her about the fate of the coming battle with the Philistines. What will happen in this? And so she consults Samuel, who's been buried, and Samuel shows up, and Samuel prophesies.

He comes back to life for a brief moment, and his ghost, his spirit, and it's a fascinating story. Apparently, Saul didn't see Samuel, but Saul asked the witch, what do you see? And she said, I see an elohim. That word usually means God, a divine being.

And who is it? It's Samuel, the ghost, the spirit of Samuel has returned. And then Samuel predicts, by this time tomorrow, you're gone. It's over.

You will die. And of course, Saul's reaction, he gets ready for battle, and he takes on the Philistines, and in that battle, both he and his son, Jonathan, die. That's the last we hear of Samuel in the book of Samuel.