Summary: We look at a foundational practice that Samuel started as a young boy and that allowed him to build a life of integrity; it is the practice of telling God’s truth.
There are some characters in the Bible who seem to stand out more than others. Take Elijah for example, there was a man who called fire from heaven, who confronted wicked kings and who did amazing feats in God’s name. Moses was a great man. He also did miraculous feats through the power of God and rescued the Jewish people from Egypt. We can’t help but be impressed by great feats. Even in our own era we tend to celebrate the extraordinary achievements that people accomplish, as if their whole life was climaxed at that one moment. And I suppose that having made people heroes for an extraordinary achievement it makes it difficult to hear that the rest of their lives were less impressive.
I can remember seeing the movie Schindler’s list and learning of the sacrifices that Oskar Schindler made to protect 1200 Jews from being exterminated in concentration camps during WW II. He spent millions and died penniless. And we would be right to look at a man like that and think he was great. But what we don’t like to hear is that he had many moral flaws, excessive drinking to the point of alcoholism and his many long term affairs with several women.
It seems that even great men of the Bible reveal moral flaws which cast a shadow on their greatness: David with his affair with Bathsheba and conspiring to kill her husband, Noah’s drunkenness as one of the first things he did getting off the ark, Jacob’s scheming and deception. And while we may rightly call these biblical characters great, it seems that their greatness was limited to great moments or great acts.
But there is one person in the Bible who is not portrayed in this way. Samuel is a man considered as one of the greatest of Old Testament characters. In Jeremiah 15:1 God places Samuel alongside Moses. But the startling thing about Samuel is that he isn’t really known for great feats of miraculous power. What we find with Samuel is a life that was lived entirely consistent and faithful in his devotion to God. Samuel seems to have lived a life of unbroken purity, integrity and righteousness. His dedication to serve the Lord seems to have run through all of his years with no moral lapses or failures. In his old age he is able to say in front of the nation of Israel “I am old and gray... I have been your leader from my youth until this day. Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the LORD and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right.” And we are told that the people replied by saying, “You have not cheated or oppressed us,” ... “You have not taken anything from anyone’s hand.”
Samuel was a great man because he walked his whole life faithfully before God. There is something very attractive about that kind of life from a leader. Especially when you contrast Samuel’s example with that of some of the leadership we’ve seen in our lifetime. Can you imagine any of our Prime Ministers standing up after their terms of office and being able to call out to the nation for anyone to come forward with any accusation of cheating, oppression or bribes?
When I was younger I suppose I would have wanted to do great feats like Elijah, but the older I get the more I want my life to be one of consistency in its faithfulness to God and I suspect I am not alone. So I thought we would be well served to look at the life of this man.
The story of the life of Samuel is mostly found in the book of 1st Samuel and can be divided into three main eras of his life. From 1:1 – 3:21 it discusses Samuel as a boy this is the section we will look at today. In 4:1 – 7:17 it tells of Samuel in the prime of his life and calling as a judge and prophet to the nation of Israel we’ll look at this next week. And then in 8:1 – to his death recorded in 25:1 we read of Samuel as an old man which we will look at in week three.
But today we are looking at Samuel as a boy. First, I’d like to give a bit of background. Samuel was born in the times known as the era of the judges. Israel was stuck in a habitual pattern of rebellion against God, which resulted in God allowing them to be oppressed by enemies, which caused the people to cry out to God, to which God would provide a judge to help deliver them from their oppression. Usually for the lifetime of the judge, things would go well. But once the judge died the people would grow comfortable, and take their blessings for granted, they would forget God and rebel against him and so the cycle would continue. The book of Judges repeats this woeful chain of events several times and summarizes the moral condition of the nation in this way, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”