Some lives flash across the stage of history, meteor-like in their rise and fall. They are men born for a moment, individuals who rise and lead a people, army, or nation in a moment of crisis. Had they lived in some other era or culture, they probably would not have attained fame or recognition. Circumstances and vision brought them to the forefront at the right moment. Having done their work, they, with equal rapidity, fade from the collective consciousness and stage of time.
Samuel stands in contrast to all such. His was a life marked by consistency “from his youth.” The power for his leadership, its inherent authority, drew heavily upon the esteem in which he was held for his long life of faithful and unswerving fidelity to God and to His people.
His Consistency Despite the Past
Brought as a young child to the “temple” by his mother (1 Sam 2), he lived under the flood lights of public scrutiny all his days. To heighten the stress which must have attended his life, there was no doubt an increased examination of his life in light of those who had occupied the temple before him. The sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, had brought great dishonor on the Lord’s name. Men “abhorred the offerings” due to the lives of the priests (1 Sam 2:17). Every eye would be trained on Samuel; every critic would be ready to pass judgment; every cynic would be ready to spread the news of another self-serving Levite in the temple precincts.
His Consistency Despite the Present
But not only did he have the past to overcome, the present apathy and condition of the nation presented an equal challenge. Elders lacked discernment and were totally out of touch with the spiritual condition of the nation. Their leadership was not only flawed but a total failure. Defeat was known without any repentance. Its remedy was only a little more “luck” which would be achieved by bringing the ark to the battlefield. What did it matter if the wicked sons of Eli were bearing it to the field (1 Sam 4)? The emotional high which it would provide for the army of Israel would be all that was required.
The humiliating defeat in Ebenezer was made even more bitter by the capture of the ark. Yet no word is recorded of Israel mourning after God; no repentance meetings were held or days of fasting. When the ark returns to the land seven months later, it is business as usual in Israel – wheat harvest was in full swing and everyone was busy.
The men of Bethshemesh would have to begin to relearn the lessons of the holiness of God. Fifty-thousand burials would result because a nation had not learned what God’s presence demanded. Only thirty-thousand had fallen when the ark was taken. By this greater slaughter, God sought to impress them with the need to learn the value of His presence.
But twenty more years would pass before there was a collective movement “lamenting after the Lord” (1 Sam 7:2). Perhaps it was the quiet ministry of Samuel which led to the nation’s longing to know the presence of God in reality. Samuel continued to minister. His life had been marked by what many might have thought a dull routine: Bethel, Gilgal, Mizpeh, and Ramah. The circuit never varied – and Samuel never varied. Dependable and consistent, he did not take character from the nation.
If Samuel thought that the remainder of his days would be enjoyed in quiet stress-free leadership of the nation, he was brought to reality by the unlooked for request of the nation: “Make us a king” (1 Sam 8:5). Their request was a refusal of divine leadership, but it was also a repudiation of Samuel and his leadership. How would the aged prophet respond? Rancor? Bitterness? Samuel “rehearsed them (their words) in the ears of the Lord” (v 21). Like his predecessor Moses, Samuel learned that leadership demanded that everything be brought back to God. Grace preserved him from responding with anger or frustration to the people. His manner is magnanimous; his words filled with deep concern and love. “God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you. But I will teach you the good and right way” (1 Sam 12:23).
His Consistency in the Small as well as Great Issues
He is still the same man years later when he stands before Israel and can challenge them. Was there any instance in which he had defrauded someone? Had anyone successfully bribed him and caused him to pervert judgment? Had he ever enriched himself at the expense of the people? He was old and gray-headed (1 Sam 12:2). They had seen him from his youth up. Nothing was hid about this man who had been in the public’s cross-hairs all his days.
It mattered little whether it was something small such as a bribe or something large such as an ox; it mattered little whether it was taking advantage of someone or being blind to right judgment for another. Each and every challenge could only be met by an acknowledgment by the nation that he had been righteous. He had not allowed anything to influence him throughout his life, but judged righteously for God. In matters relating to his personal life and administrative life he was flawless. Transparency marked him and was his ultimate commendation.
His leadership style was very different from a Moses or a Nehemiah. Yet he was God’s leader for the day. Amidst a scene of failed leadership by Eli and the elders, and in contrast to the failed leadership of Saul which would soon follow, Samuel embodied traits that brought honor to God, reflected the righteous character of God, imparted stability to a nation, and prepared them for David the king. The goal of all leadership is this very point: preparing others to submit to God’s Man.