The word "prophet" occurs only incidentally before Samuel, but Latter-day Saints know that the Lord's people were governed from Adam to Joshua by prophetic divine direction from leaders usually referred to as the patriarchs.
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Samuel was the first of the "oral" prophets which included Nathan, Ahijah, Elijah and Elisha, who functioned for about years before the time of the "literary" prophets who wrote the closing 17 books of the Old Testament. To more fully understand the magnitude of Samuel's calling we need to learn of the era preceding him. The reign of judges following the death of Joshua lasted more than years.
The tribes of Israel still warred with the Canaanites, but they also fought among themselves, killing thousands of their own people on both sides. Moses had warned the Lord's covenant people that if they were disobedient, they would be "smitten before their enemies," would "be oppressed and spoiled evermore," would "be oppressed and crushed always," and would "serve other gods" of "wood and stone. The book of Judges identifies the fulfillment of these prophecies, similarly found in the Book of Mormon, in repeated cycles of disobedience, oppression, repentance and finally, deliverance from bondage by a righteous leader.
The people vacillated between following Jehovah and bowing to heathen gods, becoming increasingly rebellious and idolatrous.
1 Samuel: Israel demands a king
The final words of the book of Judges describe well Israel's condition of unrest and upheaval into which Samuel was born: "In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes. Some of the oft-told stories of childhood center on the prophet Samuel, told simply through his relationship with four people - Hannah, Eli, Saul and David.
Hannah kept her God-given son at home until he was weaned and then she brought the child to Eli, the priest at Shiloh where the ark of the covenant was kept. Each year she took him "a little coat" as a loving mother. And Samuel "ministered before the Lord, being a child, girded with a linen ephod" 1 Sam.
From his central headquarters in Ramah, Samuel traveled every year "in circuit to Bethel, and Gigal and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all those places" 1 Sam. The priesthood had become quite degenerate; and, contemporaneous with the organization with the Kingdom, Samuel initiated these schools as a sort of moral check on both priests and kings.
Samuel's two sons were made judges when Samuel became old. They "walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment. Thus, Eli and Samuel joined the ranks of other righteous parents whose children are disobedient to the Lord's commandments. Even after Samuel told the people what the Lord said would happen in their future life as a kingdom, the people demanded and got their king.
See 1 Sam. Samuel learned that an important part of his duty was to observe and discipline kings and the children of Israel. Saul disobeyed the Almighty and was rejected in the early part of his reign, yet he carried on defiantly for years. It was a continual confrontation between priesthood and monarchy church and state , such as when Saul usurped Samuel's exclusive authority to offer sacrifice.
On another occasion Samuel spoke to Saul of "when thou wast little in thine own sight," an obvious reference to humility turned to pride. The Lord sent Samuel to secretly anoint David, Jesse's young shepherd son, who then waited while being trained and fitted for his future kingly duties. Saul and David were connected in a living lesson of obedience and rebellion. As the narrative explains: "Now there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David: but David waxed stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker. Samuel interceded between both kings and the Lord, as one writer has stated:.
Samuel died before David's problems with Bathsheba and Uriah surfaced, but his prophecies about the decadence and failure of rule by kings were eventually fulfilled. Within the scriptures are types and shadows - stories and teachings that testify of or refer symbolically to Christ in some way. The record of Samuel offers several such examples:. Hannah says there is no "god like our God," a phrase echoed by Paul who later testified that "Christ is the God of Israel and the spiritual Rock that guided them.
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Hannah knows that "by him actions are weighed," which is reaffirmed in many places, such as, ". In her song, Hannah twice used the word "horn," which means "power," referring to herself as exalting the Lord through her son, and also to God's anointed Son Jesus Christ. The account of Saul and the witch of Endor 1 Sam. Faced with his impending last battle, troubled King Saul gets no direction from the usual sources of inspiration, including the Urim and Thummin, so he seeks counsel from the dead Samuel through a spiritualist medium.
Joseph Smith's Inspired Translation clarifies some of these verses, noted here with the additions in boldface: "Then said the woman, The word of whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up the word of Samuel. Also, in verse 13 where the woman answered Saul about what she saw: "I saw the words of Samuel ascending out of the earth.
Penrose, counselor in the First Presidency to both Joseph F. Smith and Heber J. Grant, declared: "It should be observed that in the seance with the king of Israel, Saul did not see Samuel or anybody but the medium or witch. She declared that she saw an old man coming up and that he was covered with a mantle. It was she who told Saul what Samuel was purported to have said. Saul "perceived that it was Samuel" through what the witch stated to him. The conversation that ensued between Samuel and Saul was conducted entirely without the presence of the prophet Samuel.
The Bible Dictionary explains: "We may confidently be assured that if Samuel was present on that occasion, it was not due to conjuring of the witch. Either Samuel came in spite of and not because of the witch, or some other spirit came impersonating him. The prophet Samuel faithfully served the Lord his entire life span, from early childhood until he was "old and gray-headed. He embodies a primary truth of the Old Testament: "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. They irreverently bring God's Ark into battle and it's stolen, but God's mercy brings it back.
Israel Wants a King. Israel insists that Samuel give them a king like other nations. This displeases Samuel and he asks God, who chooses Saul as the first king. The Tragedy of Saul. Saul becomes proud and disobeys God, who tears Israel away from him and gives it to someone else. Saul descends slowly into madness and dies. David - God's King. Samuel anoints the young shepherd David as God's new king.
Keep Reading 1 Samuel. Continue Your Learning Journey. Series Blogs Downloads Books. Related Video Series. Through the example of David's life after Saul, The Book of 2 Samuel Bible reveals the successes and failures that any individual experiences, including kings.
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