Samuel is in a way the last of the judges. Though not listed in the book of judges, he is the final ruler in Israel before the time of the kings. Yet he is unique among the judges for a number of reasons. First, he is not raised to battle a foreign invader. Samuel is raised up rather to battle the power of sin in the people themselves. He, like Deborah, is not only a judge but a prophet, hearing the voice of God (“which was rare in those days…” according to 3:1) and relaying it to the people. Second, Samuel didn’t follow the sin cycle storyline. As the judges degraded over time, the story seemed to end with Samson, who was the worst of them all. Yet suddenly the cycle is broken and the leadership in Israel is restored with Samuel. Juxtaposed with Eli’s other sons the priests, Samuel is the righteous one standing against the debauchery of the priests of the time. And juxtaposed with Samson, Eli is a Nazarite who fulfills his vow. Finally, Samson was not a military leader but a priest serving in the temple, something no other judge had done. Despite his similarities to Deborah and Samson, Samuel is a new breed of judge, and the last.
It is exceptionally important that God raised Samuel at this time for a number of reasons. First, as noted above, he redeems the line of the judges. Second, he redeems the priesthood, which had fallen into disgrace because of sons of Eli, sleeping with the temple workers, robbing the worshipers, and stealing their sacrifices for themselves. And finally, he redeems Eli, standing in for the wicked sons who would die soon at God’s hand. And isn’t it interesting to see Eli’s response to the news that God would kill his sons for their sins: “He is the LORD; let Him do what is good in His eyes.” This is not a lack of love for his sons, but rather a deeper love for God and trust in God’s righteousness. Eli’s faith began with God and radiated out to form his own will. Today, our faith begins with us and radiates out to God, seeking His blessing on our own selfish willfulness.
What can we learn from Samuel? What can we learn from Eli? What can we learn from Eli’s sons?