1, 2. In what setting did Samuel address the people of Israel, and why did he need to move them to repentance?
SAMUEL looked into the faces of his people. The nation had gathered at the town of Gilgal, summoned by this faithful man who had served as prophet and judge for decades. It was May or June by modern reckoning; the dry season was well along. The fields in the region were golden with wheat ready for harvest. Silence fell over the crowd. How could Samuel reach their hearts?
2 The people did not understand how serious their situation was. They had insisted on having a human king to rule over them. They did not grasp that they had shown gross disrespect to their God, Jehovah, and to his prophet. They were, in effect, rejecting Jehovah as their King! How could Samuel move them to repentance?
Samuel’s boyhood can teach us much about building faith in Jehovah despite bad influences
3, 4. (a) Why did Samuel speak of his youth? (b) Why is Samuel’s example of faith useful for us today?
3 Samuel spoke. “I have grown old and gray,” he told the crowd. His whitening hair added weight to his words. He then said: “I have walked before you from my youth until this day.” (1 Sam. 11:14, 15; 12:2) Though Samuel was old, he had not forgotten his youth. His memories of those early days were still vivid. The decisions he had made back then, as a growing boy, had led him to a life of faith and devotion to his God, Jehovah.
4 Samuel had to build and maintain faith, although again and again he was surrounded by people who were faithless and disloyal. Today, it is just as challenging to build faith, for we live in a faithless and corrupt world. (Read Luke 18:8.) Let us see what we can learn from Samuel’s example, starting in his early boyhood.
“Ministering Before Jehovah, as a Boy”
5, 6. How was Samuel’s childhood unusual, but why were his parents sure that he was cared for?
5 Samuel had an unusual childhood. Shortly after he was weaned, at perhaps three years of age or a little more, he began a life of service at the sacred tabernacle of Jehovah at Shiloh, over 20 miles from his home in Ramah. His parents, Elkanah and Hannah, dedicated their boy to Jehovah in a special form of service, making him a lifelong Nazirite.* Did this mean that Samuel was cast off, unloved by his parents?
6 Far from it! They knew that their son would be cared for at Shiloh. High Priest Eli no doubt supervised matters, for Samuel worked closely with him. There were also a number of women who served in some connection with the tabernacle, evidently in an organized way.—Ex. 38:8; Judg. 11:34-40.
7, 8. (a) Year by year, how did Samuel’s parents give him loving encouragement? (b) What can parents today learn from Samuel’s parents?
7 Furthermore, Hannah and Elkanah never forgot their beloved firstborn, whose very birth was an answer to a prayer. Hannah had asked God for a son, promising to dedicate the boy to God in a life of sacred service. When visiting each year, Hannah brought Samuel a new sleeveless coat she had made for his tabernacle service. The little boy surely cherished those visits. He no doubt thrived on his parents’ loving encouragement and guidance as they taught him what a privilege it was to serve Jehovah in that unique place.
8 Parents today can learn a lot from Hannah and Elkanah. It is common for parents to focus all their childrearing efforts on material concerns while ignoring spiritual needs. But Samuel’s parents put spiritual matters first, and that had a great bearing on the kind of man their son grew up to be.—Read Proverbs 22:6.
9, 10. (a) Describe the tabernacle and young Samuel’s feelings about that sacred place. (See also footnote.) (b) What might Samuel’s responsibilities have included, and how do you think young ones today might imitate his example?
9 We can picture the boy growing bigger and exploring the hills around Shiloh. As he gazed down on the town and the valley that spread out below it on one side, his heart likely swelled with joy and pride when he caught sight of Jehovah’s tabernacle. That tabernacle was a sacred place indeed.* Built nearly 400 years earlier under the direction of Moses himself, it was the one center for the pure worship of Jehovah in all the world.
10 Young Samuel grew to love the tabernacle. In the account he later wrote, we read: “Samuel was ministering before Jehovah, as a boy, having a linen ephod girded on.” (1 Sam. 2:18) That simple sleeveless garment evidently indicated that Samuel assisted the priests at the tabernacle. Although not of the priestly class, Samuel had duties that included opening the doors to the tabernacle courtyard in the morning and attending to elderly Eli. As much as he enjoyed the privileges, though, in time his innocent heart became troubled. Something was terribly wrong at Jehovah’s house.
Staying Pure in the Face of Corruption
11, 12. (a) Hophni and Phinehas manifested what principal failing? (b) What kind of wickedness and corruption did Hophni and Phinehas practice at the tabernacle? (See also footnote.)
11 At a young age, Samuel witnessed genuine wickedness and corruption. Eli had two sons, named Hophni and Phinehas. Samuel’s account reads: “The sons of Eli were good-for-nothing men; they did not acknowledge Jehovah.” (1 Sam. 2:12) The two thoughts in this verse go hand in hand. Hophni and Phinehas were “good-for-nothing men”—literally “sons of worthlessness”—because they had no regard for Jehovah. They thought nothing of his righteous standards and requirements. From that one failing sprang all their other sins.
12 God’s Law was specific about the priests’ duties and the way that they were to offer sacrifices at his tabernacle. For good reason! Those sacrifices represented God’s provisions to forgive sins so that people could be clean in his eyes, eligible for his blessing and guidance. But Hophni and Phinehas led their fellow priests to treat the offerings with great disrespect.*
13, 14. (a) How were sincere people no doubt affected by the wickedness at the tabernacle? (b) How did Eli fail, both as a father and as high priest?
13 Imagine young Samuel watching, wide-eyed, as such gross abuses went on uncorrected. How many people did he see—including poor, humble, downtrodden folk—approaching that sacred tabernacle in hopes of finding some spiritual comfort and strength, only to leave disappointed, hurt, or humiliated? And how did he feel when he learned that Hophni and Phinehas also disregarded Jehovah’s laws on sexual morality, as they had relations with some of the women who were serving there at the tabernacle? (1 Sam. 2:22) Perhaps he looked hopefully to Eli to do something about it.
Samuel must have been deeply troubled to see the wickedness of Eli’s sons
14 Eli was in the best position to address the growing disaster. As high priest, he was responsible for what took place at the tabernacle. As a father, he had an obligation to correct his sons. After all, they were hurting themselves as well as countless others in the land. However, Eli failed on both counts, as a father and as high priest. He offered his sons only a bland, weak scolding. (Read 1 Samuel 2:23-25.) But his sons needed far stronger discipline. They were committing sins worthy of death!
15. Jehovah sent what strong message to Eli, and how did Eli’s family respond to the warning?
15 Matters reached such a point that Jehovah sent “a man of God,” an unnamed prophet, to Eli with a strong message of judgment. Jehovah told Eli: “You keep honoring your sons more than me.” God thus foretold that Eli’s wicked sons would die on the same day and that Eli’s family would suffer greatly, even losing its privileged position in the priestly class. Did this powerful warning bring about a change in that family? The record reveals no such change of heart.—1 Sam. 2:27–3:1.
16. (a) What reports do we read regarding young Samuel’s progress? (b) Do you find those reports heartwarming? Explain.
16 How did all this corruption affect young Samuel? From time to time in this dark account, we find bright rays of light, good news about Samuel’s growth and progress. Recall that at 1 Samuel 2:18, we read that Samuel was faithfully “ministering before Jehovah, as a boy.” Even at that early age, Samuel centered his life on his service to God. In verse 21 of the same chapter, we read something even more heartwarming: “The boy Samuel continued growing up with Jehovah.” As he grew, his bond with his heavenly Father got stronger. Such a close personal relationship with Jehovah is the surest protection against any form of corruption.
17, 18. (a) How might Christian youths imitate Samuel’s example when faced with corruption? (b) What shows that Samuel chose the right course?
17 It would have been easy for Samuel to reason that if the high priest and his sons can give in to sin, he might as well do whatever he wished. But the corruption of others, including those in positions of authority, is never an excuse to sin. Today, many Christian youths follow Samuel’s example and keep “growing up with Jehovah”—even when some around them fail to set a good example.
18 How did such a course work out for Samuel? We read: “All the while the boy Samuel was growing bigger and more likable both from Jehovah’s standpoint and from that of men.” (1 Sam. 2:26) So Samuel was well-liked, at least by those whose opinions mattered. Jehovah himself cherished this boy for his faithful course. And Samuel surely knew that his God would act against all the badness going on in Shiloh, but perhaps he wondered when. One night, such questions met an answer.
“Speak, for Your Servant Is Listening”
19, 20. (a) Describe what happened to Samuel late one night at the tabernacle. (b) How did Samuel learn the source of the message, and how did he treat Eli?
19 It was nearing morning but still dark; the flickering light of the tent’s great lamp was still burning. In the stillness, Samuel heard a voice calling his name. He thought it was Eli, who was now very old and nearly blind. Samuel got up and “went running” to the old man. Can you see the boy in your mind’s eye, hurrying barefoot to see what Eli needed? It is touching to note that Samuel treated Eli with respect and kindness. In spite of all his sins, Eli was still Jehovah’s high priest.—1 Sam. 3:2-5.
20 Samuel woke Eli, saying: “Here I am, for you called me.” But Eli said that he had not called and sent the boy back to bed. Well, the same thing happened again and then again! Finally, Eli realized what was going on. It had become rare for Jehovah to send a vision or a prophetic message to his people, and it is not hard to see why. But Eli knew that Jehovah was speaking again—now to this boy! Eli told Samuel to go back to bed and instructed him on how to answer properly. Samuel obeyed. Soon he heard the voice calling: “Samuel, Samuel!” The boy answered: “Speak, for your servant is listening.”—1 Sam. 3:1, 5-10.
21. How can we listen to Jehovah today, and why is it worthwhile to do so?
21 Jehovah did, at last, have a servant in Shiloh who was listening. That became Samuel’s life pattern. Is it yours? We do not have to wait for a supernatural voice in the night to speak to us. Today, God’s voice is always there for us in a sense. It is there in his completed Word, the Bible. The more we listen to God and respond, the more our faith will grow. So it was with Samuel.
22, 23. (a) How did the message that Samuel at first feared to deliver come true? (b) How did Samuel’s reputation continue to grow?
22 That night in Shiloh was a milestone in Samuel’s life, for then he began to know Jehovah in a special sense, becoming God’s own prophet and spokesman. At first, the boy was afraid to deliver Jehovah’s message to Eli, for it was a final pronouncement that the prophecy against that family was soon to come true. But Samuel mustered the courage—and Eli humbly acquiesced to the divine judgment. Before long, everything Jehovah had said was fulfilled: Israel went to war with the Philistines, Hophni and Phinehas were both killed on the same day, and Eli himself died on learning that Jehovah’s sacred Ark had been captured.—1 Sam. 3:10-18; 4:1-18.
23 However, Samuel’s reputation as a faithful prophet only grew. “Jehovah himself proved to be with him,” the account says, adding that Jehovah let none of Samuel’s prophecies fail.—Read 1 Samuel 3:19.
“Samuel Called to Jehovah”
24. In time, what decision did the Israelites make, and why was that a serious sin?
24 Did the Israelites follow Samuel’s lead and become spiritual, faithful people? No. In time, they decided that they did not want a mere prophet to judge them. They wanted to be like other nations and have a human king rule over them. At Jehovah’s direction, Samuel complied. But he had to convey to Israel the magnitude of their sin. They were rejecting, not a mere man, but Jehovah himself! So he summoned the people to Gilgal.
25, 26. At Gilgal, how did elderly Samuel finally help his people to see the seriousness of their sin against Jehovah?
25 Let us rejoin him in that tense moment of addressing Israel at Gilgal. There, elderly Samuel reminded Israel of his faithful record of integrity. Then, we read: “Samuel called to Jehovah.” He asked Jehovah for a thunderstorm.—1 Sam. 12:17, 18.
26 A thunderstorm? In the dry season? Why, such a thing was unheard of! If there was even a trace of skepticism or scoffing among the people, it did not last long. The sky suddenly darkened with clouds. The winds battered the wheat in the fields. The thunder let out its booming, deafening roars. And the rain fell. The response? “The people were greatly in fear of Jehovah and of Samuel.” At last, they saw how seriously they had sinned.—1 Sam. 12:18, 19.
27. How does Jehovah feel about those who imitate the faith of Samuel?
27 Not Samuel, but his God, Jehovah, had reached their rebellious hearts. From his youth to his old age, Samuel put faith in his God. And Jehovah rewarded him. To this day, Jehovah has not changed. He still supports those who imitate the faith of Samuel.
Nazirites were under a vow that included a ban on drinking alcoholic beverages and on cutting their hair. Most undertook such vows for only a set period of time, but a few, such as Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist, were lifelong Nazirites.
The sanctuary was a rectangular structure, basically a great tent on a wooden framework. However, it was made of the finest of materials—sealskins, beautifully embroidered cloths, and costly woods plated with silver and gold. The sanctuary sat within a rectangular courtyard that included an impressive altar for sacrifices. Over time, other chambers evidently were erected at the sides of the tabernacle for the use of the priests. Samuel, it seems, slept in such a chamber.
The account provides two examples of disrespect. For one thing, the Law specified which pieces of a sacrificial offering were to go to the priests to eat. (Deut. 18:3) But at the tabernacle, the wicked priests had set up a very different practice. They would have their attendants simply jab a great fork into the cauldron where the meat was boiling, taking whatever choice morsel came out! For another thing, when people brought their sacrifices to be burned at the altar, the wicked priests would have an attendant bully the offerer, demanding the raw meat even before the fat of the sacrifice was offered to Jehovah.—Lev. 3:3-5; 1 Sam. 2:13-17.