Questions From Readers
● Since the Bible speaks about the prophet Samuel as offering sacrifices, does this mean that he was a priest?—U.S.A.
No, the Scriptures clearly show that Samuel was not a priest of the line of Aaron. Samuel’s father Elkanah resided at Ramah in the mountainous region of Ephraim and is therefore called an Ephraimite. But genealogically Elkanah was a Levite of the nonpriestly family that descended from Kohath. (1 Sam. 1:1, 19; 1 Chron. 6:27, 33, 34) As a nonpriestly Kohathite Levite, Samuel was not authorized to officiate at the sanctuary altar, and there is no record that he ever did so. Regarding Levites who were not of the family of Aaron, God’s law stated: “To the utensils of the holy place and to the altar they must not come near that they may not die.” (Num. 18:3) However, being Jehovah’s representative and prophet, Samuel could, in compliance with divine direction, offer up sacrifices at places other than the sanctuary, as was done by Gideon of the tribe of Manasseh and, later, by the prophet Elijah.—Judg. 6:15, 25-28; 1 Ki. 18:36-38.
It is noteworthy that, when King Saul ‘compelled himself’ to offer up the burnt sacrifice, Samuel did not accuse him of wrongfully assuming the priestly office. He simply said to Saul: “You have acted foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of Jehovah your God that he commanded you, because, if you had, Jehovah would have made your kingdom firm over Israel to time indefinite. And now your kingdom will not last.” (1 Sam. 13:12-14) So for violation of what command did Samuel censure Saul? And what guiding principle can we learn from this?
Earlier Samuel had instructed Saul: “You must go down ahead of me to Gilgal; and, look! I am going down to you to offer up burnt sacrifices, to render up communion sacrifices. Seven days you should keep waiting until my coming to you, and I shall certainly let you know what you should do.” (1 Sam. 10:8) Even if this command pertained to another occasion (as some commentators believe), it would somewhat parallel the one that Saul violated. Whatever the case, the fact remains that Samuel was Jehovah’s representative and, therefore, the command violated was really Jehovah’s command and could not be treated with impunity. Thus Saul’s sin consisted of his presumptuously going ahead with the sacrifice and not obeying Jehovah’s command (given through Samuel) to wait. It did not involve an attempted seizure of the priestly office, for Samuel was not an Aaronic priest. Saul’s sin differed from that of a later king, Uzziah, who was told: “It is not your business, O Uzziah, to burn incense to Jehovah, but it is the business of the priests the sons of Aaron.”—2 Chron. 26:18.
Saul’s sin illustrates that it is a very serious thing for an individual to disregard God’s arrangement of matters. Samuel had not made himself a prophet. It was Jehovah God who, by means of his spirit, called him to be such so that all Israel “became aware that Samuel was one accredited for the position of prophet.” (1 Sam. 3:19, 20) Similarly, those serving as overseers and shepherds in the Christian congregation receive their appointment by holy spirit. (Acts 20:28) Of course, they do not speak by divine inspiration as did Samuel. Nevertheless, we should not be presumptuous and attempt to take over the responsibility and duties of those so assigned, perhaps due to feeling they are not handling matters right or are too slow. Anyone who deliberately took such action would, like King Saul, bring trouble upon himself and endanger his relationship with Jehovah God.
In answering this question, some persons may point to the fact that the terms “heavens” and “earth” are not always applied to the literal heavens and earth. At Psalm 96:1, for example, the “earth” is encouraged to sing a “new song.” Obviously in this case the people of the earth are meant. The Bible also speaks of “wicked spirit forces in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12) This would suggest that such wicked spirit forces constitute a ‘heaven’ over the wicked human society. In fact, the Devil is referred to as the “god of this system of things.” (2 Cor. 4:4) On this basis, some might conclude that the heavens and the earth mentioned at Psalm 102:25, 26 (quoted at Hebrews 1:10, 11) refer to the wicked heavens composed of Satan and his demons and which control the earth made up of mankind alienated from God. But does the passage itself allow for this application?
Psalm 102:25, 26 reads: “Long ago you [God] laid the foundations of the earth itself, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They themselves will perish, but you yourself will keep standing; and just like a garment they will all of them wear out. Just like clothing you will replace them, and they will finish their turn.” This gives rise to the question, How could God possibly be the Creator of wicked heavens and a wicked earth?
Well, it might be argued that God did create the spirit creatures who rebelled and eventually became a wicked heavens over mankind, and that God created Adam and Eve, from whom all persons alienated from God have descended. However, it should be noted that neither the passage itself nor the context readily lead to this conclusion. Then, too, there are no other scriptures that speak of Jehovah’s laying the foundation for a wicked human society or creating wicked heavens. Reasonably, therefore, we should look for an explanation that more naturally and logically fits the context.
As revealed in the superscription of Psalm 102, this psalm is “a prayer of the afflicted in case he grows feeble and pours out his concern before Jehovah himself.” Such an afflicted one could logically think about the everlastingness of Jehovah in relationship to the physical heavens and earth. Yes, the physical creation of heavens and earth is perishable. It could be destroyed, if such were God’s purpose. Unlike God’s eternal existence, the permanence of any part of his physical creation is not independent. As seen in the earth, the physical creation must undergo a continual renewing process if it is to endure or retain its existing form. That the physical heavens are dependent on God’s will and sustaining power is indicated at Psalm 148. After referring to sun, moon and stars as well as other parts of God’s creation, this Psalm 148 (verse 6) states that God “keeps them standing forever, to time indefinite. A regulation he has given, and it will not pass away.”
At Hebrews 1:10, 11 the words of Psalm 102:25, 26 are applied to Jesus Christ. He, too, could be said to have ‘laid the foundations of the earth’ and produced the heavens as ‘the work of his hands’ because God’s only-begotten Son was God’s personal Agent employed in creating the physical universe. (John 1:1, 2; Col. 1:15, 16) In highlighting the greatness of the Son of God, who now enjoys incorruptibility, an “indestructible life” (Heb. 7:15, 16), the writer of the letter to the Hebrews contrasts the Son’s permanence with that of the physical creation, which God, if he so designed, could ‘wrap up just as a cloak’ and set it aside.—Heb. 1:12.
Accordingly, greater permanence is ascribed to Jehovah God (Ps. 102:25, 26) and to his glorified Son Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:10, 11) than to the physical creation, which is corruptible and could perish. Other scriptures also support this conclusion. At Luke 21:33, for example, Jesus said that “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away.” Jesus here contrasted the stability and eternal truthfulness of his words as compared with the perishable nature of the physical heavens and earth. Not that God purposes to destroy them, but that they are destructible. So, the sense of this expression seems to be like that of Matthew 5:18: “Truly I say to you that sooner would heaven and earth pass away [or, “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away,” Luke 16:17] than for one smallest letter or one particle of a letter to pass away from the Law by any means and not all things take place.”
Since Jehovah God and his Son possess greater permanence than the physical heavens and earth, this gives us full assurance that Jesus is always alive to plead for afflicted ones and God is always alive to hear and answer such pleas. (Compare Hebrews 7:25.) This knowledge should encourage us to trust completely in every promise of God, with full assurance that it will be fulfilled, no matter what may appear to stand in the way.