(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate the prophet Samuel, whose account is found in Volume 3 of the series.)
The Prophet Samuel
Known as the prophet of primary importance, Samuel was a man for all seasons. He was second only to Moses in the quality of leadership, counseling kings and military leaders while remaining a man of God with service as priest and prophet. In addition, he was a scholar, philosopher and judge, a man endowed by God with the wisdom and clairvoyance required of a man who was to preserve his ancient faith, as well as the identity of his people as a nation rather than a group of tribes.
Samuel was born more than one thousand years before Christ in the town of Ramah, the son of Elkanah and Hannah whose lineage was of the Aphraimites (although this is contradicted by others who claim he was one of the sons of Levi). His childhood is somewhat clouded in the legends that were attached to his early days, but it is known that he received his religious training from the high priest of Selon named Heli, and that much of Samuel’s youth was spent within the shadows of the temple where the Ark of the Covenant was enshrined.
Samuel emerges from the pages of the Old Testament as an instrument of God who, although he appeared to be the theocratic ruler of Israel, was a realist who anointed both Saul and David as the kings of Israel. The ascension to the throne of these two mighty kings of antiquity was not marked by a ceremonious coronation with a host of dignitaries. Instead, they were anointed with the sacred oil of the temple at the hands of Samuel, who was ordained by God to carry on His will in all matters pertain-ing to the temporal and spiritual welfare of his people.
Dedicated to the defense of his ancient religious beliefs, Samuel denounced the cults that spawned syncretism and fertility rites, among other things, and was accepted by the general community as an instrument of God. He was looked upon as a man who could not only interpret the will of God, but act as judge by the authority invested in him from on high. What set him apart from all others, however, was his prophetic powers by which he could envision future events and for which he is best remembered. His pronouncements were made with convincing authority, but never with malice.
When it appeared that King Saul had forsaken his sacred duty to God and that there were sinful elements menacing the unity of Israel (which appeared to be split into several camps), Samuel is quoted in the Bible as having said: “And far be it from me to sin against the Lord, in ceasing to pray for you; but I will serve the Lord, and show you the good and right way. But if you continue to do evil, then shall ye and your king be consumed” (1 Sam. 12:23). In this one declaration he displays both his compassion and his determination.
The defeat of the Philistines is ascribed to Samuel, who invoked the help of God in a miraculous destruction of a powerful enemy, although this has been disputed by those who cite the military prowess of Saul and David as evidence to the contrary. Biblical scholars have varying concepts of this conflict, but they are as one in recognizing the divine talents of Samuel. His awe-inspiring prophecies mark him as one of the greatest figures of the Old Testament, ranking above any between Moses and David, and a greater prophet than those who were to come forward as prophets in the centuries to come. The Prophet Jeremiah declared flatly that Samuel was the greatest leader of Israel in all its history with one exception – Moses.
It can be said that Samuel was a kingmaker, and although he worshiped God as the supreme ruler, he recognized the need for a leader of people whose tribal disunity was a disservice to God. For that reason he was what is called today a monarchist, but he envisioned a ruler of benevolence and understanding. With tribal factions ready to go separate ways, the answer lay in firm and wise leadership, something not always found in other forms of state that could be applied to the times and conditions prevailing ten centuries before the birth of the Savior.
Samuel died in 1075 B.C. According to church historians, his remains were discovered and brought to Thrace by Emperor Arkadios in 408. Later his relics were transferred by Empress Pulcheria to Constantinople.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.