A period of peculiar interest in the history of a people of peculiar interest is dealt with in the following pages.
The nation of Israel has a place in the ways of God such as has been accorded to no other. Israel forms the center of all God's plans for the government and blessing of the earth. This poor disordered and suffering world will never enjoy true righteousness and peace until Israel gets right with God. This happy event will take place when the Lord Jesus returns from heaven in power and great glory.
The Samuel period was transitional in character. The priesthood, which was the divinely established link between Jehovah and His people after the death of Moses, had utterly collapsed, both morally and spiritual and kingship in the person of the man after God's own heart had not yet been established. During this period Samuel more or less exercised the functions of prophet, priest, and king. He certainly was a prophet (chap. 3:20); his ephod, sacrifices and intercession were priestly (chaps. 2:18; 10:8), and his judgeship was somewhat kingly (chap. 7:15-17). Thus God graciously met the need of His people in difficult days.
Samuel's personal character is an example to us all. His simple, unaffected piety; his blameless administration, his service of intercession; and his faithful reproving of evil in ruler and ruled, furnish a delightful picture. Both writer and reader might well aspire to be a Samuel.
Part I - The Man of God
The man of God has been defined as "God's emergency man." In times of peculiar difficulty and need, such have arisen both in the Church and in Israel. If the order divinely established were working correctly, there would be no necessity for the man of God. No persons thus described appear in the Spirit's records of the earliest days of Christianity. For a time all was well. There was indeed a moment when the whole Church was "filled with the Holy Ghost," and when it could be said that "great grace was upon them all' (Acts 4:31-33). But when first love declined and disorder set in, we read of the man of God, and Timothy is the first person thus designated in the New Testament Scriptures (1 Tim. 6:11). There have doubtless been many such during the succeeding centuries, and their faithfulness is written on high, and it will be rewarded in the day of Christ.
There are openings today for the man of God. Gifts abound. These have been regularly given ever since the risen Head took His seat on high, and the supply will be maintained as long as the body of Christ continues on earth (Eph. 4:7-16). Such is His faithful love. But a Christian could be evangelist, pastor, or teacher or, indeed, all three in one without being a man of God. The truth of this will hardly be disputed.
What is a man of God? Moses is the first servant of God who bore this honored title, and it is given to him four times (Deut. 33:1; 1 Chron. 23:14; 2 Chron 30:16; Ezra 3:2). His whole course was one of singular devotedness to Jehovah. Gladly did he surrender the honors and comforts of the Egyptian palace that he might identify himself with God's downtrodden people; willingly did he carry the burden of them during the forty years of "the provocation" and with marvelous patience did he bear their murmuring and ingratitude. What is still greater, he pleaded for them with God, even going so far as to pray that he might be blotted out of God's book if thereby their sin might be pardoned. His jealousy for God's holy name in connection with His people was truly marvellous.
His familiar intercourse with God on their behalf, as recorded in Exodus 32:33, is almost matchless. Not that Moses was perfect only One was ever that - but his disinterestedness and devotion mark him out as one of the most conspicuous characters in Bible history. In him we get some idea of what is involved in the title "the man of God."
Samuel was regarded in his day as a man of God (1 Sam. 9:6-10) and rightly so. Matters were critical in Israel when he appeared upon the scene. When Moses laid down his charge, the priesthood was established as the link between Jehovah and His people, the civil and military leader holding but the second place. "He shall stand before Eleazar, the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before Jehovah" (Num. 27:18-21). But in the person of Eli, the priesthood had utterly broken down. Although personally a pious man, he permitted iniquity of the gravest kind in those nearest to himself (1 Sam. 3:13). "His sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not." Natural affection predominated in his mind rather than faithfulness to Jehovah, to the ruin of all. The people were as wrong as their high priest. Those were the days when "there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (judges 21:25). The closing chapters of the book of judges reveal to us the appalling conditions that prevailed in the land.
Nor were things right in the household from which Samuel sprang. His father was a Levite, descended from Korah, whose children were so mercifully spared from destruction in the day of their father's rebellion (Num. 26:11), and who were afterwards made doorkeepers and singers in the house of Jehovah. Such grace should have filled their hearts with the deepest gratitude to God and should have disposed them to be devoted to His will. But what do we find? Elkanah "had two wives the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah" (1 Sam. 1:2). Did he not know better than this? It bred unhappiness in the home, reminding us of the unrest in Abraham's surroundings when he took Hagar in addition to Sarah.
Thus we have a Korahite in failure, a high priest weakly tolerant of gross iniquity; and a nation utterly lawless. Should judgment descend from an offended God? Nay; instead He raised up an emergency man, by means of whom He might reach, recover and bless His unfaithful people. This was Samuel's place in the ways of God.