Samuel was a prophet of Jehovah (1 Samuel 3:20). He also served as a judge in Israel (1 Samuel 7:15-17), meaning that God raised him up to deliver Israel from her enemies. It was Samuel who anointed Saul as Israel’s first earthly king (1 Samuel 10). At a later time, he anointed David to be king, too (1 Samuel 16).
We often think of Samuel as a man of transition. Why? Because He was Israel’s final judge and the one who anointed its first two kings. Thus, he helped the nation move from one phase of its existence (having judges) to another (“the United Kingdom”). Samuel was well-beloved by many people, but what kind of leader was he? As a leader of God’s people, what was he like? What traits did he demonstrate? What can spiritual leaders in the church learn from Samuel?
One of Samuel’s admirable characteristics was that he truly was concerned about God’s people. When the Israel had lapsed into sin, his appeal to the nation was, “. . . return to the LORD with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods . . . prepare your hearts for the LORD, and serve Him only . . .” (1 Samuel 7:3). He also was committed to teaching Israel “the good and the right way” (12:23). As a leader, Samuel put the interests of the nation before His own. Self-less leaders do that.
Samuel was a man of prayer. His mother, Hannah, prayed frequently, and that may have had a big influence on Samuel’s prayer life. Over and over he “cried out to the LORD for Israel” (1 Samuel 7:9). In one instance, after the people appealed to Samuel to pray for them, he told them, “. . . far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you” (12:23). God considered Samuel to be in the same category as Moses when it came to interceding passionately for the nation of Israel (Jeremiah 15:1). Like the Christ did, Samuel at times petitioned the Lord all night long. He did that after one case of King Saul’s rebellion against Jehovah (1 Samuel 15:11).
As a leader, Samuel was blameless. While there is nothing specific said about Samuel’s personal faults, we know that he was not sinless (Romans 3:23). Being free from flaws is not a requirement for being a spiritual leader of God’s people. However, being blameless is (Titus 1:5,7). Samuel had a good reputation and was well-known as a man of integrity. The Israelites acknowledged that he did not steal, cheat, oppress, or give bribes (1 Samuel 7:3-5). That ought to be true of any person who has a part in leading God’s family.
Samuel had a great respect for God’s word and was committed to adhering to it. Even as a child, he had been trained by Eli the priest to say to God,
“Speak, for your servant hears” (3:10). As a prophet, Samuel was faithful in communicating God’s message to Israel. “So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people . . .” (8:10). Just before he anointed Saul as king, Samuel told him, “But you stand here awhile, that I may announce to you the word of God” (9:27). After the king’s foolish transgression, Samuel again said to him, “Be quiet! And I will tell you what the LORD said to me . . .” (15:16). God’s people need leaders who respect, love, and stand for what He says.
Though Samuel was in the public eye when he served as a prophet and judge, he constantly called on the Israelites to praise the Lord, not him. He reminded them that Jehovah was their Deliverer (7:3; 10:18). After winning a victory over the Philistines, Samuel set up a stone as a memorial “and called its name Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the LORD has helped us’” (7:12). He wanted the people to remember “all the righteous acts of the LORD” (12:7). As a spiritually-minded man, rather than “bask in the spotlight,” Samuel wanted all the honor to go to Jehovah.
As a leader, Samuel communicated in ways that were suitable for particular situations. When the people needed exhortation, he exhorted them to serve the Lord with all of their heart (12:20-22). When they needed to hear a warning, he warned them, such as when he told them that if they did not obey the Lord’s voice, His hand would be against them (12:15). When the nation needed a message of rebuke due to its sin, he did not hold back. He told the Israelites, “. . . your wickedness is great” (12:17). More than once he rebuked King Saul for his disobedience (13:13,14; 15:16-23). Today we need spiritual leaders who (1) can discern the needs of those whom they lead and who (2) have the courage to respond appropriately: with exhortation, warning, or rebuke.
Another good trait of Samuel the leader is that he remained faithful to the Lord despite the difficulties which he had to face. It must have crushed his heart when his own sons were not faithful to the Lord (1 Samuel 8:1-3), but their lack of faithfulness did not alter Samuel’s responsibilities or his commitment to the Lord. The nation rejected the Lord as its king (8:6-10,19), but Samuel remained unchanged. Saul, whom Samuel personally anointed and helped, was disobedient and rejected Jehovah, yet Samuel continued to walk with the Lord and uphold His word. All leaders face disappointments and setbacks. Samuel certainly had his fair share, but he stayed true to God.
As a leader, Samuel was God’s man. Church leaders would be wise to learn much from him.
— Roger D. Campbell