In this chapter Samuel is probably about seventy years of age. Nevertheless God has important roles for him yet in the future, including the anointing of King Saul and King David. So he is not going off the stage. What does the chapter tell us about Samuel? Here are a couple of suggestions, and we will think of some more tomorrow.
We get an insight into the spirituality of Samuel when we consider the names of his sons. Names had significance at that time and it is reasonable to assume that the ones Samuel chose would be expressions of his faith as well as indications of his hopes for his sons. Joel means ‘Yahweh is my God’ and is an affirmation that Samuel worshipped the God that had revealed himself has being in covenant with Israel and shown his commitment by redeeming them from slavery. Abiah means ‘My father is Yahweh’ and indicates that Samuel understood to some degree the relationship of being a child of God. Samuel saw himself as being both a servant of God and a son of God. The fact that his sons were a disappointment to him does not detract from his spirituality.
The chapter also indicates that old leaders, who have been used by God throughout their lives, can make foolish decisions. Samuel made such a choice when he selected his ungodly sons as judges. It is hard not to see here a similar situation to that of Eli, except in Samuel’s case he chose his sons whereas Eli’s sons were in an hereditary office.
To be fair to Samuel the text does suggest that the evil nature of his sons only showed itself after they had been given a position of power. So he may not have known their true character until it was too late. Nevertheless he could have deposed them. The main problem with Samuel’s action is that he had no divine authority for what he did. At best his action was a case of human wisdom. This kind of action is always a danger to those who lead God’s people, to try and solve a situation by common sense rather than limiting themselves to the instructions God has given.
This decision that Samuel made had long-term consequences. While the sins of others in attempting to resolve the situation are not excusable, it is the case that they would not have happened if Samuel had not made a foolish decision. His choice of his sons as judges led in one way to the people wanting a king.