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by Doug Ward

A few years ago, our family enjoyed reading Walter Wangerin's The Book of God: the Bible as a Novel (Zondervan, 1996). In this book, Wangerin vividly and faithfully relates the story of the Promise of the Messiah, beginning with the calling of Abram and ending with the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the founding of the New Testament Church. In his retelling of the biblical narratives, he shows how the messianic hope was kept alive through the centuries, ultimately finding fulfillment in Jesus. This book impressed upon us the fact that the Promise is one of the central themes of the Bible.

In this series of articles, we are tracing the Promise of the Messiah chronologically through the Old Testament, from the Garden of Eden to the time of Malachi, in a different way-via a succession of wonderful prophecies. These prophecies, considered together, reveal the character and mission of the Messiah in remarkable detail. They formed a key part of the message of the early Church and have brought many to faith in Jesus Christ throughout the ensuing generations, right up to the present day.

The first two parts of the series discussed the messianic prophecies given in the Pentateuch and the book of Job, which predict the coming of a male descendant of Judah who would defeat Satan, rule over all nations, and be a prophet like Moses and a divine mediator between God and man. In this installment, we move ahead to the time when the children of Israel arrived in the Promised Land and settled there.

The Era of the Judges

After the death of Moses, Joshua and other leaders of his generation guided the Israelites in the conquest of much of the land of Canaan. However, the following generations lacked the zeal and dedication to complete this task; instead of driving out the remaining Canaanites, they began to follow the idolatrous ways of the pagans who still lived near them (Judges 2:6-13). As a result, God allowed Israel to be dominated by these nations.

Intermittently the suffering of the Israelites awakened them to repentance, and God raised up judges to deliver them. Sadly, though, Israel's seasons of repentance were generally short-lived. When the people lapsed back into syncretism, a new period of foreign domination would follow (Judges 2:14-3:6).

During this bleak period of Israel's history, the Israelites often strayed far from God and forgot about their calling to be a blessing to all nations. As is recorded at the close of the book of Judges, ``every man did that which was right in his own eyes.'' (Judges 21:25, KJV) God, however, had not forgotten His plan. After several generations when prophecies were rarely given (see I Sam. 3:1), Yahweh announced His promise once again, in connection with the birth of Samuel.

The Significance of Samuel

Samuel played a key transitional role in the history of Israel. He was the last of the judges of Israel, and he is considered to be the first in the line of prophets ``like unto Moses'' which would culminate in the Messiah (Deut. 18:15, 18). God directed him to anoint Israel's first two kings, Saul and David, and thus usher in a new era in the nation's history.

In the sermon recorded in Acts 3:12-26, the apostle Peter would later state that Samuel was also one of those who announced the coming of the Messiah: ``Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days.'' (Acts 3:24, KJV) Although no messianic prophecies spoken by Samuel are recorded in the Bible, the gospel was indeed indirectly given through Samuel in at least two ways.

First, Samuel (whose name means ``heard of God'') is a type of Jesus in the circumstances of his birth and childhood (see for example [1, pp. 13-16]). Samuel's birth was a miracle, the result of the fervent prayer of his mother Hannah (I Samuel 1), and Hannah's prayer of thanksgiving (I Sam. 2:1-10) is similar to Mary's expression of rejoicing in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). In particular, both Hannah and Mary emphasize that God humbles the proud and exalts the humble. Like Mary and Joseph, Hannah and Elkanah made regular pilgrimages to worship God (I Sam. 1:3; Luke 2:41). Samuel as a young boy served under Eli the priest (I Sam. 2:11), while Jesus discussed aspects of Torah with teachers at the Temple in Jerusalem when He was twelve years old (Luke 2:46-47). Luke seems to be emphasizing the connection between Samuel and Jesus when he writes in Luke 2:52 that ``Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men,'' an apparent reference to I Sam. 2:26.

According to David Daube [1, pp. 13-14], there is also a rabbinic legend that the boy Samuel once corrected Eli on a technical point involving sacrificial regulations. If this story was extant in the first century, it could further explain why Luke saw Samuel's boyhood as typical of Jesus' boyhood.

A Prophecy of God's Anointed King

Another aspect of Samuel's link to the announcement of the Messiah lies in the fact that God inspired two Messianic prophecies to be given when Samuel was a child. Both are recorded in I Samuel 2, and both refer to God's ``anointed one.'' The Hebrew word for ``anointed one'' is mashiyach, the very source of the English word ``messiah.'' (See Grace and Knowledge, Issue 4, pp. 5-6 for a good discussion of this Hebrew word.)

One of these prophecies is part of Hannah's prayer of thanksgiving. In her prayer, she rejoices in the fact that a righteous and holy God rules over all of the universe, protecting the saints and punishing the wicked. The prayer concludes with these words:

`` It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the Lord will be shattered. He will thunder against them from heaven; the Lord will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.'' (I Sam. 2:9-10, NIV)

Notice that the parallel structure of the last sentence of verse 10 identifies God's king with His anointed. One of the Targumim (Aramaic paraphrases of the Hebrew scriptures) emphasizes this parallelism by rendering ``exalt the horn of his anointed'' as ``magnify the kingdom of his Messiah''[2, p. 71].

Thus in Hannah's prayer, we see yet another reference to a coming king. God had earlier promised Abraham that ``kings will come from you'' (Gen. 17:6, 16) and repeated to Jacob that ``kings will come from your body''(Gen. 35:11). In the last installment of this series, we discussed Jacob's prediction that a king commanding ``the obedience of the nations'' would come from the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10). We also studied Balaam's proclamation of a ``star and scepter'' who would subdue those nations (Num. 24:17). Now in I Sam. 2:10, a king is mentioned in connection with the judgment of the world.

How would the prophecy of Hannah be fulfilled? Up to that time, Israel had had no human kings. However, the baby whom Hannah was dedicating to God's service would grow up to be instrumental in beginning the realization of her words. Samuel would anoint David, a ``man after God's own heart (I Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22),'' as king over Israel. David's righteous reign foreshadowed the coming of Jesus Christ, our King today. We now wait expectantly for our Messiah's return to judge the earth and complete the fulfillment of I Sam. 2:10.

A Prophecy of God's Faithful Priest

While the boy Samuel was serving ``before the Lord'' under Eli the priest (I Sam. 2:11, 18), the corruption of Eli's sons Hophni and Phinehas dishonored God and undermined the faith of Israel (vv. 12-17). When Eli neglected to properly discipline his sons, God announced through an unnamed prophet that He would take firm action to correct the situation (vv. 27-36). Distress would come to Eli's descendants, who would die ``in the prime of life'' (v. 33). In particular, Hophni and Phinehas would die on the same day (v. 34). These predictions came to pass in the next few generations (see I Sam. 4:17; 22:18-23; I Kings 2:26-27).

The unnamed prophet also made statements that have implications far beyond the immediate fate of Eli's family. The long overall time span of the prophecy is signalled by the introductory phrase ``the time is coming'' (v. 31). This phrase is often used to announce events to occur in the distant future- see for example Amos 8:11; 9:13. With this in mind, let us consider verse 35 (NIV):

``I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his house, and he will minister before my anointed one always.''

As translated here, verse 35 seems to point to a line of priests that would serve the Messiah forever. Perhaps the ``faithful priest'' was Zadok, a priest of David's time whose descendants were later predicted to minister in the future millennial temple (Ezekiel 40:46; 43:19; 44:15; 48:11).

There is also another reading of this verse that depends upon a slightly different translation of one word-the pronoun rendered ``he''. It is usually assumed that this pronoun refers to the faithful priest. But what if it is the house, rather than the priest, which will minister before the anointed one? Then another interpretation is possible: the faithful priest and the anointed one could be one and the same!

Kaiser [2, p. 74-76] makes a very convincing case for this latter reading of verse 35. He points out that Jesus is the One who, more than anyone else, does what is in God's heart and mind (John 8:28-29, e.g.). In addition, we are told in Hebrews 3:1-2 that Jesus is our faithful high priest today. Finally, the firmly established house of I Sam. 2:35 is identified in Hebrews 3:6:

``But Christ is faithful as a son over God's house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.''

In this prophecy, as in several others that we have studied so far, judgment from God is accompanied by a reassuring announcement of future hope in the promise of the Messiah. For us today, there is great encouragement in I Sam. 2:35 and Heb. 3:1-6. If we walk closely with the Anointed One now, we can look forward to serving before Him forever.


As Peter proclaimed in Acts 3:24, Samuel was indeed instrumental in announcing the gospel. His childhood looked forward to that of Jesus, and his loyal ministry under Eli the priest is a model for the Church's service before its faithful High Priest. Late in his life, Samuel anointed King David, a type and ancestor of our great King who will return to judge the world.

To David, God would bring one of the greatest announcements of the Promise through the prophet Nathan. We will discuss this momentous prophecy in our next installment.


1. David Daube, The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism, The Athlone Press, University of London, 1956 (reprinted in 1994 by Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts).

2. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., The Messiah in the Old Testament, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1995

Issue 7



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