I’ve never been a vocal enthusiast for the NBA, especially as professional sports have become increasingly political. From time to time, however, I do enjoy watching clips of great players. Despite the fact that I rarely pulled for him, I’ve always thought that Michael Jordan was the greatest player. One of the intriguing moments in his career was when he came out of retirement for the second time at the age of 38 to play for the Washington Wizards. Though he was still an excellent player, he never found the success with the Wizards that he had with the Bulls. Even the greatest have limits.
“Great” and “limited” are two words that accurately describe Samuel’s role. Since Samuel lived after the time of Judges, we don’t tend to think of him as a judge. Nonetheless, he “judged Israel” his entire life (1 Samuel 7:6, 15). While earlier judges like Jephthah and Samson egregiously compromised their character, Samuel displayed the utmost integrity throughout his life (12:3-5). He was also, however, more than a judge; he was a prophet even from his boyhood (3:21-4:1). Lastly, although he was not part of the high priestly family, he often functioned as a priest, offering sacrifices and interceding for the people of God (7:8). As a prophet, priest, and judge, Samuel was one of the most important biblical characters since Joshua, if not Moses.
But even the greatest have limits. God reminds us of these limits first in what Samuel did not do. After the dark days of 1 Samuel 4, the Lord brought back the Ark of the Covenant to His people without any human help. God didn’t need Samuel, and He doesn’t need us. Simply being a part of God’s work is a privilege. Second, as Samuel grew old and his sons took his responsibilities, they did not follow the example of his integrity (1 Samuel 8:3). Regardless of whether we excel in our work, our lifespans limit us. We can only do so much in the dash that occurs between the dates of our birth and death. Third, despite Samuel’s godly, just leadership, the people wanted a different kind of leader. They clamored for a king. Public opinion hampers the best. Unfortunately for the people, they would get the leader they were calling for.
What can we as Christians learn from Samuel’s life? Certainly, his life is an example of godly leadership. Even though the people longed for a king, they recognized his character and willingness to pray for them. His example of leadership is not the only lesson, however, that we can learn. First Samuel 7 is the only chapter in the book that deals directly with his leadership. Although he has important roles in Chapters 15 and 16, he’s at best a supporting character for most of the rest of the book.
The greater purpose of Samuel’s life was to point to one who would come. The great prophet recognized the great king: David (1 Samuel 16). David’s great Son, Jesus Christ, did what neither Samuel nor David could do. As a Prophet, He spoke the Word of God. As a Priest, He offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice. As a resurrected King to whom all will bow down, He did not — and will not — have the limitations Samuel had. Should we follow Samuel’s example of courage and character in our own lives? Absolutely. But Samuel’s life must do more; it must lead us to a deeper love, gratitude, and devotion to the Lord Jesus — our Prophet, Priest, and King.