Inductive Bible Studies,

[Copyright by W. R. HARPER, 1887.]

PREPARED BY PROFESSORS W. R. HARPER (Yale University), W. G. BALLANTINE (Oberlin Theol. Sem.), WILLIS J. BEECHER (Auburn Theol. Sem.), and G. S. BURROUGHS (Amherst College).


Sixth Study.—Prophets, Religion and Scriptures of Israel in the Times of Eli, Samuel and Saul.

[The material of this "study" is furnished by Prof. Beecher. It is edited by Prof. Harper.]



1. This " study " is intended to sum up the biblical material furnished on the subjects cited, and to systematize the same to some extent. A mastery of it will aid in a better understanding, not only of the ground already covered, but also of that yet to be taken up.

2. The opinions presented, in some particulars, differ from those of many scholars, and especially from those of scholars who hold that the institutions described in the Books of Samuel are so radically different from those described in the Pentateuch as to prove that the latter cannot then have been in existence.

3. In view of this, the student should scrutinize closely all statements given, and examine with care every passage referred to, in order not only that he may fill out the statements, which are necessarily very brief, but also that he may prove or disprove them.

4. Notice is to be taken that in the presentation here given,

(1) it is not intended to give a discussion of Pentateuchal questions, and

(2) only material belonging to 1 Samuel is used. The treatment is therefore necessarily limited.

5. Once more, the student is urged to accept no statement which is not backed by biblical proof of the most satisfactory character.


1. The Use of the name Prophet.

(1) In the earlier years of Samuel, the name prophet had either gone out of common use, or else had not yet come into common use, 1 Sam. 9:9. The latter alternative is accepted by many, but the former is positively required by the statements concerning the earlier times made in the Old Testament, Jud. 6:8; 4:4; Deut. 34:10; 18:15,18,22; 13:1,3, 5; Num. 12:6; 11:25-29; Ex. 7:1; Gen. 20:7 (cf. 1 Chron. 16:22; Ps. 105:15).1

(2) The representation made in 1 Samuel is that, in the time of Samuel's childhood, the prophetic gift had become very rare, though not altogether extinct, 1 Sam. 3:1,7,8; 2:27-36. During Samuel's early manhood, it "again" became abundant in Shiloh, 3:19-21. The " again" implies (not necessarily, indeed, yet naturally) that, at some date, it had previously been abundant in Shiloh.

2. The Prophetic Order.

(1) Samuel succeeded by Gad, Nathan, and others, begins a succession of distinguished prophets, that can be traced pretty continuously to Malachi; 22:5; 2 Sam. 7:2, etc.

(2) Under Samuel's influence, prophetic organizations were formed. The followers of the great prophets, in these organizations, are doubtless sometimes called prophets. Prophets (in one or both meanings of the term) became numerous and influential, 10:5,6,10-13; 19:18-24; 28:6.

(3) In these circumstances, it is natural to think of Samuel as being, in an important sense, the founder of the succession of the prophets. See Acts 3:24, but compare Acts 3:22.

3. Function of a Prophet. The function of a prophet, as shown in the passages we have examined, is evidently that of a public man with a special message from God, active in religious and patriotic duties. It is only as an incidental matter that he is a predicter of future events. He is not at all like a Greek oracle priest, or a dervish, or a modern fortune-teller. He distinctly claims, however, to have supernatural communications from God.

4. Saul's Prophesying. In 18:10, Saul's raving is perhaps called prophesying. In 19:24, Saul, in prophesying, acted in a distracted manner. But it does not follow that frenzied utterance was characteristic of prophecy. Saul's prophesying probably consisted in his uttering religious truths; it is mentioned as a symptom of his insane attack, not as another name for it.2 The events described in ch. 10 and ch. 19 are analogous to our reform meetings or evangelistic meetings, rather than to the performances of crazy dervishes.


1. The Sanctuary.

(1) Form: The sanctuary at Shiloh was a permanent temple, with door-posts and doors, and sleeping apartments, 1:9; 3:15,3,5. But the "tabernacle of the congregation " was also there, 2:22, perhaps in the inclosed court of the temple, so that its curtains were the only roof over the ark, 2 Sam. 7:6.

(2) Compared with the Pentateuchal Requirements: The Shiloh sanctuary meets the requirements of the Pentateuchal laws, in that

(a) it was the home of the tabernacle and the ark;

(b) it was served by priests descended from Aaron, 2:28;

(c) the only attendant mentioned is the Levite, Samuel;

(d) it was for "all Israel," 2:14 (Heb.), 22,24,28; 3:20, etc.;

(e) it had its annual festival, to which Israelites came up, 1:3,7,9,21; 2:19;3

(f) the festival had its sacrifices, 1:3,21, etc.;

(g) its solemnities consisted partly in the fact that they ate and drank in Shiloh, 1:7,9. Compare Deut. ch. 12 and parallel passages.

(3) Its Removal: At some unknown time after the capture of the ark by the Philistines, the sanctuary was removed from Shiloh. In the later years of Saul's reign, it was at Nob, 21:6,7; Matt. 12:4, having previously been located, possibly, first at Mizpah and then at Gilgal, 7:6; 10:19,25; 11:15; 12:7; 15:33. But we have no means of knowing whether any of these places was graced with the presence of either the ark or the tabernacle; and it is evident that none of them were centers of national worship in the degree in which Shiloh had been such a center, and in which Jerusalem was to be.4

2. Ceremonial Laws and Usages showing consistency with Pentateuchal Accounts.

(1) The Service of the Altar: The accounts in Samuel represent that Israel then had rigid ceremonial laws which it was a sin to neglect, 2:29; 13:11-13, etc.5 In many particulars, such as the following, these agree with those recorded in the Pentateuch:

(a) the high priest wore an ephod, 2:28; 14:3; 21:9; 23:6;

(b) the shewbread, 21:6;

(c) the distinction between sacrifices for certain seasons, and special sacrifices, 2:21;

(d) the recognition of sacrifices in connection with vows, 2:21;

(e) the distinction between burnt offerings and peace offerings, 10:8; 13:9, and other places;

(f) the technical terms" make atonement,"" sacrifice," " minhah,"6 3:14 (Heb.);

(g) the burning of the fat on the altar, 2:15;

(h) the offering of meal and wine along with an animal victim, 1:24;

(i) the irregularities of Eli's sons, 2:13-17, which consisted partly in the use made of the " flesh hook," an instrument unknown to the Pentateuch, and partly in the priest's claiming his fee before the fat was burned, contrary to Lev. 7:29-34.

(2) Other Usages: Apart from the service of the altar,

(a) the Israel of Samuel's time had a usage resembling that of the Nazarite of the Pentateuch, 1:11;

(b) they knew of Jehovah's prohibition of foreign gods, though they violated the prohibition, 7:3;

(c) they had usages respecting ceremonial cleanness, uncleanness, and holiness, 20:26; 21:5;

(d) they had religious laws against the eating of blood and against witchcraft, 14:32-34;15:23; 28,etc. See fifth "study" B. 5 and C. 1. Certainly the Book of 1 Samuel mentions as many particulars in the Levitical laws as could be expected, on the supposition that the laws then existed in their present form, and its silence in regard to other particulars can hardly be regarded as significant.

3. Usages by some regarded as showing inconsistency with Pentateuchal Accounts.

(1) Central Sanctuary: Israel in Samuel's time was sacrificing at different places (6:14,15;7:9; 9:12,13; 10:8; 14:35; 20:6, etc.), and not at one place only, as required by the law in Deut. 12. But there is no proof

(a) that Saul's altar, 14:35, was regarded as legal; or

(b) that the sacrifices at Ramah and Bethlehem, 9:12,13; 20:6, were anything else than private sacrificial feasts, such as are provided for in Deut. 12:15,21;7 or

(c) that the sacrifices at Bethshemesh, Mizpah, and Gilgal, 6:14,15; 7:9; 10:8, etc., were not, within the meaning of the law, sacrifices at the central sanctuary (see above). Further,

(d) two of the conditions of the law in Deut. 12, namely, that Israel should be at rest from his enemies, and that there should be " the place" chosen by Jehovah to put his name there, had only an imperfect existence in these times, and the law must have been, thus far, in abeyance.

(2) Variations in points of detail: A comparison of the ceremonial usages in 1 Samuel with those required in the Pentateuch shows many differences between them in points of detail:

(a) in several of the accounts of sacrifices, it is not mentioned that any priest was present; but there is no proof, in these cases, that a properly qualified Levitical priest was not present, or that even Samuel ever performed a priestly act;

(b) in Samuel, the word "minhah" perhaps means "offering," rather than "meal offering," 1 Sam. 2:17,29; 3:14; 26:19;

(c) not the high priest only, but the other priests, and even Samuel, wore ephods, 22:18; 2:18;

(d) Hannah offered an ephah of "meal" with three bulls, instead of three-tenths of an ephah of " fine flour " for each bull, 1:24;

(e) the Pentateuch provides for no drawing of water, and no burnt offering of a sucking lamb, such as are described in 1 Sam. 7: 6,9. But explanations of all such points may be readily found, provided we have evidence that the Pentateuchal system was known to the men of Samuel's time. That it was known, and was, to some extent, in use, the evidence cited, and to be cited in this study, seems to show; that it was in full and general use is a different proposition, and one that can hardly be maintained.


1. Pre-Davidic Writings. That certain sacred writings were produced in the times of Moses and Joshua, and under their influence, is asserted in very many passages in the first six books of the Bible, in the New Testament, and in most of the Old Testament books. The passages may be found by the help of a concordance, under the words "book," "write," " Moses," "Joshua," "law," etc. That David and Solomon had well-known sacred writings of Moses is affirmed in 1 Kgs. 2:3; 1 Chron. 22:12; 16:40. If these statements are historical, it follows that these writings existed in the times before David.

2. Passages in Samuel which presuppose such Writings. In accordance with this, several passages in 1 Samuel are naturally understood as presupposing such writings; though the writings are not often mentioned, and there is no evidence that they were either very widely known, or very influential.

(1) Ch. 10:25; Samuel wrote "the manner of the kingdom " in "the book" (not "a book"), and laid it up before the Lord,8 apparently doing with it as Moses had previously done with " the book of the law," Deut. 31:11, 9,26. The idea that the book in which Samuel wrote was the public copy of the book of the law, to which he now added, as Joshua before him had done, Josh. 24:26, is rejected by many; but can any more probable view of the case be offered ? Certainly, Samuel and Israel were distinctly conscious of the idea of divine law, as revealed through prophets, 12:23.9

(2) Ch. 8:3,5,20, the elders, in seeking a king, and Samuel, in dealing with them, cite, both for substance and verbally, the regulations now found in Deuteronomy, cf. Deut. 16:19; 17:14,15.

(3) The men of those times show familiarity with many of the historical facts now narrated in the Hexateuch, 4:8; 6:6; 12:6,8, etc.

(4) We have already found (see above) a large number of instances in which the religious practices mentioned in 1 Samuel correspond to those required in the Pentateuch.

3. Conclusion. On the whole, one might not be able to prove from 1 Samuel alone that the men of those times had sacred writings, containing largely or wholly the contents of our first six biblical books; but one finds here much evidence to confirm the proof of this, as drawn from other sources.  



1) If one should add to this list, by the aid of a concordance, all passages in the Bible that speak of Moses as a prophet, and in the books before Samuel, all passages that contain the expressions, prophesy, prophet, man of God, word of the Lord, appeared, vision, he would thus have a full account of the early history of prophecy.

2) The "also" in 19:24 does not necessarily indicate that the others, as well as Saul, prophesied distractedly.

3) The date in 1:20 is in the Hebrew " at the circuit of the year." The expression is used with variations in 2 Chron. 24:23; Ps. 19:6; Ex. 34:22. In the last instance, and therefore probably in the others, it describes the time of the feast of the tabernacles, nearly at the autumnal equinox. This probably identifies the Shiloh festival. Whether other annual festivals were also observed there, the narrative does not say.—W. J. B.

4) The statement is often made that, during this period, the ark was "in seclusion," and there was no sanctuary. That there was no sanctuary fully equipped for purposes of national worship is true; but the bare assertion that there was no sanctuary contradicts, verbally, at least, the statements made concerning Nob in 1 Samuel and in the gospels.

The ark was in the custody of the men of Kirjath-jearim, either in a hill (Heb. Gibeah) near that place, or perhaps in Gibeah, the city of Saul, 7:1. It was not wholly withdrawn from the control of the priestly family of Eli, and it was possible for men to inquire of Jehovah by it, 14:18.

When the ark was in the tabernacle, its vicinity is described by the phrase "before Jehovah," used technically for that purpose. The same phrase may supposably be still applicable to the vicinity of the ark when lawfully removed from the tabernacle; or may be applicable to the sanctuary, even when the ark is not there. It is actually used in connection with Mizpah, Gilgal and Nob (see references above), and is not elsewhere used in this way in 1 Samuel. Each of these places was, in turn, the seat of Jehovah's special presence with Israel, and in that sense, at least, the national sanctuary. If Samuel laid up "the manner of the kingdom" before the Lord at Mizpah, 10:25, that writing was doubtless removed from there when the other belongings of the sanctuary were removed.

These facts show that there is no contradiction between such passages as Ps. 78: 60,67,68; Jer. 7:12; 26:6, which represent Shiloh as the only permanent sanctuary before Jerusalem, and such passages as 2 Sam. 7: 6,7; 1 Chron.17:5,6,etc., which represent the Divine Presence, in this period, as wandering from place to place. That this wandering either of the sanctuary itself or of the ark from the sanctuary, was to cease with the building of the temple, is emphasized in such passages as 1 Chron. 23:25,26.

5) This by itself would not identify the ritual of Samuel's time with that of the Pentateuch. The Philistines also had an elaborate ritual, as is shown by the measures they took in connection with the return of the ark, 1 Sam. 6.

6) The word commonly translated meat-offering.

7) The word translated "kill," in these verses, is " sacrifice " in Hebrew.

8) No one can prove that what he wrote was the sections of 1 Samuel that contain our present account of the rise of the monarchy, but equally, no one can disprove this, and it is a plausible conjecture.

9) The verb here translated "teach " is from the same stem with the noun torah, law, and is strictly cognate With it in meaning. If torah be translated law, the verb describes the bringing of law from Jehovah.