A Question I Was Asked:

Surely Samuel Was Not a Levite; How Then Could He Have Served the Lord?

The Questions:

I Samuel 2:18 says Samuel "was ministering before the LORD, as a boy wearing a linen ephod."
1. What does this mean? What was he actually doing?
Since his father was from Ephraim,
2. didn't this prevent him from being a priest?
3. Or was he a special case due to Hannah's vow?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Let us look at this:

This sin of the young men [Eli's sons] was very great in the Lord's sight, for they were treating the Lord's offering with contempt. But Samuel was ministering before the Lord - a boy wearing a linen ephod. Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice. Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, "May the Lord give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the Lord." Then they would go home. (1 Samuel 2:17-20; my bracketed insert).

The setting here is that the sons of Eli the priest were sinful which, in due course, they were punished for. In contrast, the boy Samuel, son of the faithful Hannah, had an eagerness to serve the Lord even from a young age.

If a non-Levite, since Samuel had been freely dedicated to the Lord, he could have still have fulfilled several non-priestly roles in the service of the Lord, short of ministering within the Levitical priesthood system, the office of Prophet, for example (if called to that role), would still be open to him (an office which he later fulfilled). However, a little research shows that actually Samuel was indeed of the Levite line.

Samuel was a descendant of the arch-rebel Korah, and this shows us the power of repentance. Korah himself did not repent, but his children repented in time to save themselves from the horrible death that befell their father and his followers. "And the sons of Korah did not die." They merited that the great Prophet Samuel should be one of their descendants. The children of Korah were also outstanding singers and poets among the Levites. They are the authors of a number of Psalms which have remained for ever with the Jewish people, along with those of Moses and King David, and the others who all together have given us the Book of Psalms.

Ronald F. Youngblood's expert analysis of 1 Samuel 1 states that, "The Chronicles genealogies identify Samuel as a member of the Kohathite branch of the tribe of Levi and an ancestor of tabernacle and temple musicians (1 Chronicles 6:16, 22, 31-33). The reference to Samuel's father as an Ephraimite, then, relates to the territory where he lived rather than to his tribal origin."

The ephod was a shoulder-dress, no doubt resembling the high priest's in shape (look at Exodus 28:6), but altogether different in the material of which it was made, a simple white cloth, like the other articles of clothing that were worn by the priests. At that time, according to 1 Samuel 22:18, all the priests wore clothing of this kind; and, according to 2 Samuel 6:14, David did the same on the occasion of a religious festival. Samuel received a dress of this kind even when a boy, because he was set apart to a lifelong service before the Lord. Even as a boy, Samuel encouraged obedience to the Lord, in direct contrast to Eli's rebellious sons.

We have shown here that Samuel was indeed related to the priestly line but, should he not have been so, without question he would still have served God and there are many ways in which he could have done so.

Robin A. Brace. May 27th, 2012.