Imitate Their Faith

He Endured Despite Disappointments

SAMUEL could feel the grief in Shiloh. It almost seemed that the town was awash in tears. From how many houses did the cries of women and children emanate, the sounds of mourning over the news about fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers who would not be coming home? We know only that Israel had lost some 30,000 soldiers in a terrible defeat at the hands of the Philistines not long after the loss of 4,000 in another battle.​—1 Samuel 4:1, 2, 10.

That was just part of a string of tragedies. High Priest Eli had two wicked sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who had marched out of Shiloh with the sacred ark of the covenant. Usually housed in the holy compartment of the tabernacle​—a tentlike temple—​this precious chest was a symbol of God’s presence. The people then took the Ark into battle, foolishly thinking that it would act like a charm and give them victory. But the Philistines captured the Ark, killing Hophni and Phinehas.​—1 Samuel 4:3-11.

The tabernacle in Shiloh had been honored with the presence of the Ark for centuries. Now it was gone. Upon hearing this news, 98-year-old Eli fell backward from his chair and died. His daughter-in-law, widowed that very day, died in childbirth. Before expiring, she said: “Glory has gone away from Israel into exile.” Indeed, Shiloh would never be the same.​—1 Samuel 4:12-22.

How would Samuel cope with these profound disappointments? Would his faith stand up to the challenge of helping a people who had lost Jehovah’s protection and favor? All of us today may, at times, face hardships and disappointments that challenge our faith, so let us see what we can learn from Samuel.

He “Effected Righteousness”

The Bible record turns away from Samuel at this point and follows the sacred Ark, showing us how the Philistines suffered for taking it and were forced to return it. When we come upon Samuel again, some 20 years have passed. (1 Samuel 7:2) How was he occupied during those years? We need not guess.

We learn that before this period began, “the word of Samuel continued to come to all Israel.” (1 Samuel 4:1) The record reveals that after the period was over, Samuel made a custom of visiting three cities in Israel, making a circuit each year, handling disputes and resolving questions. Then he would return to his hometown of Ramah. (1 Samuel 7:15-17) Clearly, Samuel always kept busy, and during that 20-year interval, he had much to do.

The immorality and corruption of Eli’s sons had eroded people’s faith. Many, it seems, turned to idolatry as a result. After two decades of hard work, though, Samuel delivered this message to the people: “If it is with all your heart you are returning to Jehovah, put away the foreign gods from your midst and also the Ashtoreth images, and direct your heart unswervingly to Jehovah and  serve him alone, and he will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.”​—1 Samuel 7:3.

“The hand of the Philistines” had grown heavy on the people. With Israel’s army effectively smashed, the Philistines felt free to oppress God’s people with impunity. But Samuel assured the people that things would change if only they returned to Jehovah. Were they willing? To Samuel’s delight, they put away their idols and “began serving Jehovah alone.” Samuel convened an assembly at Mizpah, a town in the mountainous country north of Jerusalem. The people gathered, fasted, and repented for their many sins of idolatry.​—1 Samuel 7:4-6.

However, the Philistines learned of this great gathering and saw an opportunity. They sent their army to Mizpah to crush those worshippers of Jehovah. The Israelites heard news of the approaching danger. Terrified, they asked Samuel to pray for them. He did so, offering a sacrifice as well. During that sacred ceremony, the Philistine army came up against Mizpah. Jehovah then answered Samuel’s prayer. In effect, Jehovah let out a roar of indignation. He “caused it to thunder with a loud noise on that day against the Philistines.”​—1 Samuel 7:7-10.

Now, should we imagine that those Philistines were like little children who scurry in fear to hide behind their mommies when they hear a thunderclap? No, these were tough, battle-hardened soldiers. This thunder, then, must have been unlike anything they knew. Was it the sheer volume of this “loud noise”? Did it come out of a clear blue sky, or did it echo bafflingly from the hillsides? At any rate, it shook those Philistines to the core. In utter confusion, they changed quickly from bullies to targets. The men of Israel poured forth from Mizpah, defeated them, and chased them for miles, down southwest of Jerusalem.​—1 Samuel 7:11.

That battle was a turning point. The Philistines kept retreating during the rest of Samuel’s days as judge. City after city returned to the control of God’s people.​—1 Samuel 7:13, 14.

Many centuries later, the apostle Paul listed Samuel among the faithful judges and prophets who “effected righteousness.” (Hebrews 11:32, 33) Samuel did indeed help to bring about what was good and right in God’s eyes. He remained effective because he waited patiently on Jehovah, faithfully keeping at his work in spite of disappointments. He also showed an appreciative spirit. After the victory at Mizpah, Samuel had a monument erected to commemorate the way that Jehovah had helped his people.​—1 Samuel 7:12.

Do you want to ‘effect righteousness’ yourself? If so, you do well to learn from Samuel’s patience and his humble, appreciative spirit. Who of us does not need those qualities? It was good for Samuel to acquire and display such traits when relatively young,  for he faced deeper disappointments in his later years.

“Your Own Sons Have Not Walked in Your Ways”

The next time we see Samuel, he “had grown old.” Samuel had two adult sons by this time, Joel and Abijah, and he entrusted them with the responsibility of helping him in the work of judging. Sadly, though, his trust was misplaced. Honest and righteous though Samuel was, his sons used their positions for selfish ends, perverting justice and taking bribes.​—1 Samuel 8:1-3.

One day, the older men of Israel approached the elderly prophet to complain. “Your own sons have not walked in your ways,” they said. (1 Samuel 8:4, 5) Was Samuel aware of the problem? The account does not say. Unlike Eli, however, Samuel was surely not a reprehensible father. Jehovah had rebuked and punished Eli for failing to correct his sons’ wickedness, for honoring his sons more than God. (1 Samuel 2:27-29) Jehovah never found such fault with Samuel.

The account does not reveal Samuel’s agonizing shame, anxiety, or disappointment once he learned of his sons’ wicked conduct. Many parents, however, can imagine his feelings only too well. In today’s dark times, rebellion against parental authority and discipline is pandemic. (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Parents who are dealing with that kind of pain may find a measure of comfort and guidance in Samuel’s example. He did not let his sons’ faithless ways alter his own course one bit. Remember, even after words and discipline fail to reach hardened hearts, parental example remains a powerful teacher. And parents always have the opportunity to make their own Father, Jehovah God, proud​—as did Samuel.

“Do Appoint for Us a King”

Samuel’s sons could not have imagined how far the effects of their greed and selfishness would reach. The older men of Israel went on to say to Samuel: “Now do appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” Did that demand feel like a rejection to Samuel?  After all, he had been judging those people on Jehovah’s behalf for decades. Now they wanted, not some mere prophet like Samuel, but a king to be their judge. The nations round about had kings, and the Israelites wanted one too! How did Samuel react? “The thing was bad” in his eyes, we read.​—1 Samuel 8:5, 6.

Note how Jehovah responded when Samuel took the matter to him in prayer: “Listen to the voice of the people as respects all that they say to you; for it is not you whom they have rejected, but it is I whom they have rejected from being king over them.” How comforting for Samuel, yet how awful an insult those people had flung at Almighty God! Jehovah told his prophet to warn the Israelites of the high price they would pay for having a human king. When Samuel complied, they insisted: “No, but a king is what will come to be over us.” Ever obedient to his God, Samuel went and anointed the king whom Jehovah chose.​—1 Samuel 8:7-19.

How, though, did Samuel obey? In a resentful, perfunctory way? Did he allow disappointment to poison his heart, letting bitterness take root? Many a man might respond that way in such a situation, but not Samuel. He anointed Saul and acknowledged that the man was Jehovah’s own choice. He kissed Saul, a sign of welcome and submission to the new king. And he said to the people: “Have you seen the one whom Jehovah has chosen, that there is none like him among all the people?”​—1 Samuel 10:1, 24.

Samuel focused, not on faults, but on the good in the man Jehovah had chosen. As to himself, he focused on his own record of integrity to God rather than on the approval of fickle people. (1 Samuel 12:1-4) He also worked faithfully at his own assignment, counseling God’s people about the spiritual dangers they faced and encouraging them to remain faithful to Jehovah. His counsel reached their hearts, and the people begged Samuel to pray in their behalf. He gave them this beautiful reply: “It is unthinkable, on my part, to sin against Jehovah by ceasing to pray in your behalf; and I must instruct you in the good and right way.”​—1 Samuel 12:21-24.

Have you ever felt disappointed when someone else was chosen for a certain position or privilege? Samuel’s example is a powerful reminder that we must never let jealousy or bitterness take root in our heart. God has plenty of rewarding, fulfilling work for each of his faithful servants.

“For How Long Will You Be Mourning for Saul?”

Samuel was right to see good in Saul; this was a remarkable man. Tall and impressive in appearance, he was courageous and resourceful yet initially modest and unassuming. (1 Samuel 10:22, 23, 27) In addition to such gifts, he had a precious one​—free will, the ability to choose his life course and make his own decisions. (Deuteronomy 30:19) Did he use that gift well?

Sadly, when a man basks in the warm glow of newly acquired power, modesty is often the first quality to melt away. Before long, Saul began to turn arrogant. He chose to disobey Jehovah’s orders that Samuel transmitted to him. Once, Saul grew impatient and offered up a sacrifice that only Samuel could rightfully offer. Samuel had to give him strong correction and foretold that the kingship would not remain in Saul’s family. Instead of being chastened by the discipline, Saul went on to commit worse acts of disobedience.​—1 Samuel 13:8, 9, 13, 14.

Through Samuel, Jehovah told Saul to wage war against the Amalekites. Jehovah’s instructions included an order to execute their wicked king, Agag. However, Saul  spared Agag as well as the best of the spoil that was to be destroyed. When Samuel came to correct him, Saul revealed how much he had changed. Instead of modestly accepting correction, he rationalized, excused himself, justified his actions, sidestepped the issue, and tried to shift the blame to the people. When Saul tried to deflect the discipline by claiming that some of the spoil was intended for a sacrifice to Jehovah, Samuel uttered the famous words: “Look! To obey is better than a sacrifice.” Courageously, Samuel rebuked the man and revealed Jehovah’s decision: The kingship would be ripped away from Saul and given to another​—a better man.​—1 Samuel 15:1-33.

Samuel was deeply upset over Saul’s failings. He spent the night crying out to Jehovah about the matter. He even went into mourning for the man. Samuel had seen so much potential in Saul, so much good, and now his hopes were shattered. The man he once knew had changed​—he had lost his best qualities and turned against Jehovah. Samuel refused to see Saul ever again. In time, though, Jehovah offered Samuel this gentle reproof: “For how long will you be mourning for Saul, while I, on the other hand, have rejected him from ruling as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and go. I shall send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, because I have provided among his sons a king for myself.”​—1 Samuel 15:34, 35; 16:1.

Jehovah’s purpose does not depend on the wavering loyalties of imperfect humans. If one man turns unfaithful, Jehovah will find another to carry out His will. So aged Samuel let go of his grief over Saul. At Jehovah’s direction, Samuel went to the home of Jesse in Bethlehem, where he met a number of impressive-looking sons. Yet, from the first, Jehovah reminded Samuel: “Do not look at his appearance and at the height of his stature . . . For not the way man sees is the way God sees, because mere man sees what appears to the eyes; but as for Jehovah, he sees what the heart is.” (1 Samuel 16:7) Finally, Samuel met the youngest son, and here was Jehovah’s choice​—David!

In his final years, Samuel got to see ever more clearly the rightness of Jehovah’s decision to replace Saul with David. Saul descended into murderous jealousy and apostasy. David, however, showed beautiful qualities​—courage, integrity, faith, and loyalty. As Samuel’s life drew to a close, his faith grew ever stronger. He saw that no disappointment is too great for Jehovah to heal, to resolve, or even to turn into a blessing. Finally, Samuel died, leaving behind the record of a remarkable life that spanned the better part of a century. All Israel mourned the loss of that faithful man​—and no wonder! To this day, servants of Jehovah do well to ask, ‘Will I imitate the faith of Samuel?’

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How could Samuel help his people cope with terrible loss and disappointment?

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How did Samuel cope with the disappointment of having sons who went bad?