Rorate Caeli

Saints of the Old Testament: Samuel, prophet

Almost a year ago, this series on the Old Testament saints began with reflections on the commemorations of Sts. Josue (Joshua), Gedeon (Gideon), and Anna. Today, on the 11th Sunday After Pentecost and the feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux according to the traditional calendar of the Roman Church, we now come to the conclusion of this yearly cycle with reflections upon a final Old Testament saint who is commemorated in the traditional Roman Martyrology:

This Day, the Twentieth Day of August

In the territory of Langres, the demise of St. Bernard, first abbot of Clairvaux, illustrious for virtues, learning, and miracles. He was declared Doctor of the universal Church by the Sovereign Pontiff, Pius VIII. 

In Judea, the holy prophet Samuel, whose sacred relics (as is related by St. Jerome), were taken to Constantinople by the emperor Arcadius, and deposited near Septimus.

The prophet St. Samuel anoints David, eighth son of Jesse, as King of Israel

Born of a priestly family that lived in Mount Ephraim, St. Samuel (Hebrew Shemu'el, "Asked of God") not only was a Levitical priest, but also was a ruling judge and a prophet (often known as "Samuel the Seer"). He lived at the town of Ramah or Ramatha (Arimathaea). So great a prophet was Samuel that the Lord even allowed his soul to prophesy to disobedient King Saul from the Limbo of the Fathers (I Kings 28). Samuel's Levitical genealogy is presented in I Kings 1:1 and I Para. 6:16, 18, 22-28, 33-38, tracing his patrilineage back to the infamous Core son of Isaar (Korah son of Izhar) of the Tribe of Levi. But whereas Core helped lead a rebellion against his cousins Moses and Aaron and was sentenced to eternal torments in hell (Num. 16:1-33), his descendant St. Samuel in contrast faithfully governed and guided the Israelites and attained heavenly glory, as it were making up for his ancestor's sin and removing the shame from his family. Jewish and Christian tradition holds that St. Samuel was the author of most of the first book of Kings (also called I Samuel) and perhaps author of the book of Judges as well.

The holy prophet Samuel was a pivotal figure in the history of God's Chosen People, for he was the last of the Judges and personally anointed Israel's first king Saul around the year 1050 B.C. and Israel's third king David around the year 1030 B.C. These anointings were of the greatest importance in the unfolding of God's plan of salvation for the human race, because the establishment of Israel as a kingdom with the anointing of King Saul ensured that the promised Messiah (Hebrew mashiach, "anointed one") would be a king, and the anointing of King David settled the Messianic hope upon the House of David. Thus, God who had successively chosen the families of Seth, Noah, Sem, Abraham, and Judas as the vessels bearing Messianic salvation to mankind now indicated through His prophet St. Samuel that the Messiah would be the Son of David. The Jewish sage Jesus Ben-Sirach commemorated the greatness of St. Samuel in these verses from Ecclesiasticus 46:16-23 --

"Samuel the prophet of the Lord, the beloved of the Lord his God, established a new government, and anointed princes over his people. By the law of the Lord he judged the congregation, and the God of Jacob beheld, and by his fidelity he was proved a prophet. And he was known to be faithful in his words, because he saw the God of light: And called upon the name of the Lord Almighty, in fighting against the enemies who beset him on every side, when he offered a lamb without blemish. And the Lord thundered from heaven, and with a great noise made his voice to be heard. And he crushed the princes of the Tyrians, and all the lords of the Philistines: And before the time of the end of his life in the world, he protested before the Lord, and his anointed: money, or any thing else, even to a shoe, he had not taken of any man, and no man did accuse him. And after this he slept, and he made known to the king, and shewed him the end of his life, and he lifted up his voice from the earth in prophecy to blot out the wickedness of the nation."

As the divine instrument through which Israel's governmental polity transitioned from tribal judgeship to divinely-anointed hereditary kingship, St. Samuel was himself a type of the Messiah Jesus, through whom Israel moved on from the Old Covenant Law of Moses to the New Covenant Law of Christ. Christ's dual dignities of King of kings and eternal High Priest were also foreshadowed by St. Samuel's dual functions as governing judge and propitiating priest.  The circumstances of Samuel's conception and birth also presage in some way the miraculous conceptions and births of both St. John the Baptist and Our Lord, and so it is fitting that Our Lady's Magnificat would consciously echo the song of praise that St. Samuel's mother Anna sang in thanksgiving that God had at last blessed her with a child (I Kings 2:1-10), in which Anna was inspired to utter a prophecy of the coming royal Messiah. But in Samuel's youth God also reaffirmed that priesthood would be perfected in the Messiah, sending the man of God to the unworthy High Priest Heli to announce:

"I will raise me up a faithful priest, who shall do according to my heart, and my soul; and I will build him a faithful house; and it shall walk all days before my anointed." (I Kings 2:35)

God fulfilled this prophecy by sending His only-begotten Son to earth, and through Him establishing the Holy Catholic Church. Though so many of our priests and bishops today fall grievously and shamefully short of the prophecy of the faithful priest (from which we pray the Lord deliver us!), we know that even now the Church Triumphant and the godly members of the Church Militant are a faithful house, walking all days before God's Messiah.

Let us then conclude this cycle of Old Testament saints by again recalling the words of St. Paul's epistle to the Hebrews on the Old Testament heroes of faith:

"And what shall I yet say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, Barac, Samson, Jephthe, David, Samuel, and the prophets: Who by faith conquered kingdoms, wrought justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, recovered strength from weakness, became valiant in battle, put to flight the armies of foreigners: Women received their dead raised to life again. But others were racked, not accepting deliverance, that they might find a better resurrection. And others had trial of mockeries and stripes, moreover also of bands and prisons. They were stoned, they were cut asunder, they were tempted, they were put to death by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being in want, distressed, afflicted: Of whom the world was not worthy; wandering in deserts, in mountains, and in dens, and in caves of the earth. And all these being approved by the testimony of faith, received not the promise; God providing some better thing for us, that they should not be perfected without us." (Heb. 11:32-40)

All ye holy patriarchs and prophets,

Pray for us!