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Thinking about the life of Samuel, you can see that in some ways lived like a priest on top of being a prophet, despite being from the half-tribe of Ephraim.

One, he was brought up in the temple by Eli and thus lived out his life in priestly service together with the sons of Eli.

Two, he performed some duties that were traditionally assumed to be for priests. For example, by appointing leaders and offering sacrifices. In Numbers 27, it is Eleazar the high priest who commissioned Joshua. However, it was Samuel who anointed both Saul and David. In regards to offerings, in 1 Samuel 13 we see Saul waiting for Samuel to offer the burnt offering and peace offering. According to Leviticus 1, priests and the offerer were the only ones involved in making the sacrifice.

So in regards to this info, did Samuel act as a priest?

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Pay close attention to the words and what they are referring to here:

1 Samuel 1:1

There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite.

Samuel, and even his father, were not Ephrathites, for Ephrathites were generally Judahites. Zuph was the Ephrathite. Samuel is neither Ephrathite nor Ephraimite, though he did live in the hill country of Ephraim.

Samuel was a Levite.

1 Chronicles 6:27,28

27 Eliab his son, Jeroham his son, Elkanah his son. 28 The sons of Samuel: Joel his firstborn, the second Abijah

Being a Levite explains why he was in Ephraim since the Levites lived throughout Israel. Also, if we read further back in Samuel's heritage we see he is a Kohathite. Which ties it all together:

Joshua 21:5

5 And the rest of the Kohathites received by lot from the clans of the tribe of Ephraim, from the tribe of Dan and the half-tribe of Manasseh, ten cities.

So we see that Samuel is a Kohathite, of the tribe of Levi, living in a Levite city in the hill country of Ephraim.

But what is an Ephrathite?

Caleb, of the tribe of Judah, had a son who apparently settled Ephratha.

1 Chronicles 2:50

50 These were the descendants of Caleb. The sonsfn of Hur the firstborn of Ephrathah: Shobal the father of Kiriath-jearim,

Ephratha is also synonymous with Bethlehem, though it is usually used more in the sense of the region around Bethlehem.

Micah 5:2

2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah

It is probably in this sense that Zuph was an Ephrathite, that is, he simply lived in that region. Like one who lives in New York is a New Yorker even if they are African American or Italian.

So was Samuel a priest?

Absolutely yes, or at least, he could have been. He was to be a priest first, trained by Eli. But when God spoke to him and delivered a prophecy against Eli and his family, then Samuel became a prophet.

He could not be the high priest at the Tabernacle or the Ark of the Covenant, which was at Shiloh, since he was not of Aaronic lineage, but he could be a lesser priest.

However, the Ark was taken at the same time that Eli and his sons died and when it was returned it was put under the control of the descendants of Eleazar. So Samuel never was put in that role.

It is possible he was seen as adopted by Eli. This, combined with his Levite heritage, would have settled any questions regarding offering sacrifices.

Samuel took the role of Judge after the return of the Ark as well. So while he was qualified to sacrifice and was given prophecies at times, his other role was as a Judge.

1 Samuel 7:17

17 Then he would return to Ramah, for his home was there, and there also he judged Israel. And he built there an altar to the LORD.

Ramah is in the hill country of Ephraim.

There are many cases of non-priests making sacrifices and offerings on altars. They are usually at least prophets, such as Elijah, or Judges, such as Gideon. But some are neither, such as Samson's parents, though they did it at the behest of an angel.

The rules for only Aaronic priests were specific to the Sanctuary and the Ark

Numbers 18:1,2

1 So the LORD said to Aaron, “You and your sons and your father’s house with you shall bear iniquity connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear iniquity connected with your priesthood.

2 And with you bring your brothers also, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, that they may join you and minister to you while you and your sons with you are before the tent of the testimony.

This chart and the site it is from has a lot of great info on the Levites:

Levite chart http://www.bible.ca/archeology/archeology-exodus-route-sinai-levitical-priesthood-levi-gershomites-kohathites-merarites-aaronic-zadok-asaph-heman-ethan-abiathar-eli-sadducees-annas-caiaphas-ananias.jpg

  • I have posted this to the New Answers to Old Questions chatroom to make sure it is not overlooked. Feel free to post your won answers there in the future if you like. – ThaddeusB Jan 27 '16 at 15:35
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    Quite a comprehensive answer @joshua-bigbee Thank you. +1 for the chart. Didnt know Jeroboam was a descendant of Moses. – Magondu Jan 28 '16 at 9:14
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    @Magondu Again, read the scriptures carefully. There are many Jeroboams in the Old Testament. There's another one in Samuel's family and there's a few kings by that name. And that's just off the top of my head. Jeroboam might as well be the OT "John" :) So I don't know which Jeroboam you had in mind just then. Also please reconsider your selected answer. Not saying you have to pick mine, but the current selected answer is based on an incorrect premise and I hate to see it mislead anyone. – Joshua Jan 28 '16 at 12:53
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    Interesting Samuel was a priest, prophet, judge. But not a king. Christ is all four. – SLM Feb 28 '18 at 20:38
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Yes, Samuel took over as high priest of the Shiloh sanctuary after the previous high priest Eli and his two sons Hophni and Phineas all died on the same day (1 Samuel 4:11-18), even though his father was an Ephraimite (1:1). One example of his priestly activities is described in 7:5-10.

How could this be since he wasn't a descendant of Aaron? The most obvious answer is that he was adopted by Eli as his son, and so became part of the priestly line that way.

And bear in mind that Samuel was an unusual individual in his own right:

  1. He had a miraculous birth (1:19-20);
  2. He was dedicated to the LORD's service before birth (1:22-28), i.e., he was not "redeemed" from the LORD (e.g., Exodus 13:13), making him a 'de facto' priest all his life;
  3. After death, he was described, in an unusual turn of phrase, as "a god" coming up from the earth, by the witch of Endor, implying his extraordinary nature (1 Samuel 28:13) (only Moses [Exodus 7:1], the Davidic king [Psalm 45:6], and great judges/rulers [Exodus 21:6, 22:7-8; Psalm 82:1, 6] have elsewhere been described in the Bible as 'gods').

Given this, all it is more understandable that he be one of the few (only?) non-Levite people to be accepted into the priesthood.

P.S. - it was the half-tribe of Manasseh, not Ephraim.

  • Thanks @Meir-d for the answer. However for me it raises even more questions 1. Is there any evidence that Samuel was from Mannaseh in the bible? It does state that His father was an ephrimite and I learnt from this link It does show that He is recorded as a Levite in 1 Chronicles 6 2. The reference 1 Samuel 4 doesnt show who took over from Eli. Just that he and his sons died. Is there any other evidence he took over? Thanks – Magondu Aug 6 '15 at 7:46
  • hi @Magondu, I am not aware of any evidence anywhere that Samuel was associated with the tribe of Mannaseh. Besides his reference as a Levite in 1 Chronicles that you've cited, there is no direct statement in the Bible that Samuel took over from Eli as high priest, it can only be inferred from the text of 1 Samuel itself - i.e., the priestly lineage disappears after Eli, and only Samuel remains to make sacrifices on behalf of the people and provide national leadership. Nobody else is ever mentioned, implying that there were no other priests available to take over besides Samuel. – Meir Illumination Aug 8 '15 at 21:07
  • Hi @Meir-illumination I think I am lost. Maybe we can move to chat. You did say P.S. - it was the half-tribe of Manasseh, not Ephraim. in your answer. Could you please point me to the source of that info? Also in regards to Samuel, taking over, I think you are correct. However it is also possible the bible does not mention who. Actually we are told Samuel had his sons act as Judges in Israel – Magondu Aug 10 '15 at 6:57
  • @Magondu, happy to go to chat. To conclude, I'll just say: 1) Manasseh was split in territory across the Jordan river, hence "half-tribe" (meaning the western half) (e.g. 1 Chronicles 27:20-22). Ephraim was completely on the western side, so no "half". 2) Yes you're right, it's possible that someone else became high priest instead and 1 Samuel just doesn't mention him. Though if so, that man appears to have been completely overshadowed by Samuel as priest and national leader. 3) A person can be a priest and a judge at the same time: the first role is hereditary, the second is a type of leader. – Meir Illumination Aug 10 '15 at 16:10
  • Samuel was a Levite. His grand or great grand father Zuph was an Ephrathite, as in from Ephrathah (area of Bethlehem) in Judah. The source you quote made this same mistake. It is not uncommon though it is sad to see a published source make it. Also Samuel May minister to the people with priestly duties, but he never is High Priest. The sanctuary is not at Shiloh after Eli's death and the capture of the Ark of the Covenant. Your answer has merit, but is unfortunately based on some incorrect premises. – Joshua Jan 28 '16 at 14:43
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1 Chronicles 6:16-30

Samuel was a Levite.

He just wasn't a descendant of Aaron but of Korah, so he could be a prophet and a judge because he was a levite. 1 Samuel is stating the territory where they lived. He obviously did priest-like roles but the Ark was taken the day Eli and his sons died. It didn't get returned until after Samuel died. There wasn't a need for high priest if the Ark wasn't there anyway.

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Samuel’s lineage is not the point. He became as an adopted son of Eli with all the priviledges Eli had. It was an era when all did as they seem fit. Although, the word adoption is not mentioned Samuel was lawfully Eli’s son as is implicated by his carrying of Ephod. Talmud is teaching about the adoption and here we have a beautiful story how all this happened to Samuel. Eli taught to Samuel the one and only job that he knew well which was the job of The High Priest. This is also in accordance with the jewish traditions. Furthermore, Eli’s decision of adoption was truly a blessed one as we see in this story.

  • Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. For more on what this site is all about, see: How we are different than other sites. Thanks for offering an answer here. Can you provide some references that support your statements? If so, it would greatly improve your answer. See: What makes a good supported answer? Meanwhile, I hope you'll browse some of the other questions and answers on this site. – Lee Woofenden Feb 28 '18 at 22:27
  • It might be helpful in your answer to reference the Jewish Talmud. Also, any references to the Jewish traditions would be great. – Marc Mar 1 '18 at 19:01
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Samuel was a descendant of Kohath, therefore a Koathite: the priestly order of the Levites.

1 Samuel 1:1

There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite

1 Chronicles 6:16-30

The sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath and Merari. These are the names of the sons of Gershon: Libni and Shimei. The sons of Kohath: Amram, Izhar, Hebron and Uzziel. The sons of Merari: Mahli and Mushi. These are the clans of the Levites listed according to their fathers: Of Gershon: Libni his son, Jahath his son, Zimmah his son, Joah his son, Iddo his son, Zerah his son and Jeatherai his son. The descendants of Kohath: Amminadab his son, Korah his son, Assir his son, Elkanah his son, Ebiasaph his son, Assir his son, Tahath his son, Uriel his son, Uzziah his son and Shaul his son. The descendants of Elkanah: Amasai, Ahimoth, Elkanah his son, Zophai his son, Nahath his son, Eliab his son, Jeroham his son, Elkanah his son and Samuel his son. The sons of Samuel: Joel the firstborn and Abijah the second son. The descendants of Merari: 
> Mahli, Libni his son, Shimei his son, Uzzah his son, 
> Shimea his son, Haggiah his son and Asaiah his son.

Both of the above verses are correct. Eli took Samuel into the temple as an apprentice (1 Sam. 2:11; 1 Sam. 3:1; cf. 1 Sam. 1:11, 27-28). Samuel later carried out the functions of the priesthood as only those belonging to the tribe of Levi could serve as assistants in the temple (Num. 8:5-26; 1 Chron. 23:28-32). Elkanah was from the tribe of Levi. Additionally, Elkanah lived in the mountains of Ephraim (1 Chron. 6:16-30, 33-37); the tribe of Levi was assigned to dwell in certain cities that were scattered throughout the tribes of Israel (Gen. 49:6-7; Num. 35:6).

So, "Ephraimite" refers to Elkanah's tribal descent, not his tribal ancestry.

  • I have tried to correct your punctuation, but am not sure that I guessed correctly. Your discourse under the quoted scripture needs a review to make sure. – KorvinStarmast Feb 9 at 14:43

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