failure of sons in the book of samuel

The Failure of Sons in the Book of Samuel

At the end of 1 Samuel 7 we see a summary of Samuel’s ministry (1 Samuel 7:13–17). He has judged Israel for years, he has subdued the Philistines, and he has even led the nation in a victory at Ebenezer.

Yet when we get to 1 Samuel 8, we see that his sons are duds. At the beginning of 1 Samuel 8, we are transported into the future: Samuel is advanced in age and he sets up his two sons to serve in his place. Yet these two sons prove to be clones of Eli’s sons:

But his [Samuel’s] sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice. (8:3 NIV)

Instead of following in the footsteps of their famous father, they follow the path of Eli’s sons. These men cannot provide leadership to Israel; you can’t have a judge who perverts justice!

This should not surprise the reader of the Old Testament—several times in the text the sons of great leaders follow a path of dishonesty and corruption. The failure of Eli’s sons lead to the emergence of Samuel. The grandson of Moses set up idols in Dan. Joshua and all the judges were all one-time leaders; there was never a passing of leadership by generations in a family.

In 1 Samuel 8, the people react to Samuel’s sons by crying out for a king. Much is made of them desiring a king to be like other nations, but there is probably an additional desire for stability in leadership. With a dynasty, Israel would always know who their leader would be, instead of waiting for one to arrive.

Yet these future dynasties found Samuel don’t fare much better. Saul and his sons die the same day on Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31). David’s lineage is a great mess in 2 Samuel, filled with incest (2 Samuel 13:1–22), infighting (2 Samuel 13:23–39), and an attempted military coup by the heir apparent (2 Samuel 15).


Family lineage does not fare well in the book of Samuel. Sons fail to live up to the reputation and faithfulness of their fathers. In the book of Samuel, we see several times in which the nation cannot put her trust in these sons.

But there is a glimmer of hope: in 2 Samuel 7, a son is promised to David. This son will be taught by God, will be like a son to God, and will reign forever. This son will succeed where all other sons have failed. He will be the true king and true son—the Lord’s chosen one (Messiah).

Brandon Schmidt

I am Brandon Schmidt: writer, husband, father, brother, reader, and laugher.

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