Question:

How could Samuel offer a burnt offering when he was not a Levite?

Answer:

Samuel was a descendant of Levi, his lineage being traced in I Chronicles 6:33-38. Samuel was born in the territory of Ephriam, where his family had lived for several generations. "Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim Zophim, of the mountains of Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite" (I Samuel 1:1). Notice that this verse states he was from the hills of Ephraim and not the tribe of Ephraim. Though he was a Levite by tribe, he was called an Ephraimite because of where he grew up.

His mother was childless, and during a visit to the tabernacle, she made a vow. "O LORD of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head" (I Samuel 1:11).

The vow is particularly noteable because under the Old Law, first born children were considered dedicated to God. Before the Levites were picked to serve in the tabernacle and later in the temple, first born children were selected to serve. "Now behold, I Myself have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the children of Israel. Therefore the Levites shall be Mine, because all the firstborn are Mine. On the day that I struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified to Myself all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast. They shall be Mine: I am the LORD" (Numbers 3:12-13). Because of the replacement, God had the Israelites redeem (buy back) their first born. "Everything that first opens the womb of all flesh, which they bring to the LORD, whether man or beast, shall be yours; nevertheless the firstborn of man you shall surely redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem" (Numbers 18:15). However, a person was not allowed to reuse a redeemed item for another vow. If it was dedicated to God a second time, it whole belonged to God. All rights to the devoted person, animal, or thing is completely terminated. "Nevertheless no devoted offering that a man may devote to the LORD of all that he has, both man and beast, or the field of his possession, shall be sold or redeemed; every devoted offering is most holy to the LORD" (Leviticus 27:28).

Since Hannah devoted her first born to the Lord, but he was already devoted by God's law and was to be redeemed, Hannah was effectively giving up all rights to her son. He then became a possession of God. Normally only descendants of Aaron could be priests (Exodus 28:1; 29:9). But Samuel's dedication appears to have put him in a special status.

In addition, Samuel was a prophet of God and a judge. At the command of God, judges and prophets were told to making offerings at various times. For example, Gideon, of the tribe of Manasseh, was told to make an offering to God (Judges 6:25-26). Elijah, of the tribe of Gad, made an offering as well (I Kings 18:30-33). So while only priests, who are descendants of Aaron, typically offered sacrifices, God did command his judges and prophets at time to offer sacrifices as well.

Originally written 8/27/2005
Corrected: 11/18/2008