Religious and political confusion had reigned throughout Israel for many generations. The Israelites experienced continual harassment from their surrounding enemies, society as a whole was wicked and amoral, and there was corruption even among the priesthood. This was a prime setting into which God intentionally placed Samuel. But his service to God came at a great price.
The birth of Samuel brought great joy to his mother because she had been barren. When God granted Hannah a baby -- the deepest desire of her heart -- she made good on a vow to give Samuel as a weaned child to Eli the priest for service in the temple of the Lord. God looked on Hannah with favor for her selfless sacrifice, and blessed her with five more children. God also watched over Samuel as he grew to be a righteous and obedient man with a desire to see God's will fulfilled.
Unfortunately, Eli was a poor example of leadership for Samuel. He neglected to confront and discipline his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, both malicious men serving as priests in the temple. As a result of their wickedness, both Eli and his two sons died on the same day, when the Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines. But it served a valuable lesson for Samuel. The corruption of Eli's sons was an example to Samuel of the need for righteousness among the leadership of Israel. It was something he never wavered from during the entire reign of King Saul.
God never intended for Israel to have an earthly king. He had rescued them from their bondage in Egypt so that they would not have to be subject to the rule of man, but rather be protected and guided by the rule of God Himself. But from the beginning the Israelites were rebellious. With many of the Canaanite people still living in the Promised Land, the Israelites were easily influenced by their pagan practices. As if idol worship and sexual promiscuity were not enough, the Israelites wanted to be like the Canaanites in deed and appearance. They wanted a king so they begged the prophet Samuel to give them one.
Reluctantly, and under the guidance of the Lord, Samuel anointed Saul the first king of Israel. Saul was tall, handsome and charming, but his glory did not last long. Shortly after he took the throne, Saul made several detrimental mistakes that cost him his kingdom, and eventually his life and the life of his son.
Because of Saul's pride and disobedience, Samuel became sorry that he anointed Saul as king, and God shared his disappointment. God then directed Samuel to anoint a king of His choosing: David, the son of Jesse and grandson of Boaz and Ruth.
Though men judge a man by his outward appearance, God looks at the heart. On the outside, Saul may have appeared to fit the role of a king, but David was the one who truly would lead Israel to God. Saul knew that David was God's chosen one, and it caused him great jealousy. In the final years before his death, Saul gradually lost his sanity and fell deeper into sin. He spent nearly seven years attempting to capture and kill David. Yet David, because of his personal integrity and his loyalty to the king, spared Saul's life despite several opportunities to kill him. In the end, Saul died a lonely, unhappy man with nothing to show for his years as king, though he ruled over Israel 40 years.
Samuel never received praise from man for his righteousness, nor did he falter because of it. Rather, he chose to speak against the foolishness of a rebellious king in order to protect the spiritual welfare of a nation. In doing so, he preserved the kingdom, keeping it intact for the next king who would be both a shepherd and a warrior for the people of Israel. This is where the book of Second Samuel begins.