🔼The name Samuel: Summary
- Name Of God
- Heard Of God
- From (1) the noun שם (shem), name or renown, and (2) the word אל ('el), God.
- From (1) the verb שמע (shama'), to hear, and (2) the word אל ('el), God.
🔼The name Samuel in the Bible
The name Samuel is applied to two men in the Bible:
- The first Samuel to appear is a son of Ammihud, from the tribe of Simeon, who is among the officials who are assigned to divide Canaan among the tribes of Israel (Numbers 34:20).
- The more famous Samuel is the last of the judges and the one who anoints Saul, the first king of Israel. His mother is Hannah and his father is Elkanah. Samuel was a Nazirite from before his birth (1 Samuel 1:11). This Samuel is mentioned three times in the Greek New Testament (spelled Σαμουηλ, Samouel; Acts 3:24 and 13:20, and Hebrews 11:32).
🔼Etymology of the name Samuel
There are two ways to go with the name Samuel, although it obviously consists of two elements, and the final one is אל (El), either the prominent Canaanite deity whose name became applied to the God of Israel, or the common abbreviation of Elohim, the genus God:
In names אל ('el) usually refers to אלהים ('elohim), that is Elohim, or God, also known as אלה ('eloah). In English, the words 'God' and 'god' exclusively refer to the deity but in Hebrew the words אל ('l) and אלה ('lh) are far more common and may express approach and negation, acts of wailing and pointing, and may even mean oak or terebinth.
The first part of the name Samuel may come from the noun שם (shem), meaning name:
The noun שם (shem) means name, but the ancients saw one's name as summary of the deeds and traits this person was known for (e.g. He Who Slew Many In The Great War). That means that when Man named the animals (Genesis 2:19), he didn't call them Tom, Dick or Harry but rather consciously reckoned his fellow creatures for their essential natures (which in turn cemented his own).
In case one had no claim to fame, one would be prone to acquire a name that commemorated not one's own deeds but rather some worthy event (e.g. The Great War). Such a person's name would have the function of reminding other people of that memorable event, without in the least suggesting to embody it. Very often people would be named after traits of God (Yah's Grace, El's Wrath), which meant that the bearer was known to proclaim these traits rather than claim to be the embodiment of them.
Since the Creator's invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature can be clearly seen, being understood through what has been made (Romans 1:20), knowing the "Name of God" is the same thing as understanding the whole of creation, which in turn means that a true desire for righteousness leads to science rather than to religion.
Then there is the identical adverb שם (sham), which means here, there, hither or thither. These two words may have accidentally evolved into the same form, but perhaps this adverb served as a sort of pronoun by which an otherwise unnamed or unspecified location was named.
The other way to go to take the first part of the name Samuel from the verb שמע (shama'), meaning to hear:
The verb שמע (shama') means to hear and may also mean to understand or obey. Noun שמע (shema') means sound. Nouns שמע (shoma') and שמועה (shemu'a) mean tidings, report or mentions. Noun השמעות (hashma'ut) describes that which is caused to be heard. Noun משמע (mishma') means rumor or a thing heard. Noun משמעת (mishma'at) refers to a group or listeners.
For a meaning of the name Samuel, NOBSE Study Bible Name List goes with the noun שם and reads Name Of God and adds: a godly name. Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) goes with the verb שמע and proposes Heard Of God.
Jones' explanation is attractive because it seems to fit the story (Hannah prayed for a child and was heard), but also because this verb is the base of the name Simeon, which is the name of the tribe where the name Samuel originated. A drawback of Jones' explanation is that it fails to address what might have happened to the letter ע (ayin) that's part of the verb but not of the name Samuel.
Still, note that the third son of Jesse is named שמעא (Shimea, which is related to Samuel) in 1 Chronicles 2:13 but שמעה (Shimeah) in 2 Samuel 13:3 and 13:32, and שמה (Shammah) in 1 Samuel 16:9 and 17:13. The latter variation also omits the letter ayin.