I Samuel 1–3. Two Fathers and Their Sons.
Key Notes: A self-indulgent high-priest understands warnings but does not react. An insensitive father and his frantic wife create an OT saint. Disciplining children. The uses of marriages that are less than ideal.
I Samuel is the history of Samuel, Israel's last judge, and Saul, her first king. It also chronicles the rise of David, who was anointed to be Saul's successor while Saul was still in power. The book is in story form and can be understood by a child. The spiritual lessons are not given in direct instructions but the author has made them obvious if we stop and meditate periodically. The stories in these historical books are retold here with some clarifications.
ISam.1:1–2. A man of Ramah of Zuph in Ephraim, named Elkanah (son of Jeroboam, son of Elihu, son of Tohu of Zuph), had two wives. Peninnah had sons and daughters but Hannah had none. Elkanah was evidently of the family of Kohath, the priestly line of Aaron from Levi (I Chron. 6:18–28) with Ephraim his homeland.The Levites had no tribal territory of their own but were dispersed throughout Israel.
1:3–8 Each year they went to the Tabernacle at Shiloh to sacrifice, where Eli was high priest and his sons, Hofni and Phinehas, were his assistants. Peninnah got large portions [of meat and wine] because of her children, but Hannah got only one. Peninnah was Hannah's rival, and enjoyed irritating her because the Lord had prevented her from having children. Hannah would weep and not eat. Elkanah was little consolation; he considered himself better than ten sons. [To most women, husbands and sons are in quite different emotional categories.] But he had no solution for her problem.
1:9–18 On this trip Hannah went to the door of the tabernacle and wept and prayed, vowing to God that if He would look on her affliction and give her a son, she would give him back to God as a Nazirite. Eli, the high priest, sitting by, thought she was drunk and told her to stop her drinking. She replied that she was a woman sorely troubled, vexed and anxious, vehemently pouring out her soul to God. Then Eli gave her a blessing, adding his prayer to hers. She went back and ate and was no longer sad. Something had changed.
"Cast your burden on the Lord and He will sustain you." (Psa.55:22)
1:19–20 The next morning they were off to Ramah again. In due time the Lord remembered Hannah and she conceived and bore a son, whom she named Samuel, "a gift of God".
1:21–28 On the return annual trips to the tabernacle, Hannah did not go until the child was weaned. Then she brought the child, perhaps 5 yes old, to the tabernacle, with an expensive offering, suggesting that they were not poor. They sacrificed a bull, worshipped the Lord, and left Samuel there, lent to the Lord as a temple servant for the rest of his life.
2:1–11 Hannah sang a psalm to the Lord. She exulted in the Lord; she derided her enemies, rejoicing in His salvation. There were probably villagers who also provoked her for her barrenness, as they do today. "Why aren't you having children, Hannah"? Even Peninnah's children may have joined in the heckling.
She used a poetic form that contrasts the extremes-the proud and the lowly, the full and the hungry, the faithful and the wicked, the living and the dead. There is no one like our God, a Rock, Holy. We should not be proud, for God knows and weighs. The mighty are brought low and the feeble are strengthened; the full are hungry and the hungry are fed; the barren has seven and the one with many children is forlorn. The Lord gives life and takes away life. He guards His faithful ones, but punishes the wicked. He will judge the ends of the earth and exalt the power of His Messiah.
2:12–17 The sons of Eli were sons of Satan, wicked men who had no regard for the Lord. Lev. 7:34 says that the breast and the thigh of the peace offering belonged to the priest. But Hophni and Phinehas would fork out whatever they wanted from sacrificial meat in the kettle or pot or take it raw from the petitioner. They held the offerings in contempt. It was their meat market. Samuel ministered before the Lord, untouched by the corruption.
2:18–26 His mother brought him a new coat every year. Eli would bless Elkanah and Hannah for more children. Hannah was given three more sons and two daughters.
Eli was old (2:22), fat (4:18) and blind (3:2). He knew that his sons lay with the women who served at the entrance of the temple. He rebuked them, and accused them of sinning against the Lord, but they would not listen, and he did not discharge them or punish them. He enjoyed the extra meat. God was going to shorten their lives.
Samuel grew in stature and favor with God and men.
2:27–36. A prophet (unnamed) came and denounced Eli:
"I revealed Myself to the house of Aaron in Egypt, chose him to be My priest, to go up to My altar, burn incense, to wear an aphod, and gave them My offerings by fire. Why do you look with greedy eyes on My sacrifices and honor your sons above Me by fattening yourself with the choicest parts of every offering? You have lightly esteemed Me and I will cut off your strength. No one will grow old in the house of Aaron. Hophni and Phinehas will both die on the same day. I will raise up a faithful priest who will go in and out before My Anointed for ever, and you all will beg him for a loaf of bread or a piece of silver."
3:1–9 Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare; visions were rare. One night while Samuel was sleeping in the temple, the Lord called to him by name three times. Samuel went to Eli each time, because he did not know the voice of the Lord. Finally Eli understood what was happening and told him what to say if he heard the voice again: "Speak, Lord, for your servant hears".
The Lord came and stood forth and called Samuel a fourth time. This time Samuel said "Speak, for your servant hears."
3:10–18 God told Samuel that he was going to destroy the house of Eli because he did not restrain his two sons who were blaspheming God. God swore that the sin of the house of Eli would not be expiated by sacrifice or offering for ever. We will see the partial fulfillment of this prophecy in I Samuel.
Samuel lay (but probably did not sleep) until morning, then opened the doors of the temple. Eli asked him for the whole story and Samuel told him the truth. The message was not as painful as it was told by the previous prophet, but still a difficult task for a young apprentice. Eli said: "It is the Lord; let Him do what seems good to Him." That is resignation without repentance, rather like a professional dealing with another professional on a matter of policy.
ISam.3:19–21. The Lord was with Samuel and let none of his word fall to the ground. All Israel knew that Samuel was established as a prophet, and that the Lord appeared to Samuel. From him the word went to all Israel.
This is a tale of two men of the priestly line: one with a troubled bigamous marriage, the other with bad sons. Both of them ducked their responsibilities.
Elkanah was a good husband, but he did not try to control the rivalry between his two wives, or forbid Peninnah from insulting Hannah. The Old Testament does not so much speak against polygamy as it illustrates its problems. The life of Jacob is a prime example. Gen.29,30
Eli was God's servant, submissive to God, but passive toward his sons, and in collusion with them, since he was fattened by their misconduct. He had two warnings. He simply accepted God's judgment, and did not try to change it. He wanted right, but he was unwilling to act, even if his sons did steal and fornicate. He would speak to them, but he did not kick them out. Was he timid? He did not hesitate to intercept Hannah when he thought she was drunk. He was perhaps too old to change, too fat to fight. Or perhaps he had a passive personality. In any case, God did not excuse his slack behavior, but denounced him for putting his appetite ahead of God's holiness.
Looking at Eli through modern eyes, we see a godly man, who knew God. We could say that he had a personal relationship with God. He was comfortable enough to say " It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good to Him"--even when the outcome was very much against him. He perceived that God was calling Samuel and gave him good advice. He enjoyed being the High Priest and did what little he could to oversee the faithful, including anyone who appeared to be drunk. God denounced him for refusing to heed a serious warning. 2:27–36
Message: a personal relationship with God is not enough.
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord....'" (Matt.7:21)
He appears like many parents today. They believe the children should make their own decisions. They can be religious, or not. They can play with drugs, or not. They can party, or not. It is up to them. But God holds Eli responsible for the behavior of his children.
He will hold us responsible also.
An elder must be
"...blameless, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of being profligate or insubordinate." (Tit.1:6)
"...keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way...." (ITim.3:4)
“Let deacons be the husband of one wife and let them manage their children and their households well." (ITim.3:12)
"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Eph.6:4)
It is a big job.
We can also look at this episode in yet a different light, seeing it as part of God's sovereign plan. The Lord intended to create a stellar servant, holy, totally dedicated to Himself, trained from early childhood in the ministry of the Tabernacle, a ministry that involved judging, prophecy and priest-craft. This prophet, judge and priest would lead the central government of Israel, centered at the Tabernacle at Shiloh.
God created this servant, Samuel, by putting a spiritual woman into a trial. This trial was not a temptation to sin nor to disobey God's command or renounce her faith. The trial was an emotional stress to induce Hannah to change her mind. The Lord prevented her from having children and allowed her husband's rival wife to provoke her to distraction because she was barren. Her female identity depended on her reproductive prowess and she felt helpless, useless and frustrated. But she was not frustrated enough to pray, for years. God did not force her; He waited for a change of heart.
She could have reacted to her trial by running away, cursing or killing her rival, stealing another child, or taking poison. But when she saw that she was painted into a corner, she looked in the only direction that was left-- up. She prayed. She prayed vehemently and in despair. She made a deal with the Lord: if He would give her a male child, she would give him back to the Lord. The work was done. Samuel was born. He grew up nurtured "in the presence of the Lord." It remained for God to do in return for Hannah more than she could ask or think. He gave her three more sons and two daughters.
If you have difficulty in marriage, and find your romance gone, the relationship tense and frustrating, consider God's plan. Infatuation is fleeting. Love must endure all things. Pray. The marriage may not be about you, but about the child you are rearing. My children have been able to go where I could not and do things that are beyond my reach. We may have laid the groundwork; they are building on it.
In a most dramatic way, God also controlled the birth of the Messiah.
"Behold My servant, whom I uphold, My chosen in whom my Soul delights,
I have put my Spirit upon Him, and He will bring forth justice to the nations." (Isa.42:1)