1 Samuel 1-3: Introducing Samuel

The first 3 chapters of 1 Samuel introduce us to Samuel, the last judge of Israel.

Introduction

The first 3 chapters of 1 Samuel introduce us to Samuel, the last judge of Israel.
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Samuel's Birth

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Samuel is the son of Elkanah and Hannah, and from the tribe of Ephraim. [UPDATE: 1 Samuel 1:1 states that Elkanah is an Ephrathite, which is not the same as an Ephraimite. Ephrath was a name for Bethlehem-judah, thus Elkanah was likely from the tribe of Judah.[3]] Like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Samson's mother before her, Hannah was barren. Elkanah had 2 wives, and the issue of Hannah's inability to bare a child was the source of a rivalry between the two women (like Rachel and Leah). When the family travels to Shiloh to present offerings to the Lord, Hannah makes a vow, dedicating her child to God. While she is praying, the priest mistakes her desperation for drunkenness! This may have been a sign of the corruption of the priesthood that he was so out of touch with God and with the people he could not differentiate between drunkenness and fervent prayer.

Naturally, God hears and honors Hannah's request. It is after this vow that Hannah gives birth to Samuel. After he is weaned, the family travels back to the temple for an offering. 1 Samuel 1:24 says that they took 3 bullocks, while 1 Samuel 1:25 only mentions one. The likely explanation is that only that 1 bullock was meant for thanking God for the child, while the other 2 were for other purposes. Some also claim that the text should read a 3-year-old bullock instead of 3 bullock.[1] The first explanation makes the most sense to me, since there were a host of sacrifices that were typically made in the Old Testament.
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Prayer and Song

Hannah's prayer song to the Lord both exalts God and reminds us how quickly He can turn things around. Hannah reminds us that God has control over all things; He can make the fertile barren and the barren fertile. Hannah's words in 1 Samuel 2:6 seem to be prophetic, speaking of the Messiah and everlasting kingdom. After Hannah's prayer, Samuel ministers before the priest (1 Samuel 2:18). Unlike the typical image we have in our head of "ministering," which equates to preaching, the original definition of the word used here is servitude.[2] Even as a child, Samuel knew that we are all called to servitude.
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Misuse of Offerings

As is the pattern, we learn about corruption within the priesthood. Eli's sons were stealing parts of the offerings meant to be for God. On top of stealing, they were not burning the fat of the sacrifices, a deliberate act of disobedience! When the people began to protest, Eli's sons threatened to take the offerings by force. Can you imagine? Clearly, the citizens of Israel possessed more Godly morals than the priests. Consequently, sin became great in Israel and the Israelites came to despise giving to God because of Eli's sons.

This misuse of power is a great lesson to study, because it is a common thread in the history of Christianity. Many of us believe we will know when a pastor/preacher/priest/etc. is corrupt; we are resolved to leave a corrupt church. Thus, we often skip over warnings such as this, believing we don't have to worry about this issue.

The issue was quite difficult to overcome until recently. In Samuel's day, there weren't churches on every block and a church for every possible interpretation of scripture. There was one temple and one group of priests. Through the Reformation, this structure persisted. If you argued with the church, you were considered an enemy of the state and told your soul was lost. Until Jesus' sacrifice, if the priests failed in interceded for the citizens, their sins were not covered. This was quite a problem, one that we don't have to deal with, thankfully. If our church is corrupt, we can leave without fear of retribution (unless it's a cult, then you may need help getting out).

However, the task of identifying corrupt leaders and the ramifications of their actions is still a very real problem today. I know so many people who have turned away from God because of the failures of the church. Between the false doctrines of preachers and the ungodly behaviors of people professing to be Christians, the message of God has been lost. Like the Israelites, these people grew to despise God, and it is our fault. Can you imagine standing before Jesus on judgment day and being told that not only were you not entering the kingdom, you were responsible for the eternal death of someone else? Eli's sons turned a whole nation against God!

We should remember the trouble caused by Eli's sons as we go about our daily lives, especially when we are in positions of influence. The juxtaposition of Samuel serving God against the corruption of Eli's sons is meant to focus us on the ever waging war between good and evil. We must always choose to serve God, not just for our own salvation but for the salvation of those around us.
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Eli's Sons

When Eli discovers what his sons, Hophni and Phineas, have been up to, he rebukes them for their sins. Not only were they stealing from God, they were sleeping around with the women who brought offerings. It's almost 3,000 years later, and these problems still plague the church. The issues are prefaced with Eli's old age in 1 Samuel 2:22. It seems is logical to believe age played a large role in Eli's failure to stop his sons, but when God's messenger approaches Eli, he is still blamed. There are multiple possibilities for this, all of which translate to us today.

One possibility is that Eli's fault was in how he raised his sons. When we become parents, it is our responsibility to train our children correctly and to introduce them to God. While we cannot force them to pursue a relationship with God, there is some responsibility of the parent to instill in their children a love for God. Proverbs 13:24 reiterates the parents' responsibility to discipline each child.

Another possibility is that Eli used his age as a excuse. Many times when we do not feel like attending to something, we make excuses out of semi-valid facts. For instance, I may skip class due to a headache and reason that I am sick, thus my absence is justified. However, my headache may not be so bad as to prevent me from attending class. Eli was old, but as their father, a stern talking to should have been all it took to deter them. Eli could have also attended sacrifices to watch over them and reassure the Israelites that their offerings were properly carried out. This may have given the same affect an empty police car on the highway does. Eli might have also delegated their job to nephews or brothers he might have had, and fired them.

The messenger from God accuses Eli of placing his sons above God. Since God knows all and sent this man to warn Eli of their impending doom, we can be sure there was more to the story than Eli's old age. God declares that Eli's line was not fit for the priesthood and announces the coming death of the two men. Instead of raising one of Eli's sons as a successor, God promises to raise up a faithful priest. This priest would build a strong house, full of descendants who would follow God's Will. God warns Eli that his house would eventually beg to be in league with the new priest.

This is a reminder that God is supreme; He gives and He takes away. Those who turn against God may prosper shortly, but in the end, they will fail.
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Hannah's Faith

When Hannah takes Samuel to the Temple, they realize that is where he belongs. Having made a vow to God, just as Samson's mother had, Hannah knew that she must proceed in the direction God directed. Doing so, she leaves Samuel at the Temple where he begins to minister, donning his own ephod, despite not being from Aaron's lineage. To show her love, Hannah would make a coat for him each year and bring it to him when they returned to the Temple. Eli bestows blessings on the family for their son. God also blesses Hannah, giving he 3 more sons and 2 daughters.

Hannah was like Abraham in a way. She was barren and unable to produce a child, but when God blessed her with a son, she was expected to give it up. Abraham was asked to actually sacrifice his son's life, but Hannah was asked to leave her son with someone else. In doing so, she would not get to enjoy watching him daily in his growth from a young boy into a man, or raise him. That's quite the decision. Someone with little faith would be hard pressed to hand over their miracle child, but Hannah had great faith; she trusted in God's plan and was rewarded. We may want something with all our heart, but we should know that, like Hannah, when God gives it to us, if we give it back to Him we receive more blessings.
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God Calls Samuel

One night, while Samuel is asleep, God calls to him. Thinking it is Eli, Samuel answers to Eli who, of course, says he did not call. On the third occasion, Eli understands that God is calling Samuel and instructs Samuel on how to respond. When God calls Samuel the fourth time, Samuel asks God to speak and God reveals the destruction that is coming to the house Eli. Samuel is at first afraid to tell Eli the vision, but Eli reminds him that he is not to hold back information God is giving him. In response to Samuel's vision, Eli says "let God's Will be done," implying that despite his son's failure, he had great faith. It seems that Eli was a great teacher.

A bit of a related aside: something that has annoyed me during my 28 years on earth, is the number of "preachers" who want payment for Gods word. There are countless sites with partial information, followed by "read the rest in my book!" directing you to purchase additional material. Just as Eli said to Samuel, when God reveals Himself to a person, that person is to spread God's Word, not conceal it. None of God's people ever asked for payment before sharing the visions God gave them; this is not a fruit of the Spirit. I automatically assume anyone who requires payment to share the word is a fraud. (Note that when I say payment, I'm not speaking of travel accommodations for a visiting pastor or caring for the local pastor; I mean entry fees and books meant to explain the revelations God has given them).

The fact that God called Samuel four times tells us a lot about the nature of God. For one, we see that God was patient; this wasn't a one time, if you don't answer you snooze you lose type of deal. Though, I do wonder what would have happened if Samuel has simply rolled over and ignored the all completely. God knew that Samuel didn't understand it was Him speaking, but He witness Samuel trying to answer the call. Samuel was trying to answer, he just didn't know how. I believe this is the case with many of us today; we are trying to be servants of God and answer His call, but sometimes we don't know what to do. Like with Samuel, God will be patient as we seek Him out. The Bible doesn't say that God went to Eli and said "tell Samuel I need to talk to Him," but God knew that Eli would eventually figure out it was God's voice young Samuel was hearing. This is probably why God wanted Samuel in the Temple in the first place. God places us around specific people for a reason. Sometimes we are Samuel, in need of direction, but other times we are Eli, needed for direction.

The vision marked the announcement of God's purpose for Samuel; he would be that strong priest to replace Eli's line. In a time were Israel was very corrupt, hearing from God was even more precious. People throughout the nation heard the news and knew of Samuel's anointing.
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References

  1. Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible. pg. 472. 2014
  2. "1249. diakonos". Strong's Greek Concordance. 2016
  3. "Ephrathite". Bible Study Tools. 2016

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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