1 Samuel 1-3
One of the awesome titles of our great God is "Lord of Hosts" or "Lord of the armies." This title is used nearly 300 times in Scripture and is found for the first time in 1 Samuel 1:3. "Lord of hosts" describes God as the sovereign Lord of the host of the stars (Isa. 40:26), the angelic host (Ps. 103:20-21) and the armies of Israel (Ex. 12:41; Ps. 46:7, 11). In the Authorized Version, "hosts" is transliterated "Sabaoth" in Romans 9:29 and James 5:4. In his hymn "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," Martin Luther rightly applied this title to Jesus Christ:
Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing,
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God's own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth His name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
The story of the people of Israel recorded in the Bible is a living demonstration of the fact that the Lord does win the battle, that He is sovereign in all things. People and events recorded in Scripture are part of what theologians call "salvation history," God's gracious plan to send the Savior into the world to die for sinners. The Book of Ruth ends with the name of David (Ruth 4:22), and 1 Samuel tells the story of David's successful preparation for reigning on the throne of Israel. It was from David's family that Jesus Christ, the "Son of David," was born. The Books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles record many sins and failures on the part of God's people, but they also remind us that God is on the throne, and when He isn't allowed to rule, He overrules. He is the Lord of Hosts and His purposes will be accomplished.
"What are all histories but God manifesting Himself," said Oliver Cromwell over three centuries ago, but not everybody agrees with him. The British historian Edward Gibbon, who wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, called history "little more than the register of crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind," and Lord Chesterfield, his contemporary, called history "a confused heap of facts." But Dr. A.T. Pierson, preacher and missionary statesman of the last century, said it best when he wrote, "History is His story." This is particularly true of the history recorded in the Bible, for there we have the inspired account of the hand of God at work in the affairs of mankind to bring the Savior into the world.
The Book of Judges is the book of "no king" and describes a nation in which anarchy was the norm. "In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judg. 17:6; and see 18:1; 19:1; and 21:25). Israel wasn't a united people, as during the days of Joshua, but it was a loose confederation of tribes with God-appointed judges ruling in widely separated areas. There was no standing army nor were there permanent military leaders. Men from the different tribes volunteered to defend the land when they were summoned to battle.
But during those dark days of the Judges, a love story took place that's recorded in the Book of Ruth. Boaz married Ruth the Moabitess and from their union came Obed, the father of Jesse who became the father of David the king. There was no king in Israel, but God was already at work preparing the way for His chosen servant (Ps. 78:56-72). If Judges is the book of "no king," then 1 Samuel is the book of "man's king." The people of Israel asked for a king and God gave them Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin, who turned out to be a tragic failure. But the Lord had prepared David for the throne, and 2 Samuel is the book of "God's king."
You cannot read the records of the past without seeing the hand of "the Lord of Hosts" at work in the events of what we call history. The Lord is mentioned over sixty times in 1 Samuel 1-3, for He is the chief actor in this drama. Men and women are free to make their decisions, good or bad, but it is Jehovah, the Lord of history, who ultimately accomplishes His purposes in and through the nations (Acts 14:15-17; 17:24-26; Dan. 4:25, 32). Indeed, "history is His story," a truth that is a great encouragement to God's people who suffer for their faith. But this truth is also a warning to unbelievers who ignore or oppose the will of God, because the Lord of hosts will ultimately triumph.
Samuel was God's "bridge builder" at a critical time in Jewish history when the weak confederation of tribes desperately needed direction. He was the last of the judges (1 Sam. 7:15-17; Acts 13:20) and the first of a new line of prophets after Moses (3:24). He established a school of the prophets, and he anointed two kings—Saul who failed and David who succeeded. At a time when the ages were colliding and everything seemed to be shaking, Samuel gave spiritual leadership to the nation of Israel and helped to move them toward national unification and spiritual rededication.
In human history, it may appear to us that truth is "forever on the scaffold" and wrong is "forever on the throne," but that isn't heaven's point of view. As you study 1 Samuel, you will see clearly that God is always in control. While He is longsuffering and merciful and answers the prayers of His people, He is also holy and just and punishes sin. We live today in a time of radical worldwide change, and the church needs leaders like Samuel who will help God's people understand where they've been, who they are, and what they are called to do.
During the period of the judges, the Israelites were in dire straits because they lacked godly leadership. The priesthood was defiled, there was no sustained prophetic message from the Lord (3:1), and the Law of Moses was being ignored throughout the land. As He often did in Israel's history, God began to solve the problem by sending a baby. Babies are God's announcement that He knows the need, cares about His people, and is at work on their behalf. The arrival of a baby ushers in new life and a new beginning; babies are signposts to the future, and their conception and birth is a miracle that only God can do (Gen. 30:1-2). To make the event seem even greater, God sometimes selects barren women to be the mothers, as when He sent Isaac to Sarah, Jacob and Esau to Rebekah, and Joseph to Rachel.
A divided home (1 Sam. 1:1-8). Elkanah was a Levite, a Kohathite from the family of Zuph (1 Chron. 6:22-28, 34-35). The Levites were scattered throughout the land and went to Shiloh to minister at the tabernacle whenever they were needed. Elkanah lived in Ramah on the border of Ephraim and Benjamin (see Josh. 18:25). Elkanah's famous son Samuel would be born in Ramah (1 Sam. 1:19-20), live there (7:17), and be buried there when he died (25:1).
In many ways, Elkanah seems to be a good and godly man, except that he had two wives. Apparently Hannah was his first wife, and when she proved barren, he married Peninnah so he could have a family. We don't know why Elkanah didn't wait on the Lord and trust Him to work out His plan, but even Abraham married Hagar (Gen. 16) and Jacob ended up with four wives! While bigamy and divorce were not prohibited by Jewish law (Deut. 21:15-17; 24:1-4), God's original plan was that one man be married to one woman for one lifetime (Mark 10:1-9).
Each year Elkanah took his family to Shiloh to worship (Ex. 23:14-19), and together they ate a meal as a part of their worship (Deut. 12:1-7). This annual visit to the tabernacle should have been a joyful event for Hannah, but each year Peninnah used it as an opportunity to irritate her rival and make fun of her barrenness. When Elkanah distributed the meat from the sacrifice, he had to give many portions to Peninnah and her children, while Hannah received only one portion. Elkanah gave her a generous share, but his generosity certainly didn't compensate for her infertility.
The name "Hannah" means "a woman of grace," and she did manifest grace in the way she dealt with her barrenness and Peninnah's attitude and cruel words. Elkanah was able to have children by Peninnah, so Hannah knew that the problem lay with her and not with her husband. It seemed unfair that a woman with Peninnah's ugly disposition should have many children while gracious Hannah was childless. She also knew that only the Lord could do for her what he did for Sarah and Rachel, but why had God shut up her womb? Certainly this experience helped to make her into a woman of character and faith and motivated her to give her best to the Lord. She expressed her anguish only to the Lord and she didn't create problems for the family by disputing with Peninnah. In everything she said and did, Hannah sought to glorify the Lord. Indeed, she was a remarkable woman who gave birth to a remarkable son.
A devout prayer (1 Sam. 1:9-18). During one of the festive meals at Shiloh, Hannah left the family and went to the tabernacle to pray. She had determined in her heart that the Lord wanted her to pray for a son so that she might give him back to the Lord to serve Him all his life. It's an awesome fact that, humanly speaking, the future of the nation rested with this godly woman's prayers; and yet, how much in history has depended on the prayers of suffering and sacrificing people, especially mothers.
The original tabernacle was a tent surrounded by a linen fence, but from the description in the text we learn that God's sanctuary now included some sort of wooden structure with posts (1:9) and doors (3:2,15) and in which people could sleep (vv. 1-3). This structure and the tabernacle together were called "the house of the Lord" (1:7), "the temple," "the tabernacle of the congregation," and God's "habitation" (2:32). It was here that aged Eli, the high priest, sat on his priestly throne to oversee the ministry, and it was there that Hannah went to pray. She wanted to ask the Lord for a son and to promise the Lord her son would serve Him all the days of his life.
What an example Hannah is in her praying! It was a prayer born out of sorrow and suffering, but in spite of her feelings, she laid bare her soul before the Lord. It was a prayer that involved submission, for she presented herself to the Lord as His handmaid, to do whatever He wanted her to do (see Luke 1:48). It was a prayer that also involved sacrifice, because she vowed to give her son back to the Lord, to be a Nazirite (Num. 6) and serve the Lord all his life. In praying like this, was Hannah "bargaining" with the Lord? I don't think so. Bearing a son would have removed her disgrace and perhaps ended her rival's persecution, but giving up the son was another matter. Perhaps it would have been easier for her to go on living in barrenness than to have a child for three years and have to give him up forever. I wonder if God had given Hannah an inner conviction that her son would play an important part in the future of the nation.
Hannah's faith and devotion were so strong that they rose above the misunderstanding and criticism of the nation's highest spiritual leader. When you give your best to the Lord, it's not unusual to be criticized by people who ought to encourage you. Moses was criticized by his brother and sister (Num. 12), David by his wife (2 Sam. 6:12-23), and Mary of Bethany by an apostle (John 12:1-8), yet all three were commended by the Lord. In the first four chapters of 1 Samuel, Eli comes across as a poor example of a believer, let alone a high priest. He was probably self-indulgent (4:18) and definitely tolerant of the sins of his two sons (2:22-36), and yet he was quick to judge and condemn the devotions of a godly woman. "In prayer it is better to have a heart without words, than words without a heart," said John Bunyan, and that's the way Hannah prayed.
Those who lead God's people need spiritual sensitivity so they can "rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep" (Rom. 12:15 nkjv). Eli accused her of pouring out too much wine, when all she was doing was pouring out her soul to God in prayer (1 Sam. 1:15). Five times Hannah called herself a "handmaid," which signified her submission to the Lord and His servants. We don't read that Eli apologized to her for judging her so severely, but at least he gave her his blessing, and she returned to the feast with peace in her heart and joy on her countenance. The burden was lifted from her heart and she knew that God had answered her prayer.
A distinguished son (1 Sam. 1:19-28). When the priests offered the burnt offering early the next morning, Elkanah and his family were there to worship God, and Hannah's soul must have been rejoicing, for she had given herself as a living sacrifice to the Lord (Rom. 12:1-2). When the family arrived home, God answered her prayers and gave her conception, and when her child was born, it was a son whom she named Samuel. The Hebrew word sa-al means "asked," and sama means "heard," and el is one of the names for God, so Samuel means "heard of God" or "asked of God." All his life, Samuel was both an answer to prayer and a great man of prayer.
Certainly Hannah told Elkanah about her vow, because she knew that Jewish law permitted a husband to annul a wife's vow if he disagreed with it (Num. 30). Elkanah agreed with her decision and allowed her to remain at home with her son when the rest of the family went on its annual trip to Shiloh. We can't help but admire Elkanah for what he said and did, for this was his firstborn son by his beloved Hannah and father and son would be separated for the rest of their lives. A firstborn son had to be redeemed by a sacrifice (Ex. 13:11-13), but Elkanah was giving his son as a living sacrifice to the Lord. As a Levite, a Nazirite, a prophet, and a judge, Samuel would faithfully serve the Lord and Israel and help to usher in a new era in Jewish history.
Mothers usually weaned children at the age of three, and surely during those precious years, Hannah taught her son and prepared him for serving the Lord. He did not have a personal knowledge of the Lord until later when God spoke to him (1 Sam. 3:7-10). Hannah was a woman of prayer (1:27) and taught her son to be a man of prayer. When she and Elkanah took their son to Shiloh to give him to the Lord, they brought along the necessary sacrifices so they could worship the Lord. The Authorized Version reads "three bullocks" while other translations read "a three-year-old bull" (niv, nasb). However, the fact that the parents took a skin of wine and an ephah of meal, enough to accompany three sacrifices, suggests that three bullocks is the correct number, for three-tenths of an ephah of grain was needed for each bull sacrificed (Num. 28:12).
When Elkanah and Hannah presented their son to the Lord, Hannah reminded Eli that she was the woman who had prayed for a son three years before. Did the old man remember the occasion and did he recall how unfairly he had dealt with this sorrowing woman? If he did, there's no record of it; but he received the boy to become a servant of the Lord at the tabernacle and be trained in the law of the Lord.
Considering the low level of spiritual life in Eli and the wicked ways of his sons, it took a great deal of faith for Elkanah and Hannah to leave their innocent son in their care. But the Lord was with Samuel and would preserve him from the pollution around him. Just as God protected Joseph in Egypt, so He would protect Samuel in Shiloh, and so He can protect our children and grandchildren in this present evil world. Judgment was coming to Eli and his family, but God would have Samuel prepared to guide the nation and move them into the next stage of their development.
The story thus far makes it clear that the life and future of a nation depends on the character of the home, and the character of the home depends on the spiritual life of the parents. An African proverb says, "The ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people," and even Confucius taught, "The strength of a nation is derived from the integrity of its homes." Eli and his sons had "religious" homes that were godless, but Elkanah and Hannah had a godly home that honored the Lord, and they gave Him their best. The future hope of the people of Israel rested with that young lad in the tabernacle learning to serve the Lord. Never underestimate the power of the home or the power of a little child dedicated to God.
After Hannah left her son with Eli, she could have gone off alone and had a good cry, but instead she burst into a song of praise to the Lord. The world doesn't understand the relationship between sacrifice and song, how God's people can sing their way into sacrifice and sacrifice their way into singing. "And when the burnt offering began, the song of the Lord began also" (2 Chron. 29:27, kjv). Before He went to the garden where He would be arrested, Jesus sang a hymn with His disciples (Matt. 26:30); and Paul and Silas sang hymns to the Lord after they had been humiliated and beaten (Acts 16:20-26). Frequently in the psalms you find David praising God in the midst of difficult circumstances. After being beaten by the religious leaders in Jerusalem, the apostles "departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name" (Acts 5:41, nkjv).
Hannah's song near the beginning of 1 Samuel should be compared with David's song found near the end of 2 Samuel (22), as well as with Mary's song in Luke 1:46-55. All three songs tell of God's grace to undeserving people, God's victory over the enemy, and the wonderful way God turns things upside down in order to accomplish His purposes. What Mary expressed in her song is especially close to what Hannah sang in her hymn of praise.
The joy of the Lord (1 Sam. 2:1). Hannah was praying and rejoicing at the same time! She was thinking of God's blessing to the nation of Israel as well as to herself and her home. When prayer is selfish it isn't spiritual and it does not honor the Lord. Hannah knew in her heart that God was going to do great things for His people and that her son would play an important part in accomplishing God's will. Her worship came from her heart and was saturated with the joy of the Lord.
The word "horn" in verses 1 and 10 symbolizes strength or a strong person (see Pss. 75:4-5, 10; 89:17, 24; 92:10; 132:17). To have your "horn exalted" meant to receive new strength from God and be especially helped by Him at a time of crisis. An "enlarged mouth" means a mouth boasting of God's victory over His enemies. Defeated people have to keep their mouths shut, but those who share God's victory have something to talk about to the glory of God.
"I rejoice in thy salvation" suggests more than Hannah's being delivered from barrenness. Hannah sees this miracle as the beginning of new victory for Israel who time after time had been invaded, defeated, and abused by their enemies (Judg. 2:10-23). But the word "salvation" is yeshua—Joshua—one of the names of the promised Messiah. King David would be God's yeshua to deliver Israel from her enemies, and Jesus, the Son of David, would be God's yeshua to deliver all people from the bondage of sin and death.
The majesty of the Lord (1 Sam. 2:2-3). It's good for us to begin our praying with praising, because praise helps us focus on the glory of the Lord and not on the greatness of our needs. When we see the greatness of God, we start to see life in perspective. Hannah knew the character of God and exalted His glorious attributes. She began by affirming His holiness and uniqueness. The two go together because in both Hebrew and Greek the word "holy" means "wholly other, set apart, separated." Orthodox Jews confess daily, "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord" (Deut. 6:4, kjv). There is no other God, and whenever Israel turned to idols for help, they lost the blessing of the Lord.
The "Rock" is one of the repeated images of the Lord in the Scriptures. It's found in the "Song of Moses" (Deut. 32:4, 15, 18, 30-31, 37) and in David's song (2 Sam. 22:32). The rock speaks of the Lord's strength, stability, and steadfastness and magnifies the fact that He does not change. We can depend on Him, for His character is unchangeable and His promises never fail. "For I am the Lord, I change not" (Mal. 3:6 kjv).
The Lord is also "a God of knowledge" (1 Sam. 2:3), so people had better be careful what they say and how they say it. There's no place for pride and arrogance when you stand before a God who knows you through and through, everything you've thought, spoken, and done. God heard all of Peninnah's haughty words spoken against Hannah, and He also heard Hannah's prayer from her heart. God is omniscient and knows all things, and He is omnipresent and beholds all things.
Hannah rejoiced because this holy God is a just judge of the actions of His people. Unlike the people involved in human judicial proceedings, the Lord knows everything and is able to weigh us and our actions accurately. He weighed Belshazzar and found him "wanting" (Dan. 5:27). The Lord weighs our motives (Prov. 16:2) and our hearts (24:11-12), and His scales are accurate. Like Hannah, we may be misunderstood and maligned by people, but the Lord will always act justly.
The grace of the Lord (1 Sam. 2:4-8a). God is holy and just and is always true to His Word and His character. But He is also merciful and gracious and often does things that catch us by surprise. Hannah described some of His acts and affirmed that the Lord turned everything upside down! The "Song of Mary" (The Magnificat) in Luke 1:46-55 expresses some of these same truths.
The mighty warriors fail while the stumbling weaklings win the battle (1 Sam. 2:4; see Ecc. 9:11). The rich people with plenty of food are looking for something to eat and are willing to labor for it, while the poor, hungry people have more than they need (1 Sam. 2:5a). The barren woman gives birth to seven children, while the woman with many children is exhausted and feeble and can't even enjoy her family (v. 5b). The truth in this statement is reflected in the fact that Hannah bore five more children (v. 21).
Because He is sovereign, the Lord is in charge of life and death and everything in between (v. 6). He can rescue us from the grave or permit us to die. If He allows us to live, He can make us rich or poor, exalted or abased, for He knows what's best. This doesn't suggest that people should meekly comply with difficult circumstances and do nothing about them, but that we can't change these circumstances without the Lord's help (Deut. 8:18). In His grace, God can choose the poor and raise them up to sit among the princes (see Ps. 113:7-8 and Luke 1:52). He takes them from the dust and the garbage heap and puts them on glorious thrones! But isn't that what God did for Jesus (Phil. 2:1-10) and what Jesus did for us when He saved us? (Eph. 2:1-10) Indeed, because of the cross, the Lord has "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6), and the only people who have clear vision and true values are those who have trusted Jesus.
The protection of the Lord (1 Sam. 2:8b-10a). God has established the world so that it can't be moved, and what happens on our planet is under His watchful care. We may think that God has abandoned the earth to Satan and his demonic powers, but this is still our Father's world (Ps. 24:1-2), and He has set His King on heaven's throne (Ps. 2:7-9). As God's people walk on this earth and walk in the light, the Lord will guard and guide their steps, but the wicked will walk in spiritual darkness because they depend on their own wisdom and strength. It may seem that the wicked "have it made," but one day the storm of God's wrath will burst upon them in fierce judgment. God is longsuffering with those who resist Him, but their day is coming.
The reign of the Lord (1 Sam. 2:10b). This is a remarkable statement that the Lord will give an anointed king to Israel and strengthen him to serve Him and the nation. Hannah certainly knew the Law of Moses because in them she found the promises of a future king. God told Abraham and Sarah that kings would come from them (Gen. 17:6, 16), and He repeated this promise to Jacob (35:11). In his last words to his sons, Jacob announced that Judah would be the royal tribe (49:10); and in Deuteronomy 17:14-20, Moses gave instructions concerning a future king. When Israel asked for a king, God was prepared to grant their request. In many respects, King David fulfilled this prophecy; but the ultimate fulfillment is in Jesus the Christ ("Anointed One") who will one day sit on David's throne and rule over His glorious kingdom (Luke 1:32-33, 69-75).
Hannah and Elkanah left their son in Shiloh and returned to Ramah with joyful hearts and great expectation to see what the Lord would do. What a wonderful thing it is when a husband and wife are dedicated to the Lord, worship Him together, pray together, and trust His Word. Hannah went to the place of worship with a broken heart, but the Lord gave her peace because she prayed and submitted to His will.
Up to this point, the focus has been on Elkanah and his family (1:1-2:11), but now it will shift to Eli and his family (2:12-3:21). Throughout this section, you will see a deliberate contrast between Samuel and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas. Eli's sons "abhorred the offering of the Lord" (2:17), but "Samuel ministered before the Lord" (v. 18). The two brothers committed evil deeds at the tabernacle and invited God's judgment, but Samuel served at the tabernacle and grew in God's favor (v. 26). The priestly line would end in Eli's family, but Samuel would be called of God to carry on a holy priesthood (2:34-3:1). From the human viewpoint, it looked as though Eli's evil sons were getting away with their disobedience, but God was preparing judgment for them while He was equipping His servant Samuel to continue His work.
God's judgment deserved (1 Sam. 2:12-21). Since Eli was an old man with failing vision (4:15), he left the work of the tabernacle to his two sons, and they took advantage of their father by doing what they pleased. Hophni and Phinehas did not personally know the Lord but were "sons of Belial," a Hebrew term that described worthless people who openly practiced lawlessness (Deut. 13:13; Judg. 19:22; 1 Sam. 25:25; Prov. 16:27). In 2 Corinthians 6:15, Paul uses Belial as a synonym for Satan. The law stated precisely what portions of the sacrifices belonged to the priests (Lev. 7:28-36; 10:12-15; Deut. 18:1-5), but the two brothers took the meat that they wanted and also took the fat parts that belonged to the Lord. They even took raw meat so they could roast it and not have to eat boiled meat. They "abhorred the offering of the Lord" (1 Sam. 2:17) and "trampled on" (scorned) the Lord's sacrifices (v. 29).
Hophni and Phinehas not only showed disrespect for the sacrifices on the altar, but they also had no regard for the women who served at the door of the tabernacle (v. 22; Ex. 38:8). Instead of encouraging them in their spiritual walk, the two brothers seduced them. These women were not official servants appointed by the law but were volunteers who assisted the priests and Levites. Perhaps they helped care for the little children who came with the adult worshipers, or they may have been there just to be close to the presence of the Lord. Ministerial immorality is in the news today, and it's a tragic thing, but it's really nothing new.
In contrast to the wickedness of Eli's sons is the faithfulness of Samuel (1 Sam. 2:18-21). He was somewhat of an apprentice priest, learning the work of the sanctuary, and even wore a linen robe with an ephod (vest) over it, just as the adult priests and Levites did. Each year when his parents came to Shiloh, his mother would bring a new set of garments for the growing lad. In Scripture, garments often speak of the spiritual life (Isa. 61:10; Zech. 3:1-5; Eph. 4:22-32; Col. 3:8-17; 1 Peter 5:5), and a change of clothing symbolizes a new beginning (Gen. 35:2; 41:14; 45:22; Ex. 19:10; Rev. 3:18). Each year's new garments spoke not only of a boy growing physically but also spiritually (1 Sam. 2:21), and this reminds us of our Lord who "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52, nkjv).
God was about to bring judgment to the house of Eli, but the Lord blessed Elkanah and Hannah and their house, for He gave her five more children (1 Sam. 2:21; see Ps. 113:9). This was the gracious gift of God and an answer to the prayer of Eli (1 Sam. 2:20) who was pleased with Samuel and grateful for his ministry. Hannah gave one child to the Lord and the Lord gave back five!
God's judgment disregarded (1 Sam. 2:22-26). Godly people told Eli about his sons' sins, and he spoke to them about their conduct, but it did no good. He wasn't much of a godly father or spiritual leader, and his sons disregarded his warnings. It's tragic when a father—and a spiritual leader at that—loses his influence over his own family and can only wait for God's hand of judgment to fall. Lot lost his influence with his family (Gen. 19:12-14), and after David sinned with Bathsheba, his influence over his sons was greatly weakened. Hophni and Phinehas had no respect for the Lord or for the office of their father the high priest, so all God could do was judge them and replace them with faithful servants.
God's judgment declared (1 Sam. 2:27-36). An anonymous "man of God" appeared at Shiloh to declare the terms of God's judgment on Eli and his family. The title "man of God" is used some seventy times in the Old Testament and usually refers to a prophet sent by the Lord. First, the prophet dealt with the past (vv. 27-28) and reminded Eli that his position as high priest was a gift of God's grace. The Lord had chosen Aaron to be the first high priest and given him the privilege of passing this honor on to his eldest son (Ex. 4:14-16; 28:1-4). It was a privilege for the high priest and his sons to offer sacrifices on the brazen altar, burn incense on the golden altar, wear the sacred garments, and eat of the holy offerings. Then the messenger focused on the present (1 Sam. 2:29) and accused Eli of putting his sons ahead of the Lord and sharing in their sins. (The "you" at the beginning of v. 29 is plural and includes Eli with his sons.) To tolerate sin and not deal with it severely is to participate in that sin. As high priest, Eli had the authority to discipline his sons, but he refused to do so. "Do not share in the sins of others" (1 Tim. 5:22 niv). If Eli had been a man of God, concerned for the glory of God, he would have remonstrated with his sons and called them to repent; and if they refused, he would have replaced them.
The burden of the prophet's message was centered on the future (1 Sam. 2:30-36). God had given the priesthood to Aaron and his descendants forever, and nobody could take this honor (Ex. 29:9; 40:15; Num. 18:7; Deut. 18:5). However, God's servants can't live any way they please and expect the Lord to honor them; for "them who honor me I will honor" (1 Sam. 2:30). The privilege of the priesthood would remain with the tribe of Levi and the house of Aaron, but God would take it away from Eli's branch of the family. Eli's descendants would become weak and die off and there would be no more old men like Eli in the family. They would have to beg for their food and would plead for an opportunity to serve (v. 36). In David's day the descendants of Eleazar outnumbered those of Ithamar at least two to one (1 Chron. 24:1-5), so Eli's family did slowly die out. But even worse, very soon Eli's two pampered sons would die on the same day. Even the tabernacle would experience distress (1 Sam. 2:32, niv), which turned out to include the capture of the Ark and ultimately the moving of the tabernacle from Shiloh to Nob (21:1-6; Jer. 7:14). However, at Nob many of the priests were slain by Doeg, which was a partial fulfillment of this prophecy.
Eli descended from Aaron through Ithamar, Aaron's fourth son, but God would abandon that line and turn to the sons of Eleazar, Aaron's third son and successor in the high priesthood. Under David, both Zadok and Abiathar served as high priests (2 Sam. 8:17), but when Solomon became king, he removed Eli's great-great grandson Abiathar from the high priesthood because he had cooperated with David's son Adonijah in his attempt to seize the throne. Solomon appointed Zadok to serve as high priest, and he was of the house of Eleazar. (See 1 Kings 2:26-27, 35.) In the list of Jewish high priests in 1 Chronicles 6:3-15, the names from Eli to Abiathar are missing. By confirming Zadok as high priest, Solomon fulfilled the prophecy given by the man of God nearly a century and a half before.
But the future wasn't all bleak, for the man of God announced that God would raise up a faithful priest who would please God's heart and do God's will (1 Sam. 2:35). The immediate reference is to Zadok, but ultimately it points to Jesus Christ who alone could have a "sure house" and be God's anointed priest "forever." Our Lord came from the tribe of Judah, so He had no connection with the house of Aaron, but was made a high priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 7-8).
Once again we see the contrast between the wickedness of Eli's family and the faithfulness of the boy Samuel (v. 1). He ministered before the Lord under the guidance of Eli at a time when God wasn't speaking to His people very often. The spiritual leaders were corrupt, and God's people weren't obeying His law anyway, so why should God say anything new to them? It was a tragic day in the nation of Israel when the living God no longer sent His people signs and prophetic messages (Ps. 74:9; Ezek. 7:26; Amos 8:11-12; Micah 3:6). The silence of God was the judgment of God.
But God was about to change the situation and speak His precious Word to a young boy who would listen and obey.
An attentive ear (1 Sam. 3:1-9). Samuel was probably twelve years old when the Lord spoke to him one night as he lay in the tabernacle "annex" where Eli was also sleeping. The "lamp of God" was the seven-branched golden candlestick that stood in the holy place before the veil, to the left of the golden altar of incense (Ex. 25:31-40; 27:20-21; 37:17-24). It was the only source of light in the holy place, and the priests were ordered to keep it burning always (27:20) and to trim the wicks when they offered the incense each morning and evening (30:7-8). The lamp was a symbol of the light of God's truth given to the world through His people Israel. Alas, the light of God's Word was burning dimly in those days, and God's high priest was barely able to see! The Ark was there, containing the law of God (25:10-22; 37:1-9; Heb. 9:1-5), but the law was not honored by God's people.
The Lord spoke to Samuel four times (1 Sam. 3:4, 6, 8, 10), and the first three times, Samuel thought it was Eli calling him. One of the marks of a faithful servant is an attentive ear and an immediate response. But Samuel had never heard God's voice, so he didn't know who was calling to him. Like Saul of Tarsus, Samuel's call and conversion occurred at the same time, except that Samuel's experience was at night while Saul saw a blazing light when he heard God's voice (Acts 9:1-9). Eli was discerning enough to realize that God was speaking to the boy, so he told him how to respond.
An obedient will (1 Sam. 3:10-14). Samuel obeyed Eli, went back to his sleeping place, and waited for the voice to come again. This time God spoke the boy's name twice, for the Shepherd calls His sheep by name and gets their attention (John 10:3, 14). Not only that, the Lord came and stood near Samuel as He spoke to him. This experience wasn't a dream or a vision but a manifestation of the presence of the Lord. Samuel's response was, "Speak, for your servant is listening" (1 Sam. 3:10, niv), and he left out the word, "Lord" (see v. 9). Why? Samuel didn't yet have a personal knowledge of the Lord (v. 7), so he couldn't know whose voice it was that had spoken to him. Perhaps he was being careful not to accept it as the voice of Jehovah when he had no way to be sure.
Because Samuel was obedient to God and to Eli, he heard the message from the Lord and learned what God planned to do. This was certainly a weighty message to give to a young boy, but in so doing, perhaps God was rebuking the spiritual lethargy of the adults, for to which of them could God give this message? When God can't find an obedient adult, He sometimes calls a child. "And I will make mere lads their princes" (Isa. 3:4, nasb).
Samuel didn't know the message the unknown prophet had delivered to Eli, but the message God gave him confirmed it. The Lord would judge the house of Eli because Eli's two sons "made themselves vile [contemptible]" and Eli did nothing to restrain them. Though Eli and his sons were priests, they could offer no sacrifice that would atone for their sins! Their sins were deliberate and defiant, and for such sins no sacrifice could be offered (Num. 15:30). Not only had they defiled themselves, but they had also defiled the priesthood. The Lord had been longsuffering toward the house of Eli, but they hadn't repented and turned from their sins; now it was too late.
A humble heart (1 Sam. 3:15-18). Samuel had heard the voice of God and received the message of God, but he still got up early and went back to his old tasks. He opened the doors of the sanctuary so the people could come to sacrifice,and he said nothing to Eli about what God had told him. This shows remarkable maturity on the part of a young boy. Most youths would have been proud of their experience with the Lord, rushed around delivering the message, and would not have stooped to open doors. It was only when Eli commanded him that Samuel related the message of judgment that God had given to him.
Was Eli's response to the message active submission or passive resignation to something that couldn't be changed? I vote for resignation, the same attitude that Hezekiah displayed when Isaiah told him his foolish actions would one day bring ruin to the kingdom of Judah (Isa. 39). Eli was an old man who had not been a good father or a faithful priest, and he had already been warned that judgment was coming. His two sons would perish in one day and his family would lose the privilege of the priesthood, so what was there to live for? God had chosen Samuel to be judge, priest, and prophet, so the light of truth would keep burning in Israel. All the old man could do was to wait patiently for the sword to fall.
Eli had his faults as we all do, and we must appreciate his positive attitude toward young Samuel, his successor as the spiritual leader in Israel. It isn't every veteran servant who can graciously lay down his tools and let the young apprentice take over. Until the very end of his life, Eli at least had a concern for the Ark of God and the future of the nation; and the news of Israel's defeat and the capture of the Ark caused his death. If Eli had shown some of this concern when his sons were young like Samuel, things would have been different.
A godly walk (1 Sam. 3:19-21). For the second time we're told that Samuel grew (2:21; 3:19), but the affirmation is added, "the Lord was with him." This statement will also be made about youthful David (16:18; 18:12,14). The Lord was against Eli and his sons, but His blessing was upon Samuel and his ministry. Unlike the other judges, Samuel's words and influence would reach the entire nation. The people recognized that God had called Samuel to be a prophet and declare the Word of God and the will of God. Once again, the Lord appeared from time to time at Shiloh and revealed Himself to His prophet. Israel was about to experience a new beginning that would lead to new challenges and dangers as well as new blessings and victories.