The Book of 1 Samuel tells the narrative of King Saul, his extraordinary rise to power and influence and his subsequent fall from God's grace. He has good looks, great physical size and his military successes made him a great choice to be Israel's first king. But King Saul had one major flaw. He was disobedient to God's commands. Like it or not, when you are called to lead there is a different set of rules to follow, especially when you are serving the Lord. And because of his disobedience, God eventually rejected him. Once God abandoned Saul, he quickly spirals downward. He lost his courage, became very jealous of David's success and eventually he lost his mind. But God has a plan. He raised up another king, David, who would obey the directives of the one true living God. If Judges is the book of no king, 1Samuel is the book of man's king.
This book is appropriately named after the main character, Samuel. First and second Samuel were originally one book, but it was separated when the Hebrew was translated into Greek. At the beginning of this book Israel is at a religious low point. The people had strayed far from the Lord and even the priests were corrupt. And to make matters worse, Samuel's sons who were judges in Beersheba were also dishonest, just like the two sons of Eli. With such evil leaders as role models, it is no wonder the rest of Israel was corrupt and far from the Lord. The people of Israel were showing open disdain for the Word of God and they refused to listen to Samuel, God's prophet.
We know one thing about the Lord and that is, there is always a remnant of faithful believers. That was the case here too. They faithfully worshiped God. Worship was at Shiloh at this time, but the tabernacle did not remain untouched. The ark of the covenant was captured by the Philistines, and it made a seven-month tour among the major Philistine cities before it was returned. The good news for God's people is that there were no nations who rose to great power at this time and even up through King David's reign there was relative peace in the land. Other than the occasional fighting with the Philistines it was quiet for Israel.
Today's reading tells us of the back history of Samuel. Again, we see a woman who was barren, Hannah the wife of Elkanah. And we see the shame that comes with being barren. There was another wife in the house who had children, and she took great pleasure in rubbing Hannah's face in her barrenness. And like Samson before him, Samuel is to be a Nazarite from birth. Here we see Hannah petitioning the Lord for a child, one she will raise until he is weaned (which may have been when he was as old as five) and then she promised to bring the child to serve the Lord all his days. In Hannah's prayer she calls herself a handmaid, a sign of her submission to the Lord. God is faithful and answered her prayer. She gave birth to a son whom she named Samuel.
Samuel is born to very faithful parents. His mother made the vow to the Lord, promising to give Samuel back to the Lord. And his father Elkanah was agreeable. He would have had the right to tell Hannah no. In Numbers 30 we read about the husbands right to nullify a pledge or vow made by their wife. What Elkanah did was amazing. Samuel was his first-born son by the wife he loved, and with this vow father and son would be separated their whole lives except when the family made the trip to worship at the temple where Samuel served. By law a firstborn son had to be redeemed by a sacrifice but Elkanah was giving a living sacrifice. As a Levite, a Nazarite, a prophet, and a judge, Samuel would help to usher in a new era in Jewish history.
After Hannah left her son off at the temple, she could have gone home sad and mournful but instead she broke into song. If some of her words sound familiar It is because Hannah's song is very similar to the song Mary sang after the angel told her she would be the one to bear God's Son. Hannah was praying and rejoicing at the same time. She knew in her heart God would use Samuel to do great things and she was praising God for what He would do and for the gift of their son. If you have more than one Bible, open one to Hannah's song here in 1 Samuel and the other to Mary's song in Luke chapter one.
Several times in this reading we are told that Eli the priests' sons were evil and wicked. This was the environment Samuel grew up in, but the Lord was watching over Samuel. He had big plans for him. It is interesting that the boy Samuel was ministering before the Lord in a kid sized linen ephod, the garment of a priest. And what is even more interesting is that he had yet to know the Lord. By the beginning of chapter three Samuel may have been at least twelve years old. We read in those days the Lord was rare and there were not many visions. We see the contrast between the wickedness of Eli’s sons and Samuel’s faithfulness. God was not speaking to His people much in those days because there were precious few faithful Israelites who would or could listen to the Lord. And what we know is that in this case the silence of God is the judgement of the God. But that would change with Samuel. God spoke His precious word to the young Samuel, and he would obey. God spoke to Samuel four times and the first three times Samuel thought it was Eli calling him. One of the marks of a faithful servant is an attentive ear to hear and the willingness to respond right away.
Samuel was sleeping in the tabernacle annex. The light of God was the seven branched lamp that stood in the holy place before the veil to the left of the golden altar of incense. This lamp stand was the only source of light in the tabernacle and the priests were ordered to keep it burning all the time. The lamp was a symbol of the light of God's truth given to the world through His people Israel. But the world didn't see much light from Israel in those days. Samuel had never heard the voice of God, so he didn't know who was calling him. But Samuel was obedient...to both Eli and to the Lord. The Lord gave him a message for Eli, a very weighty message. But sometimes when God cannot find an obedient adult, He uses a child. There would be judgement on Eli and his sons and his family. And though Eli and his sons were priests there was no sacrifice they could make that would atone for their sins. It sounds harsh but their sins were deliberate and defiant. Not only had they defiled themselves, but they had also defiled the priesthood.
By this point the Lord was with Samuel and against Eli and his sons. It must have been an awkward place for Samuel to be. Now the Lord was with Samuel and he was well on his way to serving the Lord. Unlike the other judges, Samuel's words would reach the entire nation. He would have influence and the people would recognize God had called him to be a prophet. Samuel would spend his life declaring the Word of the Lord. We read that the Lord didn't let any of Samuel's words fall to the ground. It is an interesting way of saying that none of the prophecies God gave Samuel to deliver went unfulfilled. Israel was on the cusp of a new beginning. It would lead to challenges, excitement, dangers, blessings and victories. So, hang on. Here we go!
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W