We have covered a fair amount of ground this last week. We watched as Hannah pleaded with the Lord for a child. And we have seen God answer that plea. It happened when the time was right…just like always! The narrative continued as the child, a son named Samuel, was weaned, and then taken to the tabernacle to serve the Lord. Samuel grew up in the temple under the tutelage of the chief priest Eli. This is the first place we encounter Eli so let’s take a moment and meet this priest.
Eli was the chief priest at the tabernacle of the Lord, serving in Shiloh. This was Israel’s central place for worshiping the Lord. Eli was a descendant of Ithamar, the youngest son of Aaron. He was sincere and devout but when it came to his sons, he was weak and indulgent. Hophni and Phinehas did not know the Lord and they became wicked men. Looking at them you would never know their father was the chief priest of all Israel. We see Eli first at the temple when Hannah is praying, crying out to God because she is barren. Eli looked on her with scorn. Her lips were moving but she was making no sound. He believed her to be drunk and in fact accused of her of that. When he realized his mistake, he blessed her, and God answered her prayer.
Many times in scripture we see an author using contrasting thoughts to make a point. For instance, in the gospel of John, he uses the contrast between light and dark, good and evil, right and left, sheep and goats. Here the contrast is between Samuel and Eli’s two sons. Samuel grew in favor with the Lord and with the people while Eli’s sons were scoundrels who had no respect for the Lord. They stole from the offerings and seduced the women who served at the tabernacle. When Eli approached them, they paid him no attention. They had no use for Eli or his God. Over time God sent a prophet to denounce Eli’s weakness, his son’s wickedness, and to announce that God would withdraw the priesthood from Eli’s family because of it. It was confirmed when the Lord spoke to Samuel at night telling him He would soon punish Eli’s family.
It wasn’t long after that Israel went into battle with the Philistines. The army took the ark of the covenant into battle with them, like it was a lucky charm. The ark was carried by Eli’s two sons. The Philistines routed Israel, captured the ark of the covenant, and killed Eli’s two sons. When Eli heard the news, he fell over backwards from his chair, broke his neck, and died. He was 98 years old. His daughter- in-law went into labor when she heard the news and died delivering Eli’s grandson. She named him Ichabod which means ‘where is the glory’ because the glory had departed from Israel. Eli’s priestly line survived until king David’s reign ended. Abiathar was the last descendant of Eli to serve as chief priest. Since he supported Adonijah’s attempt to usurp David’s throne, Solomon removed him from the priesthood and replaced him with Zadok.
Samuel was a transitional judge and prophet. He lived at the end of the period of the judges and helped usher in the period of the kings. He was the last judge and the first prophet of Israel. He functioned as a priest and he was a man of great faith. He was born in response to his mother Hannah’s prayers. His parents traveled annually from Ramah to Shiloh to the tabernacle. When Samuel was weaned, he was taken there to serve in the sanctuary with Eli. We have seen Eli’s sons who were not only wicked but pagan. But Samuel served the Lord. It didn’t take long to see that God spoke more intimately with Samuel than He did with Eli. In fact, God spoke with a young Samuel to warn Eli of the coming disaster fighting the Philistines. Later, under Samuel’s leadership the people repented of their sin of idolatry and succeeded in winning an important battle against the Philistines. As Samuel got older it was clear he suffered from the same weakness as Eli before him. Samuel’s sons were evil too and the people did not want them to assume leadership when Samuel died. Because of that, the people requested an earthly king, someone they could unite behind and win wars and battles.
The transition from the era of judges to kingship was turbulent. As the priest, Samuel prayed for the people. As a prophet, he reproved Saul for impatience and disobedience. When God rejected Saul as king, Samuel anointed David as God’s chosen one and then protected David from Saul. Through prayer and perseverance Samuel was a faithful leader for Israel. He cherished his people’s well being and like many leaders before him, wanted the people to return to the Lord and worship only Him. Samuel was courageous in rebuking kings and elders. He led Israel from tribal disunity to national solidarity and when he died the whole country mourned for him. He was buried in Ramah, his hometown.
These are just two of God’s faithful servants. Like all of us, they had flaws. They were humans serving as best as they could. What we see when we look at them is that God can and does use flawed humans. That is good news for us. That means He can use us to be His hands and feet. We can be His light shining in the darkness. We are salt, flavoring wherever we go with His love, mercy, kindness, and love. One day we won’t be flawed. We will be with the Lord. How cool will that be anyway??!
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W