I Samuel 11: When God is With Us

Saul has taken the kingship of Israel with little fanfare. Some of the Israelites despised him and did not believe that he would be a good leader. Ultimately, the doubters will prove to have truth in their beliefs. For this chapter, Saul gives many people reason to believe that he will be a great and godly king.

An Ammonite named Nahesh came to the Israelite city of Jabesh, located in the Gilead region east of the Jordan. The Israelites in Jabesh were intimidated by Nahesh and his army and offered to make a deal with him so that they would not be attacked. Nahesh answered: “On this condition I will make a covenant with you, that I may put out all your right eyes, and bring reproach on all Israel.”

Seeing that they would get no mercy from Nahesh, the elders of Jabesh seek assistance from the different factions of Israel. When Saul hears of this threat, he admonishes all of the other peoples of Israel to rise up with him against Nahesh and the Ammonites. Saul had God on his side for this endeavor, guiding him through the actions he took: “Then the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard this news, and his anger was greatly aroused.” Saul cut an oxen into pieces and sent them throughout all the land of Israel with the warning, “Whoever does not go out with Saul and Samuel to battle, so it shall be done to his oxen.”

Under Saul’s inspired leadership, the people came to Saul, ready to fight for the defense of their countrymen in Jabesh. The men came during the morning watch and killed Ammonites “until the heat of the day.” The Ammonites were defeated and devastated so totally that when they were scattered, “no two of them were left together.”

The people, seemingly all of them now, are so impressed with this victory and with Saul as a leader that they want to put to death those men that expressed no confidence in Saul before these events. But Saul showed mercy, ““Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has accomplished salvation in Israel.”

The final verse is a picture of victorious celebration as Saul leads the people to Gilgal where he is made king before the Lord, and sacrifices and peace offerings are made to the LORD.

This chapter is a very important one in the story of king Saul. We have the picture of a man that is inspired by God and leading the people in a strong and righteous way. Under the inspiration and power of Almighty God, there is not a wrong step that can be taken nor is there a fallible path set before him. Such is the divine nature of our life when God chooses to directly bless us with His wisdom and guidance. Saul might not have known it, but he was in the loving arms of God. Who knows when we, unbeknownst to ourselves or our loved ones, are also working under the power of God as an aid to a person or people in need? Although it seems more likely that God would directly inspire men of importance such as world leaders to sway the ways of the world, the imagination comes alive to think that He also might inspire you or me to humbler deeds. Only when we are faithful and open to His guidance will we experience it. Otherwise, we are operating under our own imperfect will.

I Samuel 10: Saul Becomes King

Samuel, having established a relationship with Saul in the previous chapter, anoints Saul as the king of Israel in the beginning of chapter 10. As a prophet, Samuel was working under the direction of God (I Samuel 9:15-16). The people of Israel have not yet been told of their new king, but that will change near the end of this chapter.

Samuel uses oil to anoint Saul as king. This was a religious anointing because God had set Saul apart for service to lead Israel. Samuel does much to accomplish God’s plan to make Saul king. Samuel tells Saul that as he travels, he will find two men by Rachel’s tomb in the territory of Benjamin. This was significant because Saul was of the tribe of Benjamin and nearing the grave of Rachel his forbear would have reminded him of his mortality. Then, Samuel tells Saul that the two men will tell him that the donkeys he was seeking have been found. This will result in Saul’s father worrying for Samuel, just as he feared in chapter nine. But Saul will travel on to the terebinth tree of Tabor, where he will meet three men carrying various things, and he will receive two loaves of bread form them. Saul will then go to a hill where a Philistine garrison is and will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high places with stringed instruments. It is at this point that Saul will feel the spirit of the Lord upon him, and he will become a new man.

Adjoin these prophetic signs with the fact that he was just told that he would be made king of all Israel, and Saul would have likely contemplated his past, his future, and the state of his life. Such ruminations for young Saul could have turned him into the man that he was to become. However, as we will find with Saul in coming chapters, the choices he will make with his power and his privilege will turn out to be unwise, foolish, rebellious, and sinful.

Samuel tells Saul that he will meet him later and that sacrifices and peace offerings will be made. All of the things that Samuel prophesied come true. The people saw Saul prophesying with the men of God and saw him in a new light. Also, Saul had a conversation with his uncle, who was curious about Saul’s relationship with Samuel. Saul kept quiet about being named king at this point. Signs suggest that Saul felt inadequate, embarrassed, or unprepared for the huge responsibility.

Nevertheless, Samuel moves ahead with proclaiming Saul king. Samuel addresses the people at Mizpah, and speaks the Words of the Lord: “’I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all kingdoms and from those who oppressed you.’ But you have today rejected your God, who Himself saved you from all your adversities and your tribulations; and you have said to Him, ‘No, set a king over us!’ Now therefore, present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and by your clans.”

Unsurprisingly for us at this point, the tribe of Benjamin (Saul’s tribe) is chosen, the family of Matri, the father Kish, and Saul the son chosen as king. But Saul is hiding when it is time to come forward. The Lord indicates to the people where Saul is hiding and Saul is brought forth to the people and is praised. But it is difficult not to see the farce in his kingship already. The proclamation that Samuel made from God to the people suggests that Israel getting a king will turn out to be more of a burden than a blessing for them. This is a case of God leaving them up to the consequences of their actions. By all the signs we see so far, Saul is neither suited nor prepared to become king.

Samuel records the requirements for royal behavior in a book. Then he sends the people away. Saul goes to Gibeah, accompanied by valiant men that were inspired by God to be there. But there are some that also that do not believe in Saul as king.

We can find a bit of ourselves in Saul if we are honest. God bestows on each of us untold and uncountable blessings, and we can misuse them due to our own feelings of inadequacy, laziness, or self-will. The challenge is to accept the responsibilities God gives us and find a way to success using our talents. This was certainly the path chosen by Samuel, and it is interesting to compare Saul and Samuel’s characters as we read through these chapters.

We all have the ability to be as Samuel: righteous, honest, obedient, and a follower of God. Or, we can take our blessings and foolishly squander them. One of the main keys to avoiding the fate of the foolish is to keep God in the front of our minds and seek His counsel through reading His Word, prayer, and the obedience of His commands. God will show us the way. A life lived under God is not often glorious (although it can be), it is not often easy (even though His blessings can make life comfortable and fulfilling), but it is worth the sacrifice each and every time.

I Samuel 9: Tall, Dark, and Handsome

Chapter nine starts out describing the new King of Israel, King Saul. But the King will not be anointed or proclaimed this chapter. This chapter weaves together the stories of Samuel the prophet and Saul the king. Here they will meet, become acquainted, and establish a modicum of trust in one another. Even though this is a seemingly simple chapter, there are some appropriate lessons we can learn.

We are introduced to Saul as very tall and handsome. He comes from a powerful lineage and we find that he is on a mission to recover his father Kish’s lost donkeys. Saul goes through many lands attempting to find the lost donkeys, but he does not find them. When Saul and his servant have come to a land called Zuph, Saul expresses the desire to return home, lest his father worry more about his son and the search party rather than the donkeys. The chapter has already shown us two aspects Saul’s character that are favorable. He has shown loyalty to his father and his father’s possessions by searching for the donkeys and he has shown care for his father by wanting to prevent unnecessary worry. But we will learn more about Saul later in this book that is not so favorable.

Saul’s servant has heard that there is a nearby city with a prophet that can help them. Saul was worried that they had nothing to offer the man of God, but the seer was prepared with one-fourth of a shekel of silver. When Saul and his servant got closer to the city, some young women were able to help the, find him. We can conclude that this city (Shiloh?) was known for being a holy city because Saul’s servant knew and these young women drawing water had full knowledge of where the priest was and could guide others to him.

Starting in verse 15 we find out that the holy man sought by Saul and his servant is actually Samuel. Samuel had been told by God beforehand to expect Saul, and in fact we know from the previous chapter that Samuel knew that God would appoint a king over Israel. We should pay attention to how Samuel treats Saul in this chapter. Samuel knew that Saul’s being sent there was a part of God’s plan and he also knew that Saul was the one chosen to be king by God, so Samuel treats him impeccably.

Samuel knows what is on Saul’s mind, so he takes care of his needs and tells him not to worry, that his father’s donkeys are safe. Samuel had Saul and his servant sit at the place of honor at the sacrificial feast. He also kept aside a special portion of the food, just for Saul. As the visit concluded, Samuel spent time with Saul and made provision to tell Saul in private what the will of the Lord was concerning him.

Chapter nine ends with Samuel preparing to tell Saul the things of God. Even though we are in the middle of learning about Saul, there are still things we can apply to our lives from I Samuel 9. For one, Saul and his servant understood when it was wise to seek counsel, particularly from God. Saul’s hesitation to visit the prophet was because he thought they did not have an appropriate gift to bring, as was the custom of the time. But when they saw they had the opportunity, they knew that seeking guidance from God was the best thing to do. We too, need to recognize when in life we need to pause and seek the help of our God.

Another great lesson from this chapter is from Samuel. His loyalty to God in treating Saul with respect, kindness, and favor showed his devotion to God and brought glory and honor to everyone involved. Samuel’s humility in service is impressive because even though Samuel knew that God did not desire a king for Israel, He was still going to give Israel a king and Samuel was showing love to God by honoring this decision through his superb treatment of Saul. We should all be so loyal to God and humble in our service. Samuel did not judge, second-guess, or complain. He obeyed and in so doing removed the possibility of any blame being laid at his feet for the type of king that Saul would turn out to be.

I Samuel 8: Good Intentions

This chapter begins with Samuel enjoying the success of having led the people back in the right direction. He effectively retires and has his two sons judge over Israel. Unfortunately they are not good stewards of this responsibility and they seek dishonest gain, take bribes, and participate in perverted justice.

Israel rightly seeks better leadership. They go to Samuel and ask him to appoint them a king. Instead of looking to God, they have taken to noticing the kingdoms around them and they desire a king like the idolatrous nations around them.

Samuel brings this to God and God surprisingly tells Samuel to give the people what they seek: a king. But this gift comes with a disclaimer: this king will take many valuable things from them (I Samuel 11-17). Even though Samuel tells the people that “…you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day,” the people persist in their request for a king. They are looking for a king to protect them, to fight their battles. With so many examples in their relatively short history of God fighting and winning their battles for them, it is perplexing that they would be so adamant in their request for an earthly king. Their stubbornness speaks to the mighty powers of envy and worldly influence.

The people have good intentions in that they want to be governed properly, but they are seeking governance from the wrong source and based on the wrong example.

Sometimes the thing we are asking for, the thing that we think is good, is actually the worst thing for us. To avoid this pitfall, we should ask ourselves, “what is the source of inspiration for this desire?” Is it based on an idea to do good? Have we considered whether or not it honors God?

If the source of inspiration is sinful, or even just seemingly harmless, envision the outcome. What do you see happening? Do you see a greater belief in God or a kind of departure from God? There can be many different ways to accomplish a task or establish a path. The onus on us is to examine the intent of our decisions. We can all easily claim good intentions, but we need to make sure that our methods are also good.

I Samuel 7: The People Return to the Lord

The preceding chapters revealed the atmosphere of war and godlessness that was in and around the nation of Israel. As we read in chapter 6, there were still consequences to be had as the Israelites still did not treat the ark with the reverence and holiness that it deserved.

Samuel is ready to take up the mantle of leadership in this chapter. He sees that the people are returning to God in their devotion and religious practices. In verse two, he says, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” The peoples’ return is sincere. They heed Samuel’s direction to assemble at Mizpah. They fast and confess their sins to God as Samuel is seen as their leader.

During this time, however, the Philistines hear of their assembly and seek to attack the Israelites. The people are scared, but Samuel beseeches them to rely on God to save them and he sacrifices a lamb to God. After Samuel prays to God, God sends thunder to the advancing Philistines. This confuses them and they flee as the men of Israel chase them out of the area, slaying them along the way.

As a memorial and testament to God helping them, Samuel names a stone “Ebenezer,” setting it up in a recognizable place saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” Throughout the rest of Samuel’s life, the Philistines bother Israel no more. Israel reclaims their land that had been taken and there is peace in the land. Samuel serves as Israel’s leader for the rest of his life, judging Israel as he travels from one city to the next. His home was in Ramah, and there he built an altar to the Lord.

A simple change of heart can lead us back to God, and thus also back into the grace and blessings He has reserved for those that love Him. God is quick to forgive and bless us. It is so simple for us to turn to Him when we need Him or when we think we have no other choice. One of the true tests of a faithful life is whether we lean, depend on, and serve God when it appears that we have no use for Him. We always need Him, but this life is such that we can be lulled into a false sense of spiritual security by money, comfort, and material possessions. While they offer a sense of assurance, do not be fooled; true and lasting security is found in the arms of our Creator.

I Samuel 6: The Philistines Return the Ark

When we left the Philistines in I Samuel 5, they were experiencing great consequences from having taken the ark. Here in chapter 6, they have had enough. After seven months of death, tumors, and evidently rats, the Philistines ask their priests and diviners, “What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us how we should send it to its place.”

One might understand how the heathen and errant Philistines seek guidance from their spiritual leaders on how best to dispense with the ark. Just returning it the way they had captured it was not enough for the diviners and priests; they advised some special conditions for return:

  • Include with the ark a trespass offering of five golden tumors and five golden rats
    • The five represents the pentapolis, or the five large cities making up Philistia; the tumors and rats represented the separate calamities
  • Place the ark on a new cart with the trespass offering beside it
  • Have the new cart pulled by two milk cows that have never been yoked
    • Hide the cows’ calves away (presumably to increase the cows’ focus)
  • Sending the cart away:
    • If it goes towards Beth Shemesh (nearby Israelite territory), it proves that God was creating the calamities
    • If it goes elsewhere, the calamities were due to chance

The degree of difference that these manmade provisions made to God is not clear. One could conclude that God preferred the fearful hearts and minds of the Philistines over the trespass offering, but there is nothing in the text to support this.

A surprising aspect of the guidance of the Philistine priests and diviners is that they allow for a scenario where the calamities of death, tumors, and rats were not due to the Philistines having stolen the ark. It would be difficult to think that these were chance occurrences, considering that the calamities followed the ark from Philistine city to Philistine city. They certainly believed that the “Israelite God” was capable of retaliation and judgment, because they said as much to the Philistine leaders in verse 6: “Why then do you harden your hearts s the Egyptians and Pharaohs hardened their hearts? When He did mighty things among them, did they not let the people go, that they might depart?”

The Philistines, as a polytheistic culture, might struggle with knowing how to ascribe certain actions to members of the pantheon. Still, we might think deeper about why the Philistine diviners and priests would not automatically assume that the calamities were the work of God. After all, the regular people and leaders of Philistia seemed convinced that God was bringing the tumors, death, and rats because they stole the ark. Perhaps, not unlike some of the complicated takes we get on simple things from so-called “experts” in the modern age, the Philistine priests and diviners felt the need to justify their existence and their “divine knowledge” by delivering a solution with complex provisions.

The chapter concludes with the cows returning the ark with the trespass offering of golden tumors and rats directly to Beth Shemesh. When it arrives, the Israelites rejoice. They use the wagon as fuel for a fire on which to offer the cows sacrifices to God. But, many of the Israelites were killed by God because they opened and looked into the ark of the Lord. This was forbidden (Numbers 4:20, Exodus 19:21). The men at Beth Shemesh were so greatly upset by the deaths that they sent for men to come from Kirjath Jearim to remove the ark (it was about ten miles west of Jerusalem).

The lesson for I Samuel 6 is that God’s commandments apply to everyone, and they apply regardless of the offender’s knowledge of the statute. Seem unfair? Perhaps, but in the face of divine power, would not the wise man make it his responsibility to acquaint himself with the ways, wonders, laws, and statutes of Almighty God?

I Samuel 5: Dagon’s Fate is the Fate of all Idols

Chapter four ended with the Ark of the Covenant being captured by the Philistines. The series of events surrounding its capture were destructive all around. Firstly, the Israelites misconstrued the purpose and power of the ark when they surmised it would help them in battle. Secondly, the Israelites were soundly defeated and the ark was captured, which was God’s way of showing them they were thinking about it the ark in all the wrong ways. Thirdly, the battle during which the ark was captured marked the prophesied death of Hophni and Phinehas, the errant sinful sons of the high priest Eli. Fourthly, when news of the ark’s capture and his sons’ deaths reached him, Eli fell and died. And finally, when Phinehas’ pregnant wife heard the compounded news, she promptly gave birth and died. Her last words were, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”

The lessons learned were many. The main lesson is that there are severe consequences for misunderstanding God and the way He wants us to approach and worship Him. God had specifically instructed how He wanted the ark to be used and parading it as an oracle in battle was certainly not prescribed. But as we saw in chapter four how God punishes His own people for their careless disobedience, He will not let the opportunity pass to show the heathen unbelievers the power of His might and the scope of His dominion. 

When the Philistines took the ark from the Israelites, they brought it to a city called Ashdod, where there was an idolatrous temple to a god named Dagon. They placed the ark beside Dagon. This act shows us how they viewed the ark: it represented the belief system and god of those they conquered. Their polytheistic tendencies prompted them to believe that they could take the ark and, treating it as an idol, place it alongside their own fashioned and created idol. To them, they were likely merely categorizing idols together; worshipping one was like worshipping another. But when they arose the next day, Dagon had fallen on its face to the ground in front of the Ark of the Covenant. The Philistines placed Dagon back as he was only to find Dagon fallen again the next morning. But on this second fall, Dagon’s head and palms of its hands were broken.

The symbolism is difficult to miss. The power of God easily supersedes the impotency of Dagon. The foolishness of the Philistines prompted them to learn the lesson twice, the second time with Dagon’s destruction. Loss of head and hands means the loss of life and utility; Dagon was powerless and useless. The Philistines took this to heart: “Therefore neither the priests of Dagon nor any who come into Dagon’s house tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.” Dagon has been soundly defeated forever. His defeat is gratifying yet also empty in a sense because there was never any power in the idol to begin with.

The Philistines though, like the Israelites, would need to experience consequences for treating the power of true divinity with such frivolity. They did not know with what they were playing. From verse six until the end of the chapter, the suffering of the Philistines is documented.

The people of Ashdod and the people of its surrounding territories were struck with tumors. They sensed that it was due to the arrival of the ark. The way that Dagon was defeated was evidence enough. In light of the suffering, the lords of the Philistines decide to send the ark to Gath. Gath was about twelve miles east of Ashdod, located at the foot of the Judean mountains, and was one of the five main cities of the Philistines. But like Ashdod, Gath received great punishment. It says in verse 9 that “the hand of the Lord was against the city with a very great destruction; and He struck the men of the city, both small and great, and tumors broke out on them.”

After this, the ark was sent to Ekron, another one of the five Philistine cities. But when the ark arrived in Ekron, its reputation came with it, and the people of Ekron cried out, saying, “They have brought the ark of the God of Israel to us, to kill us and our people!” But even so, there still was a great and deadly destruction in Ekron. The final verse in chapter five says, “And the men who did not die were stricken with the tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven.” In the midst of their suffering, God was aware of their cries. 

The message of this chapter is simple: there are consequences for taking the things of God lightly. Misunderstanding or ignorance will not be a valid excuse when it comes time to pay the penalty for not honoring God as He has outlined. We cannot make a case for the Philistines as innocent parties, because they were the enemies of God’s people, and they knew the power of God. Recall in a previous chapter when the Philistines noted how the God that the Israelites worshipped had ravaged the Egyptians. The Philistines had been warned in this sense and should have known better than to thwart and toy with the power of the true God. Their eyes and hearts were only concerned with battle and defeat, and they did not seek the deeper truths of divinity that were before them. Could things have gone differently for the Philistines if they had respected God’s power and let the ark be? What if they had returned the ark to Israel after the first time Dagon fell?

Whatever the answers to those questions may be, the lessons are apparent. The parallels drawn to our individual lives can be expressed as questions:

·       Am I treating God in worship as I should? Is my heart right? Do I understand what He expects of me?

o   If not, how best can I seek to understand how God wants me to approach Him?

·       Are there any of God’s truths that I willingly ignore in favor of what I prefer to believe?

o   If so, am I prepared for and convinced of the consequences that are coming?

·       Are there any signals or occurrences in my life that warn me that I am doing the wrong thing?

o If so, am I living in denial, or has my heart become hardened?

I Samuel 4: Ark as Idol

The previous chapter ended with the confirmation of Samuel as the one that would bring the voice of the Lord back to God’s people. Samuel is a prophet in Shiloh and God is giving strength to him and to the words he speaks, letting “none of his words fall to the ground.”

Chapter 4 begins with the affirmation that Samuel would now be speaking as a prophet to all of Israel. Although we are not told exactly why, Israel goes out to fight against the Philistines and it could be that Israel is the instigator. Israel and the Philistines were at war regularly during this period in history. The primary reason for the fighting is that Israel never fully purged the land of all of its inhabitants when they took control of the promised land. The constant fighting with their Philistine rivals is a consequence of not having followed through with the commandments of God. Disobeying God will frequently result in unintended consequences, some of which are not always obvious.

There are two battles mentioned in this chapter between the Israelites and the Philistines. In the first battle, the Philistines won and there were four thousand Israelites killed. The Israelite elders ascribe the loss to God not being with them. And while they are likely correct in this judgment, their next idea is a bad one and their leadership is poor, leading the people amiss. The elders suggest that the ark of the covenant be brought out of the tabernacle and into the camp of battle. They believed that it would bring God’s presence among the fighting soldiers, leading them to victory. This is wrong on a few levels. For one, the elders should have understood that the ark was not to be used in this way. It is true that in many ways the tabernacle represented the presence of God among the people, and that the ark served as the core of this idea. But the elders treat the ark of the covenant more like an idol and less like the reminder of God’s caring for His people that it was intended to be. Were the elders led to think of the ark as an idol under the influence of the pagan nations around them, whose devotion to idols was rampant? It is possible. Furthermore, there is no guidance or command from God anywhere in His Word that allows for or instructs that the ark can be used in this way. Implicitly, the presence of God is with His people when they follow and obey Him, not when they tote around the emblems of His care.

Despite the wayward guidance, the soldiers are still heartened by the presence of the ark. As it comes into the camp, they shout and yell, encouraged by “the presence of God.” The Philistines, hearing this, understand what the shouts mean and become intimidated, remembering how the God of Israel punished the Egyptians. But instead of running, the Philistine leadership urges motivation, saying, “Be strong and conduct yourselves like men, you Philistines, that you do not become servants of the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Conduct yourselves like men, and fight!”

The encouragement works and the Philistines also win the second battle in this chapter, killing thirty thousand Israelite foot soldiers. Alarmingly, the ark is captured by the Philistines and Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas die in the battle. You may remember the prophecy brought by the unnamed prophet in I Samuel chapter 2, which is now fulfilled: “Now this shall be a sign to you that will come upon your two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas: in one day they shall die, both of them.” You will recall their ill behavior and obvious neglect of God’s commands. Now that their deaths have come to pass, there is no doubt of the shame that their actions bring to Eli as the head priest.

The passage that follows in this chapter relates the death of Eli. We see Eli sitting, waiting by the side of the road for news of the battle. He is worried over the ark. Our understanding of Eli’s character has been tempered by impressions both good and bad. We think good of Eli because of his understanding and acceptance of Samuel as a prophet. His care for Samuel and His mercy on Hannah (once he understood her) were representative of good, godly attributes. However, Eli was a very poor father and even poorer steward of the tabernacle, allowing abominations to occur with sacrifices and other activities. His failure to control his sons speaks very poorly of his integrity as a father and as a priest. But here in his final moments, Eli’s heart seems to be in the right place. His worry over the ark implies that he knew it was in danger. Perhaps he resisted its being taken from the tabernacle. Perhaps he suspected its capture. His worried state over the ark is compounded by the idea of the death of his sons hanging over his head since he heard the prophecy. Knowing that they were in battle and could die the same day as prophesied and knowing that the ark was in danger undoubtedly had him in a great state of distress. So he sits, blind and aged by the side of the road, waiting for news.

A messenger comes and tells Eli that his worst fears are confirmed: the ark has been captured and both of his sons have died in battle. This was too much for Eli. His life ends with him falling backwards off of his seat, breaking his neck, and dying. God’s prophecy for Hophni and Phinehas is now complete. But there was more to the prophecy: “But any of your men whom I do not cut off from My altar shall consume your eyes and grieve your heart. And all the descendants of your house shall die in the flower of their age … And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left in your house will come and bow down [to him] for a piece of silver and a morsel of bread, and say, “Please, put me in one of the priestly positions, that I may eat a piece of bread.”” The judgment on Eli’s descendants and the punishment for the wickedness of his sons would not end with their death, but would extend to the coming generation.

Accordingly, the news that the messenger brought to Shiloh also greatly disturbed Phinehas’ wife, who was pregnant. When she heard that the ark had been captured, and that her husband and father-in-law had died, she gave birth to a son and then she also died. But before she died, the women that were attending to her tried to encourage her, saying, “Do not fear, for you have borne a son.” But in the depths of her despair and grief, she did not heed them and said instead, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.” She named her child Ichabod.

Chapter four ends on this depressing note to underline the consequences of sin. What Hophni and Phinehas did was deplorable and not only hurt them, but many others, including the whole of the nation of Israel. It is easy to learn the lesson from them to not corrupt God’s commandments with selfish and sinful lusts. Perhaps more nuanced lessons can also be learned:

  • When God specifies the terms of how we are to worship and serve Him, we need to take them very seriously
  • Punishment and consequences will result when we corrupt worship
  • God will carry through with His promises of consequence and judgment
  • The leadership of our children is a responsibility meant to be undertaken with great seriousness
  • Knowledge of sin suggests complicity
  • Sin is best handled when it is found and smothered early; Do not allow it to fester and grow

I Samuel 3: A Voice Fills the Void

The chapter opens with a reminder of the environment in Shiloh: relative godlessness. Recall the priest’s Eli’s sons Hophni and Phinehas from chapter two. They sought their own pleasure instead of fulfilling the commandments of God. Their father the priest Eli was also inadequate in that he did not oversee the temple activities properly, allowing his corrupted sons to participate in unsanctioned and sinful practices. In these surroundings the prophet Samuel comes of age. He will fill the void of godlessness, self-service, and neglect with the voice of God. In addition to the poor environment, we are also told that there had not been other prophets revealing the Word of God in those days.

Samuel was just a boy at this time, but God decided that he was ready to begin speaking the Word of Lord to the people. Samuel, having been given to God by his mother as a small child, lived with Eli in the temple, helping with the tasks and jobs required to maintain temple activities. Verse two tells us that Eli was growing older, his eyesight growing so poor that it was difficult for him to see.

As we begin the main sequence of this chapter, there is foreshadowing in verse three: “and before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle of the Lord where the ark of God was…” In coming chapters, we will see the ark stolen and the light which is supposed to continually burn go out.

Events commence in a domestic scene as we picture Eli and Samuel sleeping at night in a common tent or structure, if not in the same room. Samuel hears a voice calling his name and it happens four separate times. Each of the first three times, Samuel believes it is Eli calling out for some sort of help in the night. After the third time of Samuel coming to Eli and asking, “Did you call me?”, Eli recognizes that God is the one calling Samuel in the night. Eli tells Samuel in verse nine: “Go, lie down; and it shall be, if He calls you, that you must say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears.’”

When Samuel entreats God to speak to him after the fourth time God calls to him in the night, God speaks to Samuel directly. The content of this first message is that God will complete the actions against Eli that were proclaimed by the unnamed prophet in chapter two. In I Samuel 2:27-36, it is prophesied that Eli and his house will be ostracized from the house of God, with their descendants begging to be fed by the new inhabitants of the tabernacle. This is because Eli’s sons were “vile and he did not restrain them.” Hophni and Phinehas were also pronounced to die on the same day.

After receiving his first words from God, Samuel lays down until morning, but the text does not say the he slept. Would any of us be able to sleep in such a situation? Think of it: Samuel had lived with Eli from a very young age. Eli was surely a father figure to Samuel and had taught him all the ways of God and maintaining the tabernacle. Even though Eli was a flawed priest and father, Samuel still must have felt betrayal, shame, and embarrassment in hearing God’s harsh judgment against Eli. Samuel is afraid to tell Eli all that God has told him of the coming punishment.

But Eli is eager to hear from Samuel what God told him in the night. Showing faithfulness in both his new relationship with God and his relationship with Eli, Samuel tells Eli everything that God said, holding nothing back. Samuel’s open-hearted proclamation shows his worthiness as a prophet. In kind, Eli hears and accepts all of these things, showing that he was aware of his faults to some extent and was willing to pay the price for them. Eli says, “It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good to Him.” The chapter ends with the Lord being with Samuel as he grows. Samuel will perform honorably as a prophet of God and all of Israel comes to know that the word of God comes from the prophet Samuel who resides in Shiloh.

Eli’s spirit is willing to accept the judgment and punishment from God because he understands the sanctity of God’s Word and that there are real consequences at stake for breaking His commandments. There is something for us to learn by Eli’s example. We have all sinned and still do from time to time. Accepting the reality of the consequences of our sins and the attached consequences is an honorable thing. Not only will we be better prepared to repent by maintaining such an attitude, but we will also not hold God in contempt. Holding God in contempt produces rebellion and alienation. Much better are we to accept our punishment and resolve to change our ways.

Likewise, Samuel’s attitude holds lessons for us as well. Even though he was young, he still understood the weight of his responsibility and carried it through honorably. He did not let excuses such as his youth, his relationships, or his (supposed) anxiety get in the way of doing what God asked him to do. Our spirit should yield like Eli’s when confronted with our sin and its consequences, yet it should also be unshrinking like Samuel’s in the face of doing the hard things necessary to accomplish the will of God.

I Samuel 2: Hannah’s Gratitude & the Depravity of the Sons of Eli

I Samuel 2 deals with separate yet connected topics: Hannah’s gratitude, Samuel’s blessings, and the wickedness of the priest Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas.

As the chapter opens, Hannah offers a prayer to God after being blessed with a son. She is overjoyed because God has saved her from her plight of being a woman unable to bear children. Her prayer of praise and confidence in God is impressive because of its sincerity; her reaction to God’s blessing is appropriate in its expansiveness.

We could surmise that her prayer takes place publicly at the temple, after her interchange with Eli. However, it could just as easily have been more of a private affair. She recognizes that God is holy and singular. In the wake of the blessing of her son, Hannah admonishes others to temper and remove the arrogance from their speech. She acknowledges God as the “God of knowledge”, and the One who weighs actions. Verses 4-8 are an acknowledgement of God’s control over the land of the living:

“The bows of the mighty men are broken, and those who stumbled are girded with strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, and the hungry have ceased to hunger. Even the barren has borne seven, and she who has many children has become feeble. The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap, to set them among princes and make them inherit the throne of glory. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and He has set the world upon them.”

He brings the high of the world low and the low He exalts. Through His unreachable wisdom, He puts things as they ought to be: “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Matthew 19:30

Verses 9-10 display an attractive and sure confidence in God’s prevalence in the world, the surety that He will accomplish His will. Hannah’s mention of God giving strength to “His king” could be viewed as a prophecy. Her son Samuel will ultimately prophesy about Israel’s first King (Saul), so there is a case to be made here for prophecy. Alternatively, Hannah’s mention of a king could also be interpreted as a prophecy of the Messiah Jesus. This option seems less likely though, especially considering that her son will prophesy Saul’s coming. Skipping ahead to verses 18-21, the account of Samuel growing before the Lord is encouraging. Also, Hannah had more children, three sons and two daughters.

The chapter transitions to listing the transgressions of the priest’s sons Hophni and Phinehas. These two angered God with their disregard for the specific commandments of sacrifice and with their selfishness. They manipulated the rules and methods of sacrifice to gather for themselves the meat they wanted. Their use of a three-pronged fork to gather meat was nowhere mentioned in God’s instructions for sacrifice. Also, the fat was meant to be burnt as a sacrifice to God, but Eli’s wicked sons took it for themselves, as seen in verse 16: ““And if the man said to him, “They should really burn the fat first; then you may take as much as your heart desires,” he would then answer him, “No, but you must give it now; and if not, I will take it by force.”” Despite the people trying to do the right things, these wicked men collected the best meat selfishly for themselves, denying God’s portion and angering Him.

Eli’s sons also had sex with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle. In terms of degrees of sin, this one seems just as bad as taking God’s portion of the sacrifice. Once can picture these wicked sons, taking advantage of the women seeking to praise and glorify God by bedding them. This is a depraved corruption, a disgrace of the worship and holy approach that should otherwise be made to Almighty God. The actions of Hophni and Phinehas so angered God that He made them not listen to the admonitions of their father Eli because “the Lord desired to kill them.”

But why did their depravity get to such a point? News of the deeds of Hophni and Phinehas reached their father Eli, and he attempted to influence and change their behavior, but by then it was too late. It is a lesson for parents but especially fathers: if and when we see insolence, evil, corruption, sin, disrespect, or ungodliness in our households, it needs to be addressed and aggressively removed. Because if it is not, it grows into something akin to the abomination Eli has on his hands. It is clear that Hophni and Phinehas sinned greatly and will pay for their sins, but Eli bears some of this burden along with them.

The chapter ends with a prophecy from an unnamed man of God (Samuel’s first prophecy comes in chapter 3). The prophecy is given directly to Eli (more evidence that he bears significant responsibility) and reveals the height of insult that the actions of Hophni and Phinehas have caused. Their selfishness and desire for sin were not what God had in mind when He delivered the priesthood to men, with the design of facilitating worship and sacrifices. God says that an enemy will be in His dwelling place, a suggestion that the tabernacle will be occupied by foreigners or the ark will be stolen, or both. The young men of Israel will die and Hophni and Phinehas will die on the same day. Eli’s family, although in the line of priests, will not be allowed to remain as priests and the day will come when they will beg money and food from the new priesthood.

The new priest that will replace Eli is not mentioned by name, but it is one that God says will be faithful and will do “according to what is in My heart and in My mind.” In the closing verses of chapter 2, we have a reference to David “My anointed” in that the new priest will be faithful. David, as one in the lineage of Christ, intimates what weighty matters the wicked brothers were playing with.

If we were not convinced before, may we be convinced now that God is highly serious about His commandments, the way we approach Him, how we heed His provisions for worship, and our attitude when we approach Him. Are we taking these things seriously enough? Do we have the right amount of reverence, awe, respect, and fear? God expects us to take Him seriously and to approach and obey Him sincerely and in the prescribed ways. May each of us pray that our hearts are right before Him.