1 Samuel 1–5: An Old Priest & A Young Prophet

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 11: Tuesday

Thus Samuel grew, and Yahweh was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. So all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of Yahweh. And Yahweh appeared again at Shiloh, because Yahweh revealed Himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of Yahweh.
1 Samuel 3:19–21 LSB

Tuesday’s Bible reading is 1 Samuel 1–5. The book open with the record of another family during the days of the Judges. D. F. Payne comments on the book’s historical setting and major themes.

“The historical situation presupposed at the start of the narrative of the books of Samuel is that of the end of the period of the judges; 1 Samuel is the sequel to the book of Judges. There are two recurring themes in the books of Samuel: the problem of leadership of God’s people; and the presence of God in their midst. The former motif means that the history of Israel is presented in terms of the lives of three outstanding individuals—Samuel, Saul and David—while the second motif involves frequent mention of shrine and ark. The two themes come together when the Lord is said to be ‘with’ one leader or another.”1

Payne divides 1 Samuel into three main sections.2

1:1–7:14 Samuel’s early years
7:15–15:35 Samuel and Saul
16:1–31:13 Saul and David

1 Samuel begins with the story of Hannah and her longing for a child. We are given a glimpse into the pain and jealousy of polygamy as Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, taunts her because Hannah has no children. Peninnah is even called her rival. During their yearly journey to Shiloh, Hannah cries out to God.

Then Hannah rose after eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the temple of Yahweh. And she, bitter of soul, prayed to Yahweh and wept despondently. And she made a vow and said, “O Yahweh of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a seed amongst men, then I will give him to Yahweh all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.”
1 Samuel 1:9–11 LSB

Eli sees her praying:

Now it happened, as she multiplied her praying before Yahweh, that Eli was watching her mouth. As for Hannah, she was speaking in her heart; only her lips were moving, but her voice was not heard. So Eli thought she was drunk. Then Eli said to her, “How long will you make yourself drunk? Put away your wine from you.”
But Hannah answered and said, “No, my lord, I am a woman oppressed in spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before Yahweh. Do not consider your maidservant as a vile woman, for I have spoken until now out of my great complaint and provocation.”
Then Eli answered and said, “Go in peace; and may the God of Israel grant your petition that you have asked of Him.”
And she said, “Let your servant-woman find favor in your sight.” So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.
1 Samuel 1:12–18 LSB

God answers the cry of her heart, and Samuel is born.

After he is weaned, Hannah brings Samuel to Shiloh (cf. Joshua 18:1), where he stays to minister to the Lord before Eli, the priest.

And she said, “Oh, my lord! As your soul lives, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you, praying to Yahweh. For this young boy I prayed, and Yahweh has given me my petition which I asked of Him. So I have also dedicated him to Yahweh; as long as he lives, he is dedicated to Yahweh.” So he worshiped Yahweh there.
1 Samuel 1:26–28 LSB

1 Samuel 2:1–10 is Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving and praise of God who gave her a son. She and her husband, Elkanah, return to their home in Ramah and in verse 12 we are introduced to Eli’s sons.

Now the sons of Eli were vile men; they did not know Yahweh.
1 Samuel 1:12 LSB

One evening, while he is still a boy, the Lord speaks to Samuel and tells him of the judgment that is about to come upon Eli and his house because his sons despised God with their wickedness, and Eli did not rebuke them.

And Yahweh said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. In that day I will establish against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end.And I have told him that I am about to judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knew because his sons have been bringing a curse on themselves, but he did not rebuke them. Now therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”
1 Samuel 3:11–14 LSB

In chapter four, the Israelites go to meet the Philistines in battle, taking the Ark of the Covenant with them. Israel is defeated, Eli’s sons are killed and the Ark is taken by the Philistines. Upon hearing of the death of his sons, Eli dies, and when his pregnant daughter-in-law hears that the Ark is gone and that Eli and her husband are dead, she goes into labor and dies giving birth to a son. 1 Samuel 5 tells of the judgment God brings upon cities of the Philistines that hold the ark.

When my children were growing up, the story of Eli and his sons stood as a strong reminder for me when I was tired or tempted to let things slide that I should not become weary in their training and discipline for their sake, for their future well-being. Spoiling and letting a child get his way may earn a few hours of ease, but that’s about it. Years ago I heard an early childhood professor tell a group of mothers of infants to consider what a child’s current behavior could become six months down the road. While sleep and eating were the main topics, I thought his words had broad application for child rearing in thinking about attitudes, habits and relationships.

We can learn some things about parenting from Eli in these chapters, and in 1 Samuel 1–5, we can learn some things about prayer from Hannah, but not from her son, Samuel.

God speaking to Samuel about His coming judgment on the house of Eli has erroneously been used to justify the prevalent idea, found among proponents of various forms of prayer in the mysticism sweeping the Christian church today, that God will speak to us in prayer. This is an heretical concept of prayer. Samuel was a prophet, and the fact that God chose to speak to him had to do with Samuel’s Old Testament prophetic office, and not with any doctrine or teaching on prayer. The event in 1 Samuel 3, is not even a prayer and cannot serve as an example.

My pastor, Mike Braun, comments:

“The “voice” of God came audibly to only a few select people in the Old and New Testaments. It marked them out as prophets and agents through whom He selectively produced the inspired record of revealed Scripture. These audio-experiences were never normative. They were remarkable because they were extraordinary. Indeed there were many other means of revelation to the prophets beyond an audible voice…

“The normative venue for the voice of God is the inspired Word of God. We are to expect God to “speak” to us continually and directly through this means, both collectively and privately…Everything we share or expect to enjoy in this life is to be monitored and verified by Scripture. The only credentials that verify the truth is the truth itself, the truth of God’s Word. We are to train ourselves in this, seeking God’s approval in knowing and doing what His word has revealed. Intimacy with him comes from moral obedience, prayer and pure devotion based on his Word. (Eph 4:30; 1 Thes 5:19-22) His demands for us are clear. Our “demands” on him must be Biblical and tempered by an awareness of our mortality and his holiness. In short, don’t expect to hear his voice, rather expect to know his will and do it.”3

I think the reason the idea of “hearing God’s voice” has become so popular is because the church has had far too many broken down relationships or impersonal interactions amongst the people within the church. The result has been, in my opinion, a seeking of an experience of God to make up for the lack of warm, loving experiences with one another. The problems we have in relating to one another and the lack of love we experience within the church are driving far too many to seek a mystical experience of assurance of the love and presence of God. We seek from God experiences He has meant for us to have with one another.

These distorted meanings have come about for various reasons. Sometimes people feel buried under legalism or as if they can’t measure up and seek an experience as their way out from under this pile. We need clear biblical teaching on the Christian life. There has also not been enough teaching about prayer. The church has also not thoroughly taught God’s people about the illumination and sufficiency of Scripture, and how to handle the Scripture rightly in interpretation.

Sometimes there is not enough real fellowship among Christians, or as we used to call it, body life.  A powerful medicine to ensure real fellowship is hospitality. We’ve moved quite a bit, and we’ve seen churches in which people will be friendly church, but no one invites you to their home to be a part of their lives.

I’ve mentioned Alexander Strauch several times in the past couple of weeks. He has written a short book, The Hospitality Commands, with a long subtitle, Building Loving Christian Community: Building Bridges to Friends and Neighbors. I highly recommend this book. Strauch writes,

“I don’t think most Christians today understand how essential hospitality is to fanning the flames of love and strengthening the Christian family. Hospitality fleshes out love in a uniquely personal and sacrificial way. Through the ministry of hospitality, we share our most prized possessions. We share our family, home, finances, food, privacy, and time. Indeed, we share our very lives. So, hospitality is always costly. Through the ministry of hospitality, we provide friendship, acceptance, fellowship, refreshment, comfort, and love in one of the richest and deepest ways possible for humans to understand. Unless we open the doors of our homes to one another, the reality of the local church as a close-knit family of loving brothers and sisters in only a theory.

“A cold, unfriendly church contradicts the gospel message. Yet unfriendliness stands out as one of the most common criticisms people have of local churches. It doesn’t take people long to figure out that there is a “churchy” love among Christians that ends at the back door of the sanctuary or in the parking lot. It is a superficial, Sunday-morning kind of love that is unwilling to venture beyond the walls of the church building.

“Brotherly love, however, entails intimate relationship, care for one another, knowledge of one another, belonging together, and sharing life together…In most instances, we hardly even know each other until we get together in one another’s homes, eat together, and talk with one another across the table.”4

In other words, truth and love are so needed in today’s churches as the antidote to the counterfeit spirituality that is deceiving so many.

In next week’s reading 1 Samuel 6 sees the ark is returned to Israel.

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Samuel Dedicated by Hannah at the Temple: Frank W.W. Topham. Public Domain.
Samuel Relating to Eli the Judgements of God upon Eli’s House: John Singleton Copley. Public Domain.
1,2D. F. Payne, “1 Samuel,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 287, 286.
3Mike Braun, “The Silence of God,” Broken Hallelujahs archived, August 5, 2008. Retrieved 14 March 2023.
4Alexander Strauch, The Hospitality Commands (Lewis and Roth Publishers, Littleton CO: 1993) 17.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2021–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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