March 17, 2015.
Daily Reading: I Samuel 1-6.
Background: The book of Samuel begins in the latter times of the Judges and quickly develops into the monarchy of Israel, with Saul being anointed the first king in chapter nine.
Concepts and Connections.
A mother’s faith: Similar to other stories such as Abraham and Sarah (see Genesis 11:30), Isaac and Rebekah (see Genesis 25:21), Jacob and Rachel (see Genesis 29:31) and Zorah and Manoah (see Judges 13:2), the story of Samuel begins with two godly parents, Elkanah and Hannah, of whom the wife was barren. Actually, the story of Samuel’s birth shares assorted characteristics with each of the above, such as the favoritism that was played by his father, strong prayers to the Lord and the nazarite vow. The birth of Samuel focuses on the faith of his mother who went up with Elkanah year after year to sacrifice to the Lord at Shiloh. Though she was barren, Elkanah loved her more than his other wife, Peninnah. As we have seen in times past, this caused tension in the family and Peninnah would always give Hannah grief about the fact that she was barren, probably out of jealousy of Elkanah’s love for her. Though she was irritated by Peninnah, we see Hannah’s faith persevere, and eventually she makes a vow to the Lord to dedicate her son to Him if He would bless her with conception. Hannah’s prayer was so heartfelt that instead of praying aloud, she mouthed the words while praying with her heart, leading Eli the priest to take her for a drunken woman. When he learned the truth, however, he blessed her petition and the Lord granted her what she wanted and gave her a son, who they named Samuel (which means “name of God”). The vow that Hannah had dedicated Samuel to was a nazarite vow, detailed in Numbers 6. A nazarite vow was a vow that was above and beyond the ‘normal’ duty of a child of Israel, for it was to set oneself apart as consecrated to the Lord. In Judges 13, we find that Samson was to be under the same vow all his life, not letting a razor touch his head nor drinking any alcohol. After she weaned Samuel, she again took him to Shiloh and ‘lent him to the Lord’ all the days of his life. Samuel would go on to become a judge of Israel and Hannah would be blessed with more children because of her faith.
1. Praise: After the Lord has answered Hannah’s prayer and granted her request, she prays a prayer of praise that acknowledges what the Lord has done for her and rejoices in His name. Hannah is extremely grateful that He has looked favorably on her, as being barren for so long had likely taken its toll on her emotions. But not she has been relieved of her stress and exalts in the Lord. We should remember to thank and praise our Father, privately and publicly, for what He has done for us and what He continues to do for us as opposed to only going to Him in our time of need. There is no doubt that we should let our petitions be made known to Him, along with our anxieties and concerns, but the critical element of praise is sometimes left out. We praise Him for who He is and what He has done. Hannah rejoiced greatly in the Lord. We should follow her example.
2. Handling your household: In the latter portion of this chapter, we read of an example that we should learn from instead of follow. Eli was a priest of the Lord at Shiloh who was introduced in the previous chapter. Though he was a priest of the Lord, it would seem that he was not able to handle his own family well. His two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are called worthless men who did not know the Lord. They had knowledge of the Lord, of course, and probably even thought they knew Him as they were in line to become priests after their father Eli. But they did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord, for they treated the offering of the Lord with contempt and did many evil things throughout the land of Israel, driven by their own lusts. To his credit, Eli does rebuke his sons to try to get them in order, but this is about all he does to try to control them, and to this rebuke they would not listen. Though we don’t know all the details of the story, nor the specific reasons why his sons turned out the way they did, we can infer somewhat from what we are given that Eli was probably unwilling to do what was necessary in response to their actions (see Deuteronomy 21:18-21). In the next chapter, we will see the Lord specifically mention to Samuel that Eli’s sons should have been restrained but they weren’t (see I Samuel 3:13). Further, in the next chapter we will see that it almost seems that Eli has given up when Samuel tells him that the Lord is going to cut off his household because of their wickedness (Eli simply responds with “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.”). Finally, we see the Lord come to Eli to tell him that he has rejected him and his sons because of their wickedness, implying that at least some of the blame was placed on Eli for not handling his household as he should. Though it is true that children will make their own choices regardless of their upbringing, a faithful up bringing in the Lord greatly increases the odds that they will remain faithful when they are on their own (see Proverbs 22:6). We should trust in this general truth and train up our children in the way of the Lord, not only in word, but also through our very own example. In general, our children must hear us teach and see us walk if conviction is fully to occur.
Samuel’s call: The story of Samuel’s call is indeed unique and interesting, as it takes three times for either Samuel or Eli to realize what is actually going on. Samuel was dedicated to the Lord under a nazarite vow from birth and he had been serving under Eli ever since he was weaned from his mother. Due to the wickedness of Eli’s two biological sons, it is not unreasonable to assume that Eli counted Samuel as more of a son than he did Hophni and Phinehas. After the third time Samuel comes into Eli even though it wasn’t Eli who called to him, Eli realizes that it is the Lord that was calling and instructs Samuel to answer the next time with “Speak Lord, for your servant hears.” When he does this, the Lord reveals to him what He is about to do in Israel, which would not be good news for Eli. Samuel is afraid to tell Eli what the Lord has told him, for he did not know how he would respond. After Eli pressed hard, however, Samuel told him all the Lord had spoken to him. Eli sounds almost apathetic here, although it is more likely that he has lost all hope in the situation he was in with his sons. The Lord would indeed cut off the house of Eli because of the wickedness of his sons, and He would raise up Samuel to be judge over Israel, as well as a priest and prophet. It is noteworthy to mention that though the first chapter calls Samuel’s father an Ephrathite, they were indeed of the tribe of Levi as can be found in the lineage given in I Chronicles 6:16-28. Remember that the Levites were given a portion of the land in each tribe, for they did not have their own inheritance of land.
False confidence: The ark of the covenant was a sign of power for the children of Israel. At times it was brought out in battle to give them the edge over who they were fighting against. It was the presence of the Lord, however, that helped the children of Israel when they had the ark, not the ark in and of itself. This is an important distinction to make, as the ark did not help the children of Israel in this chapter when they were fighting against the Philistines. Notice what actually goes on here, though. Israel goes out to battle with the Philistines (there is no mention of asking the Lord if this is what they should do) and the Philistines get the upper hand. The children of Israel then cry out “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines?” to the elders, but they never actually inquire of the Lord. Instead, they simply decided to bring out the ark. It seems that the Israelites put their trust more so in the physical ark than they did who’s presence it represented. They had a false confidence, for they did not know that the Lord was not with them (likely due to Hophni and Phinehas, the wicked sons of Eli who were with the ark). Israel thought they had God on their side, but they had left Him. In what would certainly be defeating times, the ark was captured by the Philistines and Eli’s son’s died in battle. When all this was told to Eli (likely out of shock), he fell backwards and broke his neck. Phinehas’ wife also died during childbirth after she was told of her husband’s death. The Lord had brought about what He had said He was going to do to the house of Eli.
The Lord, the only God: Taking a bit of a detour from the story of Samuel, we read the very interesting story of the situation in the land of the Philistines when the ark of the covenant was captured and taken into their camp. They brought the ark to the city of Ashdod and put it in the house of Dagon, a god of the Philistines. When they came into the house of Dagon the next day, however, Dagon was laying face down before the ark. Not knowing what happened, they set Dagon back up, only to come back in the next day to find the false god toppled over and severed. Moreover, the people of Ashdod began to be afflicted with terror and tumors because they had the ark, causing them to send it to Gath. The same afflictions followed the ark to the people Gath, who then sent the ark to Ekron where the same think once again happened. Eventually, they decided that they needed to send the ark back to Israel so that their God would not have His hand heavy on them any more. This display of power and affliction was a testimony of the Lord God of Israel to the Philistines, so that they would know that He is God, and there is no other like Him. Though they defeated Israel, it was not because of their own power or their own gods. It was because Israel had turned their back on God, seemingly through the leadership of Hophni and Phinehas, and He had given them into the hands of their enemies. God was not going to allow them to think that any false god that they had had defeated Him, for that was not the case. This display is certainly intriguing, and it reminds us of who God is, and how much His anger is kindled when people put other gods before Him.
Returning the ark: When the Philistines decide to return the ark to Israel, they do not wish to let it return without some kind of present to appease the Lord God of Israel. They decide to make five golden tumors and five golden mice, according to the number of lords of the Philistines, as a guilt offering to the Lord. They prepare a new cart pulled by two milk cows that had never born a yoke before to carry the ark back to Israel. Considering the possibility that what had happened with the ark was simply a coincidence, they decided to send the cows unguided to see if they would go straight towards Israel or not. As could be expected (it would have been hard to consider everything that had happened as truly a coincidence), the cows headed straight for Beth-shemesh of Israel. God had shown once again that He was truly in control. Israel rejoiced in the return of the ark, though the Lord did strike some down in Beth-shemesh because they looked upon the ark. What we can take from this story is the fact that the Lord is always in control, no matter who on earth has the upper hand. The will of the Lord will always prevail, though the way He works this out may be hidden from us. Let us ever trust in the Lord.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Psalm 30-32.
The Lord bless you and keep you.