1 Samuel 1:1-3:21
The story begins with a man named Elkanah, who lived in the hill country of Ephraim. He had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah was able to have children, but Hannah was not. It was obvious that Hannah was the favorite wife, and Peninnah got back at Hannah by constantly reminding her of her barrenness. Hannah longed for a child and Elkanah could see that she was sad. When they went to the Tabernacle, which at that time was set up at Shiloh, for the festivals he always gave Hannah a double portion of the meal to cheer her up. It didn't work, nor did Elkanah saying "Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?" Definitely the wrong thing to say to a childless woman.
Hannah sought the Lord. She went to the entrance of the Tabernacle to pray. She wept as she prayed. She promised that if the Lord would give her a son that she would dedicate him to the Lord, and like Samson his hair would never be cut. She prayed with such emotion that her lips moved but no words came out. Eli the priest saw her and thought she was drunk. When he rebuked her she told him of her situation. Eli blessed her and said, "Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him."
Sure enough, God did answer Hannah's prayer! She conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, which means "asked of God." Even though she was joyful and thankful, she waited until Samuel was weaned before she went back to Shiloh. Then she presented her son to Eli the priest as the answer to her prayer and in fulfillment of the vow she made to the Lord. Samuel then lived with Eli as an adopted son and helped with the work of the Tabernacle. Hannah would make clothes for him and bring them when she came to the feasts. Even though her heart must have ached when she left her son, she worshipped and praised the Lord for His faithfulness. And God honored Hannah. He gave her three more sons and two daughters.
I'm sure Eli appreciated Samuel's help, because his two sons, Hophni and Phineas, "...were worthless men. They did not know the Lord." (2:12) They couldn't wait for the sacrifices to be performed before they took their share of the meat. They had sex with any woman they could seduce in the entrance to the Tabernacle, even though they were both married men. Eli rebuked them, but they ignored him. Eli should have removed them from serving as priests but he didn't. He did not correct his sons as he should have, and one day a prophet came and told him that God would judge him and his family. Both his sons would die on the same day, and He would raise up a faithful priest to replace Eli. The prophet went away, and Eli showed no signs of repentance or any desire to seek the Lord to avert His judgment.
The boy Samuel lived with Eli and helped him around the Tabernacle. One night Samuel heard someone calling his name. So he got up and went into Eli's room to see what he wanted. Eli said that he didn't call him, and told Samuel to go back to bed. This happened again, and Eli told him to go back to bed. The third time it happened, Eli realized that the Lord must be speaking to the boy. That didn't happen very often in those latter days of the Commonwealth of Israel. He told Samuel to answer "Speak, Lord, for your servant hears." It was indeed the Lord speaking to Samuel. He delivered another stinging rebuke to Eli for not disciplining his sons and said that He would fulfill all that the prophet had spoken earlier. That's a heavy message for a little boy to bear! He went back to bed, but I doubt he slept. In the morning Eli asked what the Lord said, and told him not to hold back a single word. Samuel told him. Eli's response is curious: "It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him." God did indeed bring His judgment on the House of Eli. Hophni and Phinehas took the Ark of the Covenant with Israel's army into battle against the Philistines. Both of Eli's sons were killed that day as the Philistines routed Israel and took the Ark of the Covenant. When Eli heard the news of his son's death he took it well. But when he heard of the Ark's capture he fell over backwards, breaking his neck. Phinehas' wife was expecting a baby and went into labor at the moment she heard of her husband's death. It was a rough delivery and afterward she lay dying. But with her dying breath she named her son "Ichabod," which means inglorious, because the glory of the Lord had departed from Israel.
By this time Samuel was ready to serve as priest in place of Eli and his sons. But he was more than a priest. "...the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord." Dan was the northernmost city and Beersheba the southernmost in Israel. All of Israel looked to Samuel to lead them in the ways of the Lord.
Today's passage has all kinds of lessons for us. First we see how precious our children are. Hannah felt the same pain as Sarah and Rachel. Her arms were empty and she longed for them to be filled. We can't take having children for granted. As we saw in Ruth's story, it is the Lord who gives conception. Don't forget to pray for the childless, whether from infertility or bereavement. Few experiences in life hurt more. I'm not sure we men can totally understand this, and it's too easy to be like Elkanah.
We must also pay attention to how we raise our children. They aren't our possessions. They belong to the Lord and He gives them to us in trust and raising them is part of our stewardship. Ephesians 6:4 says, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." I see a lot of angry young people today, and I think it's because their parents don't give enough of themselves to their children. Abuse, as bad as it is, is not the worst thing you can do to child. Ignoring them is. We can get so wrapped up in our lives that we don't pay attention to what our children are doing. Children need discipline and instruction, and parents are the first and best teachers. Eli didn't discipline his sons when they were young and didn't discipline them when they showed contempt for the Lord's sanctuary and the results were disastrous.
One last lesson today is from 1 Samuel 3:1, "And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision." Let's remember what a wonderful blessing it is to have the Bible! We can hold God's Word in our hands and hear from Him as we read its pages. But how often and with how much dedication do we read it? Amos 8:11 says, "Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord." If we go hungry for lack of God's Word it's our own fault, because we have it at our fingertips. Jesus answered Satan, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3) Thank you for taking the time to read the Word in this study and to share your thoughts!
Tomorrow we'll see Samuel anoint Saul the first King of Israel.
I'll leave you with this beautiful song. God knew Samuel's name, and called him by it. He knows your name too!