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I Samuel 1-3     Listen Podcast


What you need to know about I Samuel
According to Jewish tradition, the book was written by Samuel, the last of the judges. I Samuel is a continuation of Israel's history after the close of the Book of Judges.

Hannah needs a baby (I Samuel 1)

1 ¶ Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim Zophim, of the mountains of Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite.
2 And he had two wives: the name of one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
3 This man went up from his city yearly to worship and sacrifice to the LORD of hosts in Shiloh. Also the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the LORD, were there.
4 And whenever the time came for Elkanah to make an offering, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters.
5 But to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah, although the LORD had closed her womb.
6 And her rival also provoked her severely, to make her miserable, because the LORD had closed her womb.
7 So it was, year by year, when she went up to the house of the LORD, that she provoked her; therefore she wept and did not eat.
8 ¶ Then Elkanah her husband said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?”
9 ¶ So Hannah arose after they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the tabernacle of the LORD.
10 And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the LORD and wept in anguish.
11 Then she made a vow and said, “O LORD 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 male child, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.”
12 ¶ And it happened, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli watched her mouth.
13 Now Hannah spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli thought she was drunk.
14 So Eli said to her, “How long will you be drunk? Put your wine away from you!”
15 ¶ But Hannah answered and said, “No, my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor intoxicating drink, but have poured out my soul before the LORD.
16 Do not consider your maidservant a wicked woman, for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief I have spoken until now.”
17 ¶ Then Eli answered and said, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him.”
18 ¶ And she said, “Let your maidservant find favor in your sight.” So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.
19 ¶ Then they rose early in the morning and worshiped before the LORD, and returned and came to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her.
20 So it came to pass in the process of time that Hannah conceived and bore a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, “Because I have asked for him from the LORD.”
21 ¶ Now the man Elkanah and all his house went up to offer to the LORD the yearly sacrifice and his vow.
22 But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “Not until the child is weaned; then I will take him, that he may appear before the LORD and remain there forever.”
23 ¶ So Elkanah her husband said to her, “Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him. Only let the LORD establish His word.” Then the woman stayed and nursed her son until she had weaned him.
24 ¶ Now when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bulls, one ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD in Shiloh. And the child was young.
25 Then they slaughtered a bull, and brought the child to Eli.
26 And she said, “O my lord! As your soul lives, my lord, I am the woman who stood by you here, praying to the LORD.
27 For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted me my petition which I asked of Him.
28 Therefore I also have lent him to the LORD; as long as he lives he shall be lent to the LORD.” So they worshiped the LORD there.

Hannah was one of two wives of Elkanah; the other wife had children; she didn't. You will notice in verses 6-7 that Peninnah, the other wife, was Hannah's "rival," and she "provoked her." I can imagine that this was the typical tense environment of many households where multiple wives were present. Moreover, a child (especially a male child) was the only retirement program that many women had - someone to take care of them in those twilight years. We are told that Hannah was favored by her husband Elkanah. Perhaps he went on to marry Peninnah because of Hannah's inability to bear children. Whatever the reason, the presence of two wives in the home created an environment that was less than harmonious.

So Hannah made a vow to God, "Give me a child and I'll make him a life-long Nazirite." The Nazirite vow instructions are found in Numbers 6 (see notes). Samson's mom had done the same thing (Judges 13, see notes). Hannah has the child, names him Samuel and drops him off at the tabernacle after weaning. The tabernacle in Shiloh is his new home according to the specifics of her vow. Shiloh was about 13 miles north of Hannah's home in Ramah, a five to six hour trip by foot. Samuel becomes a helper to the priest. The word "weaned" in verses 22 and 24 does not necessarily mean "weaned" from breast milk. It is sometimes used in that context, but here it is apparent that Hannah raised Samuel to some point in his childhood. We see in 2:11 that Samuel seems to have become immediately helpful upon his arrival to the Tabernacle - not a description of a baby's ability...or even a toddler.

Incidentally, we see Samuel's genealogy in I Chronicles 6:26-28 (see notes) and note that he was of Levite lineage. An extra Levite around the tabernacle might come in handy for Eli at some point in the future.

One more thing...Hannah had made a vow before Samuel was born to commit Samuel to the Lord. While we aren't told per se, this dedication to the Lord in her vow must have involved leaving him with the high priest of Israel when the time was appropriate to do so. Vows were sacred in Israel. One did not break a vow. We find a warning regarding vows in Deuteronomy 23:21-23 (see notes), " When you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay to pay it; for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin to you. But if you abstain from vowing, it shall not be sin to you. That which has gone from your lips you shall keep and perform, for you voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth." So, let's not be too hard on Hannah for leaving Samuel with a high priest who had trouble raising his own children. If she had made a vow before Samuel's birth to do so, she did not presume to have the liberty to break such a vow - especially since the Lord had specifically honored her vow by giving her the ability to bear children. For more information on vows, see the notes on Numbers 30.

Samuel gets a nice send off (I Samuel 2:1-10)

1 And Hannah prayed and said:
“My heart rejoices in the LORD;
My horn is exalted in the LORD.
I smile at my enemies,
Because I rejoice in Your salvation.
2 “No one is holy like the LORD,
For there is none besides You,
Nor is there any rock like our God.
3 “Talk no more so very proudly;
Let no arrogance come from your mouth,
For the LORD is the God of knowledge;
And by Him actions are weighed.
4 “The bows of the mighty men are broken,
And those who stumbled are girded with strength.
5 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.
6 “The LORD kills and makes alive;
He brings down to the grave and brings up.
7 The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
He brings low and lifts up.
8 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.
9 He will guard the feet of His saints,
But the wicked shall be silent in darkness.
“For by strength no man shall prevail.
10 The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken in pieces;
From heaven He will thunder against them.
The LORD will judge the ends of the earth.
“He will give strength to His king,
And exalt the horn of His anointed.”

Hannah gives Samuel a nice send-off prayer in these 11 verses prior to leaving him there with the high priest, Eli. It's an interesting prayer; notice her opening line when she says, "I smile at my enemies." Is she talking about her husband's other wife, Peninnah, here? I wonder how women introduced the other wife or wives of their husbands back then - wife-in-law? Or perhaps they just introduced them as "enemies" or "adversaries."

A very interesting verse in this prayer is 10, "The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken in pieces; From heaven He will thunder against them. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to His king, And exalt the horn of His anointed." Israel's neighbors had kings, and Gideon's renegade son, Abimelech, had made a grab for the kingship back in Judges 9 (see notes). Of course, Saul would be the first king of Israel. Hannah's prayer here seems to reflect the desire and anticipation perhaps shared by many Israelites for the day when they could have a king like the other nations. This becomes a reality in I Samuel 8 (see notes). I wonder if Hannah anticipated that the child she had left off at the tabernacle might become Israel's first king. Well, as it turns out, he wasn't, but he did make Israel's first and second royal appointments.

Eli's boys skim the offerings (I Samuel 2:11-26)

11 Then Elkanah went to his house at Ramah. But the child ministered to the LORD before Eli the priest.
12 ¶ Now the sons of Eli were corrupt; they did not know the LORD.
13 And the priests’ custom with the people was that when any man offered a sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come with a three-pronged fleshhook in his hand while the meat was boiling.
14 Then he would thrust it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot; and the priest would take for himself all that the fleshhook brought up. So they did in Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there.
15 Also, before they burned the fat, the priest’s servant would come and say to the man who sacrificed, “Give meat for roasting to the priest, for he will not take boiled meat from you, but raw.”
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.”
17 ¶ Therefore the sin of the young men was very great before the LORD, for men abhorred the offering of the LORD.
18 ¶ But Samuel ministered before the LORD, even as a child, wearing a linen ephod.
19 Moreover his mother used to make him a little robe, and bring it to him year by year when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.
20 And Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “The LORD give you descendants from this woman for the loan that was given to the LORD.” Then they would go to their own home.
21 ¶ And the LORD visited Hannah, so that she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile the child Samuel grew before the LORD.
22 ¶ Now Eli was very old; and he heard everything his sons did to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.
23 So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all the people.
24 No, my sons! For it is not a good report that I hear. You make the LORD’S people transgress.
25 If one man sins against another, God will judge him. But if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?” Nevertheless they did not heed the voice of their father, because the LORD desired to kill them.
26 ¶ And the child Samuel grew in stature, and in favor both with the LORD and men.

Eli's sons (Hophni and Phinehas) were corrupt; that's what the KJV phrase "sons of Belial" in verse 12 means. They were abusive to the people who brought offerings. They inappropriately allocated a portion of the offerings that belonged to God. They also had inappropriate relationships with women around the tabernacle area, and they apparently made little attempt to hide their corruption. How bad was it? It was so bad that verse 17 says, "...for men abhorred the offering of the LORD." Eli rebuked his sons for their conduct, but it made no difference; he took no further actions when it was obviously his place to do so. We see in verse 25 that they had stepped over the line of God's tolerance; God had determined that they must die.

Samuel, on the other hand, was a good boy. His mom took him a new robe once a year when she visited; she dressed him up like a little priest, complete with his own priestly-looking vest - an ephod. God gave her more children (three more sons and two daughters), but according to verses 20-21, not until after she delivered Samuel to Eli. While we are left with the impression that Hannah only visited Samuel once each year, she probably visited more frequently than that based upon the commandment of Exodus 34:23 (see notes). There were three feasts specified when the Hebrews are to gather together. These are the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) and the Feast of Tabernacles. Later on in Jewish history, these three Festivals were the times when Jews tried to make a pilgrimage back to Jerusalem. So, it is a reasonable assumption that Hannah, only 13 miles away from Shiloh, probably visited Samuel more often than once each year. We do know that once each year she brought him a new suit of clothes.

God speaks to Eli about his boys (I Samuel 2:27-36)

27 ¶ Then a man of God came to Eli and said to him, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Did I not clearly reveal Myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt in Pharaoh’s house?
28 Did I not choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be My priest, to offer upon My altar, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod before Me? And did I not give to the house of your father all the offerings of the children of Israel made by fire?
29 Why do you kick at My sacrifice and My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling place, and honor your sons more than Me, to make yourselves fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel My people?’
30 Therefore the LORD God of Israel says: “I said indeed that your house and the house of your father would walk before Me forever.’ But now the LORD says: ‘Far be it from Me; for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed.
31 Behold, the days are coming that I will cut off your arm and the arm of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house.
32 And you will see an enemy in My dwelling place, despite all the good which God does for Israel. And there shall not be an old man in your house forever.
33 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.
34 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.
35 Then I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall walk before My anointed forever.
36 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.” ’ ”

A "man of God" arrives to speak a word from God. His prophecy may be divided into three sections:

  1. The authority of the priesthood (verses 27-28)
  2. The abuse of the priesthood under Eli's leadership (verses 29-30)
  3. The prophecy regarding the result of the priesthood under Eli as a result of this abuse (verses 31-36)

God speaks to Eli about his sons, but Eli still doesn't take any substantive action. God lets Eli know that they won't get away with their actions. As a matter of fact, God tells Eli that his sons will die...on the same day. Moreover, Eli gets some additional bad news about his legacy in this passage; the priesthood through his lineage will be cut off. Years later the priesthood was taken from Eli's descendant, Abiathar (descendant of Aaron's son Ithamar) and given to Zadok (descendant of Aaron's son Eleazar). This transfer would take place later under Solomon's authority as a fulfillment of this prophecy in I Kings 2:27,35 (see notes).

There's another aspect regarding Eli's priesthood that is worth noting. In Numbers 25:11-13 (see notes) it was decreed that priests from that time forward would come only from the line of Aaron's grandson, Phinehas, who was Eleazar's son. This was because of his heroic deed in the midst of sin among the Hebrews. That would indicate that Eli's priesthood was in violation of that decree anyway. However, there were a lot of things wrong in Israel during the period of the judges.

Samuel gets the call (I Samuel 3)

1 Now the boy Samuel ministered to the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation.
2 And it came to pass at that time, while Eli was lying down in his place, and when his eyes had begun to grow so dim that he could not see,
3 and before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle of the LORD where the ark of God was, and while Samuel was lying down,
4 that the LORD called Samuel. And he answered, “Here I am!”
5 So he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” ¶ And he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” And he went and lay down.
6 ¶ Then the LORD called yet again, “Samuel!” ¶ So Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” He answered, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.”
7 (Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor was the word of the LORD yet revealed to him.)
8 ¶ And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. So he arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you did call me.” ¶ Then Eli perceived that the LORD had called the boy.
9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and it shall be, if He calls you, that you must say, ‘Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10 ¶ Now the LORD came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” ¶ And Samuel answered, “Speak, for Your servant hears.”
11 ¶ Then the LORD said to Samuel: “Behold, I will do something in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.
12 In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end.
13 For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them.
14 And 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.”
15 ¶ So Samuel lay down until morning, and opened the doors of the house of the LORD. And Samuel was afraid to tell Eli the vision.
16 Then Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son!” ¶ He answered, “Here I am.”
17 ¶ And he said, “What is the word that the LORD spoke to you? Please do not hide it from me. God do so to you, and more also, if you hide anything from me of all the things that He said to you.”
18 Then Samuel told him everything, and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is the LORD. Let Him do what seems good to Him.”
19 ¶ So Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.
20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel had been established as a prophet of the LORD.
21 Then the LORD appeared again in Shiloh. For the LORD revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the LORD.

Spiritually, Israel was in tough shape during this period. Verse 1 points out that there was "no widespread revelation." In other words, there was not a leading of the Lord through any man on a consistent basis leading up to Samuel...but then everything changed. Samuel was bunking on the tabernacle grounds when God spoke to him. It's amusing what God said to Samuel in verse 11, "Behold, I will do something in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle." As a matter of fact, we see in verse 12 that God confirms to Samuel the prophecy which had been issued by the "man of God" back in 2:27-36 (see above). Along with this Word from God, Samuel is told that Eli is to be harshly judged for being an accessory after the fact with regard to the corruptness of his sons. Concerning Eli, he is told in verse 14, "...the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever."

Eli had allowed things to pass the point of no return. Eli insisted on knowing what God had told him, so Samuel complied; the prophetic forecast was bad, but Eli took it in stride. Thus, Samuel became firmly established by God as a prophet and a judge in Israel. Moreover, the people accepted him as such. Notice verse 19, "So Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground." That is a Hebrew expression meaning that everything Samuel prophetically spoke was honored by God - God vindicated him before the people.

One more trivial point, the phrase "all Israel from Dan to Beersheba" is intended to convey the entirety of Israel. It's interesting in that some of the Tribe of Dan had moved way north to take that city during the period of the judges there in the northern-most part of Israel - far way from the rest of their tribesmen. That story is found in Judges 18:1-20 (see notes). As a result, they now have become a national landmark for identifying the entirety of Israel.