Monday, November 29, 2004

1 Samuel 1

Chapter 1 deals with the birth of Samuel and his dedication to the priesthood. There are a number of interesting aspects: the competition between the wives Hannah and Penninah over childbearing, the spiritual blindness of the priest Eli, the introduction of Eli's worthless sons Phinehas and Hophni, the narcissism of Hannah's husband Elkanah, and the power of prayer when uttered in the spirit of sacrifice. But the most interesting is the parallel of Hannah to Mary, wife of Joseph and mother of Jesus, which emerges in the next chapter.

First to Elkanah. We know he was a man of some stature because he had a well-established genealogy, was able to support two wives, and he was able to afford portions of meat for his entire family. Accordinng to Mathew Henry, he was from the Kohathites ( and had ties to Bethlehem, connecting Elkanah's home Ramathaim to Joseph's Arimathea.

Yet he was narcissistic, imaging that he could serve as a substitute for a child to Hannah. Since being childless was the equivalent of self-extinction, this was an astonishing piece of arrogance on the part of Elkanah. Furthermore, he was clearly a poor peacemaker in the home, allowing Peninnah to taunt Hannah. Still, he was apparently compassionate and devout.

Next to Hannah. She serves as an example of prayer. She prayed "in bitterness of soul," so intent on he object that she "prayed in her heart," with her lips moving but no sound emerging, offering (as was proper for a first-born son) to yield him to the Lord.

Next is Eli. As Henry points out, Eli accuses Hannah of the sin which the disciples of Christ were accused at Pentecost-- of drunkenness. For a priest, he is remarkably disconnected from the Spirit. Still, he is not a wicked man and he joins her in praying that God may grant her wish.

And last is Samuel, whose name means "heard of God." Henry points out that Hannah cherished Samuel, that she fed him from her own breast rather than from that of another woman. After weaning, she delivers to the priesthood Samuel with his own larder, consisting of 3/5 bushel of flour and a bull, not to mention some wine. And so, Samuel is made a living sacrifice to God, handed over freely and irrevocably by his mother.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Introduction to the books of Samuel

1 Samuel and 2 Samuel follow Judges, a book illustrating the faithlessness of the Israelites and how that faithlessness led them into bondage. Perhaps most well-known in Judges is the story of Samson, whose miscegenation with Philistines leads to his blinding and death. Also notable in Judges is the story of Deborah, which illustrates the potential of women to achieve high status before the establishment of the kingdom. Under the Old Testament kings, no similar stories are told of women. The only women of exalted status are the Queen of Sheba and Jezebel, the latter being evil.

1 Samuel and 2 Samuel are some of the richest books in the Bible. Built around the elevation of first Saul and then David to the kingship of Israel, they speak to many themes central to human life.
Among those themes are:

  • The means by which temporal power corrupts the spiritual life
  • How to pray
  • The vulnerability of leaders to the headstrong actions of their supporters
  • The vital role of genuine humility in the success of a leader
  • The danger of being too find of one's children

There is also the very important foreshadowing of Paul's persecution of Jesus in Saul's persecution of David, as well as the foreshadowing of the aassumption of sin by Jesus in David's assumption of sin.

And yet 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel are perplexing. Did God make a mistake in making Saul king? Once God discovered the mistake, why did He allow Saul to persecute David? Why does David allow his generals, and Joab in particular, to push him around? Why was taking a census of the troops a sin against the Lord meriting a cost of thousands of innocent lives?

These topics and others will be the questions we explore in subsequent study.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Joshua 24

This final chapter reprises in part the previous chapter. Joshua and Israel renew the covenant with God. Joshua and Eleazar, the senior leaders of the nation, die.

Matthew Henry points out that the meeting occurs at Shechem, rather than at the Shiloh shrine ten miles south (

Joshua reviews the history of Israel back to Abraham and establishes the historical land claim to Canaan. He recounts the escape from Egypt and the battle for Canaan. He tells the Israelites that their sword did not win battles, but that God sent the hornet to drive out the Canaanites. He exhorts Israel to choose between the gods of the Amorites and the serving Yahweh, making the majestic statement that expresses the best in the Judeo-Christian tradition of religious freedom: "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."

Interestingly, the people promise to serve the Lord, but do not promise to throw away their gods. Notice also that here that again four classes of seniors are mentioned: elders, leaders, judges, and officials present themselves before God.

Joshua also set up a stone at an oak tree. Matthew Henry connects this to the oak at which Jacob buried the family gods and earrings (Gen. 35: 4). After disposing of the gods, the foreigners surrounding Jacob became terrified of him.

Another key claim to the land is reiterated here. The bones of Joseph are buried on land which had been purchased by Jacob. Had the Israelites fulfilled Joseph's wish when he died, they could have avoided the bondage of Egypt.