Friday, December 24, 2004

1 Samuel 3

This chapter tells us about prophecy and prophets, about how God impales those who do wrong, and also presents an very human tale about the relationship of Eli and his young student.

Although the previous chapter featured a prophet admonishing Eli, we're told that the word (Heb. dabar) of the Lord was rare and that visions (Heb. chazown) were few. The implication is that the two are connected. Later, the Lord speaks to Samuel, and at the end we are told that this is Samuel's vision. The word of the Lord is also presented as a kind of manna, which Samuel does not allow to "fall to the ground."

The word dabar is enormously complex, translated in Genesis as "all of these things", "because of" and "my errand". In 1 Sam 2:23, it is translated as "such things." In 1 Sam. 3:11, it is translated "a thing." So, when we speak of "the word of the Lord," and imagine it to be a spoken word, this is a drastically circumscribed interpretation of dabar.

Vision appears on a second level, since Eli's physical vision was almost gone, making him all but totally blind both spiritually and optically.

Samuel's first conversation with the Lord is peculiar. God does not introduce Himself, does not discuss His Law or give Samuel guidance. Instead, he tells Samuel how He will destroy Samuel's mentor and protector. This places Samuel in the awkward position of being the one to convey this news to Eli. Eli uses his position as mentor to force an answer from Samuel. Indeed, he uses the name of God to threaten to curse Samuel and Samuel, fearing the Lord but probably not Eli, tells him his vision. Eli thereby has the prophecy of the previous chapter confirmed: he and his family are to be expunged.

So, God's manner of delivering the message through Samuel has the effect of having Eli humiliate and shock himself. Yet Eli's only response is to accept God's will as inevitable. He does not repent or express remorse or call on his sons to change their ways. This may be the defining characteristic of the spiritually blind: they cannot believe that God will forgive sin. Eli is impaled on his own weakness.

Some final points. The phrase that all Israel "from Dan to Beersheba" defines the effective north-south extent of the Kingdom under Saul, so this phrase is used to mean that literally all of Israel learned that Samuel was a prophet. Matthew Henry also points out that Samuel was the one who opened the door to the house of the Lord, meaning that he was up earlier than anyone else in the household (

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

1 Samuel 2

Chapter 2 has two segments. The first is Hannah's prayer, which is often compared to Mary's Magnificat of Luke 1:46-55. Yet the Magnificat is far more centered on God, while Hannah's prayer is centered on the material advantages of serving Him. Yet though its sentiments are more earthy than the Magnificat, it is also more fervent.

The key element of Hannah's prayer is that it foreshadows the life of David. She says that the Lord is the source of life and death, of poverty and wealth, lifting up the poor (as He lifted David), guarding the feet of His saints (as He guarded David from Saul), and exalting the horn of His anointed (as He did first for Saul, and then when Saul proved unworthy, for David).

The second segment of 1 Sam. 2 provides the perfect contrast to the coming king in the corrupt sons (Phinehas and Hophni) of Eli. They are called "sons of Belial" or Satan ( It is difficult to convey the full sense of the sacrilege they committed. They appropriated sacrificed meat for themselves and, like animals, demanded even raw meat. Indeed, as the sons have appropriated the sacrifices of the Lord and rejected substitutionary sacrifice, the Lord blinds them to their danger to turn them into living sacrifices.

They sleep with "the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting," possibly a reference to shrine prostitutes, although Jamieson thinks they were ascetics ( It seems likely that the women were indeed prostitutes, forbidden by Yahweh but common among the Canaanite religions. This would emphasize how corrupt worship at Shiloh had become.

Eli serves to illustrate that being good is not enough. Eli blesses Hannah and reproves his sons for their wrongdoing. Evidently he trained Samuel appropriately. But because he was unwilling to stand up against the wrongs of Phinehas and Hophni. And so a "man of God" comes to Eli-- who should have been a man of God but was not-- and foretells his fate and the fate of his sons and all his descendants. But he also accuses Eli of participating in the wrongdoing of Hophni and Phinehas, saying that both father and sons are fattening themselves on the sacrifices and the text confirms this in 1 Sam. 4:18 (

The punishment is very harsh. All descendants are to be "cut off from the altar," and those that are not will beg to be appointed as priests just to be able to eat.

In the midst of this iniquity is young Samuel, who manages to remain completely unsullied. Like a lotus, he blooms from filth.