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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

1 Samuel 2

 

 

Introduction

SECTION 1. The Birth, Rise, Prophetic Ministry And Judgeship of Samuel (1-12).

This first section of the book covers the life of Samuel from his birth to the setting up of Saul as king in response to the people’s request. The first three chapters deal with the birth and spiritual growth of Samuel. This is then followed in chapter 4 by the Philistine invasion in which the Ark of YHWH of hosts is lost to Israel, something which takes place while Samuel is still a youth. That loss indicates YHWH’s demonstration of the fact that He no longer sees Himself as king over an Israel that has forsaken Him. However, He then goes on to demonstrate His authority over the gods of the Philistines by bringing disaster on them, so that His Ark is restored to Israel by the Philistines, who also pay Him generous tribute. The Ark is then placed with due honour (after a previous unfortunate incident) in the house of Abinadab where it will remain for many years. It is a recognised symbol that YHWH is still present as King over His people, and will therefore, once they turn back to Him, act on their behalf through His appointed deliverers.

This will firstly be through Samuel in this section, then through Saul before he is finally rejected, in the next section, and then through the young David in the final section, until he is outlawed and then exiled as a result of Saul’s activities. As a result of his exile there will be a lull, and the Philistines triumph. But in the second part of the book David will become the Spirit inspired king, the Philistines will be defeated, and then the Ark will be restored for public worship, having been ‘purified’ by its period spent in the house of Abinadab. The Kingship of YHWH has triumphed.

A). The Birth, Call and Establishment of Samuel the Prophet (1:1-4:1).

This opening subsection of the book commences with a description of the events that led up to the birth of Samuel. That is then followed by a description of the spiritual growth of Samuel which is interwoven with a description of the sinfulness of the sons of Eli, the High Priest of Israel, and leads up to a prophetic denunciation of the priesthood of the house of Ithamar. After that we have a description of how Samuel is called to be a prophet and a summary of what follows, ending with the fact that Samuel takes the word of YHWH to all Israel.

a The birth of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:1-28).

b The prophecy of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10).

c Samuel ministers to YHWH (1 Samuel 2:11).

d The failure of Eli’s sons (1 Samuel 2:12-17).

e The blessing of God on Samuel and on the house of Elkanah (1 Samuel 2:18-21).

d The failure of Eli’s sons (1 Samuel 2:22-25).

c Samuel grows in favour with YHWH and men (1 Samuel 2:26).

b The prophecy of the man of God (1 Samuel 2:27-36).

a The call and establishment of Samuel as a prophet (1 Samuel 3:1 to 1 Samuel 4:1).

Note that in ‘a’ we have described the miraculous birth of Samuel, and in the parallel his establishment as a Prophet of YHWH. In ‘b’ we have the prophecy of Hannah, and in the parallel the prophecy of a man of God, both including reference to YHWH’s ‘anointed one’.

Chapter 2. Samuel Grows Up Amidst The Sad State Of Affairs At The Tabernacle.

After Hannah’s prayer, which is in effect a summary of all that is to come in the remainder of the book, this chapter alternates the growth of Samuel with the evil behaviour of Eli’s sons, bringing out how he continues to grow spiritually, even amidst the sordidness of the behaviour of the priests. It commences with the prayer-cum-prophecy from Hannah, and a brief description of the settling in of the child, which is then followed by a description of the wicked behaviour of the sons of Eli. Meanwhile Samuel is seen as continuing to develop and the godliness of Elkanah and Hannah is commended. This commendation is placed in direct contrast with the rebuke that Eli gives to his own sons, and at the same time Samuel is seen to be growing in favour before all. The chapter closes with the arrival of a man of God who prophesies the doom of Eli’s house.


Verses 1-10

The Prayer-Prophecy of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10).

This prayer-prophecy should be seen as continuing the thought of 1 Samuel 1. It does, however, summarise the message of the whole book, leading up to the exaltation of His righteous king, and the promise of an everlasting king arising from David’s house. In it Hannah prophesies concerning the greatness of YHWH, and of his dealings with the righteous as against the unrighteous, and then she gazes ahead to the establishment of the glorious, ideal kingship which past prophecy had led true believers to anticipate. This kingship had been prophesied in Genesis 17:6; Genesis 17:16; Genesis 35:11; Genesis 49:10; Numbers 25:17; Deuteronomy 18:14-20. Once the king came all their problems would be solved. So God had from the beginning led His people to anticipate the coming one day of a great king who would do all His will (Genesis 49:10; Deuteronomy 18:14-20), and, as we know, the people had already experimented with kingship (Judges 8:22-23; Judges 8:29-32). Now as she dedicates her son to YHWH Hannah looks ahead to this greater gift that YHWH will one day give to His people. In view of what follows it is clear that this dream of a coming king was something that was in the minds of all God’s people, as it had also been in Judges 8:22, and it was in the light of this desire that we must see the later request for a king (1 Samuel 8:5). God’s disapproval would not be of their desire for a king, but of the kind of king that they had in mind, one who essentially displaced YHWH and was like the kings of all the nations.

Hannah had been preparing for this moment for three years and may well have spent considerable time thinking over what she would say when it came, and to that end her mind had clearly ranged far and wide. We must see her words in that light, and not just as the inspiration of the moment. To us the prayer might not seem personal enough for the occasion. But in those days individualism was not emphasised and each Israelite saw himself/herself as a part of a whole rather than as an individual. Their own futures were therefore seen by them as very much tied up in the future of the whole people. If blessing was to come, therefore, it would come upon all who were righteous. And to that end it was her prayer that her gift of her son might contribute to the good of the nation. It is clear that the greatness of her sacrifice had given her great expectations. Surely, she had thought, this must aid in the bringing about of God’s ultimate purposes, and even in the coming of the hoped for Shiloh (Genesis 49:10)?

We can divide her prayer up as follows:

1). The Greatness And Saving Power Of YHWH. She exults in the deliverance and security that she anticipates for herself and her people from YHWH. They lived in dangerous days and none were more aware than she was of how much they needed God’s continued deliverance and protection. It was this confidence that would sustain the godly in Israel in the dark days that were to come. But it also indicated her own triumph in her deliverance as something accomplished by God in the face of her own adversary (1 Samuel 2:1-2).

2). A Warning To The Proud And Arrogant. She warns of the need of all men for humility before YHWH in the light of the fact that He knows all things and weighs their actions. She may especially have had in mind here the well publicised behaviour of the priests. But she no doubt also had in mind her own persecution at the hands of Peninnah. As readers we may also see it as pertinent to the behaviour of Saul throughout the first half of the book. It was his arrogance that led to his downfall. If anyone needed this advice, he did (1 Samuel 2:3).

3). God Humbles The Proud And Raises Up The Humble And Needy. Hannah was very much aware that this was what YHWH had done for her and she emphasises YHWH’s continual care for the weak, hungry and barren, in contrast with His dealings with the powerful, rich and seemingly well-blessed. Here she has in mind her own experience, as seen in the light of God’s continuously revealed concern for the poor, the widow, the fatherless and the needy (e.g. Deuteronomy 10:18; Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 14:29 and often). Her own experience of barrenness had given her a realisation of the heartfelt needs of the people (1 Samuel 2:4-5). She had become one with them in their need. It also, however, depicts the vicissitudes through which David would go in his conflict with Saul.

4). YHWH’s Sovereignty Over Humanity As Giver Of Life And As Their Creator. In these verses she beautifully expresses YHWH’s control over life and death as Creator, (death was ever close in those days), and over people’s future prospects and destinies, having special reference to his love for the downtrodden and His readiness to exalt them. She especially felt that this applied to her because YHWH had given life to her in the giving of her child. But these things were all her people’s everyday concerns and this also reflected her compassion and hopes for her people (1 Samuel 2:6-8). That indeed was why she had given her child to YHWH, so that he might be a blessing to the whole people. But also reflected in these words we can see David’s rise to power out of seeming death.

5). She Glories In The Power Of YHWH And In His Coming King. In closing she emphasises YHWH’s care for ‘His holy ones’ (including herself) and warns those who vaunt themselves against Him of the consequences. And all this is in the light of the future glorious day when YHWH will rule over the whole earth (‘judge the ends of the earth’) through His coming anointed king. The hoped for Shiloh will come, and to Him will the gathering of the people be (Genesis 49:10). See also Numbers 23:21; Numbers 24:17; Deuteronomy 17:14-20. It was her dream that her child might have his part to play in this glorious scenario (as indeed he would). This found partial fulfilment in the enthroning of David, but the ending of 2 Samuel in a plague caused by the king’s disobedience (2 Samuel 22) demonstrates quite clearly that even to the writer he was only to be seen as a prototype and not as the real thing. The real thing would lie in the final everlasting king from David’s house described in 2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16.

The Greatness And Saving Power Of YHWH.

1 Samuel 2:1-2

And Hannah prayed, and said:

“My heart exults in YHWH,

My horn is exalted in YHWH,

My mouth is enlarged over my enemies,

Because I rejoice in your salvation.

There is none holy as YHWH,

For there is none besides you,

Neither is there any rock like our God.”

Hannah exults in YHWH Who has given her a son, and even more over her great privilege of giving him to YHWH. This has raised her status above all women in Israel (her horn is exalted in YHWH, i.e. she can now toss her head like the horned stag in his triumph). At the same time she no longer has to keep silent in humiliation in the face of her adversaries because she has borne a son to the discomfiture of all her enemies who had criticised her. For God has saved her from her humiliation and proved that none is holy like Him (compare Exodus 15:11), none can be compared with Him, none is so firm a foundation as He is. The idea of God as her rock comes from Deuteronomy 32:4; Deuteronomy 32:15; Deuteronomy 32:18; Deuteronomy 32:30.

A Warning To The Proud And Arrogant.

1 Samuel 2:3

“Talk no more so exceeding proudly,

Let not arrogance come out of your mouth,

For YHWH is a God of knowledge,

And by him actions are weighed.”

Hannah may have had in mind here her treatment by Peninnah and other spiteful women of her acquaintance who had expressed their own pride and had given her a hard time. But in mind also may have been the behaviour of the current priesthood as soon to be described. It is, however, a general warning to all. She wants all to humble themselves before YHWH as she has, so that they may also enjoy similar blessings to the ones which she has received from the One Who has weighed her actions and responded accordingly. If only Saul had heeded these words, what a difference it might have made to him.

Her point is not that she has been blessed because her good actions have outweighed the bad, but that God has weighed up the longing of her heart and the purity of her purpose. That is why He has blessed her.

God Humbles The Proud And Raises Up The Humble And Needy.

1 Samuel 2:4-5

“The bows of the mighty men are broken,

And those who stumbled are girded with strength.

Those who were full have hired out themselves for bread,

And those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.

Yes, the barren has borne seven,

And she who has many children languishes.”

Hannah here contrasts the proud, self-sufficient warriors with those who stumble on their way, and is pointing out that it is God Who brings down and disarms the one while giving strength to the other. That is what He has done for her. In her weakness He has girded her with strength. (We can compare here also the contrast between Saul and David). She then contrasts the rich with their high standard of living with those who go hungry, and warns that God will cause the rich to have to fend for bread, while the hungry will cease being hungry because their needs will be supplied, in the same way as God has fed her own hungry soul. This is also relevant to Saul and David. In both cases the warning is to the proud and arrogant of what God does to those who are so proud unless they consider their ways, while at the same time being gracious to the weak and helpless, something that she has now experienced for herself. She lived at a time when such vicissitudes of life were constantly being revealed. They were turbulent times.

The third example of the three is especially pertinent to her own case, and again warns against arrogance in the face of other people’s sufferings. She who was barren has borne a child who has fulfilled her desire. To her he is the equivalent of seven children the divinely perfect number (compare 1 Samuel 4:15). In contrast the one who has many children will languish (either because of her pride and unkindness to those less fortunate than herself, with Peninnah in mind, or because she loses her children and is left bereft - Jeremiah 15:9).

The overall point is that all such people should take into account God and His ways so that they are not caught out. For she has learned through her own experience what matters most is not to trust in one’s own strength and resources, but to trust in YHWH.

YHWH’s Sovereignty Over Humanity As Their Creator.

1 Samuel 2:6-8

“YHWH kills, and makes alive,

He brings down to Sheol, and brings up.

YHWH makes poor, and makes rich,

He brings low, he also lifts up.

He raises up the poor out of the dust,

He lifts up the needy from the dunghill,

To make them sit with princes,

And inherit the throne of glory.

For the pillars of the earth are YHWH’s,

And he has set the world upon them.”

This now turns her thoughts to YHWH’s overall sovereignty both in life and death, and in regard to wealth and poverty. She is very much aware of this because of the life that God has given her in her son. There is no reference here to resurrection. The thought is rather that life and death are in His hands. Some die, others are ‘given life’, or revive after illness. But all depend on YHWH. Some are brought down to the grave world (Sheol), others are raised up from their beds of sickness. And in the same way it is He Who makes men poor or rich, Who brings men low, or raises them up. This indeed is what has happened to her, She herself feels that she has been lifted out of a living death, and has been made rich and exalted in her bearing of a son.

For she has come by it to recognise that YHWH is the One Who lifts the poor and needy from the dust and from the dunghill (the place of misery and humiliation. See Isaiah 47:1; Lamentations 4:5), and makes them enjoy the privilege of being princes, and of sitting on a glorious throne (a total contrast to the dust and the dunghill). No doubt at that moment she felt that she, who had spiritually been mourning on a dunghill, was indeed now enthroned in glory at her joy over Samuel’s birth. The picture in general is, of course, idealistic, although examples can certainly be found from history. Perhaps Jephthah sprang to mind. And it would certainly be true of David. But she has in mind what will happen ultimately when the ideal king who has been promised has come. And all this will be so because YHWH controls creation itself and is Lord over it all. Its very continuance is dependent on His provision, as is demonstrated by the fact that ‘the pillars of the earth are YHWH’s, and He has set the world upon them’. This vivid description pictures the world as being like a house or temple (see Judges 16:26). If He were to pull the pillars away the house would come crashing down.

We gain from this some understanding of how Hannah’s soul is exalted, for in her eyes all these descriptions bring out what YHWH has done for her. He has turned her world upside down. And her point is that He not only does it for her, but will do it for others. David will be a prime example.


Verse 9-10

She Glories In The Power Of YHWH And In His Coming King (1 Samuel 2:9-10).

1 Samuel 2:9-10

“He will keep the feet of his chosen ones,

But the wicked will be put to silence in darkness,

For by strength will no man prevail,

Those who strive with YHWH will be broken to pieces.

Against them will he thunder in the heavens,

YHWH will judge the ends of the earth,

And he will give strength to his king,

And exalt the horn of his anointed.”

Hannah finishes her words with an expression of confidence in the fact that YHWH will keep the feet of His chosen ones, while disposing of the wicked who will be put to silence in darkness. They will end up in Sheol. For no man can prevail by his own strength, which is why His chosen ones need Him to keep their feet from failing, while the unrighteous will end up in darkness and those who strive with Him will be broken in pieces. Indeed He will thunder against them in the heavens. Again we can compare David and Saul.

The word for ‘chosen ones’ means ‘those who are the objects of His covenant love’. It refers to those who walk in faithful response to His covenant, and therefore enjoy His covenant love.

The final three lines may simply represent a general expectation. YHWH will rule over (judge) the ends of the earth, and in that role will give strength to any He appoints as king, and exalt the power of any whom He sets aside and anoints. But it is far more likely that it has in mind the expectation of God’s world wide rule, when He will be the ‘Judge’ of all the earth and establish and give strength to the promised king of Genesis 49:10 and exalt his power as His ‘anointed’ (the one whom He has set apart for His service). It should be noted that the fact that YHWH has established him as king would necessarily be seen as signifying that he would be anointed. That was what happened to kings at this time (Judges 9:8). Thus ‘His anointed’ simply means ‘His appointed King’. The words bring out that even at this stage after the vicissitudes of the Judges period Israel still had great expectations. Then they had had no king and it had been reflected in how they had lived. Every man had done what was right in his own eyes. But Hannah knew that as Abraham’s descendants they were intended to bring blessing to the whole world (Genesis 12:3), and be a kingdom of priests to an earth that belonged to YHWH (Exodus 19:6; compare Deuteronomy 10:14). Thus in the future a kingship was envisaged, a kingship in which the king would rule wisely under YHWH (Deuteronomy 17:14-20). That was partly why God had brought them back to Canaan and given them their own land, so that they might minister to the nations. So she was confident that one day Shiloh would surely come and would triumphantly gather the peoples to him so as to bring it all into effect (Genesis 49:10). It was then that God would establish His rule over the nations.

This certainly found part fulfilment in the accession and triumphs of David. Indeed many must have thought of him as Shiloh. But the writer is careful at the end of his book to remind us that there were great deficiencies in David’s rule (2 Samuel 24). He wants us to recognise that the future yet awaits a greater David Who will establish His everlasting kingship (2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16).


Verses 10-17

The Rise Of Samuel And The Fall Of The House Of Eli (1 Samuel 2:12 to 1 Samuel 3:1).

In this section we now have a description of the careful build up of Samuel’s ministry and of his own spiritual growth. But deliberately interlaced within it is the continuing description of the downfall of the house of Eli. While the lesson from it is simple. Even in the same environment some develop and grow nearer to God, while others continue headlong on the way to disaster.

This continued growth of Samuel, and the fall of the house of Eli, is depicted as follows:

a ‘The child ministered to YHWH before Eli the Priest’ (1 Samuel 2:11).

b A description of the wicked behaviour of the sons of Eli (1 Samuel 2:12-17).

c ‘Samuel ministered before YHWH being a child girded with a linen ephod ---and the child Samuel grew before YHWH’ (1 Samuel 2:18-21).

d Eli rebukes his sons for their wickedness in trespassing on what belongs to YHWH (1 Samuel 2:22-25).

c ‘And the child Samuel grew on and was in favour both with YHWH and also with men’ (1 Samuel 2:26).

b A man of God prophesies the fall of the house of Eli and the death of his wicked sons (1 Samuel 2:27-36).

a ‘And the child Samuel ministered to YHWH before Eli’ (1 Samuel 3:1).

The narrative is carefully patterned. Note that in ‘a’ the child Samuel ministers to YHWH before Eli, and in the parallel he does the same. In ‘b’ we have described the wickedness of the two sons of Eli and in the parallel the fate of both they and their house is described. In ‘c’ Samuel continues to grow before YHWH, and the same occurs in the parallel. In ‘d’, and centrally, Eli rebukes his two sons for trespassing on the preserves of YHWH and warns them of the consequences of their actions. It is the consequences of their behaviour for Israel that will cover the next part of the book (1 Samuel 3-6), and will also affect the years ahead until the rise of Samuel, a rise which will lead to a ‘golden age’ in which the Philistines will be driven back, and will subsequently as a consequence of the activity of his protégé David, result in the Ark returning to its proper place in the Tabernacle/Temple.

Samuel Is Set Apart For The Service Of YHWH (1 Samuel 2:11).

1 Samuel 2:11

And Elkanah went to Ramah to his house. And the child ministered to YHWH before Eli the priest.’

In a few poignant words the traumatic moment of the separation is rapidly passed over. There is no mention of Hannah. Her prayer has said all that needs to be said. As the head of the house the godly Elkanah leaves Samuel with Eli, and returns to his house in Ramah without his son, for his son has been given to YHWH. And Samuel remains behind at Shiloh and begins to minister to YHWH under Eli’s guidance and instruction. He has been adopted by YHWH and is under Eli’s protection. How Eli must have wished that his own sons were like this.

The Two Sons of Eli (1 Samuel 2:12-17).

The lives of the two sons of Eli were the very opposite of Samuel’s. They too had been ‘given to YHWH’ when they had been made priests, but their behaviour revealed how far they were from YHWH. No wonder that YHWH had deserted Shiloh (1 Samuel 3:21).

1 Samuel 2:12

Now the sons of Eli were worthless men; they did not know YHWH.’

These men who had the responsibility for ministering to YHWH on behalf of Israel are described as ‘worthless men’. No wonder then that Israel languished. And the result was that ‘they did not know YHWH’. We know from 1 Samuel 3:7 that this refers to the fact that YHWH did not reveal His word to them. Thus those who came to Shiloh seeking spiritual assistance and guidance went away empty. We must not, however, see Israel as totally empty of such guidance for, as 1 Samuel 2:27 reveals, YHWH still had local prophets (‘men of God’) who would pronounce His word. Throughout the ages this has always been so. God has always had His ‘local prophets’. But the central place at which that guidance should have been made available was empty. The fountain had dried up. It was a pattern that would be revealed again and again throughout history.

1 Samuel 2:13-14

And the custom of the priests with the people was, that, when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant came, while the flesh was boiling, with a flesh-hook of three teeth in his hand, and he struck it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot. All that the flesh-hook brought up the priest took for himself. So they did in Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there.’

The Law had laid down clear instruction about the priest’s portion, which consisted of the breast and shoulder (Leviticus 7:29-34). But these two men took no notice of the Law. Instead of simply accepting the breast and shoulder, whenever a sacrifice was offered they sent their servant with a three pronged fork, and when the flesh that had been taken off the sacrifice was still boiling, in went the fork, and whatever came out was claimed by the priests. This may have been additionally to the breast and shoulder, or it may simply be that the fork was designed in such a way as to ensure the collection of much larger portions. Either way they were taking more than was allotted to them. This was what Shiloh had come to under their priesthood. A place of daylight robbery. And no one dared to argue with God’s ‘holy’ priests.

In the same way we also should ask ourselves whether we are similarly robbing God. For we too are His servants, and all the wealth that is committed to our care is His. The danger for us also is that we can use for our own purposes what we should really see as His, for as Jesus informed His disciples when He directed their attention to the widow who gave her mites in the Temple, our giving is judged on the basis, not of how much we give, but of what we keep for ourselves. Others of us want more than God intends for us, and spend time that we should be spending in His service on obtaining more wealth for ourselves.

However, here the priests got tired of boiled meat and so they devised another plan in order to satisfy themselves.

1 Samuel 2:15-16

Yes, before they burnt the fat, the priest’s servant came, and said to the man who sacrificed, “Give flesh to roast for the priest, for he will not have boiled flesh from you, but raw.” And if the man said to him, “They will surely burn the fat first, and then take as much as your soul desires,” then he would say, “No, but you must give it to me now, and if not, I will take it by force.” ’

This second breach of the Law was even more flagrant than the first. They actually demanded that they be given the raw flesh before the fat, which had to be given to YHWH, had been burnt. Presumably therefore it was before it had been removed. This was sheer blasphemy. At such a gross breach of the Law the people protested. The Law emphasised that the fat must first be given to YHWH and burned on the altar. It was sacred. Then the priests could have as much as they wanted. But they were then threatened that if they did not do as they were told force would be used so that the priests would get their way. None, of course, could prevent it. No one would dare to strike a holy priest or his servant. That would have been sacrilege. So they had to give way. Thus the two priests and their servants blatantly insulted YHWH by ignoring all His requirements, taking advantage of their privileged position.

1 Samuel 2:17

And the sin of the young men was very great before YHWH, for the men despised the offering of YHWH.’

The writer sums up the situation. The sin of these young men, Hophni and Phinehas (1 Samuel 2:34), was very great before YHWH, in that by their actions they were demonstrating that they despised the offering of YHWH. (This was, of course, a later Phinehas than the one in Numbers 25:11). And the result was that the offerings would become despised by the people (Malachi 2:8-9). The whole sacrificial system was being brought into disrepute because of the scandalous behaviour of these two priests. And it seems that Eli did nothing about it.


Verses 18-21

The Contrasting Behaviour Of Samuel and His Family (1 Samuel 2:18-21).

In total contrast the young Samuel, dressed similarly to a priest even though still a child, ministered before YHWH, and continued to grow in righteousness. He must have been both bewildered and grieved at what he saw. And no doubt he came in for some stick because of it. But in contrast with the house of Eli, Samuel’s family were greatly blessed. It demonstrated that there were still some who looked faithfully to YHWH.

1 Samuel 2:18

But Samuel ministered before YHWH, being a child, girded with a linen ephod.’

“Samuel ministered before YHWH.” We are not told what Samuel’s duties consisted of, but he clearly carried them out faithfully. And there in the Tabernacle he diligently served YHWH, and wore a linen ephod, which distinguished him as a ‘holy’ child, a child set apart wholly to the worship of YHWH. An ephod was a garment which went over the head and covered the shoulders and was secured round the waist. It was mainly distinctive of the priests (1 Samuel 2:28; 1 Samuel 22:18), although it could be worn by others when engaged in sacred activities (2 Samuel 6:14). There was a special ephod for ‘the Priest’ (the High Priest) or whoever was standing in for him (Exodus 28:6 ff). Thus the ephod demonstrated that Samuel was continually engaged in sacred duties. There is no suggestion, however, that he offered sacrifices at this stage.

1 Samuel 2:19

Moreover his mother used to make him a little robe, and used to bring it to him from year to year (literally ‘from days to days’), when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice (the sacrifice of days’).’

The ‘little robe’ was similar to the garment that ‘the Priest’ wore under the ephod. A new one was brought by his mother every time that she attended the regular feasts, which she did regularly in order to offer a sacrifice through her husband. She never forgot her son, and she never neglected to worship YHWH.

1 Samuel 2:20

And Eli blessed Elkanah and his wife, and said, “YHWH give you seed of this woman for the petition which was asked of YHWH.” And they went to their own home.

It would seem that Eli watched out for Samuel’s parents and gave them his personal attention. No doubt Samuel had won his heart, and he was undoubtedly thankful to have him ministering in the Sanctuary. Thus when he offered sacrifice on their behalf he blessed Elkanah and his wife, and prayed that God would continue to answer her petition by giving her more children. And with that blessing they went to their own home.

1 Samuel 2:21

And YHWH visited Hannah, and she conceived, and bore three sons and two daughters. And the child Samuel grew before YHWH.’

And so partly in response to her prayer, and we are no doubt intended to see partly due to the blessing of the Priest, YHWH again ‘visited’ Hannah, and the result was that she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. God was giving her a family to fill the gap that Samuel’s departure had unquestionably left. God is no man’s debtor. Meanwhile her first child, Samuel, ‘grew before YHWH’. He grew in His presence both physically and spiritually, for he was separated totally to YHWH.


Verses 22-25

Eli’s Sons Become Worse And Worse Until They Have ‘Sinned Unto Death’ (1 Samuel 2:22-25).

While Samuel was growing and developing, Eli’s sons were shrivelling and disintegrating. By this time Eli was an old man. His time as Priest was coming to an end. And while Samuel cheered his godly heart continually, the news that he heard about his two sons grieved him greatly. Indeed it had become so serious that he determined to give them a severe warning.

1 Samuel 2:22

Now Eli was very old, and he continued hearing all that his sons did to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who did service at the door of the tent of meeting.’

Notice the extent of the influence of these godless men, now somewhat older, but certainly no wiser. Indeed they had become even more sinful, for they not only continued to sin before all Israel, but they lay with the women who were in the service of YHWH, the women who did service at the door of the Tent of Meeting itself. This was not only adultery, but adultery carried out in the very face of YHWH. We do not know whether the women freely consented, but it is probable that they at least had pressure put on them by the priests, who may well have stated that it was their duty as servants of the Tabernacle, citing the example of Canaanite worship where ritual sex was prevalent. So they disgraced their office in a new way.

We do not know what kind of sacred service these women normally performed (compare Exodus 38:8), but they clearly had regular duties, which may have included the singing of Psalms and the cleaning of the surrounds of God’s house. Jephthah’s daughter had probably become one of them (Judges 11:37-40 - which may well have been intended to indicate that she lived in perpetual virginity, having been redeemed by the offering of a ram) and was possibly still alive at this time. And they were equally clearly sacred to YHWH. Thus the two men had found a way of committing sacrilege which went even beyond what they had done before. They committed adultery before God’s very face with the very women who were dedicated to YHWH. This may well have been due to Canaanite influence, for in the Canaanite religion sacred prostitutes were commonplace, but they knew perfectly well that it was inexcusable.

“At the door of the tent of meeting.” This was particularly heinous as this was where people would come to YHWH for judgment on different issues (Exodus 29:42). It was where a woman who was accused of adultery would be tested out ‘before YHWH’ (Numbers 5:16). And yet now the very women who served there had been made into adulteresses, and that by the very priests of YHWH.

1 Samuel 2:23-24

And he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all this people. No, my sons, for it is no good report that I hear. You make YHWH’s people to transgress. If one man sin against another, God will arbitrate for him, but if a man sin against YHWH, who will arbitrate for him?”

Eli challenges his sons on their behaviour, but it was something that he should have done long before. He points out that he is hearing about their bad behaviour from everywhere. All are talking about it. (Possibly previously he had closed his ears to the ‘rumours’. But now they could be ignored no longer). And he reproves them because the report he is receiving is not good. Why, he asks, are they doing such things? Do they not realise that they are making YHWH’s people transgress? This was serious indeed, because, if a man sins against another, God will step in as arbitrator and judge, but when a man sins directly against YHWH who is there to arbitrate for him? And the answer is, no one. For there is no one whose plea would be sufficient in view of the greatness of the sin.

“YHWH”s people’ may refer to the fact that the women with whom they had been sinning were specifically set apart to YHWH. Or it may simply mean ‘Israel’ as YHWH’s people. Either way it was to be seen as a serious matter.

1 Samuel 2:25

Notwithstanding, they did not listen to the voice of their father, because YHWH was minded to slay them.’

Whether they would have listened to their father of their own volition even if YHWH had not hardened them we do not know. The probability is that they would not, for they were hardened sinners. After all their father must surely have spoken to them about the rumours before. But now there was another reason why they did not listen, and that was because, as a result of the fact that they had hardened their hearts for so long, God had now hardened their hearts. As with Pharaoh previously, the time for forgiveness had passed. YHWH had determined that they must die. They had committed the ‘sin unto death’ (James 5:16-17).


Verse 26

Samuel Continues To Grow On, And Is Increasing In Favour Both With YHWH And With Men (1 Samuel 2:26).

1 Samuel 2:26

And the child Samuel grew on, and increased in favour both with YHWH, and also with men.’

While Eli’s sons have totally deteriorated, and have come under the condemnation of both YHWH and men. Samuel continues to ‘grow on’. He is doing the exact opposite. He is increasing in favour both with YHWH and with men. Happy the one of whom this can be said. All who had contact with him were impressed and found blessing from him. He was in total contrast to the sons of Eli.


Verses 27-36

YHWH Sends A Man Of God To Pass His Verdict On Eli’s House (1 Samuel 2:27-36).

Scripture constantly reveals that God is never left without a witness. Always at special times of need a ‘man of God’ appears. In this case there comes an anonymous ‘man of God’ to Eli. He may well, of course, have been known to Eli, but like a number of ‘men of God’ in Samuel and Kings he is not made known to us. He is one of God’s anonymous witnesses. He is, however, important nonetheless, and his message is even more important, for he has come to signal the demise of Eli’s house.

The coming of ‘the man of God’ has another significance in the passage. For it indicates that at this point in time YHWH has no one else that He can use in order to convey the message to Eli. But in chapter 3 the situation will change, for there YHWH uses Samuel for the purpose. It is thus an indication that Samuel is by then also accepted as a ‘man of God’, able to receive and pass on a message from YHWH. His status is continually growing.

1 Samuel 2:27-28

And there came a man of God to Eli, and said to him, “Thus says YHWH. Did I reveal myself to the house of your father, when they were in Egypt in bondage to Pharaoh’s house? And did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before me? And did I give to the house of your father all the offerings of the children of Israel made by fire?” ’

The man of God comes to Eli and outlines in YHWH’s Name all that YHWH has done for his house. He had revealed Himself to the house of his ‘father’ (ancestor) Aaron when he was in Egypt in bondage to Pharaoh’s house. He had chosen him out of all the tribes of Israel to be His Priest, so that he might go up to His altar, burn incense, and wear the ephod (of the Priest) before Him. Note the order as it moves forwards from the sacrificial altar in the courtyard, to the altar of incense in the Holy Place, to wearing the Priest’s ephod before YHWH in the Holiest of All. It was a huge privilege that the house of Aaron had been given. And YHWH had also given to the house of his father all the offerings of the children of Israel made by fire, a part of which was given to the priests, the very offerings which were now being misused by them.

1 Samuel 2:29

Why do you trample on my sacrifice and my offering, which I have commanded in my habitation, and honour your sons above me, to make yourselves fat with the chiefest of all the offerings of Israel my people?”

The charge is then laid, that Eli and his house have trampled on His sacrifice and offering which He has commanded in His own habitation, and indeed that Eli, by allowing what he has, has honoured his sons above YHWH, and what is more, has by participating in their behaviour made himself fat with the best parts of the offerings of His people Israel. Eli is thus not to be exonerated from blame.

1 Samuel 2:30

Thus the word of YHWH (neum YHWH - an indication of a solemn prophetic statement), the God of Israel, “I said indeed that your house, and the house of your father, should walk before me for ever.” But now, the word of YHWH (neum YHWH), “Be it far from me; for those who honour me I will honour, and those who despise me will be lightly esteemed.”

In Exodus 29:9; Numbers 25:13 God had said that the family of Aaron in all its branches would serve perpetually as priests in His presence, but now He was altering the promise as far as Eli’s line were concerned. The time would come when they would cease to act as priests. And the reason for it was because they had lightly esteemed Him and despised Him. For, He declares, ‘those who honour Me I will honour, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed’. By this they had excluded themselves from God’s covenant. Thus they would be cut off from the priesthood, and the promise would from then on only apply to the house of Eliezer, that is, to the Zadokites. These last would, of course, also later be cut off as a result of their attitude towards Jesus Christ by the destruction of the Temple. In God’s eyes Israel therefore no longer has a sacerdotal priesthood, apart from the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ. But that was yet in the far future.

1 Samuel 2:31

Behold, the days come, 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.”

To cut off the arm meant to remove the strength. Thus the point was being made that no male of his house would in future grow to be an old man, because YHWH would not permit it.

1 Samuel 2:32

And you will behold the distress of my habitation, in all that which God has shown of good to Israel, and there will not be an old man in your house for ever.”

This cutting off of the arm would have consequences also for the Tabernacle. As a result of the behaviour of Eli’s family distress would come upon God’s habitation, thus affecting all that God had given to Israel in their unique form of worship. And distress would come on Eli’s family to such an extent that they would no longer be long-lived (something seen as an indication of God’s displeasure)

So Eli would live to see YHWH’s habitation distressed. This would happen when he received news of the capture of the Ark by the Philistines. The loss of the Ark was a cause of great distress to the Tabernacle, God’s dwellingplace. It meant that Israel were bereft of the very symbol of God’s presence with them. ‘In all which God has shown of good to Israel’ would then refer to the loss of all the benefits that the Tabernacle brought to Israel. This would be the consequence of their defeat at the hands of the Philistines. The Ark would be taken, and later the Sanctuary of Shiloh would itself either be destroyed, or fall into disuse.

Alternately we can translate, ‘you will see a rival in my habitation’, the ‘you’ in this case referring to his descendants who would see themselves being displaced by the house of Zadok when Abiathar was forcibly ‘retired’ by Solomon. This would fit better with the translation of the next phrase as ‘in all that God will give to Israel’ found in many versions. For Zadok’s day (the time of David and Solomon) would be a time of great prosperity, when the sacrifices and offerings would be numerous. But all would be lost to Eli’s descendants. And again it is emphasised that no male in his house would live to old age, but now this judgment will be ‘for ever’.

1 Samuel 2:33

And the man of yours, whom I will not cut off from my altar, will be to consume your eyes, and to grieve your heart; and all the increase of your house will die in manhood ( ‘in men’).”

And any man of the house of Eli whom God does not cut off from His altar (prevent from being a practising priest), will be a cause of great sadness and grief of heart to his family, and all the males born in his house will die while still young men. In other words the future for his house is grim. They will never again produce satisfactory priests. It will be noted that they are not being excluded from the priesthood, only from its greatest blessings and benefits, and above all from the High Priesthood.

1 Samuel 2:34

And this will be the sign to you, that will come on your two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas. In one day they will die, both of them.”

And the evidence that this prophecy will be fulfilled will be that Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, will both die on the same day, an event which will shortly be recorded (see 1 Samuel 4:11).

1 Samuel 2:35

And I will raise me up a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and in my mind, and I will build him a sure house, and he will walk before my anointed for ever (literally, ‘all the days’).”

The promise is then that in contrast to Eli and his family, which is now rejected, God will raise up a faithful Priest who will be totally faithful to Him, and He will establish his house and make it sure, and when he comes, this Priest will serve God’s anointed one ‘all the days’. For ‘God’s anointed one’ compare 1 Samuel 2:10, which is the only mention of an anointed one up to this point, and is pointing forward to a future ideal king. Essentially therefore the promise here is of a faithful and true High Priest who will serve the coming expected ideal prince, the prince who in the future will be the anointed of YHWH. This is Israel’s glorious future. While our thoughts may naturally turn to what lies ahead in Samuel that was not in anyone’s mind when this prophecy was given. The thought was rather of the coming of ‘God’s expected anointed one’, which to them would have indicated, as it did to Hannah, the coming hoped for ideal king mentioned in 1 Samuel 2:10, whom God would raise up in accordance with Genesis 17:6; Genesis 17:16; Genesis 35:11; Genesis 49:10; Numbers 23:21; Numbers 24:17; Deuteronomy 17:14-20. The thought is therefore essentially ‘Messianic’, and find its ultimate fulfilment in our Lord Jesus Christ Who would become our great and perfect High Priest, acting on our behalf (Hebrews 2:17 and often; compare also John 17).

But the reader is also clearly intended by the writer to see it as referring to later events in the Book of Samuel, which can be seen as a partial fulfilment of this promise. In this light there are two main views as to whom this refers. The majority view is that it is referring to the High Priest Zadok (2 Samuel 20:25), to whom David gave the responsibility for the Ark (2 Samuel 15:24), and who, being from the line of Eleazar, continued on as High Priest, followed by his heirs, when Abiathar (of the line of Ithamar and Eli) ceased from being the joint High Priest (1 Kings 2:26). From that day the High Priest never again came from the line of Ithamar (and Eli). Zadok was faithful to his trust, and his house was made sure, the line of Zadok (and Eleazar) lasting until the exile, and finally, after a few ups and downs, until the cessation of sacrifices. And Zadok did walk before David and Solomon (the prototypes of the coming king) all his days after his appointment, fulfilling the responsibilities of the High Priest’s office. His line was also that which Ezekiel saw as operating at the new altar to be built after the Exile through which the heavenly Temple was to be accessed (Ezekiel 43:19; compare Ezekiel 40:46).

A minority view is that it refers to Samuel. He may well be seen as having been ‘adopted’ by Eli, thus becoming recognised as of the priestly line, and he would certainly later offer sacrifices as a priest (although he never claimed the office of High Priest which was seemingly in abeyance after the destruction of Shiloh until it emerged again in Ahijah, the son of Ahitub (1 Samuel 14:3) to be followed by Ahimelech (1 Samuel 21:1). Ahitub was Ichabod’s brother). Furthermore no one was more faithful than Samuel was and would be, and he would certainly do according to what was in God’s heart and mind.

But where the prophecy fails with regard to Samuel is in the question of his being built a sure house, which in context means the house that would replace the house of Eli, for his sons in fact failed in their responsibilities (1 Samuel 8:1-3; 1 Samuel 8:5) and as far as we know never became priests. It is true that his house was later ‘established’ in that his grandson became David’s chief musician, and father of fourteen sons and daughters (1 Chronicles 6:33; 1 Chronicles 25:1; 1 Chronicles 25:4-5), but it was not as priests, and the thought in the prophecy here appears to be that the making sure was to be of a house connected with the priesthood. Samuel’s house was not connected with the priesthood after his death. They too had forfeited the right to be so. Thus Samuel might have been a prospective candidate, but he did not fulfil all the qualifications. He only partially fulfilled the conditions.

1 Samuel 2:36

And it will come about that every one who is left in your house will come and bow down to him for a piece of silver and a loaf of bread, and will say, “Put me, I pray you, into one of the priests’ offices, that I may eat a morsel of bread.”

In terms of Messianic expectation the thought here is that the coming High Priest will be so exalted that this current priesthood will have to humble themselves before Him in order to receive life’s necessities, desiring to serve Him in order to enjoy their bread. We find a fulfilment of this depicted in the covenant meal offered to the crowds by Jesus, followed by His exposition of it in terms of the need to receive Him as the Bread of life John 6:35. All would have to come to Him in this way. If we would live, we too must eat of Him.

But this vivid picture also emphasises how the line of Eli will be humbled in the nearer future. In the near future those who are of his line will have to submit to the line of Eleazar in order to receive their priest’s portion, and their humiliation is emphasised. They will be relatively destitute. Such will be the destiny of Eli’s house because of their atrocious behaviour and sacrilege.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 2:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-samuel-2.html. 2013.

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