A Book of Contrasts.
“But Eli’s sons wouldn’t listen to their father, for the LORD was already planning to put them to death. Meanwhile, as young Samuel grew taller, he also continued to gain favor with the LORD and with the people.” – 1 Samuel 2:25-26 NLT
The book of 1 Samuel chronicles a period of time that takes place at the tail-end of the period of the judges. Eli, has judged Israel for 40 years (1 Samuel 4:18) and represents all that is wrong with Israel. Samuel has been chosen by God to take his place. God steps into the scene of rampant disobedience and moral decay that was so clearly portrayed in the book of Judges, and graciously provides a much-needed wake-up call to the people. The first two chapters of this book present a series of contrast: Eli and Samuel, Hannah and Peninnah, and the sons of Eli and the son of Hannah. God seems to be setting the stage for change. After 350 years of moral decline and spiritual apathy, God is about to do something great.
In spite of all the spiritual decadence that seemed to mark the people of God during the period of the judges, we see in these two chapters that not everyone had abandoned God. Hannah, a barren woman with a heavy heart, is still faithful to God. She is married to Elkanah, a Levite who still faithfully sacrifices to Yahweh each year at the tabernacle in Shiloh. This man and his wife are still attempting to serve and remain faithful to Yahweh. But in contrast to this are the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas. These two men represent everything that is wrong with Israel. As priests of God they should have lived lives that were set apart to God. But they lived immoral lives marked by greed, corruption, sexual promiscuity, and a total disregard for the laws of God. The text describes them as worthless men who did not know God (1 Samuel 2:12). They were literally “good for nothings.” And while they obviously knew who God was, they did not recognize or acknowledge His authority over them. They were their own authority. They had no fear of God, as evidenced by their blatant abuse of the sacrificial system. They used their positions as God’s priests for personal gain and to satisfy their own desires. And their father Eli did nothing to stop them, probably because he enjoyed some of the benefits of their unethical practices.
But as is always the case, God steps in. He delivers. He takes an obscure woman named Hannah who just happened to be barren and abused, and uses her to bring about His redemptive plan for the people of Israel. God reveals His strength through her weakness. He takes her moment of need and uses it to who His one-of-a-kind ability to provide for that need and so much more. Hannah prays to God. She pours out her soul to God (1 Samuel 1:15) and tells Him what is on her heart. She is so desperate to have a son that she vows to give him back to God if God will only bless her with the desire of her heart. And so God answers her prayer and gives Hannah a child. This child, Samuel, would grow up to be Israel’s last judge and probably the only truly decent judge they would ever have. God met the need of Hannah, but in doing so, He was meeting the greater need of the people of Israel. God was in control. He was working His plan to perfection, orchestrating events and individuals in such a way that His will would be accomplished. Like every other book in the Old Testament we have read so far, the book of 1 Samuel is a glimpse into the character of God. It is a book of theology, not just history. More than just a collection of isolated stories, it is a revelation of God is. And nowhere do we get a better summary of His character than in the song of Hannah.
She sings of His separateness and uniqueness: “No one is holy like the LORD! There is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God” (1 Samuel 2:2 NLT). He is all-knowing: “The LORD is a God who knows your deeds; and he will judge you for what you have done” (1 Samuel 2:3 NLT). He is sovereign and controls all things: “The LORD brings both death and life; he brings some down to the grave but raises others up. The LORD makes one poor and another rich; he brings one down and lifts another up. He lifts the poor from the dust––yes, from a pile of ashes! He treats them like princes, placing them in seats of honor. For all the earth is the LORD’s, and he has set the world in order” (1 Samuel 2:6-8 NLT). He faithfully cares for His own: “He will protect his godly ones, but the wicked will perish in darkness. No one will succeed by strength alone” (1 Samuel 2:9 NLT). He is victorious: “Those who fight against the LORD will be broken. He thunders against them from heaven; the LORD judges throughout the earth. He gives mighty strength to his king; he increases the might of his anointed one” (1 Samuel 2:10 NLT).
God was not done with Israel. He was going to do great things in their midst again, in spite of their unfaithfulness. “But I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul; and I will build him an enduring house, and he will walk before My anointed always” (1 Samuel 2:35 NASB). What man could not do, God would do. When it became clear that we couldn’t keep the law, God would provide One who could. When it became evident that no man could satisfy His righteous and just demands, God provided One who would. When it became apparent that no man could remain faithful and obedient, God provided One who did. Jesus Christ.
Father, You are the sovereign God of the universe and of my life. You are so in control at all times. I don’t know why I worry or why I attempt to take over control of my own life at times. Your will and Your way are best. Your plans for my life are far better than anything I could ever come up with. Thank You for faithfully operating in and around my life even when I am unfaithful and unwilling to let You be so. May I grow ever more willing to let You rule and reign in every area of my life as I grow to know You better. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men