Understanding the Old Testament

Samuel and Eli

(All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible translation)

Samuel was the son of Elkanah, a Levite living in the territory of Ephraim (compare 1 Samuel 1:1 and 1 Chronicles 6:33-38). Elkanah had two wives: Hannah, who was unable to have children, and Peninnah. (Elkanah probably took a second wife when he realized that Hannah could not give him children.)

Because children served as additional workers in the field and security in a parent’s old age, a woman who could not have children was either pitied or scorned in those days. (See, for example, 1 Samuel 1:6.) Nevertheless, Hannah was Elkanah’s favorite, just as Rachel had been Jacob’s favorite. (1 Samuel 1:5)

Hannah prayed for a son, vowing to give him to the Lord if God would grant her prayer. (1 Samuel 1:10-11) 1 He did, and she gave birth to Samuel.

After Samuel was weaned, Hannah took him to the tabernacle in Shiloh and gave the boy to Eli the priest as an apprentice. (1 Samuel 1:24-28) Hannah would go on to have five more children (1 Samuel 2:21), while Samuel grew up in Shiloh under Eli's tutelage.

One evening when the boy was serving the Lord in the tabernacle, he heard a voice calling his name, so he presented himself to Eli. But Eli had not called him. This happened twice more before the priest realized that Samuel was being called by the Lord. Eli instructed the boy to respond the next time by saying, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:9) Samuel did so and the Lord told him that He would soon execute judgment upon Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, “because his sons brought a curse on themselves and he did not rebuke them.” (1 Samuel 3:13)

Like their father, Hophni and Phinehas were priests (1 Samuel 1:3), but they were “worthless men” (1 Samuel 2:12) who “despised the offering of the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:17). 1 Samuel 2:12-17 explains that they consumed more of the offerings than merely the priests’ portion, and seized the raw meat for themselves before the blood had been drained and the fat burned. 2 In addition, Hophni and Phinehas “lay with the women who served at the doorway of the tent of meeting.” (1 Samuel 2:22)

When Samuel told Eli what the Lord had said, he accepted it gracefully: “It is the Lord; let Him do what seems good to Him.” (1 Samuel 3:18) The prophecy would be fulfilled a few years later.

Questions to ponder or discuss: Although 1 Samuel 3:13 says Eli failed to rebuke his sons, 1 Samuel 2:23-25 explains that he did warn them to stop their wickedness, but the warning was ineffectual. (1 Samuel 2:23-25) Perhaps the warning was not tough enough or simply came too late, when Eli was “very old” (1 Samuel 2:22). Why do parents sometimes fail to properly discipline their children? Why—and how—does God discipline us as His children?

1 Per 1 Samuel 1:11, part of Hannah’s vow was that “a razor shall never come on his head.” This may indicate that Samuel was a Nazirite.

2 The Law forbid the consumption of blood and fat. (See Leviticus 3:16-17, 7:23-27, and 17:10-14.) Nothing from a burnt offering could be eaten because it was to be completely burned up (Leviticus 1:9, 1:13), except for the skin, which belonged to the priest (Leviticus 7:8). The priests could eat a portion of all other offerings. See, for example: Leviticus 7:31-34 (peace offering); Leviticus 7:6-7 (guilt offering); Leviticus 6:24-29 (sin offering); Leviticus 6:18 (grain offering); Numbers 18:19 and Deuteronomy 18:3-4 (offerings belong to the priests, except those portions which are required to be burned up).

Copyright 2018 by Don Davidson

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Beyond Blind Faith: Reasons for the Hope We Have (1 Peter 3:15):

Why Reasonable People Should Consider Christianity

Stories of the Faithful (with some church history)

Christmas Stories

Understanding the Old Testament

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