Today we begin the book of 1 Samuel (1 and 2 Samuel are two of my favorite Old Testament books!). The book of Judges left us anticipating the monarchy of Israel. The book of Ruth set up the lineage of king David. Now we embark on the story of David’s ascension to the throne. The book begins during the time of the judges. Eli the priest is the judge of Israel. We don’t know when Eli became judge, but we see in Eli the merging of the offices of priest and judge. In Samuel, the offices of prophet, priest, and judge combine, making him a type of Christ (David, of course, serves as the pinnacle of Messianic types).
Our story opens with yet another instance of a barren woman (1:2). We see that the Tabernacle is still set up in Shiloh, and that Eli and his sons served as priests (v. 3). We see also that Elkanah was a Godly man, yet because of his polygamy had unrest in his home (vv. 6-7). Note in verse 9 that Eli is by the “doorpost of the temple of the Lord.” Through there was no Temple yet (it would not be built until David’s son Solomon reigned), we see that there was some kind of more permanent structure erected at Shiloh to house the Tabernacle. In verse 11, Hannah vows to God that if He would give her a son, she would dedicate him to the service of God, and that “no razor shall touch his head.” What we see here is that Samuel – who would be the final judge of Israel – would be a greater version of what we’ve seen before. Whereas Jephthah dedicated his daughter to God’s service after his victory (Judg 11:31), Samuel is dedicated before he is even conceived. Whereas God called for Samson to be a Nazirite before he was conceived (Judg 13:5), here Samuel is offered freely as a Nazirite.
In verse 13, we see that Eli, the judge of Israel and the High Priest, cannot distinguish fervent prayer from drunkenness. This is a commentary on his character. His blessing of Hannah is enough to relieve her anxiety and sadness (v. 18), showing her faith and her reverence for the office of High Priest. Hannah has a son and names him Samuel, which means “heard of God” (v. 20). And Hannah fulfills her vow to God, and offers the required sacrifice for the fulfilling of her vow, and then some (v. 24 – see Num 15:8-10), again showing her faith.
Chapter 2 records the prayer of thanksgiving offered by Hannah. Compare this with Mary’s prayer in Luke 1:46-55. The focus here on God’s sovereignty and provision sets up the narrative that will follow throughout the next two books of the Bible (also compare to David’s prayer in 2 Sam 22). God is savior (2:1). He is holy (v. 2). Notice the echo of God as a rock from Moses song in Deuteronomy 32. God is all-powerful (v. 4). He provides beyond what can be acquired in this life (v. 5). He is sovereign over life, death, and even bringing the dead to life (v. 6). He is sovereign over all we have and all we do (vv. 7-8). He provides for those of faith, but judges the wicked justly (vv. 9-10). Notice the prophetic reference to the anointed king that closes her prayer.
In verse 11, we see that Eli takes Samuel under his wing in the service of God. Verse 12 reveals the character of Eli’s sons, and states explicitly that they were unsaved men. God gave implicit instructions about the meat of the sacrifices being food for the priests, but Eli’s sons disregarded that and took for themselves what they incorrectly believed they were entitled to (vv. 13-16). This is a grievous sin, as they “treated the offering of the Lord with contempt” (v. 17). This echoes the sins of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10. We will see that God deals with these two men much the same. In contrast, we see the obedience and devotion to God of Hannah (v. 19), and God’s treatment of this faithful woman (v. 21).
In verse 22, we see that the sin of Eli’s sons knows no limits. The women serving at the entrance of the tent of meeting were likely the same order as those we saw in Exodus 38:8, and what Jephthah’s daughter committed herself to. These men were violating virgins who set them selves apart unto God. And we see in verse 25, that God used their sin as judgment against them, and hardened their hearts like He did to Pharaoh. In contrast, Samuel was faithful (v. 26).
In verses 27-36 we see God reveal His plan of punishment for Eli and his sons through an unnamed prophet. God chose Aaron to be His priest and commanded that the offerings would feed the priesthood (v. 28). Verse 29 seems to indicate the Eli was guilty of sin similar to his sons’. Verse 30-31 appear to be God commanding the end of the Aaronic priesthood.* The sign of this is will be the death of Eli’s sons. Verse 35 begins as a reference to Samuel, but we see that the prediction of obedience, of a lasting house, and the eternality of the appointment points to Someone greater. The “anointed” refers to David, but more fully to Christ.
Chapter 3 recounts the encounter Samuel has with YHWH. Note again that the Ark was in the “temple” (v. 3) indicating that some kind of provisional but more permanent structure was housing the tabernacle. This is Samuel’s initial calling as a prophet (v. 7). He does not even realize that it is the voice of God he is hearing at first (v. 5). We see a contrast between Eli’s sons, who did not know the Lord, and Samuel being called by the Lord. In verse 10, we se that the Lord “came and stood.” This is the pre-incarnate Christ. He reveals to Samuel the coming judgment on Eli and his sons (vv. 12-14). We see in verses 19-21 that God had not been with Eli and his sons, and was, in fact, absent from the Tabernacle while they were priests. God calls Samuel and Himself returns to the Tabernacle while he is priest.
We see in these opening chapters a pattern being established that will play out again. God is judging an established leader among His people, and is sovereignly replacing him with a Godly leader who restores his people to His favor. He does it here with the sinful Eli and his sons, replacing them with Samuel. He will do it again with the sinful Saul, replacing him with David. And He ultimately does the same with a sinful nation, replacing them with the true Israel, Jesus Christ.
*Note that Samuel serves God and becomes a priest in the Tabernacle. However, we see in 1:1, that Samuel is not a descendant of Aaron. We don’t even know if he was a Levite, as Elkanah is said to be from the hill country of Ephraim, but this can simply be where he lived, and that he was a Levite, but as we saw in the book of Judges, became to be known as an Ephraimite because of where he lived and ministered. Either way, God’s calling of Samuel is outside the norm. It may be an indication that Eli’s sons represent the deterioration of the priesthood over the years, and God is not just punishing them (3:11-14), but the entire lineage of the priesthood by taking away their privilege, and is showing His sovereignty in calling particular men outside the house of Aaron as priests. The judgment pronounced in 2:27-36 seems to confirm this.