Thursday, August 21, 2008

I Samuel 8

I Samuel 8: Israel Asks for a King

Synopsis

Samuel has been ruling over Israel, as their judge. He has been travelling around the nation, hearing their cases, and God has made him successful in this. In this passage, Samuel has two sons—Joel and Abijah—and, since he has grown old, he appoints these sons to succeed him, and judge Israel. Unfortunately, his sons do not “walk in his ways” (verse 3); they accept bribes, and dishonestly gain from their positions.

So the elders of Israel come up with a solution: they approach Samuel and demand that he appoint a king over them, “such as the other nations have” (verse 5). This displeases Samuel, and he prays to the LORD about it, but the LORD tells Samuel that it’s not him the people have rejected, it’s God Himself, whom they have rejected as their king. Just as they have continually forsaken Him, ever since the time that they left Egypt, so they’re doing again in rejecting Samuel. God tells Samuel to listen to the people, but, to first warn them of what their new king will do to them.

So Samuel does:

Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day.” (verses 10–18)

But the people don’t listen to Samuel. They still want a king over them, so that they can be like all the other nations (verse 20). Samuel repeats this to the LORD, and He tells Samuel again to listen to the people, and give them a king. So Samuel dismisses the people, to go back home.

We’ll see in the next passage who Samuel (on behalf of God) appoints.

Thoughts

In a sense, the people asking for a king is something that is to be expected. God even gave the Israelites rules for how a king was to behave, in Deuteronomy 17:14–20. I think the main issue with this request, however, is not so much that Israel wants a king, it is—as usual—a matter of their heart.

Why do they want a king? So that they can be like the other nations—but Israel is not supposed to be like the other nations, they’re supposed to be a nation set apart for God. This is a rejection of God as their king. Israel was meant to be a theocracy, and they want to turn it into a monarchy. They talk about wanting to have a king who will lead them and fight their battles, but that’s what they’re supposed to be trusting God to do.

This whole thing was sparked because Samuel’s sons didn’t lead the people rightly, as Samuel had done. (“Samuel was a good leader, his sons are not; we need a better system than this.”) But don’t the people realize that the same thing is going to happen with their kings?!? Even when they find a good king, it doesn’t mean that the king’s successors will also be good. But with the case of kings, the people will have even less ability to reject a bad king!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I Samuel 7:2–17

I Samuel 7:2–17: Samuel Subdues the Philistines at Mizpah

Synopsis

The Israelites now have the Ark back in their possession, resting at Kiriath Jearim. In all, it remains there twenty years, while the Israelites mourn and seek after the LORD. (I’m not sure if they mourn and seek after Him the whole twenty years, or if they just start near the end.) However, even if they are mourning and seeking after Him, it’s not with their whole hearts, because they are still worshipping foreign gods!

So Samuel instructs them to get rid of their foreign gods, if they are really returning to the LORD with all their hearts. And they do; they get rid of the other gods they’ve been worshipping, and worship Him only. So Samuel has them gather at Mizpah, so that he can intercede with the LORD for them. They fast, and confess their sin to God.

When the Philistines hear that the Israelites are gathered at Mizpah, they take the opportunity to attack them. And when the Israelites hear that the Philistines are coming, they become afraid—after all, the Philistines have been subduing the Israelites for a long time. But they ask Samuel to continue crying out to the LORD, that He may rescue them, and Samuel does. He also offers up a lamb as a burnt offering.

The LORD answers. As Samuel is offering up the lamb, the Philistines engage the Israelites in battle, but the LORD thunders with loud thunder (verse 10) against them, and throws them into such a panic that the Israelites route them, and begin slaughtering them, pushing them all the way back to a place called Beth Car (although I don’t know where that is).

Samuel sets up a stone monument, to commemorate the occasion, and names it Ebeneezer (which means “stone of help”), saying, “Thus far has the LORD helped us” (verse 12).

The Israelites gain back the territory that the Philistines have taken from them, and verse 14 tells us that they also deliver neighbouring territory from the Philistines, and have peace with the Amorites. (I’m not sure if this means that they helped the Amorites get some territory back from the Philistines.)

For the rest of Samuel’s life, he continues as Israel’s leader/judge. He begins travelling on a circuit through the nation, acting as a judge.

Thoughts

We’ll see the Israelites’ inability to get rid of their foreign gods a lot in the Old Testament. Worshipping false idols is a snare that they just can’t seem to fully escape. Which is why it’s always a pleasant surprise to see them managing to do it, as they do in this passage.

So what is the difference between this battle and the battle in 4:1–11? The difference is that in the previous battle, the Israelites didn’t trust in God, they simply tried to wield the Ark as some kind of magic wand, hoping that the Philistines would fall before it. In this passage, they have realized that they can’t win this battle unless He wins it for them, and they are trusting Him to do it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I Samuel 6–7:1

I Samuel 6–7:1: The Ark is returned to the Israelites

Synopsis

In the last passage, we saw how the Philistines were suffering because of the Ark. After seven months of this, it’s finally too much for them; they need to get rid of it. But they’ve learned to respect this god, somewhat, so they decide to call together their “priests and diviners” (verse 6:2), and ask them how to do it properly.

Here is the advice they get from the priests and diviners:
  • First of all, they shouldn’t send the Ark back empty. It needs to be accompanied by a guilt offering.
  • The offering to be sent is a set of golden tumours and rats, representing the plague the LORD has sent against them. (The previous chapter didn’t mention rats, but they’re mentioned here, so I assume that God sent rats to the Philistines, in addition to the tumours and death.)
  • Because the plague from God has struck not only the Philistine people, but also the leaders, it is decided to send one gold tumour and one gold rat for each Philistine leader, meaning five of each.
  • They are to put the Ark, and the golden tumours and rats, onto a cart, and yoke two cows to it. (Two cows that have given birth, but that have never been yoked before.) They are then to set the cows loose, without any guidance, and watch them.
    • If the cows head back to Israel, then the Philistines will know that it really was the LORD that had afflicted them.
    • On the other hand, if they don’t, then the Philistines will know that it wasn’t the LORD; that it was just chance.
In addition to these instructions, the priests and diviners also say something very interesting to the Philistine leaders:

Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When he treated them harshly, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way? (verse 6:6)

They almost sound like prophets of the LORD—except that this one verse is the only part that’s really true, in this way.

Anyway, having been given their instructions, the Philistines follow them, and then watch to see what the cows do. And the cows head straight for Beth Shemesh (which I assume is an Israelite town), without turning to the right or left. (Verse 6:12 tells us that they “low”—that is, moo—all the way, but I don’t know if that’s significant.)

When the Ark gets to Beth Shemesh, the people see it and rejoice. The cows come to a field belonging to Joshua, and stop beside a large rock. (I don’t know if this is the guy from the book of Joshua—meaning a field belonging to his descendent—or if it’s some other guy named Joshua.) The Levites put the Ark on the rock—along with the chest containing the gold rats and tumours—and the people chop up the cart, and sacrifice the cows as a burnt offering. The Philistine rulers, who have been watching, see all of this, and return home.

However, it’s not a completely happy ending. Seventy of the people of Beth Shemesh look in the Ark, which is forbidden, and God puts them to death as punishment. So the people of Beth Shemesh mourn, and ask themselves what they are to do, and to whom the Ark can be sent. They decide to send it to Kiriath Jearim, where it is put in the house of someone named Abinadab. A man named Eleazar is consecrated to guard it.

Thoughts

This passage is a fascinating look into how pagans of the day viewed religion. If a particular god is angry, you need to find out why that god is angry, and appease him. In this case, they decide to make offerings to that god, in the form of golden idols, made to represent the plagues he has sent. I also find it humourous that the priests and diviners speak with such authority; they know nothing about the true LORD, and what He requires. (They remind me of modern-day pundits; under the right circumstances, if you call yourself an expert, people will regard you as an expert.)

It’s also interesting that people still remember what the LORD did for the Israelites in Egypt. The full story hasn’t been shared—they don’t know all the details about what He has done for them, and I’m sure they haven’t read the book of Exodus and gotten all of the details—but they do know that this is a powerful god they’re dealing with, that Egypt wasn’t able to defeat.

Notice that the people of Beth Shemesh kind of miss the point, when the seventy people are killed for looking in the Ark. They suddenly treat the Ark like it’s some kind of radioactive item—they need to get rid of it! But if they would simply follow the LORD’s commands, it wouldn’t be dangerous. You’re not supposed to look in the Ark, so don’t look in the Ark. Sometimes the Israelites seem to be as superstitious about the Ark as the Philistines are. It’s not magic; it’s a representation of the Presence of the LORD. The Ark didn’t kill those seventy people, God did.

Monday, August 18, 2008

I Samuel 5

I Samuel 5: Possession of the Ark wreaks havoc on the Philistines

Synopsis

A couple of passages ago, the Israelites fought the Philistines and lost, thus losing the Ark. Then, in the last chapter, we saw the Israelites’ reaction to that loss. In this chapter, we see how the Philistines deal with having the Ark—spoiler alert: It’s not good news for them.

Having captured the Ark, the Philistines bring it to Ashdod, and set it inside the temple of their god, Dagon. They wake up the next morning, only to find Dagon face down on the ground in front of the Ark. (Obviously Dagon is some kind of idol.) They put him back in his place, and the next morning find him lying there again, except that this time, his head and his hands have been broken off, and are sitting at the threshold to the temple. I’m guessing that this has some kind of cultural significance, but I don’t know what it is; however, the priests of Dagon take it seriously. Verse 5 says that “to this day,” priests of Dagon don’t step on the threshold at Dagon’s temple. (At the time of writing, of course; I doubt that there are any Dagon worshippers left.)

But this isn’t the only problem the Philistines are having; the people of Ashdod are also suffering because of the Ark. The LORD brings “devastation” on them, and afflicts them with tumours (verse 6). So the people of Dagon decide that they’ve had too much; the “god of Israel” (verse 7) is making His hand heavy on them and on their god Dagon, so the Ark has to be moved.

So they move it to Gath—where the LORD again inflicts the residents with tumours.

So they move it to Ekron, and when the people see it coming, they panic—the Ark is being brought to kill them! And it’s not just idle panic, either; the LORD brings death to Ekron, and those who don’t die are afflicted with tumours.

But this is where the passage ends. We’ll have to see what the next passage says, to find out how the Philistines get out of their mess. (Spoiler alert: They give it back to the Israelites.)

Thoughts

I find the events in the temple of Dagon to be rather humourous, but that’s partially because I live in the 20th Century, and the idea of a golden idol seems silly to me in the first place. But God is making the same point that He was making in Egypt, with His plagues: He is the one and only God, and the “gods” of other nations are not gods at all. For people who had bought into the idea of a golden idol, it would have been more impressive that Dagon kept falling down before the LORD.

Friday, August 15, 2008

I Samuel 4:12–22

I Samuel 4:12–22: Eli’s death, and repercussions of the loss of the Ark

Synopsis

In the last passage, Israel battled with the Philistines, lost the battle, and also lost the Ark. In addition, Eli’s sons both died on the same day, as the LORD had indicated would happen.

In this passage, we find Eli sitting in a chair by the side of the road, waiting for news, and fearing for the Ark. A Benjamite comes from the battle front, bringing his terrible news to the people of Shiloh, and everyone in the town sends up a cry of mourning. Eli, however, is ninety-eight years old, and his eyes (and apparently hearing) aren’t so good, so he asks what’s going on. The man comes over and tells him that the Israelites have lost the battle, Eli’s sons have been killed, and the Ark has been captured. When Eli hears that the Ark has been captured, he falls off his chair, breaks his neck, and dies.

Eli’s daughter-in-law (the wife of Phinehas) is pregnant at the time, and when she hears that the Ark has been captured, she goes into labour. However, she is overcome by her labour pains, and as she is dying, the women attending her try to console her by telling her that she has a son. She doesn’t pay any attention to them, however, and with her dying breath tells them to name the boy Ichabod (which means “no glory”), since the glory has departed from Israel.

Thoughts

The fact that we find Eli, at the beginning of this passage, fearing for the Ark, means that he must not have been a willing participant in its use in the battle. I think Eli’s biggest problem is his lack of spine; he knows when his sons are doing things they shouldn’t, but he lacks the will or power to stop them from doing it. This is sort of shown in Eli’s death, as well; he seems to be more worried about the capture of the Ark than in the death of his sons—and yet he allowed them to bring the Ark with them into battle.

Similarly, I also find it interesting that Phinehas’ wife is grieving more for the loss of the Ark than for the loss of her husband. Interesting, but not surprising, for two reasons:
  1. She should be more worried about the Ark than about her husband. We should all be more concerned with God and His desires than with our own desires—it’s just unusual that someone actually is.
  2. As mentioned in Chapter 2, Eli’s sons have been sleeping with the women who serve at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. If Phinehas has been cheating on his wife, it is natural that his wife wouldn’t be overly broken up over his demise.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I Samuel 4:1–11

I Samuel 4:1–11: The Philistines Capture the Ark

Synopsis

In this passage, the Israelites engage the Philistines in battle, and lose. About four thousand Israelites are killed, and they want to know why the LORD brought this defeat. And they hit upon a solution: They’ll bring the Ark with them, into battle! There is no indication that they ask the LORD if this is a good idea, but Eli’s two wicked sons, Hophni and Phinehas, go with the Ark, so the plan seems to have the approval of the priests, at any rate.

They bring the Ark into the Israelite camp, and when the soldiers see it, they’re overjoyed; they give out a shout so loud that the ground shakes. Which worries the Philistines; what’s going on over there? Then they find out that the Ark has come into the Israelite camp, and get even more worried: A god has entered the Israelite camp! How are they supposed to fight the Israelites and their god(s)?!? Not only that, but they have heard of these gods! They’re the same gods who struck the Egyptians with those ten plagues! (Obviously, since they keep referring to the Israelites’ “gods,” in plural, they sort of understand what’s happening and sort of don’t.)

So they (the Philistines) firm up their resolve. They don’t want to be subject to the Israelites, the way the Israelites have been subject to them, so they’re going to have to “be men, and fight!” (verse 9). And boy do they! They not only defeat the Israelites, they defeat them worse than they had in the first battle: thirty thousand Israelite soldiers are killed, and the rest of the Israelite soldiers flee back to their tents. Not only that, but the Philistines capture the Ark, and Hophni and Phinehas die—on the same day, as was prophesied.

Thoughts

The main problem the Israelites seem to have in this chapter is that they are treating the Ark as some kind of talisman, rather than the dwelling place of the LORD Almighty. According to verse 3, they understand that it is the LORD who brought them defeat against the Philistines, which is good, but then it seems like they believe they can just wave the Ark at the Philistines like a magic wand, and cause their defeat.

It’s also interesting to see how the passage talks about the Ark. When the Israelites are discussing the issue in verse 3, they say, “Let us bring the ark of the LORD’s covenant from Shiloh…” Then, in verse 4, the author of I Samuel describes it a bit differently:

So the people sent men to Shiloh, and they brought back the ark of the covenant of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim. (verse 4a)

First of all, I see more respect in the second description. Not that the Bible always describes the Ark in this way, but the author seems to be emphasizing the respect, in this case, in contrast to how the Israelites are treating it.

Second of all, it’s a subtle difference—and I might be reading too much in to it—but the Israelites are calling it the Ark of the LORD’s covenant, whereas the author of I Samuel is calling it the Ark of the LORD. Might we be in a situation where the Israelites are assuming they can do whatever they want, and the LORD has their back, even if they’re not obeying His commandments? Because, they think, He has promised to protect them, and therefore He has to, no matter what?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I Samuel 3

I Samuel 3: The LORD Calls Samuel—literally!

Synopsis

Technically, since I base my posts on the NIV section titles, this post should also cover Chapter 4 verse 1, and the next post should start with 4:2. However, it’s just one verse, so I’m not bothering.

Samuel is now ministering before the LORD, under the priest Eli. Verse 1 tells us that it’s a quiet time for Israel, in terms of the LORD’s Word; visions are rare. And Verse 7 tells us that Samuel himself doesn’t even know the LORD, because His word has not yet been revealed to Samuel.

One night Samuel is lying down in the temple, and Eli is also lying down, in his usual place. The LORD calls Samuel, but Samuel doesn’t realize it’s the LORD, he thinks it’s Eli. He goes to Eli, and says, “Here I am.” But Eli tells Samuel that he didn’t call him, so Samuel goes and lies back down. The LORD calls him again, and again he goes to Eli to find out what he wants, only for Eli to tell him that he didn’t call him. So Samuel goes and lies down again.

A third time, the LORD calls Samuel, and Samuel goes to Eli. And this time, Eli clues in as to what is happening. He tells Samuel to go and lie down again, and the next time the LORD calls him, he is to say, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening” (verse 9).

So this is what happens. Samuel goes and lies down, and the LORD calls him a fourth time. Samuel says what Eli had told him to say, and so the LORD speaks:

And the LORD said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them. Therefore, I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’” (verses 11–14)

After this, Samuel lies down until morning, and then tries to go about his business as usual. He is afraid to tell Eli what the LORD has told him, but Eli gets him to tell anyway, and Samuel tells him the whole thing. Eli’s response is that He is the LORD, and can do what is good in His eyes.

But the LORD doesn’t yet carry out His word in this passage. He is with Samuel, as he grows up, and the entire nation begins to recognize that Samuel is a prophet. God continues to reveal His Word to Samuel at Shiloh (where they are currently ministering before Him), and His word reaches all of Israel through Samuel.

Thoughts

I’m not sure exactly what verse 7 means, when it says that the Word of the LORD has not been “revealed” to Samuel. Does it mean that Eli hasn’t been teaching Samuel anything? If so, I’d be surprised, but not shocked. (I don’t know how you could have someone ministering before the LORD and not teach him something about the God whom he’s serving—although we’ve also seen that Eli hasn’t been controlling his sons, so maybe this is another area where he’s lacking.) Or is this more of a New Testament-style statement, that Samuel has not come to a “saving faith” in the LORD, or that type of thing?

Eli’s response to the LORD’s prophecy is interesting. He seems to be simply resigned to his fate. The LORD’s message is clearly holding Eli to blame for his sons’ actions, and I guess Eli agrees, since he’s not trying to fight it. (Or maybe he just knows that it would be futile to fight the LORD?)

Friday, August 08, 2008

I Samuel 2:27–36

I Samuel 2:27–36: Prophecy Against the House of Eli

Synopsis

In the last passage, we were introduced to Eli’s sons, and told that they are wicked. In my thoughts on that post, I wondered if Eli might be a bad father, or if maybe he was a good father who happened to end up with bad kids. In this passage, a “man of God” (verse 27) comes to prophecy against Eli and his family, and it seems that God is holding Eli responsible.

First of all, God reminds Eli of all that He has done for Eli’s family; He revealed Himself to them when they were still in Egypt, and chose them to be His priests. And, of course, along with that, He gave them a portion of the offerings. And in return, they are scorning the LORD’s sacrifices and offerings (verse 29). And, in relation to the question of whether Eli is a good father or not:

Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel? (verse 29b)

Now, really, this quote is more indicating that Eli is a bad priest, rather than a bad father, but it also assigns blame to Eli for his sons’ actions.

So what will be the result of this? The man of God speaks:

“Therefore the LORD, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that your house and your father’s house would minister before me forever.’ But now the LORD declares: ‘Far be it from me! Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained. The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your family line and you will see distress in my dwelling. Although good will be done to Israel, in your family line there will never be an old man. Every one of you that I do not cut off from my altar will be spared only to blind your eyes with tears and to grieve your heart, and all your descendants will die in the prime of life.’” (verses 30–33)

And, as a sign to Eli that this is going to take place, God is going to cause both of Eli’s sons to die on the same day. God is then going to raise up a new priest, one who will be faithful to Him and do whatever is in His heart and mind. His house will be established, and he will minister before God’s “anointed one” always (verse 35). And the remains of Eli’s family line? They will come and bow down before this new priest, begging for money, and pleading to be allowed some priestly office, so that they can have food to eat.

Thoughts

Interestingly, Eli’s response to this prophecy is not recorded. Does he repent? Harden his heart? Disbelieve the man of God? We don’t know. (Unless it’s mentioned later on; as mentioned in a previous post, it’s been a long time since I read I Samuel, and I can’t remember everything that’s going to take place.) Of course, the new priest God is talking about will be Samuel.

The verse that interests me the most is when God says (through the man of God) that the new priest He is raising up “will minister before my anointed one always” (verse 35). Who is the “anointed one?” Well, I’d say it’s probably a pretty safe bet that that means Jesus, but what does it mean that this new priest will minister before Jesus? In this case, I don’t even have any theories to put here; it doesn’t yet make sense in my mind.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

I Samuel 2:12–26

I Samuel 2:12–26: Eli’s Wicked Sons

Synopsis

So far, in the book of I Samuel, we’ve been dealing with the priest named Eli. In this passage, however, we are introduced to his sons, who are wicked men, and have no regard for the LORD (verse 12). In fact, there are a couple of things they’re doing that they’re not supposed to do:

  • One concerns offerings that are presented to the LORD, of which the priests are supposed to take a share. The way it’s supposed to work is that the fat is to be burned first, as the LORD’s offering, and then when the meat is boiled, the priest is supposed to stick a fork into the pot; whatever he pulls out is to be his portion of the offering. However, Eli’s sons are instead taking meat with the fat still on it, even though the fat is supposed to belong to the LORD.
  • Also—and this one’s easier to explain—they are sleeping with the women who serve at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.

Eli mentions these things to his sons: “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. No, my sons; it is not a good report that I hear spreading among the LORD’s people. If a man sins against another man, God may mediate for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?” (verses 23–25). (Verse 25 calls this quote a “rebuke,” although, to me, it doesn’t seem forceful enough to be called a rebuke.) However, Eli’s sons don’t listen to him, because it is the LORD’s will to put them to death.

As all of this is going on, Samuel is ministering before the LORD, and growing in stature and favour with the LORD and with men (verse 26). Every year, when his mother Hannah is coming for the yearly offering, she’s making and bringing a new robe for him.

Eli also blesses Hannah, and prays for God to give her children, to replace the child she gave up; He does, and she has three more sons and two daughters.

Thoughts

A few thoughts on this passage.

I don’t know if Samuel’s dealing with is sons is bad parenting, in that he’s not being forceful enough with them, or if there is just nothing he can do. After all, they are adults by now, and sometimes kids grow up to be bad, even with good parenting. That being said, we’ll probably discuss this some more, when we get to future passages.

Samuel is right, though, when he talks about sinning against God vs. sinning against man. If you sin against God, who is going to intercede for you? There is nobody standing between yourself and the wrath of God! Which is why, by His Grace, He interceded Himself, by sending His Son to take that wrath. (Not that Eli would have known that last part.)

My pastor considers Romans 1:18–32 to be a very scary passage; people were being wicked, and so (to paraphrase), God gave up on them, and simply let them continue in their sins. (If it’s not this passage that my pastor has mentioned, it’s a similar one, but the idea is the same.) Is that what’s happening with Eli’s sons? When they don’t listen to their father, is it because the LORD has simply given up on them? Even if that’s the case, of course, it would only be part of the story, because as always, God probably has a number of things planned, based on this one event. (I can’t remember how this event will impact Samuel’s life—it’s been a long time since I read I Samuel—but I’m sure it will somehow.)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I Samuel 2:1–11

I Samuel 2:1–11: Hannah’s Prayer

Synopsis

In the last passage, Hannah dedicated Samuel to serve the LORD with the priests. In this passage, we’ll see how she feels about giving up her only son. In fact, she feels pretty good about it! Verse 1 says that this is a prayer, but basically this passage is a psalm of praise that Hannah offers up to the LORD, for what He has done for her in giving her a son.

I know I mention this every time I post about poetry in this blog, but I never know how to do a synopsis of poetry. So I’ll just take it point by point. (And—as I’m sure I’ve also mentioned many times—suck the soul right out of it in doing so. If you’re reading this (and you’re not me), please read the passage first, before reading my words!)

  • Hannah starts by rejoicing in the LORD, because He has delivered her. (That’s a huge paraphrase.) She then revels in the fact that there is no one else who is holy like He is, nor anyone like Him.
  • She then advises the listener—whoever that might be—not to talk proudly or speak arrogantly, because the LORD knows. She also says that deeds are measured by Him—a very interesting point. (Which I’ll mention in the Thoughts section.)
  • Hannah then spends verses 4–7 in saying that the LORD is in charge: people who had once been warriors can be broken, while others can be armed with strength; people who had had lots of food can become hungry, while people who had been hungry can find food; women who had been barren can bear children, while women who’d had many sons can pine away. He brings death and life; He brings poverty and wealth; He humbles and He exalts.
  • Similar to this—although I chose to mention it separately—the LORD also has the ability to raise up the poor, and seat them with princes, giving them a seat of honour (verse 8).
  • She also says that the LORD will guard his saints’ feet, while the wicked will be “silenced in darkness” (verse 9); this is because people don’t prevail based on their own strength. If you try to oppose the LORD you will be “shattered,” and he will thunder against you from heaven (verse 10).

After Hannah finishes her song, Elkanah returns home, but Samuel remains with Eli, ministering before the LORD. (It doesn’t say what happens to Hannah; I assume she returns home with Elkanah.)

Thoughts

I was thinking about the fact that Samuel is ministering before the LORD with the priests, even though he’s not a Levite. And then it suddenly occurred to me: Is that what a Nazirite vow is for? I was wondering, when I wrote the entry about Numbers 6, what the purpose of taking a Nazirite vow was; is this it? If you become a Nazirite, does that enable you to serve the LORD along with the Levites? Just a thought.

In verse 3, Hannah says this:

Do not keep talking so proudly
  or let your mouth speak such arrogance,
  for the LORD is a God who knows,
  and by him deeds are weighed.

I find the “by [H]im deeds are weighed” part interesting; how is righteousness measured? Is it by adherence to the law? By comparison with other humans? No, actually; righteousness is measured against God—if you compare yourself to God, and find that you’re lacking, then you’re not good enough. Thanks be to God that Christ came and died for our sins—and that his righteousness has been imparted to me! When God measures my righteousness, I actually will measure up, because I have Christ’s righteousness imparted to me!

There is a small part of me that’s sometimes bothered, when reading Old Testament poetry, because it sometimes claims that the LORD will shield His children, and smite His enemies, and it sometimes sounds a little too pat. We all know that there are instances where the evil seem to prevail, and the LORD’s children suffer. (And, of course, many of the Psalms do talk about that.) But I have to remind myself, too, that this is poetry. It’s not doctrine. It may very well be that you can infer doctrine based on this and other poetry, but Hannah wasn’t trying to teach something, she was trying to express praise to the LORD, and I should read her words in that light.

Friday, August 01, 2008

I Samuel 1:21–28

I Samuel 1:21–28: Hannah Dedicates Samuel

Synopsis

In the last passage, we read about Samuel’s birth. In this passage, Hannah dedicates him to service of the LORD.

As before, Hannah’s husband Elkanah takes his family to offer their annual sacrifice, but this time, Hannah declines to go with him. Instead, she is going to wait until she has weaned Samuel, and then take him and present him to the priests, to serve the LORD. Elhanah tells her to do what seems best, but then he says, “… only may the LORD make good his word” (verse 23), which the footnote says might also be, “… may the LORD make good your word.” Either way, I don’t know what he means by this.

Anyway, Hannah waits until Samuel is weaned, and then brings him to the house of the LORD, along with a bull, some flour, and some wine, for a sacrifice. After the sacrifice, she brings the boy to Eli, and reminds him that she is the same woman who had prayed for the boy at last year’s sacrifice; so she is now giving the boy to the LORD.

Verse 28 finishes by saying, “And he worshiped the LORD there,” but I’m not sure who the “he” is, whether it’s Eli, or Samuel.

Thoughts

Over the thousands of years since this text was written, I’m sure many people have written about the fact that Hannah had been praying for this boy for so long, but she was willing to give him up to serve the LORD. For Hannah’s thoughts on the matter, the next passage will illuminate us, as she will be praying to the LORD about the matter. (Spoiler alert: She’s happy with the situation.)