Tag Archives: Samuel

Expanded Notes on 1 Samuel 1-7

26 Sep

I just couldn’t get it all in on Sunday. There is always more to say than can be said. When I am done, I am always surprised how much time has elapsed (it is always later than I think).

Recently, we have been reading through 1 Samuel as a church. This is a powerful book but because of our reading schedule we have only been allotted three weeks to preach through the book. There is more than I can possibly cover in three weeks, so in this post I give the first section of the book a more extended treatment. I hope it will be of benefit to you.

First Samuel breaks down into a three point outline I would summarize like this:

  1. God’s Prophet (1-7). Main character: Samuel (along with Hannah, Eli and his sons)
  2. Man’s King (8-14). Main character: Saul (along with Samuel and Jonathan)
  3. God’s Man (15-31).Main character: David (along with Saul and Jonathan)

If I were to give a one sentence summary of 1 Samuel, I would say this: God humbles the proud and gives grace to the humble for His glory and the fulfillment of His promises. Let’s focus this morning on the story of Samuel.

The book opens with a barren woman grieving her condition as she is provoked by her rival. Readers of 1 Samuel would immediately think of Sarah and Hagar, of Rachel and Leah, barren women in rival relationships. Barren women play a pivotal role in God’s plan of redemption: Sarah, Rachel, Samson’s mother, Hannah and even Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. I believe there are two reasons God works in this way. One is to show that the fulfillment of God’s promises is God’s doing and two is to encourage us to believe when we come to the gospels that when a virgin is told she will conceive and give birth to a son, nothing is impossible to God. Our emptiness, our inability is no obstacle to His working. It is in fact when we get in the way and try to take charge of everything that we most hinder His working. God delights to make something from nothing but He won’t often work with people who think they’re really something. So we have here the first glimpse of God’s work among His people, exalting the humble and humbling the exalted.

In verses 9-11 Hannah went to the entrance of the temple where Eli was sitting. She began to pray and weep bitterly. Hannah vowed to the Lord that if He would give her a son, she would dedicate him to the Lord all his days and no razor would touch his head.

Hannah’s prayer is an invitation to us to intimacy with God. She uses the very same language that God had used when speaking of His people in slavery in Egypt. Hannah believes that the God who sees the affliction of all His people can see the affliction of one. So her prayer is intimate. Her prayer is also God-centered. She doesn’t pray for her son to be great or powerful, she simply commits him to God. Hannah’s prayer is an example also of fervent freedom. She is pouring out her soul to the Lord. She feels an intimacy with God that allows her to do that. Many of us pour out our souls to people but keep God at arm’s length. God welcomes us in our distress to come to Him. Prayer is God’s calling for us to humble ourselves and be honest with Him, to look to Him for help, to depend on Him for everything. James 4 says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” The principle of humility exemplified by Hannah is made explicit in the book of James: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” This is one of the major themes of 1 Samuel.

So as Hannah is pouring out her heart. Eli watches her pray and he sees the movements of her mouth and thinks she is drunk and he tells her to put away her wine. Hannah insists that she was just pouring out her soul to the Lord in her distress she urges Eli to receive her and Eli blesses her and she goes away encouraged. Hannah worships the next morning and then goes home and the Lord blesses her with a son whom she named Samuel. Then we see in verses 21-24 Elkanah goes up for the yearly sacrifice but Hannah does not go but stayed behind to wean Samuel. After he was weaned Hannah brings Samuel along with a sacrifice, to the temple of the Lord. At the end of the chapter they bring Samuel to Eli and Hannah tells him this boy was the answer to her prayers. She dedicates Samuel to the Lord there.

When we come to chapter two, we see Hannah’s song of thanksgiving in verses 1-10. She rejoices in God’s goodness, in God’s lifting up of the humble and His humbling of the arrogant. The prayer of Hannah points us to Christ in two ways. First, it is very similar to the prayer Mary takes up in the gospel of Luke, showing that Mary probably had Hannah’s story in mind when she prayed. Second, Hannah sees her life as being part of a bigger picture of God’s redemption. She sees her victory as a sign of God’s greater victories. If God can redeem my barrenness by giving me a son, is this not a proof that He will be faithful to His bigger plans for His people. Hannah sees herself as part of God’s great working in the world. I wonder if we often lose sight of the fact that we are part of a bigger story than just our own story?

One more observation before we leave Hannah’s prayer. Do we not see here again that the sovereign hand of God cannot be hindered and that He can take trials and turn them to gold? Penninah nagged and mocked and scorned Hannah over and over. And God used this mockery to drive Hannah to an utter dependence on Him. God worked through the evil intentions of Hannah’s rival for her good. What trials might God be using in your life to work out His plan, to draw you closer to Him?

After we leave Hannah’s prayer, we begin to see a contrast drawn between Samuel, the boy dedicated to the Lord, and Eli’s sons Hophni and Phinehas, grown men who were priests but were unfaithful to the Lord. We may bemoan the condition of our society but when the leadership of God’s people is morally corrupt, then a nation is really in trouble. This was the case with Israel at this time.

Chapter 2 verses 12-17 show us that Eli’s sons were scoundrels who dishonored God. They did not know the Lord. They take portions of the meat of the people when they bring it for sacrifice. They even threaten to take meat by force if the people will not give it to them. They abuse their religious authority. They were, then, deeply dishonoring to the Lord.

Verses 18-21 tell us that Samuel, on the other hand, is prospering in the Lord’s service. Eli is well pleased with him. Eli blesses Hannah and she has other children and Samuel grows before the Lord.

So we get here a glimpse of Samuel prospering in the Lord. And we get one last glimpse of Hannah, blessed by God, now with a house full of children. God will not fail to reward us when we dedicate our lives to Him.

Verses 22-25 take us back to Eli and his sons. He is hearing all the evil his sons are doing, their misuse of the Lord’s offerings and their sexual immorality. The news is all over Israel. Eli, now an old man, goes and pleads with his sons about their behavior. But his sons do not listen to him, because God wills to put them to death.

Eli’s greatest mistake was that he only talked to his sons instead of removing them from service. The news of their immorality was everywhere so it wasn’t like he was just finding out about what they were doing. Eli let open sin linger far too long and everyone was hurt. Open sin is a failure of humility. If I am going on in a pattern of sin, whether sexual immorality or lying or whatever, it shows that I have little regard for God and do not believe I will be judged. A humble person, on the other hand, will hate their sin and be quick to repent and seek to change patterns that lead to sin.

Verse 26 tells us meanwhile that Samuel was growing up and was growing in the Lord. It is instructive to me that while all this craziness is happening with Eli’s sons God is just working steadily behind the scenes to raise up Samuel. It is slow. It is steady. But over time God is doing His work of making a godly man. So when the time comes for Hophni and Phinehas to be removed, Samuel is right there waiting to lead well. The downfall of the sons of Eli begins with chapter 2 verse 27.

A man of God comes to Eli and prophesies against him for his failure to restrain his sons. As the priest Eli was held accountable for their failure and his whole house will be judged for his failure to walk rightly before God. Eli’s family will lose the priesthood and his sons will die on the same day and a faithful priest will be raised up, who will walk before God always. What difference might there have been, at least for Eli, if he had dealt with the sin in his midst instead of being passive and just pleading with his sons? This is so tricky because sometimes our desire to do something about a situation of sin in the church is self-righteous bluster. We get on our high horse and act with pride ourselves. But I think too often we are so concerned with sparing people’s feelings that we don’t act with love. We need to love people enough to warn them about their sin. Israel’s spiritual well-being was being hindered by the open sin of her leaders. In the same way, churches are often spiritually stifled by the open sin of leaders and members. So search your own heart today and be quick to repent of sin. But we must not be afraid to deal with broader issues of sin in our midst because it hinders the work of God. Whether our church is large or small is a secondary issue. The first issue is, are we healthy? Healthy things grow. Unhealthy things die. Churches die because not from a lack of the latest techniques and all the bells and whistles. Churches die because they are not healthy. Healthy churches deal with sin in their midst. To fail to do so is a failure of love. The hard truth is Eli didn’t love God or his sons enough to remove them from the priesthood, and in the end they lose their lives.

Against the backdrop of judgment at the end of chapter two there is the contrast of chapter three, verses one through three. Not many words and visions from the Lord but Samuel received such a vision. Eli was blind (no vision) but the lamp of God had not gone out (there was still hope). This hope was going to come through the boy Samuel.

The Lord speaks to Samuel and Samuel says “here I am,” thinking Eli had called him but Eli says no I didn’t call and sends Samuel back to bed. This happens again. Samuel didn’t understand because he did not yet know the Lord. Then it happens a third time. Eli realizes it is the Lord and tells Samuel to go back and if it happens again to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” We find here a wonderful picture of the patience of God. He will lead us along until we understand. He will not cast us aside when we can’t make sense of something. The issue is, are we walking with Him in humility? If we will come humbly before God day by day, we will find an endless stream of patience from His loving hand.

So the Lord calls to Samuel once again and Samuel hears from the Lord that he would judge Eli’s house because of Eli’s son’s actions and Eli’s failure to rebuke them. There would be no recovery for Eli’s house.

God lovingly and graciously called Samuel to Himself and called Samuel as a prophet. What a privilege to speak God’s Word! But the first word he has to speak is a word of judgment against Eli’s house. The man who had lovingly cared for Samuel all these years must be confronted with his sins. A good preacher or Sunday School teacher will not have a one-sided message. If we teach or preach the Bible, there will be great words of comfort but also words of conviction. If a message is all conviction week after week, that teacher just has an axe to grind. If a message is all comfort with no conviction, you have a fearful, man-pleasing teacher on your hands. Many have said, and I think they are right, “Good preaching comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” This aligns with the whole theme of this section of 1 Samuel. If you have a humble heart, you will love the things of God and be delighted to worship with His people and even when you can’t understand what He is doing you will seek to trust Him. But if you have a proud heart church will be a drag and you will look around you and wonder why all these people can’t get it together and you may even have a few suggestions for God about how He could do things better.

What must have been going through Samuel’s mind in verses as he went to sleep knowing he would have to face Eli the next morning? In verses 15-18 Samuel has to deliver this difficult message, which he does reluctantly. Eli submitted to God’s will.

So we see God’s judgment on Eli and his sons. In their pride they had dishonored God and done things in their own way. They had perverted the true worship of God and served themselves. In contrast, we read these words about Samuel in chapter 3, verses 19-21 – “The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there He revealed Himself to Samuel through His word.”

So by the time we get to the end of chapter 3 we see the promise that the proud will be brought low and the humble Samuel is growing in the Lord and he is beginning to be seen as a leader among the people of Israel.

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. God Himself models that humility through sending His Son Jesus, who emptied Himself and humbled Himself and always lived with a heart of humility before the Father in His earthly life. Our calling is to trust Him and walk in humility before God all our days. But what does it look like to walk in humility? AW Tozer gives us several good principles for living in humility:

  1. Get thoroughly dissatisfied with yourself.  Complacency is the deadly enemy of spiritual progress. . . . When speaking of earthly goods Paul could say, “I have learned to be content,” but when referring to his spiritual life he testified, “I press toward the mark.”  So stir up the gift of God that is in you.
  2. Set your face like a flint toward a sweeping transformation of your life.  Timid experimenters are tagged for failure before they start.  We must throw our whole soul into our desire for God. . . .
  3. Put yourself in the way of the blessing.  It is a mistake to look for grace to visit us as a kind of benign magic, or to expect God’s help to come as a windfall apart from conditions known and met.  There are plainly marked paths which lead straight to the green pastures; let us walk in them.  To desire revival, for instance, and at the same time to neglect prayer and devotion is to wish one way and walk another.
  4. Do a thorough job of repenting.  Do not hurry to get it over with.  Hasty repentance means shallow spiritual experience and lack of certainty in the whole life.  Let godly sorrow do her healing work. . . . It is our wretched habit of tolerating sin that keeps us in our half-dead condition.
  5. Make restitution wherever possible.  If you owe a debt, pay it, or at least have a frank understanding with your creditor about your intention to pay, so your honesty will be above question.  If you have quarreled with anyone, go as far as you can in an effort to achieve reconciliation.  As fully as possible, make the crooked things straight.

But at this point 1 Samuel shifts from God’s exalting Samuel’s to the story of judgement against the proud.

The story shifts to Israel going to battle against the Philistines and suffering losses, with 4000 men dead. In chapter 4, verses 3-5, the elders of Israel are dismayed at their defeat and decide to take the ark from Shiloh into the camp. Hophni and Phinehas agree and go with them. When they arrive with the ark there was a great celebration.

Israel wants to involve God but they do not inquire of God. They do not seek His guidance on what to do. Instead they bring the ark into the midst of the camp. It sounds so spiritual. It seems so religious. But it is wrong. God never told them to do it. It is yet another example of designer religion. Israel does not want to worship God and receive all things, good and bad, from His hand. They want to control God and try to make His hand move the way they want, so that they will have victory over the Philistines. And we can do the very same thing. We can treat prayer this way. We can treat the devotional life this way. We can treat church involvement this way. We do what we do not so we can know God but so that we can have the benefits we think God will provide us. Pastor and teacher Dale Ralph Davis says, “Whenever the church stops confessing ‘Thou art worthy’ and begins chanting ‘Thou art useful’ – well, then you know the ark of God has been captured again.

The Philistines hear the shout in the Israelite camp in verses 6-11 and are terrified. They know God has delivered Israel from Egypt and fear his power. But they talk among themselves and decid to man up and face the battle. They were successful, killing 30,000 Israeli soldiers and taking the ark and killing Hophni and Phinehas. God doesn’t honor Israel when they try to do things their own way, even when they involve God in it. God will allow us to fall flat on our face even if it makes Him look bad. But God often uses these falls to bring us to the end of ourselves so that we will lean on Him with our lives.

In verses 12-14 a man of Benjamin flees the battle lines and tells the people of Shiloh what had happened and they send up a cry of grief. Eli hears them and asks what happened. The man comes to Eli and tells him. Eli was very old and blind and the man told him all that had happened. When he mentioned the ark, Eli falls off his seat and breaks his neck and dies. His 40 year leadership of Israel ends in tragedy. All of this looks like tragedy. But in the end, this was best for Israel. God is removing corrupt and damaging leadership and replacing it with the faithful leadership of Samuel. I feel sympathy for Eli. He seemed to be more godly than his sons, but in the end he was unfaithful too because he did nothing about his sons. God’s grace often comes through judgement.

At the end of chapter four, Phinehas’ wife, was about to give birth. She is dying in childbirth and when she hears about her husband and about Eli but especially about the ark, she says to name her son Ichabod, for the glory had departed from Israel, since the ark had been captured. The tragic ending of chapter four forces us to face the issue of whether the glory has departed from our own lives or from our church. Avoiding the question won’t help us. We should be careful not to confuse activity with God’s presence. God says to one of the churches in Revelation, “You have the reputation of being alive, but are dead.” So that which looks vibrant and powerful may not actually be marked by the presence of God. The glory had departed from Israel long before the ark had been captured. And in fact the capture of the ark would be a part of what God would use to draw His people back to Him. This is one of this truths we must always remember: the eternal God never stops working. If you feel your life empty of God’s glory right now, if you feel God has written “Ichabod” over our church, don’t just mourn and grieve over it, let that grief push you to repentance. Realize that God will restore those who humble themselves and live on Him alone. God may withhold His glory until we get right with Him.

Things are bleak when we get to the start of chapter five. In verses 1-5 the Philistines take the ark and put it in the temple of Dagon in Ashdod, setting it before a statue of Dagon. The next morning the statue had fallen on its face before the ark. They set him up right again. The next day he falls again and his head and arms fall off leaving only the trunk of Dagon intact.

God will not be mocked. God shows not only Israel but also the Philistines that He can’t be manipulated. He is supreme. He is the only true God. Their god Dagon fell down before the true God. And he couldn’t even get up again by himself. The irony in the fact that the Philistines had to put their god back together again would not have been lost on the first readers of this book. God is not a lucky charm. He will not be mocked.

So in verses 6-7 the Lord strikes Ashdod’s people with disease and they were desperate to get rid of the ark because they saw God’s dominance over them and over Dagon. The Philistine leaders decide to move the ark to Gath, but they too were struck by the Lord with tumors. Then the Philistines send the ark to Ekron and the people of Ekron were fearful of the ark coming to them. So they gather the leaders of the Philistines and ask them to send the ark back to Israel. Meanwhile the turmoil and death and disease continue.

Chapter six opens with the ark in Philistine territory, but not for long. After seven month, the Philistines ask their priests and diviners what to do with the ark and how they could send it back. The priests say not to send it back without a guilt offering. They suggest gold tumors and gold rats to symbolize the plagues that had fallen on them. They see this as an effort to appease God so He might turn away His wrath. They tell the Philistines to do all this and hook the ark to a cart with two cows carrying it. Their calves were to be penned up and the cows sent on their way. If they go into Israel it would be a sign God had done all this but if they did not then it would be clear to them that God had not done it.

The Philistines set up a situation where the cows would not naturally head straight for Israel. They were cows with calves back home. They wouldn’t want to leave them. They’d never been hitched up under a yoke before. Surely this would be a problem. The Philistines set up a situation where there will be no doubt about the fact that God was leading the cart.

In verses 10-12 the Philistines do what the priests said and the cows go straight to Beth-Shemesh. In verse 13 the people of Beth-Shemesh are harvesting their wheat when they see the cart. They rejoice and take the cows and offer them to the Lord. The Levites come and take the ark and the articles of gold and put them on a stone there. The Philistine leaders see all this it and return to Ekron. All this sounds like a happy ending, until we get to verse 19.

When we get to the end of chapter 6 we find that the Lord strikes down some of the men of Beth-shemesh who look into the ark. There is some dispute in the Hebrew manuscripts about how many men died, but some clearly did. But why? The text says they looked into the ark. In some way, they looked at the ark in a way that was inappropriate, that violated God’s law regarding the care of the ark in Numbers chapter 4:1-20. And so they died. God is no respecter of persons. Those who deal inappropriately with Him will be judged, whether they be Philistines or Israelites. But the really interesting part of this chapter is the question they ask, “Who is able to stand before this God?” And I believe the answer is, “Nobody.” But those who fall before this God will find mercy. We can’t do our own thing with God. But if we come to Him in the way He requires, we find mercy and life and hope. It is not because He is picky, it is because He is powerful. We can’t trifle with such power. We would not allow a three year old to drive us home from church today, because they can’t handle the power of a car. But the people of Beth-shemesh did not understand this. Instead of humbling themselves, the people of Beth-shemesh were not much different from the people of the Gerasenes who, when Jesus casts out the legion of demons from the man none of them could control, beg Him to leave town. I believe we often want the benefits of God but we don’t want God Himself. We want just enough of God to feel comfortable but not enough to feel conviction or make any changes. And this pride of heart is the very thing that keeps God from being our all in all.

The men of Kiriath-Jearim in chapter 7 verses 1 and 2 take the ark and have it for 20 years but it was not a good time. It was a time of mourning. So in verses 3-5 Samuel calls Israel to repentance and promises that if they would leave their foreign gods, God would deliver them from the Philistines.

Israel had been humbled in their circumstances. But now would they be humble? Samuel calls them to more than just mourning their sin, he calls them to real repentance. Real repentance is sorrow over sin backed by active steps to take a different path. So Samuel calls Israel to forsake foreign gods. Instead of getting God to serve us, we come to God with our exclusive allegiance. That is the heart of repentance, turning back to God. How our churches, including this church, need to turn back to God. But you know, it is not easy to truly repent. The gods of the Canaanites were attractive. Promises of material blessing, sexual fulfillment, and physical health were promised by the gods. Meanwhile, the true God promised blessing on His terms and demanded utter loyalty. The first commandment: no other gods before me. The second commandment: No making idols. The third commandment: treat my Name with the reverence it is due. The foundation of our lives is how we relate to God. But the promises of the gods scratch us where we itch on a more immediate level. And so for our day, the promises of the gods of entertainment and success and power are so alluring to us. And in our pride we see these things as superior to knowing the true God. Repentance is when we loosen our grip on idols and cast them away and take hold of God for His own sake, without any demand but with a plea for His mercy and a desire to live in His presence.

In verses 6-10 Samuel gathers Israel and Mizpah and fasts and Israel acknowledges their sin. But the Philistines hear they were at Mizpah and plan an attack. Israel was afraid and ask Samuel to continue to pray for them. Samuel offers a lamb as a burnt offering and prays for Israel and God answers his prayer, thundering against the Philistines and driving them out from Israel. Israel had a great victory over the Philistines.

Here there is no magic use of the ark. There is nothing but turning to God in prayer. Israel has been humbled. And God exalts Himself and blesses them by winning the battle. We are so accustomed to trying to reason our way through problems. How rare is it to find a man or woman who will live in utter dependence on God. Sometimes God has to take our props away so that we will lean on Him alone.

In the aftermath of the victory in verses 11-14, Samuel takes a stone and sets it between Mizpah and Shen and calls it Ebenezer, “hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” The Philistines were not a trouble to Israel anymore during Samuel’s leadership. Israel takes back land Philistia had taken and even has peace with the Amorites.

We are told to be mindful of, to remember, what God has done. We are prone to forget. We are not to live in the past but we are to let the past comfort us in the present and assure us of the future. God is faithful. And He is good.

Chapter seven concludes with Samuel judging Israel all his life, doing a yearly circuit throughout the land. And he would always return to Ramah his birthplace, where he would worship the Lord.

God may bring us Mizpah moments of revival, but he also has us on the yearly circuit throughout the land. Both the moments of revival and the consistent teaching of the Word are important.

The first seven chapters of 1 Samuel tell of the work of God through the raising up of faithful Samuel and the judgment of unfaithful Eli and his sons Hophni and Phinehas. God works on a national level to bring Israel to faithfulness through their trials with the Philistines. God brings judgment on both the Philistines and Israelites for their rival gods and their resistance to trusting in the true and living God.

Today, are you the center of the universe, or is God at the center? Are you willing to confess and forsake sin and submit your heart and life to God?

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