As the book of Judges concludes it becomes apparent that Israel was void of godly leadership and the presence of the LORD’s blessing. In the first four chapters of 1 Samuel the text provides the bridge from the period of the Judges, establishing Samuel as the LORD’s prophet, and showing the significance of the ark of the covenant as a symbol of the LORD’s presence with His people. As the narrative of 1 and 2 Samuel progresses, the spiritual vitality of both Samuel and David provide the stability necessary for Israel to be successful in the land. This, together with the prominence of the ark of the LORD’s covenant, pave the way for the Golden Age of Israel. It should be noted as well, that in 1 Samuel the center of Israelite culture moved southward, from Shiloh to Jerusalem.
The extensive account of Hannah’s barrenness (1 Samuel 1), serves to reinforce a dictum of the Old Testament: the ability to conceive children is from the LORD. Thus Hannah vowed, “LORD of Hosts, if You will take notice of your servant’s affliction, remember and not forget me, and give Your servant a son, I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and his hair will never be cut” (v. 11). Beyond the presentation of God’s sovereignty over conception, the theological implication of the text is that once again God had chosen the unlikely and weak to be an instrument of His glory and blessing (cf. Genesis 21, Judges 6; 1 Samuel 16). Once “the LORD remembered her” (v. 19), Hannah fulfilled her vow; “Though the boy was still young, she took him to the LORD’s house at Shiloh” (v. 24). As Hannah arrived before Eli, she said, “I prayed for this boy, and since the LORD gave me what I asked Him for, I now give the boy to the LORD. For as long as he lives, he is given to the LORD” (vv. 27-28). God was supremely glorified in receiving that which He alone was credited as having given—and that to the lowly and unable! This was the theme of Hannah’s triumphant prayer (1 Sam 2.1-11), and a topic memorable to the Psalmist: “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the garbage pile…He gives the childless woman a household, making her the joyful mother of children. Hallelujah!” (Ps 113.7, 9).
While the boy Samuel “served the LORD in the presence of Eli the priest” (1 Sam 2.11), “Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD or for the priests share of the sacrifices from the people” (2.12). The remainder of 1 Samuel 2-3 serves to illustrate the contrasts between Hannah and her godly son, and Eli and his evil offspring:
- Hophni and Phinehas “treated the LORD’s offering with contempt” (2.17b), and “were sleeping with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting” (2.22). Though confronted with their behavior (2.22-25)—and warned of the consequences that would result from their irreverence (2.27-36)—there is no evidence that they reformed their ways (3.11-14).
- “By contrast, the boy Samuel grew in stature and in favor with the LORD and with men” (2.26). The LORD’s call on his life was evident (3.1-18)—even giving him boldness to announce to Eli the condemnation that would come upon his family; “Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let nothing he said prove false. All Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was a confirmed prophet of the LORD. The LORD continued to appear in Shiloh, because there He revealed Himself to Samuel by His word. And Samuel’s words came to all Israel” (3.19-4.1).
The final scene in these chapters moves the reader’s attention from the events at Shiloh westward to the land of the Philistines. There Israel engaged their enemies, but was defeated, losing 4,000 soldiers (4.2). Thinking the ark of the LORD’s covenant a relic that could ensure a more favorable outcome against their foes, Israel—under the immoral leadership of Hophni and Phinehas—brought the ark from Shiloh to their camp at Ebenezer (4.3-4). Although Israel greeted the ark with a frightening shout, the Philistines were not dismayed and defeated Israel—killing nearly ten-times as many warriors as the first battle; Eli’s sons were among the dead (4.5-11). The remainder of 1 Samuel 4 reveals the truthfulness of Samuel’s word to Eli shortly after the young man’s call experience: Eli died, and his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, died giving birth to a son (4.12-20). The surviving child was named Ichabod, for “The glory has departed from Israel…because the ark of God has been captured” (4.22).
The countenance of Eli’s daughter-in-law—and the choice of a name for her son—inform the reader that for many Israelites, the glory of God was related to the ark of the covenant. Once it had been captured from Israel, they understood that God’s special care for the nation had likewise been taken captive by the Philistines. Within the broader storyline of Scripture, this tragic scene serves as a foil for the presence of God’s glory in the present age, after the coming of Christ. Now it is not possible that any foreign power remove God’s glory from among His people, for His glory is found in them. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Don’t you know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you? If anyone ruins God’s sanctuary, God will ruin him; for God’s sanctuary is holy, and that is what you are” (1 Cor 3.16-17). Yet there remains a threat to the expression of God’s glory through the church: lack of love for one another. Paul went on to exhort the Corinthians:
“If I speak the languages of men and of angels, but do not have love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so that I can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but do not have love, I have nothing” (1 Cor 13.1-4)
*For a complete list of references, please see scripturestoryline.com