The Life And Times Of Samuel The Prophet
1 Sam. 1: 1-8
THE life and times of Samuel are replete with wholesome lessons for the people of God in all ages, but especially instructive for us in these days of ever-increasing declension and departure from God. Such were the days in which Samuel was born, when the judges ruled, and "there was no king in Israel;" when there was scarcely a "magistrate in the land that might put them to shame in anything" that they did; "every man did that which was right in his own eyes" - much as the times in which our lot is cast, when lawlessness prevails even in the circle of the professing church. It is no more with most, "What saith the Scriptures?" "What does God say in His Word?" but "What saith science?"
"What saith the world's leaders?" or "What saith the great men of renown in the church, the "higher critics," the professors of theology in the seminaries?" or, flower still, "What saith my own natural intelligence, my own heart?" which God says is "deceitful ... and desperately wicked" (Jer. 17: 9). Every man would be a law unto himself, and the "law of the Lord" is either treated with utter neglect, or audaciously set aside as out of date, applying only to a bygone age, having no authority whatever over the conscience in these days of twentieth century enlightenment and advance along all lines, particularly in the denial of the rights of God and His Word over the conscience and conduct of man.
Such too were the days of Samuel's infancy and early life. Yet, in the midst of all the decline and spiritual darkness, how beautiful and refreshing it is to see here and there a family in which godliness prevailed and the claims of the God of Israel were recognized. Such was the family in which Samuel was born. His father, a Levite, though disengaged from active service, manifested his piety by regularly attending the yearly feasts at the tabernacle in Shiloh. Let us read the beautiful account.
"Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim, of mount Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph,* an Ephrathite : and he had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other was Peninnah : and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children. And this man went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto the Lord of hosts in Shiloh. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the Lord, were there " (1 Sam. 1: 1-3).
* The author is aware that some expositors make Zuph to be the "Ephrathite," but in C. H. M.'s Introduction to "The Life and Times of David," he applies the designation to Elkanah, which application we prefer.
This godly Israelite was a descendant of the rebellious Korah. (See 1 Chron. 6 : 27, 34, 37). It is that Korah who, for his "gainsaying" in the wilderness, was destroyed with all his company.
"Notwithstanding," we read, "the children of Korah died not" (Num. 26:11). "A debtor to mercy alone," he had good cause to worship. Others might go up to sacrifice, merely, but Elkanah both worshiped and sacrificed. It was no formal or meaningless ceremony with him, for he knew that to Jehovah's distinguishing grace he owed not only the blessings of his life, but his very existence as a descendant of one of the spared children of Korah.
It is the knowledge, and acknowledgment of grace, that produces worship and obedience in the believer's life. The law of commandments never produces a loving, willing obedience in the soul; it is the salvation - bringing grace of God that teaches us to "deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world" (Tit. 2 : 11, 12). Elkanah's dwelling was at Ramathaim-zophim* of mount Ephraim, but was originally of Ephratah (as "Ephrathite" signifies), near to Bethlehem - Judah.
* Ramathaiam means the double Ramah (as upper and lower, or old and new); and the LXX reads the name, Aramathaim, which would identify it with the Arimathea of the New Testament, and the "rich" and "honorable counsellor," Joseph(Matt. 27: 57). There is a subtle association in names, not always easily accounted for:
"For mind is apt and quick to wed ideas and names together, Nor stoppeth its perception to be curious of priorities;
And there is little in the sound, as some have vainly fancied."
Yet the diligent inquirer will find blessing, if not a direct answer to his inquiry, in some way that is sure to be of value to his soul. The appended "Zopbim" distinguishes it from another Ramah (of Benjamin), further to the south. Ramah means the elevated spot; and Zopbim, the watchers - a combination of ideas forcibly suggestive of the attitude of soul becoming the children of God everywhere and at all times.
While walking on our "high places" of privilege we need to be ever on our guard against the enemy, and "watch unto prayer." (See Eph. 2 : 6 ; 6 : 18 ; and Heb. 2:1; 3:19.)
The times were troubles and unsettled; famine, too, at times prevailed. But if it was under the pressure of circumstances that he left the home of his ancestors, he did not, like the family of Elimelech (who were also Ephrathites, see Ruth 1:1,2), seek relief in the idolatrous land of Moab, but ascended toward Shiloh, nearer to the tabernacle of his God. He seems to have acted on the principle enunciated in that well known, though little heeded, saying of our Lord, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness;" and, according to promise, "all things" were added unto him. Thus, instead of suffering loss and affliction under God's displeasure, as did Elimelech and his sons, he prospered both in his soul and in his circumstances, as is indicated by his generous offering of three bullocks at the presentation of Samuel to the service of the Lord. John, the beloved apostle wished the hospitable Gaius health and prosperity, even as his soul prospered (3 Jon. 3).
The first is of little value without the last; and under the Mosaic economy, they were generally inseparable from a godly walk. It was a dispensation of blessings in "basket and store," associated with "the good will of Him that dwelt in the bush" (the burning bush, see Acts 7 : 30); they were "the precious fruits brought forth by the sun, and the precious things put forth by the moon, and the chief things of the ancient mountains, and the precious things of the lasting hills, and the precious things of the earth and fullness thereof " (Dent. 33: I4-I6). Not always was this the case, however, as the 73rd psalm shows. And in this dispensation we know that the Christian's blessings are "in the heavenly places not here upon earth (Eph. I: 3).
Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. It was a divided family, and to quote the quaint observation of Matthew Henry, "the divisions of it carried with it both guilt and grief." So we read
"When the time was that Elkanah offered, he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions: but unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah: but the Lord had shut up her womb. And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb.
And as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, so she provoked her; therefore she wept, and did not eat. Then said Elkanah her husband to her, Hannah, why weepiest thou? And why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? Am not I better to thee than ten sons?" (Vers. 4-8).
The custom among the Israelites of sometimes taking a second wife was not always based on motives of the lower nature; in many cases it was the desire for children, denied to the first wife. This was the probable reason for Elkanah's double marriage.
But "from the beginning it was not so " (Matt. 19:5-8). The institution of marriage originally contemplated but a single companion for man; and plural marriages appear never to have worked well in practice, as witness the humiliating discord in Abraham's family over the inferior Hagar; in Jacob's, the bitter jealousies between the two sisters, Rachel and Leah. Here, too, it breeds strife and vexation of spirit shameful to behold. What otherwise might have presented an ideal Hebrew home is marred by the bitter provokings of the elate Peninnah, and the consequent sorrow of her barren rival.
But it is ever thus; departure from God's order as revealed either in creation, or in His house, brings its sure and painful results. Therefore it behoves the children of God to walk closely by His Word, and so save themselves sorrow and disappointment.
This unwarranted provocation of Hannah by her unworthy associate must have continued for years, according to verse seven. What the poor, childless wife suffered from the tongue of her adversary during those years of "hope deferred," only one in a like position could understand; and it is beautiful to see her unresentful submission to the persecution of Peninnah, the proud, if not happy mother of children. There is no hint of anger on the part of Hannah; she did not "render railing for railing," but poured out the tale of her grief in the ears of the God of Israel. He heard her complaint, and answered, after her weary years of waiting, beyond all her probable expectation, as we shall see.
Before passing on to this, we must not neglect to notice another praiseworthy trait in the character of Hannah -she refused to eat of the sacrificial feast. "She wept and did not eat." In this abstinence she displays her knowledge of and obedience to the law of the Lord, which, it appears, did not permit of the sacrifices being eaten in mourning. (See Lev 10: 19; Deut. 26: 14 ; Hos. 9:4.)
How lovely this subjection of soul! and what vessel more fit could be found in all Israel to give to the nation its long - needed deliverer? Like the godly Mary, of whom she was the figure, she was truly "the handmaid of the Lord," in all things obedient to His word, and submissive to His will. She conformed to the meaning of her name, to bend, both under the continued reproaches of her cruel adversary, and to Jehovah's will.
"So Hannah rose up after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk. Now Eli the priest sat upon a seat by a post of the temple of the Lord. And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore. And she vowed a vow, and said, O Lord of hosts, if Thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thy handmaid, and remember me, and forget not thy handmaid, but wilt give unto thy handmaid a man child, then will I give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.
And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli marked her mouth. Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli thought she had been drunken. And Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken ? Put away thy wine from thee. And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord. Count not thy handmaid for a daughter Of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto. Then Eli answered and said, go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of Him. And she said, let thy handmaid find grace in thy sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad" (v. 9-18).
It was a tender word from Elkanah to his weeping wife, when he said, "Am not I better to thee than ten sons? " intending to console her in her sorrow; and Hannah, doubtless, appreciated fully the love and sympathy that prompted them, but would not be put off by this from still desiring earnestly from the Lord the only gift that could satisfy the longings of her aching heart - a man child. He evidently did not share her yearnings for a son; he seemed satisfied with children by Peninnah, and Hannah prayed and bore her grief alone. Hers was not a natural longing, merely; she did not cry impatiently like Rachel, " Give me children, or else I die! " (Gen. 30:1) It was not offspring simply that she desired, nor did she, like the "beautiful and well-favoured" Rachel, reproach her husband for her lack of fruitfulness; she poured out her complaint to God, and asked, not for a child, merely, but "a man-child."
And why a man-child? Was it merely a partiality for boys? No; a higher motive moved her - God's glory and the good of His erring people she seems to have had in view. She knew well the condition of Israel; and the doings of the sons of Eli, in highest position, told the sad and undeniable tale of "Fallen! fallen! " and her earnest desire goes up to God for a son who might grow up under the blessing of Jehovah to be a deliverer in Israel.
This, too, seems to be the probable reason why she felt specially moved in prayer while at Shiloh. The sights about the tabernacle doors stirred her devoted heart mightily the debauchery of the daughters of Belial, the shameless licentiousness and rapacity of Hophni and Phinehas, told a repulsive tale of wickedness, and that before the sanctuary! Sin was flaunted in the very face of Israel's God; "men abhorred the offering of the Lord," and by their transgressions the people were encouraged to lawlessness! Eli himself, who should above all others have understood, and been low in the dust before God for this shameful condition of things, seemed little exercised, and as a "good and easy man," sat tranquilly at the temple entrance not to watch and correct his corrupt sons, but to observe, misinterpret, and rebuke the conduct of a saintly woman at prayer! Oh, where was the nation?
Where their highest priest and judge when such a condition could prevail, and none, seemingly, but " a woman of sorrowful spirit " to lay it to heart, and sigh and weep and pray for better things? "She spake in her heart," but Eli only marked her mouth; he judged after the " outward appearance," and adjudged she had been drunken!
It is not the only occasion that those moved by the Spirit have been adjudged as drunken with wine; it was repeated at Pentecost twelve hundred years later. The "spiritual man" is ever accounted "mad" by those who know nothing of the power of God moving the soul.
"How long wilt thou be drunken ? Put away thy wine from thee," the old man harshly Calls to her. Observe her meek reply: " No, my lord," she says, " I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit ... I have poured out my soul before the Lord ... out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto." She addresses him with all the respect due to his age and office; she does not retort by reminding him of the delinquencies of his sons, and telling him that he had better look to his own house before hastily accusing and condemning others. No, nothing of this; true to her name, she bends again, and tells in the ears of the aged priest the tale of her grief, if not its cause. Her deserved reward is an answer of peace; and she does not despise the blessing of one who had but a moment before charged her falsely. He was at the time God's highest representative on earth, and she took his benediction as the voice of God to her soul (little as he may have understood it himself (see Jon. 1 1: 51), and went on her way rejoicing. " So the woman went on her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad." Blessed conclusion to a day of sorrow, and presage of brighter days to come.
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