(From Precious Things)
1 Samuel 3:10
After the death of Joshua the nation of Israel gradually became self-willed and disobedient —every man doing ‘that which was right in his own eyes’ (Jdg. 21:25). The righteous judgment of God which had waited long, was now about to fall upon the wicked nation and the polluted priesthood of Eli’s household. Where was the man of God to be found in the midst of this breakdown and evil? — one who could speak for God and honour His Name! The answer was in the rising up of Samuel, born of prayer and supplication, and freely given to God for His service.
Hannah, the wife of Elkanah, was barren, for the Lord had shut up her womb. As they went to the yearly temple sacrifice, her deeply felt sorrow would find relief in tears and silent prayer to God for a son. Eli, the high priest, took note of her attitude in the temple, mistaking it for one of drunkenness. In reply to his word of rebuke, he heard from her own lips the deep sorrow of her heart, and her outpouring unto the Lord. Thereupon he gave a parting blessing, asking the God of Israel to grant her the petitions asked of Him, Immediately the sadness was lifted, and with a spirit of worship she and her husband returned to Ramah (1 Sam. 1:19).
God, delighting to answer the prayer of faith, manifests His favour towards Hannah in the birth of a child, whom she calls Samuel, which means, ‘Asked of God’. Her vow to give him back to God for His service was a severe test of motherly love; yet we see at the end of the weaning period a ready fulfilling of that which she had promised. Going up to the temple with the young child, she took also sacrificial gifts — ‘three bullocks, and one ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine’. In this we see her spirit of thankfulness, for she had received much from the good hand of God, and was prepared to give Him much in return (1 Sam. 1:24).
Her confession to Eli is very touching as she speaks of her prayers, of the Lord’s answer in giving her a son, and now the giving back of the son to the Lord, as long as he should live. It is a scene of worship, and Hannah rejoices in the Lord who had caused her to triumph over all her distress and deep searchings of heart. She magnifies His power toward the humble, and His judgments upon His enemies (1 Sam. 2:8–10).
The sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, although they were priests of the temple, were wicked men who pleased not the Lord, for He was unknown to them. They exacted for themselves the best portions of the Lord’s sacrifices, and ‘the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord’. Being forceful and demanding, they so conducted themselves before their aged father, who spoke reprovingly to them, but restrained them not (1 Sam. 2:12–17).
What a contrast we see in Samuel, who being yet a child ministered before the Lord clothed with a linen ephod! This was a robe worn by the priests performing service before God in the temple. So, if the service of Eli’s sons was not commendable, here we behold the pleasure of the Lord in the simple, childlike service of Samuel towards Himself. How sweet to have the record of his mother’s care, as she brought for her son a little coat from year to year! What affection for her son is thus evidenced, he whom she had so willingly surrendered to the Lord! So the child Samuel grew on, and was in favour both with the Lord and with men (1 Sam. 2:19). A similar commendation was given of our Lord when a child of twelve years (Luke 2:52).
The evil practices of Hophni and Phinehas continued unabated, and very soon the announcement of coming judgment was given. The messenger from God could say, ‘For them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed’ (1 Sam. 2:30). What an encouragement for us in a day of small things! And yet a very solemn reminder not to treat the Lord with lightness or disdain.
With zeal and perseverance, Samuel, by way of contrast, continued with his service to the Lord before Eli, although he was but a youth (ch. 3). Divine communications were by revelation at that time, and it was confident that Eli alas! was not in a moral and spiritual condition to receive them. Inactive, his eyes, too, were dim, thereby not seeing clearly, and the lamp of God in the temple was going out. Samuel lay down to sleep, and the Lord called him by name. Immediately he responded saying, ‘Here am I’, or ‘Behold me’. Thinking it was Eli who had called him, he ran to present himself. This continued three times, when Eli, realising that it was the voice of the Lord, instructed Samuel to say the next time of hearing, ‘Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth’. Then the Lord came and stood, and called as at other times, ‘Samuel, Samuel’, bringing forth the happy response, ‘Speak; for thy servant heareth’.
The communications were sacred and very far-reaching, concerning judgment upon Eli and his house for ever, with no remedy. Eight times the Lord used the personal pronoun of Himself, declaring the work of vengeance which He Himself will perform. In the morning, Eli asked Samuel to declare to him the vision from the Lord, but Samuel was afraid to speak. It was a serious occasion as Eli well knew, and persuading Samuel to tell him all, he rehearsed before him all the words the Lord had spoken to him, holding back nothing. In keeping with the moment of solemnity Eli exclaimed, ‘It is the Lord: let him do what seemeth him good’ (1 Sam. 3:18).
So Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, preserving His servant in all he did and said. His faithfulness was widely known, and all Israel knew that he was established a prophet of the Lord. At a later period, other communications were given by the Lord to Samuel, thereby shewing His continued interest in His people for their blessing, after the judgment of Eli and his house (1 Sam. 3:21).