“And the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli. And the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision”.(1 Samuel 3:1).
The child Samuel was the product of a mother’s desperate prayers. The story of his birth may be briefly re-told. The Bible says that “there was a certain man from the tribe of Ephraim” (1 Sam. 1:1). The inhabitants of this tribe descended from the second son of Joseph by his Egyptian wife Asenath. Ephraim (lit. double fulness) and his lineage were given a portion of the best land of Canaan. Their territory was 55 miles from E to W and 70 miles from N to S.
Like many others in his day, the man from Ephraim, named Elkanah, was a polygamist. The Bible says that he had two wives. He should not have had two wives, but he did. Social customs allowed it, and practical circumstances encouraged it. So Elkanah had two wives with predictable results: there was jealousy and tension in the household. The two women did not get along. One was named Hannah (lit. grace, favor) and the other was Peninnah.
While Elkanah was good to both women, the Bible says plainly what all the world knew, he loved Hannah. As a dutiful husband and faithful provider, Elkanah gave Peninnah and her many sons and daughters generous portions of his possessions. But to Hannah, he gave his love.
One wife held the treasures of this world, the other wife held the treasures of the heart.
Elkanah thought it was enough that he showed his love to Hannah, and demonstrated his preference to her, even at the expense of the other wife. But his love was not enough, for Hannah wanted a child. She was desperate for the privilege of cradling a new born infant in her arms.
As time moved on, and no child was born, Hannah began to make herself sick over her situation. One day, she began to cry, and would not be comforted. Then she stopped eating to the point that Elkanah became alarmed. In fear and frustration, he went to Hannah and spoke sharply to her. “Why is your heart grieved,” he asked. “Am I not better to thee than ten sons?”
Hannah was too polite to say it, but the answer was, “No!” No husband is an adequate substitute to a woman who wants a baby. Still, Elkanah was relieved when Hannah rose up and took food. She ate, she drank, she thought of what could be done and then, there it was.
Somewhere, in the deepest recesses of her soul, a tiny seed thought had begun to grow. That small thought grew and grew, until suddenly, her heart leaped for joy! Hannah did not tell anyone but there was hope. Faith had taken hold of Hannah’s heart. GOD! She would go to GOD! Of course!
The Creator can bless His own creation. Did not the Lord make the body of Sarah to bear a son when she was past age? Yes! God still lives, and He can help! Hannah looked at her own body and realized what a miracle it was. “I will praise Thee, her heart said, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are thy works: and that my soul knoweth right well” (Psa. 139:14). “If God can make me, and everything else,” thought Hannah, surely He can ordain that I give birth to a baby. I will go to God.” Rising up early the next morning, Hannah made her way to the place where the presence of God was known to be. At Shiloh the Tabernacle was kept by the priests of God.
Hannah knew all about the Tabernacle. Most people did. Once it was a portable structure carried about in the dessert by the Exodus generation.
There were important items associated with the Tabernacle, such as the Laver, where people washed their hands before the giving of a sacrifice on the brazen altar.
Then there was the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies.
Inside the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant.
This wooden box overlaid with gold contained a copy of the Law of Moses, Aaron’s rod that budded, and a portion of manna.
On top of the Ark was a place called the Mercy Seat, where blood was sprinkled once a year to make atonement for the sins of the nation. It was towards all of this that the heart of Hannah had decided to come, in faith. She would ask GOD to give her a child, knowing that nothing was too hard for GOD! He who could speak and the worlds sprang into existence,
He who could divide the light from the darkness,
He who make dry land appear from the water,
He who said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind…and it was so, “could certainly cause her to conceive a child!
He who could place the sun and moon and stars in the heavens and call them all by name,
He who could command the creation to Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth,
He who could say, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so,
He who could tell the first man and woman created to Be fruitful, multiply, replenish the earth, subdue it, have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth, could surely cause her to carry a child.
So, Hannah went to the Tabernacle in Shiloh. Originally, the Tabernacle had been protected by a white fence. However, by the time of Hannah the sanctuary had became a regular structure for worship. The original “tent” had been replaced with a solid “temple” with a door and door posts.
As Hannah approached the place of worship, she did not pay much attention to the old man sitting by a pillar of the temple of the Lord. His name was Eli, and he was the high priest of Israel. While Hannah did not watch him, he watched her very carefully.
Eli noticed that the woman before him appeared to be emotionally distressed, and so she was. The Bible says that Hannah, once more filled with deep emotion fell before the Temple, and there she prayed in the dust. She had come boldly to the throne of grace in faith, but she had not come in a presumptuous manner.
In the dust she would bow herself.
Before the Almighty God she was but a worm, and yet, she was also a woman with a broken heart.
As Hannah cried and prayed and pleaded, faith grew once more to the point that a promise would be made. “Lord”, she whispered in her soul. “If thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.” While Hannah gave her most cherished possession back to the Lord, in faith, while Hannah made a Nazarite vow, Eli continued to watch.
Because Hannah spoke to the Lord in her heart, “only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard,” Eli assumed that the woman was drunk—and he told her so.
“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 thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial [a wicked woman] for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto (1:15-16). Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast ask of him…So Hannah went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad (1 Sam. 1:17-18).
In the providence of the Lord, Hannah did conceive and bear a child that she named Samuel, which means literally, “heard of God”. All the days of his life, Samuel would be reminded that he was a child of promise who had been dedicated to God. It is no wonder that we read…the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli.
Eli. What a tremendous disappointment he proved to be to the Lord. His story is as tragic as Samuel’s had been sensational. Eli was a man who had grown old in the things of God, but now he could no longer hear the Lord, spiritually. There was a reason for this, as the Man of God who came to him revealed (1 Sam. 2:27). The unnamed Man of God reminded Eli of several things.
First, he reviewed the rich national and spiritual heritage that Eli enjoyed. He was a priest of the Most High God. He was a priest of the God who had appeared unto the nation of Israel when it was still in the land of bondage. It was the Lord who delivered Israel with a mighty display of Divine power.
Second, the Man of God reminded Eli that he was a chosen vessel, from a chosen tribe. Of all the tribes of Israel God entrusted all of the holy objects associated with Him to the tribe of Levi. Eli was of that privileged tribe. He was among the few in all the land that could offer up acceptable sacrifices unto the Lord, burn the holy incense with the smoke ascending into heaven symbolizing sweet prayers. To Eli was given the distinct garments of the priest to set him apart from all others.
Then third, the Man of God reminded the priest how well the Lord had provided for him. “I gave unto the house of thy father all the offerings made by fire of the children of Israel, said the Lord.” The priests of the Old Testament were well provided for because God will not be indebted to any man.
The controversy God had with Eli was twofold. First, the priest had shown great disrespect to the Lord by not correcting his sons (2:29). As a result, the private lives of the sons of Eli had become a public scandal. All of Israel talked about how the sons of Eli “lay with the women that assembled at the door of the Tabernacle of the congregation” (2:22). Second, Eli and his sons had found a way to grow richer than they should have at the expense of the people (2:29). While the laborer is worthy of his hire he should be justly compensated, and not seek for more than is proper. There was money to be made in the sacrifices of the Old Testament economy, and the sons of Eli meant to make merchandise of the people of God. They had a fundamental contempt for the work of the ministry, and the ministry of the work.
In defense of Eli, it can be said that he did initially protest the sins that were so obvious to all. But he was a very old man and what can an old man do? The divine answer is: a lot. God has never placed an age limit on his servants. John, was one hundred when he died, still ministering each day for the Lord.
George Whitefield, John Wesley, Billy Sunday and Charles Spurgeon all preached and ministered almost to the day they died. God does not retire his servants. Those who are in the active service of the Lord are to be held accountable for the things that they do, or allow.
Because of the sins of the sons of Eli, and because of his failure to correct them properly, special privileges were going to be revoked. The Lord had intended that Eli, and his descendants, enjoy ministering forever (2:30), but that was going to change. God will only honor those who honor Him (2:35). Individuals honor God in specific ways.
By believing that He exists.
By speaking to Him in prayer.
By believing His word.
By clinging to His precious promises.
By keeping His laws.
By confessing known sins.
In like manner, individuals bring dishonor to God by denying His existence. The fool hath said in his heart there is no God. By laughing at holy things, and displaying secret or open contempt for spirituality. The judgment of God upon Eli and his family was severe. There were six punishments to be administered.
First, physical and spiritual strength of the whole family would be reduced (2:31).
Second, any young children born to the descendants of Eli would die young (2:31)
Third, the place designed for the habitation of God would be given over to the heathen nations (1:32).
Fourth, all the wealth which God meant for His people would be given to the ungodly (2:32).
Fifth, those who did not die a pre-mature death would be left as a sign of judgment to grieve the heart (2:33).
In case Eli doubted the serious intentions of God’s just judgment, the Man of God warned him that both his son, Hophni and Phinehas, would die together on the same day (1 Kings 13:3; 4:11).
Finally, it was announced that God would raise himself up a more faithful priest who would do what was in the Lord’s heart, and what was in the Lord’s mind. With these words, the Man of God left Eli, so that we read, “the word of the Lord was precious in those day; there was no open vision.” From the Divine narrative, consider the practical application.
Any violation of the divine order of marriage always brings sorrow and pain to all involved. We read that the man “had two wives” (1:2). Though Elkanah “went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto the Lord of hosts in Shiloh” he went to worship with the sin of multiplying wives unto himself. This was in direct opposition to the creation mandate that a man should leave his mother and father and cleave unto his wife (Gen. 3:24). Though it is possible to worship the Lord being less than obedient, there are some things we do which are so unnecessary, and that is the main point.
In His sovereignty, God may choose to withhold a blessing that is desperately desired. We read that “the Lord had shut up her [Hannah’s] womb.” We now know of course, that one reason for shutting up her womb was to elicit her prayers to receive a promise.
Through the avenue of prayer we can cry unto the Lord: “And she [Hannah] was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore.” (1:10). The song writer asks,
“How long has it been,
since you knelt by your bed,
and prayed to your Father in heaven?”
People are quick to judge and mis-judge our most spiritual moments with the Lord. Eli thought Hannah was drunk and told her so. But he was wrong as most hasty judgments are prone to be wrong.
God does hold parents accountable for the sins of their children when they could do something about it. Eli could have done more than just scold his son for bringing about public shame. He could have removed them from holy office.
God is looking for individuals who will do those things which are on His mind, and are in His heart (2:35).
God is looking for a holy people.
God is looking for a consecrated people.
God is looking for a sanctified people by
which the soul comes into possession of:
faith like Abraham,
patience like Job,
hope like Moses,
perseverance like Noah
and meekness like David.
God is looking for a glorified people characterized by
temperance like Daniel,
prayerfulness like Elijah,
unworldliness like James,
holiness like Peter,
love like John,
guilelessness like Nathanael
and is devoted to Jesus like Paul.
God is looking for a holy people that He can use in His service.
God is looking for you.
In Samuel, God found His servant, for we read that “the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord.”
One final thought.
Parents, do not stop your children from coming to the Lord, and finding a place in His kingdom, and in His service, for they, and you, will either become a portrait of a promise or punishment. Amen.