We noticed in the last lesson that hope surrounds the birth of Samuel. Hannah’s song speaks of hope in God who will reverse the condition of Israel, taking them from darkness to light, and from judgment to hope. The nation is wicked and there is need for a king who will rule in righteousness and turn the hearts of the people to God. We left the middle of chapter 2 with Samuel left in Shiloh with Eli the priest ministering to the Lord.
What we are going to see in this text today is a message about honor. Humans want honor. Just turn on the television and we are all about honor. I think the awards that are given for movie and television actors are fascinating. Not because I watch them or because I care, but because we feel the need to give ourselves awards. I think it is one of the only careers you can get into where you get an award for doing your job. As humans, we seek honor and recognition. We are going to see some problems with honor and how to look at it as we go through our text today.
A Terrible Priesthood (2:12-36)
The account begins by telling us that Eli’s sons are priests but they are worthless men (2:12). This is the same word “worthless” that is used in Judges 19:22 and Judges 20:13 to describe the men who raped and murdered the Levite’s concubine. Eli regarded Hannah as a worthless woman (1:16), thinking she was completely drunk. It turns out that Eli’s sons are actually the worthless ones. So what were Eli’s sons doing as priests?
First, they were defiling the Lord’s sacrifices (2:13-17). When a worshiper was offering a sacrifice, these sons would take the worshiper’s portion and the Lord’s portion for themselves. They would take the fat portions that were to be offered to God as the best and the first. They were taking their portion before the Lord received his portion (cf. Leviticus 3:3-5; 7:30). If anyone challenged them, they would tell the worshiper to give them this portion or they will take it by force. The worshiper was helpless. If you did not let these sons of Eli take what they wanted of the offering, then they would just forcibly take it from you. Verse 17 tells us that the sin of Eli’s sons was very great in the Lord’s sight because they treated the Lord’s offering with contempt. Meanwhile, the camera pans over to Samuel in verses 18-21. Samuel wears an ephod, underscoring that he is a Levite. Samuel grows up in the presence of the Lord. Samuel is pictured as one who is faithfully serving the Lord. Samuel is pictured like Moses who is living in God’s presence (cf. Exodus 34:28). Samuel is contrasted to Eli’s sons and represents a major correction to the Levitical priesthood.
Second, they were sleeping with the women who were serving at the entrance of the tabernacle (2:22-26). These priests who are to represent the holiness of God to the people are committing sexual immorality with the woman who are trying to serve the Lord. Now we are told that Eli rebuked his sons for sleeping with the women, but he does nothing about it. Eli warned his sons that no one can rescue from sinning against the Lord. If you anger God, who can possibly show you mercy (2:25)? But the sons did not listen because these sons are worthy of death for what they are doing. Meanwhile, again the camera pans over to Samuel in verse 26. Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and people. While the sins of Eli’s sons increase, the favor of Samuel in God’s sight increases.
We should not be surprised what happens next. God sends a prophet to Eli to tell him that doom is coming on him and his house because of these sins (2:27-36). The prophet tells Eli that God gave him a privileged position but Eli scorned God’s sacrifices and honored his sons above God (2:28-29). Listen to what is said to Eli. You honored your children above the Lord. What a sad truth! Putting children ahead of God has been a long problem for people. Caving into the will of your children is putting them ahead of the Lord. Letting your children be in charge and run your house is putting them ahead of the Lord because the Lord said not to do that. Not disciplining your children is putting your children ahead of the Lord because God said to discipline them. Think about all the ways that we can honor our children ahead of honoring the Lord! God sends condemnation to Eli for doing that very thing. The punishment is severe.
In verse 30 God tells Eli that he made a promise for Eli’s house to be priests in the Aaronic priesthood. But that did not mean that God was going to allow himself to be dishonored. Therefore, the priesthood of Eli would be cut off (2:31). All of Eli’s descendants will be cut off and his sons will die on the same day. God is going to shift the priesthood away from Eli and his descendants, but somehow keep his promise to have an Aaronic priesthood. God did this before when he killed Nadab and Abihu for dishonoring him, shifting the priesthood to Eleazar.
But look at verse 35 because it contains an important promise. God will raise up for himself a faithful priest who will do what is in God’s heart and mind. His priesthood will endure. This priest will not just be obedient, but know the mind and heart of God. Now the way the account has been told, we are left to think that Samuel is who God is talking about. The account will have to continue to see if this is the case. But the story is pointing us in this direction because of the contrast of Eli’s sons who are increasing in sins and Samuel who is increasing in God’s favor. Notice something else that is shockingly promised. “And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever.” This is the second promise of the rise of God’s anointed. Hannah prayed that God would establish the anointed king. Now the prophet says that this faithful priest will attend to the future king. We do not have a king yet, but we are being given expectations of a future anointed king to come. Verse 36 speaks of another reversal that will happen. Interestingly, we are already seeing the fulfillment of Hannah’s prayer. The full and the oppressors will be made hunger and oppressed. So now we see the prophet declare this outcome on Eli and his sons. The tables will be turned on this wicked priesthood and they will be judged.
The Call of Samuel (3:1-4:1)
After describing the end of Eli’s wicked priesthood, the camera turns its attention back to Samuel. We are reminded of something very important in 3:1. No one is speaking for God during this time. It is the days of the judges. A message from God was quite rare, which speaks to the severe wickedness of the nation. However, Samuel will become the sole voice of the Lord. But first God must call Samuel to being God’s voice.
In verse 3 we see Samuel is laying down in the presence of the Lord. This is presented in contrast to Eli’s sons who are laying down with the women. Samuel is in God’s presence, where the ark of God is. This is a staggering declaration about the access that Samuel has with God, again similar to the access that was depicted for Moses and God. The symbolism of verse 3 is powerful. The lamp of God had not yet gone out. This pictures that it is not too late. This is picturing the dawning of a new light and a new day in this spiritual darkness in the days of the judges. With this hope depicted, the Lord calls Samuel. A humorous story is recorded that God calls for Samuel but Samuel thinks it is Eli calling for him because Samuel has never heard the voice of the Lord before. Eli realizes that God is calling Samuel and instructs Samuel to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears” (3:9).
The message to Samuel is the same as the message proclaimed through the prophet. Punishment on the house of Eli is decreed (3:13). Notice the condemnation in verse 13. Punishment must come “because his sons were blaspheming God, and did not restrain them.” Now consider that Eli’s sons were adults, not little kids. Yet even so, God expected Eli to restrain his sons. What should Eli have done? At minimum, Eli should have removed his sons from their post. He should have removed them from their priestly duties. But he did not restrained them. He honored them instead of honoring God above them. In verse 14 God says that Eli’s sin will not have atonement. There is no atonement for honoring others above God, even if it is your children or your spouse. No one is to be honored above the Lord. So Samuel informs Eli of the message he has received from the Lord.
Now this section ends with powerful words. Look at verse 19. Samuel grew, the Lord was with him, and all his words came to pass. Further, in verse 20, everyone knew that Samuel was a prophet of the Lord. Now this is the twist in the text. The account has been pointing to Samuel as the replacement for the wicked priesthood of Eli. But rather than calling Samuel the new priest, Samuel is God’s prophet. The Lord is revealing himself to Samuel. Samuel is the voice of God to all Israel and Samuel gives the message of God to all Israel (4:1). We already noted how Samuel has many similarities to Moses, such that we may consider Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 18:15-18 that God would raise up a prophet like Moses that the people are to listen to. Samuel is beginning to look like this picture. So we are left to wonder at this point what God is going to do about the priesthood, how will Samuel be part of the reversal process, and who is this king that keeps being predicted?
There are important New Testament shadows and implications. We have noted that this book will continue to be God’s picture book of how he will save the world. The picture regarding Samuel and what he represents for Israel is significant. The picture is twofold. First, the present priesthood must be cut off and a new priest must arise. We see this point in 2:30 and 2:35. God must put an end to the present priesthood and raise up a faithful priest who will do all that is in God’s heart and mind. Notice as well in verse 35 that this priest will be priest forever. We need a priest forever who knows God’s heart and knows God’s mind. He will be so close to the Lord that he will know exactly what God wants and will function for the people as a faithful priest. He will not be like the sons of Eli who serve for selfish purpose. He will be a priest who truly serves the people. This is the picture of Jesus that the writer of Hebrews paints in Hebrews 7 where Jesus comes from a different priesthood, Melchizedek, and is established as priest forever (Psalm 110:1; Hebrews 7:15-28). Jesus is the very image of God and therefore perfectly knows the heart and mind of God. So Jesus will be the priest that we really need for salvation and help.
Second, Jesus will obtain the favor of the Lord. This description of Samuel in 2:26 may sound familiar because the same thing is said of Jesus in Luke 2:52. “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and humans.” Samuel has such favor with God that he is pictured as lying down in God’s presence, a seemingly impossible thing to do. This is the one who will bring the great reversal. Jesus is the one who will turn darkness to light. Jesus will have God’s favor and rescue his people. Consider the idea even more carefully. The word of the Lord would now only come through Samuel at this point (3:1; 3:21, 4:1). In the same way, now the word of the Lord would only come through Jesus, the perfect priest (Hebrews 1:1-3). Jesus is able to go into the true presence of God on our behalf. Jesus is the beloved Son in whom God is delighted (Mark 1:11). Look again at 1 Samuel 3:19. Everything Samuel said came to pass. In the same way, Jesus’ words were the very words of God and would certainly come to pass.
But what does all this mean for us? The big message of this text is that God does not tolerate those who value their own desires above honoring God. The importance of respecting God’s authority cannot be overestimated. God expects uncompromising allegiance to him. God demands our honor of him. Think about the life of Moses. Why was Moses, the humblest man of the earth who led God’s people from slavery to freedom, forbidden from entering into the promised land? The scriptures only record one sin in the life of Moses, which underscores the seriousness of the sin. He did not give God glory. Moses did not honor the Lord as holy before the people. Honoring God is everything. We cannot put our honor and our desires ahead of God’s honor and God’s glory. This has been the requirement of God’s call throughout all history. Think about what Jesus came to the earth and taught.
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25–27 ESV)
You will notice that Jesus said the same thing. There is no honor and no allegiance that can stand before our Lord. God gets our glory. God gets our honor. God gets our all or we remain under condemnation. This thread of God’s glory will carry into chapters 4-6 which we will see in our next lesson. This is a thread we will continue to see through 1 Samuel. Honoring God is everything.
So who gets our honor? We must consider if we are honoring God. We must consider how we are honoring God. What does honoring God look like when you are at work? What does honoring God look like when you are home? What does honoring God look like with your marriage, children, parents, and family? Is God being honored in what we say and do as we live our lives each day?