1 Samuel 2-3, 8
The Child Samuel hearkens to the Lord’s Voice
1 Sam 2:1-11
Hannah’s hymn was probably added later by scribes. In verse 12 it mentions that the Lord will give strength to “his king.” Given Israel would not have a king for many decades to come, it is probable that this hymn was written during the reign of Saul, David or even later. The hymn also has a masculine form to its writing, very different from the hymns sung by Miriam or Deborah. Anciently, many would have the scribes of the tabernacle/temple write a hymn for them to celebrate an event. It is possible that Hannah’s hymn was commissioned by her, but then later updated to include the blessings to the king of Israel.
Sons of Eli/Sons of Belial
1 Sam 1:12-36
“Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord. “ Here we see an interesting play on words. The term “Eli” means “God” singular, or could mean “My God.” Eli the priest held the name of the Almighty. But his sons, who should not only have physically been sons of Eli, but spiritually should have been sons of El/God, were known as “sons of Belial.” Belial means “without worth” or “worthless”. Belial was one of the four crown princes of hell. So, instead of following God, they sought after the devil (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belial).
As sons of the high priest, their responsibility would include offering the various sacrifices in the Tabernacle at Shiloh. The Law of Moses clearly established which portion of the sacrifice went to the priests, and which part was solely the Lord’s. However, the sons of Eli used their position for extortion. Those who wished to worship the Lord were forced to give up the finer pieces of the sacrifice for the priests to eat, including the fat (all of which was to go to the Lord).
Imagine attending Church and the bishop were to force you to give a portion of your tithes for his livelihood. Imagine if you had to pay him extra to partake of the Sacrament, be baptized, or receive a temple recommend. This is what the sons of Eli were doing.
Such wickedness in high places often forces people away from good works, and can lead people to worshiping elsewhere. Why go to Shiloh and the Tabernacle to worship, when one can just as easily sacrifice directly to the Lord at a wilderness altar (as Lehi would later do)? Why follow evil men? It was easier to worship Baal or another god, rather than follow a corrupted worship of Jehovah.
Sadly, Eli knew his sons were desecrating the tabernacle. Yet did little about it. To make matters worse, they introduced pagan rites into the tabernacle. Just as Baal worship included sexual rites with harlots, so too “they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation” (2:22). In the days of Moses, these priests would have been slain for “offering up strange incense” to the Lord (Exodus 30:9).
Prophet of Doom
A prophet arrives and tells Eli that his sons would die in one day for their sins, and that Eli’s house would be left vacant. Another priest would be selected to take the place of Eli and his sons. Some surmise this is Samuel, but it is not completely clear from the text whether Samuel was a Levite or not. In the scripture, his father Elkanah is noted as both a Levite (1 Chron. 6:3-15) and also an Ephraimite/Ephrathite (1 Sam 1). It is possible that he was a Levite that served among the tribe of Ephraim.
1 Sam 3
There “was no open vision” in Israel. Due to their sins, Israel had lost the ability of having visions from God. There had not been a worthy Judge in Israel in decades. Revelation was almost dead, except for the occasional traveling prophet, such as the one who warned Eli. But these never proclaimed visions nor saw the Lord, as prophets of old had.
Samuel grew up in Eli’s house, arriving shortly after being weaned. He was very circumspect, and would have spent his days studying the word of God in preparation for his life as a priest in the Tabernacle. Finally, at age 13 he would have arrived at the age of maturity. It would have been at this time when the Lord called him. Still young and inexperienced, Samuel first thought it was Eli calling for him. On the third time, Eli directed him to answer the Lord, which Samuel did.
Samuel answered, “Speak; for thy servant heareth” (3:10). Imagine, of the many thousands of Israelites, including the high priest Eli and his sons, none else heard the voice of God but a 13 year old boy. Of course we can see the similarities in the 14 year old Joseph Smith, surrounded by men of religious knowledge, who had shut the heavens so that God’s voice could not be heard by them, either. Even today, Christians often miss out on the fullness of God’s word, because they are preoccupied by their worldliness or personal lifestyles. I would imagine that God calls out to each of us continually, but most of us are too distracted to hear.
“And all Israel from Dan even to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord” (3:20).
Israel had not had a prophet since Joshua. Among the Judges, there were few that spoke with God, and of those, even fewer who had much contact with God. Many of them were afraid (Gideon), rebellious (Samson), or rash (Jepthah). Only the prophetess Deborah seemed to be wholly in tune with the Lord. Now, Israel would have the last of the Judges and the first of the new prophets, Samuel. He would lead Israel out of bondage, and also be a mouthpiece for God.
The Fall of the House of Eli
1 Sam 4
The Philistines, a coastal Sea People originally from the islands near Greece, invaded Israel. They would be one of the strong warrior peoples in the area over the next several decades. After soundly defeating Israel in a battle, the Israelites felt they needed to return to battle with the ark of the covenant of God with them. Surely the ark’s power would allow them to destroy the Philistines.
The ark of the covenant sat inside the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle. Inside it were held Israel’s greatest treasures, including the stone tablets containing the 10 commandments, and Aaron’s budding rod. Upon the ark sat the mercy seat, where God would sit behind two golden cherubim in his holy house.
“5 And when the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again.
6 And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, What meaneth the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews? And they understood that the ark of the Lord was come into the camp.
7 And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, God is come into the camp. And they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such a thing heretofore.
8 Woe unto us! who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty Gods? these are the Gods that smote the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness.
9 Be strong, and quit yourselves like men, O ye Philistines, that ye be not servants unto the Hebrews, as they have been to you: quit yourselves like men, and fight.”
In winning the second battle, the Philistines had stolen Israel’s God! Or at least that is how the Philistines and many Israelites viewed it. With the invasion, Eli’s sons were slain. Eli knew his sons would die, as it was prophesied to him before. However, when he heard that the ark was taken, he fell backwards from his chair and died. Israel’s greatest artifact and holy shrine was gone.
One must consider the terminology in the event above. “these are the Gods that smote the Egyptians” tells us that according to the Philistines, Israel had more than one God! It is because Israel did worship more than one God. At this time Israel worshiped both Elohim and Jehovah, the Son of El.
Philistines get more than they bargain for
1 Sam 5
The Philistines take the Ark to Dagon’s Temple
Where else does one put the sacred treasures of another nation, but in the temple of your own god? The ark of the covenant was put in the temple of Dagon at Ashdod. Dagon was the god of agriculture, his name literally meaning, “grain.” He was a major member of the Philistine pantheon, and dates back to 2500 BC as a god of the Amorites. Samson destroyed a major temple of Dagon, and later King Saul’s head would be on display at another Dagon temple fortress. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dagon)
They set the ark in front of the statue of Dagon, so the idol could behold his conquest and the defeated God of Israel. Yet in the morning, the Philistines found Dagon’s statue fallen down, prostrating before the ark. The following morning after setting the idol back up, they again found him prostrate, only this time his head and palms had been cut off. The God of Israel may be captive, but he was still stronger than Dagon.
But it didn’t stop there. All the people of Ashdod began suffering from “emerods” or boils all over their skin. They sent away the ark to the larger city of Gath, but the people there were also struck with boils. They too attempted to send away the ark to the city of Ekron, but the Philistines there refused to take it. The lords of the Philistines gathered and decided to return the ark to Israel.
The Philistines restore the ark
1 Sam 6
The 5 lords of the Philistines return the ark with a trespass offering of golden emerods and mice. The ark was placed upon an oxen driven cart, and allowed to wander back into Israel’s lands.
The oxen went straight to the land of Bethshemesh in Israel. The people were glad to have the ark returned. They took the wood of the cart and offered up the oxen as a sacrifice. However, they attempted to look within it and more than 50 thousand were smitten.
Samuel restores Israel
1 Sam 7
The ark was taken to the larger city of Kirjath-Jearim, where a priest was ordained to minister before it. At this time, Israel now had two very holy places: Kirjath-Jearim where the ark of the covenant now rested, and Shiloh where the Tabernacle still offered sacrifice to God.
“Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve him only: and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.
Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, and served the Lord only” (7:3-4).
Israel had long worshiped the Canaanite god Baal in his many aspects (Baalim is the plural form, “Lords”). Ashtaroth was Baal’s consort and wife, represented by fertility rituals in the Canaanite temples. Samuel was calling on Israel to live the 10 commandments, follow the law of Moses, and return to worshiping Jehovah as their only God. They were given a second chance at having God’s ark in their presence, but it would require their full commitment if they wished to force the Philistines out of their lands.
Israel conquered the Philistines, pushing them back to their prior lands. A stone is raised at the place of the battle. The stone would have been both a memorial and also an altar for worshiping God: “Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us“ (1 Sam 7:12). One of the greatest hymns written contains the phrase, “here I raise my Ebenezer” which goes to this verse in scripture (”Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”, by Robert Robinson), Ebenezer means “Stone of Help” (http://www.revneal.org/Writings/whatsan.htm)
The Lord would be described as the “rock of salvation” (2 Sam 22:47, Psalms 62:2-7, 89:26, etc). It is only after the deliverance of Israel from the Philistines that the stone is set up as a memorial. And they were rescued from their conquerors because they set aside their idols and gods, cleansed themselves, and focused their affections only on the Lord. It was with this faith and dedication that God became their stone of help, their rock of salvation, their Ebenezer. So too, in our lives, when we are struggling and in captivity to the world, we can put away our worldly things and gods, and return to the Stone of Help, the Lord Jesus Christ.
“15 And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life.
16 And he went from year to year in circuit to Beth-el, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all those places.
17 And his return was to Ramah; for there was his house; and there he judged Israel; and there he built an altar unto the Lord.”
Samuel was a circuit prophet, going to the three major Israelite cities to judge cases and to resolve problems. But he always returned to his own home, where he also judged Israel. Moreover, he built an altar to God, where he could worship, perform sacrifice, and ponder the things of the house of the Lord, for wilderness altars and pillars were personal temples (Genesis 28:22). For us, we have temples established with altars to perform modern rites. Our home can also be as the temple, if we build a quiet place in it that can allow us to meditate and focus on our worship of the Lord.
Israel forsakes their King
1 Sam 8
In order to continue the tradition of Judges, the elderly Samuel set apart his sons as judges. However, as with the sons of Eli, they quickly fell into wickedness. They sought bribes and power that was not befitting a Judge of Israel.
The elders of Israel, knowing the struggles they had previously because of apostate priests and judges, went to Samuel to ask for a king. With judges, the Israelites were constantly in flux. There often was little unity among the tribes, and often there were long spaces of time between judges. The people did not have continuity, often leading to apostasy and invasion.
With a king, they reasoned they could maintain a standing army, become a truly united people like they were in the days of Moses (who was more like a king than a judge). They could defend their borders, build mightier cities, and be strong in the eyes of the neighboring nations.
Samuel was not pleased, as he felt they rejected him. But the Lord told him to give them a king, for they had rejected God, not Samuel. God had been their king, and would always be their king if they would have him. Instead, as in the days of Moses, Israel wanted an intermediary between them and God. God allowed it, but it brought about some undesired effects: such as many constricting rules in the Law of Moses. Instead of judging themselves and being free, the people would be yoked to an earthly king. They would have massive taxation, standing armies that would draft their sons to war, and regulations that would limit their freedoms.
But the Lord would not force himself upon the people. Their faith was not sufficient for them to live with such freedom. In being free from a central government, they ended up choosing to follow other gods and lifestyles that led them away from Jehovah. In their apostasy, they lost his blessings of protection, and they became ripe for invasion and chastisement at the hands of their enemies.
History has shown, and John Adams noted that only a righteous people can live free (such as under the US Constitution). When people have moved away from righteous living, they seek for others to take care of their problems for them. They wish to be lavished in their idleness. They leave their responsibilities for others. Jesus would later warn of the vineyard, whose watch tower was not manned nor guarded day and night. Eventually the enemy came in, with no warning sounded to those below.
Choosing a king would be the first step in Israel’s unity, but also the first in their apostasy from the truth.
King Mosiah II encouraged his people to do the opposite, going from kings to judges. He noted that if one could always have a righteous king, it was a good thing. However, evil kings, such as King Noah, had caused much suffering to occur.
“13 if it were possible that you could have just men to be your kings, who would establish the laws of God, and judge this people according to his commandments, yea, if ye could have men for your kings who would do even as my father Benjamin did for this people—I say unto you, if this could always be the case then it would be expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you....For behold, how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction!
18 Yea, remember king Noah, his wickedness and his abominations, and also the wickedness and abominations of his people. Behold what great destruction did come upon them; and also because of their iniquities they were brought into bondage.
19 And were it not for the interposition of their all-wise Creator, and this because of their sincere repentance, they must unavoidably remain in bondage until now.
20 But behold, he did deliver them because they did humble themselves before him; and because they cried mightily unto him he did deliver them out of bondage; and thus doth the Lord work with his power in all cases among the children of men, extending the arm of mercy towards them that put their trust in him.
21 And behold, now I say unto you, ye cannot dethrone an iniquitous king save it be through much contention, and the shedding of much blood” (Mosiah 29:13-21).
Note that King Noah lured his people into sin and then captivity under the Lamanites. It was the King Jehovah that rescued them from the Lamanites, once the Nephites repented and turned their focus and worship over to Christ. So would it be with Israel. They would occasionally have a righteous king, but many of the kings would lead them astray and into captivity, where only God as warrior king could rescue them.
What’s an Ebenezer? http://www.revneal.org/Writings/whatsan.htm
Lyrics to the tune “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”, by Robert Robinson: http://www.igracemusic.com/hymnbook/hymns/c04.html