Summary: Samuel shows us some important elements of training for success, even if it is in the middle of a train wreck. In God’s grace we can move forward and apply His word.
Samuel’s family life: training in the train wreck
For awhile I taught a class of evangelists. These men followed a tendency that many people follow. It is a difficult habit to break.
We like to imagine that the people who are spoken of in the Bible are somehow better than we are. We like to think that they have some advantage that made them what they were. They become larger than life in our minds. We begin to think that we can never live up to the examples they set, because they were somehow special.
• They had special spiritual strength
• They had a special link to God
• They had more insight than others
We fall into the trap of thinking that we are inferior, or that God could never use us the way He used them.
The popular and very funny speaker, Ken Davis calls this "killing the Bible people." By assigning them super-human characteristics we suck the life out of them. We flatten them out and make them more a product of our imagination than the flesh and blood women and men that they were.
Samuel is one of those men. When we think of Samuel’s life we think of a few wonderful events:
• We think of his establishment of the kings of Israel
• We think of his confrontation with Saul
• We think of his Holy wisdom in bypassing David’s brothers when he was seeking a king
• We think of his anointing of David
• We may even think of his rebuke of Saul when Saul consulted a witch to speak with him after he was dead
Certainly, Samuel was a great man and was used in special ways by God. But that is not the whole story.
Samuel’s dysfunctional family
The story of Samuel’s early life is told in the Jewish Scriptures in 1 Samuel 1-8. The focus of the story is not on Samuel’s family. It is on the activities of Samuel as a judge and on the politics and moral condition of the Israelite nation. These were not good. It is no surprise then, that families also had trouble.
If we read carefully, we can get a picture of Samuel, raised in a very much less than perfect home. Let’s Look at the situation together. Hannah, Samuel’s mother was a second wife, not after a divorce, she was an additional wife. Her co-wife, I guess you would call it was named Penninah and she had children. She became Hannah’s rival wife. The Bible says:
And because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her.
1 Samuel 1:6 (NIV)
Because Hannah, his mother had made a promise to God, she gave up her custody of Samuel at a young age:
After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh.
1 Samuel 1:24 (NIV)
She left him at the tabernacle to be raised by the priest, Eli. But Eli’s family had issues too.
Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD. 1 Samuel 2:12 (NIV)
They took for themselves parts of the sacrifice that were meant for God alone. If the people did not cooperate, they took what they wanted by force.
For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them. 1 Samuel 3:13 (NIV)
Eli told his boys to stop, but he took no steps to ensure that they obeyed. He was too easy going on his boys and the consequences were severe. They resulted not just in their own judgement, but in a curse on the whole family so that all the men died young. In fact a story follows Eli and the beginning of this curse:
He told Eli, “I have just come from the battle line; I fled from it this very day.”
Eli asked, “What happened, my son?”
The man who brought the news replied, “Israel fled before the Philistines, and the army has suffered heavy losses. Also your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.”
When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell backward off his chair by the side of the gate. His neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man and heavy. He had led Israel forty years.
1 Samuel 4:16-18 (NIV)
In other words, Samuel’s whole foster family died in a single day. Let’s look at the list these problems create for Samuel:
• His father had two wives at the same time