Summary: Samuel is chosen by God to lead his people
Great births of the Bible – Samuel
Main point: the sovereignty of God in working out his plans of creation
Covering the life of Samuel in 25 minutes is a major challenge: effectively one chapter per minute. I don’t think I could read that fast, so instead we’re going to take some broad sweeping strokes over the book of 1 Samuel.
The history of Israel is a sordid and torrid affair. Samuel himself speaks of it in 1 Samuel 12, where he explains God’s faithfulness and judgement in the face of Israel’s unfaithfulness and wickedness from the time of Jacob through to the period of the Judges.
But where does Samuel fit into all of this? Well, we need to understand two things about the person of the Prophet Samuel. Firstly, he, and before him his mother Hannah, demonstrate the attitude of service toward God that Israel and the other priests of God so sadly lacked. Secondly, and more importantly, we see through the choosing of Samuel and the anointing of God’s chosen king that the LORD God Almighty is sovereign in working out his plan of salvation for his people, a plan ultimately fulfilled in his ultimate chosen king – the Jesus Christ.
But let’s quickly return to chapter 1. Elkanah has two wives – Peninnah and Hannah. Unfortunately, Hannah can’t have kids – the LORD having closed her womb (vs 6), and Peninnah gives her loads of grief about this. Understandably, Hannah is a bit upset and prays hard to God, including making the promise in vs 11: “Oh LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will every be used on his head.”
The LORD remembers her and she gives birth to Samuel. Yet she does not forget her vow, and after Samuel is weaned, she gives him to the priest Eli to serve in the House of the LORD. I’m not sure if I can really appreciate how hard that must have been. It’s akin to what God asked Abraham to do to Isaac, the son of his barren wife Sarah, and the child of the covenant, when he commanded that Isaac be sacrificed. But Hannah knew it was only by God’s providential hand that she had had this child at all, so she says in vs 28: “So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over the LORD.” Now the Nazrite vow – a Nazrite was one specifically dedicated to God, and one of the signs of being a Nazrite was having long hair, hence the promise in vs 11 that no razor be used on his head – this vow was usually only taken for a certain period of time. But for Samuel, it was to be life-long service, a total commitment.
He stands in stark contrast to those who were meant to succeed Eli the high priest. His sons, Hophni and Phinehas were only there to get as much out of their positions as possible, gorging themselves on the meat given for sacrifice. But God promises to get rid of them and instead raise up a faithful priest for his house – Samuel.
What we see from Samuel and Hannah is faithfulness and commitment. In reality, Hannah received nothing more from God than Peninnah already had – but she knew her son Samuel, and her other sons and daughters after him, were gifts from God. In last week’s news-sheet as a preview to this week’s topic, Owen wrote this: “In a plate of bacon and eggs, you know the chicken was involved but the pig was committed.” I’m not sure how often that saying bears repeating, but, in a way, we can see that sort of commitment in Samuel. Hophni and Phinehas just go about their business performing the sacrifices, making sure they take for themselves the perks that go along with the priesthood (like getting a free house and discount private education for one’s daughter). But it is lifelong service that God demands. See what Samuel tells the Israelites in chapter 12: “serve the LORD with all your heart” (vs 20); “But be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.” (vs 24).
As you know, I’m heavily involved in the youth ministry here at St. Stephen’s and elsewhere, and occasionally I get to thinking something along the lines of this: Isn’t it only fair that I get something back from what I put in? Shouldn’t I be able to charge the kids a bit more so that I can go to the JJ’s camp for free, given that I organised the thing? But then I’d be no better than Hophni and Phinehas, and I’d be treating what I do as no different to any secular job. Remember, it is the LORD we are serving. The first half of 1 Samuel 12 is devoted to Samuel presenting himself before the Israelites. He confronts them with his faithfulness to God and to them: Have I taken an ox, a donkey, a bribe? Have I cheated or oppressed anyone? And they intone, “You have not taken anything from anyone’s hand” (vs 4). Are we involved, or are we committed to him? Are we serving him with our whole hearts?