There are many lessons to learn from 1 Samuel, some of which are found in the first few chapters. While studying it to teach the first chapter, and from continuing on past where we left off in home church, I’ve found some interesting things I can’t help but write about.
What’s very cool is how much there is to learn from some of the minor characters in this book. We talked about these characters a bit in home church but in case anyone wasn’t there I’ll repeat some aspects that were already discussed.
What I’d like to talk about is three examples of relationships with God, told through the lives of Eli, Samuel, and Hannah from the scope of 1 Samuel chapters 1-3.
We are introduced to Eli as a priest. Already pretty old & overweight by the time we meet him. Supposedly a godly man, his life doesn’t match his title, at least what we know of it. He never disciplined his kids, who at this time have been sleeping around with temple prostitutes, cheating and manipulating people (using there title, also priests), as well as never listening to their dad. When it comes down to it, Eli brought this disrespect upon himself by never disciplining his kids. It’s no wonder they are so wild when the only thing Eli does at the reports of their behavior his tell them its bad and that they should stop.
So maybe we can attribute such lack of fatherly duties to his old age. That’s all good and well but what about his lack of insight and sheer ignorance when he spotted Hannah praying in the Tabernacle?
1:12 As she was praying to the Lord, Eli watched her. 13 Seeing her lips moving but hearing no sound, he thought she had been drinking. 14 “Must you come here drunk?” he demanded. “Throw away your wine!”
For a priest, this is an embarrassing judgement call. A woman is praying in a place that should have been one of the most common places to find someone praying. Instead of assuming the most obvious of possibilities, Eli jumped to the conclusion that she was drunk.
Either it’s a rare sight to see someone praying in the tabernacle, or Eli was truly losing it by this point. Crazy or stupid, I’m not sure. However I do think its pretty clear that for a priest on duty at the tabernacle, Eli demonstrated a serious lack of godliness.
Old and set in his ways, not much got through to him. He received a letter through a prophet, from God himself. The letter detailed how Eli would soon be losing his entire family from war and natural causes. Instead of taking this letter to heart, repenting (or turning to God knowing what he’d been up to was wrong and expressing his desire to change), or even expressing any sort of emotion on the matter, Eli continues on in his ways. Granted the focus switches right after the letter is over and we don’t know exactly how Eli reacted, we do know if he was repentant, that detail would have been included.
Some time passes and Eli is aware that Samuel recently heard the Lord speak. He is extremely adamant that Samuel leaves no detail out of the message. You must wonder if Eli regrets this later because the message he receives from Samuel is clear - Eli & his family are doomed. Still not much of a reaction from Eli:
3:18 So Samuel told Eli everything; he didn’t hold anything back. “It is the Lord’s will,” Eli replied. “Let him do what he thinks best.”
Basically he says “he’s gonna do what he’s gonna do”. This is not a heart that wants to change, It’s a heart that says, “if God doesn’t like what I’m doing with my life, he can kill my whole family, I don’t care”. Well, if you read on, the Lord’s prophecy all comes true as just as he said it would. Eli eventually dies in a cartoonish way that might make you laugh out loud.
4:18b …Eli fell backward from his seat beside the gate. He broke his neck and died, for he was old and overweight…
The story starts before Samuel is born. After Hannah puts her faith fully in God, after years without being able to have a child, Samuel is born. Hannah names him Samuel which literally means that she asked God for him. That’s a pretty cool name if you ask me. Hannah promised God that she would dedicate Samuel to the Lord. Once he’s old enough she follows through and gives Samuel to Eli to aid him in his work, and overall serve the Lord.
Eli was the guy earlier that called Hannah out for being drunk and now she’s trusting him with her only son. This supposedly godly priest is now over Samuel to teach him in his ways. Luckily, this is what’s so amazing about Samuel, even with how terrible a father Eli was, or how wild his sons were, Samuel remained a godly boy. With all t his corruption surrounding him, it’s clear that God is actually at work. You have to imagine that there would be heavy amounts of temptation and peer pressure to join Eli’s sons in their tomfoolery.
2:18a But Samuel, though he was only a boy, served the Lord…
Samuel is young and eager to serve the Lord, yet severely naïve. There’s no doubt that Samuel loves God, but his training must not be that in depth. You get this idea when it takes way too many tries for God to get in touch with Samuel. He calls his name a few times, and each time Samuel thinks that its Eli calling him. Eventually Eli tells him to talk back to the voice - even then he doesn’t tell him what’s going on or that it’s God speaking, instead he gives him a script to say to God - what a terrible discipler!
Hannah is a biblical superhero. Prior to studying this, I had never heard her story. Here circumstances were less than desirable; her husband barely cared about himself more than her, she shared her husband with another woman, and she was unable to have kids. In those days, if you were unable to have kids you were a loser. Barren women were useless - that was a known fact in their ancient society. All of these things caused Hannah deep sorrow. She was so sad to the point of not eating. What made things worse is her husbands other wife wouldn’t stop making fun of her inability to have kids, and her husband never told her to shut up.
It was a rough life for Hannah in those days. She did what any believer should do in troubled times - she turned to God in prayer and asked for help in this area. She poured her heart out.
When it comes to the interaction between her and Eli, when he thought she was drunk - you must admit, her response was rather impressive. Eli didn’t care about whatever she was going through, basically said “be on your way lady”, and after all that - she just hoped he wouldn’t think that she was a bad lady. She asked for respect. How gracious! Hannah showed no sign of offense at all. That was impressive.
As Hannah walks away, her sadness is gone and God’s peace washes over her face. Then she becomes the living embodiment of Philippians 4:6,7 :
6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
Hannah gave everything over to God, stopped worrying about it, and God’s peace clearly was being experienced. This is to me, a beautiful picture of that Philippians passage actually taking place in a person’s life. Absolutely beautiful.
Later after Samuel is old enough, she hands him off to Eli to serve the Lord. The beginning of chapter 2 is her prayer after giving away her firstborn son. Not only does this reveal her beautiful relationship with the Lord, but that she was also very wise in the ways of God.
Specifically Hannah is aware of God’s loving grace:
He lifts the poor from the dust
and the needy from the garbage dump.
He sets them among princes,
placing them in seats of honor.
Calling her Godly Hannah is no overstatement. I stole that nickname from some commentary that probably stole it from someone else. It’s a very fitting title.
In Hannah we have the mature Christian lifestyle. In Eli we see the old, boring, compromised believer. In Samuel (during the time of chapters 1-3) we see the young eager baby Christian mindset. All three can be learned from. Whether you want to be more like Hannah or less like Eli, there’s something about Samuel’s eager-to-serve-heart we can all benefit from. Personally I think Hannah’s life is one to remember no matter who you are. In terms of godliness, it seems as if Hannah is one of the most godly people in the bible, yet the least talked about. Her trust in God is something I only hope I can one day have myself.