“That We Might have Hope” (Rom. 15:4)
First Samuel, Chapters One Through Seven
Samuel, Prophet and Judge of Israel
Three names in these opening chapters of 1 Samuel serve as a skeleton upon which to hang the body of the account: Ichabod, Samuel, and Ebenezer.
Ichabod (“the glory has departed from Israel”) — a memorable name reflecting the moral decay of a nation
As the narrative opens, we find the priest Eli serving as judge for the Israelites. His two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, also served as priests, but they were making a terrible mockery of the worship of the true God there at the tabernacle in Shiloh.
For example, when the people brought offerings for sacrifices, these two would take more than was rightfully theirs, threatening to take it by force if the worshipper refused to comply. They also “lay with the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle” (2:22). When their father Eli heard of what they were doing and verbally rebuked them, “they did not heed the voice of their father” (2:25).
And on top of this, when the Israelites were defeated in battle with the Philistines, Hophni and Phinehas took the Ark of the Covenant itself out of the holy of holies and carried it to the battlefront, treating it as if it were some good-luck charm. Because this was an idolatrous use of the Ark, the Philistines were victorious and confiscated the Ark.
Hophni and Phinehas were killed in the battle, and when Eli heard of their death and of the loss of the ark, he “fell off the seat backward . . . and his neck was broken and he died. . . . And he had judged Israel forty years” (4:18).
At the same time Phinehas’ wife was nine months pregnant, and at the news of her husband’s death she went into labor. Just as she was about to die in childbirth, she gave her son a name which befit the spiritual depravity which had been plaguing the nation. She called him “Ichabod,” saying: “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured” (4:21-22).
Samuel (“I have asked for him from the LORD”) — a memorial name to Jehovah
In the middle of this spiritual decay in Israel, Samuel was born. The divinely inspired record of his birth and early years with Eli is an all-time favorite. His mother took him to serve Eli already as soon as he was weaned (three years old?), as she had promised. She had been barren, and had offered a heartfelt, tear-filled prayer that if God would give her a son she would “give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head” (1:11). The Lord heard her prayer and she gave her son a name which means “I have asked for him from the LORD” (1:20).
Young Samuel faithfully served Eli at the tabernacle; we read of him that “Samuel grew in stature and in favor with the LORD and men” (2:26).
It was in those years that the Lord spoke to Samuel in the night–something that had not happened during Eli’s priesthood–and revealed to him all that we read above about the destruction of Eli and his sons.
As Samuel continued to grow, “The Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground” (3:19). Everything he prophesied came true.
Ebenezer (“Thus far the LORD has helped us”)
How comparable were Samuel’s surroundings to our situation! We too live in a country in which the worship of the true God has been trashed and made into a farce by Hollywood, by the press, even by many churches. God keep that from happening among us!
Instead, when God speaks to us, may we with Samuel respond: “Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears” (3:9). And whatever that word from God is, let us not hold it back, but proclaim it to those for whom it is meant, just as Samuel told Eli “everything, and hid nothing from him” (3:18).
The people of Samuel’s time needed to hear that they had offended the LORD with their sinfulness. During those years under Philistine oppression, Samuel had encouraged them not to offer insincere confession, but to offer heartfelt repentance to the Lord for their sins and to change their sinful ways.
And as the Israelite nation gathered at Mizpah to confess, “We have snned against the LORD” (7:6), the Lord gave them a great victory over the Philistines. At the site of the great victory Samuel erected a stone and called it “Ebenezer,” saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us” (7:12).
May our lives prove to be Ebenezer stones to those around us!
First, may our lives be filled with heartfelt repentance over our sins!
Secondly, let our lives be filled with thanks to God for helping us thus far.
And lastly, may our words ever witness the Gospel to the world–the message of the great victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil which is ours and theirs by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ!
–Pastor Paul Krause