1 Samuel 2
Pulpit Commentary
And Hannah prayed, and said, My heart rejoiceth in the LORD, mine horn is exalted in the LORD: my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation.
Verse 1. - And Hannah prayed and said. Like the Magnificat, Hannah's hymn of thanksgiving begins with the temporal mercies accorded to herself, but rises immediately into the realms of prophecy, foretelling Christ's kingdom and the triumphs of the Church. From this prophetic element, common more or less to all the hymns of the Bible, most of them have been used in Christian worship, and still merit a place in it, though we in the liturgy of the Church of England now use only two, taken both from the New Testament. In ver. 1, in four strophes of equal length, Hannah declares how, first, her heart, the centre with the Hebrews, not merely of the physical, but also of the moral and intellectual life, rejoices in Jehovah; while the exaltation of her horn, the symbol of strength and vigour, signifies that this inward joy is accompanied, or even occasioned, by the changed circumstances of her outward lot. Her mouth, therefore, is opened wide over her enemies, yet not for cursing and in bitterness, but for joyful praise of the God who has answered her prayers. It is his salvation, the being delivered by him, that makes her thus burst forth into thanksgiving. It is a proof too of her faith and spirituality that she thus refers all to Jehovah. In ver. 2 she gives her reasons for this holy joy. The first is God's absolute holiness; the second his absolute existence, in which she finds the proof of his holiness. Hannah may have meant to express only the language of piety, but she also stated a primary philosophical truth, which was early grasped by the deeply religious instinct of the Hebrews, that outside of God is no existence. Many necessary deductions follow from this fundamental truth, that God alone absolutely exists, and that all other existence is secondary and derived; but no deduction is more certain than Hannah's own, that such a Being must be absolutely holy. In calling him a rock she assigns to him strength, calm, immovable, enduring, but a strength which avails for the safety of his people (comp. Deuteronomy 32:4, 15; Psalm 18:2). For rocks, as being capable of easy defence, formed the nucleus of most ancient towns, and continued to serve as their citadels. In ver. 3 she appeals to God's omniscience, "for Jehovah is a God of knowledges," the pl. being intensive, and signifying every kind of knowledge. As too he weighs and judges human actions, how can men venture to talk so arrogantly before him, lit. so proudly, proudly. The last clause is one of those numerous places in which there is a doubt whether the Hebrew word lo means not, or by him. If the negative sense be taken, which the Hebrew spelling favours, the rendering will be "though actions be not weighed." Though wicked actions be not immediately punished, yet Jehovah is cognisant of them, and in due time will requite. In vers. 4-8 Hannah illustrates the working of this attribute of the Deity by enumerating the vicissitudes of human events, which are not the result of chance, but of that omniscience combined with holiness which she has claimed for Jehovah in vers. 2, 3. She begins with the vicissitudes of war; but these are not more remarkable than those of peace, by which the full, the rich and wealthy, have to descend to the position of a hireling; while those previously hungry have ceased, i.e. from labour, and keep holiday. In a nation of small proprietors, where the land was tilled by the owner and those "born in his house," the position of the hireling, the "mean white" of the southern States of America, was lower than that of the slave, especially in Judaea, where the slave was more in the position of a vassal than of a serf or forced labourer. In the next clause the translation may either be, "She that was long barren hath borne seven," or, "Until the barren" etc.; i.e. these vicissitudes may even reach so far as to make a barren woman the mother of seven, i.e. of a perfect number of children, happily generalised in Psalm 113:9 into "a joyful mother of children." But see Ruth 4:15; Jeremiah 15:9. In this there is also a typical reference to the long barrenness of the Gentile world, to be followed by a fruitfulness far exceeding that of the Jewish Church, while it, prolific once in patriarchs, and prophets, and saints, is now comparatively sterile. In ver. 6 "the grave, Hebrews Sheol, is "the pit," the hollow vault underground, which is the dwelling of the dead. Lit., therefore, Hannah's words might seem to imply a belief in the resurrection; but her meaning rather was that God brings a man to the very brink of the grave, and then, when all hope seems past, raises him up again. In ver. 8 beggar is simply needy, but the expressions dust and dunghill add dishonour to his poverty. To set might more correctly be translated to make them sit; sitting, especially on a raised seat, being a mark of honour among Orientals, who generally squat on mats on the ground. In the next clause the A.V. particularises what in the Hebrews is quite general. "He will make them possess (or enjoy) a glorious throne." Their seat among the princes is not inherited, but acquired; and though promoted thus to a place among men of hereditary rank, and given an honourable position among them, yet it was not necessarily "the throne of glory," the highest seat. Still even this was quite possible; for while the tribal chiefs and heads of fathers' houses obtained their rank by inheritance, nevertheless, in early days the judges, and among them Eli and Samuel, acquired rank and power for themselves. Subsequently, under the kings, the great officers of state took their place along with the hereditary princes, but were dependent upon royal favour. In the last clause the word rendered pillars is rare, being found only here and in 1 Samuel 14:4. In both places the ancient versions are uncertain as to its signification, but in the latter it can only mean a crag, or mass of rock. If then the rock masses of the earth are Jehovah's, and he can lift up and poise upon them the inhabited world (Hebrews rebel), how much more easily can he raise up a man!
There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.
Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth: for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they that stumbled are girded with strength.
They that were full have hired out themselves for bread; and they that were hungry ceased: so that the barren hath born seven; and she that hath many children is waxed feeble.
The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.
The LORD maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up.
He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the LORD'S, and he hath set the world upon them.
He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail.
Verse 9. - The feet of his saints. The Hebrews written text (ch'tib) has his saint, sing.; but the word really means not saint, i.e. one sanctified and holy, but pious, i.e. one lovingly disposed towards God. The sense, therefore, is not affected by the number, but the sing. is more forcible "He will guard the steps, the earthly course, of each one that loveth him;" while over against this watchful providence, ever exerted for the safe keeping of all who love the light, stands God's punitive justice, whereby the wicked are finally brought down to the dark silence of the grave. For they had only human strength and prowess upon which to depend, and no man can sustain himself in the manifold conflict of life without help from above.
The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall he thunder upon them: the LORD shall judge the ends of the earth; and he shall give strength unto his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed.
Verse 10. - The adversaries. In the Hebrews the nouns are again sing., though the verb is pl., showing that they are to be taken collectively. Lit. the translation is, "Jehovah they shall be broken in pieces, whoever it be that contendeth with him;" the word having reference to contentions in a court of law, and the whole verse keeping the administration of justice in view. It proceeds, "Upon him he shall thunder in heaven;" i.e. Jehovah, seated on his throne in heaven, shall, as the supreme Judge, utter the sentence; and thunder was to the Hebrew God's voice. He shall judge the ends of the earth, i.e. the whole earth up to its remotest quarters. The last distich is remarkable. It is a distinct prophecy of David's kingdom, and of the king as the anointed one, but looking onwards to the Messiah, David's greater Son. So distinct a reference to a king before a king existed has made Ewald and others regard the whole hymn as an interpolation of later times. But already Hannah's thoughts had risen to a higher level than the fortunes of the literal Israel. In claiming for Jehovah, her covenant God, the righteous government of the whole world, she prepares our minds for the corresponding thought of Jehovah being the universal Saviour. Very probably the whole national mind was set upon having a king to enable them to make head against the Philistines long before, under Samuel, the desire became so strong as to be irresistible. The thought of a king was in no respect alien from the Jewish commonwealth (Deuteronomy 17:14). They had wished Gideon to hold this office (Judges 8:22); Jotham's parable in Judges 9. described the nation as eager to be thus governed, but the better minds as bent on declining so dangerous a preeminence. There is very much to prove that the nation had come to regard the appointment of a king as an eventual necessity, however long delayed. But not here only, but everywhere, the Jewish mind was constantly brooding upon the future. Hannah does no more than every patriarch and saint and prophet of the old dispensation. Prophecies such as that in Genesis 49:10 filled the hearts of all alike. And though the present longings of the nation for a king make Hannah's words not unnatural even in their lower sense, yet the truer exposition is that which acknowledges in Israel a people raised up for a special purpose, and the bestowal by God upon its seers for the carrying out of this purpose of the gift of prophecy. And it was this extraordinary gift which bent and shaped the mind of the nation, and filled it with future aspirations; and not a causeless state of the national mind which, excited by vague hopes, made men from time to time give utterance to anticipations which by some strange coincidence always came true.

And Elkanah went to Ramah to his house. And the child did minister unto the LORD before Eli the priest.
Verse 11. - The child did minister. Left by his parents at Shiloh, Samuel ministered unto the Lord; that is, certain duties were allotted him to perform suited to his age; but few at first, when he was but three years old, but increasing in importance as time went on; for the words refer to the whole period of his service, until Eli's death. At first Samuel would be but a scholar, for, as we have mentioned on 1 Samuel 1:21, there were, no doubt, regulations for the training of children devoted to the service of the sanctuary. The peculiarity about Samuel was that he was devoted for life, for possibly it was a not uncommon practice for young persons to receive some training at Shiloh; just as we find that Samuel himself subsequently gathered youths round him at Naioth in Ramah for educational purposes. Learning practically was confined to the priesthood, and we can scarcely imagine that the knowledge which Phinehas and the family of Aaron brought with them out of Egypt would be allowed to perish. Samuel certainly had himself received careful instruction (see on 1 Samuel 10:25), and this could scarcely have happened if the training of young persons had not been part of the priests' duties at Shiloh. This then explains why Samuel was brought to Eli at so tender an age, and why the charge of so young a child was undertaken without a murmur. Before Eli means under his general superintendence. Everything done at Shiloh was done before Eli, as being the chief ruler there.
Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD.
Verse 12. - Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial, i.e. worthless men (see on 1 Samuel 1:16). They knew not Jehovah. He had never been revealed to their consciences, and so his fear had no influence upon their lives. The next words, in ver. 13, are difficult, but lit. mean, "The legal right of the priests, towards, or as respects, the people." On this account the Vulgate and several commentators couple the sentence with what precedes: "they knew neither Jehovah, nor their own legal rights." But the word also in ver. 15 is incompatible with this rendering; for if what is mentioned there be illegal, so must also the practice be which is recorded here. But neither does custom give the sense; for the Hebrews has not priest's (sing.) as the A.V., but of the priests, of all priests generally, and not of Eli merely and his sons. The right translation is that given by the Sept., Syriac, and Chaldee, namely, "the due of the priests from the people," on which see Leviticus 7:31-35. In the original this is put absolutely "And as to the priests' due from the people, when," etc., but our language requires some insertion to make it read more smoothly. "And as to the due of the priests from the people, the manner of its exaction was as follows: When," etc. But besides the due and legal portion, which, nevertheless, they took in an illegal way, they demanded a part of the flesh reserved for the feast of the offerer, and to which they had absolutely no right (see Leviticus 8:31; 2 Chronicles 35:13). The legal due of the priest was the right shoulder and the wave breast; but before he took them they were to be consecrated to God by the burning of the fat upon the altar (Leviticus 3:5; Leviticus 7:31, 34). It is worth observing that the people seem well acquainted with the words of the Law, and are indignant because the priests, its proper guardians, do not abide literally by them. This contempt of the Law distressed their religious susceptibilites, while the cupidity of Eli's sons offended their moral nature. And so men abhorred the offering of Jehovah. Lit. it is the minchah, the unbloody sacrifice, or meat offering, but it is put here forevery kind of sacrificial offering.
And the priests' custom with the people was, that, when any man offered sacrifice, the priest's servant came, while the flesh was in seething, with a fleshhook of three teeth in his hand;
And he struck it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot; all that the fleshhook brought up the priest took for himself. So they did in Shiloh unto all the Israelites that came thither.
Also before they burnt the fat, the priest's servant came, and said to the man that sacrificed, Give flesh to roast for the priest; for he will not have sodden flesh of thee, but raw.
And if any man said unto him, Let them not fail to burn the fat presently, and then take as much as thy soul desireth; then he would answer him, Nay; but thou shalt give it me now: and if not, I will take it by force.
Wherefore the sin of the young men was very great before the LORD: for men abhorred the offering of the LORD.
But Samuel ministered before the LORD, being a child, girded with a linen ephod.
Verse 18. - But Samuel ministered. While the misconduct of Eli's sons was thus bringing religion into contempt, and sapping the nation's morals, Samuel was advancing in years and piety, and was gaining that education which made him fit to retrieve the evil of their doings. He is still styled na'ar, a boy; for the word, according to the Rabbins, may be used up to fifteen years (1 Samuel 1:24). In the sense of servant there is no limit of age; and as it is the word translated "young men" in ver. 17, it probably means there not Eli's sons, but the servants by whose instrumentality their orders were actually carried out. Samuel's dress, an ephod of white linen, was probably that worn by the Levites in their ordinary ministrations; for the ephod of the priests was richer both in material and colour (Exodus 28:6-8). As being thus the simplest ministerial garment, it was apparently worn also by laymen when taking part in any religious service, as by David when he danced before the ark (2 Samuel 6:14).
Moreover his mother made him a little coat, and brought it to him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.
Verse 19. - His mother made him a little coat. The coat, meil, was worn by priests (Leviticus 8:7), by kings and their sons (1 Samuel 18:4), by prophets (ibid. 28:14), and even by women (2 Samuel 13:18). It was an under garment of wool, woven throughout without seam, with holes for the head and arms, and reaching nearly to the ground: when used by women it had sleeves (ibid.). Under it they had a tunic or shirt fitting so closely that a man simply so clad was considered naked (1 Samuel 19:24), and over it priests and Levites wore the ephod, and so also David on the occasion mentioned above (1 Chronicles 15:27). The meil seems, moreover, to have often been a handsome dress, as that of the priests was of purple blue, with embroidery of pomegranates in three colours, and golden bells (Exodus 28:31-34); and when made of delicate materials for the use of the rich, it and the tunic are the soft luxurious clothing spoken of in Matthew 11:8. As the meal was the ordinary dress of all classes of people, it was made for Samuel at home, and can have no special meaning; but the ephod shows that he was brought up in the daffy practice of holy duties. This annual present, however, of clothing made by the mother's hands proves that the dedication of her son to God was not allowed to interfere with home affections, and both parents and child must have looked forward with joy to happy meetings at each recurrence of the family visit to the sanctuary.
And Eli blessed Elkanah and his wife, and said, The LORD give thee seed of this woman for the loan which is lent to the LORD. And they went unto their own home.
Verses 20, 21. - The Lord give thee seed, etc. The manner in which Eli blesses Elkanah shows that this surrender of a very young child to religious service was not looked upon as imposing a burden upon the sanctuary, but as the bestowal of a valued gift. Loan and lent by no means give the whole sense, which is in fact beyond the power of our language to express; for the Hebrew is remarkable for its manner of saying a great deal in a few words, by using them indefinitely. Besides the sense, then, of lending the child to God, the Hebrews also conveys the idea of Samuel having been obtained by prayer, but by prayer for Jehovah. Hannah had not asked simply for a son, but for a son whom she might dedicate to God. And now Eli prays that Jehovah will give her children to be her own (see on ch. 1:28). ELI'S COMPLICITY IN THE SINS OF HIS SONS (vers. 22-26).
And the LORD visited Hannah, so that she conceived, and bare three sons and two daughters. And the child Samuel grew before the LORD.
Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
Verse 22. - Eli... heard all that his sons did. To the profanity and greed described in vers. 12-17 the sons of Eli added unchastity; and their sin was the greater because the women whom they corrupted were those dedicated to religious service (see Exodus 38:8). The order of ministering women instituted by Moses probably lasted down to the destruction of the temple, and Anna may have belonged to it (Luke 2:37); afterwards it appeared again in a more spiritual form in the widows and deaconesses of the Christian Church. The word rendered assembled means "arranged in bands," and shows not merely that they were numerous, but that they had regular duties assigned them, and each one her proper place and office. The frequent sacrifices, with the feasts which followed, must have provided occupation for a large number of hands in the cleaning of the utensils and the cooking of the food. But though Eli heard of the depraved conduct of his sons in thus defiling those who ministered in the tabernacle, he gives them but the faintest rebuke, and that apparently only because their misdeeds were in everybody's mouth; for the last clause of ver. 23 really is, "For I hear of your evil doings from all this people." Eli's old age may have increased his indifference, but his religious character could never have had much depth or earnestness, to allow him to regard such heinous sins so lightly. It seems even as if he chiefly felt the annoyance occasioned to himself by the expostulations urged upon him "from all this people." Still all that he says is wise and thoughtful. The sins of men in high station do not end with themselves; they make others also to transgress. And as Eli's sons were Jehovah's ministers, and they had led into wickedness those who also were bound to holy service, their misconduct was a sin against Jehovah himself.
And he said unto them, Why do ye such things? for I hear of your evil dealings by all this people.
Nay, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear: ye make the LORD'S people to transgress.
Verses 24, 25. - Ye make, etc. Eli's words are very obscure, but "Ye make Jehovah's people to transgress" is upon the whole the best rendering of the clause. Both the Sept. and Syriac have a different reading: "Ye make Jehovah's people cease to worship him" In the next verse there is no sufficient reason for supposing that Elohim, God, here means a judge. Elohim was the head of the theocracy, the ruler of Israel in all things, and he would set to rights these delinquencies of "one man against another" by the ordinary exercise of his judicial functions. So far all is easy, and we must translate, "If one man sin against another, God shall judge him." But in the last clause there is one of those plays upon words to which the Hebrew language, with its numerous conjugations, so readily lends itself (see on 1 Samuel 1:28); and it is rarely possible to transfer to another language the force of passages in which the sense depends upon the terms in the original having a double meaning. The verb rendered shall judge in the first clause is used again by Eli in the second, but in a different conjugation, in which its usual meaning is to pray. According to the lexicon, therefore, we must translate: "If a man sin against Jehovah, who shall pray for him?" But surely it was just the occasion in which the only remedy left was intercessory prayer. Bearing then in remembrance the use made by Eli of the verb in the first clause, we must translate: "Who shall act as judge for him?" "Who shall interpose as arbitrator between him and Jehovah to settle the quarrel?" The verb itself, moreover, is a rare and old-fashioned one, and apparently means to settle a dispute. So it is used of Phinehas, who by his righteous zeal put an end to the rebellion against God's laws; and accordingly in Psalm 106:30, where our version renders "executed judgment," the, Vulgate has placavit, appeased Jehovah s anger. The sense then is, In case of wrong done between man and man, God as the supreme Arbitrator settles the dispute; but where the two parties are God and man, what third power is there which can interfere? The quarrel must go on to the bitter end, and God, who is your opponent, will also punish you. The same idea is found in Job 9:33. Naturally to so mild a remonstrance, and founded upon so low a view of the Divine nature, the sons of Eli paid but slight attention, and by thus hardening themselves in sin they made their punishment inevitable, "because it pleased Jehovah to slay them." Man can bring upon himself neither good nor evil except by the working of God's will, and the punishment of sin is as thoroughly a part of God's will as the rewarding of righteousness. An intense conviction of the personality of God was the very foundation of the religious life of the Israelites, and lies at the root of the words of Eli here and of those of Job; and it was this which made them ascribe to God that hardening of the wicked in sin which is the sure means of their punishment. We ascribe it to the working of natural laws, which after all is but saying the same thing in a round about way; for the laws of nature, in things moral as well as in the physical world, are the laws of God. In ver. 26, in contrast with Eli's sons ripening for punishment, and daily more abhorred to God and man, we have Samuel set before us advancing in age and "in favour with Jehovah and also with men," like him of whom in so many respects he was a type (Luke 2:52), our blessed Lord.

If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sin against the LORD, who shall intreat for him? Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the LORD would slay them.
And the child Samuel grew on, and was in favour both with the LORD, and also with men.
And there came a man of God unto Eli, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Did I plainly appear unto the house of thy father, when they were in Egypt in Pharaoh's house?
Verse 27. - There came a man of God. The title man of God is the usual appellation of a prophet in the books of Judges, Samuel, and Kings, and as such is applied by Manoah to the angel who appeared to him (Judges 13:6, 8). Though the recorded interpositions of the Deity in those times were generally by angels, still the readiness with which Manoah gave his visitant this title makes it probable that prophets did appear from time to time; and the mission of one, though, as here, without a name, is recorded in Judges 6:8. As regards the date of this visitation of the man of God, we find that Eli was ninety-eight years of age when the ark was captured (1 Samuel 4:15). At that time Samuel was not merely a man, but one whose reputation was established throughout the whole land, and who was probably regarded not merely as a prophet, but as Eli's successor in the office of judge (1 Samuel 3:19, 20). But Eli was "very old" (1 Samuel 2:22) when he rebuked his sons, probably between seventy and eighty, for Samuel is then called a child (ver. 26); whereas he can scarcely have been much less than thirty years of age when the Philistines destroyed Shiloh. In 1 Samuel 8:1-3, when the misconduct of Samuel's own sons led to the revival of the agitation for a king, he is himself described as already "old;" but as he lived on till nearly the end of Saul s reign, he could not at that time have been much more than sixty. Even when God spake by him to Eli he is still described as a boy, na'ar (1 Samuel 3:1), though the higher position to which he had attained, as is proved by his duties, would lead to the conclusion that he was then verging on manhood. As some time would naturally elapse between two such solemn warnings, we may feel sure that the visit of the man of God occurred shortly after Samuel s dedication. Then, as Eli neglected the warning, and the wickedness of his sons grew more inveterate, some eight or ten years afterwards the warning was repeated in sharper tones by the voice of his own youthful attendant. Meanwhile Eli seems himself to have grown in personal piety, but he could do nothing now for his sons. Past eighty years of age, the time of activity had gone by, and resignation was the sole virtue that was left for him to practise. And so the warning given by the mouth of Samuel is stern and final. Ten or fifteen more years must elapse before the ruin came. But the gloom was deepening; the Philistines were increasing in power, and the valour of Israel was decaying as its morality declined; then there was a short violent crash, and the house of Eli met its doom. The prophet begins by enumerating Jehovah's mercies to "the house of thy father," that is, the whole family of Aaron, in selecting them for the priesthood (on the choice of the house of Aaron, see Exodus 28, 29.), and in richly endowing the office with so large a portion of every sacrifice. These portions are termed literally firings, or fire sacrifices, but the term soon became general, and in Leviticus 24:7, 9 is applied even to the shew bread. Added then to the tithes, and to the cities with their suburbs given them to inhabit, this share of every sacrifice gave the house of Aaron great wealth, and with it they had also high rank. There was no one above them in Israel except the kings. In Sparta we find that one of the endowments of the kings was the skins of animals offered in sacrifice (Herod., 6:56). Why then do Eli and his sons, who benefit so greatly by them, "kick at Jehovah's sacrifices and offerings?" The word is taken from Deuteronomy 32:15, and refers to the efforts of a pampered steer violently to shake off the yoke. Eli's sons treat the ordinances which have raised them to rank, and given them wealth and power, as if they were an injury and wrong. And Eli, instead of removing them from the office which they disgraced, preferred the ties of relationship to his duty to God and the moral welfare of the people.
And did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to offer upon mine altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before me? and did I give unto the house of thy father all the offerings made by fire of the children of Israel?
Wherefore kick ye at my sacrifice and at mine offering, which I have commanded in my habitation; and honourest thy sons above me, to make yourselves fat with the chiefest of all the offerings of Israel my people?
Wherefore the LORD God of Israel saith, I said indeed that thy house, and the house of thy father, should walk before me for ever: but now the LORD saith, Be it far from me; for them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.
Verse 30. - I said indeed. By thus acting Eli became an accomplice in the irreligion of his sons, and God therefore revokes his grant of a perpetual priesthood. The promise had been made to Aaron's family as a whole (Exodus 29:9), and had then been renewed to the house of Eleazar (Numbers 25:13). But the house of Ithamar was now in the ascendant, probably owing to Eli's own ability, who during the anarchical times of the Judges had won for himself, first, the civil power, and then, upon some fitting opportunity, the high priesthood also, though I suppose the heads of the houses of Eleazar and Ithamar were always persons of great importance, and high priests in a certain sense. Eli had now the priority, and had he and his family proved worthy, the possession of this high station might have been confirmed to them. Like Saul in the kingdom, they proved unworthy of it, and so they lost it forever. Their names, as we have seen above, do not even occur in the genealogies. I said .... but now Jehovah saith. Can then a promise of God be withdrawn? Yes, assuredly. Not from mankind as a whole, nor from the Church as a whole, but from each particular nation, or Church, or individual. To each separate person God's promises are conditional, and human action everywhere is a coworker with the Divine volition, though only within a limited sphere, and so as that the Divine purposes must finally be accomplished. Eli then and his sons may suffer forfeit of the promise by not fulfilling the obligations which, whether expressed or implied, are an essential condition of every promise made by God to man. But the high priesthood will continue, and will perform its allotted task of preparing for the priesthood of Christ. "Them that honour me I will honour," states one of these conditions essential on man's part to secure the fulfilment of God's promises.
Behold, the days come, that I will cut off thine arm, and the arm of thy father's house, that there shall not be an old man in thine house.
Verse 31. - I will cut off thine arm. The arm is the usual metaphor for strength. As Eli had preferred the exaltation of his sons to God's honour, he is condemned to see the strength of his house broken. Nay, more; there is not to be an "old man in his house." The young men full of energy and vigour perish by the sword; the Survivors fade away by disease. The Jews say that the house of Ithamar was peculiarly short-lived, but the prophecy was amply fulfilled in the slaughter of Eli's house, first at Shiloh, and then at Nob by Doeg the Edomite at the command of Saul. There is nothing to warrant an abiding curse upon his family. The third or fourth generation is the limit of the visitation of the sins of the fathers upon the children.
And thou shalt see an enemy in my habitation, in all the wealth which God shall give Israel: and there shall not be an old man in thine house for ever.
Verse 32. - Thou shalt see an enemy. The translation of ver. 32 is very difficult, but is probably as follows: "And thou shalt behold, i.e. see with wonder and astonishment, narrowness of habitation in all the wealth which shall be given unto Israel." The word translated narrowness often means an "enemy," but as that for habitation is the most general term in the Hebrews language for a dwelling, being used even of the dens of wild beasts (Jeremiah 9:10; Nahum 2:12), the rendering an "enemy of dwelling" gives no sense. Hence the violent insertion of the pronoun my, for which no valid excuse can be given. But narrowness of dwelling, means distress, especially in a man's domestic relations, and this is the sense required. In the growing public and national prosperity which was to be Israel's lot under Samuel, Saul, David, and Solomon, Eli was to see, not in person, but prophetically, calamity attaching itself to his own family. His house was to decay in the midst of the progress of all the rest. Upon this denunciation of private distress naturally follows the repetition of the threat that the house of Ithamar should be left without an old man to guide its course onward to renewed prosperity.
And the man of thine, whom I shall not cut off from mine altar, shall be to consume thine eyes, and to grieve thine heart: and all the increase of thine house shall die in the flower of their age.
Verse 33. - The man of thine, etc. The meaning of the Hebrews is here again changed by the insertion of words not in the original. Translated literally the sense is good, but merciful, and this the A.V. has so rendered as to make it the most bitter of all denunciations. The Hebrews is, "Yet I will not cut off every one of thine from my altar, to consume thine eyes and to grieve thy soul;" that is, thy punishment shall not be so utter as to leave thee with no consolation; for thy descendants, though diminished in numbers, and deprived of the highest rank, shall still minister as priests at mine altar. "But the majority of try house - lit, the multitude of thy house - shall die as men." This is very well rendered in the A.V. "in the flower of theft age," only we must not explain this of dying of disease. They were to die in their vigour, not, like children and old men, in theft beds, but by violent deaths, such as actually befell them at Shiloh and at Nob.
And this shall be a sign unto thee, that shall come upon thy two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas; in one day they shall die both of them.
Verse 34. - With this the sign here given exactly agrees. Hophni and Phinehas died fighting valiantly in battle, and then came the sacking of Shiloh, and the slaughter of the ministering priests (Psalm 78:64). Upon this followed a long delay. For first Eli's grandson, Ahitub, the son of Phinehas, was high priest, and then his two sons, Ahiah and Ahimelech, and then Abiathar, the son of Ahimelech. It was in Ahimelech's days that the slaughter took place at Nob, from which the house of Ithamar seems never to have fully recovered.
And I will raise me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in mine heart and in my mind: and I will build him a sure house; and he shall walk before mine anointed for ever.
Verse 35. - I will raise me up a faithful priest. This prophecy is explained in three several ways, of Samuel, of Zadok, and of Christ. St. Augustine, who considers the whole passage at length in his 'De Civ. Dei,' 17:5, argues that it cannot be reasonably said that a change in the priesthood foretold with so great circumstance was fulfilled in Samuel. But while we grant that it was an essential characteristic of Jewish prophecy to be ever larger than the immediate fulfilment, yet its primary meaning must never be slurred over, as if it were a question of slight importance. By the largeness of its terms, the grandeur of the hopes it inspired, and the incompleteness of their immediate accomplishment, the Jews were taught to look ever onward, and so became a Messianic people. Granting then that Christ and his Church are the object and end of this and of all prophecy, the question narrows itself to this - In whom was this prediction of a faithful priest primarily fulfilled? We answer, Not in Zadok, but in Samuel. Zadok was a commonplace personage, of whom little or nothing is said after the time that he joined David with a powerful contingent (1 Chronicles 12:28). Samuel is the one person in Jewish history who approaches the high rank of Moses, Israel's founder (Jeremiah 15:1). The argument that he was a Levite, and not a priest, takes too narrow and technical a view of the matter; for the essence of the priesthood lies not in the offering of sacrifice, but in mediation. Sacrifice is but an accident, being the appointed method by which the priest was to mediate between God and man. As a matter of fact, Samuel often did discharge priestly functions (1 Samuel 7:9, 17; 1 Samuel 13:8, where we find Saul reproved for invading Samuel's office; 1 Samuel 16:2), and it is a point to be kept in mind that the regular priests disappear from Jewish history for about fifty years after the slaughter of themselves, their wives, and families at Shiloh; for it is not until Saul's time that Ahiah, the great-grandson of Eli, appears, as once again ministering at the altar (1 Samuel 14:3). The calamity that overtook the nation at the end of Eli's reign was so terrible that all ordinary ministrations seem to have been in abeyance. We are even expressly told that after the recovery of the ark it was placed in the house of Abinadab at Kirjath-jearim in Judaea, and that for twenty years his son Eleazar, though a Levite only, ministered there before it by no regular consecration, but by the appointment of the men of that town. During this time, though Ahitub, Ahiah's father, was probably high priest nominally, yet nothing is said of him, and all the higher functions of the office were exercised by Samuel. Instead of the Urim and Thummim, he as prophet was the direct representative of the theocratic king. Subsequently this great duty was once again discharged by Abiathar as priest, and then a mighty change was made, and the prophets with the living voice of inspiration took the place of the priest with the ephod. For this is a far more important matter than even the fact that Samuel performed the higher functions of the priesthood. With him a new order of things began. Prophecy, from being spasmodic and irregular, became an established institution, and took its place side by side with the priesthood in preparing for Christ's advent, and in forming the Jewish nation to be the evangelisers of the world. The prediction of this organic change followed the rule of all prophecy in taking its verbal form and expression from what was then existent. Just as the gospel dispensation is always described under figures taken from the Jewish Church and commonwealth, so Samuel, as the founder of the prophetic schools, and of the new order of things which resulted from them, is described to Eli under terms taken from his priestly office. He was a "faithful priest," and much more, just as our Lord was a "prophet like unto Moses" (Deuteronomy 18:15), and a "King set upon the holy hill of Zion" (Psalm 2:6), but in a far higher sense than any would have supposed at the time when these prophecies were spoken. As regards the specific terms of the prophecy, "the building of a sure house" (1 Samuel 25:28; 2 Samuel 7:11; 1 Kings 2:24; 1 Kings 11:38; Isaiah 32:18) is a metaphor expressive of assured prosperity. The mass of the Israelites dwelt in tents (2 Samuel 11:11; 2 Samuel 20:1, etc.; 1 Kings 12:16), and to have a fixed and permanent dwelling was a mark of greatness. From such passages as 1 Kings 2:24; 1 Kings 11:38, it is plain that the idea of founding a family is not contained in the expression. As a matter of fact, Samuel's family was prosperous, and his grandson Heman had high rank in David's court and numerous issue (1 Chronicles 25:5). Probably too the men of Ramah, who with the men of the Levite town of Gaba made up a total of 621 persons (Nehemiah 7:30), represented the descendants of Samuel at the return from Babylon. Nevertheless, the contrast is between the migratory, life in tents and the ease and security of a solid and firm abode, and the terms of the promise are abundantly fulfilled in Samuel's personal greatness. In the promise, "he shall walk before mine anointed forever," there is the same outlook upon the office of king, as if already in existence, which we observed in Hannah's hymn (1 Samuel 2:10). Apparently the expectation that Jehovah was about to anoint, i.e. consecrate, for them some one to represent him in civil matters and war, as the high priest represented him in things spiritual, had taken possession of the minds of the people. It had been clearly promised them, and regulations for the office made (Deuteronomy 17:14-20); and it was to be Samuel's office to fulfil this wish, and all his life through he held a post of high dignity in the kingdom. But the promise has also a definite meaning as regards the prophets, in whom Samuel lived on. For St. Augnstine's error was in taking Samuel simply in his personal relations, whereas he is the representative of the whole prophetic order (Acts 3:24). They were his successors in his work, and continued to be the recognised mediators to declare to king and people the will of Jehovah, who was the supreme authority in both Church and state; and in political matters they were the appointed check upon the otherwise absolute power of the kings, with whose appointment their own formal organisation exactly coincided. From Samuel's time prophet and king walked together till the waiting period began which immediately preceded the nativity of Christ.
And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left in thine house shall come and crouch to him for a piece of silver and a morsel of bread, and shall say, Put me, I pray thee, into one of the priests' offices, that I may eat a piece of bread.
Verse 36. - Piece of silver is lit. a small silver coin got by begging and the word marks the extreme penury into which the race of Eli fell Gathered round the sanctuary at Shiloh, they were the chief sufferers by its ruin, and we have noticed how for a time they fall entirely out of view. During the miserable period of Philistine domination which followed, Samuel became to the oppressed nation a centre of hope, and by wise government he first reformed the people internally, and then gave them freedom from foreign rule. During this period we may be sure that he did much to raise from their misery the descendants of Eli, and finally Ahiah, Eli's grandson, ministers as high priest before Saul. Though his grandson, Abiathar, was deposed from the office by Solomon, there is no reason for imagining that the family ever again fell into distress, nor do the terms of the prophecy warrant such a supposition.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by BibleSoft, inc., Used by permission

Bible Hub
1 Samuel 1
Top of Page
Top of Page