Christian Churches of God

No.  CB87






(Edition 1.0 20060703-20060703)


Samuel was dedicated to the service of the Lord before he was born. From the age of about three he was sent to live with Eli the High Priest. Samuel became a prophet and judge in Israel. This paper has been adapted from Chapters 76-79 of The Bible Story Volume III by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press.







Christian Churches of God

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(Copyright ã 2006 Christian Churches of God, ed. Wade Cox)



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Take the Problem to God


There was a man by the name of Elkanah living in a town in the high elevations of the Mt. Ephraim region. He was a Levite, and he had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah (1Sam. 1:1-2). Peninnah had children but Hannah had none.


Every year Elkanah went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to God at Shiloh, where Eli and his two sons (Hophni and Phinehas) were priests of the Lord. Even though Elkanah tried to obey God the best he knew how, all was not peace and harmony in his home. One of his wives, Peninnah, was jealous of the other, Hannah, because their husband showed Hannah more affection. Hannah, however, was unhappy because she had no children and Peninnah had several. To add to the trouble, Peninnah often irritated Hannah, telling her that she wasn't a good wife, and that it was obvious because she had no children. Hannah could hardly bear up under such taunts, and it was considered a disgrace in ancient times for a woman to be childless in Israel.


It was according to the rules of sacrificing that meat for peace offerings was in most part returned to the one who had brought it, if he were present. Then it was ordinarily consumed at the family meals that were prepared during the feast days. This time, as usual, Elkanah saw to it that Hannah was served twice as much of the choice meat as any other person in his family was served (1Sam. 1:3-5).


This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went to the house of the Lord, her rival made fun of her until she cried and would not eat. When Elkanah noticed this, he went to her and said: "Why are you crying, Hannah? Why don’t you eat? Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?" (1Sam. 1:6-8).


Hannah went into the tabernacle enclosure and started to pray, though not aloud. She wasn't aware that she was being closely watched by Eli, the old high priest, who was sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s temple.


 Hannah cried much as she prayed to God. And she made a vow saying, "God of Israel, please make it possible for me to give birth to a baby boy. If you will just do this for me, I will gladly give him to you to use in your service all the days of his life and no razor will ever be used on his head!"


Hannah kept on praying silently in her heart. Her lips were moving, but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine” (1Sam. 1:9-14).


Hannah was startled by the harsh voice of Eli, the high priest. Prayer was so rare in Israel that Eli did not realize Hannah was praying.


"I assure you, sir," Hannah said respectfully, "I have not been drinking wine or beer. I was pouring out my soul to God in my great sorrow.”


Eli said, “Go in peace, and may God grant you what you have asked for.”


This encouragement from the High Priest of Israel was a great help to Hannah. She was so inspired with hope that she cheerfully returned to her husband's table to join in the meal (1Sam. 1:15-18).


Next morning, after making a last offering, Elkanah returned home with his family. Although most of Israel was not in a good spiritual state, there were many such as this Levite who made a special effort to observe the annual Holy Days God had instituted.


The Lord remembered Hannah and in the course of time she conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.”


Hannah dedicates Samuel


When Elkanah went back to the Tabernacle a year later, Hannah didn't go with him and Peninnah and her children. It wasn't because she didn't want to go. She told her husband that after the boy was weaned she would take him and present him before the Lord at the Tabernacle, where he would always live (1Sam. 1:19-22).


"If you think you should stay home, so be it," Elkanah agreed. So Hannah stayed home until she had weaned Samuel.


Hannah didn't go to Shiloh the following year or even the year after that. In those times a child was often three years or older before it was weaned.


When Hannah took Samuel to Shiloh, he was probably three years old. She also took along a three-year old bull, an epah of flour and a skin of wine (1Sam. 1:23-24).


When they had slaughtered the bull, they brought the boy to Eli, and she said to him, “I am the woman who stood here praying to God a few years ago. I prayed for this child and God answered my prayer. So now I give him to the service of the Lord for his whole life" (1Sam. 1:25-28).


When the time came for the consecration offering, Hannah voiced an unusual prayer of praise. She was so thankful for what God had done for her that she was happy even for the opportunity of giving up her son (1Sam. 2:1-10.)


After the time of worship was over, Elkanah and his family returned to their home, leaving little Samuel to be reared and instructed in the simple duties he would at first be required to perform at the tabernacle.


Eli’s Wicked Sons


At this time matters were anything but right at the tabernacle. Eli's two sons, priests next in rank under their father, had the same duties and authority as those of Aaron's two sons when the tabernacle was at Mt. Sinai. Those two, Nadab and Abihu, met sudden death when they overstepped their authority (Lev. 10:1-2).


Hophni and Phinehas, Eli's sons, were swiftly heading for a similar fate. They were committed to serving God with fear and reverence, but they had become increasingly greedy, careless and immoral. They were far from fit to be priests, but God allowed them to carry on for a time, just as He often allows sinful men to continue in their ways. If every person were struck dead the moment he first sinned, there would be nobody living. But there is always a point at which God deals with those who continue to break His Laws.


According to the Creator's instructions for making peace offerings at the tabernacle, a carcass was to be divided three ways: the part for God, including the fat, the part for the priests, including the right shoulder and breast, and the portion that was left, which was to go back to the one who offered it. Only God's part was to be roasted on the altar. The rest of it was to be boiled for the priests and Levites and for the family making the offering (Lev. 7:11-17; 28-34; 2Chr. 35:13; Ezek. 46:20, 24).


Hophni and Phinehas didn't go along with such rules any more. When a carcass was brought in as a sacrifice, they seized their share of the meat before the rest of it was taken to be used elsewhere. Often they would roast their part of it before God's part was burned on the altar. Furthermore, they would go to the huge seething pots that had just been filled with raw meat to boil, and take out as much as they wanted of it with large, three-pronged hooks. They would thus take much of the meat belonging to persons who had brought it for offerings. Everyone could see they were breaking God's ordinances. Those people who were bold enough to object to this unlawful practice were told that the priests would do as they pleased, even if they had to get their way by force.


This sin of the young men was very great in the Lord’s sight. They were treating the Lord’s offering with contempt (1Sam. 2:11-17). The conduct of Hophni and Phinehas was damaging to Israel, just as the disobedience of today's religious leaders is doing great harm to our people. The priests' sins within a short time led to the spread of idolatry (Jdg. 8:33), after the death of Gideon.


A year after Samuel had been dedicated, his parents came to Shiloh as usual. There they saw their son busy in his service at the tabernacle – a boy wearing a linen ephod.


Hannah gave him a coat she had made, and for a number of years afterward she brought him a new coat each time she and her husband came to the tabernacle, which was during the Feast of Tabernacles (Jdg. 10:7).


During one of the festivals, Eli asked a special blessing on Elkanah and Hannah because of their giving their only child to the service of the tabernacle.


"Reward this couple for giving their firstborn son," the High Priest asked of God. "Make it possible for them to have more children."


God answered Eli's request. In time Hannah gave birth to three more sons and two daughters. Having a total of six children, she no longer felt secondary to Peninnah. Meanwhile Samuel was growing up in the presence of the Lord (1Sam. 2:18-21).


Eli was very old by this time and he had heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel. At first he gave little heed to these rumours, but when they began increasing, he knew he would have to speak to Hophni and Phinehas.


"Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours" Eli said to Hophni and Phinehas.


If your evil behaviour were only against man, it would be bad enough. But you have been sinning against the Creator whom you have been chosen to serve! Unless you give up your evil ways now, God will take your lives!" His sons did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the Lord’s will to put them to death  (1Sam. 2:22-25).


And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and favour with the Lord and with men (v. 26).


Prophecy Against the House of Eli


Not long afterward a man of God came to Eli and said to him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘When your forefather Aaron was in Egypt, God chose his family for the priesthood. At that time God gave definite instructions concerning the offerings and the manner in which the tabernacle was to function. I have been sent to tell you that God is well aware that you and your sons have failed miserably in running matters rightly. You honour your sons above God – which is idolatry. You have allowed them to steal from those who brought offerings so that all three of you might gorge yourselves (1Sam. 2:27-29).


"Even though God promised that the priesthood should be in the family of Aaron forever – and set your family in the priesthood – the Creator can't go on using men like you as His most high-ranking servants. You will die soon, but not before you see an enemy come on the Israelites to take away their wealth. As for your sons, they will both die the same day, and not long from now. Then God will choose from among Aaron's other descendants a High Priest who will be faithful. Others in your family will come and beg him for food and for work. Furthermore, all your male descendants shall die before they are of middle age. Consider these things, and how you have brought them on yourselves!" (1Sam. 2:30-36).


The Lord Calls Samuel


At this time Samuel was probably about twelve or thirteen years old. He was of increasing help to Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak he could hardly see.


One night Samuel was awakened by a voice speaking his name. Thinking that Eli had called, the boy ran to the high priest's bedroom and said: "Here I am, sir!"


Then Eli said: "Is that you, Samuel? Why have you awakened me? I didn't call you. Go back to bed!"


Samuel returned to his room, puzzled as to the source of the voice. Before he could fall asleep, he distinctly heard his name spoken again. He jumped up and once more announced his presence to Eli, who again informed him that he had not called.


Samuel returned to his bed. He did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to Samuel.


Then Samuel heard the voice speak his name for the third time. He went to Eli's quarters again and asked if Eli had called him.


Then Eli realised that the Lord was calling the boy (1Sam. 3:7-8).


"Go back to your bed, my son," the High Priest sighed. "If the voice comes to you again, be sure to answer, 'I hear you, Lord! Please tell me why you are calling me."


Samuel went back to bed and then the Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”


Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening." (1Sam. 3:9-10).


And the Lord said to Samuel, "I am going to cause some very unhappy events in Israel. If I were to announce to all the people what I shall do, their ears would tingle with the dreaded words. First I shall bring judgment against the family of Eli. Even though you are yet very young, you should know that your High Priest has been offensively careless in his high office. He has allowed his sons to do some very vile things. The sins of all three have been so great that no sacrifice or offering can atone for them. Because of their disobedience, the lives of these people will end violently at a time I shall soon choose" (1Sam. 3:11-14).


Samuel was afraid to tell Eli about the vision, but Eli called him later to talk to him.


"I want you to tell me everything that He told you. Don't hold anything back. "


So, Samuel related all that was told him in the vision. Then Eli said. “He is the Lord; let Him do what is good in His eyes” (1Sam. 3:15-18).


It wasn't revealed just when these things would actually happen. Meanwhile, Samuel grew up to become a well-known young man. All of Israel knew him as one whom God had chosen as a prophet. He increased greatly in wisdom and intelligence, and foretold events that came true with startling accuracy because the Lord continued to speak to him from time to time (1Sam. 3:19-21).


The Philistines Capture the Ark


Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. In that battle the Philistines defeated the Israelites and killed four thousand of them (1Sam. 4:1-2).


The leaders were stunned by this defeat. They felt that their forces weren't meant to lose because they were part of God's chosen people! They seemed to have forgotten that Israel was chosen for an example of obedience, not for special favours. What with most of Israel being in a state of disobedience, the leaders had no sound reason to expect victory.


Nevertheless, some of the elders came to the camp with an idea they thought would insure the Israelites' winning any other encounter with the Philistines.


"We should take the Ark of the Covenant with us," they suggested. God wouldn't let anything happen to the Ark, and He would save us from the hand of our enemies!"


Men were sent to Shiloh and they brought back the Ark of the Covenant. When the Ark arrived at the camp of the Israelite army, along with Hophni and Phinehas, a thunderous cheer went up from the people. The shouting was so loud that the ground shook. It was plainly heard in the Philistine camp (1Sam. 4:3-5).


When they learned that the Ark of the Lord had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid.

"The God of Israel has come into the camp of the enemy! We’re in trouble now. Nothing like this has happened before."


“Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the ones who long ago brought some horrible plagues on Egypt so that the Israelites could escape!"


Fear Turned to Courage


They said, "We brought our army here for a purpose! Why are we imagining that we are destined to lose to Israel? We are strong, and we must use that strength to make certain that the Israelites continue to be servants to us. If we give in, we will become servants to them! We must fight! We must prove to all that we are men determined to do what we have set out to do!" (1Sam. 4:6-9).


So the Philistines fought and the Israelites were defeated once again. In the battle Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. The Ark of the Lord was captured and Eli’s two sons, Hopni and Phinehas, died (1Sam. 4:10-11).


The Tragic Result of Sin!


Killing thirty thousand Israelites was a great triumph to the Philistines. But, in a way, the capture of the Ark was an even greater one, inasmuch as many of them really believed they had captured a god.


A few hours later a tattered Benjamite soldier who had escaped from the Philistines staggered wearily into the main streets of Shiloh (1Sam. 4:12).


As the bad news spread through the town the people began groaning and shrieking. Eli, the High Priest, was sitting at his usual outdoor place where the people could easily contact him. He was watching because his heart feared for the Ark of the Lord. It was then that the exhausted Benjamite trudged up to him to announce that he had run all the way from the Israelite camp to bring news.


Trembling, Eli anxiously asked what had happened. "The Philistines attacked our camp this morning," the Benjamite muttered hoarsely. "Only a small part of us escaped. The rest are dead, including your two sons. They died when the Ark was captured."


This was too much for the old priest. He knew that when God removed His protection from Israel and let the Ark be taken God had forsaken His people. Eli reeled backward and toppled off his chair. The soldier ran to him, but Eli was already dead. He was a very heavy man, and the fall had broken his neck (1Sam. 4:13-18).


An Angel had told Eli, the High Priest of Israel, that he and his two sons would soon lose their lives. All three of them had knowingly failed to conduct themselves as proper servants in God's service (1Sam. 2:27-36; 3:11-14).


To add to the family tragedy, the wife of Phinehas, one of the two slain sons of Eli, was about to give birth to a baby. Then she heard of the deaths of her husband and father-in-law and about the capture of the Ark, which the priests had removed from God's sanctuary. She was so shocked and troubled that she died shortly after her son was born. Just before she died, she gave her son the name of Ichabod, which was meant to refer to the wretched state into which Israel had fallen (1Sam. 4:19-22). Ichabod means no glory.


The Ark in Pagan Hands


While this was going on at Shiloh, the Philistine army was triumphantly marching into Ashdod. Here there was a temple containing a statue of one of their main gods, Dagon. The Ark was placed beside Dagon (1Sam. 5:1-2).


When the people of Ashdod rose early next morning, there was Dagon fallen on his face on the ground before the Ark of the Lord. So they put Dagon back in his place. But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon fallen on his face on the ground before the Ark of the Lord. His head and his hands had broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained (1Sam. 5:3-5).


The Lord’s hand was heavy upon the people of Ashdod and surrounding areas. He brought misery upon them and inflicted them with tumours.


The superstitious Philistines realised that this trouble had come on them because of their treatment of the Ark (1Sam. 5:6-7). Leaders met to decide what to do to try to escape the plague that had come to a part of the people.


“What shall we do with the Ark of the God of Israel?” they asked.


So they decided to move the Ark to Gath, which was several miles away from Ashdod. Then the Lord’s hand was against that city and he inflicted the people there with an outbreak of tumours. So they in turn sent the Ark to Ekron, one of the main Philistine cities. But the Lord’s hand was heavy on the people of Ekron also and those who did not die were afflicted with tumours (1Sam. 5:10-12).


All this was too much for the people of Ekron, who begged the rulers of the leading cities to meet in Ekron and consider moving the Ark elsewhere.


"We have had enough!" the ruler of Ekron complained to his fellow leaders when they met. "Our people are suffering terribly. Many of them are dying. If the Ark isn't taken away soon from here, we'll all be dead."


Ark returned to Israel


When the Ark had been in Philistine territory for seven months, the Philistines called their chief priests and seers to ask what they might do about the matter of the Ark.


Most of those present agreed on this proposal, because the Philistines believed that their priests, magicians, seers and astrologers had unusual power and wisdom. After a meeting of those revered men, a spokesman made their opinions known.


"Probably it would be wise to return the Ark to the Israelites," he declared. "It shouldn't be returned without a trespass offering, however. If the Israelite God is actually punishing us because we have this Ark we should at least try to make amends by doing something that might please Him."


"What should this trespass offering be?" the Philistine rulers asked.


"Because Philistia is divided into the leadership of five main cities," the spokesman explained, "it would be fitting to send an equal number of costly images of the things that have plagued us. If we return the ark to the Israelites, we should send along golden images of five mice and five images of the type of sores that have come to Philistia. It would be well to remember the tales that have been handed down about how the God of Israel dealt with the Egyptians when they held the Israelites against their will. (See Exodus, chapters 7 through 12.)


To make a further effort to avoid such curses, the Ark should be returned in a fine, newly- built cart drawn by untrained cows whose calves have been taken so far away from them that they won't be turned aside because of sensing them in any direction. The animals should then be sent off with what they have to pull. This way we can test the God of Israel and see if He is the One who brought our troubles upon us. If the cows take the cart to Beth Shemesh, it will be a sign to show us whether the God of Israel is powerful enough to work miracles. But if the cows choose to haul the Ark in any direction they choose except that of the Danite village of Beth Shemesh, then we will know that it was only by chance or by natural conditions that the sores and mice have come to Philistia" (1Sam. 6:1-9).


The suggestions were carried out as soon as possible. The cart and golden images were made and the images were put into a box. The Ark and the box containing the golden images were loaded onto the cart. Two cows with calves were brought to hitch to the cart, and the calves were taken to the opposite side of the city of Ekron (1Sam. 6:10-11).


The Sign of the Cows


As soon as the cows were harnessed to the cart, everyone stood back to see what would happen. The astonishing thing was that the animals had chosen to go directly to the road that led to Beth Shemesh! This was the sign that was supposed to prove to the Philistines that the Ark was the source of their trouble.


The animals didn't turn to right or left from the road that led into Beth Shemesh. The rulers of the Philistines followed them as far as Beth Shemesh. Some Israelite harvesters just outside the village caught sight of the unattended cows pulling the cart. When they looked up and saw the Ark, they rejoiced. Just as it reached the field of a man named Joshua, the cart stopped there by a large rock. The people chopped up the wood of the cart and sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. The Levites took down the Ark of the Lord together with the chest containing the golden objects, and placed them on the large rock. Then the people offered burnt offerings and made sacrifices to the Lord (1Sam. 6:12-15).


The five Philistine rulers saw this and returned that same day to their country to commend their priests and diviners for giving them proper advice concerning the Ark. The rulers could never know that the God of Israel had caused matters to work out as they did, even to the extent of working through the so-called wise men of Philistia (1Sam. 6:14-18).


Ark of the Sanctuary Profaned


Unfortunately, God struck down seventy men suddenly, putting them to death because they looked into the Ark of the Lord (1Sam. 6:19). The Israelites should have known better, what with a part of them being Levites who surely realised that God had warned the Israelites that death would come to any who looked into the Ark or touched it (except by its carrying poles) or showed any lack of reverence for God in their conduct toward the Ark (Lev. 16:2; 26:2; Num. 4:5-6,15).


There was loud mourning in the villages over this heavy loss of life. Some felt that God had dealt unfairly with them (v.20). Most of the people were anxious to have the Ark taken away. Messengers were sent to the nearest town, Kirjath-jearim, to ask men there to come and remove the Ark from the area of Beth- shemesh.


So the men of Kirjath-jearim came and took the Ark and put it in Abinadab’s house and consecrated Eleazar his son to guard it. No one would have guessed then that it would remain in that place for the next twenty years (1Sam. 7:1-2).


Meanwhile, the Philistines continued to trouble Israel by constant raids and attacks. Life became increasingly miserable for the Israelites and they continually complained to Samuel. Always Samuel's answer was that if the Israelites would give up their worship of pagan gods and turn back to the One True God, their enemies wouldn't trouble them. The Israelites were so weary of grief that they did gradually put away their idols and served the Lord only.


And Finally -- Repentance


Then Samuel said, “Assemble all Israel at Mizpah and I will intercede with the Lord for you.” When they did assemble at Mizpah they drew water and poured it out before the Lord. There they fasted and repented saying: “We have sinned against the Lord” (1Sam. 7:3-6).


When the Philistines heard that Israel had assembled at Mizpah, the rulers of the Philistines came to attack them.


The Israelites fell into a state of panic because of a fear of being slaughtered. They told Samuel to cry out to the Lord their God so that He might rescue them from this attack (1Sam. 7:7-8).


Samuel prepared a lamb for a burnt offering to God. He had God's authorisation to do so because the office of Judge in Israel and priest at that time had passed from Eli to himself.


Samuel prayed fervently to God and God answered him (1Sam. l 7:9).


Meanwhile, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such panic that they were routed by the Israelites. The men of Israel rushed out and chased after the Philistines and slaughtered them.


Shortly after the battle, Samuel had a large stone pillar set up at the site of the conflict, between Mizpah and Shen. It was a monument to commemorate the help God had given them that day.


This was the turning point in the struggle of Israel against Philistia. The Philistines had long since captured Israelite towns from Ekron to Gath. Israel at last took the towns back. At the same time there was peace between Israel and the Amorites (vv. 13-14).


All this was a reward from God because most of Israel had turned away from worshipping the idols of surrounding nations.


Samuel continued as judge over Israel for the rest of his long life. He chose to live at Ramah and there he built an altar to be used for sacrifices to God.


Every year Samuel moved his quarters for a time to the cities of Bethel, Gilgal and Mizpah. This made it more convenient for people to contact him for matters of spiritual judgment (1Sam. 7:15-17).


When Samuel grew old he appointed his sons, Joel and Abiah as judges for Israel, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not walk in his way and they were dishonest.


So the elders of Israel gathered together and went to see Samuel at Ramah. They said, “You are old and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint us a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have (1Sam. 8:1-5).


This story will continue in the paper Saul: Israel’s First King (No. CB88).