Studying 1 Samuel Together

I anticipate a lot of good discussion as we spend a semester together in this history book. It is not called “1 Samuel” because it is written by that man, rather Samuel is the pivotal person in the history of Israel that was both judge and prophet as Israel transitioned from twelve tribes to a united monarchy, from judges to kings. This is the history of Israel getting her own desired king who failed the nation, and God’s anointed king who was a shadow of the True King to come.

In this history book, we do not find formulas to follow, or heroes to pattern our life after. We find instead a narration of God’s interactions with people who need Him; and we relish that the very same God is at work in our lives today. We see that to put our hope in princes or in wealth or in military power is foolish. This book is a series of stories collected by an editor who strung them together, as was common in Ancient Near Eastern Historiography at the time.

Major Themes

In this book we begin by seeing how God reverses our circumstances, and this is the shadow of the redemption that is ours in Christ. We see the contrast between those seeking earthly glory, and the glory of God–including the glory He bestows on His own. We see His presence, and our need to understand both His immanence (nearness) and His transcendence (holiness). And lastly, Kingship. This beautiful historical book has many rich lessons for us, but these are ones we’ll see repeated throughout.

1 Samuel 9:9, people commonly sought the LORD saying “Let us go to the seer.”  Yet, in chapter 3 we are reminded that there may be many priests and prophets, but not much WORD.  Judges yes, but not all prophesied.  What is a prophet?  Not foremost one fortelling of future events, but one speaking for God by calling people to faithfulness.   

The Word was scarce in those days!!!  Listen, heed, with this in mind.  Why was it scarce?  The priests did not teach, the people forgot, they did not speak of these things among themselves as instructed to in Deuteronomy 6 and 11.  

Hebrews 1:1-3 needs to guide our own reading. God spoke to the fathers in the prophets, but now [but now it is different] in His Son! Look for how and through what means God speaks.  Rejoice in what He did.  Rejoice in His Spirit’s indwelling and guiding us as we read and find encouragement (Romans 15:4-14).


Chapter one opens by showing us the family life of Elkanah the Ephraimite, and a trip to Shiloh. Shiloh is connected to the promise made to Judah in Genesis 49:15, concerning Kingship. Shiloh was known since Joshua 18 as the place of worship, with the tent of meeting. When the land first had rest, the tent first had a resting place. We will discuss more throughout this study about Shiloh (visiting other texts as well). For now, we keep in mind that this is the place where His presence should have been expected, the place where Elkanah’s family goes to worship, where the priest Eli presides.

We know from the beginning that Elkanah loves his wife Hannah, yet due to the cultural practice of wanting a male heir, he succumbs to polygamy. This is not sanctioned by God, this is history–not a paradigm for living. We know the ideal has always been “Adam and Eve” yet here is a man with two wives. In verse 6 this second wife is called Hannah’s rival. Both women must have been dealing with hurts and insecurities and shattered dreams. One becomes a rival, lashing out. One prays.

The husband loves Hannah so much that he blesses her with double portion to offer the LORD. His love is seen once again as he struggles to comfort Hannah. Though the other wife is a rival, his own love and devotion to Hannah never wanes.

As they go to worship, they encounter Eli, the priest. He is seated before the tent of meeting, in a seat–a position of honor in that time. (Keep this in mind, we will visit this again!).

1:12 Hannah prayed before the Lord, later, to the Lord.  “Before the LORD” implies His presence, and her knowledge of His intimate presence.  This is a woman who lived Coram Deo.   

1:15  Hannah prays with all her inner being, no holding back. We have an inner man: thoughts, feelings, plans, desires, intentions, fears, doubts, worries, joys…He knows it (as Hannah tells us later, in chapter 2), do we pour it out before Him in prayer?  Do we struggle inwardly?  Does our struggle move us to prayer, or to hide (like the author of Ecclesiastes)? 

Do the priests share this same view, of living consciously in His presence? Eli uses the formal, not intimate name in verse 17 to say “God bless you.”  This hints at the state of his knowledge of God, his familiarity, his awe or lack thereof.

Vs 23, look at the freedom Elkanah gives her!  So un-cultural, yet not ungodly.  A beautiful reminder of how free we ought to be in our marriages, and not to try to map out “biblical submission” based on culture. He trusted his wife, and did not control her worship of God, he did not try to be a mediator. When she does present Samuel, Elkanah gives her more than the usual offering given at the presentation of a firstborn.  

1:28 They worship.  Notice that Hannah declares what God has done for her to Eli, and Eli the priest is then drawn to worship. He changes his wording, and uses the covenant Name, YHWH! What a beautiful testimony.

Hannah’s song

Imagine the scene before we read…who hears her?  Husband?  Her rival?  Priest?  Priest’s sons?  Those who approach in worship, and those who approach by rote?  What would your song be? 

God chose her to see and know Him in ways others had not yet–or were not faithfully proclaiming.  (1 Peter 2:9 so that we may proclaim …). She quotes from Deuteronomy 32:30 and 39, and Exodus 15:11; and is quoted often in various Psalms.

Notice Hannah does not focus her prayer on the baby, or on only what God has done in creating life in her dead womb and removing her cultural stigma (cultural shame, different from sinful shame).  

She proclaims God’s holiness, uniqueness, and is in awe of His knowledge and perfections. She proclaims that YHWH has reversed her condition, and indeed can reverse the condition of any–He makes the rich poor and vice versa. He brings down and raises up. He kills and gives life (a rough one to wrestle with, but you must beloved. Here you need to spend time asking His Spirit to teach you; see also Deuteronomy 32:39; 2 Kings 5:7; Rev 2:23; 1 Cor. 15:22, Acts 12:20ff…  could happen in the moment, but ultimately, who holds the keys of death?  Jesus Rev 1:18. Through the fear of death Satan has reigned, but no more, Jesus has removed the sting, and shown us how sure our hope is.).

As we will be walking through this prayer again in December, alongside Mary’s prayer in Luke 1, we will not outline it fully here.

Before the LORD

Chapter two continues by contrasting Eli’s sons to Samuel. They were “worthless” and did not even know YHWH. They sinned greatly, and brought others into their sins. Yet Samuel ministered “before the LORD” and grew up “before the LORD,” the very phrase that implies Samuel’s knowledge of being ever in the presence of the covenant keeping God. The child, where did he learn this? Was it those few years with Hannah, ending with her beautiful prayer?

So Samuel continues to grow in favor with the LORD and people, while Eli’s sons continue to be dishonorable and grow in disfavor. Eli had once spoken to his sons, but it was not a very convincing rebuke. Yet in 2:25 we see the need for a mediator,  A Mediator!  When we read this text in light of humanity’s need, what beauty.

And the Mediator we need would be the very King we need, the Son of David, according to Paul’s gospel (See Romans 1:3 and 2 Timothy 2:8) and would be according to the faithful mercies shown to David (Isaiah 55:1-3).  (It is good to study 1 Samuel looking for these mercies shown to David–and focusing not so much on David but on the God who shows mercy!)  

Unnamed Prophet

A man of God, a phrase meaning “prophet,” comes to Eli to speak about his sons. The priesthood is neglected; the actions expected are being carried out improperly, there is no pleasing aroma to the Lord (Leviticus 1:9). Eli will be held responsible. Honor is the key word here, contrasted with despise. Eli ought to have honored YHWH, but by misplaced devotion to his sons (by not properly disciplining, training, rebuking, etc) he dishonors God. Eli is told that his two sons will die the same day.

Yet YHWH promises to raise up a man to be a faithful priest. In the near future, this would be Zadok. In 2:35 the term my anointed means king in context ; look back in Hannah’s song in 1 Sam 2:10b.  According to the NT, Christ is not only a faithful priest but an anointed king.  The Old Testament prophesies are so rich, concerning a coming prophet, coming priest, and coming king; some show us how they are connected (see Zech. 6). Here we see how this ought to work into our worship–they waited for this Messiah to come, and we look back delighting that He has!  

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