1 Sam 1:1-8:22
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Relationship to Samuel. The relationship of 1 Samuel 1-8 to the rest of Samuel is discussed at Samuel.
Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in 1 Samuel 1-8 include:
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- 1 Sam 1-3: Purposes of Eli story. Possible reasons for including the Eli story in Samuel include:
- Establishing Eli's acceptance of punishment as a foil against which to compare Saul's rebellion against God's punishment.
- Introducing Samuel's receipt of revelation from God even from a young age.
- Marking a low point in Israelite history where even the ark of the covenant is captured by enemies.
- Establishing the importance of the ark of the covenant.
- 1 Sam 2:3: Mine horn is exalted. Note this phrase is also used in verse 10. The Anchor Bible notes that the horn can be both a visible sign of success (cf. Num 23:22 and 24:8) and a symbol of progeny (cf. 1 Chr 25:5, Ps 132:17, Deut 33:16-17).
- 1 Sam 2:3: In the Lord. The Anchor Bible translates this phrase "by the Lord" (emphasis added). This translation forms a stronger contrast than the KJV with Ps 75:4-5 where the fool pridefully raises his own horn.
- 1 Sam 2:12: Sons of Belial. This expression is usually translated "good for nothing" or "worthless fellows." This phrase is also used in Deut 13:13, Judg 19:22, 1 Sam 15-16, 1 Sam 25:17, 2 Sam 20:1-2, 1 Kgs 21:9-13, and 2 Cor 6:14-15. (See the link below for more.)
- 1 Sam 2:25: The Lord would slay them. According the Anchor Bible, this phrase means that God did not have the sons of Eli repent because God wanted them to remain wicked so he could kill them. Althought this seems strange to modern readers, the ancient Hebrew view attributed all behavior to God (cf. God hardening Pharoah's heart in Ex 4:21, Ex 7:3, and Ex 9:12).
- 1 Sam 2:35: A sure house. House is usually taken to mean dynasty in this context.
- 1 Sam 2:35: Faithful priest. Although the surrounding chapters in 1 Samuel suggest this prophecy is fulfilled through Samuel, 1 Kgs 2:27 and 35 suggests this prophecy was fulfilled by Zadok (who was descended from Eleazar, the 3rd son of Aaron—in contrast, Eli was descended from Ithamar, the 4th son of Aaron, see the links below for more on this).
- Eli. See the entry on Eli in the Jewish Encyclopedia.
- Zadock. See the the entry on Zadok in the Jewish Ecyclopedia.
- Very interesting connection. I can't believe I hadn't seen that before as a reference to Zadok! Very helpful. Perhaps it raises an important point for discussion: what are we to make of Samuel? What is, for example, his role in Israel's history? Is it significant at all that Samuel the Lamanite has the same name, given the significance of naming in the Book of Mormon? He is certainly an interesting character, one who deserves greater attention. This "demotion" of sorts, suggested by 1 Kings, might well recast Samuel as more of an outsider than a first reading suggests. Any thoughts (on this most broad and vague question)?
- Eli. The book of Samuel begins with an announcement of Eli's sin and punishment. His sin is the failure to restrain his sons who he has allowed to desecrate the priestly office. (1 Sam __). There is no suggestion that Eli himself engaged in any improper behavior. But his sons took portions of the sacrifice not allotted to them, committed adultery with those who came to worship, and generally caused Israel to turn away from the worship of Jehovah. (1 Sam __). Eli is told that the punishment will be the cutting off of his house. (1 Sam __). Eli's response to the announcement of this punishment is significant. He says "___." (1 Sam __). In other words, Eli accepts and does not rebel against the punishment meted out by God. As a result, although he does die by falling off a bench upon being told that his sons have been killed (1 Sam __), he does not morally self-destruct as an enemy to God.
- 1 Sam 3:1: There was no open vision. This phrase is [often translated with the clearer meaning "visions were infrequent" (NASB) or "visions were not widespread" (NRSV).
- 1 Sam 6:12: Lowing as they went. Robert Alter (The World of Biblical Literature, pp. 101-106) suggests possible literary significance to the inclusion of the lowing of the cows here (the other details in this verse seem to be included in order to emphasize the directness of the course that the cows take in response to verse 9). First, the reason the cows are lowing is likely because their udders are full of milk because they have left their young behind. This shows that "the Lord can work his will against the grain of nature." Moreover, Alter suggest that this passage "rhymes weirdly, and suggestively, with the story of the birth of Samuel that immediately precedes it" where Hannah gives up Samuel to Eli's monastery after nursing him (1 Sam 1:23; note also the motherly devotion showed in 1 Sam 2:19).
- Later in the books of Samuel, parent-child relations also figure as a prominent theme. For example, Saul is worried about his father's protracted absence from home (1 Sam 9:5). Later, tension between Saul and his son Jonathan becomes a major theme in (e.g. 1 Sam 14, 18-20). In 2 Samuel, David nearly loses his throne to one of his own sons. Alter concludes, "If the Hebrew writers conceive Israelite history as the play of power in the always uncertain effort to carry out God's aims in the arena of political events, there is a strong sense in these stories that human submission to these aims exacts a terrible price, tearing through the ligatures that bind parent and child, displacing people from the organic realm of biological connection to the sometimes murderous and usually corrupting realm of politics" (p. 105).
- 1 Sam 8:7-9: God's view of a king for Israel. In these verses, God tells Samuel to grant Israel's request for a king, but also to "protest solemnly unto them" and to describe "the manner of the king that shall reign over them" (v. 9). In previous scriptures, God has promised that Israel would have "kings" (cf. Gen 17:6, 16; 35:11; 36:31; Deut 17:14-20), including a "kingdom" (cf. Ex 19:6; Num 24:7) and a "dominion" (Num 24:19). These promises could be taken as God having designs for Israel to have a king because it would be desirable. Alternatively, the precedcing scriptures about kings could be taken as prophecy. For example, Deut 17:14-20 is often taken as simply a prophecy of Israelite kings, not something that God promises to Israel as a blessing or as part of God's originally designed plans for Israel. Regardless, God's condemnation of Israel in verse 7 for rejecting Him as their king (and desiring to be "like all the nations" in verse 5) seems to be the rationale for Samuel's warning about kings in verses 11-18 and chapter 12.
- The Davidic Covenant as given in 2 Sam 7:11-16 may also have relevance for discerning God's view of kings for Israel. One argument would be that if Christ was foreordained (1 Pet 1:20) to be the King of kings (1 Tim 6:15), then this presupposes a kingdom for Israel. This discussion might also be connected with Mosiah 29, where King Mosiah gives a lengthy speech condemning kingship in general. It should be noted, however, that a broader reading of the Book of Mormon does not suggest that the switch from kingship to judgeship resulted in a more general salvation or in a more righteous people. Rather, the rise of something other than a monarchy led to some of the greatest periods of depravity in Nephite history. Perhaps the key verse there--one which sheds a great deal of light on the issue as presented in these verses--is Mosiah 29:38. There it is clear that the distinction between monarchy and some other, more "democratic" form of government is a question of responsibility. It may, therefore, be that the Lord's opinion on government is dependent upon His purposes at any given point in history: wherever He desires that there be responsibility, He sets up that possibility.
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