1 Samuel 1-3

1 Samuel 1-3

SERIES: Leadership in Hard Times

The Difference a Godly Home Makes

SPEAKER: Michael P. Andrus

Introduction: It’s good to be back with you this morning after fulfilling a life-long dream of visiting Egypt.  Several previous attempts to go there had been scuttled by Mideast politics, but this one went off without a hitch.  We (Saba Khalil, Brad Baraks, Mark Friz, and I) enjoyed wonderful hospitality and filled our eyes and minds with the magnificence of a civilization that was already ancient when Abraham visited there more than 4000 years ago.  I would love to give a travelogue this morning, but I have something even more exciting, and that’s a new series from the Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Samuel.  

With the advice and consent of the pastors and elders I decided I would begin a series on the life of one of the great OT characters–David.  He is introduced to us in 1 Samuel 16, and his life consumes the rest of 1 Samuel and all of 2 Samuel, extending even into the early chapters of 1 Kings.  The life of David is presented in story form–one story after another, often isolated events but with a profound central focus on what it means to be a man after God’s heart.  Eugene Peterson writes that “the David story is the most extensively narrated single story in this large story (the Bible).  We know more about David than any other person in Holy Scripture.”[i]

But I faced several dilemmas as I began to work on this series.  First, the account of David’s life is so intimately interwoven with Saul’s, and Saul’s with Samuel’s, that it seemed impossible to do justice to David unless we first looked at some of the background in the early chapters of 1 Samuel. Therefore, we’re going to take a half dozen Sundays to consider the lives of Samuel and Saul before we start the David Story.

Historical context 

But even so, we still run the risk of failing to see how this period fits into the flow of biblical history.  I want to begin today by briefly painting the larger picture for you, providing a framework into which we can place the events we encounter in 1 and 2 Samuel.  (One of the most important principles of learning is the Principle of Association.  We learn best when we associate new material with what we already know, rather than treating them as isolated data points). 

So, here is a 5-minute overview of OT history from Genesis to 1 Samuel.  The book of Genesis opens with four great events: Creation, the Fall, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel.  None of these events are precisely datable, despite many attempts to add up the years in the various genealogies.  The first datable person in the OT is probably Abraham, who was the first of four Great Patriarchs and the father of the nation of Israel.  He lived from about 2100 B.C., and was followed by Isaac (2000), Jacob (1900), and Joseph (1800). 

Joseph was sold as a slave by his brothers, who were very jealous of his position as the favorite son of Jacob.  He ended up in Egypt, serving one of Pharaoh’s officials named Potiphar until he was framed by Potiphar’s wife and thrown into prison.  But God was with him, eventually moving him into a position tantamount to Prime Minister of Egypt.  Joseph was reunited with his family decades later, and he intervened with Pharaoh in their behalf.  The result is that the family of Jacob was invited to reside in the Nile delta, where they became prosperous farmers and shepherds.  

Eventually a Pharaoh came to power who knew not Joseph, and soon the Hebrews found themselves slaves in a foreign land.  Their sojourn lasted about 400 years, from roughly the 19th century to the 15th century B.C.  But then at their lowest point God raised up a special prophet named Moses, who led the children of Israel out of Egypt in about 1446 B.C.  That event, called the Exodus, became the defining moment in Israel’s history, but while the journey to Palestine should have taken at most three months, the trip took almost 40 years because of God’s judgment on a faithless people.  (Ten days ago I stood on the top of Mt. Sinai and understood probably for the first time the grumblings of Israel.  Believe me, the Sinai Peninsula is barren beyond anything I have seen before.  It makes the high desert of Utah or the Badlands of South Dakota look like the Garden of Eden!).  

Eventually, of course, the wilderness wanderings ended as they arrived at the doorstep of the Promised Land.  Moses was not allowed to enter because of a presumptive act on his part, and he died there, with God Himself burying him on Mt. Nebo in present-day Jordan.  His protege Joshua was chosen to take the people across the Jordan River and to conquer the Promised Land.  

God’s intent was to establish a theocracy, with Himself ruling through a series of Judges (the time frame was roughly from 1400-1100).  The last of these judges was Samuel, and that brings us to our Scripture passage for today.  I am going to read an extensive portion this morning.  I do not apologize, because I believe there is great value in the public reading of the Bible.  Let’s begin with 1 Samuel 1:1: 

         There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.              

Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. And because the Lord had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. Elkanah her husband would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” 

Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s temple. In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord. And she made a vow, saying, “O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”

As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and 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.” 

“Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.” 

Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” 

She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast. 

Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah lay with Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her. So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.” 

When the man Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the LORD and to fulfill his vow, Hannah did not go.  She said to her husband, “After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the LORD, and he will live there always.” 

“Do what seems best to you,” Elkanah her husband told her. “Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the LORD make good his word.”  So the woman stayed at home and nursed her son until she had weaned him.

After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh.  When they had slaughtered the bull, they brought the boy to Eli, and she said to him, “As surely as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD.  I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him.  So now I give him to the LORD.  For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD.”  And he worshiped the LORD there.  

Now please skip with me to chapter 2, verse 11:   

Then Elkanah went home to Ramah, but the boy (Samuel) ministered before the LORD under Eli the priest.  

Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD.  (The following verses describe their selfishness and even violence in seizing the sacrifices of the worshipers who came to the Tabernacle.  We pick up the story in verse 17.)

This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD’s sight, for they were treating the LORD’s offering with contempt.

But Samuel was ministering before the LORD–a boy wearing a linen ephod. 

(Verse 22). Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.  So he said to them, “Why do you do such things?  I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours.  No, my sons; it is not a good report that I hear spreading among the LORD’s people.  If a man sins against another man, God may mediate for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?”  His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the LORD’s will to put them to death.  

And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and with men.  

In the next paragraph we find a man of God coming to Eli and delivering a devastating judgment.  He says to Eli in verse 29, 

“Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling?  Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?”

“Therefore, the LORD, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that your house and your father’s house would minister before me forever.  But now the LORD declares: ‘Far be it from me!  Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained.  The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your family line and you will see distress in my dwelling.  Although good will be done to Israel, in your family line there will never be an old man. Every one of you that I do not cut off from my altar will be spared only to blind your eyes with tears and to grieve your heart, and all your descendants will die in the prime of life. 

And what happens to your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, will be a sign to you–they will both die on the same day.  I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind.  I will firmly establish his house, and he will minister before my anointed one always.”

The theme I want to share this morning is: “The Difference a Godly Home Makes.”  The Scripture I have read is a study in spiritual contrasts between two families.  I don’t know if you noticed, but the author takes us back and forth from the one family to the other at least a dozen times in the first three chapters, his purpose being to impress indelibly on our minds the contrast between a godly home and one that only pretends to be. 

Two different parents:  Hannah and Eli

If you knew only the outward circumstances of these two individuals, who do you think would make the better parent?  Hannah is a farmer’s wife who shares her husband with another woman in a polygamous marriage.  She is barren at an advanced age, and, as a result, suffers from an inferiority complex.  Favoritism is practiced in the home, and the result is a lack of unity and harmony.  Hannah lives so far from the house of worship that she can only make the trip once a year.  When she finally has a child, she gives him up at a very young age to the care of a man in his 90’s, far from home.  Not a very promising environment for developing leadership in a young boy!

On the other hand, there is Eli, a priest and a judge of Israel, having served for over 40 years.  He has a gentle and quiet spirit with an intense loyalty to the ark of the covenant and to the central sanctuary at Shiloh, where he serves.  He has a deep faith in God, discerns God’s will even at a time when revelation is rare, accepts judgment from the Lord without complaint, and provides extraordinary care over the young lad put in his care.  His sons follow their father’s footsteps into ministry.

Whose home has the greater potential for developing godly leadership–Hannah’s or Eli’s?  There’s not a person here, knowing only these facts, who would not choose the home of Eli.  But that choice would be wrong, for there is much here that doesn’t immediately meet the eye.  

Hannah, a childless, helpless woman seeks God in the face of personal tragedy.

She suffered deeply but knew where to go with her pain and bitterness.  Hannah had a problem only a woman can fully understand–she wanted a child and could not have one.  Millions of women suffer today from this personal tragedy, but, if possible, it was an even greater tragedy for Hannah, for in addition to the disappointment any woman would naturally feel, the ancient Hebrew view was that barrenness marked one out as dishonored by God. 

On top of that she had to put up with the constant provocation of another woman in her home who was constantly gloating when another month passed and still no pregnancy.  I can just hear her:  “The hangar still empty, Hannah?  It sure isn’t Elkanah’s fault!  He’s given me children.  Maybe you should get a new thermometer!”  Furthermore, on top of the pain of ridicule was the pain of an insensitive husband.  I’m sure Elkanah did the best he could to deal with a difficult situation, but his awkward attempts to console her only made matters worse.  He said, “Hannah, why are you weeping?  Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”  Well, Elkanah, no, you don’t.  No spouse can take the place of a child, or, for that matter, a child the place of a spouse.  

But Hannah’s suffering is not just at the hands of her husband and the other woman, but also at the hands of her pastor.  Eli, the high priest, saw her praying, moving her lips but making no sounds, and he accused her of being drunk.  Talk about having a knife stuck in and twisted!  There’s a valuable lesson here, friends.  There will come times in our lives when even those we trust the most will fail us.  Hannah’s response should be a model in such a situation:  she protested, respectfully, setting the facts straight and testifying to her faith in God.  Then she left the rest up to God.  

So Hannah is suffering in a way that only someone in her shoes could ever understand.  But I find that this helpless and pathetic woman goes to the right place with her broken heart.  Verse 10 says, “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.”  You know something, God can handle your pain and even your bitterness; it’s safe to tell Him how you feel.  As a matter of fact, He’s probably the only one who is perfectly safe.  Dump it on someone else and you may get a nasty reaction.  Bottle it up and you’ll pay physically.  Deny it and your emotional health will suffer.  But it’s safe to tell the Lord–He’s big enough to handle it. 

She bargained with the Lord (not always wise) and kept her word (always wise).  Making deals with God does not appear to be a habit that is encouraged in the Bible, but there are a few occasions in which God tolerated it.  I suspect God was more moved by Hannah’s persistence and her extreme heartache than by the deal she offered.  Be that as it may, verse 19 says that the Lord remembered her.  That doesn’t mean He called to mind her name.  It means He actively worked in her behalf to do that which was best for her.  

After Hannah received from the Lord the child she desperately prayed for, she didn’t forget how she got him, nor did she forget the promise she made to the Lord.  She took little Samuel, now possibly three years old and brought him to the sanctuary to dedicate Him to the Lord.  It’s relatively easy for us to dedicate our children today, but for her it meant that he must stay there.  She said, “So now I give him to the Lord.  For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.”  

We could spend a lot of time debating whether separation of a small child from his mother could ever be the best thing for him, but we simply don’t know enough about the situation to make such a judgment.  In fact, it is not actually certain that she left him alone at the sanctuary, at least when he was small.  Notice 2:11, where it says, “Then Elkanah went home to Ramah, but the boy ministered before the Lord under Eli the priest.”  What about Hannah?  It doesn’t say she went home; perhaps she stayed there as his guardian.  Later, of course, it seems clear that she did leave and return to her home without him.  But even then, she did not abandon him, but visited him with regularity, bring him a new little coat each time.

One thing we can say with certainty is that Hannah was a woman of her word and a woman who had an incredible faith in God to accomplish good in her son’s life.  Many who make vows to God under the pressure begin to pare them down when the pressure is removed.  Ancient folklore tells us of a merchant in a storm who vowed to sacrifice 100 oxen to Jupiter should he survive, but when he did, he reduced his offer to one, then the ox to a sheep, the sheep to a few dates, which he ate on the way to the altar, laying on it only the pits.  God makes it very clear to us that it’s far better to make no vows at all than to make them and not keep them.  

She offered a profound prayer of praise to God.  I wish we had time to examine in some detail the beautiful prayer of praise Hannah offered to the Lord in the first half of chapter 2, but that will have to await another time.  It is a powerful prayer that focuses upon the great attributes of God—His holiness, power, justice, providence, sovereignty, and faithfulness.  There is no question that she knew God personally.

Now it’s time for us to look under the surface of Eli’s character as well, for while it is obvious that he was a powerful, influential man and had some of the marks of a hero of the faith, he was a tragic hero, for the one flaw he had was a fatal one, and it alone disqualified him for the job God had called him to do.

God says of leaders among His people, “He must manage his own family well, and see that his children obey him with proper respect.  If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church? (I Timothy 3:4-5) Those words scream out the name “Eli” as the paradigm example of someone who did everything right except the most important thing. 

Eli, a powerful, influential man, fails at his greatest responsibility.  

He was apparently preoccupied with ministry to the exclusion of family needs.  Eli was probably too busy being a priest and a judge to be a significant influence in the lives of his sons.  Where was he in their formative years?  Why wasn’t he there to see their rebelliousness and deal with it early?  This is a problem that can affect any family, but it is a particular temptation for ministers to rationalize the neglect of their immediate family by pointing out all they are doing for the family of God.  I wonder if one of the reasons Eli was so solicitous of the welfare of little Samuel was because of a sense of guilt over his failure with his own boys.  But God doesn’t accept substitutes in this area.

He honored his sons more than he honored the Lord.  That’s what God Himself accuses Eli of in 2:29: “Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling?  Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?”  I take it that means that he was more interested in keeping his sons happy and currying their favor than he was in pleasing God.  It’s not that Eli intended to dishonor God, but he apparently doted on his sons, perhaps because he had lost his wife (she’s not mentioned in the text).  

He refused to discipline his sons even when warned of their sinful lifestyle.  Did you notice that on at least three occasions Eli was warned about his sons’ behavior.  The first report came from the grapevine (2:22).  The second report came from a prophet of God (2:27) and included a blistering denunciation of Eli’s parenting.  Thirdly, even the little boy Samuel also brought a warning from God (3:18).  I think it is gracious of God to provide us warnings from others, because all parents have blind spots.  The warnings may come from a S.S. teacher, a policeman, close friends, even grandparents.  But do we become defensive and deny the problems, or do we humbly seek God’s face to do better?

Despite all the warnings it says in 3:13 that Eli “failed to restrain them.”  Oh, he rebuked them (see 2:23-25), but they did not listen to him, and God held him responsible for not demanding that they listen.  You say, but how can you make a grown child listen?  Well, one thing he could have done is to remove them from the priesthood and let them know that continued ungodly behavior could mean even further discipline, perhaps even death.  But all Eli did was talk, and talk is cheap to a rebellious child. 

So far, we have looked at two different parents–Hannah and Eli.  We have seen that one had little going for her but her faith in God; the other had everything going for him except that he failed to bring up his own children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  

Two different progeny: the son of Hannah and the sons of Eli

It should come as no surprise that the progeny of these two different parents are as different as the parents.  Everything we hear about young Samuel in these chapters demonstrates genuine character.  Look at the comments, brief as they are:

2:11:  “the boy ministered before the Lord under Eli the priest.”

2:18:  “But Samuel was ministering before the Lord.”

2:26:  “And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men.”

3:1:  “The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli.”  

It’s hard to imagine a child growing up with a greater sense of respect for authority, personal integrity, and godliness than this boy.  It’s not what we would expect from one who was deprived of his father’s influence in his life and much of the normal maternal care.  But it’s amazing what God will do in a family where the parents sincerely desire to obey Him and put Him first.

Well, what about the sons of Eli?  They are first identified as priests, serving apparently as their father’s assistants.  They were showered with all the advantages a child could desire.  But then we are told in 2:12 that “Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord.”  They were greedy, abusive, and violent.  They brought great disrepute on the name of the Lord by committing fornication with the women who served at the Tabernacle.  They also refused to listen to their father’s counsel.

Eli himself put his finger on the magnitude of their sin.  He said, “If a man sins against another man, God may mediate for him; but if a man sins against the Lord, who will intercede for him?” (2:25).  Every one of the evil deeds of Hophni and Phinehas was exacerbated by the fact that it was done in connection with ministry.  There is a special accountability that God demands of those who take on a priestly or pastoral role for his people.

Strangely, Hannah’s son, deprived of some of the greatest blessings of childhood, nevertheless learns obedience and servanthood, while Hophni and Phinehas earn the wrath of God. 

Two different results: exaltation and judgment

The faithfulness of Hannah led to exaltation for her son, and Samuel became a great leader of God’s people.  Look at 3:19-21:  “The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and He let none of his words fall to the ground.  And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord.  The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.  And Samuel’s word came to all Israel.”  

And what was the result of the failure of Eli?  It says in 2:25 of his sons, “it was the Lord’s will to put them to death.”  I cannot think of a worse charge to lay at someone’s door than that the Lord wanted to kill them.  A few verses later God says, “Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained.”  Just as God promised, Hophni and Phinehas both died on the same day.  And Eli himself died when he received the news.

Some principles to ponder

1.  From bitter pain may come great promise if the pain leads us to God.  As C. S. Lewis put it, “pain is the megaphone God uses to get our attention.”[ii]  It can either drive us to bitterness or it can drive us to God.  Hannah allowed her pain to drive her to God, and great blessing resulted.

2.  When we give to the Lord, we can never give ourselves poor.  This is true even of the gift of our children.  Hannah was rewarded in several ways for her willingness to give her son to the Lord.  She saw God exalt him to a great place of leadership, but that’s not all.  In 2:20 Eli prayed that the Lord would give Hannah children “to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the Lord.”  Then one verse later it says, “And the Lord was gracious to Hannah; she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters.”  The principle still applies today, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.” (Eccl. 11:1)

3.  It’s not enough for our children to know the Lord through us or through the church; they must know Him personally.  Despite all we have said this morning about the importance of a godly home, no parent can believe for a child.  We must lead our children to the water of life and then encourage, help, and urge them to drink of it freely themselves, but every child must make a personal choice whether to follow God. 

Perhaps there are some young people here this morning who have been operating on your parent’s faith or considering yourself safe because you attend a Bible-believing church.  The question I would ask you is, “Do you know God personally?  Have you received Jesus Christ as Lord of your life?  Are there some steps like baptism and joining the church that you should consider on your own as public testimonies of your faith, not because your parents have urged it, but rather because your Lord has commanded it?”

Friends, God is looking for godly leaders for the hard times in which we live–leaders of homes, leaders at church, leaders in the community.  He looks for character, and character is molded early.  May we receive His instruction and encouragement this morning.   

DATE:  May 16, 2004      



History of the OT




Discipline of children

[i]. Eugene Peterson, Leap Over a Wall, 3. 

[ii] C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.

1 Samuel 4-7