In my reading today, I was struck by the contrasts between the different characters to whom we are introduced in the opening chapters of 1 Samuel.
First is a worthy woman, Hannah. She is barren and tormented by her husband’s other wife, but God has not turned away from her. In fact, we are told that He closed her womb (1 Sam 1:6). She weeps bitterly before the Lord and He hears her cries and graciously gives her a son, whom she dedicates to God. What strikes me about Hannah is her song in chapter 2. She breaks forth into a spontaneous, passionate account of God’s great sovereignty over all things. She is a woman of unwavering faith, which makes the next two characters seem all the more worthless.
Hophni and Phinehas are sons of Eli, and priests of God, they do not follow or believe in God (2:12), they steal people’s offerings (2:13-17), and they sleep with the church volunteers (2:22). These are sons of Levi, men charged with the responsibility of leading the people of Israel into relationship with the Almighty God, and they were fornicators, thieves, and gluttons. What’s worse, their father allowed their behavior, and it cost him dearly, but more on that in a minute.
The willing child is the fruit of Hannah’s faithful plea and the one for whom this book is named. Samuel grew up in the house of Eli, dedicated to God, on permanent loan as his mother puts it (1:28). He serves faithfully in the house of Eli, growing in stature with God and man (2:26). And he is the recipient of a very special blessing from the Lord. Chapter 3 verse 1 says that the word of the Lord was rarely heard by man, but God chose to speak with Samuel, declaring to him his plan to end the house of Eli.
Eli is the washed-up old man. I say washed-up because he has let his wicked children ruin Israel and he has done little to merit honor in his old age. Because of his faithlessness, and his sons wickedness, God promises to end his household forever. He is told that no amount of sacrifice will atone for the sins of his family (3:14). That is something I would not wish on anyone. The family of Eli will die with him, and bring to an end their time of serving before the Lord. They did not honor Him and serve Him well, therefore, He will not honor them.
So what do we do with all this?
I would hope that it is clear whom we should imitate from these verses. Hannah and Samuel display characteristics that are consistent with the call of the Christian. We are to acknowledge God for His great power, His lovingkindness, and His grace toward us in making us fruitful while we were barren. We are to live lives that are both outwardly and inwardly honoring to God that we might grow in favor with both God and man. And at the same time, we are to reject the faithless, fornicating ways of Eli and his sons.
God has been so gracious to us in Christ, our response must be one of loving, faithful obedience. In this we bring Him great glory.