March 27 Reading: I Samuel 1-3 Commentary

Below is our I Samuel 1-3 commentary from our Beginning to End Bible reading program. You can find an email link at the end of this page to share your thoughts or comments with us.

Key Verse(s):

“Then she [Hannah] made a vow and said, ‘O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.'” (I Sam. 1:11)

“And Samuel answered, ‘Speak, for Your servant hears.'” (I Sam. 3:10)

Intro to I Samuel

commentaryI Samuel is an account of how the monarchy political structure came to Israel. The book is centered around the anointing of Saul to be Israel’s first king. His reign would be characterized by disobedience and conflict, which would give way to the David assuming the throne. Under David’s godly leadership, Israel thrived.

It is worth noting that the role of high priest did continue through the book of Judges. In I Samuel 1, we are introduced to the current high priest, Eli. Phinehas, son of Eleazar, was the last high priest mentioned in Judges (Judges 20:28). Eli was from the family of Ithamar, Aaron’s fourth son (I Chron. 24:1, 3). So at some point, the high priest position passed from Eleazar’s to Ithamar’s family line, although we do not know how.

The book is named after Samuel who is the dominant figure in the first half of the book. Many consider him to be the main author of I and II Samuel as well. He served as the Lord’s prophet during the end of the judges era.

In that regard, he could be considered the last judge of Israel, in that the people looked to him for wisdom and guidance. He also on occasion fulfilled some priestly roles, in that he was charged with offering sacrifices to the Lord. So, in a way, he served the roles of prophet, priest and king (i.e. judge) during a time when Israel’s unity and spiritual desire were at a low point.

I Samuel 1 – Elkanah’s Family Situation

The book of I Samuel begins with an introduction to the family of Elkanah. He lived in the mountains of Ephraim (v. 1) and had two wives – Hannah and Peninnah. Of the two, Hannah had no children (v. 2).

Each year, Elkanah went with his wives to worship and make sacrifices to the Lord in Shiloh. While there, he gave portions to Penninah and all her sons and daughters. However, he gave a double portion to Hannah because he loved her even though God had closed her womb (vv. 4-5).

Sadly, with a cruel and hurtful spirit, Penninah provoked Hannah year after year because she had no children (v. 6). It was so severe that it made Hannah miserable to the point that she did not eat (v. 7).

Hannah’s Vow

Hannah’s despair over not being able to have children is deep. Elkanah is empathetic but is at a loss at what to do. He tries to encourage her with his love (v. 8) the best he can.

After a banquet one evening, Hannah finds herself at the entrance of the tabernacle where people would come to worship.

The text describes Hannah’s emotional state as being “in bitterness of soul” (v. 10). Out of her despair she prayed. And in her prayer, she made a vow to the Lord saying:

“O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.” (v. 11)

What struck Eli is that he saw Hannah’s mouth moving but no words were coming out. So he assumed she was drunk and scolded her for it (vv. 12-14). However, Hannah assures him that is not the case (v. 15). Her prayer has been so intense because of her grief (v. 16).

Eli encourages her to go in peace. He blesses her saying, “[may] the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him” (v. 17).

What is notable is that Hannah was no longer sad and now was willing to eat (v. 18). She’d poured her complaint and request out to God instead of holding it in and becoming bitter. There was nothing else she could do but leave her situation in God’s hands. That’s a great lesson about the power of releasing something to God through prayer.

The Birth of Samuel

God heard Hannah’s prayer. In time, “Hannah conceived and bore a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, “Because I have asked for him from the Lord” (v. 20).

And true to her word, once the child was weaned, she took him to Eli (vv. 21-26). She worshipped the Lord for his goodness, telling Eli, “…For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition which I asked of Him. Therefore I also have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives he shall be lent to the Lord (vv. 27-28).

Hannah’s Worshipful Prayer

The beginning of I Samuel 2 recounts a beautiful prayer of worship from Hannah over the birth of her child (vv. 1-10). One can feel the praise and thankfulness emanating from her words. A few notable thoughts include these:

“My heart rejoices in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord. I smile at my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation. No one is holy like the Lord, for there is none besides You, nor is there any rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly; let no arrogance come from your mouth, for the Lord is the God of knowledge; and by Him actions are weighed…” (vv. 1-3).

The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap…” (vv. 6-8).

What a testimony these words are from a woman who saw God take her from deep pain to great joy.

I Samuel 2 – Trouble in Eli’s House

Not all was spiritually right in Israel. Even though Eli served as high priest, there was trouble in his own household. Verse 12 of I Sam. 2 bluntly tells us Eli’s sons “…were corrupt, they did not know the Lord”. They did not have a personal relationship with God, even though they performed the priestly rituals. The language used here is strong, in that the literal meaning here says they “were sons of Belial [the devil]”.

It wasn’t just that they didn’t know the Lord. Their actions brought a stain to the priesthood. For starters, they were not obeying God’s command in regards to the portion of offerings that priests were allowed to take for their own provision. Certain parts of meat were allowed to take from the animal sacrifices (see Lev. 7:34). In their case, they were taking whatever they wanted, even demanding it before it had been consecrated to God (vv. 13-15).

What makes this even worse is that they were bullying the common man who knew the law and questioned the sons in the moment about what they were doing (v. 16). It caused people coming to sacrifice to “abhor the offering of the Lord” (v. 17).

That was not all though. Verse 22 tells us Eli’s sons were sleeping with women who came to the door of the tabernacle.

In contrast, “Samuel ministered before the Lord, even as a child…” (v. 18). His father and mother visited each year at the time of the sacrifice, bringing him clothes to wear. Eli continued to bless them with words from the Lord. And in the books final mention of Hannah, we learn that she bore three more sons and two daughters (v. 21). God was indeed kind and gracious to her for giving her son Samuel to His service.

Bad News for Eli

Eli knew all that his sons were doing. He told his sons, Why do you do such things?…it is not a good report that I hear. You make the Lord’s people transgress.  If one man sins against another, God will judge him. But if a man sins against the Lord, who will intercede for him?” (vv. 23-25). Nevertheless, they did not listen and Eli did nothing to stop them from serving. 

So God sent an unknown “man of God” to Eli with a devastating prophecy (v. 27). As leader, Eli was ultimately responsible and guilty of dishonoring the sacrifices and offerings of the Lord (v. 29). Had Eli honored the Lord, he too would have been honored (v. 30). But now, God is bringing judgment on his household. The man of God tells Eli:

“Behold, the days are coming that I will cut off your arm and the arm of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house…all the descendants of your house shall die in the flower of their age. Now this shall be a sign to you that will come upon your two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas: in one day they shall die, both of them” (vv. 31-34).

But the prophecy does not end there. The man of God concludes by saying:

“Then I [God] will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall walk before My anointed forever” (v. 35).

No doubt this prophet was referring to Samuel who was growing “…in stature, and in favor both with the Lord and men” (v. 26).

I Samuel 3 – God Connects with Samuel

God wasn’t speaking much to the people at the time. Verse one of Chap. 3 says there was “no widespread revelation” when Samuel ministered for God as a youth with Eli. So it’s no wonder that he didn’t know what was happening on the night God first spoke to him.

Eli had gone to sleep in his quarters. Nearby, Samuel was lying down as well. And then “…before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle where the ark of the God was…the Lord called Samuel” (vv. 3-4).

Thinking it was Eli, Samuel went to him asking what he wanted. Eli told Samuel that he did not call him. So Samuel went back to lie down (v. 5).

This calling to Samuel by God and Samuel going to Eli happened two more times (vv. 6-9). Samuel did not yet know the Lord because God had not revealed himself to Samuel (v. 7). So both were confused about what was happening.

But Eli clues in on Samuel’s third trip to him that Samuel might be hearing from God. He tells Samuel, “Go, lie down; and it shall be, if He calls you, that you must say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears.'” (v. 9).

So that is what Samuel did. And on God’s fourth attempt, He connects with Samuel who says, “Speak, for your servant hears” (v. 10).

Samuel’s First Prophecy

God’s word must have come as a shock to young Samuel. Being around the tabernacle, he probably knew about the sins of Eli’s sons. But, until now, we have no indication that Samuel knew about God’s coming judgment for their sin.

In this encounter, God told Samuel:

“Behold, I will do something in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them. And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever” (vv. 11-14).

The next morning, Samuel was afraid to tell Eli what God had said (v. 15). But Eli essentially made him swear with an oath to tell him or else God would bring retribution on Samuel (v. 17). So Samuel told him all that God had said about the future of his house (v. 18).

Eli’s reaction is telling. After hearing God’s word to Samuel, Eli says, “It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good to Him” (v. 18). The matter-of-fact nature of Eli’s statement signals a man resigned to the fact that he had not been diligent in regard to his son’s behavior and that nothing could stop God’s impending judgment for his failure.

As Samuel grew, God continued to be with him and speak through him (v. 19). This happened so much that “…all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel had been established as a prophet of the Lord” (v. 20).

Questions to Consider:

“My heart rejoices in the Lord…There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” (I Samuel 2:1-2)

“…for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed.” (I Sam. 2:30)

What is the thing in your life that you have prayed the most passionately about? 

As a young boy, Samuel had never heard from the Lord before. So when God called, he wasn’t sure what he was hearing. When he realized it was God and then listened, God gave him a message that would change is life forever. Do you have ears to hear? When the Lord calls, are you open to listening?

What other points would you want to know about in our I Samuel 1-3 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.