1 Samuel 1: Samuel Promised
In the days after Joshua and before there was a king in Israel the Lord sent judges to deliver the people from one enemy and another. You know the names of some of them and the service that they did. Samuel was the last and greatest of the judges. He was "a prophet of the Lord."
Samuel's father and mother had come to the tabernacle to worship. What was the tabernacle? Tell me about the sacred building, its rooms, its walls, its roof, its furniture, which were described to Moses at Sinai, and the pattern was shown him in the mount. When Joshua and the people came into the land of Canaan the tabernacle was set up at Shiloh, the place of rest. It was near the middle of the land where it could be reached from every part, a quiet place, a little off the main line of travel. The story of Micah and the Danites shows us how sadly the tabernacle and the Lord's commandments were forgotten in those days. Some of the priests in charge of the tabernacle were not good men - the sons of the old priest Eli.
There were still some faithful people who remembered the Lord and went each year to the tabernacle at Shiloh, perhaps especially at the time of the Passover in the spring. Among these was Samuel’s family. His mother's name was Hannah. They lived not far from Shiloh and went each year to the tabernacle "to worship and to sacrifice unto the Lord of hosts." They were at the tabernacle on one of their yearly visits, and Hannah prayed in bitterness of soul and wept sore. Her prayer was that she might have a son, and she promised that she would give him unto the Lord all the days of his life. He should be a Nazarite like Samson, set apart as holy to the Lord. Hannah did not speak her prayer aloud. The old priest Eli who sat upon a seat by a post of the tabernacle and saw her lips move did not know what she asked, but the Lord knew. He hears all prayers. She went back to her home and her prayer was answered. Samuel was born, whose name means "asked of God." He lived at home with his mother until he was weaned, perhaps until he was six or seven years old. Then she took him to the tabernacle "that he may," as she said, "appear before the Lord and there abide forever." He would live at the tabernacle and help the old priest Eli and would be the Lord's child. Samuel himself was dressed like a little priest, and his mother made him a little coat and brought it to him from year to year when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.
We are to learn about Samuel, the last and greatest of the series of judges which had included Barak, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson, and others. You will know that Samuel was the last of the judges when you remember that he anointed the first two kings, Saul and David. Samuel's home was Ramah (1 Sam. 7:17), or as it is called in our chapter Ramathaim. But there were many Ramahs, for "Ramah" means a "hill," and "Ramathaim" a "double hill." That it was in the hills of Ephraim and in the land Zuph (1 Sam. 9:5), shows at least that it was not very far from Shiloh, which also was in Ephraim, making easy for Samuel's parents a yearly visit for worship at the tabernacle.
What was the tabernacle? When was it built and where? How did Moses learn the pattern of the building and its furniture? How were the walls made? How was the roof made? What were the three parts of the building? What was the inmost chamber called and what was in it? What was the outer chamber called and what was there? What was in the court?
The tabernacle was carried by the children of Israel in their journey from Sinai to the Holy Land, and after the land was conquered under Joshua, it was set up at Shiloh, the "place of rest." (Joshua 18:1) Can you find Shiloh on the map? It was southeast of Shechem, near the middle of the land, where it could be reached from every part, but was quieter because a little way off the main line of travel. You can still see the little hill where Shiloh stood, with a meadow about it, shut in by higher hills. The tabernacle stayed in Shiloh many years, during all the unsettled time of the judges, when "there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes." (Judges 18:31)
Hannah was sad that she had no child and was praying to the Lord at the tabernacle. Does the Lord hear a prayer which is not spoken out loud? Notice what Hannah promised if she should have a child. He should be a Nazarite like Samson, given to the Lord all the days of his life, and his hair uncut. (Verses 11, 12) The prayer was answered and Samuel was born. His mother kept him at home until he was weaned, which may mean until he was six or seven years old; and then she took him to live at the tabernacle in Shiloh and to help the old priest Eli. Hannah prayed again, and this time it was a prayer of thanksgiving. (1 Sam. 2:1-10) Her prayer reminds us of the words of Mary, "My soul doth magnify the Lord." (Luke 1:46-55)
We can think of Samuel as a little boy helping the old priest Eli at the tabernacle. There was need for a new helper and priest and prophet, for Eli's sons were bad priests. Offerings were burned on the Lord's altar, but a part of some offerings was eaten as a sacred feast. We are reminded of this in chapter 1:4-9. A part also of some offerings was for the priest who made the offering. (Lev. 7:28-34) But Eli's sons took much more than belonged to them. They did worse wrong also in other ways. Their old father rebuked them, but did not prevent it. "Sons of Belial" mean wicked men. Samuel would grow up at the tabernacle and be a good and faithful priest. (1 Sam. 2:35) By and by when he was an old man, Samuel asked the people if he had ever done wrong to any of them, and they said that he had not. (1 Sam. 12:1-5) We think of him now as a little boy helping at the tabernacle. Read 1 Sam. 2:18-19. The linen ephod was a garment worn by priests. Among the garments made for Aaron the ephod was a beautiful vest fastened on the shoulders and around the waist, and on the front of it was fastened the breastplate of precious stones. (Exod. 28:6-14) It is beautiful to think of Samuel's mother making him a little coat each year at home and bringing it to him when they came to offer the yearly sacrifice.
1. Where in the Bible do we find the story of Samuel? What does the name Samuel mean? Why was he called by that name?
2. Where was the tabernacle? Why do we think of the tabernacle when we think of the child Samuel?
3. What did Hannah ask in her prayer? What did she promise?
4. Does Samuel's serving at the tabernacle remind you of something in the life of the Lord? Does it suggest a duty of all children?
Several things which are said of the child Samuel remind us of things said in the Gospel of the Child Jesus. We read that His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover, and at twelve years old, in the temple, the Child Jesus asked, "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" The saying, "The child Samuel grew on, and was in favor both with the Lord and also with men," is strikingly like the saying in the Gospel that Jesus "increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man." Looking a little more deeply we recognize that the Lord was weaned by His mother as from the first she began to realize that though He was in the world He was not of the world, and that He had Divine power and was doing a Divine work in which she had no part. "Woman, what have I to do with thee?" He said. Even as a Child the Lord began His service at the tabernacle, began indeed to make Himself the perfect tabernacle of God with humanity. It is beautiful to think that this story which all children love the Lord also loved as a Child, and that it was in part from this story that He learned His own duty.
The story is also given to teach every child his or her duty, and every mother hers. As Samuel's mother weaned him and brought him to the Lord, so every mother must learn that her child is the Lord's child more than hers, and must teach her child to know and serve our heavenly Father. She must remember that heaven is the child's real home and must try so to lead the child "that he may appear before the Lord and there abide forever." It is of heaven that we read in the Psalm, "How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord. . . . I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness." (Ps. 84) In a beautiful sense angels live in the Lord's tabernacle, and so do all those in this world who live a heavenly life and keep near to heaven. (A. 9481)
The birth of a child is also a type of regeneration, of the birth of a heavenly spirit from the Lord or of some element or quality of heavenly life. Remember the Lord's words to Nicodemus in John 3:1-13. The great inward struggle and profound humility before the Lord through which the most heavenly qualities are gained is represented by the tears and bitterness in which Hannah prayed. Her promise that her son should be given to the Lord and the fulfillment of the promise mean that the Lord's best gifts can be received and retained only as they are acknowledged to be His and are kept sacred to His service.
Another thought in regard to Samuel's garments. Garments in the Bible represent thoughts and outward expressions which clothe the living affections of the heart. A priest's garments represent the outward expressions of a life touched by the Lord's love and seeking in all things to give expression to that love. The linen ephod represents especially the truthfulness and rightness of such a life. (Rev. 19:8) In the highest sense such garments represent the expressions of Divine goodness in the Lord's own life. Read in the Psalm of the anointing oil upon the head of Aaron running down to the skirts of his garments. So the Divine love from within flowed down and out into all the words and acts of the Lord's life. The little coat made by Samuel's mother year by year, like the swaddling clothes which Mary wrapped about the Lord, suggests the instruction which a child needs in regard to useful and becoming ways of life, and the instruction must be more advanced as the child grows from year to year. Even the Child Jesus needed such help from His mother and from the Scriptures. (A. 5433; E. 204)