Bible Study on Life and Times of Samuel: God Judges the Priesthood

In the Introduction to Samuel’s life, I wrote:

Eli, who as high priest should be setting the example, seems to be devoid of discernment.  With all the sin going on, the lack of respect for God’s Law, this should not be surprising.  It leads to other sins, and he is punished as well as his sons.

I’m going to back up that statement in this article.  We’ve already seen that when a “man of God”, obviously a prophet, came to Eli and asked why “kick ye at my sacrifice” (1Sa 2:27-29).  In addition, he was told:

30 Wherefore the LORD God of Israel saith, I said indeed that thy house, and the house of thy father, should walk before me for ever: but now the LORD saith, Be it far from me; for them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.

31 Behold, the days come, that I will cut off thine arm, and the arm of thy father’s house, that there shall not be an old man in thine house.

32 And thou shalt see an enemy in my habitation, in all the wealth which God shall give Israel: and there shall not be an old man in thine house for ever.

33 And the man of thine, whom I shall not cut off from mine altar, shall be to consume thine eyes, and to grieve thine heart: and all the increase of thine house shall die in the flower of their age.

34 And this shall be a sign unto thee, that shall come upon thy two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas; in one day they shall die both of them.

35 And I will raise me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in mine heart and in my mind: and I will build him a sure house; and he shall walk before mine anointed for ever.

36 And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left in thine house shall come and crouch to him for a piece of silver and a morsel of bread, and shall say, Put me, I pray thee, into one of the priests’ offices, that I may eat a piece of bread.

~ 1Sa 2:30-36

This is a dire prediction for a priest!  To recap and summarize:

  • God felt that He was being despised by Eli and His sons.
  • God states He will return their disrespectful and hateful attitudes upon their own heads.
  • God states that Eli’s descendants will die before they have the opportunity to grow old.
  • God states He will be an enemy to him and his descendants.  This is something to not wish on anyone!
  • As a sign, both of his sons would die at the same time.
  • God will replace his corrupt priesthood with one of a faithful priest.  There should be no doubt that this is Samuel in the short term.  However, the ultimate fulfillment is Jesus Christ, Who is utterly incorruptible.
  • Eli’s descendants will beg to be priests in order to just be able to eat.

If Eli were discerning, as a high priest should be, he would not have needed such a stern rebuke.

However, Eli shows his lack of discernment in other ways as well.  The beginning narrative shows Hannah’s “adversary” bullying her to the point of despair (1:6).  She prayed “in the bitterness of [her] soul” (v 10).

Have you ever prayed out loud?  Have you ever poured out your heart to God in prayer and mouth the words?  Well, that is what Hannah did while praying.  Eli was sitting in a seat of “the temple” (v 9).  He sees her praying, but he thought she was drunk!

13 Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken.

14 And Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee.

15 And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the LORD.

16 Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto.

~ 1Sa 1:13-16

He jumps to the conclusion that she is drunk, and he accuses her to her face.  Notice she says she is not “a daughter of Belial”!  This is what we are told Eli’s own sons were!

It is important to recognize that he accuses an innocent woman of being a daughter of Belial, all the while he does not recognize that his own sons are sons of Belial!  This is a tragic lack of discernment for a high priest!

In a bit of irony, Eli blesses her, and it is his blessing through which comes his replacement, Samuel.  He correctly states a matter, and it is part of his undoing.

Sometimes, God uses even the unrighteous in key positions in order to show His will.

49 And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all,

50 Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.

51 And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation;

~ Jn 11:49-51

Caiaphas was hardly a righteous high priest.

57 And they that had laid hold on Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.

63 But Jesus held his peace, And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.

64 Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.

65 Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy.

~ Mt 26:57, 63-65

After returning home following the incident with Eli, Hannah conceives.  Let’s look at her vow.

11 And she vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.

~ v 11

This sounds like the vow of a Nazarite!  We aren’t specifically told this, but it is the only occasion I’m aware of in which a man was allowed to have long hair.

14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?

~ 1Co 11:14

While it is not stated that Samuel never drank wine, I find it interesting that the events leading up to his birth involved a mother who stated she had had nothing at all to drink.

2 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the LORD:

3 He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried.

4 All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk.

5 All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the LORD, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.

~ Nu 6:2-5

Granted, this would be unusual in that Samuel’s mother in effect seems to be saying that she will make him a Nazarite from birth for “all the days of his life”.  However, remember that Samson was also a Nazarite from birth (Jdg 13:3-5).  It also appears that John the Baptist may have been as well (Lk 1:13-15; cf Mt 11:18-19).  The main difference, however, is that Samson and John were declared by God to do these things, whereas Samuel’s mother was the one who initiated the idea that his hair would not be cut.  It should be evident, however, that God showed His will and approval of her vow by giving her a child.

No discussion of her vow would be complete without noting that obviously Elkanah, as the head of the household, upheld her vow.

21 And the man Elkanah, and all his house, went up to offer unto the LORD the yearly sacrifice, and his vow.

22 But Hannah went not up; for she said unto her husband, I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the LORD, and there abide for ever.

23 And Elkanah her husband said unto her, Do what seemeth thee good; tarry until thou have weaned him; only the LORD establish his word. So the woman abode, and gave her son suck until she weaned him.

~ 1Sa 1:21-23

As her husband, he had the power to disannul her vow, but here we see he upheld it.

6 And if she had at all an husband, when she vowed, or uttered ought out of her lips, wherewith she bound her soul;

7 And her husband heard it, and held his peace at her in the day that he heard it: then her vows shall stand, and her bonds wherewith she bound her soul shall stand.

8 But if her husband disallowed her on the day that he heard it; then he shall make her vow which she vowed, and that which she uttered with her lips, wherewith she bound her soul, of none effect: and the Lord shall forgive her.

~ Nu 30:6-8

Therefore, the logical conclusion is that Elkanah and Hannah were in agreement on this matter.  He states “the LORD establish his word”, or in other words, “God’s will be carried out.”  This is reinforcement of the vow, if anything.  He agrees with both her vow and her plan.

There is something else that should be pointed out as well.  Hannah is the child’s mother.  She is the expert of what is best for the child.  She states that she and Samuel will go once Samuel is weaned.  Elkanah does not insist upon his own opinion, but he defers to his wife in this area.  It pays to listen to those we have authority over, but more especially when their expertise is greater than our own.

In chapter 2, we see Hannah’s Song.  It is a song of rejoicing and triumph.  However, there is more to it than meets the eye.  It is also an indictment against the Levitical priesthood of that day.

3 Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth: for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.

~ 1Sa 2:3

The above could apply to any enemy, certainly.  It certainly would apply to Peninnah, who bullied and teased her.  However, Eli’s sons were certainly not exempt from this.

5 They that were full have hired out themselves for bread; and they that were hungry ceased: so that the barren hath born seven; and she that hath many children is waxed feeble.

~ v 5

The mention of barrenness and having many children certainly applies to Hannah and Peninnah respectively.  However, what is this about bread?  What did the man of God tell Eli?

6 The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.

Is this talking about Peninnah?  Does Hannah strike you as someone who would wish death on her rival?

10 The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall he thunder upon them: the LORD shall judge the ends of the earth; and he shall give strength unto his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed.

~ v 10

Note that this is a prophecy!  Eli will be told that Eli will “see an enemy in my habitation” by God!  Hannah is foretelling of the brokenness of God’s adversaries.  Furthermore, we see God has already looked forward to when there would be a king in Israel.

22 Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.

~ v 22

Aren’t you glad this cannot occur in the modern era of the Church?  Sorry, but you and I know it already has!  There is a direct parallel here.

As Rader’s influence with the elder Armstrong grew, so did the gap between Garner Ted and his father. On top of the historic allegations of Garner Ted’s gambling and adultery, the disagreement between father and son over operations and certain doctrinal positions of the church boiled over. In 1978 Herbert Armstrong excommunicated his son and fired him from all roles in the church and college on the night of Wednesday, June 28, 1978, by means of a phone call to Tyler, Texas.

His reputation was again damaged when a licensed nurse in Tyler accused him of making sexual advances during two massage sessions in 1995. She was interviewed by then-CNBC television host Geraldo Rivera, who showed portions of videotapes she had made during the encounters.

~ “Garner Ted Armstrong”, Wikipedia

It is no secret that HWA allowed people under him to get away with a lot of things, and even totally bamboozle him (like in Stanley Radar’s case).  It is obvious to me that HWA knew about GTA’s philandering before 1978.  In fact, he was fired, rehired and fired again, which is something the article leaves out.

Samuel, the last of the great judges, had sons that at the end of his life were corrupt and accepting bribes.  King David did not do anything when Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar.  He then sent for Absalom three years after he ran away, but then he ignored him for two more.  When Absalom revolted and threatened even the life of the king, David ordered his men to not kill him.  When he died, he cried and wept for him so hard that it turned victory into an event of shame.

Partiality is never good.  Dealing poorly with family members can have tragic results.

Eli and both his sons died the same day.  When Solomon fell into idolatry, ten tribes of Israel were rent away from him.  However, he repented enough that God said He would not rip it away in his lifetime but in his son’s.  That wasn’t the last time God delayed punishment, either.

27 And it came to pass, when Ahab heard those words, that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly.

28 And the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying,

29 Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his son’s days will I bring the evil upon his house.

~ 1Ki 21:27-29

After King Solomon, were the nations of Judah and Israel still God’s people?  After King Ahab, was the nation of Israel still God’s people?

After HWA died, WCG was eventually shattered.  The cracks began early enough, with Flurry and then Meredith leaving.  However, 1995 was like taking a sledge hammer to an already cracked window.  The church fell into literally hundreds of different shards.

I have offered partial reasons why previously.  We became too self-sufficient.  We were puffed up.  Our knowledge had gone to our heads, and we acted as though we had all the answers.  The truth is, the more a Christian knows, the more he or she realizes how much they don’t know!

However, no explanation is complete without an honest discussion of the sins of the leaders.  God delayed scattering the church while HWA was alive, even as He did in Solomon’s and Ahab’s lifetimes.  I should remind you that Solomon very likely repented before his death and probably wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes.  HWA was used by God in many ways right up until his death, so I would certainly be most surprised if he was not at the first resurrection.  Still, even after David repented, he had no end of troubles as a consequence of his affair with Bathsheba and the killing of her husband.

There is one more parallel with WCG after HWA’s death, however.  We need to be mindful that two things left Israel in addition to the deaths of the priests.

10 And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man into his tent: and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen.

11 And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain.

~ 1Sa 4:10-11

16 And the man said unto Eli, I am he that came out of the army, and I fled to day out of the army. And he said, What is there done, my son?

17 And the messenger answered and said, Israel is fled before the Philistines, and there hath been also a great slaughter among the people, and thy two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God is taken.

18 And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck brake, and he died: for he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years.

19 And his daughter in law, Phinehas’ wife, was with child, near to be delivered: and when she heard the tidings that the ark of God was taken, and that her father in law and her husband were dead, she bowed herself and travailed; for her pains came upon her.

20 And about the time of her death the women that stood by her said unto her, Fear not; for thou hast born a son. But she answered not, neither did she regard it.

21 And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father in law and her husband.

22 And she said, The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken.

~ 1Sa 4:16-22

While the above was certainly dramatic and instantaneous, I still see this as a parallel with WCG.  Once HWA died, but not necessarily because he died any more than the glory of God departed Israel because of the death of Eli, the power and might of God departed from the organization WCG.  God’s Spirit no longer was working with that organization in a visible way.

So, what was Israel to do without Eli?  Without the ark?  Without the Shekinah?  Well, did what they were supposed to do change because of these things, or could it be that not enough were doing the right things and caused these calamities to come about to begin with?  Hophni and Phinehas were wicked before they were killed, and we were introduced to that very early in the story.  It didn’t happen overnight.  However, notice how Elkanah and Hannah continued doing what they were expected to do.  In fact, Hannah was doing it even though most would have looked at her and came to the conclusion she was cursed.

What about you and I?  Will we continue doing what we are supposed to be doing when the government fails us?  When the individual citizens are doing whatever is right in their own eyes, regardless of who gets hurt?  When even the church fails us?  Can we still do the right thing?

Because, there will come a time when the Church is not only scattered, but it will also be hidden and hard to find.  Persecution will mean it will have to go underground.  Even our own families may turn us in.  Can we do the right thing then?  We will not be able to grow discernment instantaneously when the Great Tribulation begins!

One Comment

  1. John from Australia

    In regard to

    1Sa 2:35 And I will raise me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in mine heart and in my mind: and I will build him a sure house; and he shall walk before mine anointed for ever.

    Zadok needs to be included in the fulfillment.

    “I will build him a sure house”. Zadok and then his sons served in Solomon’s Temple; and in the early days of Zerubbabel’s Temple;

    Eze 44:15 But the priests the Levites, the sons of Zadok, that kept the charge of my sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from me, they shall come near to me to minister unto me, and they shall stand before me to offer unto me the fat and the blood, saith the Lord GOD:

    and the priests of the house of Zadok will serve in the Millennial Temple.

    1 Sa 2:35 and he shall walk before mine anointed for ever.
    2Sa 23:1 … David the son of Jesse … the anointed of the God of Jacob

    and we see “a” fulfillment of the priests “walking” before the “anointed” Davidic kings in the Millennium (“in those days”):

    Jer 33:17 For thus saith the LORD [Jesus Christ]; David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel;
    Jer 33:18 Neither shall the priests the Levites want a man before me [Jesus Christ] to offer burnt offerings, and to kindle meat offerings, and to do sacrifice continually.
    Jer 33:19 And the word of the LORD came unto Jeremiah, saying,
    Jer 33:20 Thus saith the LORD; if ye can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season;
    Jer 33:21 Then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant, that he should not have a son to reign upon his throne; and with the Levites the priests, my ministers.
    Jer 33:22 As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured: so will I multiply the seed of David my servant, and the Levites that minister unto me.

    So David [son of Jesse] will not want for a “man”/ “son” to sit on the “throne of the Lord over Israel” (1 Chron 29:32) and the faithful Zadok [son of Ahitub] will also not want for a “man” to “minister unto” Jesus Christ [His “shekinah” glory dwelling in the Temple (Eze 43:1-7a)].

    “O Absalom!… A startling parallel to the Garner Ted-Herbert Armstrong tragedy – no softer word will do – can be found in the biblical story of King David and his son Absalom…” (Stanley R. Rader (type of Ahithophel), “Against the Gates of Hell,” (New York: Everest House, 1980), p.107).

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