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Friday Bible Blogging - 1 Samuel 1 to 1 Samuel 10

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

BibleWell, I fell a little behind on this series, and posting to the blog in general. I've just been incredibly busy at work. I wasn't just working through my lunch breaks. Sometimes I even skipped eating entirely because there was so much to get done. Anyway, that project is now behind me, and I can get back to lunchbreak blogging (for a little while, at least - there's another deadline coming up in a few weeks, but after that, it should be back to normal).

The first ten chapters of 1 Samuel are mostly about their namesake, Samuel. Portions of the story are familiar, as I remember hearing them as readings growing up. These chapters also begin to tell the story of Saul, the first king of Israel in the Bible.

Samuel, Chapter 1

1 Samuel started with Elkanah, a man with two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Elkanah loved Hannah more, but she was barren, and Peninnah had given him children. Elkanah would treat Hannah more favorably, but Peninah gave her a hard time. So Hannah, in her despair, went to pray in the temple in one of the family's yearly visits to Shiloh, promising to give her first son to the Lord as a Nazirite if He would remember her. There was a slightly strange portion where at first, the priest, Eli, mistook her for being drunk, since she was praying by silently mouthing the words, but when confronted, she explained that she was indeed sober. Eli sent her on her way, and in due time, she did become pregnant and gave birth to a son, Samuel. When he was old enough to have been weaned, she took him to Shiloh, along with a bull to sacrifice and some flour and wine. She left him there as she said she would, under Eli's care, "given to the Lord".

The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) tells me that much of the Hebrew in this chapter and the coming chapters contains puns that are lost on an English reader. Mostly, these are references to Saul. For example, the wording used for petitioning the Lord sounds like Saul, and where it said 'he is given' in reference to Samuel, it could have been translated 'he is Saul to the Lord'. These puns have led some scholars to think that these stories were originally about Saul, not Samuel, but others think they're just allusions to Saul.

Samuel, Chapter 2

Chapter 2 started with the Song of Hannah. This was likely a later insertion into the book, and not originally about Hannah. It was general praise for God, the blessings he bestowed on Israel and his glory and power, along with defeating Israel's enemies.

Samuel grew up in Shiloh, "ministering before the Lord". His mother would take him a new robe every year, and she went on to have more children after him.

Eli had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who the Bible described as "scoundrels". When people brought sacrifices to the Lord, they didn't follow the proper rules for what was to go to God and what they could keep for themselves, "they treated the offerings of the Lord with contempt." Not just that, they would "lay with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting." So, God became angry, and sent a messenger to Eli to foretell the doom that awaited his family, "no one in your family shall ever live to old age," " all the members of your household shall die by the sword," "The fate of your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you--both of them shall die on the same day." And in a particularly sadistic turn, God was going to leave one of Eli's family alive just to torment them, "The only one of you whom I shall not cut off from my altar shall be spared to weep out his eyes and grieve his heart".

There was also a mention that God was breaking a promise, though according to the NOAB, this promise didn't appear earlier in the Bible, "I promised that your family and the family of your ancestor should go in and out before me for ever."

Samuel, Chapter 3

Chapter 3 contained a story that I remember from my church-going days. Samuel slept in the Tent of Meeting, and one night, God called out to him, but Samuel mistook the voice for Eli. Twice he went to Eli asking him what he wanted, and Eli sent him back to bed saying that he hadn't called him. The third time, Eli realized what was going on, and told Samuel that it was the Lord who was trying to talk to him. When he heard the voice again, he said, "Speak, for your servant is listening," and God proceeded to tell Samuel of his plans for Eli and his family. The next morning, Eli convinced Samuel to relay his vision, and resigned himself to his fate.

The chapter closed with a few verses about how the Lord was with Samuel and how he became a "trustworthy prophet".

Samuel, Chapter 4

The Philistines launched a war against Israel. The Israelites lost the first battle, and so sent for the Ark of the Covenant to get the Lord on their side. Hophni and Phinehas went with the Ark. Unfortunately for them, just having the Ark wasn't enough. God didn't help the Israelites, and the Philistines beat them again, killing Eli's sons in the battle. Even worse for Israel, the Ark of the Covenant was captured. When news got back to Eli of what had happened, he fell backwards off his seat and broke his neck. When Phinehas's wife got news of the battle and Eli's subsequent death, she went into labor, but things went badly and she died of complications. But just before she died, the midwife told her, "Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son." It's not clear if she was supposed to be relieved that the baby was okay, or relieved because it was a boy. She named the boy Ichabod, which means "The glory has departed from Israel".

Samuel, Chapter 5

Next came a series of short stories describing what happened in the Philistine cities that tried to house the Ark of the Covenenat. First it went to Ashdod, and was put in a temple dedicated to the god, Dagon. The morning after the first night it was there, the statue of Dagon was found fallen over face first in front of the Ark - as if Dagon was submitting to Yahweh. The people righted the statue, but the next day it was found in the same position, only now the hands and head had come off the statue and were on the threshold. This was apparently the reason that worshipers of Dagon don't step on thresholds when they enter the temple. It's also a bit odd to think of Gods acting out through statues, in ways that people could only see the next morning.

After the people of Ashdod began suffering from tumors, they sent the Ark away to a different city, Gath. But they were struck with tumors, as well, both young and old, in a typical indiscriminate punishment of the Old Testament. So they sent the Ark on to Ekron, where people were also plagued with tumors.

From the description of these tumors, especially in the next chapter, the NOAB says it's likely this was an outbreak of bubonic plague.

Samuel, Chapter 6

The Philistines made a plan to return the Ark of the Covenant. They were going to put it in a cart along with a guilt offering of "Five gold tumours and five gold mice". The cart was to be pulled by "two milch-cows that have never borne a yoke", with their calves taken away from them. The idea was that the cows would go searching after their calves, and if they went straight towards Israel, it was a sign that the plagues had been caused by Yahweh. And of course, that's exactly what the cows did, going to Beth-shemesh. And the people of Beth-shemesh promptly slaugtered the cows to off therm a a burnt-offering to the Lord.

The last few verses explained a few details without much backstory, "The descendants of Jeconiah did not rejoice with the people of Beth-shemesh when they greeted the ark of the Lord; and he killed seventy men of them." So the people of Beth-shemesh wanted to be rid of the Ark since it was so dangerous, and called on the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim to come take it away from them.

Samuel, Chapter 7

The first few verses of chapter 7 closed out the Ark story, with the Ark staying in Kiriath-jearim for 20 years.

Next, Samuel told the Israelites that if they were finally ready to return to the Lord, they had to get rid of their foreign gods, "the Baals and the Astartes", which they did. Next, he had everyone gather at Mizpah, and the book very briefly described a purification ceremony. When the Philistines saw the Israelites gathering, they sent an army to attack them. But now that the Israelites were right with God again, they were able to defeat the Philistines in battle and win back their cities. And of course, there were animal sacrifices.

The chapter closed by describing that "Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life", and went on a circuit between three cities, judging from each of them for a year before moving on to the next.

Samuel, Chapter 8

When Samuel was old and his sons grew up enough to begin judging over Israel, they turned out to be immoral just like the sons of Eli, "they took bribes and perverted justice." The people of Israel were upset with the way Samuel's sons acted, and so asked for a king to rule over them.

These next several chapters and verses dealing with kings are a bit contradictory. At some points, it seems that God is very upset with the Israelites for wanting a king, because it goes against the plan he had for Israel. Other times, it seems like wanting a king is perfectly ordinary. Throughout, though, it certainly seems to be legendary. I can't imagine that a group of people would just come out and demand a king, rather than this happening through some tribal leader consolidating his power over other tribes. It very likely could have taken multiple generations, starting off with alliances, and later on centralizing power in one family.

So, in this chapter, God started off by agreeing to give Israel a king, but warning them of the repercussions, such as taxes and drafting sons into the army. But the people were unmoved by the warning and still wanted their king.

Samuel, Chapter 9

In chapter 9, we're finally introduced to Saul. He was a Benjaminite, son of Kish. "There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else." One day, some of Kish's donkeys went missing, so he sent Saul and a servant to go look for them. In their search, they came to the land of Zuph, and the servant knew there was "a man of God in this town", so they decided to go meet with him to see if he could tell them where the donkeys were. As it turned out, the seer ("for the one who is now called a prophet was formerly called a seer") was Samuel. God had already told him that the future king of Israel would be meeting with him that day. So when Saul showed up, Samuel was expecting him, and after assuring him that the donkeys were safe, invited Saul to eat with him at the shrine, putting Saul and his servant at the head of the table and giving them the choicest meat. Samuel gave them a place to sleep that night. The next morning, as Saul and the servant were leaving, Samuel had the servant go on ahead so that he could have a private word with Saul.

Samuel, Chapter 10

Samuel pulled out a phial of oil to anoint Saul, and finally told him that he had been chosen by God to be the king of Israel. He gave him further instructions on where to go from there, and what he would see on his trip home. Everything turned out just as Samuel had predicted, and Saul ended up in Gibeah going into a "prophetic frenzy" with the other prophets there and issuing some prophecies of his own. This was the first explanation given in 1 Samuel about the origin of the phrase, "Is Saul also among the prophets?" A more demeaning explanation will be given in a later chapter, and apparently the difference is because the writer of this section supported Saul, while the writer of the later section supported David.

After the prophetic frenzy in Gibeah, Saul returned home. Saul's uncle (not his father) asked him what had happened, and Saul relayed most of the story except for the part about becoming king.

Samuel called together the people at Mizpah again, and cast lots to determine the king. The lots eventually fell to Saul, but he was hiding among the baggage. The people went and found him and appointed him as king. According to the NOAB, this may be a blending of two different traditions for how Saul became king. Afterwards, Samuel instructed the in "the rights and duties of the kingship", putting it all down in a book. Then everyone returned home. A few warriors "whose hearts God had touched" went with Saul, but "some worthless fellows" didn't accept his kingship and didn't take him a present.

The last few verses are really the start of the story that comes in the next chapter. Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had been oppressing the Gadites and Reubenites, and had even gone so far as to gouge out the right eye of all of them. Seven thousand of the Gadites and Reubenites had escaped, but the rest of the telling of the story will have to wait until next week.


So, it is kind of nice to be back in a book telling a narrative, and one that actually goes a little more in depth into character development than previous books. It's a much more coherent approach, even if there still are signs that it's a blending of multiple traditions.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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