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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

1 Samuel 2

Verses 1-36

The Unrecognized Voices of God

1 Samuel 2:7

We turn to the revelation in Christ for comfort, only to realize how long the silence has been since God spoke to men in Him. What we long for is to hear God for ourselves, to hear Him speak today.

I. God speaks to men today. Unless God speaks now we cannot really believe that He ever spoke to men. It is absurd to imagine that a revelation was made to men through long centuries and closed in the year, say, a.d. 70, and no voice from the great Unseen has come since. He does speak, and it is by the Bible that we test the voice and know the voice of God from other voices.

II. God speaks to men now, but we often do not recognize His voice. In so saying I do not deny that God speaks to men through audible means, and comes to men in dreams and visions, impressions and appearances. But God does not speak to all of us in visions and voices and impressions.

III. How, then, may we recognize the voice of God when He speaks today? ( a ) God speaks to men in the highest conscience of the time. ( b ) God speaks to men when men's thoughts are stirred to higher conceptions of truth. ( c ) God speaks to men through our fellow-men.

IV. Let us each listen for God's voice in our individual lives. For if God speaks to nations and generations, He will speak to individuals. How shall I know, then, that God speaks to me? We speak to Him in prayer, but there comes no audible answer, and we often wonder whether, after all, God hears. How shall we know? When prayer makes us better men He has spoken. Whenever our conscience is touched, whenever our souls are stirred, whenever there comes the inspiration to a new, better life, that good and perfect gift has come down from above, and if we reject it we have rejected God Himself.

E. Aldom French, God's Message to Modern Doubt, p. 75.

Reference. II. 9. G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 176.

Sons of Eli, Yet Sons of Belial

1 Samuel 2:12

We are always coming upon these conflicts, ironies, impossible lies. There is no smooth reading in history. I. But we see this not only religiously in the distinctive sense of that term. We see this inversion and perversion of heredity along all the lines of life, and in all the spheres of human experience.

( a ) A civilized man, a son of civilization, may be one of the most barbarous men upon the face of the earth. Civilization has in its power, by the very necessity of its being civilization, to go deeper than ever poor ignorant barbarism could do.

( b ) Who can be so ignorant as a soul who has given himself up to the service of evil? It is not ignorance of the base and vulgar type that can be excused on the ground of want of privilege and want of opportunity, but it is that peculiar ignorance which, having the light hides it, knowing the right does the wrong.

( c ) Sometimes we may say, 'the sons of refinement are the sons of vulgarity'. Is there any refinement so vulgar as the refinement which gives itself up to work all manner of evil criticism with greediness and with diabolical delight in the torture and humiliation of others?

II. We hold nothing by right of ancestry. You cannot hand down a good character to others. Whatever we have we can only have by right of labour, thought, watchfulness, and conducting the whole economy of life in the spirit of stewardship. Do not, therefore, on the one hand, presume upon your parentage and say, 'My father was good, and therefore I cannot be bad'; and, do not on the other hand, be discouraged and say, 'I come from so low a beginning that it is impossible for me to do anything'. There is nothing impossible to courage, to faith, to reverence, to prayer.

J. Parker, British Weekly Pulpit, 1890, p. 88.

References. II. 18. C. Bosanquet, Tender Grass for the Lambs, p. 128. W. S. Pearse, Sermons for Children, p. 56. R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons (1st Series), p. 299. II. 18, 19. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon Sketches, p. 174. II. 22. J. Bainton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxii. p. 150. II. 25. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 218.

The Child Samuel

1 Samuel 2:26

These words will arouse our attention not merely on account of what they tell us about the character of Samuel, but also because they are the same words which are used to describe the character of our Lord. Samuel was, in his young days, apparently, the same sort of child as was our Lord. Each was in favour with the Lord.

I. Naturalness in Children. He was a child just of the kind that God would have him be. How often children, through their surroundings, are very much warped from their childhood. The little affectations, curious phrases, little methods of raillery or contempt these certainly do not belong to the child, but have plainly been picked up elsewhere. I am sure that there is one thing God likes to see in a child, that it should be in every sense, on its religious and all other sides, perfectly natural.

II. Trustfulness in Children. Children being so quick in a simple way, if they are wisely tended and directed to recognize the Unseen, we notice next, how wonderfully they trust unless their sense of faith has been trifled with. Have we not at times, perhaps, when we have told children some little anecdote, been astonished at the way in which they accepted it as true? Samuel was a child of this kind. He had that quick, ready recognition that there was something beyond the world we see which is implanted in every child. He was ready to trust his God, he was ready to try and obey. How did this come about? The times were very broken and very strange ones. The book of Samuel follows hard upon the book of Judges, and, as you know, the times of the Judges might be summed up in that phrase, 'There was no King in Israel, no distinct ruler,' and in such a time there are continually cast up two types of character, and these are strongly marked. It was so in the Middle Ages. There were comparatively few people of the intermediate kind; people were either very good according to their opportunities, or they were very bad. Now we see something like this in the time of Samuel. On the one hand at Shiloh there were the two sons of Eli, breaking the law of God in various ways, and in some of them the very worst ways, and then there, too, we have the sight of this family of Elkanah. He was a religious man, and he was accustomed to go up and worship God. We are told specially that he went up, and his household went up every year. We see that he was an earnest-hearted, religious man, a lover of God, and loving very much his own household too. And still more remarkable is his wife, Hannah. She is in every sense a saint of the Most High. See how she comes and pleads for the child, see how, when the child is given her, she vows it to the Lord, and how year after year she comes up to look after its well-being, having placed it where she thought it was most fitted for its spiritual good, in the courts of the Tabernacle with Eli. Are your children the children of many prayers? Do you bring their names constantly before God?

III. Children's Work for God. Samuel was connected with useful religious work. We are told that he ministered to the Lord before Eli; we are told that on an eventful occasion, and no doubt it was like other occasions, he opened the doors of the temple of the Lord. As a boy he would not do anything very extraordinary, but there were little, simple things which a child could do, and these his mother through Eli put him in the way of doing. Do we take sufficient care to teach our children that they can in their way bless men and work for God?

IV. The Opportunities of Children. If we parents were quicker to recognize that we need not wait for children to come to old age, or middle age, or even maturity, but that much before that they really have a true place in God's kingdom, and a true service to do for God, how much happier parents would be! How exhilarating it would be to say, 'I have the child, and I can even now make it a servant of God!' The teaching of Scripture surely is this, that God makes different calls upon different persons, and that the little child, the young man or the young woman, the middle-aged and the old person, each has a special degree of holiness, each has a special way of serving God, and if only they serve God in that way He will bless them perpetually, and ever more and more.

References. II. 26. J. Edmunds, Sermons in a Village Church, p. 178. R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons (3rd Series), p. 130.

God's Promises Conditional

1 Samuel 2:30

God's promises are conditional. This is a point which is often overlooked. We are somewhat apt to look upon God's promises as absolute, and to insist strongly on our security, forgetting that they imply reciprocity on our part. We shall find, if we search the Scriptures, that in all cases God's promises are in the nature of covenants or agreements. There are two parties to them God and man, and when God's promises have failed it is because the conditions on which they were made had not been fulfilled by man, although these conditions, perhaps, were not expressed but understood.

We may briefly examine one or two cases where the promise seems to be absolute, but we shall still find that it is conditional.

I. The Case of Eli. God had said, 'And did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be My priest, to offer upon Mine altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before Me?... I said indeed that thy house, and the house of thy father, should walk before Me for ever.' And we hear that Eli sinned by his indulgence to his sons. He indulged them, and they indulged in grievous sins, so that they brought the priestly order into ill-repute, and caused the people to sin and were a stumbling-block. And so we see the result in the words of our text, 'but now the Lord saith, Be it far from Me'. This change was because the sons of Eli made themselves vile, and Eli restrained them not. Accordingly the priesthood, which had been promised to the house of Eli, passed to the house of another. Here we have an instance of the promise of God, seemingly without condition, nevertheless depending on a condition. Eli broke the law, and therefore the promise remained unfulfilled.

II. The Case of Moses. Moses was called to lead the people out of Egypt, and the word of God came that God had come down to deliver the people out of the hands of the Egyptians. From this the promise went on to say that He would lead them into a land flowing with milk and honey. From these words we seem to gather that there was no condition attached to the promise. But what was the sequel? Neither Moses nor the people from Egypt entered into the land, and this because they did not fulfil the conditions which, though unexpressed, were understood. Moses spoke unadvisedly with his lips, and God withdrew the promise He gave unto him. In the same way the people sinned. They came to the borders of the land, but when reports came back of mighty cities and men like giants, then they were terrified, and they had no trust in God that He could perform the promise He had made. They murmured against God, and God withdrew from them the promise. And all who left Egypt, except two men, left their bones to whiten in the wilderness, because they did not fulfil the conditions of the promise which, though not expressed, were understood.

III. The Case of the Shipwrecked Crew. We may take one other instance from the New Testament. You will remember that St. Paul journeyed from Judaea to the Imperial Court at Rome. When the vessel was off the island of Clauda a tempest arose, and it looked as if the vessel would be overwhelmed by the waters. They lightened the ship by casting away the tackling, but they had little hope of saving their lives. In the middle of the night a message came from God to Paul, saying that he was to take heart he should not lose his life, and that God had given him the lives of all those with him in the vessel. The sailors seemed to have lost heart, and paid little attention to what Paul said to them. They devised a scheme to leave the vessel, and listened to St. Paul a little to deceive him. But he knew of their intention, and told the centurion, 'Unless these abide in the ship ye cannot be saved'. And so the soldiers cut the ropes, and prevented the work of embarking. They remained in the ship to work her, and all came safely to land at last. Thus, although the promise that the sailors' lives should be saved had apparently been made without condition, yet when they were about to leave the vessel St. Paul said, 'Except these abide in the ship ye cannot be saved'. Evidently he thought there was a condition, although none had been stated. It really amounted to this: 'I will save you from the deep if you will do what you can to save yourselves. If you will make the effort, I will bless it and make it successful.'

IV. God Helps Those who Help Themselves. It is universally true that God helps those who help themselves. Man has his part to play. The Christian man who is not in earnest will often find himself discouraged. He will find himself falling far short of his ideals. But if that man is really in earnest, if he makes his efforts the subject of prayer and works together with God, then he will advance in his spiritual life. God's arms are always open to receive him; God never sends men away.

References. II. 30. M. Briggs, Practical Sermons on Old Testament Subjects, p. 143. W. Brock, Midsummer Morning Sermons, p. 37. H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii. p. 357. III. 9. Sadler, Sermons for Children, p. 19. Sunday Thoughts, p. 1. A. P. Stanley, Sermons on Special Occasions, p. 64. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. vi. p. 163.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 2". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/1-samuel-2.html. 1910.