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CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES—
1 Samuel 2:1. “And Hannah prayed.” “Hymns are wont to be comprehended under the name of prayers” (Psalms 71:20). “It was the most ancient way of preserving the memory of things to posterity, poets being more ancient than historians or orators.” (Patrick.) “Mine Horn.” “There is no reason for supposing here a reference to the custom among Oriental women (Druses and others) of wearing silver horns on the head to which the veil is attached, and which, by their position, indicate the woman’s position as maiden, wife, or mother. There is no trace of such a custom among the ancient Hebrews. The word translated horn is used of the horns of beasts, of horns for blowing and drinking, or for any horn-shaped vessel, and of a mountain peak. It is the symbol derived from horned beasts, which carry the head high in vigorous courage and consciousness of power.” (Lange’s Commentary.) “Mine horn is exalted” does not mean, I am proud, but “my power is great in the Lord.” (Keil.) “This figure appears first here, and connects this song with that of David, in 2 Samuel 22:3, and is adopted in the Gospel, and applied to Christ in the song of Zacharias” (Luke 1:69). (Wordsworth.) “The mouth is ‘enlarged,’ or ‘opened’ wide, to proclaim the salvation before which the enemies would be dumb.” (Keil.)
1 Samuel 2:2. “Rock.” This figure is another connecting link which joins this song with that of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:4) with David, and all with Christ.” (Wordsworth.) (See on this subject in Comments.) “The symbolical designation of the covenant-God by Rock, which occurs frequently, was suggested naturally by the configuration of the ground in Palestine, where masses of rock, surrounded by steep precipices, offered an image of solid and sure protection.” (Lange’s Commentary.)
1 Samuel 2:3. “By Him actions are weighed.” Keil translates, “To Him deeds are weighed,” that is to say, the acts of God are weighed, i.e., are equal or just. Many expositors agree with him, and about an equal number understand it to signify that God weighs, or rightly estimates the actions of men.
1 Samuel 2:4. “The bows of the mighty,” etc. “Bows were a principal part of warriors’ weapons and their girdles a principal part of their military habit” (Patrick).
1 Samuel 2:5. “They that were full,” etc. “See an instance in 1 Samuel 2:36” (Biblical Commentary). “Ceased” either to be hungry or to work for bread. “The barren hath borne seven,” i.e. many. “Seven children are mentioned as the full number of the Divine blessing in children” (Ruth 4:15).—(Keil.) “Here prophecy concerning the Church mingles with her hymn of praise.”—(Patrick.) (On this subject see Comments on the Song.)
1 Samuel 2:6. “The Lord killeth,” etc. Killing denotes (with a departure from the ordinary sense) bringing into the extremest misfortune and suffering, which oppresses the soul like the gloom of death, or brings it near to death—making alive is extricating from deadly sorrow and introducing into safety and joy.—See Deuteronomy 32:39; Psalms 30:3, etc. (Lange’s Commentary).
1 Samuel 2:8. “The beggar from the dunghill.” “This alludes to a form of wretchedness known in the East, and indicating the lowest degree of poverty and humiliation. The dunghill—a pile of horse, cow, or camel offal, heaped up to dry in the sun and serve as fuel—was and is piled up in the huts of the poor; and sometimes, from necessity, is the haunt of wandering mendicants, who, finding it in some outhouse outside the city, lodge there for want of better accommodation: so that the change that had been made in the social position of Hannah appeared to her grateful heart as auspicious and as great as the elevation of a poor despised beggar to the highest and most dignified rank (Fausset.) “The pillars of the earth.” “There is no need to find a geographical theory in a poetical statement. And even if it expresses the author’s geographical views, it is not the thought of the passage, but only the framework of the thought; the real thought here is solely religious, and has nothing to do with physical science” (Translator of Lange’s Commentary). Wordsworth calls it “a figurative expression derived from a palace or temple.” Some understand by the pillars, the rulers of the earth.
1 Samuel 2:9. “Keep the feet,” etc. Either from error and sin (Fausset) or from misfortune (Lange’s Commentary). “Darkness.” Symbolic of misfortune.
1 Samuel 2:10. “Thunder.” “Thunder is a premonitory sign of the approach of the Lord to judgment” (Keil). “Literally fulfilled in this history” (Wordsworth). “The ends of the earth.” “The object of God’s judicial interposition is not only the members of the chosen people, but the whole world” (Lange’s Commentary). “His anointed” or “Messiah.” The first time the word is used in Holy Scripture.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Samuel 2:1-10
I. The end of a granted desire should be the beginning of praise. The desire of the husbandman ends when the last shock of corn is safely housed in the barn. Then comes the harvest song indicating that desire has been completed by fulfilment. The ploughing and sowing, the bearing of the precious seed, the toil, the hope, the fear, the patience are all things of the past, and the end of all these should be a beginning of something new—of a song of thanksgiving. So it will be in the kingdom of God at the end of the present dispensation. The groaning and travailing of the whole creation—the sin, the sorrow, the tears, and struggles of the present will one day be ended—the earnest expectation of the creature—the desire of the best of the human race in all worlds—the prayer of ages—will end in complete fulfilment: and the end of all the desire and longing of the present will be the beginning of praise. A “new song” will be sung to celebrate the incoming of the new era—the birth of the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Peter 3:13). The beginning of a perpetual thanksgiving will celebrate the end of the present state of things and the incoming of the new. And so it should always be in the life of the individual It was so with Hannah. She had not experienced the consummation of her desire without experiencing deep sorrow—without long and patient waiting upon God. But the desire, the tears, the hope were behind her. The child had been born, the son had been given. The vow had been paid and the gift of the Lord had been given back to Him. The tide of joy and gratitude had been rising higher and higher in her heart from the hour in which she left her home until she stood in the very same spot where she had stood before—“a woman sorrowful and grieved in spirit.” And now she was a joyful mother, and gladness flooded her soul and burst forth into a mighty song of exultation and thanksgiving.
II. The experience of one indvidual is often symbolic and prophetic of the experience of many. The light that shone upon Paul on his way to Damascus pained and blinded him at first. And the bodily pain and blindness were symbolic of the pain and darkness of his soul from the light which shined into his soul. But out of the darkness and sorrow came light and joy, such as he had never known before. Of the experience of how many was this experience of Paul symbolic and prophetic! How many through his pain and joy were brought to pass through a like experience! To how many was the soul transition of this man an earnest of the same transition from darkness to light! Hannah’s experience was symbolic and prophetic of what was to be the experience of many of her nation. Those who were godly among them had been long grieved at heart because of the persecution of their enemies—because it seemed, indeed, as if God had forgotten to be gracious to His own people. Many a time, doubtless, had they asked Gideon’s question—“If the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all His miracles which our fathers told us of?” (Judges 6:13). But a new era was now to begin. Hannah’s joy coming after her long sorrow was anticipatory of a time when the garment of praise should take the place of the spirit of heaviness with all true patriots and servants of God in the land of Israel.
III. The language of the human soul in one age is often fitted to express its feelings in all ages. A common life expresses its existence in the same general outward form from age to age. The life of the rose or of the lily finds expression in the same general outward form to-day as it did when God first called it into existence. There are modifications and individual distinctions, but the general outline is the same. So with the life of the human soul. Although time modifies the form in which it gives expression to its thoughts, although each individual has an experience which in some respects differs from that of any other creature, yet the language spoken ages ago finds an echo in the hearts of men and women in each generation, and expresses their feelings as well as it expresses the feelings of the person who first uttered them. How perfectly does the language of some of the Psalms, for instance, fit the experience of many men and women in this nineteenth century. What a close resemblance there is between this song of the happy mother of Israel’s prophet, and that of the mother of that prophet, priest, and king, who was not the Saviour of Israel merely, but the Saviour of the world. There are slight modifications, but the great backbone of thought running through the one is the same as that in the other. And the same words, with slight changes of expression, might be used by any soul who had emerged from a long night of sorrow and darkness into a new and brighter epoch in its history, and as a matter of fact it has been so used by the Church of God in all ages, and will be until time shall be no longer. These thoughts are suggested by the song as a whole. We will now notice its main subjects.
I. That there is one God in contradistinction to many. “There is none beside Thee.” The human soul and the world around us speak alike of the oneness of God. The heavens that declare His glory, and the firmament that showeth His handy work speak of One Supreme Ruler who controls all the forces by which the hosts of heaven move in their appointed paths. The vast machine has many complications, but the unity of its movements and operations bear the stamp of one ruling mind. The human soul cries out for One God—for one distinct and over-ruling power above all the principalities and powers of the universe. The Bible declares unmistakably that there is such a Being. There is one “everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, who hath meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance,” and none “instructed Him, or taught Him knowledge, or showed to Him the way of understanding” (Isaiah 60:0). He alone is the “King eternal, immortal, invisible” (1 Timothy 1:17), who “doeth according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth” (Daniel 4:35). The human soul may well rejoice in the knowledge that its destinies and the destinies of all the creatures of the universe are in the hands of a distinct identity like itself, yet so much greater and more powerful as to be able to control all the apparently conflicting forces which are at work into a complete and perfect harmony for the good of His creatures. The Israel of Jehovah in all ages have reason to rejoice in the knowledge that “the Lord our God is one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4).
II. That this one God is pure in His character. “There is none holy as the Lord.” If a human creature who holds in his hands the earthly destinies of other creatures (who are inferior to him in power) is lawless and wicked, of what misery may he be the cause! When an earthly judge, although skilful and learned, is known to be morally bad, we feel that his want of purity is not only injurious to himself, but may affect the destinies of those upon whom he is called to pass sentence. So with any ruler or judge of men in any capacity: purity of character, perfect integrity (so far as a human creature can be pure and upright), is felt to be indispensable to the well-being of those whom they govern or whom they judge. If this be so in the case of a human and finite being, how much more so is it in the case of the Almighty and Infinite God? If such a thing as a moral flaw in His character could be conceived, how terrible would be the issue! He who is to judge the world must be perfectly righteous. There must be nothing in His feelings and disposition that would tend to influence Him to do anything but the strictest justice. Seeing that the destinies of untold millions are in His hands, He must be absolutely without spot in His moral character. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25) But in order to do right at all times He must be absolutely incorruptible and un-defiled. And this He is declared to be, this He has shown Himself to be. He has shown it in His hatred to sin. A man’s moral purity, his holiness, may be estimated by the abhorrence in which he holds all moral impurity—anything which can defile his own soul and the souls of others. That God hates sin may be seen in the searching and binding character of His law. Human lawgivers make laws which deal with man’s outward life—which have to do with him as a citizen rather than as a man. If he abstains from certain outward actions, the law allows him to live unmolested. But God’s law is so holy that it penetrates into the spirit, legislates concerning thoughts and feelings, passes sentence upon hidden motives as well as upon visible actions. The “exceeding broadness” (Psalms 119:96) of the law reveals the Lawgiver’s hatred to sin, and His consequent moral purity. And God’s hatred to sin, and, therefore, His holiness is seen in in the extent of the sacrifice He has made to put away sin. A human ruler’s abhorrence of any evil law or custom may be estimated by the efforts he makes to abolish it; by the self-sacrifice he is willing to undergo to rid his country of the curse. In nothing is the absolute holiness of God seen so plainly as in the fact that He “gave His only-begotten Son” to “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26). Those who sing the song of the Lamb slain glorify the name of the Lord for His holiness (Revelation 15:3-4). And the contemplation of His work of redemption gives His saints on earth the most assuring proof of that holiness “at the remembrance” of which they join the first singer of this song in “giving thanks” (Psalms 30:4).
III. That immutability is a necessary consequence of God’s absolute purity. “Neither is there any rock like our God.” The unchangeableness of any human being depends upon his goodness and upon the length of time he has been good. He will be unchangeable in his feelings and actions in proportion to his moral purity, and the longer he has lived a holy life the more fixed and rock-like will be his character. If a man has pursued a line of righteous conduct for half-a-century—if in all that time he has been a man of unblemished integrity—everyone will feel that he is less likely to change now than he was fifty years ago. Every year that has passed over his head—every step that he has taken in the path of uprightness—has added something to the immutability of his character. God has ever been perfectly holy—holiness is His most important attribute—the one which forms the most weighty theme of the adoration of those of His creatures who are nearest to Him in moral character (Isaiah 6:3). And because He is so holy He must be unchangeable in His character. His everlasting holiness is a guarantee that He will always be the same in thought, and word, and deed; while He remains the Holy One of Eternity, He must continue to be the unchangeable God (Malachi 3:6). And that God is thus unchangeable may well furnish men with a theme of song. It is an instinct of humanity to reach out after something less changeable than themselves—to endeavour to lay hold of some object to which, as to a rock, they may anchor for rest and security. All the efforts of men to secure for themselves permanent positions in the world—to ensure to themselves and to their families a source of livelihood which will not fail them—are indications of their desire for a rock of some kind upon which they may rest. That upon which they place their dependence may be a very unworthy object of trust for an immortal spirit, yet men will make a rock of any object rather than have none. But those who, like Hannah, know the holy and unchangeable God, make Him, and Him only, the object of their entire trust—the Rock of their souls. They know from joyful experience that in all their need He has been, and ever will be, “a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall” (Isaiah 25:4).
IV. God is likewise to be rejoiced in as a God of knowledge. “The Lord is a God of knowledge,” etc.
1. He knows Himself. This is more than any human creature can assert concerning his own identity. The anatomist who can describe every bone and vein and nerve in the human body is looked upon as a man of knowledge, but when he has done this there are many mysteries connected even with the body that are utterly beyond his grasp—he stands before them in absolute ignorance. The student of man’s mind is considered to be a man of knowledge if he can say something instructive concerning the world of thought and feeling within man—if he can analyse the operations of the mind and classify the mental faculties and throw some light upon the relations of body and soul. Yet when he has said all, how little has he said which can unfold to us the mystery of our own existence—how little does the wisest man know concerning himself. But God has a perfect knowledge of His own nature, He never returns from any reflection upon Himself with any mist of ignorance resting upon Him—He comprehends the whole length and breadth and depth and height of His own Infinite Being.
2. He has a perfect knowledge of His own actions. “By Him actions are weighed”—not only the acts of men but His own. Man cannot pretend to any perfect judgment of his own actions. He knows not the real value of his own deeds—he does not know whither they will tend—he can only come to an approximate estimate of his own motives. But God can perfectly weigh His acts—He knows exactly what will be their effect—He has a perfect knowledge of the motives which prompt them.
3. Having this perfect knowledge of Himself and of all that He does, the Divine Being must know man in all the mystery of his complicated being, and must be able perfectly to estimate the worth of every human action. The greater includes the less. He who made man must comprehend the nature of his existence; He knows what constitutes life; He comprehends how mind acts upon matter, and sees the subtle link which unites soul and body. And in the matter of human actions, He “is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, and all things are naked and opened in the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:12-13). The motives that prompt human deeds, the influence that those deeds will have upon future ages, the nature of the human will which is behind every human deed are all to Him as an open book.
4. The proper condition of heart in the presence of such a God is humility. “Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth.” Limited knowledge on any subject should make men humble in the presence of those who are better informed. It ill becomes such to assume to dictate to and instruct those who are far more competent to speak upon the matter. How much more should man’s limited knowledge of himself and of his Creator—of his own actions, and of the actions of the All-Wise and All-knowing God—cause him, like Job, to “lay his hand upon his mouth” (Job 40:4). Unable as he is rightly to weigh even his own actions, how can he dare to constitute himself a judge in what seems to him dark in the mysteries of the Divine dealings. The only condition of heart proper to finite creatures is that of Him “who is of a contrite spirit,” and who “trembles” at the Divine Word (Isaiah 66:2). Our own ignorance and our conviction of God’s infinite knowledge should lead us to put unreserved faith in His declarations, and yield uncompromising obedience to His commands. We make the knowledge of a fellow-man a ground of confidence, and we show our confidence by obeying their word. Our narrow outlook around us and beyond us makes safety to be found only in listening to the words of “the God of Knowledge,” in striving to conform our lives to His revealed will, and leaving the result with confident trust in His hands.
V. This holy immutable God of Knowledge is the author of those inversions of the ordinary course of nature which often occur in a manner totally unforeseen and unexpected. “The bows of the mighty are broken.… The Lord maketh poor and maketh rich.… He raiseth up the poor out of the dust,” etc. The natural law of the world is that the strong will hold on their way against what is weak, and that they, being in power, shall remain in possession. It is a foregone conclusion that the warrior who has the greatest force at his command will win the victory. Men expect the race will be won by the swift, and the battle by the strong. But God has other forces which He can bring into the field, and if He is not “on the side of the great battalions” He will bring about such unlooked for combinations that those who have fallen in the struggle will stand upright, “being girded with power,” and those who have been mighty will be overthrown, and the lame will take the prey. When the forces of Egypt overtook the Israelites at Pi-hahiroth, the natural conclusion of a looker-on would have been that nothing could prevent the slaves so lately made free from being overmastered and retaken into bondage. But God, being on the side of the weak, brought auxiliaries into the combat such as Pharaoh had never dreamt of having to fight against. The water of the Red Sea was turned into an opposing force on behalf of the oppressed, and the army of Egypt was over thrown by a power against which their horsemen and chariots and their mighty men were utterly powerless. Between Egypt and Israel there was no comparison as to natural strength, but the Lord of nations brought supernatural reinforcements to the aid of the naturally weak, and thus “the bows of the mighty were broken, and they that stumbled were girded with strength.” The woman who first uttered these words had long been walking through life with a heavy burden of sorrow weighing her to the earth: gladness and exultation seemed to be the portion of her persecutor, but none seemed destined for her. But the Lord who “bringeth low and lifteth up,” brought laws into operation which entirely changed the colour of her existence, and from being an object of scorn she became most unexpectedly raised to a position of more than ordinary honour.
1. These unseen and unknown laws are generally brought into operation in order to punish the strong for their oppression of the weak. God alone is responsible for these inequalities in national or individual life; and because He is so, He will take account of those who, being endowed with greater physical or mental advantages, use them to lord it over those who have not been so favoured. Hannah’s sorrow arose from a cause entirely beyond her own control, and those who oppressed her because of it were guilty of a great sin against God Himself. In the exaltation of her despised rival, Peninnah receives a just punishment for her wickedness; from the birth of Samuel her influence in the family must have declined, and none of her children are even mentioned in the sacred history, while that of Hannah’s son was honoured throughout his nation during his life, and is held in honour now that two thousand years have passed away. And so it is with the rise of one nation on the stage of history and the decline and fall of another. “Therefore hear now this, thou afflicted and drunken, but not with wine: Thus saith thy Lord, the Lord, and thy God that pleadeth the cause of His people, Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again: But I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee; which have said to thy soul, Bow down, that we may go over” (Isaiah 51:21-23). Such is the method of the Divine government—there is a purpose in this subversion of natural order, and that purpose is retribution to the strong oppressor who has trampled on the rights of the weak.
2. God has a just right and reason so to intervene. “For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and He hath set the world upon them.” He is the proprietor of the earth—the land upon which the oppressor dwells is His by the most indisputable right—that of creation. The human proprietor claims a right over that which he has purchased—he can eject tenants from his property who do not meet his just demands. How much more is it the prerogative of Him who called the earth into being to eject from their dominion over it those who disregard His just demands, and abuse the power and the position which He has entrusted to them? God had a right to call Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees, and to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanite. He had a right to sweep the inhabitants of the cities of the plain from off the face of His earth when they so grossly defiled their fair inheritance. He had a right to call Moses and David from following the sheep, and set them in high places, to fulfil His eternal purposes. He had a right to take Nebuchadnezzar from his throne, and make his dwelling with the beasts of the field, until he knew “that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will,” and until he acknowledged that all “His ways are judgment, and those who walk in pride He is able to abase” (Daniel 4:25-37). “The earth is the Lord’s,” and “they that dwell therein” (Psalms 24:1), and He, by right of proprietorship, puts in an absolute claim to dispose of that which belongs to Him as He sees best.
VI. God also bestows and takes away human life. “He bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.”
1. He alone can give life. There are many things in which man can imitate God. He can imitate God’s benevolence by bestowing upon his fellow creatures gifts which will sustain and embellish their existence. He can be, to some extent, an imitator of God’s character (Ephesians 5:1). But he can in no way imitate Him as the Giver of life. In that the Creator stands absolutely alone in the universe—this is His sole prerogative. Human life is continued in the world by the instrumentality of man, but human parents are but instruments. In this respect there can be no likeness between man and God. God is the only Being who has “life in Himself” (John 5:26). His is the only independent life, the highest archangel—he who is permitted to draw the nearest to the inaccessible light wherein dwells the Divine Majesty—is as much dependent for existence upon the only source of life as the tiniest insect that crawls beneath our feet. He was not until God called him into existence, and that existence is sustained only by Him who gave it at the first. Of One alone can it be said that He “hath immortality” (1 Timothy 6:16), because all others receive it as a gift from Him.
2. He only has the power and the right to take life. He who gave has a right to take, and He only does take it. For whatever may be the second cause coming between, it is by Divine appointment that men die. Coming to the grave is not a debt of nature, but a Divine appointment. Nature is inexorable in exacting her debts—she works always by laws which she cannot set aside. She is strong enough to kill, but not strong enough to make an exception to the rule—she cannot go out of her destined course to serve the highest purpose—to favour the most holy character. But there have been exceptions to the universal law of death—exceptions which have been made by Him who is the Lord of Nature, and who can set aside her claims—can leave her debt unpaid when He sees fit. Nature did not make the law, because she has no power to make exceptions to the rule. It is God alone who “bringeth to the grave.” Death is not a chance which happens unto us. The arrow that entered between the joints of Ahab’s armour came from a bow “drawn at a venture,” but the arrow winged its way by Divine appointment. And so it is with all death’s arrows, not one but hits the mark to which God has destined it. But it must be remembered that the appointment of death was not part of God’s original plan in relation to men. Although it is now “appointed unto men once to die” (Hebrews 9:27), it was not so from the beginning. God’s purpose concerning man at the first was to give life, and not to take it away; to bestow upon His creature an undying existence, a perfect and unending life of body as well as of soul. It is man’s disobedience alone which has brought about the Divine appointment of death. “Going to the grave” is not the outcome of God’s original purpose concerning man, but an appointed penalty for man’s transgression. Death being thus a Divine appointment, dying should be regarded as a duty to be cheerfully discharged. Men face death bravely and cheerfully when they feel that their country or their earthly ruler has appointed them to it. The good man should learn from such examples to die as a duty of Divine appointment. A Christian ought to die cheerfully, seeing he dies by the command of the Lord of life. This thought ought to reconcile him to the inevitable, and help him to meet the last enemy without dismay. In proportion as a fellow-creature is good, we trust him with our life—with interests that are dearer to us than life. In proportion as he is wise as well as good—especially if he is powerful in addition to his wisdom and his goodness—our confidence in him is increased, our feeling of security in his hands is strengthened. The claim of the Eternal and Infinite God to kill and to make alive rests not only upon His power, but upon His character. He is not only the Author of life, but He is the King who cannot wrong any of his subjects, the Judge of all the earth who must, from the necessity of his nature, do right at all times to all His creatures. If God kills, it is not only because He takes what is His own, but because He is doing what is the best thing to be done, and in the best manner.
3. The resurrection from the dead depends upon the Giver of life. He not only “bringeth down to the grave,” but He “bringeth up.” (a) This we might have regarded as probable if we had no revelation upon the subject. We might have concluded that He who at first “breathed into man the breath of life,” and thus made him a “living soul,” could at His pleasure reanimate the dust and bring life again out of death. If God could give life where there was no life, is it not highly probable that He can give it again where it has once existed? (b) That He has done so is a matter of history. We have it upon reliable authority that He has restored dead men to life—that He has reanimated the lifeless clay, (c) That He must do this for all mankind is certain. Those who make promises ought to perform them if they are able to do so. If a man promises to redeem a pledged garment of his poorer brother, and is able to fulfil his promise, ought he not to do it, knowing as he does that his needy brother is expecting anxiously the promised raiment to cover his scantily clothed body? The raiment of God’s children is held in pledge by death—He holds the garment until the time of the “redemption of the body” (Romans 8:23). God has promised to redeem that raiment, and He holds Himself bound to fulfil His promise, and we hold him bound also. Christ has given His word to bring from the grave both the just and the unjust—“The hour is coming when all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-29). The vision of the seer has pictured for us that great redemption day—that day of “bringing up from the grave” of the human race (Revelation 20:12-13).
VII. In all the acts of His providence, in all the unlooked-for changes which He brings to pass, God has a special oversight of His own children. “He shall keep the feet of His saints.”
1. The character of the persons whose feet are kept—“Saints.” Sainthood implies a soul transition. A man that is known to have been born poor and is found in after life to be living in wealth is known to have experienced a great transition in his outward circumstances. By what means or at what time in his life this change took place may not be revealed, but that it has taken place is a certainty. So with a saint. Such a man is in a condition to which he was not born. Sainthood is “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Therefore every human saint has been the subject of a soul-change. He may have been suddenly raised from a state of spiritual poverty to wealth, or he may have acquired his riches by degrees—increasing little by little in his knowledge of God and in confidence in His character.
2. The change has taken place by the consent of his will. Change of will brings about a change of position. If a child who hated his lessons can be made willing to learn, his position in relation to knowledge is at once changed. A sinner passes into a saint by becoming willing to learn of the Holy One how to become holy. Willingness is the bridge by which the sinner passes from a state of opposition to God into a state of reconciliation to Him, and being thus reconciled to God is to be brought into that fellowship with Him which constitutes sainthood. The entire process of the transition is described by the Apostle in 1 John 1:5-9. Fellowship with God based upon a knowledge of His character makes a man a saint, but before this knowledge can be attained there must be a willingness to learn.
3. The saint needs a keeper for his feet. The child who has but just learned to walk needs a steady and strong hand to guide his steps. The person who “keeps his feet” must possess a wisdom and strength superior to that of the child’s. God is a guide and an upholder of the steps of His saints. He alone is “able to keep them from falling” (Jude 1:24). They cannot see the dangers in the distance coming to meet them, or even those which are now about their path. Hence their need of an eye that can discern them, and a hand that can deliver from them, a “God of knowledge,” who is perfectly acquainted with every danger to which they can be exposed, and a God of such absolute power as to be able to deliver them. And His word of promise to each one is, “Fear thou not, for I am with thee. Be not dismayed, for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness (Isaiah 41:10). Their weakness and their ignorance are both elements of danger, and both are fully met by their All wise and Omnipotent Keeper. The other part of the verse implies that they are surrounded by enemies, both seen and unseen, who do not fail to watch for their halting, and lose no opportunity they can lay hold of to trip them up; but “the wicked shall be silent in darkness, and by strength shall no man prevail” against the saints of God. They may, and often do, prevail against a saint’s earthly possessions, and even against his life. Jezebel by strength did “prevail” against Naboth’s vineyard, against his life. For the time she was paramount against a good man. Herodias did likewise prevail against the liberty and life of John the Baptist, and her strength was strong enough to silence the voice that had been lifted up against her crimes. And in many like cases the wicked have prevailed against the earthly prosperity and life of the saints of God by His permissive providence. But notwithstanding this permissive clause in the Divine code—notwithstanding the licence that God thus gives to the enemies of His saints—there is no relaxing of His hold, either of the saint or the sinner. The feet of the saint are still upheld, and when they pass through the waters and the fire of temptation and persecution they “shall not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon them (Isaiah 43:2), their character and all their real interests shall come through the trial without loss or injury.
4. The keeping of the saints’ feet arise from God’s special inheritance in them. They are “His saints.” The mother watches her child’s feet because the child is her own. She may have a general interest in all children, but the feet of her own child are the objects of her most watchful love. If she is a godly mother, she not only keeps the feet of her child’s body, but she cares unceasingly for the feet of the moral nature. She lays herself out to guide and to guard the spiritual as well as the natural life. All who are saints are God’s purchased possession, and His special relation to them, and theirs to Him, makes sure an unceasing care on His part for all their real interests.
VIII. The inference to be drawn from a contemplation of God’s character and government is, that contention against Him is vain.
1. He can overcome His adversaries by His physical omnipotence. “Out of heaven He shall thunder upon them.” God’s manifestations of power in the material world are sometimes of such a nature as to make men feel their utter powerlessness in His hands. When the seaman finds that all his efforts to guide his vessel are as useless as the dashing of the sea-spray against the rock, he becomes conscious of a power which is far beyond that of human skill and science. When the lightnings flash through the heavens and the thunder shakes the earth, we feel most deeply how passive we are in the hands of the Almighty Being, who can thus hold back and roll up the clouds of heaven. At such times we not only know how useless it is to contend with God, but we are made to feel it; we are conscious that to contend with One who has such powerful physical forces at His beck is as vain as it is wicked. The voice of God’s thunder made even the heart of the hardened Pharaoh to quake and to acknowledge himself defeated (Exodus 9:27-28), and all God’s mighty manifestations in the natural world should lead His creatures to humble themselves before Him. 2 He can confound them by His superior wisdom and goodness. “The Lord shall judge the ends of the earth.” The opponent in military warfare who can use the movements of his adversary to work his defeat and can carry the battle into his very camp and overthrow him on his own ground, is not one whom an enemy cares to meet. Neither is the opponent in argument to be despised who can turn a man’s own reasonings against him and confound him by his own words. God has done this with His adversaries over and over again. He has made the plans of the wicked instrumental in carrying out His own purposes and in working out their own destruction. Men ought by this time to have learned how useless it is to contend with One who “taketh the wise in their own craftiness:” so that “the counsel of the froward is carried headlong” (Job 5:13). The imperfect knowledge of a human judge may enable men successfully to contend against him. The fact that he is ignorant of many things that he ought to know may defeat the ends of justice, and lead him to an erroneous decision. But God is a perfect judge—His decisions are always perfectly just and equitable, because he lacks neither the perfect knowledge nor the perfect righteousness, out of which must come a perfect ruler. When the final judgment comes—when the Son of man shall “sit upon the throne of His glory, and before Him shall be gathered all nations” (Matthew 25:31-32), all men will feel that it is utterly useless to seek to evade His searching scrutiny—that His holiness and His omniscience make certain the overthrow of all that is opposed to Him. “The Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” (Jude 1:14; Jude 1:15).
IX. The end of confounding the wicked and the end of all God’s dealings with men is the establishment of a kingdom of righteousness. “He shall give strength unto His King, and exalt the horn of His Anointed.” In nature all change tends to the development of perfection. The blade and the green ear are but stepping-stones to the fully ripened grain. The bud unfolds into the perfect flower, the flower is followed by the fruit. So is it in God’s kingdom. All the overturnings and changes, all the judgments upon the ungodly, are but stepping-stones to the establishment of the kingdom of righteousness. All the kings who have ever sat upon the thrones of the world have been preparing the way for the rule of “His King,” who is one day to rule all the nations. Looking away into the future under the influence of the Spirit of God, Hannah foretells the advent of a king who should reign in righteousness, and anticipates the Psalmist King of Israel when he sang of Him who should “judge the poor of the people” and “save the children of the needy, and break in pieces the oppressor;” who shall “have dominion also from sea and to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth;” whose “name shall endure for ever, and be continued as long as the sun;” and whom “all nations shall call blessed.” (Psalms 76:0) To the undisputed reign of this King all the present dealings of God with men and nations are tending.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
1 Samuel 2:1. The repetition of “in the Lord” emphasises the fact that the joyous frame of mind and lofty consciousness of power has its root in the Lord, and pre-supposes the most intimate communion with the living God. The mouth “opened wide over mine enemies” intimates that the joy and courage that filled her soul had found utterance.—Lange’s Commentary.
Hannah’s song of praise compared with her former prayer.
1. She was then in “bitterness of soul” (1 Samuel 1:10); now her “heart rejoiceth.”
2. Then she was “humiliated” (1 Samuel 1:5; 1 Samuel 1:8; 1 Samuel 1:11); now she is “exalted.”
3. Then her adversary “provoked her” (1 Samuel 1:6); now her “mouth is opened wide over her enemies.”
4. Then she “poured out her soul before the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:15); now she “rejoices in His salvation.” Often we remember to pray, and then forget to praise.—Translator of Lange’s Commentary.
There is not one petition in all this holy hymn, but thanksgiving is a principal part of prayer; it is also an artificial begging.—Trapp.
How has Hannah’s glory been exalted? “In the Lord,” saith she. The elevation is no more dangerous, for it has a solid foundation, a root that cannot be shaken. The glory that comes from men is accompanied by the feebleness of those who give it, so that it is easily overthrown, but it is not so with the glory which comes from God. It is the glory of which the prophet speaks (Isaiah 40:6-8). Hannah is a remarkable example of this truth. Kings, generals, great men, are forgotten, notwithstanding all their efforts to make their names immortal, notwithstanding the magnificent tombs that they build, the statues that they erect, the monuments they leave as tokens of their success, their very names are forgotten. But Hannah is celebrated to-day throughout all the world, her glory is celebrated wherever the sun sheds its light.… For, when God glorifies anyone, death comes in vain, time passes on in vain, the glory of the mortal survives, and its flowers are kept unfading: nothing can throw a shadow upon that brightness.—Chrysostom.
1 Samuel 2:2. God manifests Himself as holy in the government of the kingdom of His grace by His guidance of the righteous to salvation.—Keil.
Two characteristics of the life of God’s children in their relation to the living God:
1. The humble reverence before Him, in view of His holiness.
2. The heartiest confidence in Him, in view of His unchangeable faithfulness.—Lange’s Commentary.
Holiness is a chief and super-eminent perfection of God, that wherein the Divine excellence doth chiefly consist. Therefore it is the most frequent epithet given to His name in Scripture. We never read mighty name or wise name, but frequently holy name. The holiness of God is His glory and beauty. Therefore He is said to be “glorious in holiness.” He is mighty in power, and rich in grace, and glorious in holiness.—Wisheart.
1 Samuel 2:3. The manner of God’s weighing actions.
1. With perfect knowledge.
2. With absolute rectitude (1 Samuel 2:2).
3. With immutable justice (1 Samuel 2:2).—Lange’s Commentary.
The weighed or righteous acts of God (see Keil’s rendering in Critical Notes) are described in 1 Samuel 2:4-8 in great and general traits, as displayed in the government of His kingdom, through the marvellous changes which occur in the circumstances connected with the lives of the righteous and the wicked.—Keil.
I. The perfection of God’s knowledge.
1. It is present and actual; His eye is always open, and everything is in the view of it. The knowledge of the creature is more power than act; it is not much that we are capable of knowing, but there is very little that we actually know, and’ tis but one thing that we can fix our thoughts upon at once. But the knowledge of God is an actual and steady comprehension of things, all objects are at once in the view of the Divine understanding.
2. It is intimate and thorough. Our knowledge glides upon the superficies of things; we do not know things in their realities, but as they appear and are represented to us in all their masks and disguises: but God knows things throughout, all that can be known of them.
3. It is clear and distinct. We are often deceived with the near likeness and resemblance of things, and mistake one thing for another; our knowledge is but a twilight, we see things many times together and in a heap, and do but know them in gross. But those things which are of the least consideration, and have the greatest likeness to one another, the very hairs of your head, are severally and distinctly known to God.
4. It is certain and infallible. Everything almost imposes upon our understandings, and tinctures our minds; our temper and complexion, our education and prejudice, our interest and advantage, our humours and distempers, these all misrepresent things and betray us into error: but the Divine understanding is a clear, fixed, constant, and undisturbed light, a pure mirror that receives no stain from affection, or interest, or any such thing.
5. It is easy and without difficulty. We must dig deep for knowledge and take a great deal of pains to know a little; we strive to comprehend some things, but they are so vast that we cannot; other things are at such a distance, that our understanding is too weak to discern them; others so little, so small and nice, that our understanding cannot lay hold of them; but God’s understanding being infinite, it is a vast comprehension of all things without difficulty or pain.
II. God’s knowledge of the heart teaches—
1. The folly of hypocrisy. If we deal with men this is not a very wise way, for there is danger of discovery even from them, therefore the best way for a man to seem to be anything is really to be what he would appear; but having to deal with God, to whom all our disguises are apparent, ʼtis a madness to hide our iniquity in our bosoms.
2. Charge yourselves with inward purity and holiness, because of the pure eyes which behold the most secret motions of your souls. Fear and shame from men lay a great restraint upon our outward actions, but what a strange freedom do we take within our own breasts! This is an argument of the secret atheism that lies at the bottom of our hearts.
3. This is a matter of encouragement to us in many cases—“When my heart is overwhelmed within me, then Thou knowest my path” (Psalms 143:3)—in cases of difficulty which depend upon the hearts of other men, which, though we do not know, yet God knows them. But especially is this a matter of comfort to us when we suffer by the calumnies and reproaches of men, when the world chargeth us with crimes, then to be able to appeal to the Searcher of hearts.
4. This renders all deep and profound policies of the wicked a vain thing. God sees those cobwebs which they are spinning, and can blow them away at a breath.
5. If God only knows the hearts of men, then what art thou, O man, that judgest another’s heart? Will thou assume to thyself the prerogative of God?—Tillotson.
1 Samuel 2:4-5. Every power which will be something in itself is destroyed by the Lord; every weakness, which despairs of itself, is transformed into power.—Von Gerlach.
1 Samuel 2:4-8. The unity amid change of the opposite ways which the pious and the ungodly must go.
1. One starting point, the Lord’s inscrutable will, which determines them.
2. One hand, the Almighty hand of the Lord which leads them.
3. One goal at which they end, humble submission under that hand. The wonderful guidance of the children of men in quite opposite ways.
1. The opposite direction in which they go, (a) from the height to the depth, (b) from the depth to the height.
2. The opposite design which the Lord has therein with men, (a) to lead them from the heights of pride and haughty self-complacency to humble submission under His unlimited power, (b) to exalt them from the depths of humble self-renunciation to a blessed life in the enjoyment of His free grace.
3. The opposite end, according as men cause the divine design to be fulfilled or defeated in them: (a) everlasting destruction without God, (b) everlasting salvation and life in, and with God.—Lange’s Commentary.
1 Samuel 2:3-10. The contrasts which the change in the relations of human life presents to us in the light of Divine truth.
1. God’s holiness and man’s sin.
2. God’s almightiness and man’s powerlessness.
3. God’s gracious design and man’s destruction.—Lange’s Commentary.
1 Samuel 2:5. The view held by some, that in Hannah’s barrenness and subsequent fruitfulness there is a mystical or typical meaning, deserves consideration. Hannah is said to be the type of the Christian Church, at first barren and reviled, afterwards fruitful and rejoicing. As to such typical character we must be guided, not by outward resemblances, but by fixed principles of Biblical interpretation. These facts may guide us to a decision—
1. God’s relation to His people is set forth under the figure of marriage (Isaiah 54:0; Jeremiah 3:0; Hosea 1-3.)
2. Isaiah (Isaiah 54:1) describes God’s spiritual people as barren, yet with the promise of many children.
3. Paul (Galatians 4:27) quotes this passage of Isaiah, refers it to the Church of Christ as distinguished from the Jewish dispensation, and declares that this antithesis is given in Sarah and Hagar.… What he declares is that Sarah is the mother of the child of promise, while Hagar’s child is the product of natural fruitfulness.… Throughout his argument it is the spiritual element of promise and faith on which Sarah’s typical position is based. Only, therefore, where we can show such spiritual element are we justified in supposing a typical character. There must be involved the truth that the origination and maintenance of God’s people depend on His promise, and not on human strength. This is not necessarily involved in the history of every barren woman who becomes fruitful.… Hannah seems to be simply a pious mother, whose prayer for a son, contrary to human probabilities, is granted.—Translator of Lange’s Commentary.
1 Samuel 2:6. He layeth men for dead, and then reviveth them, as 2 Corinthians 1:9-10. That great apostle was “in death’s often;” and those ancient confessors cry out, “for Thy sake are we killed all the day long” (Romans 8:36).—Trapp.
Hannah asserts that supreme sovereignty of God, of which the boasting, arrogant spirit, whether found in Peninnah’s pride of fecundity, or in Sennacherib’s pride of conquest, or in Nebuchadnezzar’s pride of empire, or in Antichrist’s pride of rebellion, is a blasphemous denial.—Biblical Commentary.
The word sheol signifieth—
(1) The grave, the place of dead bodies;
(2) by a metaphor, a state of adversity in this world;
(3) the forlorn estate of those who are deprived of God’s favour and inward comfort, whether for a time and when they are utterly cast off.—Willet.
The Lord bringeth down to the grave by the terror which He awakens in the soul of justly merited punishment, and He bringeth up by humble faith that He grants in His infinite mercy and in the merits of the blood of His Son.—De Sacy.
1 Samuel 2:8. These words contain the reason of all that precedes in the five foregoing verses: for the very earth being founded, upheld, and supported by the Lord, no wonder that all the inhabiters of it are in His power, to dispose of them as He thinks good.—Patrick.
The plans of the Most High are very different from men’s expectations. In order to execute them He rejects the great. While He allowed kings upon the throne to ignore His greatest miracle, He drew from the dust twelve disciples, and made them the masters of the nations, the judges of the world, the instruments of the greatest event which has ever taken place, the pillars of His Church, and partakers of His eternal empire. And He takes from the obscurity of a peasant’s home a poor, unknown girl, and makes her the mother of the Highest.—Duguet.
1 Samuel 2:9. This is a lower love and courtesy than to keep their hands (John 13:5-6). He keepeth them from utter prolapsion, from devoratory evils, as Tertullian saith, so as that either they fall not at all—stumble they may, but they get ground by their stumbling—or if they fall, they shall arise; for the Lord putteth under His hand (Psalms 37:24). There is still a supporting grace, below which they cannot possibly fall.… Augustine, striving against his headstrong corruptions in his own strength, heard a voice saying, “Thou would’st stand by thyself, and therefore fallest.”—Trapp.
As Jehovah, the God of Israel, the Holy One governs the world with His almighty power, the righteous have nothing to fear. But the wicked will perish in darkness—i.e., in adversity, when God withdraws the light of His grace, so that they fall into distress and calamity. For no man can be strong through his own power so as to meet the storms of life.—Keil.
God keeps the feet of His people.
1. By the prevention of sinful and evil occasions, so in that He does not so easily suffer them to come within the compass of ruin and spiritual destruction.
2. By fortifying and strengthening the heart and mind against closing with them, so that though occasions be administered, yet they shall have no power or efficacy upon them. He does this both by the grace of fear and by the grace of faith. God, by stirring up in His servants a holy tenderness and jealousy over themselves, does by this means very much scare them, who, by fearing lest they should sin, do come to avoid sinning itself. And faith is another supporter likewise. It lays hold upon all the promises of assistance and strengthening which God has made to His servants, such as this now here in the text, therefore it is said, “We are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation” (1 Peter 1:5). By the power of God as the principal. And by faith as the instrumental. We may likewise take the words in reference to temporal things.
1. God will bless His saints in their ways, not only for the preserving of their souls from sin, but the preserving of their bodies from destruction. He that will keep the feet certainly will not be wanting to the breast and head. He names the feet, that from them we might rise higher to all the rest.
2. He will bless them in regard to their works. There is a blessing upon a righteous hand whatsoever it be that he undertakes. As a blessing of protection upon his person, so a blessing of success upon his labour and constant employment.… As there is a difference between the wicked and the godly, in regard of their disposition, so is there likewise in regard of their condition.
1. It is a state of darkness. (a). In the ignorance of their minds, (b). In the inordinancy of their affections—malice shades the mind, and so any other unruly passion. (c). In the practice of all other sins whatsoever, forasmuch as they seek the dark for the commission of them. (d). In that spiritual blindness to which they are delivered and given up. This is the darkness of the way, there is also the darkness of the end—the darkness of death, which is common to all, and the darkness of judgment.
2. It is a state of silence. (a). Grief, horror, and perplexity shall seize upon them. Silence is an attendant upon grief and astonishment in their extremities. (b). It is a note of conviction, they shall have nothing to say for themselves. (c). It is a note of abode and continuance. It does denote the immovableness and irrecoverableness of their miserable condition.—Horton.
The title, saints, is of all names the most honourable. It literally signifies the holy ones. It associates the servant of God with his Maker, “whose name is holy,” with his Redeemer, “the Holy One of Israel,” and with “the Holy Ghost,” not to mention those holy ones who veil their faces before His throne.—Jowett.
1 Samuel 2:10. Here Hannah casts a prophetic glance at the consummation of the kingdom of God. As certainly as the Lord God keeps the righteous at all times, and casts down the wicked, so certainly will He judge the whole world, to hurl down all His foes and perfect His kingdom which He has founded in Israel. And as every kingdom culminates in its throne, or in the full might and government of a king, so the kingdom of God can only attain its full perfection in the king whom the Lord will give to His people and endow with His might. The Anointed of the Lord, of whom Hannah prophesies in the spirit, is not one single king of Israel, either David or Christ, but an ideal king, though not a mere personification of the throne about to be established, but the actual king whom Israel received in David and his race, which culminated in the Messiah. The exaltation of the horn of the Anointed of Jehovah commenced with the victorious and splendid expansion of the power of David, was repeated with every victory over the enemies of God and His kingdom gained by the successive kings of David’s house, goes on in the advancing spread of the kingdom of Christ, and will eventually attain to its eternal consummation in the judgment of the last day, through which all the enemies of Christ will be made His footstool.—Keil.
Hannah’s devout acknowledgment that God only is the Rock, and that it is the sole prerogative of God to raise up princes and to give them strength, stands in striking contrast to the people of Israel, who impatiently asked for a king to judge them like the nations, and to go out before them, and to fight their battles (1 Samuel 8:5-20), instead of waiting patiently God’s time, and instead of rejoicing in their privilege in not being like the nations, but in being the special people of God, and instead of relying upon His Almighty arm to save them from their enemies. She is the first who addresses God as the “Lord of Hosts” (see 1 Samuel 1:11), a title which emphatically declares the sovereignty of the Unseen Ruler of the world; and in this also, by her faith in Him, she stands in contrast with the faithless impatience of the people of Israel who asked Samuel to make them a visible head. The king of whom Hannah prophesies is “His king,” a king by whom the Lord shall judge the ends of the earth, not the king craved by the people on mere worldly considerations, but the King to be appointed by God, in His own time, and a figure of Christ of whom Jehovah speaks by David (Psalms 2:6; Psalms 72:1) to whom all judgment is given, and who will put all enemies under His feet (John 5:22-27; 1 Corinthians 15:25-28).—Wordsworth.
The judgment of God’s primitive justice.
1. Whom it threatens—the ungodly, “adversaries.”
2. How God makes it approach with warning signs, “out of heaven shall He thunder.”
3. How it discharges itself against all the world that is opposed to God. “The Lord shall judge the ends of the earth.”
4. How it promotes the perfecting of His kingdom. “He shall give strength unto His king.”—Lange’s Commentary.
1 Samuel 2:1-10. The Magnificat of Hannah is an evangelical song, chanted by the spirit of prophecy under the Levitical Law. It is a prelude and overture to the Gospel. It is a connection of sweet and sacred melody between the Magnificat of Miriam after the passage of the Red Sea—symbolising the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ,—and the Magnificat of Mary after the annunciation of His birth. Let this song of Hannah be read in the Septuagint, and then the Magnificat in St. Luke’s original, and the connection of the two will be more clearly recognised.… The true characteristic of sacred poetry is that it is not egotistical. It merges the individual in the nation and in the Church universal. It looks forward from the special occasion that prompts the utterance of thanksgiving, and extends and expands itself, with a loving power and holy energy, into a large and sympathetic outburst of praise to God for His love to all mankind in Christ.… The Magnificat of Hannah is conceived in this spirit. It is not only a song of thanksgiving, it is also a prophecy. It is an utterance of the Holy Ghost moving within her, and making her maternal joy on the birth of Samuel to overflow in outpourings of thankfulness to God for those greater blessings in Christ, of which that birth was an earnest and a pledge. In this respect it may be compared to the Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:0) and the Song of David (2 Samuel 22:0)—Wordsworth.
The history leaves us no room to doubt that the immediate occasion of this song was the birth of Samuel; yet, if viewed in reference to this occasion alone, how comparatively trifling is the theme! How strained and magniloquent the expressions! Hannah speaks of her “mouth being enlarged over her enemies,” of “the bows of the mighty men being broken,” of “the barren bearing seven,” of “the full hiring themselves for bread,” and other things of a like nature,—all how far exceeding, and we might even say caricaturing the occasion, if it has respect merely to the fact of a woman, hitherto reputed barren, becoming at length the joyful mother of a child. Were the song an example of the inflated style not uncommon in Eastern poetry, we might not be greatly startled at such grotesque exaggerations; but being a portion of that Word which is all given by inspiration of God, and is as silver tried in a furnace, we must banish from our mind any idea of extravagance and conceit. Indeed, from the whole strain and character of the song, it is evident that, though occasioned by the birth of Samuel, it was so far from having exclusive reference to that event, that the things concerning it formed one only of a numerous and important class pervading the providence of God, and closely connected with His highest purposes. In a spiritual respect it was a time of mournful barrenness and desolation in Israel: “the word of the Lord was precious, there was no open vision,” and iniquity was so rampant as even to be lifting up its insolent front, and practising its foul abominations in the very precincts of the sanctuary. How natural, then, for Hannah, when she had got that child of desire and hope, which she had devoted from his birth as a Nazarite to the Lord’s service, and feeling her soul moved by a prophetic impulse to regard herself as specially raised up to be “a sign and a wonder” in Israel, and to do so particularly in respect to that principle in the Divine government which had so strikingly developed itself in her experience, but which was destined to receive its grandest manifestation in the work and kingdom which were to be more peculiarly the Lord’s. Hence, instead of looking exclusively at her individual case, and marking the operation of the Lord’s hand in what simply concerned her personal history, she wings her flight aloft, and takes a comprehensive survey of the general scheme of God; noting especially, as she proceeds, the workings of that pure and gracious sovereignty which delights to exalt a humble piety, while it pours contempt on the proud and rebellious. And as every exercise of this principle is but part of a grand series which culminates in the dispensation of Christ, her song runs out at the close into the sublime and glowing delineation of the final results to be achieved by it in connection with His righteous administration. This song, then, plainly consists of two parts, in the one of which only—the concluding portion—it is properly prophetical. The preceding stanzas are taken up with unfolding from past and current events, the grand spiritual idea; the closing ones carry it forward in beautiful and striking application to the affairs of Messiah’s kingdom.—Fairbairn.
1 Samuel 2:11. “Minister.” “The word is used in three senses in Scripture.
1. Of the service of both priests and Levites (Exodus 28:35-43, etc.).
2. Of the ministrations of the Levites as rendered to the priests (Numbers 3:6), where the phrase is nearly identical with that used here.
3. Of any service, especially one rendered to a man of God (Numbers 11:28; 1 Kings 19:21; 2 Kings 6:15, etc.). The application of it to Samuel as ministering to the Lord before Eli the priest accords most exactly with Samuel’s condition as a Levite” (Biblical Commentary). “He must have been engaged in some occupation suited to his tender age, as in playing upon the cymbals, or other instruments of music; in lighting the lamps, or similar easy and interesting services” (Fausset).
CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES—
1 Samuel 2:12. “Sons of Belial.” See on Chapter 1 Samuel 1:16.
1 Samuel 2:13-14. They were not content with the portions assigned to them by the Levitical law, namely, the heave-leg and wave-breast (Leviticus 7:30-34), but robbed the offerer of that portion which belonged to him while he was preparing it to celebrate the feast of thanksgiving before the Lord.
1 Samuel 2:15. “The fat,” etc. This was the part of the animal which was to be offered to God (Leviticus 3:16; Leviticus 7:23; Leviticus 7:25, etc.). “This was high contempt of God to demand their portion before God had His”. (Patrick). “In the case of the peace offerings, the offerer slew the animal himself at the door of the tabernacle and the priest poured the blood and burnt the fat” (Biblical Commentary).
1 Samuel 2:17. “The young men.” “Not the servants of the priests (Keil) but the priests themselves, the sons of Eli” (Lange’s Commentary).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Samuel 2:12-17
THE SIN OF ELI’S SONS
I. Natural birth is not qualification for spiritual service. It does seem to fit men for some professions. The sons of sailors and soldiers often seem to be born with tendencies towards the profession of their forefathers, and very early give proof that they are intended by nature to enter a service which only requires natural gifts for its right fulfilment. But men do not inherit qualifications which fit them to be moral leaders and spiritual guides. It is not enough to possess the natural gifts which belong to holy progenitors, another and a higher law must be brought to exert its influence upon a man’s heart before he is fit to succeed his parent in spiritual service. If he succeeds to his father’s position merely because he is his son, it is a transgression of the law of God’s kingdom and must end in evil. If birth and blood and time-honoured custom could qualify men for a moral service, then Eli’s sons would have been fully fitted to succeed their father. They were born to a good social position—no man in the kingdom stood higher than Eli. They belonged to a family peculiarly honoured by God—no human being ever held a higher spiritual position than the High-priest of Israel. They could trace back their relationship to Moses, that man of God, whose name had for generations justly held the highest place in the history of his nation and was destined to become one of the most honoured in the kingdom of God. They were in this respect “Hebrews of the Hebrews”—members of its most honoured family—born representatives of the nation of which God was, in a special sense, the invisible king. Yet they were utterly unfit for their important office. They “knew not the Lord” and therefore they were His enemies although they were Eli’s sons.
II. When men thus throw away all the advantages of birth and education, they generally become sinners of a double dye. Although godliness does not come by inheritance there is everything in a pious ancestry to favour its growth. The swimmer who finds himself in the stream with both wind and tide in his favour to second his efforts, is doubly to blame if he neglects to use his advantages, and dies by his own deliberate choice if he throws away the opportunity he had of gaining the shore. Though time and tide waited not for him, yet they waited upon him, and he is verily guilty if he refused to take advantage of them. Some are born into this world to find themselves surrounded with social and spiritual influences which, like favourable winds and tides, wait to make the road to godliness easy to them. If they neglect to avail themselves of these good gifts of God they must become sinners of the blackest type, for they harden their hearts against the most softening influence, they sin against light and knowledge. Thus did the sons of Eli. They were launched into life upon a stream whose current was flowing towards that which was pure and holy—they were surrounded by influences which tended to make them worthy to be priests of the Most High God and true sons of Abraham. But they cast them all aside, and not only did not become spiritually fit for their service, but grew into monsters of iniquity, and turned the very tabernacle of God into a home of the grossest sin.
III. No bond arising from social position or rank is strong enough to prevent the manifestation of the sin which is in the heart. A tree may at present seem to be in a healthy condition, but if there is that in the root beneath the ground that is enough to kill the tree, nothing can prevent the fact from becoming evident in that part of the tree which is above the surface. Leaves and branches will, bye-and-bye, tell the tale. Nature is a symbol, and an expounder of moral truth in this matter as in many others. There is nothing morally bad that is hidden in a man’s heart that will not manifest itself in his life, though his reputation and his rank call upon him to conceal it. The secret sin will ere long become too strong to continue secret, although loss of position and influence may be the result of its being made public. Social prestige is a garment too narrow to conceal from view the hidden man of the heart, however desirable it may be to do so. If the tree is corrupt, the fruit will be corrupt also (Matthew 12:33). Eli’s sons had every temporal advantage to gain from preserving an outward decency of conduct—they must have been fully aware that only by so doing could they command in any degree the respect which was usually accorded to men in their position. But sin in the human heart is like pent-up water, which after being held back for a time rushes forth with a force that breaks down every dam, and sweeps away every obstacle, and carries desolation where-ever it goes. Even the restraint of the office of the priesthood was not strong enough to hold back Hophni and Phinehas from the grossest crimes, and their lust and greed broke down every social barrier, and spread moral desolation all around them.
IV. Those who are both irreverent and licentious poison human nature in its highest and lowest relations. The sin of licentiousness is a sin against the animal part of man; it defiles his body, and causes the race to degenerate physically. It makes all animal ties, which are intended to bring blessings to men, sink below those of the brute creation. The Lord is for the body (1 Corinthians 6:13), and He has proved that He cares for man’s physical well-being by the strictness with which He has fenced him round in this respect. He who transgresses God’s laws in this matter poisons the source of man’s physical well-being, and degrades his nature below the lowest animal. A river, while it flows within its appointed channel, carries fertility and beauty wherever it goes, but when it bursts its banks it obliterates all the beauty of the landscape, and spreads destruction all around. So with men’s animal passions. While they keep within the limits prescribed for them they are instruments of enjoyment and of blessing, but when the boundary is broken down and they flow beyond their lawful channel, they leave nothing but a curse behind them. Eli’s sons were guilty of thus defiling the body, and by so doing they poisoned one of the ordained streams of social blessing in their own families and in that of many others in Israel. They were also guilty of the grossest irreverence, and in this they sinned against man’s higher nature. Their conduct tended to dislodge from the mind all conceptions of the holiness and purity of God. This they did by the place in which they committed their most open crimes. The hospital is the place where men hope to receive healing medicine. If those who are expected to dispense remedies give poisonous drugs instead of healing, where shall the sick turn for help? The house of God is the place where men ought to find that which will conduce to moral health. If there they find only moral corruption, where shall they look? What higher crime can men be guilty of than that of turning the house of spiritual healing into a moral pest-house. Of what greater act of irreverence could the sons of Eli have been guilty than that whereby they corrupted the chastity of the women who frequented the tabernacle? They also tended to lower men’s conception of God by profaning His service. If a man constantly takes the name of God upon his lips in a light and careless manner he educates those about him to think lightly of the Divine Being. This is a tribute that a child of the wicked one is expected to pay to his father the devil, that thereby the name of the holy God may be lightly esteemed in the world. But if profanity of speech tends to dishonour God in the minds of men, much more does profanity of action. The sons of Eli were profane doers, and were therefore profane in a manner more calculated to produce irreverence in others than men of profane speech merely. They took God’s name in vain in their actions, and despised the holy name by which they were called by despising the offerings which were made to God according to His appointment. By open disobedience to Gods plain command, by robbing the Lord, and by robbing those who came to worship Him, those whose special function it was to hallow Him before the nation caused His offering to be abhorred. It is treason to speak or act against the king in any part of his dominion, but to defy him in his throne-room would surely be the most aggravated form of the crime. The whole earth is the Lord’s, and to act with irreverence towards Him in any part of His dominion is a sin, but to profane His holy ordinances in the palace of the Great King, is a sin of the blackest hue. The body-guard of a monarch is especially bound to render him loyal and faithful service; if it betray its trust, where is he to look for faithful servants? God’s ministers in all ages are the body-guard of the Eternal King; if they prove themselves renegades and unworthy of the high honour that He has put upon them, others will find in their unfaithfulness a licence to set Him at defiance. (For a parallel case in the modern history of the Church, see Froude’s “Annals of an English Abbey Short Studies,” vol. iii).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
1 Samuel 2:12. So were Jehoshua the high-priest’s sons (Ezra 10:18). Their parents, much employed about other things, are oft not so careful of well-breeding their children; and besides, they are apt to abuse their father’s authority and power to a licentious practice. Eli brought up his sons to bring down his house. They knew not the Lord. Apprehensively they knew Him, but not affectively; they had no lively light, their knowledge was not accompanied with faith and fear of God (Romans 1:21; Titus 1:16).—Trapp.
If the conveyance of grace were natural, holy parents would not be so ill suited with children. If virtue were as well entailed on us as sin, one might serve to check the other in our children; but now, since grace is derived from heaven on whomsoever it pleaseth the Giver, and that evil, which ours receive hereditarily from us, is multiplied, by their own corruption, it can be no wonder that good men have ill children; it is rather a wonder that any children are not evil.… If our children be good, let us thank God for it; this was more than we could give them; if evil, they may thank us and themselves, us for their birth sin, themselves for the improvement of it to that height of wickedness.—Bishop Hall.
1 Samuel 2:15. God may well call for the best of the best; but these liquorish Lurcos would needs be served before Him and be their own carvers. Boiled meat would not content them. But it ill becometh a servant of the Lord to be a slave to his palate. Christ biddeth His apostles, when they come into a house, “eat such things as are set before them.”—Trapp.
1 Samuel 2:17. It hath been an old saying, De templo omne bonum, de templo omne malum—all good or evil comes from the temple.—Chrysostom. Where the pastor is good, and the people good, he may say to them, as Paul to his Corinthians, “Are ye not my work in the Lord?” (1 Corinthians 9:1) Where the pastor is bad, and the people no better, they may say to him, Art thou not our destruction in the world? It is no wonder if an abused temple makes a disordered people. A wicked priest is the worst creature upon God’s earth; no sin is so black as that shall appear from under a white surplice. Every man’s iniquity is so much the heinouser as his place is holier. The sin of the clergy is like a rheum, which, rising from the stomach into the head, drops down upon the lungs, fretting the most noble and vital parts, till all the members languish into corruption. The lewd sons of Eli were so much the less tolerable by sinning in the tabernacle. Their sacrifices might do away the sins of others; no sacrifice could do away their own, Many a soul was the cleaner for the blood of those beasts they shed; their own souls were the fouler by it. By one and the same service they did expiate the people’s offences and multiply their own. Our clergy is no charter for heaven. Such men are like the conveyances of land: evidences and instruments to settle others in the kingdom of heaven, while themselves have no part of that they convey. It is no impossible thing for men at once to show the way to heaven with their tongue, and lead the way to hell with their foot. It was not a Jewish ephod, it is not a Romish cowl that can privilege an evil-doer from punishment. Therefore it was God’s charge to the executioners of His judgment, “Begin at mine own sanctuary” (Ezekiel 9:6); and the apostle tells us that “judgment shall begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17); and Christ, entering into His prophetical office, began reformation at His Father’s house (John 2:15). Let our devout and holy behaviour prevent this, and by our reverent carriage in the temple of God let us honour the God of the temple.… If Christ, while he was upon the cross, saith Bernard, had given me some drops of His own blood in a vial, how carefully would I have kept them, how dearly esteemed them, how laid them next my heart. But now He did not think it fit to trust me with those drops, but He hath entrusted to me a flock of His lambs, those souls for whom He shed His blood, like whom His own blood was not so dear unto Him; upon these let me spend my care, my love, my labour, that I may present them holy saints to my dear Lord Jesus. But let Christians beware, lest, for the abuses of men they despise the temple of God. For as the altar cannot sanctify the priest, so neither can the unholiness of the priest disallow the altar. His sin is his own, and cannot make you guilty; the virtue and comfort is from God, and this is still able to make you holy. When we read that “the sin of the priests was great before the Lord, for men abhorred the offering of the Lord,” this, we all confess, was ill done of the priests, and I hope no man thinks it was well done of the people. Shall men, therefore, scorn the sanctuary, and cast that contempt on the service of God which belongs to the vices of men? This were to add our own evil to the evil of others, and to offend God because He was offended. Cannot the faults of men displease us, but we must needs fall out with God ?.… We say of the sacraments themselves, much more of the ministers—These do not give us what God doth give us by them.—T. Adams.
CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES—
1 Samuel 2:18. “But.” The Levite-child is contrasted with the grown-up priest” (Wordsworth). “Ephod.” “It does not appear whether the Levites wore the ephod properly. Micah wore one, but that may have been in his character as priest (Judges 18:4; Judges 18:6; Judges 18:14), and David when he danced before the ark (2 Samuel 6:14). Possibly this was a mark of Samuel’s special dedication” (Biblical Commentary).
1 Samuel 2:19. “Coat.” Meil, rendered mantle in 1 Samuel 15:27; 1 Samuel 28:14, etc. “It probably resembled the robe or ‘Meil’ of the High-priest (Exodus 28:31), but was made of course of some simpler material, and without the symbolical ornaments attached to the lower hem, by which that official dress was distinguished” (Keil). “It is interesting to know that the garment which his mother made and brought to the infant prophet at her annual visit was a miniature of the official priestly tunic or robe; the same that the great prophet wore in mature years, and by which he was on one occasion actually identified. When the witch of Endor, in answer to Saul’s inquiry, told him ‘that an old man was come up covered with a meil,’ Saul perceived that it was Samuel”—1 Samuel 28:14. (Smith’s Biblical Dictionary).
1 Samuel 2:22. “Very old,” “consequently listless” (Patrick). “The women that assembled”. The same phrase as that used in Exodus 38:8. Some commentators consider that these women were employed in spinning, etc., for the service of the tabernacle like those mentioned in Exodus 35:25. Others, as Hengstenberg, look upon their service as purely spiritual, as that of Anna (Luke 2:36). Others again regard them as simply worshippers. Kitto says that if they were employed in service they would have been inside, not at the doors of the tabernacle.
1 Samuel 2:25. “If one man sin against another,” etc. “A man may intercede with God for remission of a penalty due to himself, but who shall venture to entreat for one who has outraged the majesty of God.” (Wordsworth.)
1 Samuel 2:26. “In favour,” etc. The same words as are used of Christ (Luke 2:52).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Samuel 2:18-21; 1 Samuel 2:26
I. Qualification for the service of God is not always on the side of years. A child may have a more correct idea of how to serve God than a man. The son may possess knowledge on this matter of which his parents may be profoundly ignorant. This is true of other knowledge than spiritual. One who is very young in years may far surpass his elders in his aptitude for science or art. The youthful Watt had thoughts suggested to his mind by the phenomena of nature such as had never occurred to the ancients who had preceded him, and he was thus at a very early age more qualified to serve his generation in this department of knowledge than they were. So in spiritual service. Age and experience do not necessarily qualify men to minister acceptably before the Lord. Hophni and Phinehas were old enough to serve God acceptably in the priest’s office, but while they brought dishonour upon Him in the performance of the most sacred functions, the child Samuel so performed his more humble duties as to make them an acceptable service to Jehovah. It is not the office which is held, but the spirit in which its duties are performed, that constitutes the real service, and that depends not on years, but on character, and often those who have been long nominal or even real servants of God are outstripped in fervour and devotion by those who have entered the lists many years later. “Many that are first shall be last, and the last first” (Matthew 19:30). Many who take the lead in the first start of the race are left far behind when others have reached the goal. Some who enter a school long before others are overtaken and outstripped by the later comers. And it is so in the Church of God. The sons of Eli were in the priesthood before Samuel was in the world, yet he was far in advance of them in the possession of that “reverence and godly fear,” without which no service to God is acceptable (Hebrews 12:28).
II. When regeneration has began in the young and degeneration has set in in those of mature years, the progress is commonly rapid in both. While Samuel “grew on, and was in favour both with the Lord and also with men,” Hophni and Phinehas hastened to fill up the measure of their iniquity. The sinful human nature which is the inheritance of all men was common both to Samuel and the sons of Eli, and they were both surrounded with influences favourable to the overcoming of evil tendencies and to the formation of a holy character. But Hophni and Phinehas strengthened every sinful natural disposition by giving themselves up to be ruled by their passions, by utterly disregarding the commandment of the Lord, the voice of conscience, or even their own reputation. Such an entire disregard of all the restraints which God had placed upon them made rapid degeneration inevitable, and they soon became as bad as it was possible for fallen men to become. But Samuel’s upward growth was as rapid as their descent. He had evidently already become a subject of the regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit, he had yielded himself up to that Divine guidance which is powerful enough to renew the human heart and to give a new birth unto holiness, and so to make the path of him who is willing to be moulded by it “as the shining light which shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” The child grew and so did the men. The one ripened for a noble and holy and useful life, the others for the condemnation and judgment of God.
III. The most godless and the holy may be found associated in the external service of God. Samuel and the sons of Eli were both engaged in the temple service. Samuel was “girded with a linen ephod,” and so, doubtless, were they. Wheat and tares grow together in the same field. John and Judas sat at meat together with the Lord. A saint of the highest type may be associated in external religious service with a most villanous man, they may worship in the same house of God, may sit together at the table of the Lord. It must and will be so until the harvest when the Lord of the field will say to the reapers, “Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn” (Matthew 13:30).
IV. Fulfilled obligations will not discharge us from obligations yet to be fulfilled. Hannah had taken her child and given him to Eli for the service of the Lord, but her loving care of him did not end there. Her heart was still with him, and her hands still busy for him. She “made him a little coat, which she brought to him from year to year.” The performance of past duties to God does not free us from the obligations of the present any more that debts discharged in the past will release us from those we may contract in the future. Not even a very special work done for God, or a great sacrifice made for His service in the past, will discharge us from the obligation to perform the commonest duties of to-day. When Hannah had performed her vow, and dedicated her first-born son to the Lord, and under the influence of the Holy Ghost had sung of the coming kingdom of righteousness and of the Lord’s Anointed, she still regarded it as her privilege and duty to care for her child’s every-day bodily wants, and to make his garment with her own hands. She recognised the fact that if the spirit is to serve God in the present life the body must be cared for too, even as did the great Apostle of the Gentiles when, looking forward to being shortly crowned by his Lord in Paradise, he sent for his “cloak which he left in Troas,” that so long as he was in the flesh he might keep his body from cold and sickness, and so continue fit to serve His Master until the end should come (2 Timothy 4:13). Those whose hearts are right will not despise the lowliest or the most ordinary work, or call anything that their hands find to do common or unworthy of their notice.
V. We have here a record of Divine compensation for human sacrifice. “The Lord blessed Hannah, so that she conceived, and bare three sons and two daughters.” The kingdom of nature demands sacrifices of men. The husbandman must cast away some seed and give it up as it were to death, and he must do this without regard to the wind or the cold. But Nature is generous when she finds that her conditions are fulfilled, she gives an ear for a single grain, and the joy of harvest to compensate for the toil of the sowing-time. And as it is in God’s natural kingdom, so is it more abundantly in His spiritual kingdom. No service rendered to Him, not “even a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple,” shall lose its reward. Hannah gave her firstborn son to the Lord in the service of the temple, and her home was gladdened by five more children. She found that God heaped into her bosom “good measure” and “running over.” In the more spiritual dispensation of the New Testament men must not look for, nor do spiritual men desire such a repayment in the same kind, but God will be no man’s debtor, and the word of Christ is sure: “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life” (Matthew 19:29).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
1 Samuel 2:18. Samuel did not merely worship and enjoy spiritual training; he ministered before the Lord, and did what he could to make himself useful. “Perhaps,” says Matthew Henry, “he attended immediately on Eli’s person—was ready to him to fetch and bring as he had occasion; and that is called ministering to the Lord.… He could light a candle, or hold a dish, or run on an errand, or shut a door; and because he did this with a pious disposition of mind, it is called ministering to the Lord, and great notice is taken of it.” We have not now a tabernacle such as there was in Shiloh, nor have we such services as Samuel was called upon to render; but in the Church of God there is sphere wide enough for the most active energy, diversified enough for many workers, and simple enough for the youngest to undertake.… Common obedience and everyday life, too, receive a consecration from the godly motive. Children, by their infant prayers, have ere now awakened a parent’s long silent heart.… An infant’s hymn has awakened the hardened, and the example of a believing boy has occasioned an older mind to inquire, “What must I do to be saved?”—Steel.
1 Samuel 2:19. This was much in Samuel’s education. It nurtured the family feeling, the loss of which is a great deprivation. It kept his heart tender, when amidst strangers his feelings might be blunted. It provided for him that he might not be reproached.—Steel.
“Petty little histories!” cries Unbelief. “What matters it whether one knows that Samuel had a little coat or no?” Holy Scripture is not written for the wise, but for child-souls, and a child-like soul does not doubt that even the little coat which Hannah prepared for her Samuel has its history. If I think of Hannah as every year sewing this coat at her home in Ramah, I know that at every stitch a prayer for her Samuel rose up to the throne of the Lord. The coat which she was sewing would remind her that she had given him to the Lord; and when the coat was ready, and she brought it to Shiloh, then every time with the coat she anew gave Samuel to her God, and said, “I give him to the Lord again for his whole life, because he was obtained from the Lord by prayer.”—Daechsel.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Samuel 2:22-25
ELI’S REPROOF OF HIS SONS
I. Impartiality is an essential qualification in a judge or ruler. Some sins against Divine laws are to be dealt with by human rulers. Magistracy is an ordination of God, and in proportion as the character of him who administers the law is good, and the law itself is just, human judges are reflections of God, and represent Him who will not acquit the guilty, and will defend the innocent. But, above all things, he who holds such an office must be impartial. Eli, as the judge of Israel, was bound to imitate God in this particular, as in all others. No man can be honoured by his fellow-creatures unless he deals out evenhanded justice to all to whom he administers law, and the man who will allow rank, or position, or relationship to influence his judgment is no representative of Him who will render to all their dues. A man should be specially guarded when called upon to pass sentence or administer justice to one who is connected with him by the ties of blood or friendship. Such a medium has a tendency to distort our sense of right and wrong—to lead us to excuse the crime with which we should deal severely in a stranger. What we should look upon as pure villany in the one we may be disposed to regard as mere misfortune in the other. It needs a much higher standard of character than that possessed by Eli to deal out the rightful measure of punishment to those who are nearly connected with us. The goodness and integrity of God leads Him to adopt a course directly opposite to that which men generally pursue in such a case. He punishes with greater rigour in proportion as the offender has been hitherto favoured and brought into near relation to Him. We have reason to believe that few of the sons of God stood nearer the Eternal throne than Satan. And because it was so, his punishment has been severe in proportion, the hell into which he was banished was deep in proportion to the place in heaven from which he fell. No people of ancient days stood in such near and intimate relation to God as did the people of Israel. Yet for this very reason no nation has received such severe punishment for transgression. “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities” (Amos 3:2). God, being the perfectly righteous judge and governor, is the Being whose example should be followed by all human magistrates, and the prominent feature in God’s magistracy is His strict impartiality. If Eli had imitated God in this respect he would have dealt very differently with his abandoned sons. But he looked at their crimes through the medium of his fatherly relationship, and this medium so softened down the blood-red stains upon their characters that when, as the first magistrate of Israel, he ought to have sentenced them to death or at least to have excommunicated them from office, he contents himself with a very tame remonstrance. He touches them gently with the back of the sword, whereas if a Moses or such a man as the first Phinehas had been in his place, he would have thrust the blade into them up to the very hilt (Numbers 25:6-11). His stern rebuke of Hannah for a fancied crime shows that he could be severe, in speech at least, upon occasions, and the contrast even in the words used to the unoffending woman and those in which he reproved his sons, makes him stand convicted of gross impartiality, and therefore as lacking the most essential qualification of a magistrate.
II. Men who are merely emotional are fit neither to govern men nor to train children. Honey is good for man’s eating, and contains some nutriment and also healing properties. But honey alone would be a poor sustainer or nourisher of human life. Wax is a useful material for some purposes, but it would be poor material of which to build a house. To feed upon the first would be to make sickness certain; to build with the second would be to ensure the fall of the house. Emotions have their place in the human soul, and a man destitute of feeling is a monster; but feelings are not to be the guide of human conduct, and the judge or the father who is swayed entirely by his emotions will in time forfeit all respect and confidence. Tenderness and gentleness are blessed and Divine attributes of character, but mere softness and inertness must not be mistaken for them; and where they really exist there is no lack of capability for righteous indignation, no want of will to administer deserved rebuke. Eli’s failure in his duty as a judge leads us to infer that he had been a too indulgent father—that which unfitted him to deal justly with his grown sons would have unfitted him to train them in childhood. Contrast the tender and long-suffering Son of God with the soft-hearted Eli, and place the reproof of the high priest side by side with our Lord’s denunciations of similar characters holding a like position, and we see how the tenderest compassion is compatible with the most terrible denunciation of sin. “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!.… Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” etc.—(Matthew 23:23-35).
III. There are sins beyond the power of human intercession. Even Eli allowed this (1 Samuel 2:25). Men have committed and do commit certain sins, and other men have interceded and do intercede for them and obtain their pardon. This is the case where sins are committed against other men, and sometimes when sin is committed against God. God Himself has accepted human mediation, and has held back His judgments. This He did often in the case of Moses and the people of Israel. Many a time He spared the sinful nation because the voice of His servant pleaded for them. But sometimes no intercession of man can avert Divine displeasure—no human creature can prevent the thunderbolt of God’s judgment from falling. Noah, Daniel, and Job were men who were highly esteemed by God, and whose prayers on behalf of others are—in the case of two at least—known to have been effectual (Job 42:8; Daniel 9:20; Daniel 9:23). But, if they had all lived in the days of Ezekiel, their joint intercessions could not have saved the guilty Israelites from the chastisement which their sins had made inevitable—“Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord God” (Ezekiel 14:14). The sins of Hophni and Phinehas were so outrageously vile, and their position and office so aggravated their crimes that they were beyond the power of human intercession. No prayer of Eli, not even the prayers of a Noah, a Daniel, or a Job, could now have turned away the judgment of God from them. The father seems to feel that he cannot ask forgiveness for them in their present state of heart—he exhibits some conception of the enormity of their crimes when he says, “If a man sin against the Lord, who shall entreat for him?” It was his right and privilege to draw nigh to God on behalf of others, but the iniquity of his sons was so great, that his very position as high-priest forbade his pleading that God would pass over their sins.
IV. When sinners are beyond the reach of intercession and marked for Divine punishment, they will not repent. The people of Sodom were in such a condition. Intercession for them could not avail, because they were so hardened in sin that repentance had become a moral impossibility. Even after God had stricken them with blindness they persisted in endeavouring to perpetrate their enormous wickedness, thus proving that neither the persuasions of men, nor the judgments of God, could lead them to repentance. Eli’s sons were as great sinners, for if their crimes were not quite so black, they were committed against Divine light and holy influences such as were not possessed by the men of Sodom. Where could stronger inducements to repentance be found than those which they had set at nought? How could men be led to repentance who turned the very house of God into a house of shameless crime? Before the executioner brings the sharp steel to the neck, he blindfolds the culprit. These men had blindfolded themselves by their persistent iniquity, and nothing now could prevent God’s axe from falling.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
1 Samuel 2:23. Had these men but some little slackened their duty, or heedlessly omitted some rite of the sacrifice, this censure had not been unfit; but to punish the thefts, rapines, sacrileges, adulteries, incests of his sons with “Why do ye so,” was no other than to shave the head which had deserved cutting off.… An easy rebuke doth but encourage wickedness, and makes it think itself so slight as that censure importeth. A vehement rebuke to a capital evil is but like a strong shower to a ripe field, which lays that corn which were worthy of a sickle. It is a breach of justice not to proportionate the punishment to the offence: to whip a man for murder, or to punish the purse for incest, or to burn treason in the hand, or to award the stocks to burglary, is to patronise evil instead of avenging it.—Bp. Hall.
1 Samuel 2:24. Too mild all along. He should have said as Isaiah 57:3-4, “Draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress,” etc., ye degenerate brood and sons of Belial and not of Eli.… He should have said, “Woe is me that I live to hear it; it had been better that I had died long since, or that you had been buried alive, than thus to live to stink above ground.” But he saith only, “I hear ill of you by all the people,” as if he went only upon hearsay, and were put on by the people thus to check them.—Trapp.
1 Samuel 2:25. The duties which men are required to perform in society are two-fold, they owe duties to their brethren, they owe duties to God; or rather, considered in a Christian light, every one of our social duties, as it should be performed on a religious principle, so should it be considered of a religious character. “Whatsoever we do, we should do all to the glory of God.” The mind of man, however, is so gross that it is necessary for the sanctions of religion to be seconded by the authority of human laws in enforcing the observance of our social and moral duties. Not only, therefore, is the wrath of God denounced against the sinner for his offences, every one of which is a violation of God’s authority, but “if a man sin against another, the judge also judges him”—he is amenable also to that human authority which he has despised. Still, after all that can be done by man’s interference, after all the severity of punishment which men can inflict upon the offender to deter others from a like offence, it is the anger of God which is most to be avoided, it is the punishment of God which is most to be dreaded. Comparatively trifling should be our fear of them “which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul;” for comparatively feeble is their vengeance, and comparatively light and transitory is the punishment which they can inflict; but our fear of the Divine wrath should, if possible, be great in proportion to the greatness of the power of Him “who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell.”—Bishop Mant.
I read not in the Scripture of a hypocrite’s conversion, and what wonder? For whereas after sin conversion is left as a means to cover all other sins, what means to recover him who hath converted conversion itself into a sin?—Trapp.
“The Lord would slay them!” It is a dreadful sentence, and we would fain know of whom it was uttered. It is spoken of particular persons and not generally.… of the sons of a priest, brought up amidst holy things from their childhood.… What more could have been done unto the vineyard? What greater means of knowledge, what better opportunities of being impressed with a sense of God’s majesty and holiness could possibly have been granted them? But these means and opportunities had been neglected, till what was food at first was now their poison. They had gained such a habit of seeing and hearing holy things unmoved that nothing could possibly work on them. It is probable that every fresh service which they performed about the tabernacle did but harden them more and more. How, then, could they hearken to the voice of their father, a kind old man indeed, and a good one, but one with none of that vigour of character which commands respect, even from the evil. Were his words of gentle rebuke likely to move those hearts which for years had served every day in the presence of God, and had felt neither fear for Him nor love of Him. Vain was it to hope that such hearts should be so renewed to repentance. The seal of destruction was set on them but too plainly; the Lord would slay them; the laws of His providence, His unchanged and unchangable providence, had decreed that their case was hopeless; for they had hardened their hearts greedily all their lives, and their work was now set so sure that they could not undo it, because they could not now wish it to be undone.—Dr. Arnold.
The purpose of God was not the cause of their disobedience, but their disobedience was a sign that they were now ripe for destruction, and that the righteous purposes of God in their case should now soon be executed.—Starke.
They were in a state of inner hardening, which excluded the subjective condition of salvation from destruction, and so they had already incurred God’s unchangable condemnation. As hardened offenders they were already appointed by God to death; therefore the word of instruction had no moral effect upon them.—Lange’s Commentary.
God is more honoured or dishonoured in our religious actions than in all the actions of our lives; in them we do directly pretend His honour and service, and therefore if we do not walk in them watchfully, and intend them seriously, the greater is our sin. For a trespass committed against holy things the Jews were to bring a ram, to be valued by the shekel, to the sanctuary; for a trespass against their brethren a ram was required, but no such valuation expressed; whence Origen infers: “It is one thing to sin in holy things, another thing to sin beside them.” … When men are some way off in a king’s eye they will be comely in their carriage; but when they come into his presence-chamber to speak with him they will be most careful.… God is very curious how men carry themselves in His courts.… Do but observe, under the law, how choice He was about all things relating to His worship: the tabernacle must be made of the best wood, the purest gold, the finest linen, etc.… And what is the substance of all these shadows, but this, that God will be served by holy men, in the purest, holiest manner?… Dost thou not know that He “will be sanctified in them that draw nigh unto Him?” (Leviticus 10:3). Great persons are impatient of contempts and affronts, especially when they are offered them in their own houses; God will sooner overlook thy forgetfulness of Him in thy trade or travels than in His tabernacle. When thou drawest nigh to Him there, He will be sanctified, either in thee or upon thee. If thou refuse to give Him glory in His service, believe it, He will get Himself glory by thy suffering. His worship is His face, and look for His fury if thou darest Him to His face.—Swinnock.
CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES—
1 Samuel 2:27. “A man of God.” A prophet, as in 1 Kings 13:1, etc. “The only one mentioned since Deborah.” (Biblical Commentary.) “Thy Father.” “Eli was a descendant of Ithamar, the youngest son of Aaron” (1 Chronicles 24:3).… “The transfer of the high-priesthood to him must have taken place, because at the death of the last high-priest of the family of Eleazer Aaron’s eldest son), the remaining son was too young and inexperienced to take his place.” (Keil.)
1 Samuel 2:28. “Did I not give,” etc. The bountiful provision made by God for His priests is mentioned as the great aggravation of the sins of Eli’s sons. (Biblical Commentary.)
1 Samuel 2:31. “The judgment did not fall upon Eli’s house immediately. His grandson Ahitub (1 Samuel 14:3), and Abiathar, Ahitub’s grandson (1 Kings 1:25; 1 Kings 2:26), successively held the office of high priest. So much importance in the East has always been attached to old age that it would be felt to be a great calamity, and sensibly lower the respectability of any family which could boast of few old men.” (Fausset.) Abiathar, the last high priest of Eli’s family, was deposed by Solomon, and the high-priesthood reverted to that of Eleazar, to whose family Zadok belonged (2 Samuel 15:24; 2 Samuel 17:15; 2 Samuel 19:12; 2 Samuel 20:25; 1 Kings 2:27).
1 Samuel 2:32. “This was the captivity mentioned in Judges 18:30. (Wordsworth.)
1 Samuel 2:35. “A faithful priest.” This probably refers, in the first instance, to Samuel, who was evidently called by God to perform priestly acts; and, secondly, to Zadok, the father of a long line of priests. It is also generally regarded as pointing on to the Messiah. “It would then seem best to regard it as announcing a line of faithful men.” (Tr. of Lange’s Commentary.)
1 Samuel 2:36. “A piece of silver.” The word is used only here. It signifies a small piece of money, and has been rendered “a beggar’s coin.” “Commentators are divided in their opinion as to the historical allusions contained in this prophecy.” (Keil.)
MAIN HOMILETICS OF 1 Samuel 2:27
A DIVINE MESSENGER
I. This remarkable messenger was a nameless person. “There came a man of God unto Eli.” All the prominent stars that stud our skies, and contribute their portion of light to the inhabitants of earth, are known to astronomers by name, but there are others that are so far off as not to admit of distinction, and we group them under some general designation: yet each one of these far-off bodies sheds some light upon us, nameless as it is. There are records in the holy Scriptures of many nameless persons, who, notwithstanding the little that is told about them, have been used by God to shed upon men the light of His truth. We group them together, like a cluster of far-off stars, under the general title of “men of God,” and all we know of their individual character or history we gather from the message which they delivered, and which has been left upon record to shed a permanent light upon the world. But although we cannot tabulate and name all the myriad stars of heaven, those which are left unnamed by men are known by name to their Creator. “He calleth them all by names” (Isaiah 40:26). And so it is with those human light-givers whose names are not known to their fellow-men. Although this man of God remains unknown by name to all who read his words, yet he was and is known and named by His Divine Master, who called him to His work, and has long since rewarded him for it. And as those nameless stars may excel in magnitude and glory many of those which, from their nearer position to us, seem to be stars of the first magnitude, so these unnamed prophets may be as great in God’s kingdom, and may have done as great a work in His estimation as those whose names are left recorded upon the Divine page. And so it may be now with many a God-sent messenger, whose name is unknown to the world, or even to the Church—he may be more highly esteemed by Him whose name is above every name, and stand in much closer fellowship with Him than many a one whose name stands high in the estimation of his fellow-Christians. But, after all the general name includes the particular—the greater name includes all lesser names. “A man of God” includes all that can be said in honour of either Isaiah the prophet or Paul the apostle. For “a man of God,” when the designation is not a misnomer, signifies—
1. A man who has got his character from God. An Englishman when he is a true representation of his country and nation, has the disposition and tendencies which generally characterize his people. A child generally has some of the characteristics of his parent, because he is of his parent. So a man of God is one who possesses, in some degree, a God-like disposition, is one who is in sympathy with God, who loves what He loves, and hates what He hates. No particular name can express more concerning a man’s relation to God than does this general one. “We are of God” (1 John 4:6), is as much as can be said of any human creature, for these four words include all the blessedness of Divine sonship—all the glory of the life everlasting.
2. In the Scripture, a man of God is one who bears a message from God. This is a title given both to Old Testament prophets and to New Testament ministers. “But thou, O man of God, flee these things” (1 Timothy 6:11). “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.… that the man of God may be perfected,” etc. (2 Timothy 3:16-17). In both these passages the general name includes and means more than the particular. A “man of God” is more than Paul or Timothy—it is one who is entrusted with a message from the Eternal for his fellow-man—one who has “received” from God “the things which he speaks” (1 Corinthians 2:12-13). He speaks to men of God and for God—his life-work is that of beseeching men to be “reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20)—his one business in the world is to declare the “message” which he “has heard of Him,” viz., that “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
II. This messenger, though nameless, has been held in much greater honour by men than has the well known house whose doom he declared. Character is much more important than name, and the better the deed or the word the more easily we can dispense with the doer or the speaker. The names of Eli, of Hophni and Phinehas stand out prominently upon the page of Hebrew history, but what is recorded of the high-priest and judge himself is not calculated to set him very high in the estimation of men—he has left little more than his name behind him—while those of his sons are associated only with the memory of their crimes. The nameless prophet passes before us like a ship upon the horizon making for her destined port. We know not whence she came or whither she is going, but she leaves a pleasing impression upon the mind. But Eli and his sons remain like wrecks upon the shore, whose only use is to warn others to shun the rocks upon which they were broken.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Samuel 2:27-36
A DIVINE MESSAGE
I. The charge. The house of Eli is charged with ingratitude. Perhaps no greater crime is chargeable upon human nature. The slave who has been freed from the tyranny of a cruel master by the putting forth on his behalf of a strong arm, and who has not only been thus made a partaker of liberty but who has been clothed, and fed, and educated by the same benefactor, is expected to manifest gratitude to him to whom he owes all that makes life worth having. Gratitude ought to well up in his spirit like water from a living spring, and if such a man proves ungrateful it indicates that he is destitute of all right feeling, for he sins, not against law but against love. Eli’s family, in common with all the other families of Israel, had dwelt in the “house of bondage.” They had been for many years in “the iron furnace, even in Egypt,” and God had delivered them from their degraded condition and made them “a people of inheritance unto Himself” (Deuteronomy 4:20). To be ungrateful to such a deliverer shows them to be without natural feeling. But their ingratitude was aggravated by their elevation above all the other families of the nation. “Did I plainly appear unto the house of thy father, when they were in Egypt in Pharaoh’s house? And did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest?” This is the head and front of their crime. When a number of homeless children are taken from the streets, and housed and cared for, those who rescue them have a claim upon the gratitude of all. But if out of this number, one is made the object of special care and is selected to fill a higher position than the rest, the ingratitude of this one will be so much greater than the ingratitude of the others, as the benefits bestowed upon the one have been greater than those bestowed upon the rest. Ingratitude in any would be a sin; but ingratitude in the one who has been especially favoured would be a sin of deeper die. The house of Aaron, of which Eli was a member, was bound to God by the common ties of gratitude by which all Israel was bound; but God had claims upon them which far exceeded those of any other family of the nation. The members of Aaron’s family had been elected by God to the highest possible honour, they had been set apart to the most sacred office, and they had been sustained at the command of God by the offerings of the people. It was demanded of them in return that they should show their gratitude for such unparalleled favours by reverent obedience to God. But the conduct of those who now represented them was of the very opposite nature. There had been the blackest profanity instead of reverence, and those who ought to have been examples of holiness had been promoters of vice. Ingratitude has been called a monster in nature, and a comparison between the privileges enjoyed by those men, and the returns they made, convicts them of being guilty of this monstrous crime in an aggravated form.
II. The sentence. The authority and influence of Eli’s house was to cease in Israel. That men by misdeeds entail a tendency to sin upon their posterity is a fact plainly written in the history of families and the oracles of God. A bad father generally leaves behind him bad children. This law must work unless God reconstitutes the present order of nature and makes each man’s power to work good or ill to end with himself. But while there is the relationship of parent and child this cannot be. Wherever we look we find instances in which children are born to an inheritance of good or evil influences, and the after-life of the greater number takes its moral tone from the character of their parents. Hence it is that families as well as individuals merit the blessing or the punishment of God. Eli had not used his own authority and influence to much purpose, and his sons had shamefully abused that which had been entrusted to them by God. Such men were very unlikely to be the founders of a house which would be a blessing to Israel, therefore the sentence is directed not against Eli and his sons only, but against their posterity. As they had dishonoured God, so God would bring their house to dishonour. As Eli had not used his power and authority to prevent the defilement of the house of the Lord, he shall have no power to hold back the desolation of his own. As he and his sons had not fulfilled the conditions laid down for the observance of the priests, their sons shall have no conditions to observe, for the priesthood shall be transferred to others. As is generally the case in the judgments of God, the nature of the punishment bears some resemblance to the nature of the transgression. “He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity; he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword” (Revelation 13:10).
III. The authority for the sentence. “Thus saith the Lord.” God’s authority to pronounce this doom upon the house of Eli springs—
1. From the relation which He sustains to men in general. God was the absolute proprietor of the lives of these men, as He is of the life of every human creature. He, as we have seen (see on 1 Samuel 2:6), is the giver of life to men; to Him also belongs the world, which He has “given to the children of men” (Psalms 115:16) for a dwelling-place, and, if men abuse His good gifts, He has an absolute right to deprive them of that which He has bestowed.
2. But God had a special right to judge the house of Eli, a right springing from the special relation to Himself in which He had placed them. As we have before seen, in considering the charge, as Israelites they had been objects of His special favour, as men of the house of Aaron they were brought into a closer relationship to God, and this threefold obligation gave to Jehovah a threefold authority to pronounce upon them and theirs this terrible yet deserved sentence.
IV. The principle upon which God exercises this authority over all men. “For them that honour me I will honour,” etc. God can be known so as to be honoured. God must be known, not only as to His existence, but as to His character, in order to be honoured. Eli and his sons had enough knowledge of the character of Jehovah to make it possible for them to honour Him, they had enough knowledge to make their “lightly esteeming” Him a black transgression. Wherever men find moral excellence they are bound to honour it, their consciences call upon them to reverence goodness wherever it is found, and God here lays down a law of His government that He will not hold them guiltless who withhold from His perfect character the honour which is His due.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
1 Samuel 2:29. “And honourest thy sons above me.” Choosing rather to gratify them than to glorify me, by abdicating them from the priesthood. But it may be Eli feared lest the high-priesthood should by this means go from his family, as it had before from Eleazar’s for misdemeanour, which also afterwards befell him, and he by seeking to prevent it hastened it.—Trapp.
The well-fed beast becomes unmanageable and refractory, and refuses the yoke, and bursts the bonds (Jeremiah 5:5; Jeremiah 5:7-8). So the priests, instead of being grateful for the provision made for them, in their pampered pride became dissatisfied, wantonly broke the laws of God which regulated their share of the offerings, and gave themselves up to an unbridled indulgence of their passions and their covetousness.—Biblical Commentary.
It is often easy to be exposed to this reproach of God without being aware of it. Those who labour to spread the light of Divine truth by publicly declaring it to the people certainly offer a sacrifice which may be very acceptable to God. But if they nourish in their hearts a secret pride, and if they seek in these holy services their own glory rather than the glory of God, they take for themselves the first-fruits of the sacrifice. They become the end of their action, and God is only the means. They put the creature before the Creator, and this is the greatest of all misplacements.—De Sacy.
1 Samuel 2:30. “Them that honour Me, I will honour.” This is a bargain of God’s own making; you may bind upon it. “And they that despise Me.” God’s visitation is like chequer-work, black and white.—Trapp.
Never did man dishonour God but it proved the greatest dishonour to himself. God will find out ways enough to wipe off any stain upon Him; but you will not so easily remove the shame and dishonour from yourselves.—Baxter.
There are three sorts of men to be considered with respect to the honour due to God.
I. Such as despise Him instead of honouring Him. Such were the sons of Eli who knew not the Lord. Those do not know God who despise His services. It is impossible to despise infinite goodness, and power, and wisdom, for those are things which all that know them cannot but reverence and esteem. For a poor creature to despise his Creator, or one that lives upon the bounty of another to despise his benefactor, seems to be such an inconsistency in morality, as if human nature were incapable of it.… But although God cannot be despised for His glorious perfections, yet His authority may be despised when men presumptuously break His laws—when “they profess to know God, but in works deny Him” (Titus 1:16), when they own a God, and yet live as if there were none.
II. There are such as pretend to honour God, but do not. Men may be guilty of dishonouring God under a pretence of honouring Him, by worshipping their imaginations instead of Him, or by doing honour to Him according to their own imaginations, and not according to His will. Persons form false conceptions of God, and so give their worship to an idol of their own fancy, and they pretend to honour Him not according to His will, but according to their own fancy. There are some things practised and defended in the Christian world, which one would hardly think possible to have ever prevailed, had it not been that men thought to do honour to God by them.
III. But there is a way left to give God that honour which is due unto Him. I shall not take in all the ways of honouring God, but consider that which is most proper to the design of these words.… It was not for Eli’s personal miscarriages that God thought Himself so dishonoured by him, but for want of taking due care in suppressing profaneness and corruption in others. And this shows the true way in which God may be honoured by those who are bound to take care of others.
1. By an universal discountenancing of all sorts of vices and profaneness.
2. By an even, steady, and impartial execution of the laws against vice and debauchery.
3. By a wise choice of fit instruments to pursue so good an end.—Stillingfleet.
Outwardly, we see nothing to blame in the personal conduct of Eli. All that can be expected is found; all due respect for his office, all proper solemnity in the discharge of it. He is just the character who would have been eulogised by the men of his day as doing honour to the post which he filled; who, as the saying is, would have been respected in his life and lamented at his death.… But we presently see that he had been only up to, not beyond the mark, for what was expected of him. He had sense enough of propriety and decency, creditably to discharge an office, to the capability of filling which this same sense alone raised him. He had never lived above his office. That God had delighted in burnt offerings and sacrifices he had impressed upon himself, and these things were the summit of his estimate. He had never learned that there are things better than sacrifices and more acceptable than the fat of rams.… He knew not that in order to do good a man must live above, not up to, his outward duties; that influence with others is found not where life is raised up to the routine of duty, but where that routine of duty is quickened and inspired by a life led in higher places and guided by nobler motives. This sense of decency, this fine conservative feeling, may get one man creditably through his work, but it has no power over those who grow up around him; it has no deep springs, no living and sparkling eye, no winning to something above itself; all its motives are secondary; what others did before, others will think now.… Eli found, as men ever find, that all this system of secondary motive is nothing to curb the bounding heart of the young, or to win the guidance of their strong and precipitous course. He who dwells in the circumference of his life gains no sympathy from those who dwell in its centre.… Such a state in the individual, the family, or the community, contains of necessity the elements of decay and of downward progress.… What will be the effect on a community of the prevalence of a lifeless and conventional religion? First, and necessarily, a low standard of duty, up to that which is required by man, not beyond it. Next, a false estimate of realities; a substitution of primary objects for secondary ones; a growing conviction that this world is real, and another world visionary; that words and ceremonies will serve for religion; but that deeds all belong to self and the world.… As Israel became acted upon by the system which prevailed under Eli, superstition succeeded to the fear of God.… Who taught his people to trust to the ark to save them, and to forget Him … To what must a people have been degraded, who could look on that ark, accompanied with two ministers of such iniquity and profligacy, and greet its arrival with shouts of triumph?… Where life is lived as unto God, and in His sight and His revelation of Himself held as a living present truth, there is the seed of all true happiness, of all true success, of all genuine honour. Such men, whether they prosper or fall, alone win the real prizes of life: solid usefulness, firm stability, inward peace. Such families alone are the nurseries for worthy future generations, where God’s name is known and loved; where, if there be no glittering armour, no nicely jointed harness for the youthful warrior to go forth in, the young arm is at least familiar with the use of the simple sling, and knows where to cull the smooth stones from the river of the water of life. Such nations alone contain in them the pledges for sound and honourable progress, where the national religion is not a system upheld for venerable association’s sake, but is a genuine portion of the people’s life, a living seed expanding through its history … On the other hand, the man of mere proprieties gets to his grave in peace; the man of selfish views wins his prize, and becomes great and fills a space in the world, and passes away, but who cares for either?… The family where God was not, we have already followed in the same downward path; but who can tell, till the last dread day, the shame and misery and ruin which have overwhelmed men in generation after generation, for want of God as the guide of their youth? And if we ask respecting the fate of nations that have despised God—read it in the desolations of Nineveh and Babylon: read it in the history of the ancient people of God, scattered over the nations.—Alford.
God is honoured in general by avowed obedience to His holy will, but there are some acts which more signally conduce to God’s glory.
1. The frequent and constant performance (in a reverent manner) of devotions immediately addressed to His name (Psalms 29:2).
2. Using all things peculiarly related to God, His holy name, His holy word, His holy places, with especial respect (Isaiah 58:13).
3. Yielding due observance to the deputies and ministers of God, as such (Romans 13:4; Malachi 2:7, etc.).
4. Freely spending what God hath given us in works of piety, charity, and mercy (2 Corinthians 9:13; Proverbs 3:9; Proverbs 14:31).
5. A11 penitential acts, by which we submit to God, and humble ourselves before Him (Joshua 7:19; Revelation 16:9).
6. Cheerfully undergoing afflictions, losses, disgraces, for the profession of God’s truth (John 21:19).
7. By discharging faithfully those offices which God hath entrusted us with, and diligently improving those talents which God hath committed to us.—Barrow.
1 Samuel 2:33. The posterity of Eli possessed the high-priesthood in the time of Solomon, and even when that dynasty was preserved to another family, God preserved that of Eli; not to render it more happy, but to punish it by seeing the prosperity of its enemies, to the end that it might see itself destitute and despised. This shows the depth of the judgments of God, and the grandeur of His justice, which extends even to distant generations, and manifests itself to sinners both in life and death—both in their own disgrace and in the prosperity of their enemies.—Calmet.
1 Samuel 2:35. The exercise of the priestly office, which is well-pleasing to God:
1. Its personal condition and pre-sup-position, fidelity, firmness, steadfastness, “I will raise Thee up a faithful priest.”
2. Its rule and measure. “According to that which is in my heart and soul.”
3. Its blessing and reward. “And I will build him a sure house,” etc.—Lange’s Commentary.
Of the priests under the law it might be generally said that they walked before the Lord’s Anointed; or, in other words, they were appointed by His authority—they acted by His direction, and as his servants and representatives, till He should come personally to offer the one sacrifice on the strength of which their offerings had been made available on behalf of His believing people. And, in this view of the subject, the last clause of the verse conveyed another and more explicit assurance that the priesthood should be perpetuated during the Old Testament dispensation, notwithstanding all the calamities which might from time to time befall Israel. But it implied more. It contained a promise of blessing on that priesthood. To walk before the Lord’s Anointed must, I think, have implied not only walking by His directions as servants, but walking in the light of His countenance as their approving Lord and Master, in so far as His Church was dependent on their services for her edification and comfort. And how frequently then must the people of God, in Old Testament times, have been comforted and refreshed in seasons of perplexity and trouble when they called to mind this gracious assurance. But it is to the New Testament Church that this passage has opened up, in all its fulness, the inexhaustible fountain of consolation which it contains.… It is impossible for us to read the words without at least having Christ brought before us, and without feeling that to Him alone can the words be applied in their full, literal, and absolute sense.… Christ is exalted to the throne of the universe, but He has not forgotten His priestly office. He regards it with complacency, and still executes it with delight; for “He is a priest upon His throne.”—Dr. R. Gordon.
1 Samuel 2:36. See the sin and its punishment. They formerly pampered themselves, and fed to the full on the Lord’s sacrifices, and now they are reduced to a morsel of bread. They wasted the Lord’s heritage, and now they beg their bread.… In religious establishments vile persons, who have no higher motive, may and do get into the priest’s office, that they may clothe themselves with the wool, and feed themselves with the fat, while they starve the flock. But where there is no law to back the claims of the worthless and the wicked, men of piety and solid merit only can find support, for they must live on the free-will offerings of the people. Where religion is established by law the strictest ecclesiastical discipline should be kept up, and all hireling priests and drones should be expelled from the Lord’s vineyard.—A. Clarke.
1 Samuel 2:27-36. Indulgent parents are cruel to themselves and their posterity Eli could not have devised which way to have plagued himself and his house so much as by his kindness to his children’s sins. What variety of judgments does he now hear from the messenger of God! First, because his old age, which uses to be subject to choler, inclined now to misfavour his sons, therefore there shall not be an old man left of his house for ever; and because it vexed him not enough to see his sons enemies to God in their profession, therefore he shall see his enemy in the habitation of the Lord; and because himself forebore to take vengeance of his sons, and esteemed their life above the glory of his Master, therefore God will revenge Himself by killing them both in one day; and because he abused his sovereignty by conniving at sin, therefore shall his house be stripped of this honour, and see it translated to another; and lastly, because he suffered his sons to please their own wanton appetite, in taking meat off from God’s trencher, therefore those which remain of his house shall come to his successor to beg a piece of silver and a morsel of bread.… I do not read of any fault Eli had but indulgence; and which of the notorious offenders were plagued more? Parents need no other means to make them miserable, than sparing the rod.—Bishop Hall.
God often contents himself with a single example of the estimation in which He holds the violation of certain duties. But one lesson so terrible ought to be sufficient to instruct every age, and unhappy is he who does not profit by it.—Duguet.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent