The Monarchy

In those days Israel had no king;
everyone did as he saw fit.

–Judges 17:6


Just Another Timeline

The development of the Israelite Monarchy is an event in Jewish history that rivals the Exodus in its importance and influence. The characters at the center of the story are the Prophet Samuel, King Saul, King David and his son, King Solomon. It is a long story and it is amazing and you can read it in First and Second Samuel. Samuel is arguably as important a figure as Moses since he transitioned Israel from the rule by Judges (Samuel himself is considered a Judge) to rule by Monarchy. But first, let's recap:

The Birth of Samuel

Interestingly, there is no birth narrative for Saul or David, but there is one for Samuel. The birth of Samuel is as miraculous as the birth of Isaac or John the Baptist.

A man named Elkanah had two wives, one named Peninnah and one named Hannah. Peninnah had children and Hannah did not. 1 Samuel 1:6-7 indicates Peninnah would taunt and provoke Hannah to the point of tears because of her barrenness. Elkanah loved Hannah nonetheless, and took her along when he made trips from his home in Ramathaim to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice to the Lord. (Shiloh is about twenty miles east of Ramathaim and about twenty-five miles north of Jerusalem.)

On one occasion, Hannah was particularly troubled and making tearful prayers to God outside the temple. In her prayer, she vowed to God that if she could have a son, she would give him in service to the Lord. Her prayer was fervent but silent. The priest Eli was watching her and because of her intensity, he thought she was drunk and he called her out on it.

1 Samuel 1:13-17 13. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14. and said to her, "How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine." 15. "Not so, my lord," Hannah replied, "I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. 16. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief." 17. Eli answered, "Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him."

This blessing given by Eli seems to lift Hannah's spirit; she gets up, gets something to eat, and appears less sad. After the follow morning's worship, they all head home. Soon, Hannah becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son and she names him Samuel – heard of God. Hannah stayed home with Samuel until he was weaned (approximately three years,) and then took him to Shiloh along with a three-year-old bull, and some flour and wine for sacrifice. She then presents Samuel to Eli and Samuel remained in Shiloh and "ministered before the Lord under Eli the priest." (1 Samuel 2:11.)

Samuel was a life-long Nazirite. In her vow, Hannah spoke specifically about not using a razor on his head, but a Nazirite had other obligations as well. They could not touch a dead body or even go near one; even if it is his own father or mother. There are cleansing rules in case someone dies in their presence. A Nazirite abstains from alcohol. They cannot drink wine or fermented drink, or vinegar made from wine or fermented drink. Additionally, they cannot eat grapes, grape juice, or raisins. The service to the Lord can be for a limited time, but for Samuel, it is for life.

The Call of Samuel

Samuel grew up serving in the Tabernacle at Shiloh. His mother would still see him regularly when Elkanah would come to present a sacrifice to the Lord.

1 Samuel 2:18-21 18. But Samuel was ministering before the Lord -a boy wearing a linen ephod. 19. Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice. 20. Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, "May the Lord give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the Lord ." Then they would go home. 21. And the Lord was gracious to Hannah; she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.

There was trouble in the temple, however. Eli's son's, Hophni and Phinehas were priests serving the Lord, but with great contempt. They would strong-arm the Israelites into giving the priests their share of the sacrifice before God's got his share. They would also sleep with the women serving in the temple.

Exodus 38:8 They made the bronze basin and its bronze stand from the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.

Eli was very old and mostly blind, but he confronted his sons about their sinful behavior and they chose to ignore him. An unnamed "man of God" arrives and delivers a prophecy - "This is what the Lord says:" - against the house of Eli and tell Eli that his sons will die on the same day and God will "raise up for myself a faithful priest."

One night, while Samuel was lying in the temple, God called out to Samuel. Samuel is literally called by God. Samuel thought it was Eli and ran to him, but Eli had not called him and told him to lie back down. This repeats a couple of times before Eli realize what is happening and tells Samuel to answer the Lord if it happens again.

1 Samuel 3:10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" Then Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening."

God then tells Samuel of his plans for Eli's family. Samuel stays down until morning; he is afraid to tell Eli what God has said to him but Eli demands he tell and Samuel does. Eli seems to accept his fate.

Chapter three had begun with "In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions" but it ends with:

1 Samuel 3:19-21 19. The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. 20. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. 21. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word. 4:1 And Samuel's word came to all Israel.