Containing The Interval Of Four Hundred And Seventy Six Years.
From The Death Of Moses To The Death Of Eli.
Concerning The Birth Of Samuel; And How He Foretold The Calamity That Befell The Sons Of Eli.
1. AND now upon the ill state of the affairs of the Hebrews, they made war again upon the Philistines. The occasion was this: Eli, the high priest, had two sons, Hophni and Phineas. These sons of Eli were guilty of injustice towards men, and of impiety towards God, and abstained from no sort of wickedness. Some of their gifts they carried off, as belonging to the honorable employment they had; others of them they took away by violence. They also were guilty of impurity with the women that came to worship God at the tabernacle, obliging some to submit to their lust by force, and enticing others by bribes; nay, the whole course of their lives was no better than tyranny. Their father therefore was angry at them for such their wickedness, and expected that God would suddenly inflict his punishments upon them for what they had done. The multitude took it heinously also. And as soon as God had foretold what calamity would befall Eli's sons, which he did both to Eli himself and to Samuel the prophet, who was yet but a child, he openly showed his sorrow for his sons' destruction.
2. I will first despatch what I have to say about the prophet Samuel, and after that will proceed to speak of the sons of Eli, and the miseries they brought on the whole people of the Hebrews. Elcanah, a Levite, one of a middle condition among his fellow citizens, and one that dwelt at Ramathaim, a city of the tribe of Ephraim, married two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. He had children by the latter; but he loved the other best, although she was barren. Now Elcanah came with his wives to the city Shiloh to sacrifice, for there it was that the tabernacle of God was fixed, as we have formerly said.
Now when, after he had sacrificed, he distributed at that festival portions of the flesh to his wives and children, and when Hannah saw the other wife's children sitting round about their mother, she fell into tears, and lamented herself on account of her barrenness and lonesomeness; and suffering her grief to prevail over her husband's consolations to her, she went to the tabernacle to beseech God to give her seed, and to make her a mother; and to vow to consecrate the first son she should bear to the service of God, and this in such a way, that his manner of living should not be like that of ordinary men. And as she continued at her prayers a long time, Eli, the high priest, for he sat there before the tabernacle, bid her go away, thinking she had been disordered with wine; but when she said she had drank water, but was in sorrow for want of children, and was beseeching God for them, he bid her be of good cheer, and told her that God would send her children.
3. So she came to her husband full of hope, and ate her meal with gladness. And when they had returned to their own country she found herself with child, and they had a son born to them, to whom they gave the name of Samuel, which may be styled one that was asked of God. They therefore came to the tabernacle to offer sacrifice for the birth of the child, and brought their tithes with them; but the woman remembered the vows she had made concerning her son, and delivered him to Eli, dedicating him to God, that he might become a prophet. Accordingly his hair was suffered to grow long, and his drink was water. So Samuel dwelt and was brought up in the temple. But Elcanah had other sons by Hannah, and three daughters.
4. Now when Samuel was twelve years old, he began to prophesy: and once when he was asleep, God called to him by his name; and he, supposing he had been called by the high priest, came to him: but when the high priest said he did not call him, God did so thrice. Eli was then so far illuminated, that he said to him,
"Indeed, Samuel, I was silent now as well as before: it is God that calls thee; do thou therefore signify it to him, and say, I am here ready."
So when he heard God speak again, he desired him to speak, and to deliver what oracles he pleased to him, for he would not fail to perform any ministration whatsoever he should make use of him in; - to which God replied,
"Since thou art here ready, learn what miseries are coming upon the Israelites, - such indeed as words cannot declare, nor faith believe; for the sons of Eli shall die on one day, and the priesthood shall be transferred into the family of Eleazar; for Eli hath loved his sons more than he hath loved my worship, and to such a degree as is not for their advantage."
Which message Eli obliged the prophet by oath to tell him, for otherwise he had no inclination to afflict him by telling it. And now Eli had a far more sure expectation of the perdition of his sons; but the glory of Samuel increased more and more, it being found by experience that whatsoever he prophesied came to pass accordingly. (22)
(22) Although there had been a few occasional prophets before, yet was this Samuel the first of a constant succession of prophets in the Jewish nation, as is implied in St. Peter's words, Acts 3:24
"Yea, and all the prophets, from Samuel, and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of those days. "
See also Acts 13:20. The others were rather sometime called righteous men, Matthew 10:41; 13:17.