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Monday, February 7, 2011

Old Testament Tales: Ruth, Samuel and Co.

1. Who was Samuel’s mother?
2. How did Samuel end up serving in the Temple?
3. What connection is there between Samuel and Samson?
4. Who were the Philistines?
5. What’s special about Shiloh?
6. What tribe did Samuel come from?
7. What happened to the priests, and what happened to the ark, and who is Ichabod?
8. What else was going on in Canaan when Samuel came to power?
9. What was the main Philistine advantage and how did they maintain it?
10. What was the main Jewish advantage and how did they lose it?

The Bible records how God’s people traveled to Egypt to escape famine in the time of Abraham and again in Joseph’s time. Similar journeys were taken on a smaller scale throughout the time of Judges. Naomi and Elimelech, from Bethlehemjudah, moved as a family and stayed in Moab during a famine. Elimelech and his two sons died, leaving Naomi with two widowed Moabite daughters-in-law. The book of Ruth describes how Naomi returned to her people, where Ruth gleaned food from the fields of Naomi’s relative Boaz, and Biblical rules and traditions were followed in Ruth’s betrothal and marriage. (The Moabite, Ruth, goes on to become an ancestor of Jesus.)

The birth of Samuel to Hannah and Elkanah takes place at a similar point in history. Elkanah, a Kohathite (1 Chron 6:34, Kohath is a branch of Levites) living among Ephraimites (1 Sam 1; Levites don’t have land of their own), has two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Hannah, still childless, prays in the temple at Shiloh so fervently the priest assumes she’s drunk (1 Sam 1). Hannah promises her unborn child to God, making a similar vow to Samson’s mother’s. She keeps her son Samuel at home until he’s “weaned,” which probably means till he’s old enough to work the fields. At this point Samuel is left in the temple for training with the priest Eli, while his mother cares for her now-growing family.

Eli’s sons prove unfaithful (1 Sam 2), and God chooses Samuel as His new priest and prophet, calling him by name (1 Sam 3). When the Israelites go to war with the Philistines (presumably continuing the conflict of Samson’s times), Eli’s sons use the Ark of the Covenant from Shiloh as a magical token, carrying it into battle. They die and the ark is lost, God not being ours to control. Eli collapses on hearing the news, and his daughter-in-law goes into labor, naming her son Ichabod, which means the glory is gone from Israel (1 Sam 4). Meanwhile Philistine statues collapse and their people get sick till the ark is returned to Jewish hands in Kirjathjearim. Samuel, the latest (and last) judge, calls for faithful repentance and makes sacrifices before battle, securing the coast against the Philistines (1 Sam 7).

The Philistines were seafarers, probably from Greece and roundabout. They’d fought the Egyptians earlier and now lived as Egyptian allies on the Western coast of Canaan, land the Israelites needed for trade and diplomacy. Though Samuel’s army defeated them this time, they soon had strongholds in the mountains north of Jerusalem and were renowned for their skills with iron (1 Sam 13:19). At the same time, the Ammonites were conquering Gilead, east of the river Jordan, putting more pressure on the tribal Israelites. The time was close when a loose confederation of tribes would need to unite under a single leader to remain viable.

Samuel attempts to pass the mantle of judge/prophet/leader on to his sons but they take bribes and can’t be trusted (1 Sam 8), so the people ask for a king. God points out all the disadvantages of kingly rule—conscription, taxation, loss of personal freedoms etc.—but agrees to provide (and bless) a king, at which point Samuel is required to anoint King Saul. This necessary leader unites and protects the people, proving the cost worthwhile.

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