Who was Samuel and Does it Matter?

The book of 1 Samuel opens up by talking about “a certain man of Rammathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah” (1 Sam 1:1). This man is married to two wives, one of whom is Hannah. Although barren, Hannah prays for a child, and the Lord answers her prayer.

After giving birth, Hannah names her son Samuel, and dedicates him to tabernacle service with Eli (1 Sam 1:28). Samuel stays with Eli and serves the Lord (cf. 1 Sam 2:11, 18). Throughout the story, it is obvious that Samuel is ministering in the tabernacle (cf. 1 Sam 3:3). This could be a problem. Numbers 18 seems pretty clear that non-Levites were not allowed in the service of the tabernacle. In fact, Numbers 18:7 says “any outsider who comes near shall be put to death.”

The potential problem is that 1 Samuel 1:1 is clear that Samuel is a descendent of Elkanah, who is from the hill country of Ephraim. If Samuel was from Ephraim, was he a rogue participant in the tabernacle service?

Not at all.

Stories like this is where paying attention to detail is important. The tribe of Levi had no land of their own, so they were allotted cities out of the other tribes. We find in Joshua 21:20, that the Kohathite clan of the Levites was given cities from the land belonging to Ephraim. Later in Joshua 24:33 we read that Phinehas himself (Aaron’s grandson) dwelled in the hill country of Ephraim.

By knowing Israel’s history, and the tribal allotments, it is no surprise that Samuel’s heritage is traceable to the Levites after all – and likely to the Kohathites specifically. Furthermore, this theory is backed up by 1 Chronicles 6:28 which asserts that Samuel was in the line of Levi (cf. Psalm 99:6).

All in all, the Bible’s details seem to match up precisely with what we would expect. Samuel was not some rogue servant in the tabernacle. He belonged there as a Levite. And God would use him in many great ways in the days ahead.

The Link between One’s Eschatology and Miraculous Gifts

The question about whether or not miraculous gifts such as tongues, prophecy, healing, etc., remain operative today is important. Although historically the Church has believed that these special gifts have ceased, there has been a resurgence in recent years in the belief that these special miraculous gifts continue today. There are many important parts of this discussion, but in this post I simply want to look at the correlation between one’s eschatology and the belief about miraculous gifts.

If we overview the Bible, we find that there are specific times in history when there are major displays of miracles. Further reflection shows that these miraculous exhibitions are linked with time periods that are related to the Kingdom of God. To show this in summary form, I have adapted a chart from Mike Vlach:

Kingdom Situation Time Period Kingdom Mediator(s) Result
Signs and wonders to deliver Hebrews from Egypt The period of the Exodus Moses Israel established as a kingdom
Signs and wonders as the kingdom in Israel deteriorates (1 Kings 17–2 Kings 13) Time of Elijah and Elisha Elijah and Elisha Israel continues downward spiral to captivity
Signs and wonders as the kingdom presented to Israel (Matt 3–12) Early ministry of Jesus Jesus the Messiah Israel refuses to repent; kingdom to come in the future
Signs and wonders as Jesus and kingdom presented to Israel after Holy Spirit’s outpouring (Acts 2–28) A.D. 33–70 The Apostles Israel refuses to believe; kingdom to come in the future

I don’t think many people have a problem with this chart. The major disagreements deal with what happens after the last category. Some advocate a cessation of the miraculous until the time foretold in Revelation 6–19, while others argue for a continuation of the miraculous in the current day.

The simple point that I want to make is this: what one believes about the Kingdom of God influences his or her belief about the miraculous gifts.

The Kingdom of God is linked with miracles. Jesus himself declared that His miracles pointed to the Kingdom (cf. Matt 12:28). In Matthew 11:2–5 Jesus answers John the Baptist’s question about His identity by quoting Isaiah’s prophecy about the miracles which accompany the Kingdom of God and the Messiah.

For the traditional dispensationalist, since the Kingdom of God was rejected and still awaits a future coming, the miracles which we expect to accompany the Kingdom also faded out to await a future time. However, for amillenialists and some progressive dispensationalists, since the Kingdom of God is present in some form now, there is no reason not to expect the accompanying signs and miracles which we would expect to accompany the Kingdom.

I am not saying every amillenialist or progressive dispensationalist believes in the continuation of the miraculous gifts today. However, what I am saying is that it seems an inconsistent position to hold to a present Kingdom of God model, and yet deny the miraculous—which was evidence for the Kingdom.

The Lovingkindness of God Leads to… Disobedience?

One of the most powerful passages in the Old Testament, or even the Bible for that matter, is found in Exodus 34:6–7. In this passage the Lord gives self-revelation about His own glorious character.

Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”

Amazingly, this self-revelation comes after Israel’s horrific covenant treachery of making the golden calf. Israel had just shown themselves to be covenant defectors. In response, Moses was seeking affirmation from God that He would not abandon Israel (Exod 33:15–16). Exodus 34:6–7 is God’s answer to Moses’s prayer (Exod 33:18).

God’s self-revelation is completely thrilling to read. God reveals himself as Yahweh, the personal and covenant God of Israel. He describes himself as compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth. This description of God becomes the foundation for Israel’s expectation of God’s goodness and is referred to often in the Old Testament. For example, after proclaiming the Lord’s forgiveness and kindness, David quotes this passage in Psalm 103:8. David knows God’s goodness and kindness, and he knows it because that is Who God has revealed himself to be.

Interestingly, Exodus 34:6 does not always motivate the characters of Scripture to worship and revere God. In fact, the story of Jonah tells a different tale.

Most people are familiar with the tale of Jonah. Jonah is commanded to go deliver a message (of judgment) to the people of Assyria (Nineveh is the capital of Assyria). It would seem that Jonah would be absolutely delighted to deliver a message of judgment against the city of Nineveh, since the Assyrian people had plagued Israel for many years. However, Jonah does the unthinkable and runs away from God and even attempts to die!

Yet God arranges an instructive lesson on fishing for Jonah, and reissues His command for Jonah to go proclaim His message to Nineveh. So, Jonah goes and proclaims this message: “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4b). Because of this message of impending judgment, Nineveh repents from their sins and God refrains from bringing judgment upon that generation because of their repentance (Jonah 3:10).

The fourth chapter of Jonah is so interesting. The reader gets a close up view of Jonah—who is furious that God decided to spare the Assyrians. Jonah’s complaint to God is essentially this: “I knew this would happen! That’s why I didn’t want to come.” Jonah knew that if Nineveh repented, God would pardon them. Jonah gives his thinking as follows: “For I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4:2b).  Jonah quotes Exodus 34:6, knowing that God delights in forgiveness. Jonah didn’t want the Assyrians to have a chance to repent and experience the compassion of God.

On an individual level, the story of Jonah shows how one can apply the proper meaning of Scripture wrongly. Because Jonah knew the truth about God’s character, he tried to prevent the Assyrians having access to this gracious and compassionate God. However, on the biblical-theological level, the book of Jonah functions to show that God is not just the gracious God of Israel, but He loves and cares for the Gentiles as well. The foundation of God’s self-revealed character does not just give Israel hope in salvation, but that same hope also belongs to the Gentiles. Although Jonah tried to run away to prevent God’s compassion and mercy, the whole episode ended up making a very powerful point—God also cares for the Gentiles.

Proverbs 22:6: Promise or Warning?

Train up a child in the way he should go:
And when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Prov 22:6, KJV)

This verse has been used by many parents as a promise that if they are diligent to discipline their kids, then their kids will grow up and hold fast to the ways of God. However, this in turn has resulted in many parents feeling as if God has broken His promise to them when their child turns from the faith. I think it is important to realize a couple things about this verse.

First, proverbs are not promises. They are axiomatic (self-evident) sayings about how life normally works. However, there are plenty of exceptions to proverbs, because life is complicated by many factors. When reading a proverb, it is important to know they do allow for exceptions. For example, although Prov 21:17 says the one who loves pleasure will be a poor man, there are plenty of people who love pleasure that are some of the richest people on the planet. This does not invalidate the proverb on its own. We recognize exceptions, and hold on to the main point.

Second, Proverbs 22:6 is likely a negative warning rather than a positive promise. The word for train up a child (חנך) is used elsewhere to refer to dedicating a house (Deut 20:5) and the temple (1 Kings 8:63; 2 Chron 7:5). The traditional gloss of “train up” is not bad—the idea appears to be on some kind of initiation (“initiate a child”?).

The most controversial phrase is “in the way he should go.” In the Hebrew, the phrase is literally, “his way” (דַרְכֹּו). The important question is what kind of way is the youth’s way? In the same chapter we see that foolishness is bound up in the heart of the child, and only discipline can drive it from him (Prov 22:15). The next chapter admonishes parents not to withhold discipline from the child/youth, because he needs it (Prov 23:13). Indeed, out of the 6 other uses of “youth/child” (נַעַר) in Proverbs, each occurrence does not speak favorably of the moral disposition of youth (Prov 1:4; 7:7; 20:11; 22:15; 23:13; 29:15).

With this in mind, “his way” likely refers to the sinful disposition of the youth. Thus, this particular proverb functions as a warning. If parents train up a child to embrace his own ways, apart from exceptions (e.g., God’s intervention) the child will embrace that lifestyle throughout his life.

With that in mind, my translation would be as follows:

Train up a child in accordance with his own (sinful) way, and even when he is old he will not turn from it.

By way of application, the main message of the proverb is clear. Whether it is positive or negative, Proverbs 22:6 is stressing the importance of parenting and the tendency of children to hold to the patterns of their youth. However, we should avoid using such a proverbs as promises that have no exceptions.