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1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)

Samuel is a unique figure among the Judges of Israel, and not just because he gets his own separate book.  He’s also unique because of his lineage.  Samuel’s family is descended from an unexpected place; a branch of Levites which had largely fallen out of significance and into disgrace.  His ancestors settled among the Ephraimites in the hill country, and at the opening of the book, the author chooses to highlight that bit of information over/against his ancestry.  Samuel gets a genealogy, but it stops short of telling us that he was descended from the house of Kohath; the same house as Moses and Aaron, though of a different line. 


In fact, it’s not until 1 Chronicles that we finally see his line taken all the way back, and even there; likely out of respect for Samuel, the author leaves his relationship to the family tree ambiguous.  But if you connect the genealogy in 1 Samuel with the genealogy in 1 Chronicles, the reason for all the ambiguity and silence on the matter becomes clear.  Samuel is descended from the House of Kohath, the most privileged and influential house of Levi, the family tasked with caring for the Ark of the Covenant, the menorah, the alter, and the showbread table, along with the consecrated utensils set aside for use in the Tabernacle.  They are responsible for the care and upkeep of the most sacred objects of YHWH worship apart from the tent itself.  The problem is, Samuel is descended from Kohath, but he’s descended from Kohath through the survivors of the house of Korah (yes that Korah: see Numbers chapter 16).


His family is seen as cursed, and their history stands as a warning for their countrymen.  And the opening chapters of this book tell us that this son of the rebellion, of a line that arrogantly sought to seize the priesthood for themselves, has now entered into the temple in service of the sons of Aaron.  But the author subverts every expectation about how this clash of these two historic enemies is going to go down.


Samuel, though he’s from the line of Korah, is still a son of the house of Kohath, and therefore has the birthright to serve in the temple in care of the sacred objects dedicated to YHWH; though only as a caretaker, not a priest.  Eli accepts him into the temple and raises him for that purpose, to be a caretaker.  Eli is the direct descendant of Aaron, through the blessed line of Eleazar whose faithfulness far outstretched that of his father.  When Aaron’s oldest two sons died for an act of arrogance, and a grab for power, the priesthood fell to Eleazar.


But the line of Eleazar was by no means as faithful as their forefather, and as Aaron’s two sons abused their station, and violated the sanctity of the Tabernacle with their arrogance, now the sons of Eli seem eager to outdo their sins by several orders of magnitude.  They embezzle donations to the tabernacle, take parts of a sacrifice which are meant to be offered up on the altar, sexually abuse the women appointed to the care of the tabernacle, and treat objects consecrated to YHWH with disregard.


In short, the sons of the chosen line of Eleazar have become worse than not only Aaron’s other sons, but also Korah and his rebellion.  So God tells Eli through an unnamed prophet that He has rejected him and his sons.  Like Korah, they will be left a remnant, but every adult male among his family will perish on the same day.  In their place, God will raise up a different kind of priest for Himself; and indeed He was already working on it.


And God picks this priest from the most unlikely family imaginable; the servant boy ministering before the Ark, the son of Korah, to become a caretaker to Israel while the remnants of Eli’s house were still coming of age; and He would continue to watch over Israel even afterwards until God’s Anointed King was revealed.  Samuel is not a priest in so far as he isn’t descended from Aaron, or tasked with leading worship at the tabernacle; nor is he a king, having never been anointed to be one, or crowned by his countrymen.  But God calls on him to function as both priest and king in many regards.  He makes sacrifices and pleads forgiveness on Israel’s behalf like a priest, but he also leads military campaigns and organizes treaties and civil agreements like a king. 


Samuel is an image of the way God wants to work through His people; choosing his servants based on their faithfulness and justice, not their lineage.  He remains faithful to the generations that follow those who were faithful to Him, but won’t allow His faithfulness to become a license for evil among His chosen.  The official role of priest and king are intentionally divided among two tribes by God at the foundation of the Kingdom of Israel in order to limit the temptation of evil which comes with power.  But that division was a concession made to protect the long generations of Israel’s history, not an image of God’s ideal.  God’s ideal had been for all of Israel to function as a nation of priests, ruling over, and stewarding the land as His image bearers.  They were meant to be a garden planted in the wilderness which, when watered by righteousness and fed by the light of divine revelation, would grow and spread out; conquering the death of the wilderness with the life of God’s faithful love. 


But neither Israel nor Judah ever proved to be ideal partners; so God’s ideal awaited its full and final expression until a new son was born to an unlikely family, miles from the centers of power, fallen into obscurity and disgrace.  And that son too would function as both priest and king, but in ways which defied every notion the world had assigned to those roles.  He was a seed planted in the grave which split the boundaries of death so that life could grow even in the darkest of wastelands.  Through Him, that Garden has continued to grow out, conquering more and more of the wilderness of death with new life as God continues to work through unexpected people to do marvelous things.