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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[1 Kings 1–7]

IN the days when Heli, the High Priest, was Judge in Israel, there lived at Mount Ephraim a virtuous man, called Elcana, and the name of his wife was Anna. Now Anna had no children. She therefore multiplied her prayers before the Lord that He would deign to give her children. So one day she went to Silo to pray in the Tabernacle of the Lord. There, before the door of the Tabernacle, she shed many tears and prayed, and made a vow saying: “O Lord of Hosts, if Thou wilt be mindful of me and give me a man-child, I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life.”

The Lord heard her prayer, and gave her a son, whom she called Samuel, which means “heard of God”, or also “asked of God”. Now when three years were passed, and the child was yet very young, Anna took three calves, three bushels of flour, and a bottle of wine, and carrying the boy with her she went to the House of the Lord. There she offered her son to Heli the High Priest, saying: “The Lord has granted my petition, therefore I also have lent my child to the Lord all the days of his life.” And the child ministered in the sight of the Lord before the face of Heli. Now the two sons of Heli, Ophni and Phinees, were wicked and had no fear of God, for when the people came to offer sacrifices, Ophni and Phinees carried the flesh of the victims away by force. So their sin was very great, because they withdrew men from the sacrifice of the Lord.

Heli knew all this; he knew what wicked things his sons did in the Sanctuary, and he mildly rebuked them, saying: “It is no good report that I hear, that you make the people of the Lord to transgress.” But, being very old, he took no severe measures to punish them, or prevent their evil deeds.

It came to pass that one night, before the lamp of the Lord had gone out, Heli slept on a couch near the Tabernacle, and Samuel hard by. The Lord called Samuel. He answered: “Here am I”, and went to Heli and asked: “Why hast thou called me?” But Heli replied: “I did not call thee, my son: return and sleep.”

So he returned and slept again. But the Lord called him a second time, and Samuel acted as before. Heli said: “I did not call thee, my son: return and sleep.” Then the Lord called Samuel a third time. And Samuel, rising up, went again to Heli, saying: “Here am I, for thou didst call me.” Heli now understood that the Lord had called the boy.

And he said to Samuel: “Go and sleep, and if He shall call thee any more, thou shalt say: ‘Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth!’ ” So Samuel went and slept in his place. Then the Lord came and stood, and called: “Samuel, Samuel.” He answered: “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.” The Lord spoke: “Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, and whosoever shall hear it, both his ears shall tingle. In that day I will raise up against Heli all the things that I have spoken. I will begin and I will make an end, because he knew that his sons did wickedly, and he would not chastise them.”

Next morning, Heli asked the boy to tell him what the Lord had said. But Samuel was afraid. Heli, however, insisted, and Samuel at length told the vision. Thereupon Heli humbly replied: “It is the Lord: let Him do what is good in His sight.”

And swiftly the judgment of God overtook the house of Heli. For it soon came to pass that the Philistines waged war against Israel, and when they joined battle the Israelites were defeated, and lost about four thousand men. After the people had returned to the camp, the ancients of Israel said: “Let us fetch the Ark of the Covenant from Silo, that it may save us from the hands of our enemies.” They sent therefore to Silo, and the two sons of Heli, Ophni and Phinees, accompanied the Ark to the camp. The people, on beholding the Ark in their midst, set up a great shout, and the earth rang with their shouting.

The Philistines, however, made a new attack, and the Israelites were again defeated, with great slaughter; thirty thousand were slain, and the rest put to flight. And a messenger came to Heli, saying: “Thy two sons, Ophni and Phinees, are dead, and the Ark of the Lord is taken.” Now Heli, who was far advanced in years, on hearing that the Ark was taken, fell from his chair backwards by the door, and broke his neck and died. The Philistines took the Ark of the Lord, and placed it in the temple of Dagon, their false god.

Next morning, when they went into the temple, they found the idol lying prostrate on the ground before the Ark. Besides, the Lord afflicted them with many evils on account of the Ark. Many persons died, and from the fields there came forth a multitude of mice, and there was great confusion in the country.

Perceiving this, the Philistines resolved that the Ark of God should no longer remain amongst them. Then they took the Ark and laid it upon a cart, and taking two kine, or young cows, they yoked them to the cart. The cows took the way that led to Bethsames, and thus the Ark was brought again into the country of the Israelites.

Meanwhile, after the death of Heli, Samuel had become Judge in Israel. He assembled the people, reproached them for their evil doings, and then said: “If you turn to the Lord with all your heart, and put away the strange gods from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve Him only, He will deliver you out of the hands of the Philistines.”

So they humbled themselves before God in prayer and fasting, Samuel interceding and offering sacrifice for them. And the Lord took pity upon them, and gave them such a victory over the Philistines, that for many years after the latter did not dare to approach the frontiers of Israel.

The Justice of God. This story teaches us above all things to know, fear, and love God. He rewarded the virtuous Samuel by revealing Himself to him, by calling him to be Judge, and by freeing and converting His people through him. On the other hand God punished Heli, his sons, and the impenitent Israelites by their defeat, and the loss of the Ark. He also punished the idolatrous Philistines by means of various plagues, and finally by their complete overthrow.

The Goodness and Mercy of God. He graciously heard Anna’s prayer, and sent her a son. He called Samuel from his earliest infancy to serve Him in the Tabernacle, loaded him with favours, preserved him from being contaminated by Heli’s sons, and made him judge and saviour of his people. God forgave the repentant people their faithlessness, and gave them a great victory over those who had oppressed them.

The Faithfulness of God. Samuel, in God’s name, said to the Israelites: “If you turn to the Lord with all your heart, He will deliver you.” God kept this promise, as He also fulfilled His threat against Heli and his sons.

God is Lord over nature. It was God who overthrew the image of Dagon; it was He who sent the mice to devastate the land of the Philistines, the pestilence which swept away the idolaters, and the storm which threw their army into confusion.

Prayer in time of trouble. Anna’s example teaches us that we ought to have recourse to fervent prayer when we are suffering, or in any sort of trouble; for God is the great Consoler and Helper, being holy and all powerful. “Is any of you sad, let him pray” (James 5:13).

The power of prayer. By prayer Anna obtained a son; and by prayer Samuel obtained help for his people. “Samuel cried to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord heard him” (1 Kings 7:9). Why, therefore, should not God hearken to the intercession of the Saints in heaven?

Keeping vows (see Old Test. XVII). Anna kept her vow faithfully. She most certainly wished to keep her beloved child with her, but, all the same, she “lent him to the Lord”.

Fasting and confession of sins are penances well pleasing to God, and obtain pardon from Him. The Israelites bewailed and confessed their sins, formed good resolutions, and made satisfaction by fasting.

Piety, obedience, and truthfulness. Young Samuel did not let himself be led away by the bad example of Heli’s sons, but rather imitated the piety of the aged High Priest, and was zealous in the performance of the work given him to do for God. He was obedient to Heli, whose own sons had renounced the obedience due to him. Each time during the night that he heard his name called he sprang from his bed, and ran to Heli, saying: “Here am I!” Thus promptly and cheerfully should all children obey their parents and those set over them. Samuel showed his truthfulness when Heli asked him what the Lord had revealed to him. It pained him to say anything disagreeable to the kind old High Priest, but, being asked, he told him everything. Thus you, too, should always speak the truth when questioned by those set over you.

Sacrilege. Reverence in the House of God. Heli’s sons were impious and dissolute. They dishonoured the Sanctuary, and brought sacrifices into disrepute. If the desecration of the Tabernacle of the Old Covenant was such a great sin, how much more ought we to guard against any desecration of our churches! If any wrong conduct relating to the typical sacrifices of the Old Testament was so severely punished, how sinful and criminal must it be for Christians to behave irreverently during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and even talk, laugh &c.!

Punishment of disobedient children. If the sons of Heli had hearkened to and obeyed the injunctions of their good father, they would not have been punished by God. But as they would not listen to his warnings, they died a violent death, and their names have ever since been associated with ignominy.

Sharing in the guilt of others. Heli was a virtuous, God-fearing man. He was so anxious about the Ark of the Covenant that the news of its capture affected him more than the news of the death of his sons. Moreover, he was entirely resigned to God’s will, when Samuel announced to him his approaching punishment. “It is the Lord; let Him do what is good in His sight!” Why, then, was this virtuous servant of God punished by sudden death? God Himself said that it was because he did not correct his sons. He was too good-natured and weak towards them. He ought to have been strict with them when they were young, and to have punished them severely when they would not listen to his injunctions. “He who will not hear must feel.” He was too indulgent; he said to himself that they would be more reasonable and would improve as they grew older. Instead of this they grew up quite beyond control, became accustomed to evil, and no more consulted their father about anything. Now I ask you: Was it for the good of these men that their father should be so indulgent towards them, and should never correct them? How much sorrow and suffering would Heli have spared himself, how much trouble would he have avoided, if he had corrected his sons betimes! As he did not do so, he shared in their guilt, and was punished by God. Children, if they take advantage of their parents’ kindness, bring unhappiness and even eternal ruin both on themselves and on their parents. It is a strict duty of parents to punish the wrong-doings of their children. It is a false love, and a great misfortune for children when parents are weak and over indulgent. Holy Scripture says: “He that spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes” (Prov. 13:24).

Grace cannot be obtained without repentance. The Israelites thought that if they had the Ark with them, God would be sure to protect them and give them the victory. But how could the tables of the law inside the Ark avail them, if they no longer carried the law of God in their hearts? They ought first to have sincerely repented, and then God would have been gracious to them. Nothing holy, not even the Sacraments, can help us, if we do not first turn to God and cast away strange gods, i. e. sinful habits and passions.

Resistance to God’s grace. Samuel, the “asked or heard of God”, was, as his very name signifies, a child of grace. He did, in fact, receive many graces from God; but then he faithfully co-operated with them, and thus became in time the reformer and saviour of his people when they were in adversity. Heli’s sons were also highly favoured by God. They were called to the priesthood by right of their birth; they grew up in the Tabernacle, and had the good example of their father before their eyes from their youth up; but they resisted God’s grace, lightly rejected their father’s warnings, and drew on themselves the displeasure of the best among the people. By their misuse of grace their hearts grew harder and harder. Once more God tried to move them, by letting them know through Samuel that the day was not far off when He would punish them and their father, but they would not profit by this grace. Still hardened in sin, they went out to fight, and died an impenitent death at the hands of the enemy.

Hearkening to the word of God. Whenever we hear the word of God (whether in sermons, or instructions &c.), we should say with Samuel: “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.” We should listen eagerly to the word of God which He speaks to us through the mouths of His priests. “He that heareth you, heareth Me”, said our Lord (Luke 10:16).

Worthy and unworthy Communion. The Ark brought blessing and divine protection to the Israelites as long as they feared God, but when they forgot Him and would not repent, it brought them misfortune and defeat, and even brought plagues and pestilence on the Philistine idolaters. Thus it is with the Most Holy of the New Covenant. Holy Communion brings priceless blessings to the penitent, but a curse and eternal damnation to the impenitent.

APPLICATION. Do you promptly obey the commands of your parents and those who are set over you? Do you go to them as soon as you are called? Do you rise in the morning as soon as you are called? Do you take to heart their injunctions and exhortations? Are you more like Samuel, or the sons of Heli?

How do you behave during the services of the Church? Do you like to hear the word of God, or do you feel an aversion to sermons and try to escape them by merely hearing a Mass? Do you assist at the afternoon or evening services?

IV. EPOCH

THE KINGS

(About 1095–588 B. C.)








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