Study Guide

1 Samuel Traditions and Customs

Traditions and Customs

And this man went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto the LORD of hosts in Shiloh. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the LORD, were there. {yearly: Heb. from year to year}. (1 Samuel 1:3, KJV)

Now this man used to go up year by year from his town to worship and to sacrifice to the LORD of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the LORD. (1 Samuel 1:3, NRSV)

We don't know about you, but we like to head out on the town every so often. We're pretty cool and hip that way. Unfortunately for those living in the ancient world, heading out to the neighborhood bar where everybody knows your name isn't really a feasible option. For most, the only fun they got to have was the festival once a year at the temple. That might sound kind of lame to us, but it was a hoot back then. Maybe we should start one and see what happens.

But Hannah went not up; for she said unto her husband, I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the LORD, and there abide for ever. (1 Samuel 1:22, KJV)

But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, "As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, that he may appear in the presence of the LORD, and remain there forever; I will offer him as a nazirite for all time." (1 Samuel 1:22, NRSV)

When we meet Hannah, we discover that she can't have kiddos. So, being a quick thinker, she makes a promise to God. If God will give her a child, then she will give her son back to God. When her son Samuel is old enough, he goes to live in the temple. Believe us, it might seem weird, but to them, it was an honor. We're just not sure Samuel was all that into it during his teenage years.

And the priests' custom with the people was, that, when any man offered sacrifice, the priest's servant came, while the flesh was in seething, with a fleshhook of three teeth in his hand; And he struck it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot; all that the fleshhook brought up the priest took for himself. So they did in Shiloh unto all the Israelites that came thither. Also before they burnt the fat, the priest's servant came, and said to the man that sacrificed, Give flesh to roast for the priest; for he will not have sodden flesh of thee, but raw. And if any man said unto him, Let them not fail to burn the fat presently, and then take as much as thy soul desireth; then he would answer him, Nay; but thou shalt give it me now: and if not, I will take it by force. {presently: Heb. as on the day} Wherefore the sin of the young men was very great before the LORD: for men abhorred the offering of the LORD. (1 Samuel, 2:13-17. KJV)

Or for the duties of the priests to the people. When anyone offered sacrifice, the priest's servant would come, while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand, and he would thrust it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot; all that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is what they did at Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there. Moreover, before the fat was burned, the priest's servant would come and say to the one who was sacrificing, "Give meat for the priest to roast; for he will not accept boiled meat from you, but only raw." And if the man said to him, "Let them burn the fat first, and then take whatever you wish," he would say, "No, you must give it now; if not, I will take it by force." Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the LORD; for they treated the offerings of the LORD with contempt. (1 Samuel, 2:13-17, NRSV)

Even though this sounds like the rules for the world's oddest barbecue, the sacrifice of a fat animal used to be extremely important. Going back all the way to Cain and Abel, the sacrificial offering is a Big Deal for the Man Upstairs. But there's a catch. God also likes rules, so if you're going to sacrifice, make sure you're doing it right. Or else.

And the child Samuel ministered unto the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision. (1 Samuel, 3:1, KJV)

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. (1 Samuel, 3:1, NRSV)

When we read the Bible, sometimes it may seem that everyone is having visions and talking to God, but it's important to remember that the Bible takes place over thousands of years. If you look at all the figures in the text and do the math for how many people came and went in the world during that time, you'd be astounded how very few people were blessed to talk to God. Samuel's one of a lucky few.

But Samuel ministered before the LORD, being a child, girded with a linen ephod. Moreover his mother made him a little coat, and brought it to him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. (1 Samuel 2:18-19, KJV)

Samuel was ministering before the LORD, a boy wearing a linen ephod. His mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year, when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. (1 Samuel 2:18-19, NRSV)

We don't know about your grandmothers, but ours really enjoy knitting sweaters. In fact, we have so many sweaters from Christmases past, we could start our own store. We'll call it Shmweaters. Nope, forget it, that's weird. What we're trying to say is that it's nice when our elders carry on traditions of giving. Even if those sweaters are itchy, remember that itchy feeling is really love.

(Beforetime in Israel, when a man went to enquire of God, thus he spake, Come, and let us go to the seer: for he that is now called a Prophet was beforetime called a Seer.) (1 Samuel 9:9, KJV)

(Formerly in Israel, anyone who went to inquire of God would say, "Come, let us go to the seer"; for the one who is now called a prophet was formerly called a seer.) (1 Samuel 9:9, NRSV)

Here, the narrator interrupts the story to give us some important information. The story calls Samuel a seer. People reading the story may not know what a seer is so the narrator tells them that it's the same thing as prophet. A later editor probably added this information years after the story was originally told for clarification. Thanks, Bible editor.

When Jacob was come into Egypt, and your fathers cried unto the LORD, then the LORD sent Moses and Aaron, which brought forth your fathers out of Egypt, and made them dwell in this place. And when they forgat the LORD their God, he sold them into the hand of Sisera, captain of the host of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab, and they fought against them. And they cried unto the LORD, and said, We have sinned, because we have forsaken the LORD, and have served Baalim and Ashtaroth: but now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, and we will serve thee. And the LORD sent Jerubbaal, and Bedan, and Jephthah, and Samuel, and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and ye dwelled safe. And when ye saw that Nahash the king of the children of Ammon came against you, ye said unto me, Nay; but a king shall reign over us: when the LORD your God was your king. (1 Samuel 12:8-12, KJV)

When Jacob went into Egypt and the Egyptians oppressed them, then your ancestors cried to the LORD and the LORD sent Moses and Aaron, who brought forth your ancestors out of Egypt, and settled them in this place. But they forgot the LORD their God; and he sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of King Jabin of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab; and they fought against them. Then they cried to the LORD, and said, 'We have sinned, because we have forsaken the LORD, and have served the Baals and the Astartes; but now rescue us out of the hand of our enemies, and we will serve you.' And the LORD sent Jerubbaal and Barak, and Jephthah, and Samson, and rescued you out of the hand of your enemies on every side; and you lived in safety. But when you saw that King Nahash of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, 'No, but a king shall reign over us,' though the LORD your God was your king. (1 Samuel 12:8-12, NRSV)

The Bible really likes to repeat its traditions. In these verses, Samuel gives us a brief overview of Israelite history. He goes back to Genesis when Jacob and his family went down to Egypt and brings us up to his present. If you're looking for more details than Samuel provides, you can start here.

And they smote the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon: and the people were very faint. And the people flew upon the spoil, and took sheep, and oxen, and calves, and slew them on the ground: and the people did eat them with the blood. Then they told Saul, saying, Behold, the people sin against the LORD, in that they eat with the blood. And he said, Ye have transgressed: roll a great stone unto me this day. {transgressed: or, dealt treacherously}. (1 Samuel 14:31-33, KJV)

After they had struck down the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon, the troops were very faint; so the troops flew upon the spoil, and took sheep and oxen and calves, and slaughtered them on the ground; and the troops ate them with the blood. Then it was reported to Saul, "Look, the troops are sinning against the LORD by eating with the blood." And he said, "You have dealt treacherously; roll a large stone before me here." (1 Samuel 14:31-33, NSRV)

Okay, so we understand eating meat cooked rare is a thing. In fact, it's supposedly the healthiest way to eat. However, we strongly advise not eating your meat while it's still very bloody no matter how hungry you are. If Saul was kind and let his men eat before the battle, this wouldn't have been an issue.

And he went thither to Naioth in Ramah: and the Spirit of God was upon him also, and he went on, and prophesied, until he came to Naioth in Ramah. And he stripped off his clothes also, and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Wherefore they say, Is Saul also among the prophets? {lay: Heb. fell}. (1 Samuel 19:23-24, KJV)

He went there, toward Naioth in Ramah; and the spirit of God came upon him. As he was going, he fell into a prophetic frenzy, until he came to Naioth in Ramah. He too stripped off his clothes, and he too fell into a frenzy before Samuel. He lay naked all that day and all that night. Therefore it is said, "Is Saul also among the prophets?" (1 Samuel 19:23-24, NRSV)

Holy weird traditions, Batman. Usually traditions are cool and have some sort of explanation. This one, however, is strange and hard to explain. Apparently, prophets in the ancient world did some odd things. The Bible calls this a prophetic frenzy. Maybe they went into a trance or their body twitched or they did a strange dance. Whatever a prophetic frenzy was, you can bet that it was strange to see. Saul seems to get especially caught up in this particular ritual. Good thing this was before tabloids.

And David took all the flocks and the herds, which they drave before those other cattle, and said, This is David's spoil. And David came to the two hundred men, which were so faint that they could not follow David, whom they had made also to abide at the brook Besor: and they went forth to meet David, and to meet the people that were with him: and when David came near to the people, he saluted them. {saluted...: or, asked them how they did} Then answered all the wicked men and men of Belial, of those that went with David, and said, Because they went not with us, we will not give them ought of the spoil that we have recovered, save to every man his wife and his children, that they may lead them away, and depart. {those: Heb. men} Then said David, Ye shall not do so, my brethren, with that which the LORD hath given us, who hath preserved us, and delivered the company that came against us into our hand. For who will hearken unto you in this matter? but as his part is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff: they shall part alike. And it was so from that day forward, that he made it a statute and an ordinance for Israel unto this day. {forward: Heb. and forward}. (1 Samuel 30:20-25, KJV)

David also captured all the flocks and herds, which were driven ahead of the other cattle; people said, "This is David's spoil." Then David came to the two hundred men who had been too exhausted to follow David, and who had been left at the Wadi Besor. They went out to meet David and to meet the people who were with him. When David drew near to the people he saluted them. Then all the corrupt and worthless fellows among the men who had gone with David said, "Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except that each man may take his wife and children, and leave." But David said, "You shall not do so, my brothers, with what the LORD has given us; he has preserved us and handed over to us the raiding party that attacked us. Who would listen to you in this matter? For the share of the one who goes down into the battle shall be the same as the share of the one who stays by the baggage; they shall share alike." From that day forward he made it a statute and an ordinance for Israel; it continues to the present day. (1 Samuel 30:20-25, NRSV)

After some Israelite booty is stolen from the army, David and some of his men go and retrieve it while some stay behind. The extra winnings brought back are to be divided amongst the troops whether they were there or not. Some of the dudes who went to the fight feel like those who stayed behind don't deserve anything, but David disagrees. He says that they will have a share in the army's earnings. The rule that he makes up on the spot becomes a custom in ancient Israel. Sometimes being the king means you can do whatever you like—including create new traditions and customs. At least this one is fair.

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