Last week’s story ended with the death of Eli (chapter 4). The next three chapters recount what happened to the Philistines when they carried the Ark of the Covenant to their place of worship. They set it next to their god Dagon. The next morning, Dagon was found prostrate before the Ark. The people developed hemorrhoids and sent the Ark to another town where hemorrhoids also developed.
I doubt that very many kids learned this in Sunday school classes. It all about the power of God. Certainly, the kids did not hear details of the reparations the Philistines made when they sent the Ark back to Israel: five solid gold hemorrhoids and many gold mice.
When the Ark arrived at Beth-shemesh, the people made sacrifices to God, but also touched and looked into the Ark. Seventy men died as a result. (Actually, verse 19 reads: [The Lord] struck at the men of Beth-shemesh because they looked into the Ark of the Lord; He struck down seventy men among the people fifty thousand men. JSB The 50,000 is unclear in the Hebrew and is ignored in most translations. If Beth-shemesh lost 70 men, there would have been few left in the village.)
Chapter 7 shows Samuel leading the people against a renewed attack by the Philistines, but he did it in a way Eli’s sons never considered—he prayed to God. The victory ended the last Philistine threat.
In today’s reading, we first learn of Samuel’s sons, two just like Eli. And just like Eli’s sons, Samuel’s boys did not follow in his ways; they were bent on gain, they accepted bribes, and they subverted justice. JSB We are not told what efforts Samuel used to correct the boys, but they did not work.
Notice, there is no mention of God’s plan for the boys, unlike Eli’s. Considering that the sons receive three short verses of attention, it should not be a surprise that we read nothing more about them. In fact, they are only mentioned to set the stage for crowning Saul as the king to replace God the King.
What happened to God the Parent?
The people were tired of his leadership and wanted what all the other countries had—a king. Remember in the history of the Hebrews after Moses led them out of Egypt and Joshua led them into the Promised Land that God governed the people through men in the Joshua mold—men who came to be called Judges. Samuel was such a judge.
While the people complained, God said to Samuel, it is not you that they have rejected; it is Me they have rejected as their king. JSB God agreed to a king, but only after He had Samuel explain to the people what kings do.
Some people argue that God was mad at the people so gave them a terrible king, but that loses focus on God of Creation. He and His Son planned for all these events. God selected Saul as the setup for King David, the forerunner of Jesus. God was not complaining that the people rejected Him, He knew humans are always conflicted with the desire to go-it-alone and the wish for strong leadership.
As fathers must do when their children reach a certain age, God the Parent turned loose the reins and let them seek their way. Yet, He did so with the safety net in place, His Son at the ready to follow David and take on the sources of sin and death.
If your children do stupid, or even deadly things, take solace in knowing that God is the Perfect Parent who weeps for them as much as you do.
Be righteous and do good.