BIG WORD: 1 Samuel 1–3

As a parent, do you ever wonder how much of your kids’ behavior is actually your fault? The question reaches wide because the answer changes with your child’s age. At some point, we have to let them make their own decisions, but even then — Is it our fault if they make the wrong decisions? Where is the delineation of responsibility?

The first three chapters of First Samuel offer two striking cases that, when juxtaposed, address this very issue. There we read about Hannah, the mother of Samuel, who showed tremendous faith and confidence in God. Not only did she trust Him to overcome her infertility, she faithfully surrendered her son back to Him. Her great faith in and faithfulness to God are contrasted with Eli’s passive approach to parenting and his less worthy sons.

This was just one part of our discussion last night at our Big Word Bible Study. To truly dive into this section of Scripture, hop over to the Big Word tab and download our homework notes.

If you’re already following along, here are a few things we talked about last night that weren’t included in the homework.


When comparing Gideon and Hannah, we see two similar yet distinctive interactions with God. Historically believers have viewed Gideon negatively for testing God (“fleecing”) and Hannah positively for seeking God. Is there a difference between bargaining with God and making a conditional vow?

Bargaining is a request for proof, almost a threat. The thinking goes something like this: “I’ll only do what you ask IF you do what I ask of you.” This is what Gideon did. This thinking wrongfully places control in human hands. Or at least attempts to.

A conditional vow, on the other hand, is a promised sacrifice. It usually begins with a request for blessing. This person tells God: “If You do this for me, I will thank You in this way.” That’s what Hannah did.

J. Hampton Keathley, III, wrote this in a study about Hannah:

“Never discredit the pain or sufferings life brings. No matter what their cause or source, sufferings are allowed by God and are the tools by which He trains us so that we become the kind of wife, husband, mother, father, son or daughter God can use for His purposes.”

In a similar vein, Carolyn Custis James said this:

“God uses suffering to open our eyes to see more of Him than we would under rosier conditions.”

In Hannah’s song she mentions raising her “horn.” I encourage you to read Psalm 18 to learn more about the power behind God’s horn of salvation. It’s absolutely amazing!

Eli, Hophni and Phinehas

We spent a lot of time talking about these fellas. What wasn’t mentioned in our study notes was a distinct translation in regard to Eli’s sons. They’re called “sons of Belial.”

Some claim Belial is another name for Satan while others believe it is the name of one of the four crown princes of Hell. Regardless of its specific meaning, we can deduce that it refers to a bad dude.

“Belial” is a term derived from two Hebrew words: one meaning “failure” and the other meaning “to be valuable.” Combined they often meant “to waste one’s worth. The application of this term infers that the anticedent (the object of the name calling) is in direct opposition to God. (See 2 Corinthians 6:15.)

So the question remains: If Eli’s sons were so bad, why did he take the fall? 1 Samuel 3:13 tells us plainly “… he failed to restrain them.” Sure, Eli talked to them about their sins and violations against God, but he should have done more. Stripped them of their titles or positions. Cut them out of his will. Something! Instead he warned them, then let it be.

Rev. Charles Spurgeon wrote this about Eli:

“Eli failed to tutor his sons to be the willing servants and the attentive hearers of the Lord’s word. In this he was without excuse of inability since he successfully trained the child Samuel in reverent attention to the divine will. O that those who are diligent about the souls of others would look well to their own households. … Ah, Eli, if thou hadst been as careful with thine own sons as with the son of Hannah, they had not been such men of Belial … O for grace so to nurse our little ones for the Lord, that they may hear the Lord when he shall be pleased to speak to them.”

Read Deuteronomy 11:9 and Psalm 78:4–8 for further thought.

The next set of homework notes are now available on the Big Word page. We’ll dive into chapters four through seven in two weeks.

Your Turn: What are your thoughts about all of this? Are you bargaining with God or asking for His blessings? Are you using your sufferings to learn more about Him? How do you ensure that the next generation (be they your children or not) understand the truths of God?

Talk to me!

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