“Samuel Opened the Doors of the House of Yahweh” by J. Gerald Janzen

Posted: March 4, 2012 in Book and Article Reviews, Old Testament
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            Janzen compares 1 Samuel 3 and 1 Samuel 1 as parallel birth narratives of Samuel.  First Samuel 1 records the physical birth of Samuel but 1 Samuel 3 records a spiritual birth of sorts for the young boy.  It should come as no shock that birthing language would be employed in such a scene.  Jacob was re-birthed on the night he wrestled with the mysterious man the very same way he wrestled with Esau in the womb.  Hannah’s womb opening up and the doors of the house of Yahweh opening up may be more than incidental.  In fact, Robert Alter suggests that there are no “free motifs.”  All words are necessary to the narrative.

            The word of Yahweh was “precious” or rare in those days.  There were no visions.  In some sense, Yahweh’s presence is closed off from His people.  There is no revelation of God to the people.  1 Samuel 3:1 tells us that there is no “vision.”  The Hebrew word for “vision” is typically employed as birthing language (“to burst forth”).  When Eli questions Samuel about Yahweh’s revelation, he is told not to hide anything from Eli.  Samuel tells or reveals everything Yahweh said and hides nothing.

The passage also tells us that Samuel does not “know” the Lord.  It is possibly connected to Elkanah’s “knowing” Hannah in 1 Samuel 1.  This “knowing” opens up what was previously closed, both for Hannah and Samuel.  “Then the statement in 3.15 that ‘Samuel lay until the morning’ may also be taken… as indicating an organic passage of time between reception and publication of the divine word, with overtones of the temporal reference in 1.20, ‘in due time,’ literally ‘at the completion of the days,’ the time of Hannah’s pregnancy. The parallel is intensified in the fact that, in both instances, it is Samuel who lies in the dark enclosure until the time of bursting forth or ‘utterance.’ Finally, one may note that, just as Hannah had several children after Samuel (2.21), analogously after Samuel’s initial word to Eli the word came often through him to Israel at Shiloh (3.20-4.1 a)” (Janzen 92-93).

It is this “completion of days” that serves as a gestation period.  The insemination of the word in Samuel then issues forth in a new birth.  The rumination of the word in Samuel changes him from acolyte to spiritual leader in the community.  The word in Samuel thus becomes a seed in the community.

As we have already mentioned in class, Eli has difficulty seeing and hearing.  He is the last to find out about important events and only hears about his boys’ infidelity through others in the community.  When he does see something, he wrongly misinterprets what he sees (i.e. Hannah’s prayer).  When Eli does finally hear something, he is an ineffective leader that really does nothing about the situation.  It is a barren religious landscape.  Eli, who should be Israel’s spiritual leader, is reduced to relying on Samuel for God’s word.

It is only through Samuel that the self-disclosure of God becomes a regular event for the people of God.  It is through this self-disclosure that a new reality bursts forth.  God’s presence is revealed from the “house of Yahweh” spilling out into the community.  The word of the Lord flowing into the community brings new life possibilities where barrenness had previously been the only possibility.  It brings to mind the image of Ezekiel 47.  God’s salvation flows from the temple of the Lord making the desert places once again teem with life… even the Dead Sea comes to life!



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