Echoes of Jesus? Reflections on 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26

And Eli's blessing is efficacious, as Hannah conceives several more times, bearing three sons and two daughters. But only of Samuel is it said "he grew up with YHWH" (I Sam 2:21). No doubt he is destined for greater things than his siblings, about whom we hear precisely nothing more. And this section of his story ends with an important observation that will find echoes in the later story of Jesus. "The boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in the favor of YHWH and humanity" (I Sam 2:26). This sentence is nearly identical to the statement in Luke 2:52: "And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in divine and human favor." Clearly, this is why the collectors of the lectionary have chosen this passage as one to be read on this Sunday after the birth of Jesus. We certainly hear "echoes of Jesus" in this ancient story of the prophet Samuel.

Yet, their destinies are quite different, however much they both are remembered as unique servants of God. Jesus has a very brief ministry, dying at the hands of the Romans when quite young. Samuel lives a fantastically long life, most of it spent as the recognized and powerful leader of an emergent Israel; he is priest, judge, in effect a king but without the name of king. Jesus is called king, but only in an ironic sense. He is in his life a peasant and day laborer. Thus, he has come to redefine what it means to be a king.

Also, Samuel is all too human in his desire for dynasty through his wastrel sons and his unwillingness to support the kingship of Saul. In effect, it could be said that Samuel does Saul in, rejecting him from being king on two technicalities of sacrificial actions (see I Sam 13 and 15).

In contrast, Jesus is remembered as offering himself willingly for the poor, the outcast, the marginalized—finally dying innocently on a Roman cross. So, as much as their two lives intersect on the surface—unusual birth, loved unreservedly by a mother, growing in the favor of God and humanity—they diverge in much more important ways.

As a preacher, I would avoid forcing the story of Samuel to be a prefiguring event for the story of Jesus. Each of the great stories has its own value and deserves its own careful attention. There may be "echoes of Jesus" in Samuel's story, but the echoes quickly fade in the light of the larger contexts of the lives that are lived.

12/23/2012 5:00:00 AM
John Holbert
About John Holbert
John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.