The premise of the first chapter of Samuel is to lay up for us the true foundation of this faithful witness to the coming king. What I find interesting is that the focus on Samuel is as if he was a type of Christ rather than a type of John the Baptist. As revered a prophet as John was, he was still overshadowed by the Christ whom he wholeheartedly testified to.
Having said that, it is even clearer in chapter 2 that Samuel is the “faithful priest” of v.35, akin to Deuteronomy 18:18 – the prophet which was raised up for the people; a priest who is raised up for God; a king who is a man after God’s own heart – these are three different but intricately intertwined offices which the Spirit-anointed Christ fulfilled through His obedience to the Father. It is in this sense that Samuel is a type of Christ; not in the sense that he is a fore-running witness (like John the Baptist), which is a compelling typology. In a different manner, Samuel is the prophesied priest who, like the young incarnate Christ, worshipped the LORD (chapter 1.v28), ministered to Him in the presence of Eli the priest (chapter 2v.11), grew in the presence of the LORD (v.21), continuing to grow both in stature and in favour with the LORD and with man (v.26) – verse 26 of chapter 2 especially echoing what is written in Luke 2:52.
What we therefore see is this priestly Samuel, not according to the priestly line of Eli, but according to the righteous line of the High Priest Melchizedek which Christ partook in. The true meaning of this is found in the latter parts of chapter 2, where we see a direct contrast between Eli’s half-hearted rebuke of his sons and the LORD holding him responsible for the death of this specific Levitical line under Eli to be replaced by Samuel the outsider. Samuel who is born of that seemingly drunken woman Hannah. Samuel who is born of Elkanah’s wife, Hannah, scorned by Peninnah. However, this transfer of power from Eli to Samuel is not immediate, but is poetically prophesied in the beginning of chapter 2, and this transfer of power is intentional in expressing the transfer of power from Israel to the outside world.
It is at the beginning of this chapter that we read of Hannah’s prayer, which bears much semblance to Mary’s Magnificat and Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke 1. All three – the prayer, the song, the prophecy – are sculpted almost in an identical manner. The structure begins with praise – “My heart exults in the LORD” against “My soul magnifies the Lord”, and Zechariah’s “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel”. Why and for what reason? The reason of salvation – “because I rejoice in your salvation”, “and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”, and “for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David”, respectively. It is perhaps of no coincidence that all three are sculpted in this way – for all three are driven by the Spirit.
These are not the only common ground amongst the three proclamations in response to child-birth: to dwell on Zechariah’s point of the “horn of salvation”, the Hebrew for 1 Samuel 2:1, and 2:10 (where the words “strength” and “power” are used respectively) and in direct relation to the Anointed One who saves; the Horn of Salvation who is exalted by the Father (chapter 2:10). Throughout Scripture, “horn” is seen as symbolic of redemption primarily related to the four horns of the altar of burnt offering of the tabernacle (Exodus 27:1-3), the horns being one piece with the altar (Exodus 38:2); blood being smeared onto horns of the altar before the LORD in the Tent of Meeting, on the altar of burnt offering, on the altar of fragrant incense (Leviticus 4); the filling of David’s horn with oil prior to the king’s anointing (1 Samuel 16:1-3); Adonijah clining to the horns of the altar for refuge (1 Kings 1:49-51); and the altar of Ezekiel 43:14-16, the four horns projecting upward from the hearth to the heavens (c.f. Ezekiel 43:19-21 for the blood smeared onto the altar horns). It would seem reasonable from these verses to see that the horns on the altars represent the four corners of creation, representing refuge, redemption and renewal by the sacrificial blood of the lamb, looking upwards to the heavens as a sign of resurrection and ascension. So, the symbolism of this “horn” of salvation should not be undermined – rather, it contributes to a robust understanding of Hannah and Zechariah’s theology of the gospel of the Anointed One.
This brings us to a somewhat robust theology of humiliation and glorification in other parts of their prayer, song and prophecy – the LORD who kills and bring to life, who brings down to Sheol and raises up as in Hannah’s prayer; the Lord who brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate, helping his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy as he spoke to… Abraham and to his offspring forever as in Mary’s song; and Zechariah who spoke of his son John being Spirit-led to give knowledge of salvation to his people to give light to the darkness, which is similar to Hannah’s petition for the “wicked [to] be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail”. Thus, by what or by whom shall a man prevail?
By now, we should be convinced that they are not speaking merely of their own son; rather, all three saints are speaking of a prophecy which reigns long ago from a promise made to Abraham; that they are speaking of the hope found in this Horn of Salvation, the Anointed One exalted by the Father; that this Son shall be humiliated and risen as we are humiliated in Adamic flesh and risen in Christ’s resurrection and ascension. Only through Christ can resurrection come after death, He who was made poor and thus made rich once more to retain the former glory which He had with the Father which the Three Divine Persons wish to share with us (c.f. John 17). Jesus Christ is that sunrise who has visited Zechariah, Mary, Hannah and Elkanah (Luke 1:78).
Thus, this is Samuel – compared to Eli’s worthless sons (v.12-17) who abused the sacrifice just as the Corinthians abused the communion table (1 Corinthians 11). Such contempt for the symbolic body of Christ is of direct offence to the actual body of Christ; indeed, that is why Eli’s sons did not know the LORD, because they failed to see the significance of the meat as prophetic of Christ. This is a far cry from David feeding his men with the bread of presence (Matthew 12:2-4), for David did not treat it with the same type of contempt and knew fully of the Second LORD (Psalm 110; Matthew 22:42-44) Whom the bread represented. The worthless priests, Hophni and Phinehas, did not even know this much, which suggests why even the symbolic meat was treated with such disrespect.
Although Eli rebukes his sons in v.22-26, the words fall on deaf ears, just as the old Israel had fallen deaf to the word of the Father in heaven (perhaps explaining why the word of the LORD being rare in those days, c.f. chapter 3:1). It may look like Eli is a cut above Hophni and Phinehas through his timely rebuke, but the LORD reveals his heart: that though Eli’s household reigns from the line of Aaron, privileged to wear the ephod as a priest before the LORD, only Samuel consistently worshipped Him and grew both in stature and in favour with Him as he wore his little linen ephod (v.18). Eli, however, did not grow in stature with God nor with man. He wore that ephod with compromise – the LORD accused him of scorning his sacrifices and his offerings, and honoured his sons above the LORD by fattening himself on the choicest parts of every offering of His people (v.29).
Samuel’s child-like innocence, such faith in Christ, is thus juxtaposed against Eli and his household who are preaching a false gospel before men by word and by deed (v.23 – the evil dealings reported from all the people). What kind of priesthood is this? Definitely not one which the LORD accepts – “far be it from me, for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed… behold the days are coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your father’s house” (v.30-31). Indeed, this prophecy was fulfilled in Samuel, but it was truly fulfilled in Christ Jesus, the eternal mediator between man and God. Samuel thus did not come from the line of Aaron the same way Eli was (Hebrews 7:11), but he, like Christ, came from the line of Melchizedek, the high priest forever (Hebrews 5-7). Yet, it is also the partaking of this line of Melchizedek which enables us to “go in and out before [His] anointed forever”. Like Joseph who had gathered all blessings in Egypt, so also all the blessings once found in the house of Eli shall only be found in the house of Samuel – and even more fundamentally, in Bethlehem – the house of bread where Christ, the bread of life, was born. Note however that it is by the priest that we can go before His anointed forever; and it is in Christ that the offices are all fulfilled – He was and is that High Priest who made the Father known to us, that we may “go in and out” before Him forever as we too are anointed by the Spirit to become part of the anointed Church Catholic. Thus, in Him we die, in Him we are saved, in Him we are redeemed, for He is our intercessor, priest and king forever.
Thus, it is by this Faithful Priest, Anointed One, Horn of Salvation, that we receive more than a morsel of bread. We shall be exalted, we shall be glorified, we shall ascend into His Trinitarian Communion to truly drink and feed on Him eternally. We shall not scorn His sacrifice, but we shall love it – this sacrifice who lived the true life of a priest, prophet and king and Whom Samuel was a faint but compelling shadow of. Eli was of the old empty order which the Israelites embraced; but Samuel was led entirely by Christ as to be a fitting type of Christ which the spiritual Church enjoined herself to, forerunning the greater type David who shall become the head of this church of Israel in the climax of Samuel’s writings.