Lectionary Reflection for the Second Sunday after Epiphany

From 1 Samuel (BTCB) by Francesca Aran Murphy, commenting on 1 Samuel 3: 1-20

The initiation that began when Elkanah and Hannah deposited Samuel in the temple is brought to fruition by God. Rather than being a temple servant, he must say in response to his divine vocation or calling, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth” (3:9). For scripture, the moral subject, like Abraham, the Jewish paradigm of vocation, “is constituted by the call of God and by obedience to his call (Heb. 11:8).” In stories like that of Abraham and Samuel, the scriptures give us this idea of what a moral subject is, and by so doing, they give us a certain understanding of history. Because “biblical ethics is based on the call of the personal God and man’s believing response,” biblical history writing created what Carol Meyers terms the “particularistic principle.” The idea here, which enabled Israel to begin to rise above the tribal or collectivist principle, is that God’s call separates a person from his or her culture, and this break with the internal social dynamic of a culture gives them the spiritual wherewithal to found a genuine community, spreading from and embedded in the work or task that is named in the divine call.

Such characters are made individuals in order to give their lives to their community. This episode opens the way for social rebirth: “The emergence of Samuel, a prophet, a new figure untainted by the old order, dispels the cloud of instability and evil” that Judges has left behind (Campbell and O’Brien 2000: 215). Before it could have kings, Israel must have a prophet to anoint them. As the first prophet to Israel’s kings, Samuel’s thankless task, inaugurated here, is to repeat God’s judgment to priests and kings. He will have to say unwanted words, such as that God “will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth: because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not” (3:13). Samuel’s vocation is not the expression of his own genius personality: the last of the judges personifies what judging really means by taking an absolute standard, the word of God, as the measure of the justice he metes to human persons. This absolute standard is not a concept of justice, but “the Lord reveal[ing] himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord” (3:21). Absolute justice is not a standard or measure of justice, but its measurer, the Creator of justice. By mediating God’s justice to the people, Samuel becomes the measuring rod of integrity in Israel: “All Israel from Dan even to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord” (3:20).


©2010 by Francesca Aran Murphy. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.


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