|Samuel Reading the Text II Part III: The Rise of Samuel|
|Written by Michael Linetsky|
"The Rise of Samuel" Now that we are prepared to hear about the priests of Shiloh it turns out that the activists in the passage are not the priests themselves but the priest’s assistants. The Narrative depicts how thoroughly
corrupted the priesthood had become. From the chief priests to the young priestly initiates, the entire priesthood united in a systematic exploitation of the sacrifice and the people. As in Sodom where the townspeople young and old gathered at Lot’s threshold to commit sin.
The Narrative stresses that the sins of these priest’s assistants was great before the Lord. It holds them responsible for their own actions and no longer calls them ‘boys’ (which has undertones of dependence or juvenility) but more generically as ‘men’ or ‘people’ who are of age and accountability. A similar example of a change made by the Narrative from a specific term to a general one can be found in the story of Abraham in Gerar. After God warns Abimelech in a dream that he will die if he does not set Abraham free, we read: “and Abimelech rose early in the morning and he called all his servants. And he spoke all these things in their ears and the men were very afraid” (Gen. 20:8). (cf. also Num. 22:38) The servants are afraid as plain men would be; certainly not what one would expect of the servants of a king. It is also possible that here the narrator similarly refers to them as mere men in order to stress their meagerness in the face of the Lord.
In addition to portraying the conditions of a completely decayed Shilonite priesthood, the phrasing of the sacrificial passage in terms of the priests’ assistants aligns these ‘boys’ with another ‘boy’, i.e. Samuel and allows us to compare the two on their own terms. As the sons of Eli and the priests’ assistants degenerate to the brink of corruption Samuel remains loyal to the Lord. While the sins of the men were "great with the Lord " Samuel continues to grow. “Samuel was engaged in the service of (‘eth pene’) the Lord” (v. 18).