Chapter 1.
Finishing a Great Start

1 Samuel 1:1

The book of First Samuel begins the five hundred year king period... 1095-586 B.C. In fact, in the Latin Vulgate edition it was entitled the book of 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Kings was labeled 3 & 4 Kings. In the Hebrew text it appears as one book... Samuel. The Septuagint, the Old Testament written in the Greek language, the book is divided in two as we find it in the King James Version.

First Samuel is a transition book where Israel goes from the rule of God, their invisible king who made them different and unique from the nations of the world, to the rule of man, a visible king, which made them like all the other nations. God's people go from a theocracy to a monarchy.

The period of the Judges ends with 1 Samuel, Samuel being the last of the judges and it begins with the first of the kings. First Samuel reveals man's choice for a king... Saul and Second Samuel reveals God's choice for a king... David. The events of this book cover a period of about 115 years.

Chapters one through twenty-four are believed to be written by Samuel (1 Samuel 10:25). The remainder of the book was possibly finished by Nathan or Gad (1 Chronicles 29:29).

Samuel, the main author, was a great man. His name means "asked of God." He was a man of prayer. Chapter one begins with the background of Samuel's life, of the circumstances of his family before his birth. Notice verse one...

1 Samuel 1:1—Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim, of mount Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephrathite.

First Samuel is about great beginnings but poor finishes. In the story about the turtle and the rabbit, we find the rabbit had a great beginning, but it was the turtle who won the race. The rabbit lied down and it lead to his downfall, breakdown, being down and out, and down in the mouth. The turtle was consistent and kept on going even when it looked like all was lost. The turtle did not give up, choke up, or let up. It kept on going forward to victory. God wants us to have the same attitude. He wants us to finish a great start!

1 Corinthians 15:58—Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

Beloved, the Christian race is not a competitive event to see who comes in first, instead it is an endurance run to see who finishes faithfully. It is like the experience of Bill Broadhurst, who entered the Pepsi Challenge 10,000 meter road race in Omaha, Nebraska. A decade earlier Bill had surgery for an aneurysm in the brain and it left him paralyzed on his left side. Now, on a crisp, misty, July morning in 1981, Bill stood with 1200 fit looking men and women at the starting line of a big race, waiting for crack of the starter's gun. The gun sounds and Bill throws his stiff left leg forward, pivots on it as his right foot hits the ground. His slow plop, plop, plop rhythm seems to mock him as the swarm of runners fade far into the silent mist of the morning. The sweat poured from his brow like rain on a windshield. Pain gnawed away at Bill's ankle, yet, he kept going forward. Bill reaches the six mile finish line two hours and twenty-nine minutes later which was over an hour and a half after everyone else had finished. By then, most of the spectators had already finished, yet, there remained a small group of bystanders. Bill recognizes one of the men from his pictures in the newspapers. He is Bill Rodgers, the famous marathon runner. Bill Rodgers went up to Bill Broadhurst and placed his newly won medal around Broadhurst's neck and said, "Here, you have worked harder for this than I have." Bill Broadhurst was a winner that day because he finished a great start. That is what the Christian life is all about! Finish the race the Lord has put you in. Don't be like multitudes of Christians that quit church, get backslidden, and become carnal and worldly.

First Samuel gives insights of great beginnings and poor finishes of some main characters.

Consider Eli...

Eli started out close to the Lord in his life. He had a great start. He trained Samuel. He knew God's purpose, yet, he failed to discipline and train his sons because he could not discipline himself. The result of this failure is they were judged by God for their wickedness. The Ark falls into Philistine hands and Eli dies upon hearing the news. His death marks the decline of the priesthood and the rise of the prophets.

Consider Samuel...

He was dedicated to God by his mother. He became a man of prayer who began a school for prophets. He anointed the first kings. Sadly, his sons turn away from God, took bribes and perverted justice. This caused Israel to reject the prophets and turn toward the king.

Consider Saul...

He was handsome, humble, brave, and bold at the start. He ends up disobeying God, becomes proud, jealous, paranoid, seeks the counsel of a witch, and commits suicide.

Consider David...

David had a wonderful beginning too. He ministers to Saul, sleighs Goliath, and becomes a great warrior. Unfortunately, in 2 Samuel, he falls into sin with Bathsheba.

All these men had good starts but disappointing finishes. God help us all to stay focused in finishing our course and God's will for our life.

The names in Elkanah's family tree remind us how to stay focused on the Lord in times of anarchy when every man does that which is right in his own eyes. The names reveal there were still godly families during this time period. The messages in the names give insights on how to start right and stay right with God. They reveal how to have a great start and a great finish like Paul who said, "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith" (2 Tim. 4:6, 7). Notice these names and note their meanings.

A Message in the Names

1. Ramathim-zophim—

Ramathim or Ramah means "lofty place or double height." It was Samuel's headquarters. In the Greek language it was called Arithamea which was the town of Joseph who pleaded for the body of Jesus. The word "Zophim" means "the watchers." This combined name reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven, that we sit together in heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 2:6). We are ambassadors of Christ. Because of this privilege and responsibility, we are to be watchful unto prayer (Ephesians 6:18). These principles will help us have a great start and great finish in our life.

2. Elkanah—

Elkanah means "God has redeemed or God is the owner." Elkanah was an Ephraimite by residence but a Levite by lineage according to 1 Chronicles 6:22-38. Samuel and his father belonged to the Kohathites of the sons of Levi who were in charge of the temple furniture. According to 1 Chronicles 6, Samuel and his father were also descendants of Korah who lead a rebellion against Moses in Numbers 26. The earth swallowed 250 of these rebellious men. Because of God's mercy and grace, the descendants of Korah were not destroyed.

Elkanah was a debtor to God's mercy and had a great reason to worship the Lord and thank Him for his very existence. We are debtors to the Lord too! Elkanah's name reminds us that our Lord is our redeemer and owns us. If we are to have a great start and finish, we must remember and believe this truth.

1 Peter 1:18, 19—Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:

1 Corinthians 6:19, 20—What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.

3. Mount Ephraim—

Ephraim means "fruitful." This name reminds us that we too are to be fruitful if we are to have a great start and finish. In Hampton Court near London, there is a grapevine under glass. It is about one thousand years old and has but one root which is at least two feet thick. Some of the branches are 200 feet long. Because of skillful cutting and pruning, the vine produces several tons of grapes each year. We are to be fruitful like this vine. The fruit we are to bare is in:

Galatians 5:22, 23—But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

The Bible tells us how to be fruitful.

John 15:4, 5—Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

4. Jehoram—(Samuel's grandfather)—

Jehoram means "to obtain mercy; tenderly loved." His name reminds us that we are to remember God's mercy.

Titus 3:5—Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.

Not only are we to remember God's mercy, but also His love (John 3:16). If you want to have a great start and finish, don't become apathetic toward what God has done.

5. Elihu (Samuel's great grandfather)—

Elihu's name means "God is my Lord." If you are going to have a great start and finish, the Lord must be the master of your life. You need to be yielded to His will for your life. The Bible warns us we can't serve two masters.

Matthew 6:24—No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

If you try to serve two masters James has a description of you.

James 1:8—A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

Christ is to be the master of our life (Matthew 23:10).

6. Tohu—

Tohu means "prostration." His name is a reminder of our need for worship, prayer, and adoration for the Lord if we are going to have a great start and finish.

Psalm 96:9—O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth.

Matthew 4:10—Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

7. Zuph—

The meaning of Zuph is "overflow, droppings of honeycomb." This name reminds us of the result of walking with God and serving and worshiping Him. When you walk with God you can enjoy the honey droppings of His Word and His blessings.

Ephesians 3:19, 20—And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,

{See the Review Questions for this chapter on page 563}