The Child in the Ephod - Part 3

W.W. Fereday

From "Samuel, God's Emergency Man"

It is somewhat startling to read in 1 Samuel 2:18 that the child Samuel was "girded with a linen ephod;" for Samuel, although a Levite, was not of the priestly house. Only one other person outside the family of Aaron is ever spoken of as wearing an ephod (David) on the occasion of his bringing up the Ark of Jehovah from Kirjath-jearim to Zion (2 Sam. 6:14). These circumstances make more vivid Jehovah's change of attitude towards Israel. The Aaronic priesthood under their head continued to perform their functions on behalf of the people in the sanctuary, but the High Priest was no longer the medium of communication from Jehovah. Samuel and David, prophet and king, suggest the glorious One Who is coming, in Whom all the offices that man's need requires will be blessedly combined.

In a solemn message to Eli by an unnamed man of God, Jehovah confirmed the promise of a king and showed plainly where the priesthood would stand henceforward. 'I will raise Me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in Mine heart and in My mind: and I will build him a sure house; and he shall walk before Mine anointed for ever" (l Sam. 2:35). Let the reader compare this with Numbers 27:18-23. There Joshua is bidden to "stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before Jehovah: at his word (i.e. Eleazar's word) shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in." Now, the priest, albeit faithful, and working according to Jehovah's mind and heart, must walk before the king. Moreover, the title 'the Anointed,' hitherto understood to appertain to the High Priest should henceforward belong to the king.

In the Book of Judges it is the condition of the people that is shown, but the writer is strangely silent concerning the priesthood. Only once is it mentioned, and then somewhat casually (judges 20:28). The influence of the priesthood seems to have been practically nil. The first Book of Samuel opens, not with the condition of the people, but with the condition of the priesthood itself. It was truly appalling. Eli scandalously weak; his sons (one of whom might be expected to succeed him) grossly wicked. Jehovah's patience had reached its limit. The order of things established by Himself when Moses passed away must now end in judgment. Here let it be noted that Eli and his sons were not in the line of succession from Phinehas, to whom Jehovah promised an everlasting priesthood because of his faithfulness at Baal-Peor (Num. 25:10-13). Somehow during the disorderly period of the judges the true line had been thrust aside by the family of Ithamar. This Jehovah overlooked for the time being, but the hour had now struck for judgment. Eli and his sons must lose their priesthood. Phinehas' line was to be restored; but the king was henceforward to be God's anointed, and the priesthood must serve under him.

A few touches concerning Samuel are found in 1 Samuel 2 interwoven with the story of the terrible wickedness of Eli's sons, as if the Spirit would show the contrast between God's newly chosen vessel and those men of Belial. We read in verse 1 1, 'The child did minister unto Jehovah before Eli the priest;" then follows the corrupt practices of the priests, whereby all respect for divine things was destroyed in the minds of the people (vv. 13-17); then we are told, "but Samuel ministered before Jehovah, a child girded with a linen ephod" (v. 18). Samuel's purity amidst the vilest surroundings is thus emphasised. This is followed by Eli's final remonstrance with his sons. In verse 26 we are told that "the child Samuel grew, and was in favour both with Jehovah and also with men." (comp. Luke 2:52); then comes the pronouncement of the solemn sentence that was about to be executed upon the priestly houses; and we read next, "the child Samuel ministered unto Jehovah before Eli" (chap. 3:1).

Thus everything now turned upon "God's emergency man" who was rapidly being fitted for the grave position that he was to fill. The priesthood must be deposed from its former position of privilege and honor as the link between Jehovah and His people; the king was in mind, but not yet called; Samuel was to be the medium of communication meanwhile. To some extent he was to hold Moses' place of Mediator. The spotless ephod was not only symbolical of the personal purity of the one whom Jehovah had chosen; it also spoke of the peculiar place that he must occupy as filling the awful gap created by a corrupt priesthood.

Blessed be God, He is never without resources. If one order of things breaks down, bringing sorrow upon men rather than blessing, He creates another. The subsequent history will show us the miserable failure of kingship. In whatever position God may place man, and however highly He may favour him, failure quickly ensues. We must learn from this that there is but One whom God can trust-our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He is our rest and confidence today and for ever.