It was time for Samuel’s father, Elkanah, to make his annual pilgrimage to offer his sacrifices to God. 1 Samuel 1:3 tells us, “Now, this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni, and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord.” The phrase “used to” doesn’t imply he doesn’t do it anymore, as we might use that phrase. It means that it was his custom to go up. Going up is important, but Shiloh was north of Jerusalem and in the same mountain range. Going up does not refer to going north. It refers to climbing the hills. Shiloh was 20 miles north of Jerusalem and would have been a long walk. Elkanah went to Shiloh because the Ark of the Covenant and the priests were located there then.

He sacrificed to “The Lord of Hosts.” This is the first time God is referred to as “The Lord of Hosts” in the Bible. Some argue that it means He is the commander of the Army with a great number of soldiers. Others see it as referring to the Angels at God’s command. The article in the Lexham Bible Dictionary sees it as both. The phrase “Lord of Hosts” is “A phrase describing Yahweh’s role as the Lord of the heavenly armies, the commander of the cosmic forces, the head of the divine council, and the leader of Israel’s army.”[1] I like that some translations translate it as “The Lord Almighty.” The New International Version and Today’s English Version do that.

This is also the first time that the sons of Eli, Hophni, and Phineas are mentioned. They seem to be representative of the apostate nature of Israel and the priesthood during the period of the Judges. But Elkanah is not like them. Bergen writes, “Far from being yet another decadent Israelite in the period of the Judges, Elkanah is consistently portrayed as one who is devoted to the Lord. His piety is suggested first by the fact that ‘year after year’ he ‘went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lord Almighty.’ According to the Torah, every Israelite family was to make the journey to Israel’s central Yahwistic worship center. By leading his family in annual trips to Shiloh, Elkanah is shown to be a man both submissive to the Torah and strong in his domestic leadership.”[2] But Elkanah did not go to Shiloh to see Hophni and Phineas. He came to bring an offering to God Almighty. He came as Phillips says, he came to “renew his covenant fidelity.” Elkanah wanted to prioritize God in his life, not the religious system under which he lived. “However little Elkanah knew of true religion at a time like this, he knew enough to come as a sinner, seeking grace from God by means of the shed blood of a sacrifice.”[3] This is precisely how we should come as well. The sacrifice and the shed blood have already been offered for us in Jesus Christ.

[1] Acosta, Dempsey Rosales. 2016. “Lord of Hosts.” In The Lexham Bible Dictionary, edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[2] Bergen, Robert D. 1996. 1, 2 Samuel. Vol. 7. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[3] Phillips, Richard D. 2012. 1 Samuel. Edited by Philip Graham Ryken and Richard D. Phillips, Duguid Iain M. 1st ed. Reformed Expository Commentary. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.