Metaphors in the Tanach: The Story of Samuel

Illustration: Hannah Presenting Samuel to Eli
By Jan Victors
In the story of Samuel names are very important and we must remember that, in previous Torah commentaries, we already had made the connection between first fruits, first born sons and the word of God when discussing the Holy day of Shavout.

Thus, Samuel’s own name means: “To hear God” and his mother’s name means: “grace”. Thus we could say: “through grace we are able to hear God’s words”. Another important aspect to consider is that we are told that in those days Samuel was not referred to as: “a prophet”, but as: “a seer”. Hence one could conclude: “those with the ability to hear God’s word can also see…” Here I would just like to mention that it was the opinion of Maurice Nicoll, a well known English psychologist and religious commentator that: “to hear” in scriptures meant: “to obey” and: “to see” meant: “to understand”. Accordingly, those who obey God’s commands will be given understanding.

In short: similar to the story of Rachel, Hanah is the second wife and she is childless. At Shilo which, when reading the Hebrew without the grammatical pronunciation marks, also means: “ask”, Hannah refuses to eat and begins to silently pray to God. At first, the priest, who is named: Eli (my God), thinks she is drunk, but she explains she is not drunk, but passionate. Eli blesses her and requests that God hear her prayer. Later when Hannah explains the meaning of the name she has given the boy she says: “because I asked God for him”, nevertheless, the actual name Samuel is closer to: “God’s hears” (the name: “Saul” is closer to the verb: "to ask for”)

The important points here are that there is a connection between intoxication and deep spiritual feelings and we must not forget that Noah was intoxicated and removed his clothing. Later, the rabbis would say that on Purim a person must get so drunk they could not distinguish between Mordichai and Haman  (i.e. good and evil) and, of course, Adam and Eve were naked in Eden before they learned the difference between good and evil.

Hannah proclaims that her son will never allow a razor to touch his head and we shall later be told that one’s hair is a sign of dedication to the lord (A belief is also expressed in the story of Samson). This is also important in relation to the Edomites, because Esau, the older brother of Jacob, was born covered in red hair and the word “red” in Hebrew also means “earth”. Hence, Esau was dedicated to the earth, not God.

One of the passages which always bothered me was why Jacob was described as “ a simple man who sat at the entrance to the tent”. This must also be understood in the context that Abraham encountered the three angles while sitting at the entrance to his tent and Lot encountered two of those same angles while sitting at the entrance to Sodom.

Thus, in the story of Samuel we are told that the two son’s of Eli were evil men who demanded the best meat from the people and had sex with the women who served at the entrance to the meeting tent. In other articles we have discussed that in ancient times “meat” was a metaphor for: “religious teachings” and that the Hebrew words for: “The Gospels of Mark” can actually read: “The Meat of Mark”. If “a son of God” is a metaphor for: “the word of God”, then “having sex” is a metaphor for: seeking information from God or praying. Hence, even in modern times people pray nearby their beds and believe they receive messages from God in their dreams. And, of course, in Hebrew the word used for: "sex" actually means: "to know". Following this logic, when in the Book of Exodus we are told that the Israelites are the "son of God, this then suggests that the Israelites are the "custodians of God's word".

Tying this back to the story of Esau, it must then be recalled that not only was Esau was a man with red hair, but he is described as: “a hunter” (i.e. a man who chases after meat) and his father: Isaac, is described as both: “liking the meat of Esau” and “blind”.

Thus, the difference between Esau and Jacob is that Jacob sat quietly at the entrance of the tent (i.e. the original location of the Ark of the Covenant) and awaited messages from God, while Esau, the hunter, ran all over the place seeking the teachings of men.

The key to all this, I believe, is that: “the tent” is a metaphor for: “the heart”. Thus, before, David was anointed, God told Samuel that he does not look at the outside of a man, but only at his heart. In other words: God speaks to his people, in silence, thru their hearts. If a person has a “good heart” (i.e. a suitable heart), then men will have the ability to hear God’s words and will be considered enlightened individuals. Accordingly, one is anointed with olive oil which was used in ancient time as a fuel for the lamps which provided “light” (i.e. understanding) for the people and, of course, the symbol today for Israel is the candlestick, since Israel is to serve as a light unto the nations.   

Another point to consider is the blessing by Balaam read recited almost every week in most synagogues: "how goodly are your tents O Jacob"....Is this supposed to be a commentary on the craftsmanship and sewing skills the Israelites learned in Egypt ? We have already noted that God looks at a man's heart, so it would seem logical that one of God's prophets would also look at a man's heart. A tent is a metaphor for the heart and this new Israelite generation, consisting of those twenty years old or younger at the time of ten dishonest spies, have good hearts and are willing to hear and obey the commandment of the Lord.  

Another interesting aspect to the story of Samuel is that, throughout the Tanach, donkeys are associated with things which are metaphors for religious knowledge. Hence, prophets and kings ride on donkeys, the wheat sent to Jacob by Joseph is placed on donkeys, the two sacks of the land of Israel is placed on the backs of donkeys by the grateful Syrian general and, of course, the bread provided to David on several occasions always come to him on the back of a donkey and we all know the saying: “the Torah is the bread of life”.

Thus, “a donkey” is a metaphor for: “a source of God’s word” and it is no accident we are told that Saul was: “searching for his father’s donkeys” when he found the seer Samuel.

In conclusion: Samuel had conversations with God, he didn’t merely receive messages. Samuel described himself as “God’s servant”, not God’s partner as does Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. Samuel was resting when God’s word first came to him; he was not actively seeking to learn about the lord thru studying the writings of men.  

When the Torah says: we must rest on the Sabbath, it means: sit quietly and wait for God to speak; not to stand up in synagogues and demonstrate how much you know about religion.