It’s really quite amazing how the Bible speaks with such profound simplicity into modern-day issues. Although on the other hand I guess that shouldn’t be amazing, as it is God’s Word and God is amazing!
I’ve been spending a lot of my own time in Scripture and in preparation for a series of messages in the first three chapters of 1 Samuel. I am working on a series for those going on a church missions trip to Panama in September titled “Hearing the Voice of God” to speak to how we put ourselves in a position to hear the voice of God speaking to us. But as I have been working on that I’ve been drawn to the contrast between Samuel and Eli and the parallels to the reality in our times.
Samuel, whose name means “heard of God,” (because his mother prayed to God for him) would ironically be a man who “heard from God.” In fact the way this works (relationship with God) is that God creates a desire in us (usually exacerbated by difficult circumstances) and we call on His name in prayer. Then, in due time, God answers those prayers. God then calls our name and we are to respond to Him! So, we speak to God and He answers; God speaks to us and we answer. That’s called relationship!
Anyway, thank God for “mothers” who pray! A praying “mother” comes before a “man of God” is born. A praying “mother” is what produces a prophet who shakes a nation with the Word of God. Her story (Samuel’s mother) is a story that has given me hope in prayer and comfort in being afflicted or mocked by the enemy on many occasions, though one in particular stands out above the rest.
Anyway, Samuel’s mother made a vow to God, that if He would give her a son, she would give that son to Him to serve Him all the days of his life. So, after he was weaned, she kept her word and Samuel grew up serving under Eli the priest in the temple of the Lord. How we need more “Samuels” who are given over to the Lord to serve Him, worship Him and minister in His presence!
Well, in chapter 2 we are given detail into how Eli’s sons (also priests) were “wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord.” (1 Samuel 2:12). They were corrupt and greedy. They took advantage of other worshipers’ giving. They actually were abusive, controlling and demanding. They were bullies who intimidated the people. They were also sexually immoral, using their positions of power to entice other women to sleep with them. Some things never change, right? All under the guise of “religion.” The problem wasn’t with what God had established; the problem was with the people who established themselves against the Lord!
There are some detestable things (in the Lord’s eyes) going on within the church today. Some of these are secret things, other things or times they are very public. I got an e-mail just this week from a woman who fears the Lord and is a woman of prayer. She was asking me to pray about a situation within the church she goes to, because someone in a leadership position (over the children’s Sunday school) is a lesbian and this church (at least the pastors) don’t consider this a problem. It’s one thing to reach out to homosexuals with the grace of God and love of Christ, but another thing altogether to accept this lifestyle as being “okay with God” and “okay with us.” This shows a blatant disregard for the Lord, His Word and His Spirit, who is grieved over this. It shows a lack of the fear of the Lord and a flippant, apathetic attitude towards sin and Scripture. And this is just one example among many others that could be cited.
However, back in Samuel, all the while this was going on, Samuel we are told, “was ministering before the Lord…” (1 Samuel 2:18) “grew up in the presence of the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:21) and “continued to grow in statue and in favor with the Lord.” (1 Samuel 2:26). In the midst of this perversion and unfaithfulness, there was a boy who feared the Lord and was faithful to the Lord. This shows us that God’s people (even the most impressionable) can flourish and grow, being protected by His presence, in the midst of the worst environments of compromise and sin!
And isn’t it amazing how despite environments some people grow up in, they turn out different from those around them? I think of some children whose parents are alcoholics or gluttons or immoral or you name it. While some children follow in their parents’ footsteps (and do even worse than the parents did), other children go in the opposite direction. And the same is true in reverse. Some children have the godliest examples in their parents, but go in an opposite direction! That shows that while environment can have an influence, it does not determine human behavior. We can be “Samuels” in the midst of growing up under “Elis” and having his sons as “older brothers.”
Speaking about “environment,” I was just talking with someone today who was telling me about a friend of his who was combating something that just came out in the news (that I saw later that same night) that claims global warming is to blame for higher violence rates. I thought wow, there it is again, anything to lay the blame on something other than our fallen, sinful, rebellious human condition!
Anyway, God first sent a man of God to Eli the priest to warn him about what was going on under his watch, in his family and within the temple. One of the things God said to Eli was this: “Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling? Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel.” (1 Samuel 2:29). This is strong language. Eli was not only complacent, he was a glutton (concerned only for his own comfort and desires being fulfilled). In fact, later in chapter 3 when he is told for the second time that his family would be judged for these sins, (in chapter 2 we are told all his descendants would die, many prematurely; and his two sons would be killed on the same day), we are told Eli simply said in response to this: “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.” (1 Samuel 3:18).
What is that??!!! Talk about apathy and not grasping reality! Yet there are many of us with that attitude. We shrug off our sin and the severity of the future consequences of our sin. And in the midst of this we try to sound spiritual!
I have been sharing/working on some messages on the life of Hezekiah lately. He was one of the few great and godly kings in Israel. However, at the end of his life, he did something that he was rebuked for by the prophet Isaiah and he was told in the future God would judge the nation and his descendants specifically. You would think Hezekiah would be not only repentant and plead for mercy, but would be distraught over this. However, Isaiah 39:8 says this: “The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my lifetime.” This is the attitude of “as long as it doesn’t affect me now, or affect me personally, then it’s ok.” This is both selfish and apathetic.
And there is this terrible apathy that has set in even in the church. In chapter 3 of 1 Samuel we read of how Eli was “in his usual place.” As I read that I thought, there it is! Our problem is like Eli! We are in our “usual place.” We get set in our ways. We get comfortable and complacent and aren’t really seeking the Lord and walking in the fear of the Lord. We do our “duty” and claim and think we are “serving the Lord” and He is pleased with us. I know a few people who the only faithfulness in them is being faithful to their routine and ways! (Of course they see that as being “faithful to the Lord!”) But they are stuck spiritually and blind spiritually. There is a stone set up in the town I live in and you know what it says? It captures well the attitude and spirit of many. It says “Nothing has happened, nothing will and that’s the way we like it!” What a delusion and bad attitude!
In fact here is what I see. There are many “Elis” today whose eyes are becoming so weak we can barely see (1 Samuel 3:2). For some our eyes are now set so we cannot not see, like Eli’s would later become (1 Samuel 4:15) because we have failed to heed and respond rightly and soberly to the Word of the Lord. There is a severe lack of spiritual vision and fervency for the things of God. There is a blindness within the church. There is a lack of the fear of the Lord. Forget the culture; the church is no better in a lot of cases! Corruption rules, greed is the creed, immorality goes unchecked and unrestrained, we are concerned only for our own comfort; apathy has set in, we are just going through the motions, going through life as usual; we are gluttons in many ways; and power is being abused and misused. The Word of the Lord is rare as in Samuel’s day (1 Samuel 3:1), and true spiritual vision is hard to come by (1 Samuel 3:1) as well.
Is there hope?
Well, this is where 1 Samuel has been ministering hope to me. In the midst of all this we are told at the beginning of chapter 3 that “The boy Samuel was ministering before the Lord under Eli” and then in verse 3 we are told that “The lamp of God had not yet gone out…” Hope was not (and is not now) entirely extinguished! In fact it goes on to say that “Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord where the ark of God was.” The ark of God represented the presence of God. Samuel’s posture communicates humility before the Lord. This is where and when the Lord began to call Samuel and speak to Samuel and through Samuel to all of Israel! God had said to Eli that “I will raise up for myself a faithful priest who will do according to what is in my heart and mind.” (1 Samuel 2:35). That time had come and it would begin to change everything! God is raising up “Samuels” under “Elis”! “Davids” are being anointed under “Sauls!” “Judases” are being replaced with “Pauls!” There is hope.
I was thinking back on my own life. Like Samuel, I had those around me who “gave me over to the Lord” or prayed for me. That is why I am where I am today. I am under no delusion about that. It is only because of the grace of God that came through the faithful prayers of “Hannah’s” that I came to the Lord and back to the Lord and have continued on in the Lord. Thank God for these people!
But like Samuel (though I am not claiming to be equal to Samuel) I have also been around “Elis” and “Elis sons.” I was thinking about this miracle too that God’s presence, and others’ prayers, protected me from all that while surrounded or in the midst of these realities. This inspires me to pray for others where the situation seems hopeless. I have been reflecting on how “the lamp of God had not yet gone out.” There is hope, even if it seems hopeless. We can pray to God for “Samuels” and pray to God to raise up Samuels who will be faithful to Him no matter the unfaithfulness they are surrounded by.
And maybe this is a word needed for a mother or father right now who feels despair over their child/children. Maybe this is a word for pastors or prayer warriors who battle with despair as they see what they are up against. Maybe this is to bring hope to someone who feels like there is no hope. Just remember “the lamp of God has not yet gone out.” It may be dark, but it is only dim. The light can shine brightly again in the darkness. There is always hope with God and in God. Maybe not as we expect or think, but as God decides and decrees and determines.