Introduction: Samuel Before the Lord
Some people seem to be born for what they do, whether it is the footballer who just seems to have the natural skill to take them to the top of the game or the civic leaders who rise at the right moments. One of the things I find fascinating when you look back over history, the right people seem to be there at the right time. God seems to place people in the right seasons to change for good, people ordained for a specific task.
I love that such moments remind us that we have a God who is active in the world, at all times and in every season. God is working in the world to outwork in the world his purpose. Whether it is Archbishop Cranmer being in the office at the time of Henry VIII or how Martin Luther was moved to bring about significant change in the Church and our understanding of God. God places people in the right contexts and times to use them for his purpose, even when there seems to be no hope. Samuel was one of those people
In our passage today, all hope seems to be lost, Eli, the priest, is coming to the end of his time, and his sons, who would be the natural heirs of his ministry and work for the Lord, are more concerned with worshipping the things of the world and the carnal desires of their flesh. They are those called by God, yet the writer tells us that they are wicked and have no regard for the Lord! They have no regard for God or his people, as they take advantage of the sacrifices of the people by force and take advantage of women serving at the tent of meeting to service themselves and their desire – they are wicked men. It seems a hopeless situation. Yet, just before our section of 1 Samuel, there is a glimmer of hope as Elkanah returns home to Ramah and his son remains in the tent ministering before the LORD under the direction of Eli.
In today’s passage, we see what it means to be devoted to the Lord and to serve him; we are encouraged to consider our own hearts and devotion to the Lords cause. We are called to follow the example of Samuel in a world of wickedness and sin. Finally, we are reminded that in all situations when we hope in God, there is always hope, in the faithfulness of Samuel to see an arrow pointing to the eternal faithful one – Jesus. Additionally, to know that God will honour the faithful and eventually judge the sins of the world, and he will work all things to his end and Glory.
A Wicked House (2:12-17)
We all know that family that is a little bit rough or ready, where the children can be a little bit of a handful. When you think of them, we might say: “yes, they might be a little rough around the edges, but they mean well.” Yet, I don’t think there is anyone or any household that we would ever describe as wicked!
The word in Hebrew could also be translated as “Worthless, Good For Nothing, unprofitable” and it is also used to imply the ruin or destruction of something. The writer makes clear to us that these were not good people; they were rotten to their core. They were the picture of the sinful person, men who had given themselves over to the carnal desires of the flesh. It would be a sad state of affairs to describe anyone in this way; yet, the inditement is greater because these men were meant to be those who loved the Lord, called to lead the people in their worship of Yahweh. They are presented as the opposite of everything they are meant to be!
So wicked are the sons of Eli that they use their offices and roles not for worship or faithfulness but for their own gain! They enrich themselves by taking by whatever means necessary inappropriate amounts of uncooked meat from the people’s sacrificial offerings by force. What was meant for God they took for themselves, and in doing so, they violated the Mosaic Law, which they were meant to uphold and live by. They are presented as scoundrels: It is bad enough that they do not love the Lord with their hearts, but they make no outward attempt to appear righteousness shows how wicked they are as they neglect their duties and profit from their roles as Priests. Furthermore, here in this passage, their wickedness and faithfulness is used to contrast virtuousness and faithfulness of the one – Samuel.
A Righteous House (2:18-21)
The contrast could not be greater between the two houses; the house of Eli (which was meant to be the house of the faithfulness to the Lord) was descending deeper into wickedness and sin; now, the author uses the power of contrast to show us where there is hope – in the house of Elkanah and Hannah. They faithfully honoured their vow before the Lord by leaving their son Samuel to serve the Lord under Eli and made their pilgrimage to Shiloh every year to pay their respect’s to God and support their son in his ministry as each year Hannah brought him a new Linen Tunic.
This was a house that was committed to the Lord, his ways, and worship; Eli recognised it when they came to him as he prayed that the Lord would bless the once barren Hannah with more children, which God did with time. The righteousness of the house and the innocence of Samuel as he ministered faithfully to the Lord even at a young age (11, 16, 26) show us the different courses ahead for both houses.
The house of Elkanah has been faithful to the Lord, and out of his goodness, the Lord has blessed their faithfulness by giving them more children and working a miracle in Samuel as he grows in righteousness and holiness as contrasted to the wickedness and sin of Hophni and Phinehas. Even as Eli’s sons have little regard or thought for the way of God, there is one boy who is faithful to the call of God on his life and supported by his family in that. Samuel is devoted to God in worship and call; he remains undistracted by the world’s temptations and committed to honouring God with his life. In Samuel, we see the model for faithful discipleship in a sinful world. Furthermore, in Samuel, we see a glimmer of Jesus, the faithful who brings salvation to a world falling into sin.
Disgracing the Name of the Lord (2:22-26)
God is serious about his own honour and how His name is made known to the world. While God is gracious and kind, He is not a fool. God will act to protect the honour and glory of His name and way. It’s not because God is not worried about the opinion of humanity towards him; no, it’s about purpose. There is no greater thing than knowing God. Today we come to know God through faith in Jesus. Yet, in the days of Eli, God was approached through the sacrificial system and was known by his name Yahweh and made known by the ministry of the priests Eli, Hophni and Phinehas. Thus, if the two sons were acting in a way that displayed other loves and loyalties, it did not show the name of the Lord positively. Worse than apathy to the Lord, the sons of Eli dishonoured the Lord by how they lived: they abused their roles as priests for their own personal profit. They dishonoured the sacrifices being made to God, and they took advantage of women who were trying to serve the Lord at the tent of meeting by turning their service into some form of cult prostitution.
The situation had become so dire that the sins of the sons of Eli were spreading among the people and now causing them to disobey the Lord by giving themselves over to sin. Hophni and Phinehas were leaders of the people, and rather than leading them to the Lord in worship, they were turning the people from the Lord by their disregard for Gods ways and honour.
You can imagine the wider community thinking:
“Why should we be so stringent about our morality, living, and commitment to the Law of the Lord if the priests are not evening bothering.”
Followed by the devastation of Eli, the man who was committed to honouring the Lord with his life, as he looked upon his sons and their spiritual state, he must have wondered where it had gone wrong. Especially as their sin was highlighted by the faithfulness of Samuel.
Eli rebukes his sons, they might have no concern for the Lord or his ways, but Eli knows that Yahweh will act to protect the honour of his name among his people. The sons hear the words of rebuke from their father, and they would not listen because they had crossed the point of no return. Their lives displayed the fruit of their immorality; they had handed themselves over to the judgement of the Lord – death.
Verse 25 can read as if they were merely pawns in the hand of the Lords, set to death, but remember the Lord is the one who knows our hearts and our ways before we chose them; God knew there would be no turning so had already set in motion the judgment of their choices. Why? to protect the honour and glory of his name, remove the curse of sin from among His people and help them to live for Him.
Conclusion: There is Hope (2:26)
While Hophni and Phinehas and gave themselves over to sin and the judgment of God and the people with them, there was hope as we are given the image of Samuel growing in Height and Holiness. The image of his growing height and image of the increase of his stature and authority under the Lord and before the Lord.
Samuels faithfulness before the Lord is contrasted with our passage’s main teaching point that when people continue to disregard the truth of God long enough, God will honour their choice and leave them to the consequences of their sin. When God no longer bears with us, we are doomed as we are given over to know the fruit of our choices – death. To choose something other than God is an enteral choice! One that will lead to life separate from God eternally. Just as there was hope for the people of Israel in Samuel who would be the faithful presence of God among the people, there is hope for the world today for those who look to the faithful one – Jesus.
Finally, let’s consider our own living before the Lord if we claim to know and follow him. We all bear fruit according to our choices; Hophni and Phinehas choose the desire of the flesh and bore fruits in keeping with it. Matthew 7:16 “You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles?” reminds us of the same reality for disciples of Jesus. Thus, what are our fruits saying about us and our living out the Kingdom of God? If we are Christs’ disciples, then let us make sure our living is modelled of the example of Samuel rather than the sons of Eli; then let us chose to rest on the power and strength of the Holy Spirit, to fight the sin in our lives and to produce fruit in keeping with righteousness that will bring honour and glory to the name of God. Let us be Samuels in the Power of the Holy Spirit in a world that is descending into wickedness and Sin.