Saturday, July 12, 2014

Thoughts on Samuel’s beginnings in 1 Samuel 1-3

I have a few different thoughts on the prophet Samuel and his beginnings in 1 Samuel 1-3, but there isn’t much connection to them, so I’ll just present them by chapter.

1 Samuel 1 is about Samuel’s mother Hannah and the promise she made as a barren woman that if the Lord gave her a son, she would lend him to the Lord all his life.

We often talk about Hannah’s great integrity that she kept her promise when the Lord gave her a son, but it also has to be noted what great faith she had to lend him when the priests at the tabernacle were not good examples of men of God.  Hard as it must have been for her to leave Samuel with Eli at the tabernacle even if Eli and his sons were righteous priests, think what faith it must have taken her to leave him in the hands of those men when they were hypocrites.  Any mother would be happy knowing her son would be among good influences, but it would certainly be an act of great faith to leave him among corrupted influences, especially at a highly impressionable age.

I think in Hannah’s sacrifice to keep her vow we get a little glimpse of Heavenly Father’s sacrifice to send down His Only Begotten Son among a corrupted Israel with hypocritical priests and religious leaders.

1 Samuel 2-3 is primarily about the contrast between the growing Samuel and the sins of Eli and his sons.  Samuel grows in favor while Eli and his sons wax worse and worse.   I think Samuel sets a good example of choosing the right even when the people around him are corrupted and choosing wrong.  We can be like Samuel today too.

If we look at what Eli does, we see some semblance of righteousness—he blesses Hannah and then the Lord honors Eli’s blessing and gives her more children.  Eli chastises his sons, but it is sadly not enough.  He teaches Samuel how to recognize the Lord’s voice and respond, but the message from the Lord to Samuel doesn’t mean good for Eli.

It is sad that Eli’s failed parenting has such far-reaching consequences for Israel’s spiritual well-being.  He allows his sons to be pushy and greedy when taking their portions of the sacrifices and this made it so “men abhorred the offering of the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:17) because they hated dealing with them and didn’t want to offer sacrifices.

When his sons were committing adultery/fornication with the women who were gathered at the door of the tabernacle, Eli just gave them a verbal slap on the wrist when their lack of repentance merited removal from the priestly office at the very least and death according to the Law of Moses at the very most.   It is possible that Eli was worried about who would take care of him in his old age if he alienated his sons or had them executed or excommunicated for their crimes.  Sadly, this was honoring his sons more than God.

Who can fix this situation?  The Lord lets Eli know by two different people—an anonymous man of God and later by the boy Samuel—that he’s gone too far and there will be terrible consequences.

How does the fact that Samuel is given the message of warning for Eli fit with our understanding of revelation being given only for those in our stewardship?  Samuel is in Eli’s stewardship, so why does Samuel get the message? 

I think this is one of those extremely rare cases when the revelation had to come to Samuel because Eli had so deafened himself.  the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision” (1 Samuel 3:1).  If Samuel had awakened in the morning and said to Eli, “By the way, I had a dream that God talked to me and told me you’re in big trouble, blah, blah, blah,” would Eli have accepted it?   But instead, the very circumstances of the calling voice and Samuel’s confusion and asking Eli three times what he wants are meant to alert Eli that something unusual is going on and God is about to speak to Samuel. 

There is some sad irony in the fact that Eli tutors Samuel how to be responsive to revelation from the Lord, yet Eli himself doesn’t obey and repent after being warned. 

After Samuel has received the disturbing message about Eli from God, Eli wants to hear about it.  He says to Samuel, “What is the thing that the Lord hath said unto thee?  I pray thee hide it not from me: God do so to thee, and more also, if thou hide anything from me of all the things that he said unto thee.” (1 Samuel 3:17)

Eli is so eager for revelation and prophecy from the Lord, and you might say that here he is still tutoring Samuel on the principles of acting prophetically, teaching him to not hide any part of a message God gives, even if it will hurt the hearers.  How sad that he won’t live those principles himself when he should have done something more about his sons.

I also think it is interesting that after all the time Samuel has ministered at the tabernacle, it is said, “Samuel did not yet know the LORD, neither was the word of the LORD yet revealed unto him.” (1 Samuel 3:7)

He heard the Lord calling, but he didn’t yet know who that was.  There is something kind of encouraging about that; it implies that we may serve the Lord for a long time before we know the Lord.  That spiritual privilege evidently requires a great deal of preparation, like service and obedience and diligence and faithfulness.  If we want to know the Lord better, we’ll need to follow Samuel’s example and not Eli’s example.

The message the Lord gives to Samuel is not a pleasant one.

11 ¶And the Lord said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle.
12 In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end.
13 For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.
14 And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever. (1 Samuel 3:11-14)

As said before, Eli insists on hearing every bit of the message and his response is kind of odd—“It is the LORD: let him do what seemeth him good.” (1 Samuel 3:18)  It sounds pious, but if he believed it, he’d be more distressed because it is a message of condemnation.  Rather, he doesn’t seem to think it can happen and he is going to carry on as usual.

For Samuel that must have been a pretty amazing beginning to a prophetic ministry, to deliver such a sad message to a high priest, the man who had been training and mentoring him all those years.  Yet he did it, and that likely increased his moral courage.

So principles we can get from this:
--Sometimes keeping promises and covenants with the Lord may seem like it will not bring the best good for our family.  We need extra faith at those times to do as promised.
--We can choose the right even when others around us are choosing wrongly.
--Priesthood leadership positions are not an opportunity to gratify lusts of the flesh.
--Lack of reverence for sacred ordinances among priesthood leadership will eventually infect members too.
--Courageous parents restrain their children’s iniquity.
--God has ways of warning religious leaders of their sins.
--It takes faithful preparation to hear the voice of the Lord.
--Prophets must communicate hard truths.
--It takes humility to listen to hard truths and change.

2 comments: said...

I think even Brigham Young had something to say about fetishizing the temple -- it is in itself just a building, he said. What really matters, is what takes place inside.

Michaela Stephens said...

It wouldn't surprise me if Brigham Young said something like that.
Thanks for stopping by!