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Ready to dive into Week 2?
1 Samuel 3 begins by telling us the word of the Lord was rare, meaning at this time in history, God was quite silent and didn’t speak through prophets or individuals as he’d done in the past (ie: speaking through a burning bush like Moses, etc). Knowing this, it makes sense that Samuel “ministered before the Lord” (2:11) and “grew up in the presence of the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:21), but this love of God only went as far as head-knowledge. To him, serving Eli in the temple was serving God Himself. Not yet knowing the Lord in any personal way, it makes sense that Samuel wasn’t familiar with the voice of God, having had no context of knowing to wait expectantly for it in the first place.
In my head, twelve-year-old Samuel’s little side-room within the walls of the tabernacle, near where the ark of the covenant rested (which shows us that at this time, the Holy of Holies likely has not been a created concept yet), had a single window which allowed light from the clear evening’s moon to shine inside.
Slumbering soundly, the sun soon to rise with a new morning, his ears turned not to the chirp of crickets, but instead to his name quietly being called. Up in an instant, knowing his service was more important than slumber, he raced down the hall to Eli’s room. The priest who had raised him since he was three (see here) has become old and grey. His eyesight is nearly gone and the heft of his girth likely required Samuel to sometimes help him.
After going back and forth to Eli’s room several times, only to have his confused mentor send him to bed again, did the aging priest realize it must be God’s whisper that Samuel was responding to.
“Go and lie down. If He calls you, say ‘Speak Lord for your servant is listening.’” (1 Samuel 3:9)
Verse seven says, “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” So though the concept likely seemed strange to young Samuel, he was used to obeying his teacher so climbing into bed yet again, he did what Eli suggested.
‘The Lord said to Samuel: “See I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears it tingle.”’ (1 Samuel 3:11)
Woah. That doesn’t sound good.
God goes on to tell Samuel what lies ahead for Eli “…for I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them…” (1 Samuel 3:13)
More than likely, Samuel didn’t know about the man who prophesied over Eli and his family toward the end of chapter two.
1 Samuel 2:27-34 tells of God’s disappointment in Eli and his sons, sharing that “Those who honor Me I will honor, but those who despise Me will be disdained”. It was readily known in the community that Phinehas and Hophni were corrupt and immoral men who used their position for selfishness. They slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, they took God’s portion of sacrificed meat, they lied and they cheated. Eli’s sons thought they could do what they pleased because they were priests and considered themselves above the law. Which of course, they were not.
A few commentaries I have studied shared that Eli may have been such a large man because he too was gluttonous in the sacrificial meat, but what we know for sure is that he was being punished for doing nothing when he knew his sons were acting in such a vile way. He neither lead them well, nor did he discipline them when they did wrong. Therefore, Eli was as much at fault as they. And God had had enough.
The unknown prophet had shared these words…and now God told Samuel the same thing.
Sometimes God’s word is not easy to hear…or to speak
As Samuel listened to God’s words that night, I’m sure his heart broke. He may have known about Phinehas and Hophni’s corrupted hearts, or perhaps his youth kept him from understanding the truth. But his beloved teacher, mentor, and priest was also being punished. Whether or not he knew of Eli’s misconduct, I’m sure it was still a hard thing to hear.
So hard in fact, that come morning…he hid from Eli, dreading the thought of sharing God’s words with him. Finally, the priest found him and said, “What was it he said to you? Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” (1 Samuel 2:17)
So he told Eli everything.
Have you ever had God speak to you? Or impress something upon your heart that you knew without a doubt could only be from our Heavenly Father?
I have. Many times, in fact.
The first time, I was walking in the rose garden at my university, praying for clarification on something. Another time was walking, coffee in hand, through the streets of Seattle, praying about my future. Yet another moment was while in Ethiopia, leaning against the van we arrived at the orphanage in. He spoke very clearly that time, too.
When I say He spoke to me, I don’t mean a deep James Earl Jones type voice boomed down from Heaven. I mean rather, like Samuel, my God whispered something into my ear. For me, it is almost as if it’s an audible voice, but it is quiet and it was gentile. It was a voice I likely would have missed altogether if I weren’t basking in silence each of those times.
I could continue sharing stories where God whispered something to me but there is one connection in them all. They were all moments where I had shut off distraction and the noise of life. God of course can use His megaphone-type voice to shout at us, but that’s not the kind of relationship He wants. Instead, He desires a willing heart that is ready and wanting to have conversation. We must take the first step and quiet ourselves.
The timing regarding this next section is a little unclear. Samuel was around twelve years old when He first heard from God and the verses directly after that story read,
“The Lord was with Samuel and he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord.” (1 Samuel 3:19-20)
Samuel is not mentioned again until chapter seven, which describes events taking place more than twenty years after the defeat recorded in chapter four. By the time we get to chapter eight, Samuel is already advanced in age.
Whether a peek into the future or an assignment or calling, things don’t typically happen immediately after God has given us a word regarding it. Disinformation is against God’s very character, so we know everything He says will come to fruition. But that doesn’t mean the waiting always makes sense, nor is it easy.
After God told Abraham he would indeed have a son, he waited twenty-five years for Isaac to be born. King David, who we’ll learn about later in 1 Samuel was anointed as king over a decade before he actually took that role. There was also a fourteen-year span between Paul’s conversion in the New Testament and his first missionary journey. And here again, in 1 Samuel, years go by without God’s word on Eli and his sons being carried out.
We learn in chapter four that the Israelites and the Philistines are again engaged in battle, fueling their long-winded feud. The Israelites went out, assuming God’s will was that they win. And when they didn’t, they were shocked. (1 Samuel 4:2-3)
Deciding to bring the Ark of the Covenant with them into battle, thinking that God’s presence would save them from the hand of their enemies, Phinehas and Hophni escorted the gilded gold box containing the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s budding staff, a jar of manna (Hebrews 9:4)…and God’s power Itself.
1 Samuel 4:5-11 shares that the Israelites were so excited about the ark’s presence at camp that they raised such an incredible shout, their enemies could hear the celebration. Wide-eyed and wondering what on earth was going on, they learn that a god (little g, because they didn’t understand He was the Only God) would be with the Israelites in battle.
We know now about the concept of “Fight, Flight, or Freeze” and the Philistines were definitely in the “Fight” posture. Not just because they were warriors, but because they were scared spitless saying, “We’re in trouble! Nothing like this has happened before,” (1 Samuel 4:7b) meaning no one had brought their god into battle like this before this moment.
The adrenaline frantically pumping through the Philistines veins from complete terror over a god being on the field with their enemy gave them the extra edge needed. It may be also that the Israelites came into battle cocky, assuming God’s power was being physically carried through the battlefield so they didn’t need to sharpen their swords or eat their Wheaties before going out to fight.
One thing was certain though: they weren’t taking God seriously and were instead using the ark as a rabbit’s foot or four leaf clover in their wallets.
Remember, this was a time of darkness for the Israelites. They had forgotten who God really was, and because of that, forgot what their True Identity was, under Him. They were God’s beloved Chosen People and they had boiled Him down to something as small as a good luck charm.
Sadly, it took a major loss in war to remind them that God wasn’t just a little genie in a bottle that grants our every whim and wish.
“The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured, and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died.” (1 Samuel 4:11)
That same day, a survivor ran from the battle line and went to Shiloh, sobbing the message of their defeat. When he arrived, Eli was sitting on his chair by the side of the road, waiting and watching, because his heart feared for the ark of God (which makes me wonder, had Hophni and Phinehas taken it against his will?).
“When the man entered the town and told what had happened, the whole town sent up a cry. Eli heard the outcry and asked, “What is the meaning of this uproar?”
The man hurried over to Eli, who was ninety-eight years old and whose eyes had failed so that he could not see. He told Eli, “I have just come from the battle line; I fled from it this very day.”
Eli asked, “What happened, my son?”
The man who brought the news replied, “Israel fled before the Philistines, and the army has suffered heavy losses. Also your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.”
When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell backward off his chair by the side of the gate. His neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man, and he was heavy. He had led Israel forty years.” (1 Samuel 4:14-18)
After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it to the city of Ashtod, which was the center of Philistine power during much of Israelite history, placing the ark beside the image of their god, Dagon.
Lean in…this is where it gets good.
Listen to this:
“When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained.” (1 Samuel 5:3-4)
Ohmygosh I just love that so much. It just makes me laugh.
Dagon was one of the most widely worshipped deities in the ancient Near East, so the fact that two mornings in a row, Dagon was laying prostrate before the ark of the True God just makes me want to hop on Oprah’s couch and jump around like Tom Cruise. I also kind of want to tell the Philistines “in your face!” but I think that 1980’s slang would probably get lost in translation.
1 Samuel 5:6 goes on to say that,
“The Lord’s hand was heavy on the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation on them and afflicted them with tumors. When the people of Ashdod saw what was happening, they said, “The ark of the god of Israel must not stay here with us, because his hand is heavy on us and on Dagon our god.” So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and asked them, “What shall we do with the ark of the god of Israel?””
Feeling cursed, the Philistines begun playing a game of Hot Potato. No one wanting the ark because as it found its way to several cities, each were afflicted with tumors and rat infestations.
When the ark of the Lord had been in Philistine territory seven months, they decided to send it back to the Israelites. The Philistine priests were incredibly clear that their guilt must be admitted by paying compensation for their error in taking and mishandling the ark. Symbolically removing the problems from the five areas of their territory and acknowledging that God was the cause of their torment, the Philistines placed five gold rats and five gold tumors inside the ark.
Their plan was brilliant. Sending no human attendants (other than someone simply to watch and see how the whole thing panned out) the Philistines solely sent cows who recently bore calves and had never before been hooked to a yoke. (1 Samuel 6:1-12)
It would make sense that these new moms would bolt back to the pens their babies were being held in, so the Philistines were basically testing the waters: Had the cows shuffled themselves and the ark back to their calves, they would have decided God wasn’t actually the source of their troubles and their so-called-curse just randomly happened to occur at the same time they acquired the ark.
If the opposite happened though, and the God of the Israelites was so powerful that He could actually overrule the cow’s natural yearning of returning to their nursing babies and didn’t even need any human help in returning the ark to His people…He was surely real and Someone not to be trifled with.
The people of Beth Shemesh were harvesting wheat as the cows sauntered into town hauling the ark. A celebration ensued, chopping the wood from the cart to use in sacrificing the cows, praising the Lord for the ark’s safe return.
Unfortunaly though, the people of Beth Shemesh treated the ark more like a trophy, than a symbol of God’s holiness. Ignoring all the ways the ark was to be treated, they lacked the respect needed to draw near to it, even allowing curiosity to engulf their better judgment, opening it up to peek inside. Because of this, seventy men whose eyes peered at the hallowed items inside, were struck down and died (1 Samuel 6:19).
Fear and mourning coursed through town in the aftermath of their irreverent attitude toward the ark of the Lord, and sent word to the city of Kiriath Jearim with a request that they come take it away. Kiriath Jearim understood the ark to be more than an acclaimed keepsake and recognized it instead as an opportunity to serve the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. It remained safely in their care for twenty years (1 Samuel 7:2).
Examining our Hearts
Finally, in chapter seven, we read of Samuel again. At this point, he is an old man and viewed as a prominent leader and prophet, traveling all throughout Israel judging and sharing the word of God.
Samuel has sensed some sincerity with the Israelite people, wanting to walk again with their Heavenly Father. There’s a saying we use a lot in our house, “are you interested…or are you committed?” and this is basically what Samuel was asking his people.
A few days ago I saw a photo on Instagram that said something like, “it is impossible to hold up the banners of victim and victory at the same time” similarly, Samuel was trying to help the Israelites understand that they could not love and serve Him…while still having idols and foreign gods in their lives.
They were either for God…or they weren’t (there is no in between).
God wanted them to understand that:
repentence + confession + recommitment = blessing
It’s only then, after the three things above had been done (and after they put away their Baals and Ashtoreths) and the people genuinely served the Lord only that God would deliver them out of the hand of the Philistines.
They took Samuel’s words from God to heart and served Him only, resulting in a great victory against their enemy:
But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar. (1 Samuel 7:10-11)
It’s a little ironic that just after God defeated the Philistines in such a dramatic and massive way and Israel was therefore saved not from their own strength, but by God’s alone, they almost immediately change their minds and petition for a king.
They had a King…a powerful heavenly one who could and had done great things.
He just wasn’t the one they wanted.
I can't wait to continue on next week!
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