1 Samuel 2 contrasts the lives of three people who grew up under the same man and working as priests at the Tabernacle. Eli, who was both the priest of Israel and judge, had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas. The first way it describes these two is that they had no respect for the Lord or their duties as priests. They would bully the people who came to make sacrifices and steal their offerings before the people were finished giving them to God. It said they treated God’s offerings with contempt. They even seduced women using their office and position. When confronted by their father and a prophet, they rejected correction and the Word of the Lord.
Now Samuel was a young man who was born to a barren woman. She vowed that if God gave her a son that she would give him to God literally. She dropped him off at the Tabernacle when he was old enough. Eli raised this young man too. The Bible says that he grew up in the presence of the Lord and served Him well. He took his responsibilities seriously and grew in favor with the people and with God. When the Word of the Lord came to him, he responded by inviting God to speak because he was listening. It’s quite the contrast between he and the other two. We read that because of their actions, God allowed the other two to be killed and raised up Samuel to be a mighty prophet. Each of the three made their choices of how they responded to the Lord’s presence.
Romans 14:12 says, “Therefore, each one must answer for himself and give a personal account of his own life before God” (TPT). How have you responded to the presence of God and His correction? How we respond to God’s presence is a good indicator of our heart. Hophni and Phinehas had no respect for it while Samuel enjoyed it. The way the responded showed up in their private life first and then spilled over into their public life. The Bible says that what we do in private is seen by God and one day we will have to give an account for it. The lives of these three men are reminders to us to stop and examine ourselves and the path that we’re on. How is your life reflecting your attitude towards God? Your words and actions are a reflection of how you see Him.
Around the turn of the millennium, most Americans were following a sport we knew very little about or even cared about until that time. Lance Armstrong was dominating the Tour de France like no one else. All of a sudden people were wearing yellow “Live Strong” bracelets and watching cycling. His story was compelling since he had overcome cancer and found a way to dominate a sport we cared nothing about. People accused him of cheating, but that’s what losers do…we thought. When it came out he was, it was hard to take. We’re familiar with how strict athletes are with their diet, their exercise and discipline. We chalked his success up to that instead of him doing the unthinkable.
The Bible tells the stories of everyday people, their choices and the results. Samson was a man who had taken a Nazarite vow from birth. It was a very disciplined life. He couldn’t cut his hair, drink wine or be near a dead body. It was a life of abstinence from indulgence in order to honor God. Samson followed the vow, but found ways to indulge himself in other areas that cost him his life and reputation. However, he wasn’t the only one to be a Nazarite. Samuel was given the same vow as a kid. The difference was that he honored the commitment in all areas of his life. God honored him and the people respected him. His commitment to his vow resulted in a life that was distinguished. He had seen from his predecessor Eli what happens when people indulge in their fleshly desires over their commitment to God.
1 Corinthians 9:25 says, “A true athlete will be disciplined in every respect, practicing constant self-control in order to win a laurel wreath that quickly withers. But we run our race to win a victor’s crown that will last forever” (TPT). Paul compares us to an athlete here who is disciplined in all areas of their life. We all have the choice to honor God in all aspects of our lives or to honor Him in some areas and to indulge in others. It’s human nature to follow in the steps of Lance Armstrong and Samson. They’re examples of what happens when we give into our flesh. Samuel is an example of someone who is Spirit led. That’s the life we’ve been called to and the one we committed to when we accepted Christ. It’s not about being perfect or even trying to use our behavior to honor God. It’s understanding we’re called to a life of discipline with our eyes on eternity. We shouldn’t be trying to see what we can get away with and still get to Heaven. Instead, we should seek God and try to honor Him in all areas of our life.
Sometimes when I meet with church leaders, I’ll ask about problems they’re experiencing with staff. Because “ministry” can be very broad, often times staff members appear to be doing their own thing or nothing. I then get the staff together, have them stand up, close their eyes and point north. When I ask them to open their eyes, they see that nearly everyone is pointing in a different direction. I explain to the pastor or leader that when their is no clear direction, people tend to go in their own direction rather than in the same direction. This is true of any organization. The people need to know what direction to go in.
1 Samuel 3:1 says, “The word of the Lord was rare and precious in those days; visions [that is, new revelations of divine truth] were not widespread” (AMP). Because of that, people did their own thing. Even Eli, the priest, had sons who were supposed to be ministers doing despicable things. They would harass the women, take offerings to God from the people by force and disrupt people’s worship. When people don’t hear from the Lord or can’t see what God is doing, they tend to do their own thing like kids in a classroom when the teacher walks out.
Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision [no revelation of God and His word], the people are unrestrained; But happy and blessed is he who keeps the law [of God].” You and I have had a revelation of God’s Word, the world hasn’t. Our lives should reveal God to other people. We like to quote the first part of this verse, but the second part reminds us that it’s not enough to just hear God’s Word on Sunday, or to even know it. In order to give others revelation of who He is, we must keep it. Living like Eli’s sons, while carrying His name, doesn’t reveal who He is. We’re living in a time where people need to see genuine, authentic Christianity that points north to the Father.
I’m the type of person who likes to do things my own way. Once I get an idea in my head of how to do something, I quit listening to others on how they think I should do it, and I start making my way. I’ve been known to fall flat on my face, a few times, but I still keep going. I can tell you that it’s not until I’m all out of options in trying to do things my way that I’m ready to listen to anyone, including God. He, like others, is speaking to me often, trying to help me, but it’s me who refuses to listen. I’m too busy trying to figure things out myself, so I’m not ready to listen. It’s a good thing He is patient. He waits until I’m ready to listen, which is usually when I’m at my rope’s end, and then He guides me back. If only I were ready to listen earlier, it would save a lot of heartache, pain and time.
In 1 Samuel, Eli was the priest. His son’s were also priests, but they were acting like heathen. They were disrespectful of God’s offerings and their position. Eli knew it and softly rebuked them, but didn’t remove them from their office. 1 Samuel 2:25 says, “But they were too far gone in disobedience and refused to listen” (MSG). A prophet came and rebuked Eli telling him that God was going to take the priesthood from him because he hadn’t done anything about it. He still didn’t do anything about his sons. Some time passes and then in chapter 3 it starts out talking about Samuel serving the Lord. It then says, “This was at a time when the revelation of God was rarely heard or seen.” I believe the Word of God was rarely heard because they weren’t ready to listen.
You know the story of how God called out to Samuel 3 times, and 3 times he went to Eli. It was Eli’s advice to the boy I want us to take to heart today. Verse 10 says, “Then GOD came and stood before him exactly as before, calling out, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ Samuel answered, ‘Speak. I’m your servant, ready to listen.’” I believe God is trying to speak to us during these difficult times, but too many of us aren’t ready to listen. We’re busy arguing over things that don’t matter in light of eternity, yet God is patiently waiting for us. We have the choice to keep trying to do things our way, or we can stand before God and say, “Speak, Lord. I’m your servant, ready to listen.” We don’t have to wait until we’re at the end of our rope or until we’re out of options to listen. God is ready to speak to us the moment we’re ready to listen.
There are two questions many of us get asked. One is, “Did you hear that?” The other is, “Are you listening to me?” There is a difference between the two. Hearing is an involuntary function. As long as your ears work, you hear things all the time whether your brain takes the time to interpret the sounds. Listening is a voluntary function. It requires that you pay attention. The brain is looking to understand the sounds and to make sense of them. There’s quite a difference between the two.
In I Samuel 3, Samuel was a boy and he was sleeping in the Tabernacle near the altar. He heard someone say his name, so he went to Eli the priest and said, “Here I am. Did you call me?” (NLT). Eli replied, “I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.” When Samuel got back to bed, he heard his name called again. Three times this happened and all three times, Eli sent him back to bed. On the third time though, Eli figured it out.
Eli realized that Samuel had never heard the voice of the Lord before. He instructed the boy to go back and respond should he hear the voice again. Verse 10 says, “And the Lord came and called as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel replied, ‘Speak, your servant is listening.'” He had heard the Lords voice three times, but it wasn’t until he learned to listen that the Lord gave him a message.
I believe God is talking to you and me all the time. Many times we hear His voice involuntarily and we interpret it as a feeling inside of us as to what we should do. I believe it is critical for each one of us pause in our prayer time to say, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” God doesn’t just want us to hear His voice, He wants us to listen to what He’s saying to us and then to obey. It’s going to require that you listen purposefully and then block out the other sounds your brain involuntarily hears.
I’m about as stubborn of a person as they come. In some cases, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to figure out when it is advantageous to be stubborn and when it is detrimental. I don’t always pick the right one. Sometimes I’m stubborn and it pays off, while other times it gets me into trouble. I’ve learned it usually works against me when I’m so set on how I want to do something, that I refuse to listen to wisdom. In those cases, it doesn’t matter how sound or logical the opposing argument is, my stubbornness refuses to allow me to listen.
In I Samuel 8, Israel was at that same place. They knew that Samuel was a person who spoke with God and that his judgements were good. They had watched God use him since he was a boy. When he grew old, he appointed his sons as judges, but they didn’t listen to God like Samuel did. They took bribes and perverted judgement, so the leaders decided to confront Samuel about it. Instead of just asking for their removal and for new judges, they asked for a king.
Samuel was heartbroken. He felt rejected and disappointed in his sons, I’m sure. He went to the Lord about it. In verse 7, the Lord said to Samuel, “Do everything they say to you, for they are rejecting me, not you” (NLT). Then a few verses later, He finished by giving Samuel instructions, “Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will rule over them.” He wanted Samuel to give them wisdom before they made their final decision.
Samuel listed out the things a king would do to their kids, take from their homes, and tax. 1 Samuel 8:19-20 gives us their response. “But the people wouldn’t listen to Samuel. ‘No!’ they said. ‘We will have a king to rule us! Then we’ll be just like all the other nations. Our king will rule us and lead us and fight our battles’” (MSG). Samuel took what they said to God, and He gave them a king. He gave them what they wanted, even though it was not His will because they wouldn’t listen to wisdom. God may grant your request, but it doesn’t mean it was the wisest choice.
Reading this story reminds me that God has placed people in my life to give me wisdom. It’s my choice to listen to them or to be stubborn in my ways. Proverbs 28:26 gives us insight to this kind of thinking. It says, “It is foolish to follow your own opinions. Be safe, and follow the teachings of wiser people” (GNB). Stubbornness leads us down the path of foolishness while wisdom takes us down safe paths. If you’re facing a difficult situation, ask God to put people in your life who can give you godly wisdom, then follow it.
I want go focus on mothers in the Bible this week. Today, Hannah comes to mind. She was the mother of Samuel. Her husband had another wife named Peninnah. She had blessed her husband with children, but Hannah had not. She struggled with infertility. I’m sure it bothered her all the time, but each year when they would travel to Shiloh to worship God, it would become a major issue. Her husband would give a portion of the sacrifice to Peninnah and to each of her children. To Hannah, he only gave one portion. Peninnah would taunt her and make fun of her for not having children.
I’m sure that Hannah struggled daily with not being able to have children. The voice in her head constantly tormented her making her feel like she was somehow less of a person because she couldn’t have kids. She must have felt like God was punishing her or that there was something wrong with her. Every time she saw a mother with their children, it was like a knife in a wound reminding her that she was barren. Having the other wife taunt her and make fun of her was just salt in the wound.
Her husband would say things like, “Aren’t I worth more to you than ten sons?” Men really don’t understand what a woman goes through. We aren’t wired the way a woman is. Instead of doing something consoling, we say something stupid. It wasn’t that she didn’t love her husband, she wanted fulfillment that only a child could bring. Her husband’ swords weren’t meant to hurt, but spoken out of ignorance, they did more harm than good. She would have preferred he prayed for her there while we sacrificed.
Since he didn’t, she did. She went into the sanctuary to pray. She began to weep as years of pain, suffering and mental anguish released. When she ran out of tears, her body dry heaved as she tried to pray. The words wouldn’t come out. Her mouth was moving, but the prayer was coming from her heart. Eli, the priest, saw her at the alter. He assumed she was drunk by her behavior. He called out to her, “Must you come here drunk?” Sobbing she replied, “I haven’t been drinking. But I am very discouraged and I was pouring my heart out to The Lord.” He said, “In that case, go in peace! May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him.”
She went away happy and began to eat again. She believed the word from Eli. She conceived and gave birth to a son. When he was old enough to be weaned, she took him back to Eli and gave him to The Lord. She left him there as an offering for God answering her prayer. She gave back the thing she wanted most. When I looked up the name Hannah, it meant “grace”. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines grace as “an unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration.” God gave Hannah grace just like he gives it to us. When Samuel was born, Hannah became a new person. She was free of the thing that haunted her. God is still in the business of answering our deepest desires and granting us grace when no one else understands.