Posts Tagged With: Lord

Samuel’s Legacy seen in the Lives of those that were Influenced by him

The  Master Builder who Left a United Israel.   

The anarchical mess of the sprawling godless tribes of Israel carried on in ignorance of the seismic change in history that was about to take place over the next generation, all of which was precipitated and initiated through the birth of Shmuel ben Elkanah. That blessed child born in Ramathaim Zophim passed away, some think, about a full century after the day of his birth. It was Samuel’s time. The Samuellian era. The last and highest peak of the line of characters known as the Judges. This man was also the first and, to my mind, possibly the highest peak of the prophetic office and gift that ever ministered to the whole of Israel during the period of time in which the Hebrews lived in the land. He had become a one man institution. He was the posthumous pillar that epitomised what was to be the future greatness of Israel. He was treasured and feared by all in his mature years, and sadly missed after his passing.  He was anointed and appointed by God Almighty as His representative in Israel throughout his lifetime. What he left behind him was as unified, Godly and purposeful as it was the opposite of those things at the moment he had been conceived. Even while he homed in and concentrated on the schools of the prophets after his last words with Saul, the very fact that he was alive and moving “in God,” even though it was in the background of Israel’s political and tribal cosmos, Samuel gave the nation comfort, and a brighter vision to look forward to.

There was, of course, the hope of the great charismatic leader of men, David. But he was a man that Judah and Benjamin loved beyond reason, while the northern tribes knew less about.

The ground had been prepared for the Glory of God to return, just as dramatically as it had left when the Philistines had stolen the Ark of the Covenant in the early days of Samuel’s youth. The Ark was indeed safe in Israeli hands and had been after several months of Philistine illicit ownership, but the Hebrews had never had it been returned to the Tabernacle. There is no way we can possibly imagine that it was left in the home of a certain Abinadab, by Samuel’s forgetfulness, or anybody else’s forgetfulness. It was a deliberate act of “neglect.” That is, it was deliberately left there by Samuel. It was symbolic of a new day dawning. Samuel was so busy relating to God, hearing from God and ministering to the people of Israel, as well as judging them, that to trouble himself with the symbol of the God he was relating to seemed almost irrelevant.  The substance of their faith was much more vital than the symbol of the same. Samuel was a man born out of time, with a world view, belief system and spiritual disciplines far ahead of his generation. Samuel was living in his own, “Holy Spirit church age.” All he did was relate to Him who is invisible, in as real a relationship as Peter, James and John had done in the days of Christ’s ministry. Samuel would have been considered a spiritual gargantuan giant no matter what age he had lived in. Samuel was the classic wild, giant, dangerous prophet.

Samuel’s anointing had led him in a different direction than the proscribed national slavery to what had degenerated into a deadened sacrificial system. Samuel was a man of the Spirit all the days of his life. He was worshipping the Lord with abandon before he had received that first prophetic word in his youth. By keeping the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle in a low profile with the people, it meant that he could keep the person of Yahweh Himself in the highest possible highlight. For Samuel, everything was a matter of the Spirit. The input of the prophetic word, and the spread and education of aspiring prophets was changing the face of Israel then, in a way that would have a future impact on the entire planet. Samuel’s lifelong circuit ministry of judging and teaching was a generational, credible call to return to the purity and faith of a life lived in devotion to Yahweh. This, after all, was the basic reason for Israel’s existence on the planet. How great was the force of righteousness within the prophet Samuel, and how magnificent was the working of the anointing that was upon him.

Samuel’s adherence to keeping the most intimate relationship with God and obeying Him as often and as consistently as he did throughout his life meant that the schools of the prophets had time to have become engrafted into the atmosphere of Israel’s culture within his own lifetime. His withdrawal from public and political life meant he could give his whole being to the development and the solidifying of an understanding into the world of prophecy and how it was to be maintained. Who knows what treasures he passed on to influence the future prophets.  The schools blossomed and developed under him, and were to direct the people and rulers of Israel over the next 500 years or so, not that they always listened to them.  Because of the fact that the prophetic Spirit and prophetic schools in Israel ultimately gave us the writing prophets, we could actually say that Samuel is still impacting the world today through them.  The writing prophets have left us a deep rich seam of truth that has not to this day been fully fathomed.

Samuel was the original seed of which all later prophets in Israel were the flower and growth. Sacrifice of animals was never abandoned altogether of course, but the sacrificial activity was brought into subjection to the flow of the Spirit of God and the prophetic word and office.  Samuel had gone quite some distance in tying Israel to Yahweh rather than to the Mosaic system that was attached to their history. The Tabernacle and the corrupted Levitical priesthood had lost the awe and wonder of the manifest presence of God in the infrastructure of that form of worship. Samuel had brought the drifting vessel of Israel, at first floating without a sail or rudder, back into its divine haven in all its proper function, i.e. loving God and walking in the parameters of His law.  The land of Israel was and is Yahweh’s land. The people of Israel were and are God’s nation. The whole of Samuel’s life and mission was to see his beloved nation brought under the umbrella of the terms of that covenant that they had so crassly broken.

Samuel had died while David was still on the run from the demonised and demented first monarch, Saul ben Kish. Yet even with the sorrow of the prophet dying without seeing the unity of one nation happily existing under the rule of a man who was after God’s own heart, the loyalty that was brewing in support of the anointed son of Jesse might possibly have been seen and perceived by the wise old man as a truly God inspired phenomenon. This would have allowed Samuel to die in peace concerning the future of the nation after he had departed to Sheol. Yet, whether he saw the hearts of the people turning towards David or not, I feel sure he would have seen in the Spirit what kind of a giant killing king Jesse’s son was to become. The priesthood may have turned out to be wimpish and retiring, but there was a Lion out of the tribe of Judah that was moving into maturity and position.

Saul was famous for his bravery across the twelve tribes, if only infamous for his demonic illness around the southern tribe of Judah. The bible reads as if it was only the confidantes of Saul’s court and the intimates of David’s friends and family that new of all the attempts on his life made by the son of Kish. Common folk might have turned against Saul had they known of the demonically inspired murderous attempts the sovereign had made time and again.  The giant killing, sweet psalmist of Israel was on the run from Saul for many years, while Samuel was alive, and the king’s hot pursuit of his successor continued until his death at Gilboa. There was indeed a conflict of loyalties in the hearts of the people. What were the Godly population of Judah to do? Follow Saul the present king who was clearly not the man he was when he was crowned? Or, like all the other nations that surrounded them, should they rid the land of an unwanted megalomaniac, dictator of a king and put the revolutionary “new boy on the block,” on the throne? Which way was the right one?

David had undoubtedly been taught well by Samuel. God had put Saul in office. God would remove Saul from office. Whatever human means or circumstances would bring about Saul’s removal from the throne, it was not to be by the hand of any God-fearing Hebrew, especially the man who was destined to succeed him. Because of Samuel’s integrity, morality and his grasp of patience for God to resolve issues, after Samuel’s death, the nation, in particular the people of Judah, waited to see what was about to happen. It was clearly a wait for Saul to die. Nobody in Israel it seems, wanted to touch this “Ark,” this anointed of God. Saul, as it were, was a holy vessel chosen by God, no matter what the outward display of vileness revealed. The resolution of the issue was all about divine intervention and a trust in the character of the Ever Living God, and His direct interaction with the people and concerns of Israel.  The tribe of Judah would have wanted Saul’s removal to happen quickly. I often wonder if the Northern tribes had a clue about Saul’s political intrigues against his own son and the man he had long suspected wanted to, “steal,” his throne. The North–South divide in Israel, from Joshua’s time on, is plain to see. On crossing the Jordan, the major campaign in the south, under Joshua, was nothing but a thorough conquering of Judah’s territory. As the years passed the fighting spirit that was needed for the conquering of Canaan leaked away like sand in a sieve. The book of Joshua reveals an incredible campaign in Judah, then a list of all the area that was not conquered, and a much lesser campaign in the north. The mid lands of Canaan were seemingly ignored.

One cannot but own the idea that the many people of Judah, and Benjamin, if not the rest of the nation, were aware that Saul’s successor had been anointed by Samuel and was waiting “in the wings” to assume the throne. News would have spread, throughout the southern people of Israel, of David’s two opportunities to have slain Saul – opportunities he had refused to seize, explaining his actions with the now famous words; “Touch not the Lord’s anointed.” Not only would the story have spread like wild fire amongst the people of Judah, Simeon and Benjamin, but it would have inspired them to emulate their future king. “If Saul’s successor, the son of Jesse, dare not remove Saul in order to get to the throne, then it would be wrong to override his will, his intention and his Godly motive. Therefore we, his future subjects as well as being Saul’s subjects must support our present king and wait to see what will happen.”  And so the people of Judah “sat back” as it were in respect of the throne and waited for the appropriate moment to acclaim their darling tribal representative as the rightful king.

As for the other tribes, there was a kind of cultural and social chasm once a person went North of Judah and Benjamin. (I referred above also to Simeon, but the land allotted to Simeon was a kind of annexe in the midst of Judah’s land. After a generation or two had passed, it seems Simeon was totally absorbed into Judah and is hardly mentioned again in the Bible.) Probably in ignorance of the details of the heavy story of Saul’s downfall, depression and demonization, there was a kind of nominal, “God save the King!” attitude amongst those northern tribes. There was little knowledge up north to think anything else but good things about Saul. If one pedantically marks the map of Israel and the narrative’s geographical location, while reading both David’s life and Saul’s reign, very little transpired in the northern tribal areas, but when it did, it shows a king who endeared himself to the people. Saul was much loved up north.  Possibly unawares of the court politics and intrigues, some were more than nominal in their support of Saul. Some risked their lives simply to return Saul’s cadaver to the land of Israel for a proper burial and time of mourning, showing an almost religious commitment to Saul even when dead. No matter what they thought of Saul down south, the north truly honoured their first king.

The deep mindset of division between Judah and the rest of the nation, that later split the whole hegemony into two after Solomon died, was already in the psyche of the people. It started as jealousy and was simmering for centuries before Rehoboam the son of Solomon was crass enough, and silly enough, not to soften the tax regime that funded the king’s lifestyle of luxury. It was the genius of David’s ability to join the nation into one that was a major aspect of the glory of his reign. David was anointed with a Spirit of wisdom. During his reign there was a joining of all the twelve tribes. Solomon’s heavy weight of taxes, and having the nation’s young sons and daughters away from their homes during the course of each year, missing farming time and normal home life for the king’s indulgence was tolerated only because of the wisdom and the character of Solomon and the deep love that the whole united hegemony of Israel had for the demised David and his son. Once the untried and untested son of Solomon had blotted his copy book, the amputation of north from south was done deftly and quickly, without any sociological anaesthetic.

The fact that we can see in retrospect that the nation was on the cusp of greatness, has to be understood as the gift of God on Samuel and then David’s life, a gift that was perpetuated with the very different gift of Solomon. It was an anointing of the Spirit of God that was placed on David’s life simultaneous to the horn full of oil that Samuel poured on his head. It was God that directly made David great. It was Samuel that had anointed David when he was but a child. It was Samuel who had mentored David from the period they had together, near the end of Samuel’s life, leaving the future king with wisdom beyond any of his peers. David proved to his own experience that, “Better is one day in the courts of Yahweh,” that is with Samuel, “than a thousand in the schools of men and worldly wisdom.”

Therefore, conceivably with some of the northern tribes knowing far less about the character of David than the people of Judah, Saul still had a staunch following right up to and even after his death. The nation was soundly formed and stabilising, despite the character of their present king. Samuel had led them away from being a family of tribes with only the religious ties of their history to bind them together while living independent existences.  Samuel, under God, had been the human instrument that had put Saul in office, and, to a degree, as far as externals were concerned, Saul was fulfilling his role. The nation was one, with only the political astute minds of a few who could see the Spiritual and social San Andreas Fault line that ran the whole length of the border between Judah/Benjamin together, and the rest of the tribes to their north, as well as the huge fault line that divided Saul’s character and personality.

David must have been a wise and discerning man, whose company other kings and leaders loved even before he was king. During David’s fugitive years, he made both friends and enemies, however, he befriended some of those rulers that reigned in the days of his loneliness, making friendships that were sustained during the years of his kingship. Some of the kings of those nations that surrounded Israel were still his submissive friends once he had ascended to the throne of Israel.

The nation having been propelled forward by the wisdom of Samuel, a prophet who had an ear to God and the people, as well as a mouth to pray with and teach the masses, built a shrine around his burial place. A building still surrounds his tomb today. Israel has an annual celebration of the life of Samuel.

I salute the son of Hannah, and personally seek God for some slight semblance of his characteristics and Spirit.

4 Nebi Samuel

Nebi Samuel

Categories: SAMUEL’S LEGACY SEEN IN THE LIVES OF THOSE THAT WERE INFLUENCED BY HIM | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Ascendancy of the King on the Descent

THE LIFE OF THE KING WHO WAS UP TO HIS NECK IN DEATH.
The Outward Form that lacked the Inward Power in the Monarchy of King Saul the First.
(1 Samuel 14:47-52)
“So Saul took the kingdom over Israel.”
I beg your pardon!  What are we reading here?
I thought we had only just heard from the mouth of Samuel himself in the plainest of English, eh! …Hebrew that is, that King Saul was rejected!  Out! Ejected! Expelled!  The kingdom was taken from him. Another king is on the way! (Although, knowing the full story – we are aware that the king that succeeded him was not yet born.)

Note the reality.  Saul’s dynasty was to be curtailed because of his disobedience.   As God spoke to Samuel, the prophet used the past tense, for a present reality.  “Yahweh  has chosen a replacement and commanded him to be captain over Yahweh’s people.”  So, literally as Samuel was prophesying to Saul we have the concept introduced to us of another person, a child, not yet born, who was to be a much younger contemporary of Saul, living life to the full with the idea of God’s covenant faithfulness and His never ending Chesed (love) filling his vision, ruling Israel and taking the captaincy over the nation.  Captaincy as all Israeli’s knew, meant kingship.

From our elevated place of historical retrospect, we know that the person we are talking about would be looking after sheep in a field only a few miles away from Saul’s present home fighting off the odd bear and lion after his anointing, and being derided by his older and bigger brothers for being so little, so trivial, so naughty, and not nearly as important as they were.  But David’s birth was still seven years away from that horrific moment at Gilgal.  His elevation into royal circles as well as into the psyche of the nation had not yet even begun with the twinkle in his father’s eye, and would not be properly initiated until Samuel anointed him – I reckon, around the age of 12.  But he had not yet even been conceived in the timeline of our story.

But we jump ahead of ourselves even to mention that story.  Back to the present, and Saul.
So we have the king, with no future, battling on from day to day.  And the Bible says: “Saul took over the kingdom of Israel.”
KingSaulWhether he should have simply stopped and waited for death, which does not seem quite feasible, I am not sure.  Perhaps he understood it fully and clearly as I have just explained it, i.e. “I, Saul, am enjoying the full divine mandate to rule and reign throughout my own lifetime, no matter how short or long that may be, although I am fully aware on the basis of what Samuel the prophet has said, that another man from another family will reign after me.  Then again, that other man may be my son.  In the content of the prophet’s words my son could still reign and the word still be fulfilled.  Yet I know and understand, I am in disgrace before God” There was more light to come however, and that prophetic light would be spoken after further disobedience of Saul.
Although Samuel’s woeful prophecy was said, I am sure, in the full hearing of the three hundred soldiers, who had remained loyal and were still present with Saul as Samuel had arrived for the sacrifice at Gilgal, the king was truthfully and actually still on the throne.  The word would have undoubtedly got round the nation of what had happened at Gilgal.  It would have been a subject not to be brought up in the Kings presence, but constantly seated on the back burner of the national sub-consciousness.  The nation would have known:  “God has chosen another man.”  Saul, knowing that the people knew what Samuel had said, and the people knowing that Saul knew that they knew …. If you get the gist …. was serious grounds for a dose of deep royal depression, if not neurosis – if not total psychosis.
But, for the sake of the narrative, reader, understand:  Saul is still the publicly acknowledged national leader.  He was still the king, the anointed of the eternal, known among the people of Israel as the “son of God.”  Yet, the word of God had announced his fall and his departure. That departure was 37 years away in the future. However, God’s word was to come to pass.
If, objectively, from an impersonal distance, it confused the intellectuals of the nation, imagine the agonising trauma it subjectively permeated the king with.  Rejection by man is distressing enough, but public declaration of rejection by God is more than serious.  Could anybody’s rationale cope with such a dreadful concept in their life?  Is it possible that any human being could live life and carry out their normal work, rest and pleasure while they have forever in their consciousness that not only has God Almighty rejected them, but His verified and confirmed prophet has said so, and the masses know it.
We have the epitome of an illustration of a man in high position having the form of power and kingship, but none of the fullness of majesty of what he should be holding and walking in.  This is sad and we ask, “Could it possibly be any sadder?”  Plod on avid reader!
“So Saul took the kingdom over Israel”.  Saul established himself in the role to which he had been anointed by Samuel.  He grew into the position given him by God.  He took the kingdom, i.e.: with effort and fight, and strain and warfare.  Saul took the kingdom.
“And fought” … The full time military leader with a full time standing army employed them and himself to the full.
And who did they fight?  “… all his enemies on every side.”  Every nation that was bordered onto that tiny plot of real estate we call Israel was an enemy.  Sounds like the modern news reel: and as it was, so it is, and so it will be till the return of Christ.  Every nation that bordered Israel was set against them, and so, with Israel’s new found faith and resource of a physical as well as a spiritual nature, Saul went round chasing off the land of Israel any other ethnic group that attempted to set as much as a tent on the land that God had promised them.
The number of close set neighbours was six.  Saul fought “against Moab, and against the children of Ammon, and against Edom, and against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines: and where ever he turned himself, he vexed them … and the Amalekites” This was no mean feat.  The King James Bible says, “where ever Saul turned he vexed them.” Most commentators agree with Luther’s excellent translation that “wheresover Saul turned he was victorious over them, and inflicted punishment.”  In even plainer English, Lannons’ paraphrase says simply: Saul whipped the lot of them.”
BibleI know it does not sound like a king walking under condemnation, but remember if everybody was judged by the exteriors of life, Hitler was prosperous, Mussolini accomplished what he believed in and Attila the Hun was a winner.  Whether a person is blessed or cursed, that blessing or cursing refers to the end of that person. To be blessed or cursed always refers to where a person finishes, it may or may not refer to the way things are at the present. God looks on the heart.  And that very phrase was not only the rationale uttered by God to Samuel in following God’s instructions to choose a successor to Saul, but common sense dictates that that phrase gives us the very reason why Saul was rejected.
“And he gathered a host, and struck the Amalekites, and delivered Israel out of the hands of them that spoiled them.”  The host there mentioned, refers to either the standing army that he was continually recruiting for, or the actual gathering he called together in order to, “whip,” Amalek.  This story of Amalek is shortly to be referred to in greater depth.  We do however have to warn you dear reader of what is to come.
On modern TV, if a programme is about to be shown with doubtful scenes, bad language or sexual activity, or something similar, the viewer is told of them before the opening credits.  This is in order to give you the viewer the moral choice to switch off.
We know you can’t switch off here; this is a blog for goodness sake … and I would not ever advise anybody to miss a chapter in any book, especially my own.  The reader would be frustrated at the lack of continuity.  But we have to state that the following account is as emotionally tragic and filled with horror as anything Hollywood ever produced.
Saul was walking up to his neck, every single day, in insipient death.  No doubt he comforted himself with all his military successes, but what happened in Saul’s heart and the dialogue between Saul and Samuel, was, honestly and candidly, too much for Saul to handle.
If you are prepared, take a glass of cold milk and read on tomorrow’s blog.
Categories: 1 Samuel 14 verses 47 - 52, The ascendancy of the King on the descent. | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Prophet? Judge? Priest? Or Governor? Which Post do You Prefer Sir?

PROPHET? JUDGE? PRIEST? OR GOVERNOR? WHICH POST DO YOU PREFER SIR?

Jack of all Trades, Master of each.

(1 Samuel 7:3-5)

“Then Samuel spoke to the entire house of Israel”.

 

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Ladies and gentlemen: We have lift off! Or would it be better to shout, “We have touch down!”  As they say: “The Eagle has landed.”  It was one small step for Samuel, but it was a giant step for Israel, and mankind. Samuel the prophet was now alive and well on planet earth and moving into fulfilling his destiny as a prophet.  This is where our story starts to becomes juicy. The Mighty man of God has arrived amongst us.

A man of wisdom, maturity and power had emerged from the ashes of Israel’s loss of glory and self esteem.  Samuel spoke “to the entire house of Israel”. That is; the whole nation.

With  the Tabernacle and all its accoutrements destroyed (or hidden) apart from the Ark,  with Shiloh no longer in existence as a habitable town, and with the Aaronic priesthood in the depths of insignificance, Samuel takes hold of the reigns of the covenant people of Israel, to bring them back to the covenantal faith. This is why this historical event in the real time of 1 Samuel 7:3 is a huge moment in the history of the nation of Israel. This is also why I count Samuel as one of, if not the greatest of all the prophets.

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The biggest surprise to the student of Israel’s history is that Samuel is now talking to Israel, as opposed to one, two or even several of the tribes. There is now, because of Samuel’s long haul trek of ministry, a semblance of unity. This man was now putting his foot on the accelerator pedal of ministry that was to propel Israel into a time of refreshing, prosperity and spirituality for the next century or so. The days of the Judges, where the predominant philosophy was that “every man did what was right in their own eyes,” had meant that tribes fought either for themselves or perhaps with their next door neighbours. None of the previous Judges had the entire conglomerate of Israel’s hegemony trusting them for leadership – until Samuel arrived. People would have, no doubt, reminisced about the stories their parents and grandparents had told them about Joshua who lead the entire nation across the Jordan and into battle. For well nigh 400-plus years such a thing had not properly happened at all, until the unity of heart and faith that had been seeded into the nation by Samuel.

How did it come about that the entire nation could be addressed?  How did he achieve what had not properly happened except in one or two battles since the demise of Joshua?

We can only guess, as hypothesised chapters ago in these notes.  We are talking of intelligent guesswork, generally accepted by the intelligentsia of biblical scholars. The guess is that Samuel became an itinerant preacher. We read a couple of verses later that he called the nation together at Mizpah, so he obviously had not called them together before that day in a single convocation. The word was spoken and spread amongst all the people by travellers and messangers. He, seemingly had spent two decades moving amongst them clan by clan, tribe by tribe, city by city and village by village, until the time was ripe for a full  blown national summit meeting.

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Since the fall of Shiloh, and the withdrawal of the tribes into shameful recession of heart and strength, Samuel, I believe started travelling.  He taught the people, exhorted them, appealed to them using every godly means he knew of.  “You are God’s covenant people.  Return to the God of the covenant.  Have faith in the God of your fathers.”  It was also, somewhere around this period of time, when Samuel commenced his first, “School of the prophets.”  Perhaps his word was delegated to his “Students,” or “apprentice prophets.” I believe there is the possibility that Samuel, having thoroughly initiated his prophetic students into the world-view in which he stood, sent them out preaching on his behalf.

After twenty years of listening to the man of God encourage them all to return to the faith of their fathers, the tide of faith started to rise in the hearts of the people.  At first it was just a murmur.  Then, when travelling merchants around Israel did their job of passing on the news, and the content of Samuel’s messages was dispersed, discussed and imbibed, and people had responded positively in the towns of Israel, it became a groundswell of genuine desire for God Himself. Critical mass of national faith was approaching.

The tide rose higher and higher over those twenty years. Such was the spiritual ineptitude of the senses of the people of Israel, their desire for God rose in concert with their attendance at the idolatrous shrines that were rife throughout the land. The tares of idolatry had been planted and were still growing along with the wheat of Samuel’s word from God.

At such a time as Yahweh whispered into Samuel’s ear that the hearts of the people were ripe for the appeal to total and complete commitment, Samuel stood up and called for a national convention. It was God’s choice of moment. A message was circulated around the land. Messengers? Or did Samuel himself travel round for this last appeal?  Whatever the means, the word was circulated.  The nation was called to Mizpah on a certain date, and the “whole nation” stood before him. Now: the prophet Samuel was to address the entire house of Israel.

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What he said at this crucial moment of history was the key to all that followed not only in his life but in the days of David and Solomon after his death.  The narrative is short and sweet. To my mind it is undoubtedly the barest cryptic compact of what was actually said.  It was the final decision making appeal after twenty years of teaching.  He had pleaded for them to turn to God, and they had.  He was conscious of the oppression caused by the presence of the Philistines in the hearts of the people.  Could they be free of the antagonistic race of giants?  Samuel believed so.  Just one thing was missing. Yahweh may have been the highest deity on the people’s agenda, but He was not to be compared with any other.   The incomparable God gave a simple word to his prophet to deliver to Israel:

If you will wholeheartedly turn to the Lord, then remove the idols and the strange gods from your midst, including the Ashtoreth, and centre your worship on the Lord. Serve Him alone.  Then he will deliver you from the Philistine’s power.” 

Very plain. Intensely direct. These are the very words that changed the direction of Israel’s history.  These words of Samuel’s, like all his others, did not fall to the ground. They landed in the hearts of all the men and women who heard, and obeyed the call of God.  Faith comes by hearing; hearing the word of God.

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Religious syncretism was a, “No! No!”  It could not be “Yahweh and….”.  It had to be “Yahweh only.” God’s curse was on the mix.  It was a hard pill to swallow for masses who had been born with Yahweh in their mouth, idols in the home, and both or neither in the heart.  There was a sugar coating to the pill also.  The sugar was to be free of their oppressive neighbours. That was not an empty or idle promise. Hearts true to Yahweh find freedom and  blessing in all they do, and even in the air they breath and the ground they walk on.  After burning their idols, after destroying their shrines, their following experience of the power of God was to be the sweetest thing in the universe.  To live under the umbrella of Yahweh’s love and goodness (Hebrew: Chesed)was an awesome adventure of victory, triumph, and even more – success.  That victory in the heart would be tangibly felt by deliverance from the dreaded Philistines. This was a major step towards the national prosperity that was to curve ever more steeply upwards over the next century or more.

The people of Israel responded as one man.  The idols were burnt, and the shrines destroyed, and the idolatrous meetings along with Canaanites and Philistines attending, were suddenly missing a huge part of their congregations.

The Philistines, the Hivites, and all the other Canaanite cultures would have responded more than negatively to this upsurge of spirituality taking place amongst the Israelies.  The biblical narrative tells us “The children of Israel got rid of their Baal’s and Astarte and served the Lord exclusively.”  The Hebrews fled the evil “High Places.” That is a euphemism for the idolatrous shrines constructed on the hill tops scattered around Israel’s Promised Land.

If you believe merely in things that are seen, you need to understand that this would have affected the economy of the Land.  Idolatry means statue and demon worship, as well as people manipulation.  Statues have to be made and sold.  Selling makes money.  People manipulation means religious attendance along with religious offerings.  Burning of idols means loss of jobs and poverty.  Serving Yahweh only, meant suspending membership, attendance and financial contributions to the false deities. This meant angry business people, and terribly angry religious leaders. This led to selected arguments and grudges against the defectors. Because of the spiritual, racial and economic factors in this multi-cultural mix, it finally resulted in all out war. Pluralism in cultures is a wonderful thing. Pluralism in spiritual issues is a veritable curse from hell. On the surface it looked like a “religious war.” Not at all! It was the demonic persecuting those that pursued God and Him alone. Do not think for one moment that because demons are scarcely mentioned in the Old Testament they were scarcely active. Quite the opposite. They were as common place, if not more so, in Samuel’s world.

If, like me, you believe also in a personal literal devil with hordes of hideous spiritual personalities under his thumb, you also perceive a violent reaction from the invisible world of evil.  The only channel demons can work through is people that are under their control.  We are referring mostly, to the Philistines and Canaanites in this particular instance. Although I am sure that there was demonic activity amongst the Israelites also.

Samuel’s appeal was winged by the Spirit of God to the hearts of the nation. The people of Israel turned wholly to God.  Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.  The time had come for the moment when the glory would, to some degree, start its return to Israel. Their new found hunger for God would be satiated. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness. They shall be filled.

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They were told to direct the longing of their hearts toward God uniquely. They longed for peace, happiness, freedom and to be free of their oppressors. It’s really what all of mankind, in every generation and every culture has always wanted. The prophet saw the fruits of repentance in the lives of the people.  It must have cheered his heart.  He would, by this time in his life,  have become a national institution.

The fact that the entire nation submitted to his subsequent call to gather together suggests that the people of Israel respected this man as a person of truth, trust and divine power.  “Assemble all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord on your behalf.”

It depends on which authority you read whether or not you know where Mizpah was (or, undoubtedly, still is).  Mizpah means “Watchtower”, or a risen plateau of a natural promontory. It must have been a natural amphitheatre that would enable Samuel to address a vast audience and ensure visibility as well as audibility.  There are not too many spots in Israel now that lend themselves to this kind of description or title. The most widely accepted is the site of Nebi Samwil  (Samuel’s Tomb) about five miles north of Jerusalem, says Theodore Robinson.  This notable, historic  moment is lost, with a cursory read.  Imagine an attendance two or three times bigger than an F.A. cup final crowd.  Imagine Samuel on a raised promontory addressing such an audience.  Imagine such a thing not having happened for generations.  This was to be a happy breakthrough for Israel. A new day had arrived.

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He was calling them together with the promise that he would pray for them.  The language is clear that Samuel was aware that he had power in prayer with Yahweh. Samuel had been endued- clothed – with an anointing of power and authority.  His call obviously had great credibility with the people, for the nation turned out in their huge numbers. Twenty years of public exposure and face to face ministry had impacted the entire nation. Credibility and prophetic accuracy leads to authority.  Authority happily given by the masses to Samuel, meant proffered submission of leadership to him.  This was the inevitable result of two decades of quiet, unobtrusive, but powerful toil.  Dan to Beersheba had heard him, and his ministry brought fruit.  The nation was turned. The nation was truly one. There was bonded unity in the tribal diversity.

No Tabernacle!  No wonder the nation had not gathered for many years.  No Ark! Apart from Abinadab’s front room that is!  Samuel obviously had his eyes on a new understanding of God and His manifest presence.  No Aaronic priesthood to assume the lead!  Samuel was calling them as a prophet, not as a priest, even though he was a Levite. This was indeed a new day. This was progressive revelation in Samuel’s heart and mind. He was tasting what was, for Samuel, the powers of “the world to come.”

The prophetic voice of God had superseded the priestly activities of the Levites as Israel’s lead.  It was a lead that the Levitical order would never really regain.  And it was not just “a” prophetic voice,’  it was the archetypal figure, the father of all seers, the greatest nationally acknowledged authority of any of the biblical prophets hitherto.

Samuelian times were about to really commence. Samuel assumed headship of the nation. Rich in creativity.  Awesomely deep in his spiritual roots. Loved by the people of his time. He attained such authority under God, authority also gladly given by the nation he served, that he was trusted to even write the new guide books in the area of worship.

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The entire direction of millions of people was changing for the better, all because of the vision and the glimpses that this one man had of the invisible kingdom of God breaking out into the visible.  There were no nerves of rewriting the rulebook.  God spoke through him and thus changed the general practice of worship and the practicalities of approaching God.

Silent worship was finished for this generation. Singing, dancing, expression of praise, and prophecy were on the emergence because of this man’s facilitating.

Samuel was, in a way we probably have never seen properly, a man of prayer.  A praying spirit was birthed in concepts and practices learned on his mother’s knee during those first three years of weaning.  He obviously absorbed the parental intensity and grasp of what prayer could achieve. He was conceived in prayer, birthed in love, weaned on God’s purpose for Israel, and fostered – nay – adopted by God himself, sleeping each night next to the one spot on earth where Almighty Yahweh had promised to meet with man, ie: just a few feet away from the Ark of the covenant and the mercy seat. It was as if he had been permeated with the very Shekinah presence of God as had Moses been for eighty days up the mountain, with just a short break after the first forty.  But this man lived possibly forty years in the same Shekinah presence.  Mighty Samuel!

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Oh!  If we could only properly esteem the man’s stature and genuine character!  Elijah was used in the miraculous?  Samuel too!  Elisha, famous nationwide? Samuel too, in both northern and southern parts of Israel.  Jeremiah faithful to the end in the midst of a people that ignored him?  Samuel faithful from a child onwards to the delight of the eyes of them all.  Isaiah phenomenal in his prophetic output?  Samuel was probably responsible for more writing throughout his life than all the so called, “writing prophets” put together, but was too concerned with results to make a record.  Daniel awesome in his personal prophecy to kings?  Samuel was a king maker, and prophesied, anointed and crowned two of the most important of them into office.

A  man saved by grace is all he was, just like every other believer.  Yet in his stature, and achievement he was about to launch into a ministry arguably more influential than Moses.  Moses was powerful in the ministry of the law and the culture he left Israel with, and that was only fulfilled in forty years of activity.  Samuel probably lived to be over a century, and from the day of his birth he was purposed, planned and nurtured for those things for which he had been knit together by the Almighty.  Once adult enough to make a choice, he “went for it”, and until his dying day toiled ceaselessly for his dream and his God.

No sinful action is recorded of him; not that it means he did not commit any act of a sinful nature – such an appellation can only be thrown at Christ Himself.  It could be argued that Samuel did not only serve his own generation but two or three after his own.  After his death there was a century of blessing, prosperity and revelation that was birthed and nurture in the very spirit of Samuel’s output.  And after the spirit of Samuel had left this life, the hearts of the people, the legalistic and formalistic constitution of the shattered kingdom of Judah, still stood in the law that was written and set out by Samuel ben Elkanah.

Happy days were here again, or, at least they were seen to be coming over the new and near horizon.

Father in Heaven, give us such men of God again . . . or we die! Lord, make me a man of God like Samuel, or I die.

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Categories: 1 Samuel 7 verses 3 - 5, Master of all., Prophet? Judge? Priest? or Governor? Which post do you prefer Sir? | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Matured In The Keg

Vintage prophet fruit to be squeezed slowly and left to stand in silence.

(1 Samuel 3:19–4:1a)

10 artist's impression of the tab in Shilo

One artist’s extremely sanitised image of the tabernacle at Shiloh. Although referred to as Temple, it was undoubtedly The Tabernacle tent left their there for a prolonged period.

 

“And Samuel grew.  And the Lord was with him, and didn’t let any of his words fall to the ground.  And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established a prophet of the Lord.  And the Lord appeared again and again in Shiloh: for the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel by the word of the Lord.  And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.”  

“And Samuel grew.” Childhood is now certainly behind.  We now have a very definite adult profile. Still helping Eli?  I think so; even though we are not told. Old man Eli is known for what he is: the inter regnum High Priest (How and why he gained the office, we have no idea). His strong virile aide Samuel is acknowledged, uniquely, as something that Israel had never really had since Moses, i.e. a full blown prophet of God.

One translation has: “And Samuel kept on growing.”  Many Bible scholars refer to what is known as the “principle of first mention.”  Crudely defined, it states that there are usually, inherent and intrinsic to the first mention of any major topic or subject in the Bible, the details and depths of the entire subject encapsulated in those opening remarks and is enlarged upon with more detail as the subject  continues and is developed throughout the scriptures.  I am not so positive that it is an inviolable law, but, on occasions, the perspective that such an understanding holds is found to be quite accurate.

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An artist’s sanitised perspective on Hannah praying for a son.

I mention this “principle,” simply because it applies here, with Samuel.  We are talking of the first defining character and circumstantial profile of a biblical prophet. Samuel was the first writing prophet of Israel since they had landed in the promised land. That is why I refer to him as, “The Last Judge: The First Prophet.” We have here the original and genuine article. The prototype of any Elijah, Elisha, or Ezekiel. The archetype over any Hosea, Joel or Amos. The stereotype of any Isaiah or Jeremiah.  That, in itself, is quite amazing.  Anybody who has plunged into the deep waters of the biblical prophets knows only too well that it is extremely difficult to find a more diverse group of characters and personalities. Finding things common among them is quite a discovery.

So what do we see here in our story so far?  Samuel kept on in the process of growth. It has a little more substance to the normal concept of “growing up”. We have a prophet. Samuel was a prophet when he received the word about Eli and his family. But he is still in the process of becoming a prophet, for he has light years to travel to attain his full stature of prophetic flow.  He “was,” and  yet, he was still “becoming.”  And what he was and what he did in maturity leaves the opening revelation about Eli in pale wanness as to the weight of his future, “words.”  In fact, in comparison to what he will be, it would be true to say that he is clearly not a prophet yet. Is this all Chinese to you?

Let’s abbreviate it.  The truly prophetic ministry is a continual ongoing process. 

The process for Samuel probably started at his home in Ramah. The first we see of it however is when his mother presented him to Eli. At that first meeting, it clearly says, “he worshipped the Lord there.”  The process was at least in its proper conception and gestation at that moment, if not before.  We cannot and must not separate the fact of Samuel being called as a prophet, and the fact of him worshipping God at the age of three.  The thought of a three year old openly and publicly worshipping God without any adult prompting is a deep revelation of the character of Hannah’s son, a character that is integral to the call of the Most High. The call of God is a preeminent presupposition for a man who is to be a prophet. But many a called person to many a different sphere has, “lost it,” because of “failed training.” Samuel learned his responses from early childhood and developed uprightly for the ministry of a true prophet.

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We are not inferring that if you did not worship God at age three you cannot be a prophet. Tosh to that thought!  There are born prophets (e.g. Samuel) and there are made prophets (i.e. Elisha). What we are saying is, that being a worshipper is a definite precursor to maturity in prophecy, or any other spiritual gift for that matter.

The prophetic starts with attitude and state of heart. The truly prophetic is not simply a matter of passing on what God says. It is that of course; but it is a matter of what sort of vessel is handling that word. It is not a clinical matter of: “I don’t really care about the substance of this message, but I thought I’d better tell you anyhow.”  As if, while nonchalantly and laughingly having a Big Mac and a milkshake, I can thoughtlessly inform you the secrets of God’s heart and purpose for the person, the family, the church or even the nation to which that prophet is talking.  God wants his heart plainly impaled and draped over every word of God that is prophetically shared. We are talking of Divine passion.  If you are not into such concepts, methinks that you’d better stand from afar and watch the drama, the tears, the joy and sadness as the prophets of the Old and New Testament, as well as those of today, impart God Himself to those to whom they are bidden to speak.  It really is an awe inspiring matter.

In these days of charismatic outpouring and the resurgence of teaching on the fivefold ministry gifts of Ephesians 4, the abundance of the prophetic, and the emergence of true prophets are making it essential for the rank and file church member to be au fait with the principles and defining traits of so called “Prophetics”.

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TV Actor playing Samuel the prophet.

This growth in Samuel was plain to all.  The public ministry in which Samuel was already a permanent fixture gave his character high profile among the worshippers of the nation.  This process of change and development in the man they saw as a, “prophet,” pointed to basic conclusions that the nation made concerning Samuel.  “The Lord was with him.”  That sounds a little bit of an obvious statement to some, and a religious cliché to others. The fact is that the presence of the Lord manifested itself in a most remarkable way in the every day relationships and negotiations of Samuel’s life.

“He did not let any of his words fall to the ground.” This is said of no one else in scripture.  It was obviously true of Christ. The inference of this statement is quite staggering. It meant, first of all, that in matters of moral integrity Samuel was impeccable. We are not discussing the whys or wherefores of sinless perfection in a man born a sinner.  We are talking about a wilful trained habitual conduct that meant his, “Yes,” was, “Yes,” and his, “No,” was, “No.”  We are looking at honesty and accuracy in his terminology and phraseology. Nothing more, nothing less. None of the, “I told you a million times,” stuff.  None of your, “I bought tons of food for the weekend,” overstatement.  Samuel was too real.  What he said was exactly that.  None of his words fell to the ground.

But such a concept takes on a broader perspective, because this man was a prophet.  In the next breath, the narrator of First Samuel tells us that, “All Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established a prophet of the Lord.” The inference is plain. Whatever Samuel said, happened.  If he was to say it would rain, it rained.  Nothing of his verbal output fell to the ground and failed.

We are talking here of the ultimate in trust, intimacy and constant open relationship between God and man.  This phrase does more than any other single statement establish the nature of Samuel’s Godliness. This could not have happened if God did not trust him.  It would seem logical to suggest, that if the rank and file of humanity had everything they said coming to pass and not falling to the ground, that people would be either (a) terrified of opening their mouth, or (b) they would go around cursing their enemies and blessing their loved ones and predicting great health and happiness for themselves.

But that is not how God works! The fact is that God would not have allowed that to be said of Samuel if he did not trust Samuel in the context of words. Would God trust you with what you say?  But the narrator is not simply expressing a personal opinion that is neither heard nor thought of by others. “The whole of Israel from Dan to Beersheba,” knew that Samuel was a prophet. He was, “established,” as a prophet.  Some translators have it as, “Commissioned,” as a prophet.  He had become part of the national psyche. He himself had become a national institution. Samuel was a hero. He was a plumbline for others to follow. He was God’s man and God’s voice. It was assumed and taken for granted.  Samuel WAS God’s prophet for their generation.  In Old Testament days, that counted for everything.  The power that would have been wilfully given and surrendered to him by the people; the sycophants that would have surrounded him, the space that was given him to say what he wanted and when he wanted, was, in comparison to today’s democratic principle, unreal.  If Samuel spoke, they would jump.  Samuel was free to expend and abuse as much power as the people would give him.  But no abuse occurred. At the end of his days he asks for anybody who believed he was corrupt in anyway to step forward. Nobody budged. Nobody could point a finger.

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Samuel’s tomb today.

This aspect of God trusting the character of Samuel, and the definite statement backdrop that God would bring to pass anything Samuel said, is, to this writer, the most significant statement of Samuel’s character on one of the most basic characteristics of a man, i.e. his speech.  This trust was added to, with lots of further revelatory gifts.  The King James Bible states that “God appeared again in Shiloh.” Another version has it that, “God continued to appear to Samuel in Shiloh.”  We have development and growth in the understanding of what God was saying.  Note that the Bible does not tell us what was said at all of those revelatory moments.  The open vision was being returned to Israel by the gift of God, and we can be sure that whatever it was that God said to Samuel on those occasions was obediently followed and repeated at the right time, in the right places, and to the right people.  Whether it was personal words to one man, or national directives to all the tribes of Israel, or anything in between those two extremes, God always spoke first to Samuel.

Now for another word that needs tightly grasping.  “For the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel by the word of the Lord.”  God spoke to Samuel via Christ.  “The word became flesh and Dwelt amongst us.”  The word also means the message.  In the simplest of terms God kept the word for the moment flowing to Samuel in this developmental process.  Samuel delivered those words, and those words were received to such a degree that, “The word of Samuel came to all Israel.”  The word of the Lord, in Samuel’s mouth became the word of Samuel, received by the people as the word of the Lord.

Samuel was trusted and accepted. No one argued about Samuel’s prophetic output or input. The prophetic juice from the fruit of abiding in the tree of God’s life was dripping its delicious drops. The longer Samuel drank of the sap of God’s tree, the more it developed a mature and health giving flavour. The slump of unhappy unrighteousness was about to start its upward path to happy godliness and true national prosperity. While Samuel hung on the tree, his words were ripe for the moment and right for the people and rife across the land.

The flower of Samuel’s character was beginning to bloom, and the juice of the fruit of his gift was beginning to nourish the land.

Environs of Jerusalem. Mizpah (Nebi Samwil)

A photo of Samuel’s tomb conceivably pre 1900.

Categories: 1 Samuel 3:19-4:1a, Matured in the Keg | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Foolish Wise Old Man

Is passivity ever right?

(1 Samuel 3:15–18)

7 to the Synagogue

On the way to Synagogue in Jerusalem; circa 1900 I believe.

I cannot make my mind up. Was Eli wise with a little foolishness thrown in? Or was he mainly the fool, with a little wisdom given to spice up his character?  There are times I like the chap, and other times I am not sure. It is only because of Samuel, and the way he turned out in the end, that one is pressured to give the, “thumbs up,” to surrogate Big Daddy Eli.

In debating with myself about this old man, I always give him a big fat zero out 10 often for what went on the following morning after Samuel’s first revelation.  Domineering, and rude.  Insensitive and loud.  “Tell me!  Tell me!”  And no sign of, “How did it go last night, son?”  After all, it was only the first revelation of its kind in Israel for centuries.  It was only Yahweh Himself manifesting His presence and His word to a young man in the tent.  I am all for keeping spiritual people humble, but Eli’s approach was too crass, too foolish to do him credit.

Then again, perhaps he was afraid of dying any moment. I don’t say that facetiously. With the practices of his sons, with his acknowledgement of his own culpability in their upbringing and lack of discipline, and with the earlier prophetic promise of familial demise of power, and no, “senior citizens,” ever to be amongst their ranks again, it would seem logical that he considered himself as about to, “pop his clogs.”  “Any day,” might have been the word Eli could have used.  With that understanding we could, perhaps, understand the hurried, “Tell me quick, Samuel!  I might not be here to hear it all!” Honestly! I am not trying to be funny with that one.

See what I mean! There! I’ve done it again. Now I condemn the old man; now I exonerate him.

 “Samuel, my son.”  The young man must have dreaded this. Probably the first conversation of the day. Not even waiting for the breakfast table talk, Eli attacks.

Here I am.”  Are there any imperfections to the attitude of this young, “prophet,” in the making?  How many people, especially if they were a child (Remember, I, personally, am not sure he was.) would keep the message to themselves? The excitement! The burning inside! The drama! The interest!  But if Samuel had been that kind of character, he would not have been told what he had been told, would he?

“What is the thing that the Lord has said to you?  I beg you hide it not from me:  God do so to you and more, if you hide anything from me of all the things that he said to you.”  Eli’s words betray him. He had guessed already what the message was. Only if there was heavy destructive judgment in the air could Eli have said, “God do so to you and more if you hide it.” He knew alright!  What had happened is that Eli had been eating, sleeping and drinking the, “Hammer Horror Film” of prophecy that was laid on him by the nameless prophet earlier.  It was profound and shattering, both to his family, and the nation. After all; he was the inter regnum High Priest.  As the bad news he had received from the nameless prophet had not yet been fulfilled, he felt it was surely a repetition, or perhaps even, some appalling enlargement of what had earlier been predicted.

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Elderly Yeminite Jew in Jerusalem circa 1900. Hand coloured.

This understanding puts me back on Eli’s side very strongly.  I am impressed with the thought that Eli had thought of nothing else since the day the prophet spoke to him.  Surely that was the fact of the matter. Whether it was a week earlier, or a decade previous.  Eli was in a state of agony. Limbo! “Is this the day that I leave this mortal coil?”

Regrets are awesome tyrants when they are left to roam free in one’s memory.  Dictators!  Taskmasters!  I believe they often make people physically and/or mentally ill. If regrets are chewed on too much and too strongly, they are a veritable danger to health. This assumed fact made Eli’s continued existence on planet earth very tenuous.

But how on earth could he have possibly ignored the two sons for so long?  They weren’t always grown men, uncontrollable, lustful and anarchic. They were once on his knee, they were once asking, “Daddy,” to play with them, and tell them stories. They were babies, toddlers, and little children once. Oh, the agony of lost time!  How deep the pain of neglected opportunities!  How bloody are the consequences of missing the greatest of all God’s calls: the call to parenthood?  Anybody with normal physical functions could sire children. It takes a man to be a father. Of all the roles we play on this planet, the key role of being a mother or a father is the heaviest and the most responsible, and Eli had, sadly, fluffed it.

Samuel, being the person he was, did as he was told. He explained to Eli everything and hid nothing, for that is what he was ordered to do.  Picture the pain of the speaker. Feel the pain of the listener. Then listen to the pathos in the old man’s response. I hear the priest as in a daze. I perceive him numbed with grief for his wayward, perverted, yet nevertheless, beloved sons. I feel his heart almost stop beating, and smell the salt of his tears as the words are torn from his guts like some pillaging Philistine tearing out his stomach. “It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good.”  

No justification of self. No condemnation of God, or his sons. Complete submission!  One of the greatest gems that God ever whispered in this writers ear was the concept of justifying God first and foremost at the outbreak of any personal catastrophe. The quiet, though agonised acceptance with which the elderly priest received the intimation of certain earthly doom seems to indicate that Eli, so confident of the love of the All-Pitiful Almighty Yahweh, looked for some other means of salvation devised in the counsels of Yahweh, the Eternal friend of Israel. He had his sight fixed on that by which his deathless soul, after the earthly penalty, would be reconciled to the invisible King.  Surely he looked on to the one sure hope.  The blood of bulls and goats could not help him now.  But the blood of a better covenant would. Eli, it seems to me, knew his eternal future because of his faith in the God of Israel.

Eli was probably nought but a pawn in his sons’ dealings since their adulthood.  But Eli was still their father.  Eli was their head.  Eli was the High Priest and spiritual head of the nation.  However, Eli had sown to the wind, and had reaped the whirlwind. Passivity with his own son’s upbringing had brought damnation.

8 Home from Synagogue

Home from the Synagogue in Jerusalem.

Categories: 1 Samuel 3:15-18, Being a Prophet is a privilege, Definition of a Prophet, Is Passivity ever right?, Samuel's first prophetic word., The Foolish Wise Old man | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

I See Through The Smog a Bright Future On The Horizon.

I SEE THROUGH THE SMOG A BRIGHT FUTURE ON THE HORIZON.

A secret glimpse into God’s plans both dark and bright.

(1 Samuel 2:27-36)

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This is the exact spot, so the archeologists say, where Shiloh was located, and the layout of stones and ridges suggesting where the Tabernacle was placed.

And then; still in this same period of Samuel’s life, a visitor arrived.

The man is left nameless.  He prophesied.  Was he therefore a prophet?  The Prophetic word he was given to pass on to Eli was a bombshell that must have shaken the old man to the foundations of his character.  It was on a personal level: to do with his family.  On the other hand, if the man was talking of Samuel with his opaque promise of some kind of a future successor, Eli had potential excitement to his finger tips at the conceivable glimpse of how the youth was going to turn out.

Whatever dialogue transpired prior to the delivery of the, “Word,” is not revealed.  Because of the seriousness and the far reaching effects of this message, we shall quote it phrase by phrase.  He opened with, “Thus says the Lord.”  In the Old Testament when God communicated in a slightly different manner than in the New, this prefix was the weighty precursor to many a Divine deliberation from prophets.  The assertion is that, “This is what Almighty Yahweh says, and the message I am about to impart was received by me in exactly the same words as I shall speak.”  Weighty stuff indeed!  Prophets, do not use this word lightly – ever! Recipients,“Ignore this phrase at your peril!”

This, incidentally, is the first biblical sight of a prophet since the days of Deborah.  We are talking of possibly a hundred years or two since the likes of this had last occurred in the biblical narrative real time.

I have ransacked several versions of the Old Testament to gain the general consensus of what went on here.  Some of the sentences are extremely difficult to translate, according to the experts.  On top of that, once you have settled the translation, the interpretation of the message and its long term meaning becomes an even higher obstacle.

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“Did I plainly appear unto the house of your father, when they were in Egypt, in Pharaoh’s house?  And did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to offer upon my altar, to burn incense, to wear an Ephod before me?  And did I give unto the house of your father all the offerings made by fire of the children of Israel?”  These rhetorical questions that Eli would have silently nodded to, commenced this terrible prophetic dirge of doom.  We paraphrase this opening simply as : “Did I not swamp your family with privileges and blessings to an amazing degree?”

Eli knew that the nameless visitor was referring to historical facts of Israel’s youthful but stunning history.  The answer was a knowledgeable, “Yes”! to all the questions posed.  From this the knife of God’s judgement pierces Eli’s heart.

“Why do you kick at my sacrifices and at my offering, which I have commanded in my habitation; and honour your sons above me, to make yourselves fat with the chiefest of all the offerings of Israel my people?”  In plain English; “Your lack of discipline on your son’s abuse of the sacrifices, demonstrates how you honour them more than me.  Why?”  God’s logic is like a steamroller to crack a nut.   It is irresistible in its damnation.  Ungainsayable!  “For this reason the Lord God says, “I said indeed that your house, and the house of your father, should walk before me forever”: but now the Lord says, “Be it far from me; for them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.  Behold the days come, that I will cut off your arm, and the arm of your father’s house, that there shall not be an old man in your house”.”  It sounds like the damnation of accidental, or murderous deaths to all the descendants of Eli’s family.

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God now thrusts deeper still.  My version:  “I promised that you would be priests forever.  But this abhorrence of Me and My sacrifices, means I shall deal with your family, take its power away, and all your progeny shall die whilst young.”  It seems amazing that the misconduct of one man in one generation, should  affect so many in future generations.  This word came to pass in Saul’s reign as Eli’s grandson and great grandson came to early demise in those days.  The power was removed from them when Solomon took the throne and displaced Eli’s descendants with Zadok, the true High Priestly line through Eleazar.

The heavily complex Hebrew language of verse thirty two of this chapter has translators in total disarray.  From version to version it says what seems like totally different things.  Having read through eleven translations, as well as various commentaries, I am still not sure if there is any one I should prefer.  So; using the principle that when the experts disagree the layman is free to choose which he thinks is wisest, I hereby choose the lot of them, and come out with the following notes.

The prophet explains that God will give Israel wealth, blessing and pleasure in the future.  Good will be done to Israel.  This is reference to the future with David and Solomon, the foundation of which was built on Samuel’s teaching.  However, Eli’s family would not partake of these blessings and will – it is predicted – be envious of those in the outpouring of prosperity.  There may even be suffering and trouble for his family.  Eli, or maybe just his future family, shall see shortage, need and distress in God’s House while the prosperity spreads.  The intrigue and “grabbing lifestyle” of those that “wore the Ephod,” (another term for those who were priests) is open to public dispolay in the reign of Saul and the life of David.

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Eli tutoring Samuel.

An adversarial enemy shall be seen in the habitation of God.  It is described by others as, “distress,” but Eli shall actually see it.  This must refer to the taking of the Ark, for Eli was not alive to see the sack of Shiloh, or indeed anything thereafter. The news of the stolen Ark of the Covenant is what socked him, leading to his death almost instantaneously. This will occur in the midst of the blessings given to Israel. The blessing I believe were of the nature of a man in particular; his name was Samuel.

Then comes the pronouncement that all and sundry of the translator’s fraternity agree on: henceforth, nobody of Eli’s family will live to old age.  One man translates the word, “old man,” as, “noble.”  To make the prophecy even harder on Eli and his posterity, the prophet adds that even those that live the longest of his family shall grieve their own heart. Jewish tradition believes that Eli was 100 years old when he died.

The doom and damnation is set.  If only father had spanked the two when they were little and gained enough discipline and respect from them so that they would obey him in adult years, things could have been so different for the entire future of Israel.

A sign is then promised by the itinerant prophet as a token that the entire message shall come to pass.  The sign is that the two wayward sons shall perish on the same day.  This final aspect of the message was relevant to Eli for less than a minute.  Years later, less than sixty seconds after the news was broken to him of the death of his two sons, he was dead.  God’s economy is bigger than the first and most prominent meaning of this shocking message.  The fact is that God knew that this prophecy would gain fame by being repeated and repeated over and over again through the following years.  How else could the writer of First Samuel know that this prophecy was spoken.

The man of God closed his errand with a prediction that must have been as heart-warming to Eli as the former was chilling. “I will raise up for me a faithful priest that shall do according to that which is in my heart and in my mind:  and I shall build him a sure house; and he shall walk before my anointed forever.” 

As per usual there are two ways of interpreting what was said.  There is , of course the immediate historical perspective, and then the long term prophetic insight to the words, referring in some way to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Was this about Samuel? Or was it about Christ? Or, more likely still: Was it about them both?

This fits Samuel as well as the Saviour.  In fact it fits Samuel more than it fits Christ.  All but the last phrase suits the two.  “He shall walk before my anointed forever,”  cannot refer to Christ, as He was the anointed.  Referring to Samuel he would walk before Saul during his lifetime revealing God’s heart to him.  Saul was the Lord’s anointed.  But Samuel would walk before Christ in eternity.  Christ was the archetype of the Lord’s anointed.

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Eli trying to correct his sons.

The more I try to put my mind in the place of Eli’s as he was being spoken to by, “Nameless,” the more I think that this closing promise would be the silver lining on the dark clouds of doom.  He had done a good job on Samuel, even if he had failed miserably in the way of Hophni and Phinehas.

“And it shall come to pass that everyone that is left in your house shall come and crouch to him for a piece of silver and a morsel of bread, and shall say, “Put me, I beg you, into one of the priest’s offices, that I may eat a piece of bread.”

The meaning of this is plain when seen in the context of the extra difficult verse 32. Those that are of the priestly family, yet in poverty, will be asking the trustworthy and faithful priest (Samuel) for a job so that they can earn a little money and a little food.

The prophet that delivered this message is never referred to again.  He disappears off the face of the biblical narrative.  But his words are there for us to squint and wince at three thousand years later.  Eli must have been “blown away.” The Account informs us that Eli was blind and overweight.  Whenever his position is mentioned he is either lying or sitting.  How he survived this news I shudder to imagine.  Of all the shocks and knocks that this man met through life, this pronouncement eyeball to eyeball would have done the most to suck his life from him.  Many people would have given up at the point at which he had arrived.  The harshness and the finality of the heart of God towards him and his diabolical duo would surely have stilled and stopped the heart of the majority.  This prophetic word was set in concrete.  The future was, to a degree, revealed.  Terrible things at the Tabernacle were to come.  Hophni and Phinehas were to die on the same day.  No more old age in the family; and his offspring were already adult.  Familial poverty. National prosperity.  A divinely raised faithful priest. Stuff to chew on. Stuff to ponder long and hard. My heart goes out to Eli at this point.

Man has a failing (or is it a blessing?) to see most things in the context of his own immediate history.  In Eli’s mind these heavyweight prophetic statements must have also been seen in his immediate context.  Correctly, or incorrectly perceived by the old man, the, “Enemy in the dwelling of God,” could only be his sons, the godless of Israel, and/or the ungodly nations among whom they lived.  The faithful priest could only be Samuel.  Did Eli have a vision of the Messiah to come. Oh!  If only he had been a different sort of parent.  If only he had stood up to the wickedness of his sons earlier in life.  If only!  If only!  The most painful moments of anybody’s life are those spent contemplating what could have happened if they had done something correctly, which was in actuality done wrongly or badly.  Those regrets are heightened to a most hurtful degree when the repercussions of their wrong doing bring desolation, hurt and damnation upon others.

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At this point of time Eli must have wept.  He must have been in an inward state of heartbreak.  Death became him more than life.  Annihilation was preferable to an eternity counting the cost of his own “non-action.  Poor Eli!  No words could comfort a man in such a scenario.

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Categories: 1 Samuel 2 verses 27 - 36, The prophet with no name | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

God’s Own Training School

GOD’S OWN TRAINING SCHOOL

A man of God by any means possible …or impossible.

(1 Samuel 2:12 – 26)

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If, like me, your heart is beating somewhat for a little three year old so far away from his parents, and in the care of an extremely old man who has two extremely nasty miscreants as sons; let me put you at rest.  Samuel turns out O.K.  I know. I’ve read the book.

That still does not set aside our need to look into the full depths of the environment that Samuel was plunged into.  The fact that he turned out so well is amazing to some.  It also proves that, “attitude,” in a bad environment can be infinitely more important than the environment itself.  It’s an additional point in the, “nature or nurture,” debate. Social Services of the twenty-first century, clearly, would not have allowed Eli or his sons near such an innocent.

Elkanah went back home to the rustic routine of farming and family life in Ramah.  The little lad was left ministering before the Lord with all that a toddler has to minister with.  He was undoubtedly given a course in Israelite history and traditions.  The old High Priest would have spelled it all out to him.  It’s a scantily told narrative as it stands. I for one would love to know more about little Sam’s upbringing with Eli.  I would have asked the biblical authors for a lengthy diatribe that homed in on the “whys” and “wherefores” of Samuel’s  childhood.  Dream on Lannon!

But the scriptures do a swap here.  The narrative changes, and we have quite a lengthy section telling us about what went on at Shiloh, with only passing phrases that glimpse the future prophet and kingmaker.  The book shows us the other side of life as it was around the environs of the tabernacle itself and Shiloh the city.  The scene of the narrative shockingly cuts from sweet youth, to evil adults, as we are solemnly told, “The sons of Eli were sons of Belial,” “Belial” being an alternative name for the devil.  We all have a dual parenthood.  We are of God, or of Belial, as well as of our human parents.  However the general biblical concept of being, “in Christ,” or, “in sin,” is not what this verse means to purvey.  The author is telling us that Hophni and Phinehas were a pair of villains.  Seriously so!  Heavy duty criminality.

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The conduct of the duo reveals that they were utterly Godless.  Their unbelief was the source of their moral bankruptcy.  They were audacious, covetous, despotic, adulterous and blasphemous.  The grasping and worldly religious leader is here forever exemplified in its ugliest caricature.  They were the very nastiest picture of the lawlessness of the age in which they lived.  Not only did every man do that which was right in his own eyes, but these two priests also did whatever their rapacious lusts desired.  Any seniority they had amongst the Levites was based on nothing else but their sonship to Eli. Ministerial abuse peaks here.  The most “high profile” position of religious service next to Eli himself was theirs, and they were as corrupt as it is possible to be.

There are two crimes specifically mentioned that they continually perpetrated.  The one explained here sounds to the western bible readers as a bit of a storm in a teacup. Abuse of the the sacrificial system.  It has to be seen through the filter of the eastern paradigm to grasp how heinous their conduct was.  Moses set down laws for conducting sacrifices.  First the sacrificed animal was killed, and boiled.  The fat of any offering had to be waved before the Lord by the one making the sacrifice, then the fat was to be cut away and burnt.  The fat belonged to God.  That was how Yahweh instructed Moses concerning the method and principle of sacrifice. After that, only certain parts of the sacrificed beast were for the priest.  The breast was for the high priest and his family; and the right shoulder for the other priests.  This way the one doing the sacrificing could eat as well as the priest who ministered for him. However, before the animal was waved before the Lord, which meant swinging it to and fro before the Tabernacle, while the meat was still seething, Hophni and Phinehas sent out their servants to take what they desired as a priestly portion from the worshipping public.  They came with a three pronged fork an item that speaks to many of demons, devils and things.  Whether or not the devil and his hordes carry three pronged forks I very much doubt, but the association of ideas here is an appropriate one.  They would submerge the fork in the pot and run away with whatever it pulled out.  If the worshippers sought to correct the crime by reproving the criminals they were threatened with brutish violence. Moses stated in Leviticus 7:25 that whoever eats of the fat of the sacrificial beast would be cut off from the people.  That statement lets the reader know how important this issue was to Yahweh and the God fearing Israelite.  So not only were they taking more than they should have done, they were taking the fat as well; i.e. they also took the forbidden raw meat for roasting.

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The entire existence of Israel was on the basis of God’s choice of them as His people, His removing of them from Egypt, and the sacrificial system around the Tabernacle. No matter how intricate and religious the system seems to us now in the twenty first century, they were under divine orders to run with what God had given them, exactly as Moses relayed it.  We have to understand that it was the equivalent to getting drunk with the communion  wine, and eating the bread that was meant for the church body  – only much worse.  They were detrimentally interfering with the conscience and faith of the people of Israel.  It has to be added that prior to their misconduct, the nation was not exactly at an all time high of spiritual fervour.  The sons of Eli were twisting the devils knife in the demonic wound of national unbelief and widespread idolatry.  “Because of this” says the book, “the sin of these young men was extreme before the Lord; for people hated the offering of the Lord.”  As usual, when the people that lead worshippers do not worship themselves, we have a major sociological, psychological, and for the believer, even a soteriological issue.

We have no idea how many people there were of the tribes of Israel worshipping at Shiloh during these days but many abhorred what went on there.  Unless people of that generation were different from today, these facts meant that many simply stayed away and forgot about what went on at the Tabernacle, as well as the God who was behind the whole concept.  So in the midst of the darkness of a black Chiffon sheet of oppression over the nation, thicker blacker quilts of sin were shrouded over the population of God’s chosen people by Eli’s sons.  Darkness in the people of light!  Famine in the land of milk and honey! Filth amongst the hearts of the cleansed!  Lack in the land of plenty!  There was something rotten in the state of Israel.  It pervaded the very spirit of the nation.  The spring of the decomposition was from the altar of God itself, and festering in the ministers of the Tabernacle.

Having painted the picture of depression, violence and muggings going on in the worship of God, the author of scripture swaps scenes again, obviously to make a point.  Preachers have lots of little sayings and illustrations that enforce the concept of the ability of “purity” to stay clean in an evil environment.  Think of the best of them and then read First Samuel 2:18.  “But Samuel ministered before the Lord, a child clothed with a linen ephod.”

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The proposition is that whilst an evil murky cloud of sin was spreading  its greasy tentacles on the spiritual throat of the nation through two men in particular, the brightest and best that righteousness could produce at that time was also developing, probably, literally, next door.  While demons were having a rave up. God’s instrument of righteousness was developing in the womb of the Tabernacles’ own Holy Place. This is God’s way.

When the Bible was first translated into English nobody knew what an “Ephod” was. The translators took the easy way out and simply anglicised the mysterious Hebrew word.  Even today, our understanding of the word is simply the result of a lot of deduction and guesswork.  It is generally understood that the ephod was a priestly “dress – like” garment made of linen.  Normally priests were not allowed to start service until they were thirty years old. Once in service no activity was to be entered into without their linen ephod – the stereotypical eastern long white gown. They had to wear white boxer shorts of the same material while in harness.

The importance of us being told that the growing Samuel wore the linen ephod is to impact the reader that this little boy was now actually serving – as a priest.  All this occurred and was done, seemingly with Eli’s blessing, and obviously in the high profile spotlight of public service at the Tabernacle, where all true worshippers would become more and more acquainted with the youth.  It seems to me more than probable that he attended immediately to Eli’s person. He was ready to fetch and bring as he had occasion: and that also is called, “ministering to the Lord.” He could light a candle, or hold a dish, or run an errand, or shut a door, and because he did it with such a pious disposition of mind, it is called, “Ministering to the Lord.”  I call it, “character development.”

There was no mass media, or even broadsheet newspapers.  Only word of mouth.  In that context the little boy whose name was Samuel would have been nationally known, and widely loved.  A serious and grave child, working hard, before the Lord at the Tabernacle itself.

I suspect that there were clashes and crossing of swords between Samuel and the evil pair in the progressing  years of childhood. We are not, however, told of any. Hophni and Phinehas were actually dead before Samuel had fully matured. I also suspect that Eli tried to keep Samuel out of his sons influence throughout his childhood.  It could, of course, be that Samuel was strong minded enough to watch the evil actions of the two and simply steer clear.  I wish I had a time machine to visit and see.  Samuel grew strong and righteous in the midst of all this going on.  God’s school is often the hardest, but always the best.

The years began to pass.  Routine set in.  Elkanah still attended the annual sacrifice, and of course, always came with Hannah.  Every year she came with, what the King James Bible calls, a coat.  The word, Anglicised is a “m’il.”  The High Priest carried a “m’il” with his ephod. It was a square item that was hung on the chest having twelve precious stones attached to it. Each stone represented one of the tribes.  Obviously, Hannah, making a new one each year suggests that the “m’il” she made was without the stones.  But it allowed the worshipping Israelites to see that Samuel was a virtual, “High Priest in training,” not that Samuel could actually ever become High Priest, his family line would have utterly prohibited such a thing.  To be frank, although he was in charge, the book does not ever refer to the Tabernacle “head-man”as the High Priest, either.  Samuel, however, was clearly a leader of men in development – as perceived from his very early years.   Eli would not allow his sons to bear the Holy garments, so he was training a successor for when he passed on.   It was clear that Samuel’s potential role would be equally important and equivalent to Eli’s role after Eli’s demise, in power and status, in later years.  Samuel. It must be repeated, is never referred to as the High Priest, and there is no indications given as to exactly what was in Eli’s mind at this time.

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It is all logical really, when Eli’s long term options are vaguely perceived.  This little boy would be working in the courts of the Tabernacle with a child’s High Priest’s costume.  Something like a little boy dressing like Superman or Batman.  But this was no game, nor was it fiction. The High Priestly position and role was no fantasy.  It seems sound to assume that Eli sanctioned all these confirmatory significant items in order to establish the lad in his interest and his direction.  The action was in contravention of the dead letter of Moses’ law, yet vindicated as part of God’s purpose as the years unraveled.

The entire worship of Jehovah revolved around the Ark, which was surrounded by the Tabernacle.  The Tabernacle was overseen by the role of the High Priest.  Even at the time of Christ the position of the High Priest was accepted as a function of great importance on God’s economy.  Eli was old and feeble and, perceptibly, about to pass on. His sons, by right, should succeed him in the role.  But his sons were so famously and infamously godless it was unacceptable to both public and Eli to pass on the baton to them. Now there was this little boy on the scene of time.  He ministered before the Lord, and to the Lord.  He obviously obeyed Eli.

If Eli had an errand, Samuel would run the job. If Eli had a door to be opened,  Samuel would turn the latch.  We are talking of endearing ways and mannerisms that nestled in and found a place not only in Eli’s heart, but in all that saw him, while attending on God in the Tabernacle.  He was accepted and loved.  Twentieth century “heroes” and “heroine’s” like the Beatles, Pele, and Princess Diana show the need of the masses for stars and icons.  Samuel filled that sort of role one thousand B.C. for back-slidden and debauched Israel.

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Eli was fulfilling what we would today call a PR. Function in exposing Samuel and his character to the nation.  There was one question of course.  How would the two sons take it, if and when Eli was to die, and Samuel assumed the role of the senior minister of the nation?  How could Samuel step in as an unconstitutional High Priest?  The answer to that vital issue was to be resolved by God Himself.

How Hannah knew the right size through the years of adolescence is a slightly offending mystery to my own experience of teenage children.  I have brought up a son who is now in his thirties, and while in adolescence I couldn’t judge his growth rate from week to week, never mind on an annual “one off” visit.  Familial love was still there for Samuel.  Warmth and affection were so warm towards his family that in his later life Samuel returned to Ramah to live.  In fact, he died and was buried there.

The family picture thus painted is a glowing one.  Samuel was content with his lot in life, as was Hannah. The annual visit was a joyous high point.  Having settled down to this routine and his parents annual sojourn, something startling occurred on one particular visit that has a distinct lesson for us all.

It was Eli’s prophetic gift again. Hannah’s annual stopover with the new sized “m’il” was met with an outburst from Eli that was another release of God’s word.  It was a “happening”.  An occurrence.  A taking place of the spoken word of God.  He addressed Elkanah this time and said, “The Lord give you children from this woman for the petition she made to the Lord.”

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It surely doesn’t sound much does it.  You or I could have said that.  The point is that Eli spoke those words at the specific prompting of God the Holy Spirit.  As God pushed, so Eli spoke.  The Spirit of God spoke via Eli.  When God speaks there is a definite performance of what is spoken.

The eternal mystery is that when the word of God is not received in the heart and mixed with faith it does not “take place.”  Not so on this occasion.  True to character, Hannah believed the word. Elkanah believed also. Over the next few years Hannah had three sons and two daughters to grace their home.  No further mention is made of Peninnah.

As a comment on the pronouncement that Eli made over Elkanah and Hannah, we need to ensure that childless couples are made aware of what the bible teaches.  God gives life and takes it.  It is He that grants conception, not the gynaecologist. There is no other lengthily proven issue in scripture more encouraging, I believe, next to the resurrection of Christ, than the fact that God answers the cries of barren women for children.

While five brothers and sisters were growing before mother and father at Ramah, the scripture adds: “And the child Samuel grew before the Lord.” 

Three, four and five.  Samuel was beautiful to observe, as all toddlers are when assuming adult importance in what they do.  Six, seven and eight.  Height in inches as well as spirit.  Concepts of understanding and responsibility are dawning on him in the most practical of ways.  I can only deduce that he was like a doting grandson to an equally doting grandfather.  The little lad leading, nursing and serving the old gent in a demeanour of humility and servanthood that endeared him to all that saw him.  It must have been so.   How else could it later say that the nation acknowledged his position and role as a prophet when he was a grown man. Nine, ten and eleven. The first rumblings of pubescence and the hormone release that we refer to as adolescence were commencing their earthquake of eruption in the youth.  Twelve, thirteen and fourteen.  Perhaps even, eighteen, nineteen and twenty. We are left, at this point, to make frustrating guesses.  So the picture painted by the scriptures in the silence of these years, the little peeps through the curtains with brief, “one liners” every so often, is very telling. Hophni an Phinehas degenerated.  Samuel was clearly regenerated in God’s character and goodness.  It is not stated so: but clearly implied.

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While the years were passing, and Samuel was somewhere in this range of years, another scene is presented to us that we can only imagine was either witnessed by Samuel, or explained to Samuel by Eli.  I make a basic assumption, here: that Eli would have been quite private in his attempts at disciplining his sons. The two priests, undoubtedly grown men, were summoned before him to suffer their father’s feeble parenting.

Eli was too late, and too inadequate with words.  It was a collective discipline, and not individual.  He should have spoken to each alone.  It was interrogative without having hooked them in to willful participation of dialogue.  It was assertive and argumentative. Unfortunately, with their well learned philosophy and practice of evil, now a lifestyle, a one off speech would accomplish little.  And God held Eli responsible for his son’s upbringing.  They answered to Yahweh for themselves, of course.  They refused to listen to their father.  The reason for this insolence is given: it was because, “the Lord would kill them.”   Their evil ambitions had found an unstoppable momentum.  They left the interview with a determination to continue in their wicked ways.

The now familiar contrast is made yet again.  We picture the young man Samuel, growing so clearly and vividly; yet all we have with our present progress is five lines of insight.

“…and he worshipped the Lord there.” 1 v 28

 

“…and the child did minister unto the Lord, before Eli the Priest.” 2 v 11.

 

“… but Samuel ministered before the Lord, being a child with a linen ephod.” 2 v 18

 

  “And the child Samuel grew before the Lord.” 2 v 21 And now it says:

 

“And the child Samuel grew on, and was in favour both with the Lord and with men.”  2 v 26   

 

These insight packed words were plagiarised under divine inspiration by Luke when describing Christ’s childhood development. He “grew on.”  His physical demeanour as well as his character firmed and matured with the approval of God Almighty and His people.  His growth was visible and obvious.  The physical and the spiritual; the mental and the brute strength; all were developing, growing and maturing. The phrase “grew on” suggests slightly that he was now a young adult.

The latter phrase also explains how much of a public profile he had while acting as Eli’s servant.  Favour with people is an amazing thing.  This was the favour of followers looking to a leader. This was the favour of an acknowledgement of godliness. This was the favour of expectation.  When the people approved of the youth that strengthened and nursed the elderly leader, the future was perceived as bright.

Surely the mind of Eli was beginning to be realised. The people’s approval of Samuel would surely bring Hophni and Phinehas into line. Or perhaps Eli unrealistically opted against the hope that the duo would change.

It seems psychologically obvious that having two reprobate sons, as a surrogate father he could bask in the obvious favour that Samuel was enjoying, by doing all he could to ensure that Samuel followed in his footsteps, and not Hophni, or Phinehas. Little did Eli know at this time that God had plans that would put his two sons out of the running anyway.

But somehow, in some way, it was known and seen that Samuel was under the shadow of the favour of the Almighty.   And that favour grew with his own stature. Was it the startling pleasantness of a youth trained with the right responses to God and life?   Was it his smile?  His gait?  There must have been some mannerism, or some observable tangible characteristic that people could look and see that this was a person condemned to victory, life and godliness under the pressure and drive of God’s favour.  The exceptional character of Samuel, if Hannah was still alive to see him, was emerging as the pride of Israel.  Sadly, we read no more of Hannah or Elkanah from this point on.

 

Categories: 1 Samuel 2 verses 12 - 26, God's own Training School. | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I Will Not Let Him Go Until I Wean Him.

I WILL NOT LET HIM GO UNTIL I WEAN HIM

Three years to make a man of God.

 (1 Samuel 1:21 -23)  

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One year after that amazing day in Shiloh, and Elkanah is getting ready and encouraging his family to hurry in preparing to go with him on his annual trek. He’s off  to Shiloh again. This time, however, we have a slightly different scene than the one we encountered twelve months earlier.

So what is similar? What is different? Whether or not Peninnah had yet another child, we are not told. Jewish rabbinical tradition states that Peninnah lost all her children one by one to illness, accident, and pillaging lions, rampant along Jordan’s banks at the time. There is no conclusive source evidence for accepting this. It is not stated in scripture. Always remember that the Talmud oozes the spirit of Judaism from Rabbinical minds. The scriptures come from the Spirit of God. That is two opposite sources. Frankly,  God Could not remove children for the sake of their mother’s awkwardness and lack of grace; millions in the world would be reduced to childlessness if that were the case. We shall assume that Peninnah is the same selfish person, though now looking for further reasons with which to taunt her “enemy”, as her previous plank of attack had been divinely removed.

Hannah is beaming. She is the very picture of contented womanhood. She dotes on, but definitely does not spoil little Samuel. Elkanah encourages her to bring the, “little fellah,” with her, to Shiloh. She answers her husband in a startling manner. She declares her plan to finish weaning him, before taking him to Shiloh to present him to the Lord, “that he may appear before the Lord, and there abide forever.”

It is an easy thing to make a vow. It is another thing to faithfully keep that vow, especially when the vow that was made was so costly and, according to what we read, not known by any other human being at that particular moment. She openly explains the vow to her husband, and so stays at home.

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It was an explanation that came out of sheer love for God. Why not keep the child? God would not be so unreasonable as to ask for something that no one else had ever been asked for. Isn’t it quite natural and normal for a mother to keep her child close until adulthood?  She could hold little Samuel to her bosom all her days, even when he had become, “big,” Samuel, and nobody would guess she had said anything to God that had not been fulfilled.  Why should she, “give him away”? But that would not be the way of integrity. Hannah had vowed. She had made a statement to God that if He were gracious enough to grant her a son she would give him back to the Lord, “all the days of his life.”   The son had been given, the child had arrived; and how she loved him.  She had determined to keep him as long as weaning was necessary.  As soon as he was free of his mother’s milk, Shiloh would see him given back to God and His service.

Honesty towards God and herself forbade her to keep him any longer. The selfless dedication of Hannah to God first, even before her children, is a principle simply taught throughout scripture and assumed as the Godly and biblical norm.  It is still a marvelous thing to behold.  Not that mothers are expected to have their sons take board and lodging elsewhere, as Hannah had imposed on herself and her firstborn.  But loving God before all people is the normal Christian life.  Children should be dedicated to God, simply because God comes first.

In many ways what Hannah did was utterly unique.  In another manner at looking at this account, it is a universal application of a Biblical injunction that addresses us all.  Our children are God’s before they are ours. In the days of the book of Maccabees, from the apocryphal inter-testamental period, it seems that Hebrew women suckled their children for the first three years of life.  If this evidence is indicative of conduct in Samuel’s day it infers that Hannah had three years to influence and teach her little toddler all she could toward the Nazarite vow and the special nature of the circumstances of his conception and birth.  That is, three years to put into him the sort of spirit and attitude that would bind his will and heart to the Lord all the days of his life.  That is thirty six months or so to teach him that he was special; he was chosen; he was to be God’s person; that Yahweh Himself would be a father and a mother to him when he was to be placed with God and Eli at the tabernacle in Shiloh.  That is one thousand and eighty days to produce the incipient Man of God.  What an amazing job she did.  Hannah trained her little Samuel to recognise himself as utterly dedicated to God; and as we shall soon see, she did not have long to wait for the child’s personal, wilful and responsible ratification of her vow. All this because of a vow made in the context of earnest prayer and intercession.  She surely could have pleaded that she was a little, “out of her normal presence of mind,” to have made such a promise when she was praying that prayer, even the High Priest considered her drunk.

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If such a case was put to Hannah, I feel sure she would reason that she had never been in such total control of her volition and frame of mind as she was at that moment of “drunken” prayer in Eli’s full vision.  She would undoubtedly consider that the particular prayer made that day with Eli thinking her drunk, and the vow made whilst saying that prayer, was one of the sanest moments of her entire life.

With all the years of reading and soaking in this story I am left with only one problematic area of thought which I find difficult to come to grips with.  If Hannah was the down to earth intelligent mother I believe that she was; and if she was aware of life around the Tabernacle and its priests, and I believe she was; and if she was aware of the misconduct and godlessness of Hophni and Phinehas, and I believe she was; how on earth could she trust Eli the man so undisciplined in the role of father, to bring up her first and highly treasured son?  He couldn’t even discern whether she was praying or just rambling in a drunken oblivion. Was there no other legitimate way to fulfil her vow? We obviously have here some aspect of faith that transcends her own sense of motherly responsibility.  The vow overrode even her most primal maternal instincts.  Samuel was, in her purpose, to be reared by an elderly, rotund, nearly blind old man, with two wayward adult sons that would not listen to him, and by inference, never had!  How could she do such a thing?  Surely such a step was catastrophic for Samuel’s future and irresponsible on the side of Hannah. Even if we could imagine that Hannah did not know of the wickedness’s that went on at the Tabernacle, her husband, a man of the world, and of the priestly group would surely have known.

According to Moses instructions, if on the day that Elkanah discovered the nature of the vow that his wife had made he, as husband, had disapproved of that vow, he was in a position to cancel the vow utterly and have it annulled.  Then Hannah would have been honestly, and with integrity,  free of her vow. We take it that the account given in verses 21-23 of the first chapter of the first book of Samuel is the first time Elkanah had heard of the vow.  However, he rescinded it not at all.  In fact he even blessed the words of Hannah and her commitment to God. Samuel’s future was set.

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To Elkanah and indeed to the normal significance of language, God had accepted the covenantal vow made by him and his wife.  This acceptance of the, “business contract,” inferred God Almighty had accepted the fact that Samuel the treasured son of Hannah, was to serve Him and stand before Him all his life.  For this reason, Elkanah pronounces: “The Lord establish His word.”  With that paternal response, the last chance saloon had been passed for Samuels’s possible escape from a parental rearing by an elderly man that had, thus far, not exactly achieved a track record of successful parenting. Oh dear!

Faith can  turn human logic on its head.  If an example of such is needed, here is probably the best.  We are talking of long time rearing of a young child by a man who is not a member of the family, excepting by distant joining of forefathers many generations previous.  What was Samuel going to turn out like with such a jumbled mixture of primary adult relationships?

Take very special note: God’s purpose overrides all human decisions, wise, unwise, thoughtful or thoughtless. And Samuel was proven, in the long term, to be God’s man for his generation.

None of the characters in this drama had a clue of the blessing that was being unleashed by Hannah’s strong and willful choice. Not Hannah! Not Eli! Not Elkanah! Samuel himself could not possibly be aware of what was ahead, apart from the fact that he obviously loved God with everything he had, as we will see in later pages.

Oh!The awesome wisdom and ways of God in people’s lives! In one woman’s heart and faith was seeded something – somebody – that would bring to order the entire future of Israel into a new vision and a new understanding . Sh’muel ben Elkanah had arrived on planet earth. Jewish tradition tells us that he was here amongst  us for one hundred years. It was not the length of the material of his life that really mattered. It was the deep lush spiritual quality of his life in the Spirit that really mattered. Watch out world, Samuel is on the way to your confusion. Stand up and be respectful. Samuel is passing by.

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Categories: 1 Samuel 1:21-23, I will not let him go until I wean him, three years to make a man of God | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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