Posts Tagged With: Shiloh

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

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

The People Know What They Want

Don’t confuse them with the facts

An account of when Democracy gets it wrong – But God makes it turn out O.K. -Even though people mess it up again later

 (1 Samuel 8:1-22)

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The Samuelian days were reaching their zenith.  The prophet Samuel ben Elkanah, as the saying goes, was, “part of the national infrastructure.”  He had led the people, fed the people, and headed the counsel that they had followed for years.  How many years is deducible only to an approximation.

Josephus calculates that Samuel was twelve when the voice of God spoke to him for the first time.

After the call in 1 Samuel chapter 3, God continued to speak to him while he was still at Shiloh. The nation began to discern what was happening with Samuel and acknowledged him as a prophet – as their prophet.  We approximate that for the next twenty five years or so after that triple call in the middle of the night, Samuel’s prophetic role developed until the fall of Shiloh and the taking of the Ark by the Philistines.

For the next twenty years after that, we believe Samuel was a travelling preacher circulating and declaring the need of the people to renounce idolatry and religious syncretism. The figure of twenty here is a biblically sanctioned one.  His activity is our deduction and hypothesis. The bible is actually silent as to his occupation for those years.

After the rally, or rather the National Convention at Mizpah and the routing of the Philistines, we estimate another twenty five years or so when Samuel was in the full power and flight of his prophetic faculties. These were, quite literally, the days when Samuel judged and ministered and built the social, spiritual and political fabric of Israel that was present and very real by the time David rose to power.  It was the work of a Master Builder.  It was a structure that would last for a hundred years or so as he built it, and vestiges of which would survive for centuries.

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There is a trail of Samuel’s actions that reaches us even today.

On these vaguely substantial grounds, our estimations bring us to the conclusion that when the visit of the elders occurred as recorded in 1 Samuel 8, Samuel was, by standards of the day, extremely aged.  Eighty or so years old would be my minimal suggestion. Other men in scripture, even David, with his prematurely aged constitution at age seventy, was not questioned about his ability to rule as Samuel was. This fact constrains me to opine that Samuel was way over the seventy years of age when they gathered to him.

It is this writer’s suggestion that, the fact that the people came to him and made the detrimental point of his age infers that, to their mind, it seemed Samuel could soon die.  He looked outwardly as if he was on the cusp of death. Little did they know!

The man was revered and treasured as the greatest asset the state of Israel had.  They gathered around him at Ramah, or, at least, the tribal leaders and elders did.

So the narrative we are now examining has jumped on in one great leap to the prophet’s old age.  Of his marriage, family life, and Samuel’s gathering to himself the many dimensions of national affection, for which such a nature as his must have truly been beautifully fitted, we know nothing. The only hint we have, really is in the naming of two of his son’s

In the same spirit of godliness with which he called a place Ebenezer, Samuel named his firstborn son Joel, i.e. “Yahweh is God.”  This must have been as a protest against the idolatry with which Israel had been infected and polluted.

Samuel called his second son Abiah; interpreted as “Yahweh is Father.” These two names ought to give us admiring and gentle regard, as we have within them hints of the ethos of Samuel’s family life.  Yahweh conceived of as a Father is the biggest demonstration of how ahead of his day, in divine revelation Samuel was.  He was, in a sense, a millennium before his time. Samuel spent his life tasting the powers of the world to come. He was living in New Testament grace more than a millennium before the days of the New Testament were to arrive.

Both sons were intended by their father to be living lights of God’s character and Lordship.  With such a man for their father as Samuel, and carrying in the very singularity of their names the marks of their high designation as plainly as a Brahmin monk carries the marks of his caste, we might have expected that they felt a restraint from sin, and an inspiration to righteousness and holiness, making them worthy, at least of their father and grandmother. The grandsons of Hannah, and the sons of Samuel, Joel and Abiah one would have thought to have been like Timothy, whose “unfeigned faith dwelt first in his grandmother Lois, and his mother Eunice.” Alas for Samuel – it was not so. The impact of Samuel’s sons lack of character was to be the cause of a nationally held feeling that was to change the entire course of Israeli history. And oh! How this was to grieve Samuel! Just as Eli’s sons had changed the course of Israel’s story, so had Samuel’s sons.

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The People Demand that Samuel gives them a King.

There was undoubtedly a regular sacrificial feast at Ramah. The story we are about to recount was possibly at one of the Passovers of Samuel’s day that was remembered generations later for their size of attending numbers.

Civic judiciary issues would have been completed.  Political soundness was surely affirmed by tribal reports.  And all would have been updated on their relationships with the surrounding nations.  The Philistines, the Amorites, the Amalekites and all the surrounding peoples, of which there were a few, were all kept in peaceful continueum during Samuel’s day, i.e. while Samuel was in charge, prior to any change of leadership.  All was satisfactory.

Well; almost!

There was one problem that had started a rift amongst sections of the tribal masses, and it had filtered back to the leaders. The elders of Israel were gathered around Samuel when the sensitive subject was broached.

It seems Samuel had nurtured that laudable desire to see his sons follow in his sandals.  Samuel took a step that I cannot find elsewhere in the biblical account, i.e. a man appointing another man as judge. This seems to me as being against the principle of the raising of all the other judges that are described up to the days of which we are talking. However, no one cried, “Favouritism!”  Nepotism through the ages, and in all cultures has always been one of the grossest scandals of not a few high functionaries.  Samuel, however, was never accused of bias by any of the people when he appointed his offspring as Judges of the people. They were welcomed. Surely coming from the stock of Samuel they must have grown up with their father as a model!  Perhaps there is a sinister inference when the bible tells us that they judged at Beersheba.  This town was the most southerly point of civilisation in Israel.

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Did Samuel send them to this outpost to keep them out of harm’s way?  If so, that would  suggest that he would have wanted them away from the vicinity of Ramah so that people could not compare them with their father so readily.

Or did the sons choose to go to Beersheba?  If they did, why so far away?  Beersheba is some forty seven miles from Ramah.

And why should the two of them remain together?

I would imagine that if the account had told us they were good judges, and a chip of their father’s block, we would have concluded that they were together to strengthen each other.  As the narrative tells us that they were nowhere as upright as their Dad, the deduction is that they stayed together to strengthen themselves in any unrighteousness they might want to get up to.

The Eli syndrome, that is, the inability to control and bring two sons into line was, somehow, sadly repeated in Samuel’s life.

The best of people sometimes meet with the bitterest disappointment.  The conduct of Samuel’s sons disappointed a father’s heart and troubled the land of Israel, as well as their contemporary generation, and potentially those of the future.

As Samuel ripened into what would normally be considered in the twenty-first century, “retirement age,” his sons were proving unworthy successors. The people looked with increasing apprehension to an uncertain future.  If anything happened to Samuel, the nation would be left with the burden of his sons expecting to succeed their father in leadership roles. This draws our attention to the remarkable, but universally proven fact, that grace and noble motive are not hereditary. The depth and breadth of such characteristics are always and forever a matter of choice. Entropy does not make a child of any saint, a succeeding saint.

We have to say that we are not talking of the mere human need of Samuel for his sons to live up to their great father’s name.  Neither are we simply discussing a character weakness with maladministration, or inability in dealing with human relationships.  That would have been something easily adapted for and coped with.  We are talking of corruption of the worst kind. The sin of Samuel’s sons brought swiftly on, a subtle, but incredibly toxic national crisis, and it took on several aspects.

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Bribes and Filthy Lucre are what Samuel’s sons were getting whilst judging at Beersheba.

Firstly, Joel and Abiah did not walk in their father’s ways of integrity. When we witness Eli’s softness and incapacity for command, we do not wonder at his son’s going astray.  But Samuel was so firm, yet generous withal, that it indicated great depravity in his sons to abuse the example of their father’s spotless life. Their behaviour tends to show that what they learnt at home was not soundly rooted in their hearts.  Their history leads us rather to think that their sins were such as might not reveal themselves until the public life of judging in Beersheba came about.  The private lives of Joel and Abiah may not have given opportunity for the grave sins that marked their judicial position.  Hence, when they left the sacred enclosures of the domestic circle at Ramah, they had no principle of restraint from within the heart.

Secondly “they turned aside after lucre and took bribes.”  This is the breaking of the one major qualification that Moses put on a Judge’s character (Exodus 18:21). The sin of Eli’s sons was unchastity, that of Samuel’s sons was covetousness.  It really is astonishing how quickly the sin of covetousness perverts the moral faculties.  The man who dims the light of the lamp that was kindled in heaven, has already precipitated his own fall.

Thirdly they “perverted judgment.”  Their decision was not what the law of God, or conscience demanded, but what they were best bribed and rewarded to decree. “He that justifies the wicked and he that condemns the just, even they both are an abomination to the Lord”  (Proverbs 17:15). There is nothing that distresses a parent more than the misconduct of a son.  It was the grief of Isaac with both Jacob and Esau. It made many of Jacob’s years a morbid sorrow. It was Aaron’s trial also.  It was Eli’s calamity.  It was, horribly, David’s sorest wounding. The weak link of the characters of these people’s offspring was  conceivably that may not have had to bear the strain of character temptation while at home surrounded by Mum, Dad and helpers.  Life tested them on their weak side.  They yielded when the pressure came. And what the sowed, they reaped. In fact others reaped the horrors of their sowing.

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This is the sign at the supposed site where Moses stood to see the promised land. It’s on Mount Nebo. I do not think this sign was there for Moses to read.

Churches, Nations and official requirements would sidestep this error if offices were filled with men whose fitness had been proved by prolonged and intensive competitiveness in the area of character. It is that which is required for the post for which they aspire, as well as the post immediately above the one they occupy.  Good character should be the basic and majority requirement. Monopolies of such a high office as judge, whether corporate or individual, should be watched by the public to maintain the rights and safety of the same.

So with the wearisome opinion of the masses having been laid on the national elders, we return back to the Dramatis Personae of the brief script that changed the world and brought deep heartache to Samuel, as well as God Himself.

There was the prophet himself, playing the lead role. There were the elders of Israel, whoever they might be and in whatever numbers they might array themselves. We have Samuel’s two erring sons referred to but never actually brought into the scene by necessity.  And perhaps the least free agent of all, a handsome tall youth who went by the name of Saul Ben Kish. Although, like Samuel’s two sons, we do not see the whites of his eyes yet, in this chapter.

Over a meal, or while they were in the “parliament” of elders, they would get around to discussing the future of the nation. Direction and far sighted policy are always the strength of godly strategy. More of the God’s kingdom is built around the dining table than can be humanly measured.

“Behold, you are old”! Says one.  Is this a rod of esteem, or insult?  More likely the latter. “Your sons do not walk in your ways”, says another.  Was this news to Samuel?  Or were they repeating what he already knew. Whatever! Even with the most Christlike constitution and ripely developed Godliness of Samuel, the venom in the opening remarks could not have endeared the speakers to the elderly prophet,

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The sign at Beersheba. The place where Abiah and Joel let themselves down.

“Now make us a king to judge us like all the other nations.” Ah!  Whatever else was on the agenda, this minute of the meeting was to be noted for thousands of years afterwards as a watershed in bad decision making and world affairs.  God Himself has not noted any other item on their programme of that day.

However, do you see what I see? Imagine the nobility, the stature, the very kingliness they all saw and credited Samuel with, when they ask him to, “make us a king.” Surely he who makes kings is higher than the king whom he is invited to “make.” This shameful moment of faithlessness to the covenant of Yahweh, has this one glorious spark of revelation in their foolish talk. Samuel was more kingly than a king. Viva la Samuel! Oh mighty man! I daily as my Almighty God to endow me with some of what you had.

To secure a possible constitutional concession, they adopt manners and methods full of insult and ingratitude to Samuel, and sacrilege and impiety toward God.  The political blunder as well as religious crime, of the Israelites was in charging their basic social complaint, not so much upon corrupt magistrates and popular lawlessness, but on their national constitution.

Decline in theocratic belief and life was ever the one sign of weakness in the Israelite commonwealth, and the one and only dissolver of their otherwise impregnable security.  Their liberties were invincible against internal or external foes so long as they were faithful to inspired covenant morality as they were under Samuel’s leadership. But sadly, apostasy ever made them vulnerable, and ultimately exposed their national life to a deadly wound.  This prayer for a king was incipient apostasy (Psalm 118:9), and it exposed them to bondage under the prince of this world.  This prayer for a king was the outburst of an hereditary vice. This was a rejection of the sovereignty of God. It was practical idolatry.

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Beersheba

The original government of the world designed by God was neither a monarchy, an aristocracy, nor a republic or democracy.  None of them are compatible with the individual sovereignty bestowed in the creation of man.  But the Israelite Theocracy was above the ethical culture of the people, too sublime for the moral education of their children.  The large personable liberty conferred by the Mosaic constitution degenerated into social lawlessness and weak administration. Foreign spiritual infidelity penetrated and corrupted the religious beliefs and national manners of the people.  The moral status of Israel was unworthy of the free government that God had given them.  Perpetual spiritual unity under the direct sovereignty of God was more possible than under a human dynasty.  Scepticism and infidelity are the sure signs of mental and moral degeneracy in any civilisation.

Centralised government, with power in the hands of a strong leader who could act quickly and decisively against their enemies, seemed to many to be the only reasonable way out.  They aimed at a centralisation of power that would combine the tribes for defensive purposes. In their unbelief they perceived that there could be no successor to Samuel. Even though their most recent history had case after case of God raising up the right person for the right time (i.e. read the book of Judges), they could not envisage a likely successor.  They believed Samuel’s sons might make claim for their father’s role after his demise. This had never happened with any Judge previously. Why should it happen now? Perhaps they thought it might happen  simply because Samuel had already given his two sons room to manouvre? Perhaps they remembered Eli’s sons marching to meet the Philistines with the Ark of the Covenant on their shoulders and 34,000 sons of Israel dying in two battles. Could there be some kind of diabolical repetition?  Thus, they built their case against the status quo. “Make us a King,” they demanded.

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The elders of Israel, outwardly, had an argument.  But it was in reality asserted from a frivolous pretext, namely Samuel’s age, and his two son’s naughtiness.  They were genuinely concerned for the nation.  They saw the two sons of Samuel going astray from their father’s lifestyle.  They came to the man when he was old, and told him of the apostasy of his sons.  If ever men had a simple straight-forward common sense case, the Israeli elders had one.  What was woefully wrong was their decision to remedy the renegade judges. Why not just ask Samuel to “sack” them? Samuel would have asked God for the way forward.

Their legal application was unjust to Samuel, short-sighted in vision, and reactionary to a negative scenario beyond their understanding.  It was influential, because, from the biblical text, it seems to have been unanimously made.

No man likes to see his entire life’s work disregarded, and his wisdom thrown away ruthlessly. Young activity and youthful revolution must have been very distasteful to old Samuel. It was something he saw in Hophni and Phinehas, but never entered into himself. We shall be, however, as was Samuel, most mighty when we are most yielding.

It was with the wish to resemble other nations; they asked Samuel to make them a king.  They were “dazzled” says John Henry Newman, “with the pomp and splendour of the heathen monarchs around them, and they desired someone to fight their battles for them, some visible succour to depend on, instead of having to wait for an invisible Providence which would come in its own way and its own time.” The kings around them?  There was Agag the Amalekite!  There were five Philistine Lords!  There was Nahash king of the Amorites!  They had seen their splendour when confronting these nations in battle.  There was the great splendour of the Egyptian Pharaohs that they would have glimpsed at times.  Could one believe it? The elders of Israel actually envied the heathen states that surrounded them. But the heathen had idols and false gods! Israel had Almighty Yahweh! What was going on?

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They would have, “Soldier-Kings”, and they intended to get their wish.  But, in retrospect, on our part, how few of them were better than Joel and Abiah, or even superior to Hophni and Phinehas. And from the first to the last of them – which of them, including David, were fit to unloose Samuel’s sandals?

The sad truth is that from the first, the God governed commonwealth that was associated with such names as Moses and Samuel was a conception of political and social order that the people of Israel never cared to appreciate.  This very demand of the people had been foreseen and publicly predicted three hundred years previous to this moment in time by Moses.  And yet, this whole proceeding was, at the moment of time that they approached Samuel, wrong.  It was premature and hasty.  It was conducted without reference to the overruling will of Yahweh.

God’s providence does not constrain any man’s iniquity.  Foreordination in this respect has nothing whatsoever to do with free-will.  When Gideon at God’s call lead them to victory, the only use of that victory they made was to atheistically ask Gideon to rule over them, “and your son, and your son’s son also”, they called.  Gideon’s answer: “I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you, the Lord shall rule over you.” How wise was Gideon there. How perceptive was he, and how consistent was he with the covenant with Yahweh.

Both Abraham (Genesis 17:7-16) and Jacob (Genesis 35:11) had been promised that they would be fathers of kings.  Moses had anticipated their clamour for a king in his final address (Deuteronomy 17:14-20) The idea of royalty was a true conception of Messiah, but it was clearly wrong when the call for a human monarch came, because the request was made by forgetting their covenant relationship with God.  It is this that I believe upset Samuel so much.  They wanted to legislate for happiness and contentment without the reformation of their hearts. They looked to receive from written  legislation what only comes from righteous living.  Almost every time there was a corporate or national sin in Israel, there was some neglect of the covenanted relationship.

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It is true to say in this case that Soldier-Kings and soldiering nationalities held together by the sword are not God’s preferred agencies, rather they are his penalties.  But having made that point, we also must state that the divine order is not in favour of any one form of government.  Political forms are means not ends.  Stable governments are growths, not manufactured forms. When King Murat demanded of Lord Holland to make him a constitution, the wise statesman replied “you might as well ask me to build you a tree.”  All righteous government should aim for general virtue and intelligence in the governed.  All government systems must develope!  What would become of some undemocratic countries if they were forced to change immediately?  The Divine order is not committed to any standard statement of economic prosperity.  The Divine order is committed eternally to righteousness.  There is many an enriching serendipity that flows from Godly living.  This was the constant cry of the prophets.  There was a greater need to depend on God to save them from the system that they were now clawing for.

The history of the human race is one constant record of the accommodation of the Divine ideal to human frailty.  Never was there a narrative that proved so convincingly that each age exerts a very considerable influence on that which follows it.  The degeneracy of communities, it must not be forgotten, is after all, the degeneracy of individuals in multiplication and in unity of misplaced motives.  From where did these elders of Israel sat around Samuel learn their low esteem of God, but from those that went before them?  They lived and chose a pathway for a future age, and virtually had the character of all their descendants in their hands, even though the future generations had their own choices and decision to make.

With all these thoughts, Samuel was displeased at the request of these nationally revered figures.  The man of God was against a monarch for many reasons.  First of all, the same logic they used to have a king, was possibly the same logic that militated against a king, i.e. corrupt sons in succeeding generations.  We can scarcely imagine the feeling of Samuel as he listens to their uttered desire. He is alone. The companions of his youth are gone. He is sad, the younger end of the adult nation of the day has no sympathies with his grief, but is striving to sever the old man from the last tie that binds him to his boyhood, namely his delight and manly leadership for the covenantal Theocracy. “Samuel we want a king because your sons are not like you!” But what are they going to do when they have a good king whose son’s are not like him? The fallacy of their logic screams loudly against their shortsightedness.

It was an affront to Samuel, and he resented it personally. We know that is true, simply because of what God said to him. Samuel told the Lord.  To him prayer was a kind of breathing process. It was ready and as spontaneous as any love and committed relationship is.  Samuel turned towards the elders of Israel, heard their story, and then turned his face about and told God concerning the whole thing, although undoubtedly not while in their presence.  This was Samuel’s lifestyle and practise, and it made his words weighty and cautious.  He must be a high and Great Spirit that undertakes to serve the people in body and soul, for he suffers the worst danger of unthankfulness and being taken for granted, and ever rejected.  Samuel was, indeed, of a high and great spirit.  Nobody rejects a prophet of God, who faithfully performs his function, until he has truly first rejected God.

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Samuel saw what we would call the fact of the case.  God saw the truth of it.  Many cannot distinguish between fact and truth.  Fact is the thing done, the thing visible.  Truth underlies the fact of a thing.  The fact was that the Israelite elders imagined that their temporal aggrandisement would be to their advantage; that a king, and pompous sycophantic retinue behind him, would greatly enhance their importance, their status and their destiny.

The Lord explained the case to Samuel; “They are only making a tool of you; you have become to them a mere convenience, or as it were a scapegoat.  They profess to be concerned about the spiritual decision of your sons, but in reality they do not care a single pin point about them.  They are simply glad to be able to seize onto any issue to colour and shade their case”.  What an explanation that is!  That means that the character of his own, precious two sons is nothing to do with the catastrophe. That relieves the trauma on Samuel’s heart concerning rejection because of his sons, or his age.  How kind is Yahweh. How truthful is Yahweh. So there are two kinds of judgment of the case in the world.  Man makes his case and gives his reason.  That’s the fact, and purported “truth”.  God comes with the explanation.  Now that is the truth.

Israel’s request was granted, but at the same time the people were earnestly warned of their error.  The truth is of course, that no earthly advantage can give peace to the soul or secure its bliss without the sanction and blessing of God Himself. Rejecting Divine Providence is rejecting Divine government, and forfeiting a measure of Divine favour.  Samuel acted in this crisis as a true man of God.  He did not selfishly appeal to the forbearance of the people. He did not vent his grief in ungovernable rage, but calmly asked the aid of heaven.  He received Divine permission on their behalf, together with a Divine protestation.

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Samuel warned them of the future possible abuses if a king was appointed.  He was foretelling that they would have a king with a despotic character.  A boy never had a knife without wanting to cut something with it, and as likely as not something that did not need cutting.  So too, a nation or a military caste never has a big gun, without wanting to shoot it, and more likely than not, it will be fired at something or someone that did not need shooting at.

The judgeship of Samuel was the rule of right, and knowledge and regard, above all things, to the ends that God had in view, namely the covenant between the nation of Israel and Himself. The “soldier-king” request was the, demonstrative rule of the strong hand; the elders that came to Samuel would have had the chief gain.  The people also would have been glad for the outward appearance of respectability and a dignified king.  In a nutshell, this personal trouble was intimately connected with amore overwhelming one, i.e. the disaffection and the spiritual lack of the people.

When about to frame the Tabernacle in the wilderness, Moses was specially instructed by God to make it after the pattern which had been shown him in the holy mountain.  When Jeremiah was set apart to the prophetic office for which he confessed himself unfit, God said, “You should go to all that I will send you, and whatsoever I command you that shall you speak (Jeremiah 2:7). The rule with respect to the preacher of the gospel is after a similar form; “If any man speak let him speak as the oracles of God” (1Peter 4:11).  “It is required of stewards that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).  Full spiritual fidelity and integrity is the full declaration of the word of God to the conscience of men around. “Who is a true and faithful witness”? Asked Latimer.  “He is true, he is faithful, that looks for no new money, but seeks it ready coined of the good man of the house; and neither changes it nor clips it”.

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“And Samuel told all the words of the Lord until the people.”  Samuel did not tell the people what a king ought to be – that was told in the Law of Moses – but he told them what he would be like.

We are discussing political transition here.  The reaction of the human thought of Israel is both sudden in its nature, and extreme in its tendency.  This impetus of change sweeps down upon the soul with such power that it reels for a time, is then caught by the current and carried contrary to the intention of his calmer moments.  Thus, as we gaze upon the picture, our wonder is excited that a people so seemingly strong, at least in their outward respect for things Divine or spiritual, should now conspire to dethrone their authority by establishing the human in His place.

This king they ask for would disregard life’s dearest relationships.  He would sever families from their sons.  This king they desire would initiate arbitrary distribution of property.  This king for which they are in uproar, would impose several burdens of service.

How bitterly the nation, especially in the glory days of Solomon, felt the pressure of the royal yoke so truly predicted by the last Judge, is shown in the history of the times which followed the death of Solomon. The public discontent at the brilliant but despotic rule of Solomon split the nation into two.  God was hereby announcing his withdrawal of Divine sympathy for the perpetrators of this error.  But as present desire pushes unrelentingly on the sceptical minds of the people of Israel, future repercussions seem ethereally unreal.  They in their error perceive Samuel to be feeble with the cares of the nation, and the unworthiness of his offspring Joel and Abiah increased the popular discontent.

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Sir William Temple once said: “ Restlessness in men’s minds to be something that they are not ,and to own something that they have not, is the root of all immorality”.

Note the awful power that restless impulses hold to disturb a national peace in this manner.  It was rooted in a base ingratitude of their collective life towards God and Samuel. You must bear in mind also, as this narrative proceeds, that wilful disobedience, continuously repeated becomes settled rebellion.  The answer that Samuel received from God reminded him that this was not a new case of sudden refusal of the Divine sovereignty.  Israel had actually got into the habit of it. Things apparently innocent are often made the baleful occasion, sometimes even the instrument, of a violent outbreak of unrighteously motivated sin.  They infect innocent matter with their own venom.  Human prayers so expressed, are met with a Divine protest.

The spirit and unworthiness of the movement may be seen in this – that they asked no counsel from Samuel or the Lord.  “Nay but we will have a king to rule over us.”  Observe how man can have his way.  There is a point at which even God withdraws from the contest.  “My spirit will not always strive with men.”  Samuel was not too old for service.  He continued actively and constructively to the nation for possibly twenty or thirty years more.  The wayward people, however, whom the elders represented, were apparently tired of his administration

Oh the need of people in sin for ease!  If there is a ghastly cross in the way, hew it down. “Anybody would think God wants us to deny ourselves! There is a way around it, over it, under it, but just make sure we avoid it!”

When a man is intelligent, and his conscience tells him that God is not exactly granting, but only permitting his prayer, is it really best for him to persevere in it in the confident hope that courage will carry him through into safety? I think not.

The folly as well as the sin of the project is further seen from remembering that God had chosen them to be alone and the guide of all the nations; but their self degraded demand was to be just the same as the other nations.

It is evident from the recorded history that the pernicious influence of international rivalry was at work among the elders of Israel – rivalry that is – in what is the best way to make war.

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When going out to battle and in daily interaction with the other races they saw the kings and their retinue. The people of Israel saw only the magnificence, not the indulgent luxury. They saw the dignity, but not the expense. They saw the monarchical power, but not the oppression of the people.  They were willing to run before a royal chariot – that would be no slavery, they thought. They would enlist in an army – that would be no yoke.  They would give the best to a Hebrew king – that would be no sacrifice.  They will have their desire, though it prove to be their ruin.  There is always personal danger from the indulgence of wrong motives and from the eager pursuit of sin.

Present decision, therefore, to be right with God at the present, is an imperative demand, as it is the guarantee of any future blessing.  Faithful as Samuel was to the people in declaring the words of God, he is none the less so in rehearsing the words of the people to God.  The decided indication of the “popular will” does not alter Samuel’s views, or tempt him to depart from God.  He can go back to the presence of God with the same uprightness as he had come from that sacred place.  He acted as the agent, of Yahweh.  He was always willing to abide by the Divine decision.

The revolution, no matter how quietly it was accomplished, was important and permanent. The introduction of a new instrument under the theocracy, forever separated any man’s prophetic office from the civil government.  Henceforth in Israel’s history the prophets and the governmental personnel are ever distinct as to office, and often antagonistic as to policy. A freer people – from the Exodus to the birth of the reign of Saul – were never known. God Himself was their king throughout those days.

The history of the world cannot produce another instance in which a public determination was formed to appoint a monarch, and yet no one proposed either himself or any other person to be a king, but referred the determination entirely to Yahweh, via a man of God, on this occasion, Samuel. It sounds righteous when one describes it with those words, but oh, how evil and damaging it was.

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Categories: 1 Samuel 8 verses 1 - 22, Don't confuse them with the facts, The People know what they want | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More Troops Than You Can Count? More Like: More Troops Than You Can See.

MORE TROOPS THAN YOU CAN COUNT?  MORE LIKE: MORE TROOPS THAN YOU CAN SEE.

Relax and let the angels take the strain.

(1 Samuel 7:6–12)

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Elisha saw more angels than human soldiers (2 Kings 6)

For something like a quarter of a century Samuel had been the principle personage among the people of Israel, and had, no doubt, long exercised the varied functions of a Judge of the nation of Israel.  But their tribes were scattered and broken, many of their fortresses were under the jackboot (as it were . . . sandals really!) of their enemies. There was scarcely any communal national life per se in the existence of the multiple tribal identity 0t the one nation.  In this, the first general assembling of Israel for several generations, the first public acknowledgement of Samuel’s towering character of leadership and authority was finally enacted.  Together, en masse, he, alone, was postured by the unanimous Israeli national will in a leadership frame of reference.

The inter tribal unity was at its highest level since they had entered the Promised Land prior to the days of the book of Judges. Some reckon that to be more than 400 years previous. For the moment their parochial self interest was abandoned for the national good.  Not that all jealousies were dropped.  There are several times in the days of Saul, and later in the days of David and Solomon where the northern tribes continually show their displeasure at the favour granted to Judah and the southernmost tribes (Benjamin and Simeon) as opposed to the northern peoples.  This inferiority complex or “North-South divide” existed until both the Hebrew kingdoms of Israel and Judah were exiled, something like five hundred years after the day of which we are now speaking. This residue of hate was never cleansed from the barrel of the cosmos that was Israel, even in Samuel’s day. However, Samuel’s strength of character and purposeful input into the various tribes must have repressed all outward expressions for a while.

The anti-Judah jealousy was probably still existent in spite of Samuel’s strength, in as much as he spent his life in Benjamin and Ephraim. His circuit was in the same area, and only once do we actually have word of his travelling further north, and that was because enemy forces drew him there while our prophet was chaperoning Saul on his early monarchical prerogatives.

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With a new God consciousness, and without the intemperate ideas of the idols and the licentious acts of worship that the priests of such false deities demanded, Israel came innocently and unarmed to a simple worship gathering at Mizpah, called and convened by Samuel himself. This in itself was an act of repentance.  It was a total abandonment of all the things the Canaanites loved most, especially the Philistines, namely armed violence and pillaging.  After twenty years of toil, Samuel had actually opened the eyes of the covenant people as to why they had suffered so much misfortune.  Without any weapons of war, they congregated to worship. With no idols to hinder their prayer, the convocation of the masses commenced.  The abandoned false gods represented the productive power of nature.  They were generally worshipped with a wild and wanton devotion.  Now they commenced their worship by pouring out water in the sand, although, it does not say Samuel did so.  Did the people act apart from his instructions?   It must be conceded that it was a brand new tradition typical of Samuel’s creativity.

The King James Bible suggests that all the people gathered water and poured it out before God, enacted with fasted hungry bellies, saying, “We have sinned against the Lord.”  They were thus enacting their spiritual posture that owned themselves as water, poured and soaked into the sands of time which cannot, under any circumstances, be re-gathered.

The seventh chapter of John’s gospel tells of a major ceremony that was conducted on an annual basis in the temple at Jerusalem, where the very same pouring of water took place.  The event was such a major one that drains and conduits were awkwardly put into place  within the Temple area simply to facilitate the procedure.  Reasoning from the King James Bible,this striking action which drew forth Jesus cry, “If any man thirst let him come to me and drink,”  seems to voice the same meaning as what happened at Mizpah that day. The nation of Israel was unified in seeking heavenly refreshment.

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The Chaldean version of the same verse reads: “They gathered together and poured out their hearts like water in repentance before the Lord.”

It is still exciting to contemplate.  The fasting and the actions, whichever is the truest interpretation (and why not both?) brought them into a place of righteous standing with Yahweh.  God accounts faith as righteousness to people, and has always done so.

After a day’s active repentance, the bible says that Samuel judged them there, in Mizpah.  His judgement was undoubtedly on things spiritual as well as temporal. Things religious as well as civil.  Things criminal as well as things concerning the people’s walk with God.  He was, to them, the embodiment of the expressed word and wisdom of God, and they acknowledged him as such.

There would be times when he sat to hear their cases.  There would be times when he rose to address them. “He judged them.”  The vast congregation would have gathered around the man as he arose to address them. He had led them ad hoc for twenty years, but now he was THE leader, acknowledged, exalted and followed by all. It was official in the hearts of the people, although there was no written contract of role. Samuel took responsibility as and when he was required to.

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Angels met the shepherds when Christ was born.

Samuel would have assured them in God’s name of the pardon of the nation’s sin upon their repentance, and that Yahweh was reconciled to them. It was a judgment of absolution.  Whereas before he acted only as a prophet, now he began to act as a magistrate, to prevent their relapsing into those sins which they had lately renounced. It must not be forgotten that he was also of the tribe of Levi – and therefore was a legitimate priest.

Picture the sheep as they gather needfully around their shepherd.  See the man Samuel at his full stature. This was true spirituality in a haven like context far from the violence and murderous war like disposition of the surrounding populations.

However, while these days of national corrective assessment were taking place, there was a severe rumbling in the valleys immediately beyond Mizpah.

The Philistine war lords were listening to their spies and their counsellors.  To them it seemed that revolution and warfare were in the air.  The economy of the Philistine cities had taken a turn for the worse.  The intermingling with the Israeli people at the shrines had decidedly decreased, and well nigh ceased.  There was news in the Philistine Five Cities of idols being burnt and shrines being neglected or destroyed amongst the people of Israel.  The breaking down of the idol memorials would have been seen, at the very least, as a revolution. “You burn our gods and idols? You obviously are planning war!” This would have been the conclusions arrived at by all the uncircumcised, heathen nations and peoples that were still living among them in Israel’s promised land. And now to confirm all their worst nightmares and fears, the entire nation of the Israeli tribes had met at Mizpah.

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Elijah and the chariot of fire. A painting by Emerson Farrell.

There is really only one conclusion a war minded cynical idolatrous heathen could arrive at.  This so called “religious meeting” at Mizpah was undoubtedly a rallying point for inciting war.  They were beseeching Yahweh to aid them to defeat the Philistine ranks, and any other ranks about them. There could not be any other explanation, given the understood Philistine Paradigm.

To an idolatrous mind, and to someone who tenaciously clung to the concept of a national god who fought only for the nation who owned it, it was a call to arms for the Philistines. The five Philistine kings would have taken heart that Yahweh “obviously” had his weak point, as they had defeated the Israelis twenty years earlier at Aphek, and had stolen the Ark of the covenant. The Philistine priests had experienced the power of Yahweh, and for that reason they had returned the Ark to the Hebrews, but to ensure that there would be no national resurgence of religious fervour, they had razed Shiloh to the ground.

By the normal theology of the nations round about Israel at that time, it was a sure sign that Israel’s God could not help them.  If the Ark and the tent were not being utilised for national worship, then to their mind, Yahweh could not be appeased, and therefore they would be at a great advantage on the battlefield. With all these deliberations assuring them of victory, at least to their heathen satisfaction, they set out to finish the Israelis off whilst they were still bowing the knee in prayer at Mizpah.

When the Hebrew sentries on the fringe of the incredibly large gathering looked down the valleys and saw the dark shadow of Philistine forces moving across the green land toward them, they were absolutely petrified.

The brief, minimal language of the bible cannot hide the tension and the terror that gripped them all.  Naturally speaking, they were without a chance.

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“Let all the angels of God worship Him.” Hebrews 1

However, in the midst of the fearful screams the reality of their spiritual renewal surfaced and dominated their thinking.

They dared to ask for the seemingly ridiculous; an invasive, intrusive miracle.

The unarmed and mostly untrained people shouted together asking Samuel to pray for them. “Isn’t Samuel equal to Moses, or Joshua?”  Why not make such a request?  Picture the panic!  See the screaming society of farmers hallucinate on the horror of their terror! They had not been to war for twenty years.  After all 34,000 soldiers who were lost in a couple of battles with the Philistines so many years earlier had knocked the life out of Israel, as well as the desire to fight even for their land. Too many families had lost too many loved ones. They had arrived at Mizpah with their wives and children with nothing but the picnics and clothes they stood up in. They had gathered for spiritual warfare, not physical battles. They had nothing but their prayers, tears and repentance to fight with. But always remember that repentance and faith are surely the most powerful weapons in the whole of the cosmos. Their new spiritual posture was proven to be properly rooted, as they remembered the old days of Moses and Joshua. And so, with no other option, apart from running for their lives of course, they, as one man asked Samuel to pray.

Never could an injurious attack have been more in season.  Never were Israel better prepared to receive their enemy.  Samuel was never perceived as a military man, nor as a mighty man of valour in the, “Stand up and fight with your sword,” interpretation of that phrase, yet they asked for his help. However, Samuel was a mighty man of valour in a different battlefield than that of Aphek or Socoh. Samuel had a different kind of sword with which to decapitate Israel’s enemies. The prophet had a different army to mobilise.

From the heights of Mizpah they could see the Philistines approaching.

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Samuel acts without a word. God must act  here and now in miraculous power and glory, or this is the end of Israel as well as their prophet. He quickly sacrifices a single suckling lamb. It was a burnt offering, i.e. nothing eaten or reserved for human benefit. Totally God’s.  The entire animal.  One instead of hundreds – for it was the heart that God looks at, not the amount of blood that was shed.

One cannot but feel the urgency in Samuel’s actions.  He sacrifices the lamb and screams aloud in prayer. The thing seems to have been done hurriedly.  Time was short.  Death was near approaching in the cloud of the Philistine war whoops.  The rites and practices imposed by the law could not be followed to the letter here, there was nothing like enough time.  Perhaps the fact that Samuel only offered one lamb was for no other reason than the shortage of time that they had.  The Philistines were almost upon them.

He was a Levite, not an Aaronic descendent to act as High Priest.  He was, however, raised as a prophet.  And thus, because of the uniqueness of his calling, and the tenderness of his heart towards the Almighty, God Himself sidesteps the formalities of the law. The moment was unique and extraordinary.

At the moment of the sacrifice God blew, and then overthrew.  As Samuel prayed, and while the smoke of the sacrifice was still ascending, the first line of the Philistine storm troopers appeared over the top most slope of Mizpah.  But, at that very moment a terrible portentous hail storm broke out, with earth shaking peals of thunder.

The Philistines immediately felt (to put it mildly) that this change in the weather was not to their benefit. They may have even concluded that it was Yahweh- fighting on Israel’s behalf. If they thought that, they would have been correct. They turned, in great disarray and pandemonium.  The wind blew, and the rain fell, the Philistines flew and many of them also fell.  The men of Israel suddenly understood.  Yahweh of the angel armies was fighting on their behalf. There are those that fight for God, and there are those that God fights for.

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The Angel of the Lord, as William Branham knew him, hovering over his head.

With an awesome resurgence of courage and faith, they all started chasing the enemy as fast and as far as they could.  Israel chased and abased their enemy. As in the battle two decades earlier God had justly chastised the people of Israel with two profane priests carrying the Ark of God on sinful shoulders, so now He graciously accepts their humble dependence on the prayer of faith from the mouth and heart of their pious prophet.

Once more as in the days of old.  The glorious arm of Yahweh fought without need for swords and shields.  The awful storm bursting over the formerly combatant hosts of Philistia, the storm probably beating in the face of the erstwhile advancing armed forces, utterly defeated them.

The children of Israel had started with little hope, if any, but were solely gripped with a great desire for God.  Desire for God is always the better part.  Desire for God is the quintessence of all that creates hope.  The tribes welcomed the squall of bad weather as the answer to the prophet’s prayer, and with wild enthusiasm charged down and broke up the intense ranks of their oppressors, simply by running at them. They were without arms.  Josephus adds to the scene and says there was also an earthquake.

Each crash of thunder, each wild and fresh gust of wind and hail was welcomed by Israel as a fresh onslaught on the part of the unseen army fighting on their side.

The men of Israel that had ran off so suddenly after the Philistine enemy forces were probably not seen for a couple of days at least. Any arms used by Israel were obviously those that were taken from the Philistine cadavers scattered all over Mizpah’s valley and Israel’s extensive plains.

The Philistines were chased as far as an unknown centre of population knows as, “Beth Car.”  Wherever this place is on the map, it is obviously mentioned in order to make the point that the Philistines ran until they could run no more. And The Israelites chased them until there was no one else to chase.

All victories are sweet. But victories against a longstanding foe, on the same field as a previous humiliating slaughter was, dare one use the word in the context of warfare, almost “healing” for the nation.

The sense of release within the people of Israel must have been tremendous.  The consciousness of Divine blessing must have been overwhelming.  The eulogising of Samuel was surely so intense it would have been repeated every night around the camp and house fires until every survivor of that day had passed away.

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Samuel was not, however, fooled into any kind of sense of his own “importance. As we would, by now expect of the man, he quickly instructs the people to set up a monument that would ensure the memory of that day would abide in the psyche of the nation, and strengthen the faith of Israel for generations to come. It was erected on the same field where such a tragic defeat had been inflicted a generation or so earlier. The scene of carnage reversed, now received the name of, “Eben-ezer,” meaning literally,  “The stone of help.”

Samuel announced as they set up the monument, “Hitherto has the Lord helped us.” Somewhere between Mizpah and Shen the stone was placed. I wonder if it is still there.

This was not so much a solitary victory, but the sign of a new spirit in Israel. Samuel fully realised the importance of the day.  Neither Shen – “the Tooth”, nor Mizpah – “the watchtower” have been definitely identified.  The description probably denoted some famous landmark of Samuel’s time.  It was essential for the building of their future.

The man of God knew that every “hitherto” with God has a “henceforth” wrapped around it.

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Categories: 1 Samuel 7 verses 6 – 12, More troops than you can count? More like: More troops than you can see., Relax and let the Angels take the strain | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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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There’s Never a Man of God Around When You Want One.

Samuel emerging? Or Samuel submerging?

(1 Samuel 4:1b–7:2)

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When Eli heard that the Ark had been taken … Oh Dear!!

It started with an historic two or three days of slaughter.  Israel lost the opening battle.  Four thousand men were killed.  Imagine that on the six o clock news!  If four thousand men had died in any encounter in the gulf war or Afghanistan,  there would have been national mourning.  The narrative proves that twenty years after this, Samuel’s prophetic will was consulted on anything major on the national horizon, especially going to war.  But until Eli was gone, and there was nobody else in contention for leadership or judgeship but the young man Samuel, the military leaders tended to do their thing and ignore Eli utterly.  At least,  if  Eli protested, he was ignored.  Samuel, perceived so clearly as waiting in the side aisles as a great forthcoming leader, had not yet arrived, as it were, as the godly decision maker of the Hebrew people.

The Israelite military leaders were not to be put off by this initial trouncing and loss of four thousand men. However, they were more foolish than brave!  Determined to beat off the threat of the Philistines, they sent messengers hastily the twenty four mile trek in a south easterly compass point to Shiloh.  They demanded the presence of the Ark of the Covenant.  They believed, superstitiously and wrongly, that the ark could be used as some kind of talisman – cum – lucky charm to bring defeat to their most dread enemy.  Hophni and Phinehas were the unfortunate guardians of the ark in this context.  So where the ark went whilst on its travels, there were the two sons of Eli.  They probably saw in this venture an opportunity to have their name down in one of the Israeli annals.

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In this picture Eli has fallen and is dead, and in the background it looks like the wife of Phinehas is starting in labour with “Ichabod.”.

The Israelites were hyped up to fever pitch with the Ark’s arrival in camp the following day.  They shouted and partied so loud, it actually put even more backbone into the Philistines.

A second battle ensued.  Israel lost again.  Not only were the survivors humiliated by running all the way back to their homes, but thirty thousand (30,000) died on the battlefield.  We are talking, “Major National Disaster.”  They also lost on the same day, as Jehovah had foretold, Hophni and Phinehas.  To cap it all, the Ark was taken.

When the battle weary Israelite survivors fled to their homes, one Benjamite, traditionally thought by Jewish Rabbi’s to be the man that was later their first King, ran to Shiloh to break the news.  Eli was sat in the city gates, anxious and nervously waiting for the news of the Ark.  The narrative states that he was trembling for the artefact.  It is this line of the text that informs us that they had taken the sacred box to the battlefield against Eli’s will; yet he could do nought to prevent the war lords, or his dastardly sons, doing what they wanted.

As the skeletal story of scripture is told, the picture revealed is startling.  Firstly the soldier ran straight past Eli and into the city to tell the general population.  Why did he do that?  Is it a symbolic suggestion of how Eli was not considered by the populace.  There is uproar in the city as the messenger spreads the news.  Everybody, it seems, knew before the inter regnum High Priest.  Then the soldier returns to Eli as he leaves the city of Shiloh.

“We’ve lost the war, and fled before the Philistines!”  That is extremely bad news.  But Eli sits and waits for more.  I paraphrase.  “There’s a great slaughter!”  Whether or not he knew the numbers is not mentioned.  30K is indeed somewhat of a slaughter, and a national disaster to put it mildly.  But Samuel soaks in the shocks and still waits for more.  “Your sons Hophni and Phinehas are dead!”  Yet again the liquid grief that is thrown at him is absorbed by the sponge of his experience and foreknowledge, given by the word of the Lord. “And the Ark of God is taken!” The prophetic words had hinted at catastrophe and hissing ears, but nothing so earth shattering as this.  With the blasting shock of the messenger’s last remark, Eli fell off his seat backward.  We are then informed that he died with such a fall because, “he was ninety-eight years old and was quite rotund.”  He broke his neck and was taken to wherever God took the righteous dead in the Old Testament days. (That’s another story; so I leave that remark alone for today!)

Strangle!Strangle!Strangle!Strangle!

Too late my friend. 98 year old Eli is dead.

Phinehas’s wife, probably in Shiloh, broke into labour with the news of the death of both her husband and brother in law, and now her father in law.  The child she bore was unfortunately named, “The glory is departed,” or “Ichabod,” with her dying breath.  Catastrophe’s indeed!  And all this in one day.

Sure enough, Jehovah had revealed to Samuel that the ears of anybody who heard the story would hiss, and this is exactly what happened to the old adoptive father of Samuel for those last few seconds before his death.  He knew of shocks coming, like the death of his sons on the same day.  Nothing, however, could have prepared him for the loss of the gold covered box.  National outbreaks of Tinitus set in.

History, as told by archaeological findings, tells us that Shiloh fell, “shortly,” after the taking of the Ark. I rather think it was actually, “on the same day.”  The account in First Samuel omits any remarks about the occurrence itself.  However, Psalm 78:59-64 reads:

God heard it and his anger burned; He deeply abhorred Israel.  He forsook the dwelling at Shiloh, the tabernacle which he had pitched among men; Yes, He delivered His Ark into captivity and its glory into the hand of a foe.  He abandoned His people to the sword and poured His anger on His inheritance.  The fire consumed their young men and their maidens were not serenaded.  The priests fell by the sword and their widows made no mourning. 

Jeremiah also refers to the catastrophe while addressing the goings on in Jerusalem in his generation (7:12, 14-15);

“…then I will make this house like Shiloh, and this city I will make a curse to all the nations of the earth.  Then the prophets seized Jeremiah and said: “You shall surely die!  Why have you prophesied in the Lord’s name saying! This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city will be desolate without an inhabitant.” And the people were gathered around Jeremiah in the Lord’s house.” 

But back to things when they were at the absolute rock bottom for Israel.

For the next seven months Yahweh  himself broke out among the Philistines in powerful judgment.  The Ark was the, “Ark of the covenant.”  It was not to be entertained and held by uncircumcised and non covenantal people.  Disease and more disease, idols bowing down to Yahweh, topped by deep and debilitating fear ravaged the nerve of the nation of the pentapolic nation of giants, and the ark was finally returned with deepened and solidified superstition and a mind boggling fear of God.  Finally, after moving via Beth-Shemesh, a town in southern Israel, the covenant box of the Almighty rested at a village called Kiriath-Jearim.  A man called Abinadab received it into his home.  He set his son Eleazar to guard it.  It was in Abinadab’s front room (where else would you put such an item? The Attic?) for possibly up to a hundred years.  (It may have been removed and then replaced on occasions, for Saul, later, at one time asked to consult the sacred box).

So: where on earth was our hero and prophet  for this, possibly the most dramatic aspect of our narrative?  From the latter part of 4:1 through to 7:3, Samuel is just not mentioned.  Query!

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The Philistines come home to the first church of Dagon to exult in how much greater than Yahweh is their fish freak of a “god.” Little did they know about the line that they had crossed.

What happened while the prophet was on this, “vacation,” was the very catastrophe that ultimately presented Samuel with the opportunity to shine and move in the full stature of his gifting some twenty years later and thereafter.  But where was he all this time?  Did he run?  Was he in hiding?  How come the man was not in high profile prophetic activity while this, the greatest national catastrophe since the plagues of Egypt, was taking place?

Samuel, in the context of our story, is now an adult. He is acknowledged as a prophet.  Although he undoubtedly could have spoken into the nation’s situation and brought a semblance of healing, there is no report of any “Samuelian” input.

Yet again we are reduced to conjecture.  Any of the following ideas are equally possible.  Some have a slightly stronger argument of logic to support them than others.

As a first suggestion he may simply have been ignored.  Yes! He was acknowledged as a prophet, but the state of the people’s hearts in the nation was such that, perhaps, such a realisation did not mean too much to them at the time of the loss of the Ark.  A sort of, “If Samuel is a prophet of God, how come he didn’t speak up and stop the Ark from being stolen?” attitude. It was a spiritually shell shocked people that Samuel was left to deal with.  They had known centuries of decline with the priesthood.  A generation of evil anarchic conduct at the tabernacle by Hophni and Phinehas had developed a breed of Israeli’s that had no concept of Godly and powerful men handling the sacrificial system instituted by God Himself.  Eli had not exactly shown an example of dynamic leadership and farsightedness.  And now all the religious crutches of pomp, ceremony, ancient artefacts and national pride were virtually nonexistent after that fateful, horrific day at Aphek where so many had died along with the missing Ark.  On top of all this, there was thirty-four thousand; leaders of men, and people from all ranks of life missing after the slaughter on the battlefields of Aphek.  So, now all they had was a man – this fellow named Samuel ben Elkanah. “Other nations have systems, temples, national Gods and strong High Priests,” they could have complained, ”Our God doesn’t even fight for us.”  Even as a prospective judge Samuel didn’t fit in to the battling, fighting, field-marshal mode.  Therefore, my hypothesis number one is that Samuel may have been left to grow and develop quietly back in his native Ramah out of the public eye until such a time as, either the nation asked for him, or God told him to stand up and speak. Could be!

Or, secondly, did he just ignore them?  Did Samuel reflect the anger of God as suggested in the biblical quotes concerning the fall of Shiloh above?  Get hold of Samuel’s emotional responses.  Remember the later story of the elders asking for a king and Samuel’s emotional hurt?  Recall the even later account of his feelings when King Saul turned his back on obedience.  Recollect his grief over the state of the nation under a tyrannical Saul, prior to the anointing of David.  This definite, “gift,” of, “feeling as God feels,” and living with such intensity of feeling, was a common experience for Samuel.  It is a common experience of prophets; period (full stop). In such a context it is easily conceivable that God’s anger was such that He refused to speak until the people sought for Him.  Of course the Spirit of God would be hovering and brooding as ever He had been over the covenant people, urging them to draw near.  But such was their coarse evil in taking the Ark into battle with them, and their general lack of spirituality, it may be that God withdrew, through the person of Samuel, to ignore them until repentance was evident.  Consulting God, via Samuel, was not, as yet, on the agenda of the tribal or community leaders. Possible!

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What a coincidence that the first night the ark is in their idolatrous place of worship, The idol itself falls on its face and its joints fall off. I wonder why?

My third hypothesis, of course, is that Samuel was neither ignored, nor ignoring.  Suggestion “nummer drei” is the possibility that after the loss of the ark, the death of Hophni, Phinehas and Eli, and the fall of Shiloh, Samuel was extremely busy, in fact, I suggest he may have been worked off his feet.  For reasons that shall be explained as the story continues it is feasible to discern that though he was undoubtedly ignored immediately prior to the fateful losses at Aphek, he was busy circulating the nation like some travelling evangelist preaching repentance and comfort to all the tribes of Israel.

Of all these suggestions, number three has most to commend itself.  In God’s economy generally, authority must be given, as opposed to taken.  Whatever had been divinely planted in Samuel was not yet physically seen.  The tender plant of Samuel was not yet in full bloom. He was gifted by God, yet not elevated and given position by the people with whom he was in so much favour.  Accepting this hypothesis, we project a more general thesis as to what happened to Samuel throughout this tragic low ebb of Israel’s fortunes.  There are certain accepted facts that serve to frame our conjecture.

I assume, as fact, that Shiloh fell immediately after the taking of the Ark.  The ruins of Shiloh have been found.  The experts pronounce 1050 BC as the date about which it was razed.  This calamity is referred to in one or two points of the bible (see above), but is not explained with words that assist dating. I reckon Shiloh fell the same day, or very soon after Eli had died.

The second fact is that the Philistine’s aggression during this brief period of time won them territory eastward from the coastal plain, almost down to the Jordan. So we observe that the nadir of all Israel’s grief’s was reached with the following series of catastrophic events, both biblical and extra-biblical:  The death of Eli; the annihilation of thousands upon thousands of its bravest sons; the loss of the Ark; the sacking of Shiloh; the taking of its strongest and most strategic military garrison points by the Philistines and the total fulfilment of the Philistine dream, to own the west bank and all between it and the Great Sea (The Mediterranean). Israel was in virtual submission to an idolatrous demonically inspired culture.  All this served to blanket the nation with Humiliation.  It was, indeed, the end of civilisation as Israel knew it at the time.

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And again.

The memory of this moment was never lost throughout the history of the Old Testament.  It is our assertion that at that instant of time, “The Lord awakened”, as one out of sleep, to give them the matured and mentored man of God: Samuel.  Prior to Samuel standing up and taking leadership it seemed that nothing could stop Israel from fading and ultimately being wiped out. There is absolutely no doubt about this national collapse.

But we still have not answered our own question:   Where was Samuel at Israel’s darkest moment?

I believe our man was out and about,“finding” his destiny.

We need to give a rationale as to why we make such a conjecture.  I start with a list of acts.  But I prefix this list showing the palms’ of my hands to the reader saying;  “I have not the faintest idea of the times or chronological order of these events!”  But don’t throw my thoughts away, for nobody else knows either, apart from God Himself.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, Samuel was married.  Somewhere after that, he had children; at least two sons; more than that is guess work.  Again, somewhere in the middle of all this cataclysm and the passing of the years, Samuel moved house.  He flitted back to the area of Ramah and lived there. The book says he lived at Naioth.  “Naioth,” is Hebrew for, “home.”  Jewish notes and writings always refer to, “Naioth,” prefixed with the definite article. It is always, “The Naioth.” It was also around this time also he commenced his school of the prophets, much more of which we shall say later.

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Archaeologists seem to have proven that Dagon was half fish, half man.

God had been gradually conditioning the people and their perception of the man, so that when his moment of destiny would arrive, it would be easy for them to receive him as the God given national chieftain.  As with all the, “end of the world,” cataclysms that took place in the continuum of Israel’s history, it ended as the birth of a wonderful new era.  This particular, “worst ending,” undoubtedly and unarguably prefixed the, “best new beginning.”

The fact is recorded that the Ark of the Covenant was at Abinadab’s  home for nigh on a hundred years, known only to have been removed by Saul for a time.  The first twenty years of this hundred or so years were filled with revival burning in the hearts of the people of Israel.  There is something very touching in this note of two decades.  I have a feeling that we hear Samuel’s own words here.  The unwearied prophet of God found the two decades a wearisome test of his patience; a veritable trial.

The statement immediately following the darkest day in Israel’s history says: “And all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.”  I don’t think its right to suppose that only after twenty years did the nation start seeking God.  I perceive it as a gradual groundswell of people growing in number, fervency and understanding that took two decades to explode into the time when Samuel, “stood to his feet.”  It was indeed a stern time of trial.  These twenty years, however, were essential in the educational maturing of Samuel’s posture and gravitas before God and the people.  Samuel was circuiting the country during these two decades.  If Samuel was not travelling he had others who would do it for him.  I am bound to link Samuel’s activity as a prophet and preacher to the spiritual revival that took twenty years to come to full blossom.  It was two hundred and forty months of underground activity, until it finally broke out as a volcano of godliness throughout the country.

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The history of the Ark of the Covenant from Joshua’s day through to its situation in Solomon’s temple.

The early zeal and dreams of his boyhood were scattered to the wind.  The desolation of Aphek and the sacking of Shiloh had laid Israel submissively under the jack boot of the Nazi like xenophobia of Philistia’s inhabitants.  The oppressors made their presence bitterly felt.  The returned Ark did not suggest the slightest slacking of their grip on the throat of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Taught by the bitter lessons of adversity, it seems to have dawned on Samuel that it was not a Samson, or a Gideon type action, but a national all round thorough grounding in Godliness that would turn the tide of oppression.  Something deep down and wholesome would be needed before the battle cry of the lions of Judah, or the war cry of Ephraim could take place in victory.  Samuel had faith in people personally turning to God en masse.  It was his vision of this sort of battle that made him what he was. Samuel saw, a thousand years before Christ, that the real battle was for the hearts and minds of people to be turned to God.

Whatever else he did, or could have done with his life during these twenty years we are not told.  It is conceived by some that he was a fugitive from “Philistine justice.”  It is thought by some that it was he who is mentioned in Hebrews eleven as, “hiding in the caves,” as he furtively travelled the area teaching and preaching a heavy statement of repentance.  Personally, I cannot perceive of him in hiding with the entire context of First Samuel in mind.  Preaching and teaching I am sure he did, though to what size audiences we cannot say.  Whatever the truth was, gradually their came a spiritual awareness that the nation was sensitive to, and prepared for, by the time that Samuel started speaking to Israel en bloc as a full blown national prophet.  Critical mass had arrived. The bomb was about to explode.

9 Old Jewish men on their usual Sabath walk to the KotelSabbath walk 1

Two elderly Jewish gentlemen taking their regular Sabbath walk to pray at the Kotel. Photo taken in 1935.

“The house of Israel lamented after the Lord.”  The Syriac version suggests that they all flung themselves down on the ground before God.  Some brains suggest that they merely gathered together in some communal demonstration of repentance.  Others say that it means, “Israel quieted themselves in a period of quiet devotion to Yahweh.”  The King James Bible is best on this.  This lamenting, or “hungering” after God, was a work of the Spirit of God, via the preaching and prayer ministry of Samuel.

It was twenty years of comparative silence where God had his man ready for a high destiny.  Oh, how we would like to rush the account and let Samuel, “at them,” and in harness immediately.  True revival, however, takes time to root itself and become a way of life, rather than just to give the froth and bubble of an overnight splash that wets everybody yet still leaves the people thirsty.

Where is the man of God when you most need him?  This man of God was busy and active, waiting for that moment when God would whisper in his ear, “Now!  This is the very moment that they need you the most Samuel!  Stand up and prophecy.  Say:  “This is what the LORD God of Israel says……”!”

Abraham had long spaces of silence if his story is dated properly.  We have little of Isaac’s life considering the age at which he died.  Jacob also had many years in silence.  The difference, however, with Jacob is that the biblical cameras don’t leave him.  He left his father and mother planning for a few days away, and finished up not returning for twenty one years.  He never saw his mother gain.  As far as Isaac, the carrier of the promise, was concerned, Jacob was away and hidden, as was Moses after him, and as was Samuel after him.  Joseph had a long time of incubation.  David also experienced the same, running around the caves and hills of Israel, Philistia and Jordan, hiding from the madness and despotic fervour of Saul.  There are historical spaces in Elijah, and Elisha’s life.  In fact Elijah appears on the biblical scene of time full grown.  His previous life is totally hidden, and we have not even the slightest hint into his upbringing.  By reading the dates given in Jeremiah’s prophecy, and more emphatic still in the book of Ezekiel, we have years of silence betwixt some of his dated Words.

Without doubt, the principle of incubation and long term secret development is an element of character breeding and progression that needs to be seen and observed in scripture.  Many modern day prophets have similar accounts that leave the world wondering what it had missed while the man of God was in the hot-house of the school of the Holy Spirit.

God leaves men of God sometime to mature on the lees like expensive and costly wine to ensure the taste is universally received and appreciated.

5 tunis girl new 1900

A Tunisian Jewish girl arriving in Jerusalem. Coloured by hand. Photo taken in 1900.

Categories: 1 Samuel 4 verse 1 – 7 :2, Samuel emerging? Or Samuel submerging?, There's Never a Man of God around when You Want One | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a 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

Give me Children or I Die.

If God can’t improve my life … I give up!

(1 Samuel 1 :9-20)

 

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So here you are, in Hannah’s position. Imagine a moment in your experience; a major crisis; a time that you perceive to be one of the most traumatic and oppressive of your life. You are left alone for an hour away from the source and presence of your regular routine and people. It may be family, it may be colleagues at work, but you have escaped from them briefly. You are alone and feeling your very worst. If you do not get some relief, you feel you will die in your heaviness. It is making you seriously ill. The issue is affecting your composure, your ability to relate – your sanity even. What do you do? Where do you go?

Hannah’s trial, like a wound into which cruel hands rub salt, or some other smarting substance, turning excruciating pain into intolerable torture, was even more aggravated by the happier fortune and insolent, adversarial reproaches of her rival. The other wife – a rude, coarse, proud and vulgar woman – turned the scenario into an occasion for triumphing over her, and embittering the springs of her very life source. Strikingly, no response to her foe is recorded. Life asked of Hannah one of the most difficult questions. Giving a reply to Peninnah would genuinely have been casting her pearls before swine.  It was not Peninnah who was asking Hannah this huge question. Neither did Hannah see it as an impersonal, “life” ,that was begging her for a response.  The issue was between her and the Source of all Life.

However, this woman did have an answer. And I do not mean the trite religious encouragement to, “pray.” I do mean that of course – but with a sledgehammer. I am talking about a heavy-duty cry of the heart. A scream of the soul. The equivalent of a desperate step backwards into suicide – but in the opposite direction; a figurative jump off the cliff, with a huge bungee jump – without the bungee elastic – with a huge elongated free fall into the hands of God. A fleeing into life and reality. No matter what you or I think of the action of a suicide bomber – what I want you to imagine is the awesome, moving, heaving mountain of emotion, heart and spirit that carries a human being to actually walk with a huge bomb strapped to their torso, ready and willing to detonate the thing. Once you can  conceive of that sort of logic; that kind of imagination, feeling and  commitment to something so deep in the realm of the demonic and evil, and then see the same tsunami  placed in the arena of Godliness, goodness and purity, put that into Hannah’s context at the very moment we are talking about, and “Yes!” We are talking about prayer.

We are talking of the stuff that raises the dead, brings floods – or droughts – and/or changes the course of nations, if not the world.  We are talking about prayer that goes so far beyond prayer books and,“saying prayers,” as a real Formula One racing car goes beyond a little lad’s “Dinky Toy” version of the same. The word, “prayer,” does not seem to do justice to the concept of what we are talking about here.  We can analyse and dissect all that took place in these moments of Hannah’s life.  I think that it is a healthy thing to do so. But there is no way we can work out the ingredients of what went on to the degree that we can systematise the process of what happened to her, so that it could happen to me. Notwithstanding, rest assured – of course it can happen to you. There are many things going on as Hannah literally shook heaven loose of the blessing she sought.

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Those who like glass case logic and theology can have a field day with what happened outside the tabernacle in Shiloh that day. A study in faith. Lessons in persistency. A model in humility. A classic case of studies for the prophetic, “speaking things into being” (i.e. would Hannah have become pregnant if obese old Eli had not prophesied so, as he was about to do so in the text). The hidden significance, and possibly the lost truth of making inspired vows to God are in the text. Secret closet praying is also in the spirit of what we read. It seems obvious that Hannah believed she was alone. All these issues – and much more are present in the narrative for Bible school test tube analysis.

After exhausting all these juicy bits of theology, there are, for the academic wordsmith a few more choice phrases with which one can build a rationale of “How to Get Your Prayers Answered”. “She was in bitterness of soul.” She, “wept sore.” “She continued praying.” “She spoke in her heart.” “Her lips moved, but her voice was not heard.” All these phrases are right here in Holy Writ as it explains Hannah’s interview with God. Each remark oozes power, truth, grace and insight.

The picture is further embellished by the concept gained by the only pair of human eyes that saw her in her anguish and pathos. Eli was watching. She actually seemed to him to be, “a drunken woman.” Her body language was such that the undiscerning old man told her off in the most defamatory manner for coming to the ancient tent of such holiness, in an inebriated state. The mind boggles!  Just imagine what abandonment to her cause Hannah must have thrown into her, “quiet time with God.” She was so lost in what she was doing, and so determined to see the invisible, that she was actually blind to the physical, rotund and aged priest that was sat nearby watching her in prayer. She must have seemed to be a demented woman.

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We must beware what and how we learn. Evangelical Christians (one of which I claim to be) are infamous for legalistic lesson learning from the Bible, to the degree that the exercise becomes a detrimental faith killer rather than a glorious release of truth and trust in the heart. This account is not just a tale for convenient three point sermons. This is an in depth account of one human being’s struggle to come to terms with cosmic injustice in her own life, and the desperate longing to fulfil the Edenic command, as well as the Divine promise, to, “be fruitful and multiply.”

A black and white single item rarely sorts out life’s problems. We live in a macro circumstantial world. In plainer English, there are usually multiplicities of reasons that bring issues and problems upon us, and a multiplicity of answers to those problems, where any one or two, or more of them, may bring relief of some sort, in differing degrees. The biggest and most singular lesson to absorb from this woman is, “attitude.”  In this twenty-first century we talk of somebody, “with an attitude,” when we mean a negative and cynical frame of outlook. Whatever the opposite of cynicism and pessimism is, take it to the furthest extreme you can conceive of, and that is where Hannah’s pain drove her. She oozed her case, like some courtroom lawyer and spilled her liquefied invisible inners before God Himself. She herself explained that she had, “poured out her soul before the Lord.” She reasoned and she argued; She pleaded and she bargained. She would break before she lost the momentum of putting her situation clearly before the Almighty. She argued against her lot in life with the One who created her, her lot and her life.

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Get hold of where this woman was in her emotional and spiritual desolation. There was Peninnah’s animosity against her. There was the fact that she was one wife in a polygamous household. She lived in a society where childlessness was perceived as some kind of Divine curse, a community where people would whisper things like, “She must have done something pretty nasty to finish up like this.” There was within herself, despite all the man made cultural pressures, her normal maternal instinct that was put there by Almighty Yahweh Himself as an inducement for women to take up that most essential  and wonderful profession and vocation, namely motherhood. Think of the time she had held her husband in tight embrace with the prayer that she would be, “with child,” as a result of their union. The years had come and gone. Peninnah was pregnant time after time while she remained barren. Hannah had just had enough. She could not feel the pain of childlessness more acutely.

Yet, we notice again that she had not voiced her complaint to her husband, or the other wife. She had an attitude that  took the injustices and pains of life to the very Source of Life Himself, and nobody else. Atheism or Agnosticism did not have as much as a sniff in the cosmos of Israel a thousand years before Christ. Neither did religious platitudes or clichés cut any ice with Hannah.

Whatever the stuff of faith, godliness and spiritual power is, this woman had it in abundance. And like some multifaceted diamond it had various colours and angles that shone from it, but neither the colours nor the shapes of the angles make up the substance of the diamond itself. So we can see her patience and meekness; we can glimpse her faith and freedom in the realm of the Spirit; we can stand in awe of her sense of the reality and glory of God as the source of life, but that is not the thing we are looking for, that is simply the outward expression and manifestation of her attitude.

She had incredible strength of character and a determination of spirit that would not let go. In reading the Bible over and over again for over forty years, I suggest that if one takes the scriptures at face value, one cannot but conclude that from Genesis to Revelation, God Himself finds this kind of attitude of determination in faith, irresistible to refuse. I have a conviction that He prefers it when people have this same frame of heart and mind  towards him as Hannah did. For that reason, I cannot believe that what Hannah was thinking and believing were concepts and ideas especially created by God to move biblical characters only. A pox on the very idea of such a thing.

6

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This was an attitude arrived at by a process of intuition and deduction. The character of God; the state of man in general; the injustices of life; the very God given sacrificial system of which she was an adherent ; all of these subjects as taught by the books of Moses were extremely powerful, “potters wheels,” trowels and scrapers at work in the shaping of the clay of a worldview that could not abide with injustice or unrighteousness, whether personal, familial, national or universal. These things alligned her attitude to the way God thinks, and her understanding of what God wants, and the possibilities of what she could ask Him for. Her entire being was aligned with God’s entire will and being.

Hannah had an amazing lack of self interest in her expectancy. Her prayer for a child was distinct from any consideration of her own comfort and want. Hannah had learned that the heart’s truest joy is not in children, nor even in the mercies given in answer to prayer, but in relationship with Almighty God Himself. There was a true sacrifice of her more basic and natural inclinations here. It was total self denial, really.  What do we mean? I mean that Hannah, in her anguish made two vows. Making vows is, “unwestern,” but biblically, especially around this period of history, quite common.

The first vow was to give the man child that she was asking for back to God, literally, once he had arrived. The second vow was to ensure that this man child would be a, “Nazirite.” A Nazarite was a person of particular separation to God and His service. This child would be what the Talmud describes as a “perpetual Nazarite.” No drink, ever. No haircut, ever. And no touching dead bodies of any kind, ever. An example of this sort of dedication of children would be Samson. Samson was intended by his parents to be a Nazirite. (I hasten to add that Samson the Danite was not a particularly obedient Nazirite.)

???????

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Hannah had no idea of the Divinely planned dream she was birthing on earth with her prayer. Peninnah could not possibly have foreseen what her adversarial attitude could have driven Hannah to.  Elkanah would have had no insight at all to the pillar of Israelite history and culture that the fruit of his connubial joy with Hannah would bring into being. Eli had no concept of the blessing he was unleashing upon Israel through the prophetic word he was about to speak; for speak he did.

This sublime moment, the results of which were to reshape a nation, and the surrounding nations for the next century or so, was, potentially, shattered in a moment of crass error and bluntness. From the most sublime issue of the sight of Hannah, soberly praying like a drunken woman, we plunge headlong into the utter ridiculous. Picture, If you can, the scene of opposites. You have, a couple of hundred yards away, the sound of partying, singing and dancing. The noise is somewhat faded through the distance, but it is there as the static in the background.  Huge numbers of people indulging in a religious feast. But cocooned in a silent space in front  of the Tabernacle-cum-Temple are two people. There is elderly rotund Eli, in his nineties, sat calmly, and with only the sound of his breathing, watching Hannah. Hannah is beside herself. She is praying like no one has prayed before. She is writhing. She seems to be either mentally ill or stupefyingly  inebriated with wine. It must have been a common sight to Eli to see drunken libertines, as his sons would bring women home to sleep with.

7

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Too much accustomed, in those evil days, to seeing women abandoned to godlessness and debauchery, Eli the High Priest, the head of the nation’s spiritual heritage, concludes Hannah is drunk. People praying, as if it was a life or death issue, was not commonly seen in Eli’s day.  Come to think of it: It’s not common in our day either.

“How long will you be drunk?” It would seem that Eli was more ready to reprove Hannah than he is his own sons. In poor old Eli’s favour, the scripture does tell us (but at a later point in the narrative) that he was going blind. In his old age he seems kindly, if somewhat strict, to a degree that his physical demeanour and charisma (or rather the lack of it) were inadequate to impose his convictions on his own sons. He was not, intellectually a strong man, but in his own parochial limited way, he was righteous and faithful.

Surely Hannah would have been justified in rebuking the aged priest for his contempt of factual observation. But when somebody is reaching with faith’s warm finger into the gentle springs of infinite love, it is understandable when they do not respond vituperatively. The woman is touching God, and something of His grace is  permeating her responses at that very moment.

Hannah’s reflex action to even further pain is consistent with what we have already seen of her. The meekness of Moses was indeed legendary, but did he, or any other, ever show a milder, gentler, lovelier spirit, a more magnanimous example of how to suffer wrong  than Hannah? She did not answer anything but modestly to Eli’s coarse insult. She utters no bitter complaint against her accuser. She does not bind him to look at home and upbraid him with the conduct of his own household. She does not tell him how ill and unbecoming it was for a person in his position to interrupt prayer and abuse a poor disconsolate woman at the footstool of Divine mercy. She does not throw at him a loud note calling him a false accuser. She does not twit him in the teeth and bid him look better at those drunken whoremongers who were his own sons, infamous throughout all Israel, and thereafter throughout all time.

2

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It is easy to think evil of all men. There is sure to be some fault about each one of us, which even the least discerning will ultimately discover upon examination. But prior to Christ’s birth, and the vision of His example,  Hannah responds in a way  to which we can append no adequate description, apart from saying, she was “Christlike.”

This abrupt introduction tells us nothing of the history of the elderly gent, father to the villainous Hophni and Phinehas. Eli was the son of Ithamar, the last son of Aaron and therefore the office of priest and spiritual judge must have been earned. To put it bluntly, Eli had no right to be High Priest, or even acting High Priest. For this reason it seems Eli must have been an august and vigorous character in his youth, for his post was not inherited, but won in some way. The fact that Eli retained his office to the end of his days suggests that the nation was so backslidden it had no Godly figures to fill the gap, as opposed to me suggesting  exceptional Godliness on Eli’s part. Frankly, neither scholars, nor archaeologists know why Eli was in the position of High Priest. It’s a mystery.

Hannah gently explains to him what she is doing. Eli sees his gross error and thus compensates; another plus to the character of the senior priest. He then speaks the most assuring words it was humanly possible for him to utter. Whether he was aware of the power and the depth of his own utterance is irrelevant. The Bible actually has several examples of people who prophesied not understanding the power, or the full picture of what God gave them to say. Some of these characters were not even aware that they were prophesying things into being. Eli had not so much as a clue as to any single word that Hannah had uttered in her prayer.

Give me childre or I die

Give me Children or I die??? More like, give me food or my baby dies!

She gently whispered to him, in the face of accusation of being debauched, “No, my Lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor any intoxicating drink, but have poured my soul before the Lord. Please! Do not consider your maidservant a wicked woman, for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief I have spoken until now.” This all suggest she had been writhing in her prayer for some considerable time.

What Eli spoke was received in Her spirit as solidly as her steamroller of a prayer had echoed in God’s ears and was received in heaven. What Eli spoke was heard, and mixed with faith in Hannah’s heart.

In a moment of time her anguish was dissipated. I do not mean suppressed, or repressed. I mean completely dissolved. It was not pent up to surface another day, but diluted and removed totally and utterly. Hannah had in a flash seen the invisible and received the answer to her spiritual scream. I do not mean she had seen God, although she had definitely touched Him, somehow. I mean, she had seen her son. Yes! Before Samuel was even conceived she had held him. Before the egg had been released from her ovary; before the single tadpole of her husband’s millions of human seeds had invaded that egg, the mother had seen her son. She held fast to the substance of what she was hoping for. She had the solid evidence of what her eyes had not seen. And this is the absolute biblical definition of what faith is, i.e. the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.

She stood up and left. Nobody could argue Hannah back into her grief. Peninnah could not taunt her back into tears and sadness. Hannah had received a Word from God. She had heard God when Eli had spoken to her. “Go in peace, and the God of Israel will give you your petition.”

Peace came with that Word. This was the truly prophetic. Dreamed up by God, who put the dream into the heart of Hannah, prayed over, wept over, and prophesied into – the foreordained plan was about to be  released into physical actuality on planet earth in the time/space world.  See the grace that Hannah received concerning the offspring we know as Samuel. Peace permeated her mind, and her anguish was annihilated.

6e330-a8a8a8jewish-man

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“Let your handmaiden find grace in your sight,” is all she responded with. She got up and went back to her tent with a spring in her feet.  Her appetite returned. Her smile was renewed.

Whenever you are in a similar cul-de–sac of an impossible situation, always remember Hannah’s attitude and world view in the midst of the fog. All things are possible to those that believe.

No remark is made of the response returned by Elkanah or Peninnah, but the following morning they arose early and worshipped together. Elkanah still had his blind spots. Peninnah still possessed her animosity. The children of Peninnah, just by their presence still shouted at Hannah’s soul that she was childless.

Next, in one short phrase, the scripture wraps up the entire issue by simply stating, “Elkanah knew his wife; and the Lord remembered her.”

She called him “Sh’muel.” It does not actually mean, “Asked of God.” Strictly translated, it reads, “Heard of God.” “Because I asked the Lord,” gives the reason why she called him Sh’muel. The very name perpetuates the memory of Mercy. “Samuel” is merely the Anglicisation of “Sh’muel,” just as,”Jesus,” is of the Hebrew “Jeshua,” or the Greek “Yesus”.

The long distance historical background that we have here traced, and the more localised family context to Samuel’s birth, explains to us how this man stirred the emotions, and attracted the love of those around him. What his mother had promised to God, and the manner in which she purposed to fulfil her vow, filled his home environment  with talk of spiritual issues and attitudes of faith, integrity and the primary issue of intimacy with God as the top priority of life.

From the moment of his conception, Samuel was in a cosmos that was to fill him with characteristics and outlooks that would be the backbone for millions,  before his body would return to dust, and his spirit to the creator of all.

Categories: 1 Samuel 1:9-20, Give me children or I die, If God cannot improve my life . . . I give up | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The National Water Table of Spirituality.

THE NATIONAL WATER TABLE OF SPIRITUALITY.

THE NATIONAL RELIGIOUS SCENARIO AS SAMUEL’S ARRIVAL DREW NEAR  

Religion with discontentment is great loss.

 

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The revelation of God, His commandments and the ritual worship had all been centred by Moses’ orders around the Tabernacle. The worship was silent, intricate, costly and totally dedicated to the one tent, the one altar, the one holy place, and the one and only spot on planet earth where God had said that He would meet formally with Israel, i.e. between the winged  cherubim at the, “blood stained mercy seat.”  We are talking about the small, trunk sized box that God Himself referred to as “the Ark of my covenant.”

The tent that was created to house the Ark and everything that appertained to its ceremony and its ongoing silent liturgy. Was the supposed centre of the life of the camp of the children of Israel all through the forty years desert wandering. It was intended to be the same for generations after, that is, as far into the future as any Israelite could think.

The Ark was the item that was held in the middle of the Jordan while the water stood on end and allowed Israel to cross as on dry ground. It is virtually impossible to express to the secular and atheistic western mind what the tent, and especially the Ark, meant to the tribes of Israel. It was not an overstatement, at that time, to say, “no ark – no Israel.” Once it was made, it assumed a presence that was beyond description for the heart and soul of the nation. Of course, the people would still be living there in the land if the Ark had for any reason disappeared, but the spiritual significance of it all, and the very thought of no Tabernacle, and especially no Ark simply beggared contemplation to the God fearing of the nation. It was no wonder that old Eli dropped dead when he was told that the Philistines had taken the Ark. Eli heard about the thousands lost in battle, and the fact that his two sons had died and was stilled into silence – but was still breathing. Then they told him that the Philistines had taken the Ark. At that piece of news, he fell backwards and, quite literally, dropped dead with shock.

If Israel was created by Yahweh, and if Yahweh delivered Israel from Egypt for His glory and worship, and if the vast bulk of His commandments given at Sinai were instructions of how to approach the tabernacle, how to sacrifice at the tabernacle, how to worship at the tabernacle, how to be purified at the tabernacle, and how to contemplate the presence of God via the ever hidden Ark; what would happen if the tent – or the Ark – was for whatever reason, stolen? How would faith be sustained, if the whole kit and caboodle was just taken away from them? If the people of the United States of America could consider the physical and social removal of the American constitution, and the British could consider the removal of parliament, or democracy, we are just beginning to be one per cent on the way to grasping the priceless loss to Israel as the Ark of the covenant was stolen by those who had developed into their arch enemies, the Philistines.

0001But, the constitution of the USA, and the British houses of parliament are almost passing trivia to the import of the tabernacle and all its accoutrements, above all, the Ark. It was truly part of Israel’s existence.  It would be more than the end of civilisation to them. If it is possible to understand, it would be to the true, God fearing, patriotic Israelite, “The End of the World.” It was the essence of both the reason for their existence, and the motivation of their nation’s existence. This whole set up of tent, sacrifice and Ark was so important at this point of time that one whole tribe, i.e. almost eight per cent of the entire nation of Israel, were ordained by God to do nothing else but look after and maintain everything that there was about the tent and its accompanying pomp and circumstance. With this tribe (i.e. the Levites) in charge of the worship they entered Canaan  immediately after Moses’ death. Because of the logistics of fighting, warring and pillaging, a large camp was set up at a place called Gilgal, allowing Israel a bridgehead and base. As always, wherever the children of Israel camped, the tent over the Ark was raised in the centre of that immense bivouac.

Having conquered a certain part of Southern Canaan, and made headway into the northern territories, Joshua remembered that he had not yet “split” the land up between them all. He wanted the last seven and a half tribes to get their inheritance.  Reuben, Gad and half the tribe of Manesseh were given land east of the Jordan by Moses years earlier. Judah, Benjamin and Ephraim had already been given  their allotment earlier by Joshua. This left Asher, Zebulun, Naphtali, Issachar, Dan, Simeon and the remaining half of Manasseh to attain an allotment of land to live in.

Joshua sent out surveyors from a new camp site called Shiloh, to map the land and to identify certain borders and areas. The book of Joshua (18:8) tells us that when the men were ready to go and  inspect, Joshua himself charged them to make a description of the land. Then he told them, “Return to me here, and I shall cast lots for you before the Lord in Shiloh.” This gives the reader of scripture the distinct impression that the “national camp” was at that time transferred and settled into Shiloh. It is generally accepted that the Tabernacle was set up at Shiloh and left to stand there for more than a century (possibly two) at this hill called Shiloh (Joshua 18:1), later described as a city.

According to Judges 21:19, Shiloh is situated ,“On the north side of Bethel, on the eastern side of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem and on the northern side of Lebonah.”  This site has  been currently identified. It is a ruined site on a hill about nine miles north of Beitin (Bethel) and three miles south of El-Lubban (Labonah?). It was excavated by Danish expeditions as recently as 1926-29, and 1932. Their results suggest that Shiloh, as a centre of population, was destroyed circa 1050 B.C.

0003 Nebi-SamuelIn the process of time this Tabernacle location evolved, to be referred to as, “The Temple.” The word used in scripture (hekal) infers that it was a permanent item, even though it was still a tent. Because of a large, “Temple-like,” ruin excavated on the site, it is thought by some that a permanent building could have been erected around the sacred tent, if not over it, explaining to the satisfaction of several scholars, why it is in 1 Samuel 1 referred to as “The Temple.” The change of words to do with the temple door, and doorposts, however, do not intimidate me, nor prevent me from suggesting that  it was still the Tabernacle, as instituted by Moses, that was being utilised for worship. This writer holds to the opinion that the tent was left for a century or two and became conceived of as a permanent structure by succeeding generations, and was therefore referred to as “The Temple.”

Even though there was overwhelming godlessness and idolatry in the days of the book of Judges, chapter 18:31 informs us how, although it should have been the only worship centre for the nation of Israel, it was reduced to the principle sanctuary during this era.

In the fearful tension and violence of this epoch, the observances of the rituals enjoined upon the people by Moses, had fallen greatly into misuse, abuse, and even disuse. When faith disappears from the hearts of the people, superstition runs rampant. What ensued was a religious mishmash that caused some of the population to perceive Jehovah as actually living inside the Ark – that is, if they believed He lived at all. It was deduced by the short sighted, of whom there were many, that Yahweh was “obviously” only a god who was on par to any other named god of the locality. It was this concept of a worldview and paradigm that was to be their complete downfall. Who said, “Theology doesn’t matter”?

0007 PhilistinesIf God lived in the Ark, as some supposed, there  was no way in heaven, or on earth that they could lose a battle – if only the Ark was present. There was, consequently, absolutely no possibility of them actually ever losing the Ark. Or so they thought! Their own scriptures and historical writings could have straightened them out on these issues, if only they had been consulted.

The following decades of religious syncretism and debauchery, therefore, did not cause the Tabernacle and the Ark to lose its  high profile, superstitious, “magical” appeal  to the majority of the nation. To those that still feared God, it was the holy place that it had always been, even if concepts of holiness held by the masses was something alien to the mind and statement of Yahweh Himself. But to the weak minded, superstitious, and religious people, they could take Yahweh and His Ark – or leave Him. “Bring Him in when there is social and/or emotional pressure. Otherwise it doesn’t really matter who, what, or how one worships; does it?”

This, “fool’s philosophy,” had even infected and infested the minds of the, “men of the cloth.” The conduct of the priests, after the crescendo of the sacrifices at the Tabernacle were visual points of contact to set the tone of spirituality for all the attendant worshippers. As the book of Samuel commences, God fearing Eli, acting as the High Priest, is “full of years,” and becoming enfeebled, and his adult sons were utterly out of his control. They were living publicly and openly in licentiousness and lewdness. They were a talking point for all the nation.

Outraged, enraged and disgraced by the crimes of its ministers, in the climactic days of the birth and development of, ”the last Judge,” worship of Jehovah sank into Israelite public contempt, and was almost, mortally “wounded in the house of its friends,” and seemed, humanly speaking, almost ready to expire. Hophni and Phinehas, Eli’s two sons, committed crimes that had such an effect of imbibed and continuous wickedness throughout the nation, that the scripture actually says, “The Lord wanted to kill them.” Is there any statement more horrific in the whole of the Bible?

Chuck Swindoll's take on an outline of 1 Samuel. Good stuff!

Chuck Swindoll’s take on an outline of 1 Samuel. Good stuff!

How Eli came to be High Priest at this time is a complete mystery. Moses had given orders that the High Priestly role could only be continued as a lineal descendancy from his brother Aaron, down through Eleazar. Eli’s family tree was in the wrong garden. He was indeed descended from Aaron, but through Ithamar as opposed to Eleazar. Somehow, through the years that were post-Joshua and pre-Eli, the Aaronic priestly descendancy had lost its power, impact and function. It is not known what actually happened. Had the Aaronic line died out? Not at all! When Solomon appointed Zadok, he reverted to the true line. So why Eli? Was some descendant of Aaron, debauched as Hophni and Phinehas, “expelled” from the priesthood? Indeed, a stronger question would be; “Could anybody be expelled from a lineally descended priestly family?” All resolutions to this query are pure conjecture. The public and/or the priesthood made an alternative choice for this most important position in the spiritual life of the nation of Israel (at least in this generation to which we are referring).

A picture says more than a thousand words. The family tree we are now discussing grew something like this:

ELI

 

Obviously Eli was not in the correct side of the family to be High Priest.

The book of Samuel commences with two young men, the offspring of elderly Eli, officiating at the sacred tent and abusing the God ordained system and their office to such a degree that God told Eli twice, in considerable detail the awful fate that was to overcome them. The impact of this fate was to be the end of poor old Eli. He knew he was responsible for his lack of parental control. For this reason the names, “Hophni” and “Phinehas” are an infamous biblical byword for godlessness and corruption.

And this is the atmosphere into which the chosen vessel Samuel was placed and reared?

Categories: The National Political Scenario prior to Samuel's arrival | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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