Wednesday, August 20, 2008

1 Samuel 2

LINK:1 Samuel 2

There are two distinct parts to Chapter 2 of 1 Samuel. First, there is Hannah’s prayer, which gives a wonderful description of God. Second, we read about the sons in two different families—Hannah’s and Eli’s.

After Hannah brought Samuel to learn and serve God with Eli, she shows her praise and thanksgiving to God in a prayer that clearly reveals his work and ways. “There is no one holy like the Lord,” she says. Because he “is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed” she warns against pride and arrogance. She acknowledges his sovereignty (he brings death and makes alive; he raises the poor from the dust; the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s) and notes that he often works in strange ways and goes against natural expectations, which she herself experienced as a barren woman who amazingly bore a child. (Watch for more examples of surprising reversals throughout the Old Testament.) Her prayer is also prophetic, speaking of the strength and victory God gives “his king” and “his anointed” before Israel ever had a king. (Note: in the Greek of the New Testament, the Hebrew term here used for king and anointed is translated “Christos” from which comes the English word “Christ.” Does anyone see a scarlet thread here?) Hannah paints a picture of God’s character and activity.

With that picture as the background, the rest of the chapter adds people to the canvas. We get to see how two different families live in the context of a holy, powerful, active, surprising God, whether their lives are consistent with that truth, or whether they are living at cross purposes to reality.

Eli’s sons were priests. They were supposed to act as go-betweens in the God/man relationship, to help keep the people focused on serving God and to instruct them in God’s ways. One hopes that the heart of a priest will be true, honest, compassionate, and most of all, filled with reverence and love for God. Eli’s sons had other priorities, though, Verse 12 says, “Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord.” They weren’t satisfied with God’s provision and unlawfully took more and different meat than they were allotted, which was a definite snub to God. According to verse 17, they were “treating the Lord’s offering with contempt.” As if that weren’t bad enough, they were sleeping with the gals who served at the Tent of Meeting and paid no attention to their father when he tried to tell them to cool it. Obviously, they wanted to do what they wanted to do and weren’t going to let anybody tell them they couldn’t. God didn’t figure into their lives much at all.

The contrast is Hannah’s family. Samuel continued to minister before the Lord as a young boy, and each year his parents reaffirmed their decision to “give him to the Lord.” Verse 21: And the Lord was gracious to Hannah; she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Verse 26: And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men. This family behaves as if the God described in Hannah’s prayer is real; they revere him, they serve him, they don’t blow him off as if he’s nothing, they don’t live their lives by their own priorities. They lived at peace with God, and they enjoyed his favor.

Eli’s sons were not at peace with God. They totally blew him off and acted like he didn’t exist or didn’t care that they abused their positions or was too weak to do anything about it. They lived as enemies of God, in rebellion against him. The result is announced to Eli: …the Lord declares “Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained…I will cut short your strength…your sons will both die.” The family of Eli will not thrive in a world that belongs to God.

This world is God’s. He created it; he designed the way it would work best; he set in motion the laws (physical, spiritual, behavioral) that would govern it and preserve it. He himself is the life-giving force that allows this world to thrive. He is its health. This chapter illustrates what happens in the lives of two families, one which is happy to let God be God, and one which doesn’t. The one grows strong and healthy; the other withers and dies.

This chapter leads me to self-examination. In what ways am I living at cross purposes to the reality of God? How am I blowing him off? Where am I despising his provision for me or indulging myself wrongfully? In what ways am I disregarding God? And self-examination leads to repentance, which I believe is the foundational work of the Christian life. And repentance leads to Christ, and Christ to forgiveness, and forgiveness to peace with God. Hallelujah!

Let’s pray with Hannah:
My heart rejoices in the Lord;
In the Lord my horn is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies,
For I delight in your deliverance.
There is no one holy like the Lord;
There is no one besides you;
There is no Rock like our God.

Rock, on, God! Amen.
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