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TEXT: I Samuel 1:1-7
SUBJECT: The Life of Samuel #1: The Problem
Today, with God's blessing, I hope to begin a study on the Life of Samuel. If you're a bit fuzzy on the man, or would like to know his story better, read it for yourself. His whole life is told in I Samuel, with most of it in the first seven chapters. Read the chapters this week, and you'll be glad you did.
Speaking of 'reading the Old Testament lives', there are two ways of doing it: we can read them for the examples they set or we can read them for what they tell us about the character of God and the coming of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Both ways are good. Samuel was boy and a man of integrity, whose life is told, in part, for you and me to follow. Speaking of all godly people, Paul says we're to-
Mark who walk [this way], as we have [them] for a pattern.
While his reference is to himself and other living men (at the time), it also applies to the godly men who lived before us and whose stories are told in the Bible. Samuel is an especially apt person to follow because he have him-not only as a man of God-but long before that-as a child of God! He can show young people what it means to listen to God and to obey Him, even when what He tells you is unpleasant and likely to get you in trouble. His life was put down in Scripture, to help you live yours.
If this is one good way to read Old Testament lives, there is another way that I think is better. We are to read them for what they tell us about the character of God and the saving work He's going to do for us in our Lord Jesus Christ.
I say this because I firmly believe the Jewish Bible is a Christian Book, that is, it bears a strong and clear witness to Jesus Christ. Some of what it says about Him is predictive. Deuteronomy 18:15, for example says-
The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear!
Most of it, however, is not predictive. It is prophetic, that is, either by word or deed, God shows His People who He is and what He is going to do for them-and us! This means the hero of every Bible story is God. While looking at Samuel's life, therefore, we must keep our focus on the Lord. By doing this, we will neither do violence to God's Word or insult or dearly departed brother, Samuel. What another prophet said of himself, Samuel feels even more deeply-
He must increase; I must decrease.
We'll begin his life with two or three minutes of background (or fewer if I hurry). His story begins some time around 1200 BC. The Israelites have been in the land for more than 200 years, but things are far from settled.
Told to smash the idols and annihilate the people they found in the land, they did neither, and they paid for it dearly. The idols became their gods and the natives became restless. Before long, the People of God were up to their eyeballs in Ammonites, Amalakites, Moabites, Midianites-and most often-Philistines, who attack and oppress Israel all of Samuel's long life, and for generations before and after.
This should not have surprised the Israelites, for long before, in the days of Moses, God told them this would be the price of not obeying Him, Numbers 33:55-
If you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land.[they] shall be sticks in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell.
If the enemies outside Israel were bad, the ones on the inside were far worse. The Jews were not a holy people surrounded by wicked sinners, but were themselves wicked sinners, and not just a here and there, but top to bottom.
Speaking of the top, the military and political leaders at the time were the judges, warriors called and equipped by God to save His people, but who-for the most part-were deeply flawed men. Samson, for example, was a man of faith, but he was also an immoral man with an appetite for Philistine girls. All fornication is bad, but his was far worse than 'bad', because the Philistines were the sworn enemies of Israel. Called to save his people from the Philistines, he spends most of his time sleeping with the Philistines! He was, in many respects, a shameful man, disloyal to God and bordering on treason. He was the kind of man who judged Israel in those days.
If corruption in politics is bad, it is even worse in the clergy. Israel had a priesthood at the time, and its top officer was Eli, a weak man whose weakness was far from innocent. His sons were Phineas and Hophni, who did their father one better. If Eli was weak, they were wicked! In a later sermon we will see how bad they were, and how their sins degraded the People.
This is where our story begins: Israel is pressed on the outside and rotted on the inside.
As the drama of our story builds, Chapter One opens with a real letdown-
Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim Zophim, of the mountains of Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah the son of Jehoram, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite.
Is there any part of the Bible we less like to read than the genealogies? Oh, maybe the Lord's ancestry is worth reading and thinking about, but Elkanah's? If there were famous men on the list, we might sit up and take notice. But does anybody know who Zuph was? Or care?
We feel this way because we don't know what the genealogies are for. Why tell us who Samuel's grandfather was or his father or his father or the father before him? Why are the genealogies there?
Far more can be said about this than I am prepared to say, but the main reason they're in the Bible is to connect the dots. Or, to say it more plainly, to place the little stories of the Bible into the Big Story.
What is the Bible's storyline? It is the Story of Salvation. It is interesting to observe that only two chapters are about anything else! From Genesis 3 on, it's all about God saving His People from their sins.
The first genealogy is the world itself, Genesis 2:4. When the world falls into sin, God promises to save it by the same species that ruined it, that is our species, Man. And so we have, This is the book of the generation of Adam. Then Noah, then Shem, then Abraham. One 'saving figure' connected to the next by a genealogy.
And now we have a list of Samuel's forebears. Which means, God is going to advance His Saving Work in the world through him.
If you and I 'don't get' the genealogies, the Hebrews did. When they heard the rabbi begin.The son of Jehoram, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, they didn't doze off; they perked up. Because they knew it meant: the Lord is up to something!
After naming the man's ancestors, the story hones in on his nuclear family (and I use the word, 'nuclear' in both senses of the word!).
The husband is Elkanah. He is a God fearing man who has married two women, Hannah and Penninah. The former, it seems, he married for love; the second for children. He was not the first man to make this mistake. Abraham was the model of faith, but on this point, he did not trust God, took a second wife, had the son he wanted so badly-and lived to regret it.
We know nothing about the children he had by his second wife, but the wife herself made his home a living hell! Her only pleasure in life was to show off her kids to Hannah and to belittle the dear lady for having none of her own.
Living at that time and place, Penninah must have quoted the Bible to her or maybe I should say, 'at her'-
But it shall come to pass that, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God.all these curses will come upon you.cursed shall be the fruit of your body.
The witch never let up. Even the days of solemn worship were full of mockery, no, she was at her worst on those blessed days-
So it was, when she went up to the House of the Lord, that she provoked her therefore she wept and did not eat.
Elkanah knew what was happening at home, and he tried to comfort the sweet woman and control the bitter one. But to no avail! In fact, every good thing he did for Hannah, only stirred her rival to do even more to turn his blessing into a curse-
She provoked her severely to make her miserable.
Outwardly, the family was intact. But inwardly, it was broken to pieces. All because of pride and envy and jockeying for position.
Elkanah's was not the last family to suffer for these reasons. Maybe your family is this way for the very same reasons. If so, you need to confess your sins to the Lord-and face up to your part in the problem.
A week or two ago, a pastor told me a story about a couple in his church. We'll call them 'Tom' and 'Mary'. After talking to them for several hours, he wanted to close with prayer. He asked the man to pray first-
Lord, forgive my sins and help me to be a better husband.
The wife prayed next-
Lord, forgive Tom's sins and help him to be a better husband.
Hearing the two prayers made 'what was wrong in the family' crystal clear. While both husband and wife had plenty of faults, only the man was willing to own up to them. Until she saw that she was part of the problem, and-if penitent-she could be part of the solution, things would never change for the better.
Elkanah, Hannah, and Penninah were real people, living in a real place and time. But this is not all they were: they were also symbols of what was wrong with Israel-and the whole world.
Like Hannah, the godly were suffering and like Peninnah, the ungodly were prospering. This is a theme that crops up time and again in the Bible. Think of Job, the Lord's servant, one who fears God and shuns evil. Who suffered more than anyone in the world, at that time. Or Asaph, the man who composed Psalm 73, angry at God for the unfairness of life-
Behold, these are the ungodly,
Who are always at ease;
They increase in riches.
Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain,
And washed my hands in innocence.
For all day long I have been plagued
And chastened every morning.
Then, of course, going past Job and Asaph, Jeremiah, and the others who didn't deserve to suffer, but did anyway, we come to the only Man who could say-
They hated Me without a cause.
Think of all the unjust suffering in the world, of millions starving while a few live in luxury off their labor, of good wives, beaten by drunk men, of little boys raped by perverted priests, of children deserted by their parents, of loyal husbands betrayed by their slutty wives. Add all these things together-and toss in racism, anti-semitism, and all the other evils in the world, and remember: on the cross they all crashed down on the Head of our Beloved Savior!
If one word can describe the world in the days of Samuel-or any other day, including our own-the word would be unfair. Bad people shouldn't prosper. But they do. Good people shouldn't suffer. But they do. No wonder Solomon looks at the world the way it really is and sums it up as he does-
Vanity of vanity, says the Preacher;
Vanity of vanity, all is vanity.
Most conservative Christians rejoiced to see the protest movements of the 1960's come to an end. Francis Schaeffer, while disagreeing with many of the causes then advocated, said he wept when he saw the fire for justice burn out, and the young people like their parents, living only for themselves, their big homes, their shiny cars, and their color TV's.
The world is an unfair place, and it is not our place to say, ho hum.
Hannah was weeping at the unfairness of life.
And the Lord-
Put her tears into His bottle,
And wrote them in His book.
Her suffering has been seen in heaven, and when she prays the next time, her prayers will be answered, answered with a fullness she never expected. She wanted a son, and she would get one, but not only a son, for the boy would grow into a man and become one of the great saviors of Israel, behind only Moses, David, and One Other Man.
That Other Man is our Lord Jesus Christ, who has promised to put an end to the unfairness of life. First, He did it through His servants, men who fought for justice, and-to some degree-saw it done. Then He did it Personally, coming into the world to cast down Pharisees and others who thought so highly of themselves, and to lift up Publicans, harlots, lepers, and others who had no other friend. With the outpouring of His Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, He advance the cause further, making communities of peace and justice all over the world. The name He gave them was churches.
The unfairness of the world is being addressed as I speak. But it is a long way from being fixed. We should do our parts in the great work, first by being just ourselves, and by praying for more of it to come.
Our works, however much good they will do, will not finish the job. No, our Lord has saved that work for Himself. At the Second Coming, He will set all things right. The proud will be expelled from this world, and the humble will finally get what's coming to them-
The meek shall inherit the earth.
IN THE MEANTIME
In the meantime, keep on doing what you can to make the church, your family, and the world fairer places than they are now.
But do not pin your hopes to any program, to any bill in congress, to the election of any president, to Communism, capitalism, or Christian America.
Pin your hopes on the Jesus Christ, and wait patiently (but not idly) for His return. For then we will get what we all long for (even if we don't know it)-
A world in which dwells righteousness.
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