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TEXT: I Samuel 2:12-4:22
SUBJECT: Samuel #3: The Priesthoods
Have you seen The Lord of the Rings? I've seen it more than a dozen times, and while the three movies last more than ten hours, they never bore me. What keeps them so interesting is the director's knack for telling One Story from several points of view. All the good guys are working for the same goal, but they're split up into several groups. For twenty minutes, we follow Frodo, Sam, and Gollum as they make their way to Mount Doom, and then we cut to Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli as they gather armies to fight The Dark Lord. Back and forth we go, following a complicated story without ever losing the plot.
What Peter Jackson did so well in his movie, the Lord did far better in His Story. What's it about? It's about the Priesthood of Israel, how weak and sinful men had polluted it, and how God would restore its lost honor-and then some!
Thus, we have one story told from two points of view.
THE OLD PRIESTHOOD I
It starts with the old priesthood, 2:12-17
There's only one thing wrong with the priesthood: the men who occupy it. Eli is the High Priest, but he's in semi-retirement. I say, semi-retirement because, while he still lives in the Sanctuary (and lives well off its revenues), he is not doing his job!
He has turned that over to his two sons, Hophni and Phineas. What kind of men are they? We don't have to guess, v.12-
Now the sons of Eli were corrupt; they did not know the Lord.
We'll get to their corruption in a moment, but for now, observe their religion-They did not know the Lord. This does not mean they were Atheists or idolaters; it means they had no respect for the Lord's commandments and no fear of His judgments. They were like the men of Psalm 10-
Why do the wicked renounce God?
Because He has said in his heart,
'You will not require an account'.
Since wicked men do wicked things, we're not surprised to find what Eli's sons were up to. Three offenses are named, the first in vv.13-15-
And the priests' custom with the people was that when any man offered a sacrifice, the priests' servant would come with a three-pronged fleshhook in his hand while the meat was boiling. Then he would thrust it into the pan, or kettle, or cauldron, or pot; and the priest would take for himself all the fleshhook brought up.[But] the priests' servant would come and say to the man who sacrificed, 'Give meat for roasting for the priest! He will not take boiled meat from you, but raw'.
When we think of corrupt clergymen, this is not the first thing that comes to mind, is it?
Actually.it is. They were embezzlers. The priests had a right to some of the worshiper's meat. But God chose which piece he would get. Hophni and Phineas, however, were not content with what God gave them. They took the prime rib and let the people eat tripe!
If robbing God's people is bad, there is something worse, v.16-
If the man said to them, 'They should really burn the fat first, then you can take as much as you desire', they would answer him, 'No, but you must give it to me now; and if not, I will take it by force'.
The fat of the sacrifice belonged to the Lord, but Eli's sons didn't care; they would have it one way or another.
Their third offense is what we would expect from arrogant men, v.22--
They lay with he women who assembled at the door of the Tabernacle of Meeting.
At the very least they were serial adulterers. But they were likely far worse than this. Scholars often think the women were Temple prostitutes, employed by the priests to hike attendance at the Tabernacle (and to conform to the native religion). In other words, Hophni and Phineas were pimps.
This is what had become of Israel's Priesthood. The family, chosen by God at Mount Sinai to worship and serve Him in the beauty of holiness and become ugly itself and was making the people ugly too, v.17-
Therefore, the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord, for men abhorred the offering of the Lord.
Feeling the contempt these men had for the offerings of the Lord moved the whole nation to look down on sacrifices. This was bad enough in itself, but when we remember that the sacrifices pointed beyond themselves-to Christ-we shudder at the depravity of the priesthood.
THE NEW PRIESTHOOD I
Though Israel deserves a corrupt clergy, God wants something better for His people, 2:18-21-
But Samuel ministered before the Lord, even as a child, wearing a linen ephod.
Get the visuals: Samuel is only a boy, but he's wearing a priestly garment and serving in the Lord's House. The sound, too, matters, for ephod meant both the priest's outer garment and also the breastplate in which he would intercede for Israel and also cast the lot to find God's will.
This hints at Samuel's future. He's going to purify the priesthood, and through his spiritual vision, he will bring the Word back to God's People.
As for his family? The Lord is so pleased with Samuel that, for his sake, God will bless his mother and father, giving Hannah five more children to make up for the one she gave Him.
Here Samuel serves a type or a model of Christ, hinting at what Jesus will be and what God will do through Him. The parallels are not made up; they're really there.
Think first of Samuel taking over the High Priesthood, though his bloodline did not allow for it. God waved off human pedigree and put him there Himself. As He did for Christ, who was not from the tribe of Levi, but to whom God said-
You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.
Then, think of Samuel serving in the Presence of the Lord while only a boy, and remember when Christ first went to the Temple. His young purity is also matched-and surpassed by our Lord-who was holy from His mother's womb-
That holy thing which is within you shall be called the Son of God!
Samuel, the soon-to-be priest will also become a prophet or seer, as our Lord was only far greater than the other prophets, for they spoke the Word of God, but He was and is the Word of God!
OLD PRIESTHOOD II
After a short scene from Samuel's life, the Story cuts back to Eli and his sons, this time highlighting the father's sin, 2:22-25
Hophni and Phineas are not mixed up young men; they're criminals, Eli knows it, and he doesn't like it. But he also doesn't do anything about it. He could have deposed them from their high offices, but he wouldn't do it.
He was a weak man, and a bit later we find out he wasn't only weak.
NEW PRIESTHOOD II
The Lord's People need a firmer hand at the wheel and also a holier one. This is what God is going to give them, v.26-
And the child Samuel grew in stature, and in favor, both with the Lord and with men.
While the old priesthood is falling to pieces, a new one is rising to take its place. Because God loves His people, and He won't all them to be mistreated forever. He also loves Himself and won't put up with men tarnishing His glory much longer.
Right now, He's got a servant in the world, only a boy, but he's a growing boy, growing in height and weight, but mostly, growing in grace, being prepared for the work God has for him to do.
This, too, is a hint of the better things to come. The verse itself is nearly word for word what Luke's Gospel says of our Lord-
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
OLD PRIESTHOOD III
Leaving the budding priesthood of Samuel, the Story gets back to the rotting one of Eli, 2:27-36
A unnamed prophet confronts him with a Word from God-
Thus says the Lord, 'Did I not clearly reveal Myself to the house of your father.Did I not choose him to be My priest.why do you kick at My sacrifice and My offering, and honor your sons more than Me, to make yourselves fat with the best offerings of Israel My people?'
This throws light on Eli's character. As I said before, he did not approve of his sons' evil ways. Still he loved the family's reputation and fortune more than he loved God. To keep his putrid sons in office, he would pollute the worship of God and make His holy name a filthy word in Israel!
Note, too, both the sons and their father got fat on the meat that belonged to God. At the end of Eli's story we learn he was-
Old and heavy.
Not 'big-boned', but 'fat', and not fat because he didn't get enough exercise, but because he stuffed himself with the steaks and lamb chops and squab that belonged to God and His people!
You want to feel sorry for Eli as a well-meaning but weak man. But the Bible doesn't let you! He's a bad man; not as bad as his sons, but plenty bad. And worthy of the judgments of heaven.
THE NEW PRIESTHOOD III
In contrast to Eli, who knows God's voice, but will not obey it, we have Samuel, who in Chapter 3 doesn't know the Voice at first, but when he learns whose it is, he submits to it.
These were bad days in Israel-
The word of the Lord was rare in those days;
There was no widespread revelation.
Israel was enduring a long and deadly famine-a famine of the Word of God. But of course they were! Eli's Household had so grieved the Holy Spirit that He gave them the silent treatment. Why waste His time on people who won't listen anyway?
If the Lord has been silent for years, He's about to speak again, speak to one He has chosen to save His people from their sin and misery.
He speaks to Samuel, who is only a boy. This is one of the great stories in the Bible and well worth telling-
Samuel has bedded down in God's House and is nearly asleep when he hears a voice calling-
Thinking it's Eli, he pops out of bed to find out what he's wanted for.
The priest tells him he didn't call-and go back to bed.
A second time-
Again he gets up to see what the old man wants. But again, he doesn't want anything. Go to sleep.
For the third time the boy rises to answer the master's call. But the master hasn't called-at least not his human master. Eli knows the boy isn't playing a prank of him, and tells him if he hears the call again-stay and bed and say-
'Speak, Lord, for your servant hears'.
'Speak, Lord, for your servant hears'.
And did He ever speak! The Lord tells Samuel that He's going to put an end to the priestly corruption in Israel by wiping out his family and never forgiving them for what they have done-
I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.
Knowing who had called him, Eli asked Samuel what he was told. The boy told the old man, who didn't like it, of course, but had the grace to take it as what he had coming-
It is the Lord;
Let Him do what seems
Good to Him.
From this day on, the Lord was with Samuel as He had never been with Eli. Good people from all over the country sensed his calling and knew he had been established a prophet of the Lord.
They were right. For the Lord began speaking to the young man as He had to no one since Moses. And the man, though young and humble, was not shy or cowardly. He began preaching the Word of God.
In this way, too, Samuel foreshadows our Lord, who received a Message from God, a message of judgment and salvation, and proclaimed it for all to hear.
THE NEW PRIESTHOOD IV
The last scene reverses the order of the first three, but makes the same point. While-
The word of Samuel came to all Israell.
THE OLD PRIESTHOOD IV
.The people were not listening to him, but were still following the wicked men God had called him to replace. Americans are famous for damning our leaders while praising ourselves (as if we didn't vote for them!). We have the leaders we deserve; and so did Israel!
The nation is at war with the Philistines, and the Philistines have inflicted a heavy loss on them-4,000 dead. The officers meet to find the cause of their defeat and get it right--
Why has the Lord defeated us this day?
How do they get Him to go with them into battle? Samuel must have told them to 'repent'. But they didn't do that; what they did is brought the Lord with them, thinking He lived in the ark of the covenant (as if He were a bird in a cage!).
The priests carry the Ark into the battle. When the Philistines see it, they quake in terror, also thinking the Lord is in the Box. But, instead of deserting the field, they find the courage to fight a desperate battle-which they win decisively-30,000 Israelites fall in the battle!
Too old to take the field, Eli fears the worst. Hearing a soldier run by, he wants the news, and it's all bad-
Israel has fled before the Philistines and there has been a great slaughter among the people. Also your sons, Hophni and Phineas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.
When he heard the Ark was lost to the Philistines, he fell backwards, broke his neck, and died, aged 98 years.
At the same time, Phineas' widow goes into labor and dies in childbirth. A son is born to her and named Ichabod which means-
The glory has departed from Israel.
So ends the sad and sinful house of Eli.
The Fall of Eli's house was a judgment of God on the family. But for Israel, it was God's salvation. In part.
For Samuel, good as he was, was not good enough. There is a better Priest and Prophet and Judge than He was. That Man is Jesus Christ, whom God has sent to take over the world.
Which, in His own good time, He will do. We are not called to pull down human powers, but we don't have to. Christ already has the authority they claim as their own. Before long, He will take it. To the eternal confounding of His enemies, the everlasting happiness of His people, and to the praise of the glory of His grace.
This means: You can put up with an unreasonable boss, an unkind husband, mean parents, corrupt politicians, and even pastors who don't live up to their high calling. Their time is short. Jesus Rules. Surely I come quickly. Even so, come Lord Jesus.
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