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TEXT: I Samuel 7:15-8:3
SUBJECT: Life of Samuel #6: Already/Not Yet
Today's short Bible-reading sums up the public life of Samuel, one of Israel's greatest leaders. Unlike anyone before him-and only One after-the man held three offices at the same time. He was a prophet, a priest, and a judge.
Others did not combine the offices because they could not be trusted with them; the power was too great for ordinary men, but Samuel was not an ordinary man. The Lord was with him from before his birth until after his death many years later. It was this special indwelling that fit him to receive such power and to use it long and well in the service of God and His People.
In reading his story, therefore, we must beware of hero-worship. Samuel was both a good and a great man, and we ought to highly honor him. But not too highly. For like another great and good man, he was what he was by the grace of God.
THE LORD PROVIDES
What was Samuel?
Depending on the angle from which you look at him, several true answers can be given. He was a man, a man of God, a prophet, a priest, a judge, a father, and other things too.
It is one of these 'other things' that I have in mind: Samuel was the Gift of God. His very name indicates this, for it means, I asked the Lord for him. He got that name for a good reason: his mother had been married a long time, but was not able to have a baby.
One day, in the Presence of God (and His Ark) she prayed with such fervor and faith and hope and submission that the Lord gave her what she wanted. Eli was the High Priest in those days, and most things he did were wrong. But one thing he did right: feeling the depth of the dear lady's prayer, he uttered a priestly blessing that was also a prophecy-
Go in peace and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have asked of Him.
Hannah knew it was not a mere man who had spoken the Good Word, but God Himself. She was right. That very year, the promise was fulfilled and the barren sang for joy!
Few stories are as touching as this one. But I failed to say something that needed to be said. As the lady was begging God for a son, she was doing something else as well. She was offering him back to the Lord, not unlike Abraham did in laying Isaac on the altar many years before.
The Lord took the offered son. Thus, Samuel was not only God's gift to Hannah-but to the nation, and through the Jewish people, he was a gift to the whole world.
Samuel was the gift of God. But of course he was, for-
Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of Lights with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
Some gifts are for admiring. What else do you do with a diamond ring, for example? But others are given to be used. The husband who unwraps a lawnmower on his birthday and then proudly puts it up on the mantle for everyone to see and praise has missed the point of the gift. His wife gave it to him to.use!
Samuel was more like the mower than he was like the ring. He was given to be used. The work he was called to do was to judge Israel, see chapter 7, verses 15, 16, and 17-
So Samuel judged Israel.He judged Israel in all those places.There he judged Israel.
What is a Judge? Our judges interpret and apply the law. When they do it properly, they promote justice and peace. This work occupied most of Samuel's time, but not all of it. For the Judges of Israel also led their armies into battle. Go back to the Book of Judges and you'll find men like Othniel, Ehud, Gideon, and Jepthah, not sitting behind a bench pounding gavels, but brandishing weapons and fighting the wars of God.
Samuel did this too. Just a few verses back, it says-
So the Philistines were subdued, and they did not come anymore into the territory of Israel. And the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.
There was no fixed term for the Judges. Some served only a few years, while others stayed in office a very long time. Samuel was one of the latter. V.15-
So Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life.
He came to leadership as a young man and laid down his work only when he died. And even then, he had one more job to do-and did it!
The quality of his work was second to none (or, to put a finer point on it: second only to the work of Christ).
He was a man of God long before he was.a man. He was a little boy when he ministered before the Lord wearing a linen ephod, and it was Samuel the child who humbly received and then fearlessly spoke the Word of God. His calling and gifts were so obvious that no one was unaware of them; even the man whose place he would take had to say-
It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good to Him.
Some men start well but end badly. The first king of Israel was such a man. When Saul was little in his own eyes he fought and won the battles of the Lord. When the perks of the monarchy went to his head, he became God's enemy, and lost the kingdom. He was not alone; many promising men have been-
Lifted up with pride and fallen into the condemnation of the devil.
But Samuel-thank God-was not one of them. Not long before he died, he called the nation together, vindicated his character and work, and dared the people to say what he had done wrong-
I am old and gray-headed.I have walked before you from my childhood to this day. Here I am witness against me before the Lord and His anointed.And they said, 'You have not defrauded us or oppressed us'. Then he said to them, 'the Lord is witness against you and His anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand. And they answered, 'He is witness'.
The people were not flattering the graybeard. While no one is perfect or sinless, he had lived his whole life in public, and had kept his integrity. This is the kind of man he was, and the kind of Gift the Lord had given His people.
This says something about the nation. Samuel was given to the people because they needed him. They needed him because they had strayed from God and from godliness. The people were worshiping idols, Baal in particular. He was a fertility god, and his worship looked more like an orgy than a church service.
In the 18th and 19th Centuries men dreamed they could live good lives without God. Some of them-living off the legacy of the past-were able to do it to some degree. While rejecting or forgetting God, they still believed in Truth and Morality and Fair Play. But 'ideas have consequences'. All good things are built (either knowingly or unknowingly) on God. Take Him away and Good Things lose their foundation, and are soon washed away. Their Dream became our Nightmare.
Israel needed a Judge, but not a weak man like Eli, no less bad men like his sons. What they needed was Samuel. And this is what they got.
This says something about God. He is eager to save His people. Finding no pleasure in their sin or misery, He sent them a savior. Why? Not because they were good or wanted His mercy-but because He is good and shows mercy to the people who least deserve it.
It is impossible to do justice to the grace of God! The hymn says it is-
Broader than the scope of my transgression,
Deeper far than all my sin and shame.
The Psalmist goes him one better-
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him.
Paul one ups him-
But God commended His love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
This says something about the future. The God who sent Samuel to save His people from the Philistines and the Baals will, one day, send a better Savior to save His people from a worse enemy.
Samuel was the Gift of God, who pointed to Another Gift, the One of whom the prophet wrote-
Unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given.
THE LORD WILL PROVIDE
If Samuel was a Gift of God, he was not the Gift. The last three verses of Chapter 7 tell us what a fine man Samuel was, and how much good he did his people.
He set up an altar in his hometown of Ramah. There, he offered offer sacrifices, and prayed for them, to secure the blessings of heaven. This was his priestly work. But it's not all he did.
He also established courts, in Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah. Each year, he visited the three places and administered the Law of God.
Had he been able to keep this up, all would have been (relatively) good for Israel. But he couldn't. The first three verses of Chapter 8 tell us-
Now it came to pass when Samuel was old that he made his sons judges over Israel.
This was due to the man's age, not to laziness. A seventy year old man doesn't have the energy or focus of the same man at thirty. As he slowed down, the work became too much for him, and he turned most of it over to his sons. And here's the rub-
His sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice.
There were two problems with Samuel's leadership: it was subject to age and to weakness. He couldn't lead Israel forever because he was mortal, and mortal means he got old and, eventually he died.
It also means, while he can teach and discipline his successors, he cannot make them good men. His sons were not worthy of their father, and he couldn't make them worthy.
Was Samuel a bad father? The Bible doesn't say he was, and judging by the rest of his character, I would think he wasn't. I know he set a good example, and I assume he taught them well. But 'making men good' takes more than a fine example and thorough teaching. It takes nothing less than Life (with a capital 'L'). No man can give this.
Unless the man is also.God.
Thus, both Samuel's adequacy and his inadequacy point us to Christ. The Lord who provided a savior will, one day, provide The Savior.
And, The Savior will be so mighty, so wise, and so good, that He will change His people from the inside-out, and fit them for a communion with God and a holiness that will last forever.
The Promise of our Story has been kept. God, in infinite mercy and love, has sent One greater than Samuel. He is God's only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. He has come to save us from our self-centered ways, and from the punishment that must justly fall on the self-centered.
On the cross, He took the punishment we had coming. In rising from the dead and ascending to heaven, He gives us the Life I referred to earlier-with a capital 'L'. This is the life of heaven itself, and the only life that is fit for heaven.
This Life is ours; it belongs to every Christian. Because Christ is ours! And we are His. What the Song of Solomon says about the newlywed love of husband and wife, we say to Christ-and He says to us-
I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine.
Let, us, therefore, be thankful for all of God's mercies. For the things we don't notice-like a beating heart. For things we seldom notice-like driving somewhere in the car and getting out alive. And for things we often notice, but not with the appreciation they deserve-like friendship, work, food, marriage, love, children, grandchildren.
If the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord, our hearts ought to be full of gratitude, and our mouths full of His praise-
Blessed be God who daily loads us with all benefits;
Even the God of our salvation!
If it is good to be thankful for God's lesser mercies, it is better to praise Him for His greater mercy, the Lord Jesus Christ, and what He brings us: The Forgiveness of Sin and Life Everlasting.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
Whom He has redeemed from the hand
of the enemy.
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