Friday, May 10, 2013

Role Models: Samuel and Eli

One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Wednesday, May 8, 2013:  1 Samuel 2:22-4:22

Now the boy Samuel ministered to the Lord before Eli.  And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation.  I Samuel 3:1 (NKJV)

The story of the calling of Samuel is a study in contrasting role models..  On the one side is this young boy who from birth has been "lent to the Lord" (I Sam. 1:28).  On the other is  a priest named Eli.

Samuel was one of the most crucially important figures in the Old Testament.  He presided over the end of one era and the beginning of another.  Some even considered him to be something of a second Moses.  His name appears on a par with Moses in Jer. 15:1 and Psalm 99:6.  He was the last of the mighty judges and the first of the great prophets.  After Moses and Joshua died, a period of chaos prevailed in which strong judges rose up to lead Israel.  Samuel brought a close to that roller-coaster era.  Then he was used by God to set up the office of king for the people of God.  It is incredibly significant that Saul and David were both anointed by Samuel to become king.  Samuel was a man of integrity unswayed by the contrary winds of his day.

By contrast, Eli was perhaps one of the worst examples of priesthood in the Old Testament.  While Samuel inspires us toward godliness and faithfulness, Eli inspires us to NOT follow his example!  Eli is a tragic figure.

We live in a world of role models.  Some role models embody that which we want to be.  Others show us what we DO NOT want to be.  Samuel is the former.  Unfortunately, Eli is the latter.

Eli appears in the first four chapters of I Samuel.  In those days, The Ark of the Covenant was housed within the Tabernacle and rested at Shiloh.  Eli and his sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were primary keepers of this holy place.   There were three major mistakes surrounding the life of Eli.

1.  The worst is of these three is the offensive conduct of his sons.  His sons served with him "at the door of the tabernacle" but God calls them "worthless sons" (I Sam. 2:12).  They were corrupt.  Through their thievery and sexual misconduct, they caused the people of Israel to "despise the offering of The Lord" (I Sam. 2:17).

GOD HELD ELI RESPONSIBLE FOR THE SINS OF HIS SONS.  That is a sobering reality.  We might question why God was so exacting with Eli, but the key is found in that Eli never restrained them.  He never stopped them.  It seems that he silently assented with their activities and even profited himself.  In I Samuel 2:29, an unnamed man of God prophecies to Eli, "Why do you kick at My sacrifice and my offering ... and honor your sons more than Me, to make yourselves fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel My people?"

God stripped the anointing off of Eli because of that which he passively allowed among his sons.  Certainly this is a call to each of us to courageously and compassionately strive for godliness in leadership.  In a day of constant scandals, we can not grow callous or accustomed to low standards among those who lead.  Divorce and sexual misconduct are increasingly accepted in churches that actually claim to believe the Bible!  As in the days of Eli, this is destined to bring down God's corrective judgment.

2.  Eli was amazingly INSENSITIVE TO SPIRITUAL REALITY.  Despite the fact that he regularly handled the things of God, he did not recognize the voice of God.  When God called Samuel's name at night, Eli never heard a thing.  In fact, it took three midnight calls before Eli finally advised Samuel that it might be God who was speaking.

This is further illustrated by the way he dealt Hanna in I Samuel 1:10-18.  Hanna was a young woman desperately in need of God's blessing.  As she cried out in prayer at the Tabernacle, Eli thought she had been drinking too much wine, and accused her of drunkenness.  Eli's spiritual discernment was certainly lacking.  He seems to recognize drunkenness more quickly than desire for God.

3.  Eli ALLOWED THE WORSHIP OF GOD TO FALTER.  In I Samuel 3:1-3 we find two indicters of the spiritual climate that prevailed under the ministry of Eli.  Verse 1 says, "the word of The Lord was rare in those days, and there was no widespread revelation."  Then in verse 3, we find that the lamp of God in the holy place had nearly gone out!  Since the earliest days of the Tabernacle, the Levitical priesthood had been charged with keeping this lamp burning (Ex. 27:20).  It is indicative of the ministry of the Holy Spirit shedding light on the work of God.

Eli was an old man and his physical eyes had grown dim (I Sam. 3:2).  Just as Eli could not see, so the work of God in his day had "gone blind" too.

Perhaps most critical was the way Eli allowed the Ark of the Covenant to be captured by the Philistines (I Samuel 4:1-11).  As a result of misuse of the anointing of God, the very presence of God in the midst of Israel was lost.   This is one of the dark days in the history of God's people.

Symbolically, the aged, blind, obese Eli faints.  As a result of his advanced age and heaviness, he breaks his neck in the fall and dies --the tragic end of a wasted ministry.  But, further symbolic events unfold.  A birth took place.  Eli's daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, comes to full term.  No doubt the tragedy unfolding around her precipitated this dramatic birth.  She DIES in the delivery and the child in the day of its birth losses BOTH PARENTS and well as its grandfather.  The child is given the name ICHABOD, which means "the glory is departed."

Just as Eli illustrates the errant ways of a misguided ministry, Samuel shows the path of effectiveness and fruitfulness.  Time will not allow us here to catalog the many ways Samuel was a man "on time and in time."  In his earliest calling, he is hearing and heeding the voice of God.

Perhaps the best summary of Samuel's entire life came in the early statements about him:  "So Samuel grew, and Lord was with him, and let none of his words fall to the ground" (I Samuel 3:19).

May each of us be so engaged with God that the end of our days sees the FULLNESS of God's glory and blessing.  May all His words over us and through us come to pass.  May none fall to the ground.  May it NOT be said of us that under our care, the glory departed.

Come, Lord.  May Your Kingdom come and Your will be done.  May the lamp burn bright in our day.

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