‘ And the child Samuel ministered unto the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was precious (NIV, ‘rare’) in those days; there was no open vision.’
The chapter then ends with,
‘And the LORD appeared again in Shiloh: for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the LORD.’ 1 Sam 3:21.
The chapter division certainly helps in this context to draw our attention to this wonderful fresh awakening that the advent of the young Samuel brought to Israel at this time.
Certain things are worth noting:
The priesthood was corrupt and Eli, who had the duty and responsibility of being both high priest and judge at that time, was unable or unwilling to curb the evil and excesses of his own sons and God, the judge of all the earth, was about to bring him to account. The language used concerning their backslidden and careless state is tellingly strong. In 1 Sam 2:12, they are called, ‘sons of Belial, they knew not the Lord’, in verse 17 the scripture says, ‘the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord…’. Finally, in verse 34, God, through the lips of a man of God who came to Eli, passed sentence upon his two sons, upon Eli himself and upon his family line.
This corruption was not just in the matter of the abuse and misuse of the priestly portion of the offerings (you can read that in the context), but also in their personal lives and lifestyles. They were drunken, abusive, and immoral.
This period in Israel’s history marked the close of the time when Israel was ruled by judges who were appointed by God to represent Him to the nation. Samuel was the last of the Judges. It was not a good time and, while it could have been a golden age, the nation lurched along from one period of backsliding to another with only a few small periods and isolated pockets of blessing. It is seldom pointed out, but should be, that while the nation used it as an excuse and argument for God to give them a king, ‘like all the other nations’ (1 Sam 8:5), this was not the Lord’s choice. His plan was that they would see Him as ‘king in Jeshurun’ (Deut 33:5). However, Samuel, though knowing this was not God’s ultimate ideal for Israel, yielded and the Lord gave them the king they desired –with mixed blessings for the rest of their national history. In fact, we should be aware, that there is, in fact, only one King, and His name is Jesus. ‘Yet have I set MY king upon my holy hill of Zion’, Psalm 2:6. This is, of course, a prophetic Psalm and refers to the Lord Jesus who is, and always will be, the true king of Israel. Every other king of Israel has only ever been a human picture and type of He who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. (Of course, they were not always ‘good’ types of the true King of Israel, but even when evil, they served to point to Him by contrast. We should also note that Ezekiel mentions that David will have a second innings as king under the sovereignty of the Great King, the Lord Jesus. You can read about this in the 34th and 37th chapters of Ezekiel.)
Back to the ‘Word of the Lord’ being ‘rare’…
The lesson and warning for us is that we are living at a time when I feel strongly that Christianity as a whole has strayed and is in danger of straying even further from the living and true Word of God. It is becoming ‘rare’ in our age, our nation, and our world, just as it was in Samuels age and generation. We have ‘heaped to ourselves teachers having itching ears…’ 2 Tim 4:3. I say this because as I move around amongst Christians and Christian churches in Hamilton and elsewhere, I am constantly being confronted with immorality, foul language, ignorance of the Word of God, slavish dependence upon ‘church attendance’ and what is handed down from the pulpit, read in books and watched on TV and the Internet for our salvation –and this is providing a false sense of security for far too many who think of themselves as being ‘Christian’ and saved. When, in fact, the evidence of salvation is not present in their daily lives and lifestyle. As believers, it is vital that we ‘bring forth fruit meet for repentance’, Math 3:8 and Acts 26:20. The word 'meet' in the KJV means, 'in keeping with’, or, that ‘proves’ the sincerity or genuineness of repentance. Pastors, youth leaders, believers and those in leadership and who are established members of local churches, are carelessly living undisciplined and often immoral lives that contradict the faith they profess and ‘put Him (Jesus) to an open shame’, Heb 6:6.
The ‘itching ears’ metaphor Paul uses so tellingly, and in direct reference to the age in which we are now living, refers to those of us who are doing the listening. We, as listeners, want to hear things that make us feel comfortable, successful, strong and courageous. We judge and evaluate the speaker on the basis of whether he leaves us feeling good about ourselves, not whether we were challenged to persevere in being faithful and true to the Lord. On the face of it that seems good and commendable. After all, we need to be ‘edified’ and ‘built up’ in our most holy faith. However, this is not what is happening. What is happening is that we are being fed a false gospel that does not challenge us to live godly lives in keeping with the faith we profess. Being successful is NOT the goal of the Gospel. In fact, being faithful to Christ and the Word of God may, and will frequently mean being unsuccessful, being a failure and refusing to be comfortable and living very constrained lives that do not allow us to be the glowing examples of success we might like to be in every area of life and business. This is the complete opposite of what I hear from most pulpits. Christianity in this age has become a shop window for ‘self-help’ and being a ‘winner’ at work and business and social activity. We are supposed to use the Bible to give us life enhancing mantras and nice little stories that teach us how to become winners at everything we do. We want to feel excited, and get a ‘buzz’ from a supposed ‘anointing’ or prophetic ‘word’ that tells us, ‘God is here’. I ‘feel’ something, or I ‘see’ something. I have had a ‘manifestation’.
The truth is that the Gospel should teach us to ‘deny worldly lusts/desires/ambitions etc’ and to ‘live soberly, righteously and godly, in this present world.’ This is the primary thing. It causes us to be faithful to God and His Word in an increasingly hostile world that denies the truths of God, the moral law, what is right and what is really wrong. Living with integrity in a world that is primarily focused on lifestyle, wealth, success, image and material prosperity. A world the Bible and the Lord Jesus has told us not to love, not to follow after, copy or be like in any way at all -a world that actually HATES true followers of the Lord Jesus. Consider John 15:19, 1 John 2:15, 1 John 3:1. We need to realise that we are saved, not only from the PENALTY of sin, but also from the power of sin in our personal lives. That means from doing and practicing sinful things and sinful acts that are unholy and unrighteous. This will mean our speech, our conversation, our way of life, our behavior, what we read, what we watch on TV, what we do for ‘entertainment’ and every aspect of our lives and living will become holy, righteous, separated from sin and sinful behavior. We live IN the world, but we are not OF the world. We live lives that are markedly different from those around us. We will ‘stand out’ because of this. This is why the disciples were first labeled ‘Christians’. They reminded people of Christ, they were different in speech and behavior and in the goal and purpose of their lives. They lived for one reason only, to please God and glorify the name of Jesus. Here in the words of Paul to Titus is a key passage that spells this out for us…
‘For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.’ Titus 2: 11-15.
Paul tells Timothy that these are the things we should be speaking about and exhorting one another with. Why? Because Jesus is coming back and we will soon be appearing before Him to receive the reward or loss for the ‘things done in the body’.
‘For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done , whether it be good or bad. 2 Cor 5:10.
What is the Gospel?
This arises, I believe, because we are even confused about the Gospel itself. The Gospel is Good News for sinners. But, the good news is that Jesus Christ paid the price for our sin. We are the liars, the thieves, the blasphemers, the adulterers in thought as well as deed for who Christ died. Every living breathing human being without exception who does not repent and turn away from this behavior in all its forms ‘is condemned already’ (John 3:18) and is destined for eternal separation from God forever and ever in a place of utter darkness, total loneliness, pain and suffering from which there is and will be no escape. God, the judge of all the earth has appointed the day when this will happen. It is set in the calendar. It cannot be avoided, unless we repent and turn back to God in righteousness and true holiness. There is no mention in the Gospel of Jesus Christ of living happily ever after –in this life. The opposite is true. We have been saved from eternal death, not from difficulty in this life. Rather, the Gospel tells us that,
‘…we must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God’ Acts 14:22.
Again, the Lord Jesus said,
‘These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.’ John 16:33.
If your lifestyle is not causing you tribulation/trouble, then you need to begin to seriously question whether you do truly believe the Gospel that Jesus and the apostles preached and proclaimed.
He has ‘overcome the world’ and we can have inner peace in spite of the conflict and temptation and distractions and difficulties and challenges of being a true and genuine follower of the Lord. How did the Lord Jesus overcome the world? He ‘endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself’.
‘Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.’ Hebrews 12:1-8.
We don’t hear much exhortation to endure chastisement do we? Yet, the writer tells us that if we don’t receive painful chastisement (scourging!) then we are NOT His children. If we don’t realise we are saved from eternal loss, pain, punishment and judgment for our own personal sins and selfish behavior, then we will never have the fortitude to ENDURE to the end of this mortal and relatively short-lived life on earth. The only thing that can help you endure to the end is having a clear vision of the glory that is to follow for all those who do prove faithful in this life. It is MY sinfulness and selfishness and Christ rejection that put the Lord Jesus on the Cross. I nailed him there and when you and I ponder the Cross of Christ our hearts need to be broken and humbled and repentant and contrite. Then I can experience the joy of having been forgiven and cleansed from all my sin. But it is a joy mixed with a sober awe and solemn appreciation that ‘God SO loved’ me that He GAVE His only begotten Son…’ The victorious Christian life is living constantly in the light of that. It is refusing to sin, lie, swear, steal, blaspheme and do anything at all that could in any way dishonor Him. That is what living in victory really means. It is to commit ourselves to living lives that adorn the doctrine (Titus 2:10) of our wonderful Saviour. It means living sacrificially, going without and choosing to live often very simple lives so that we can share what we have with others, our fellow believers first (Gal 6:10) and then those less fortunate than ourselves –it is practicing equality among our fellow believers in all things (Acts 2:44, 4:32). It is sharing this Gospel with everyone we come into contact with at work, at play, socially, and in every possible way. It means dreaming up ways to share this good news that Jesus took our place on the Cross and died so that we could have eternal life and be able to look forward with great anticipation to His physical and visible return to take us to be with Him forever. That’s what it’s all about.
So, fellowshipping and being part of a caring ekklesia with our fellow believers becomes so very important in the light of this. We need to encourage one another to continue on for God, to be faithful in our lives and as witnesses for Him, not to give up, even when being a believer and a follower of Jesus becomes super costly, both emotionally, materially and in every other way. What has it cost you today to be a believer? Did you struggle against sin? Were you tempted to give up, to do something you knew in your heart was not right, to choose a path that was narrow and difficult when you could have chosen one that was broad and easy? Don’t give up. Be encouraged. Jesus is coming soon and He is bringing His reward with Him. Run to win. Look unto Jesus and keep the heavenly vision in mind. Think about Him coming in the clouds in power and great glory. Think about being caught up to meet Him in the clouds and always being with Him for ever after.
Pray for one another. James 5:16.
In Christian love and affection,