November 14th 2021: John Mann

1 Samuel 3:11 – 4:11

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1 Samuel 3:11 – 4:11

I love the Old Testament accounts and exploits of God’s people. Here, the nation of Israel is in a state of apostasy. We read at the end of the book of Judges, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6).

Today, people do what is right in their own eyes. God remained faithful to the Israelites, despite their foolishness. “Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.” (1 Samuel 3:11). Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the day, were wicked men. God pronounced a curse on the house of Eli because of his disobedience and his failure to control his sons (v.14).

Eli’s two sons are about to suffer the judgement of God. Poor Samuel was tasked with bearing bad news, telling Eli of God’s judgement. Even in this situation, the sovereign goodness of God works in His people. Eli came to acknowledge, even through his discipline, even through this difficult situation, that the sovereign goodness of God works ultimately for the good of His people. “So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.” (v.18).

There is an application for us already, at the start of this passage; God is always working out His overall plan to do us good, to work out His set purposes according to His constant grace and mercy. God is faithful. There are no accidental incidents on our lives. Our lives are ordained according to the set purpose of our sovereign God. Very often we may not fully recognise it. God is faithful and He is working our His purposes.

Fear of Eli’s response made Samuel initially shy away from giving Eli this message. But he realised it had to be declared openly and fully as it had been given to him, no matter what Eli’s response would be. The gospel of salvation is very often an offence to sinners. It exposes the condition of their hearts. It lays bare the corruption that lies within everyone of us. The doctrine of hell is an offence to sinners. The idea of eternal punishment goes against what they feel to be true of themselves. Preaching the full gospel in our day can often be a hard undertaking. It is not always easy to proclaim the full truth that God has entrusted to us. The gospel very often is watered down, even in the established church.

Eli indicates how seriously we must take God’s instructions, “And Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” (1 Samuel 3:17). God will deal severely with those who do not preach truthfully, honestly and boldly. I believe that Samuel learned an important early lesson – it is not our place to edit the word of God or choose those things we feel are more acceptable, but to tell it as it is and leave God to deal with the reactions that come from it.

God blesses Samuel’s response, “And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.” (1 Samuel 3:19). God helps us to see that in our day, the words that are preached do not fall to the ground. We are promised God’s word will not return to Him void. That is the assurance we should have. Jesus said, “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11-12). Warning people of coming judgement and hell takes great wisdom and tact. Jesus said, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16). We have to be truthful and speak of judgement and hell. Our witness must be urgent and not compromised. But it also has to be with love and tears.

God continued to use Samuel, “And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord.” (1 Samuel 3:20). Strangely, after being called by God, Samuel takes a back seat and is not mentioned in chapters 4-6, which switch to God’s sovereignty and His gracious dealings with His rebellious people. God’s grace was seen on countless occasions. Samuel did not go on holiday or take a sabbatical; he would still have been preaching. Sadly, the people weren’t listening or responding to God’s word. But God was still at work, working out His purposes.

The Israelites are about to engage in battle with the Philistines. The battle commences, the Philistines are victorious. In the wake of this stinging defeat the Israelites come up with the bright idea of getting the Ark of the Covenant, “And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it[ may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” (1 Samuel 4:3).

When the Ark of the Covenant arrived, the Israelites gave a great shout, “As soon as the Ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded.” (1 Samuel 4:5). The Philistines shake in their shoes. The wonders of what God had done in Egypt have reached their ears, now this God had come to the Israelites. However, the Philistines’ morale is restored (v.9). The battle continues, but this time the Israelites are not just beaten but thrashed (v.10). Hophni and Phinehas died. It’s a bloodbath, gruesome, awful.

The Israelites were on the receiving end. Why? Because they had taken the Ark of the Covenant into battle. They didn’t so much want God as the box that He was in. They have rejected God and gone their own way. They are facing an enemy and are going in their own strength, led by Hophni and Phinehas, who dishonoured the name of Yahweh. The called for the ‘magic box’, a talisman. Their faith is no more than superstition. God will not be manipulated or manoeuvred.

Sadly, even within churches of our day, people want to use the name of Jesus as a means to an end. With so-called faith they expect to get what they want from God – their health and their wealth. Their hearts have little consideration for the glory of the name of Jesus. Their lives do little to honour His name, but they still expect an answer when the battle heats up, when opposition comes or when they face difficulties.

Remember what Jesus said, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:22-23).

Our God is not a God who operates at our beck and call. We can’t manipulate or mould God into our way of thinking. This is our sovereign God who is awesome in His majesty. He cannot, and will not, be trifled with. This is the reality of many today, who think God is there for their convenience, when it suits them.

What a god of grace He is. When His people oppose Him, when they blaspheme the name of Jesus, when they scorn and criticise, God, in His grace and mercy, withholds His hand of judgement, causes the sun to shine on the righteous and the unrighteous. He sends rain on the just and the unjust. Our God is a God of remarkable grace and patience. I believe it is only when people of our day seek God as He really is, in all the wonder of His being, in all the purity and perfection and the awesomeness and power of our God, that our nation will ever change and be lifted out of the pit that it has put itself in.

34,000 soldiers lay dead on a gruesome, blood-filled battlefield. The enemies rejoice. Often, the church seems so weak against the enemy. It appears it is all over for the Israelites. But that is to forget God is working through all circumstances. He foretold the deaths of Hophni and Phinehas (chapter 2). Now God is bringing His judgement to pass. But even in this disaster, God was working out His purpose for His chosen people. God always keeps His word and His intentions are always carried out. Jesus said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18).

There are battles in the life of the church, in our own personal lives. We may feel the battle is lost, we may feel discouraged, until God reminds us not to lose sight of His sovereignty and purposes. God uses our circumstances, even the enemy against us, to remove the dross and refine us. Eli is feeling the discipline and judgement. But God’s promises are true and will always come to pass. There has been a great battle and a great defeat, but this is not the end.

Two thousand years ago, on a hill outside of Jerusalem, another battle was fought, a greater battle. It appeared there that the enemy had the upper hand, it seemed that Satan had achieved his ultimate purpose – to destroy God’s Messiah, along with His plan of salvation.

The enemies of God were rejoicing as they stood at the cross and saw what was happening, as they mocked and scorned, convinced that their victory was complete. The hero of the church was captured, humiliated, hanging on a Roman cross. It appeared this gruesome, blood-soaked battlefield was the end, not only of the Lord Jesus Christ but also His church. But God’s plan was being fulfilled and His purpose was being carried out. Out of this apparent defeat came a glorious and final victory – the enemy of our souls destroyed forever. Sin destroyed forever. Death destroyed forever. Pain, suffering, illness, conflict, sadness, loneliness, crying, weeping, all ultimately destroyed forever.

This was no defeat. At Calvary it was a glorious victory. We are told to never judge by appearances. It appeared it was all over for the Israelites. But God had not deserted them. He was ordering events, guiding circumstances, controlling the outcome, in order that their future might be more certain, that they might know a stronger future, that they might be drawn ever closer to Him, that their future might be more faithful, that their walk with Him might be deeper and closer.

There may be times when we appear to be losing the battle. There may be times when our enemy seems to be winning. There are times when we lose some battles, when we foolishly rely upon our own strengths, thinking we can make it by our own resources. We find, to our own cost, that our strength is completely insufficient. There are times when we lose these battles. But God is always in control. We lose some battles, but the war is already won. The Lord Jesus Christ has triumphed on Calvary and those who are in Him, who are in Christ Jesus, looking alone to Him for their salvation, are safe and secure, because we are lon the victory side.

God hadn’t finished with the Israelites, this wasn’t the end. God hasn’t finished with us. If you are believing and trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing the difficulties, knowing the battles, feeling the weakness, God hasn’t finished with you yet. His perfect, gracious, unstoppable intention was to lead His people, the Israelites, to a greater knowledge of Himself. His unstoppable intention in your life and mine is to lead us on to a greater Christ-likeness in this life, but then, ultimately, to perfect Christ-likeness in eternity.

So, when you are feeling the heat of the battle, look to Christ because He hasn’t finished with us. We are still on the victory side and the best is yet to come.

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