Almost Obedient

  I.      Introduction

Slide1We’ve been studying the book of 1 Samuel, and if you remember back in 1 Samuel 8, the people Israel demanded a king.  Samuel said, “Are you sure about that?”  And the Lord said, “my people have rejected me, so I will give them what they want.”  So today, we’re going to look at the king the people of Israel received.  I think two verses illustrate this new king very well.  First is 1 Samuel 9:17,

When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the Lord said to him, “This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people.”

Then a few verses later in 1 Samuel 10:20-22, it’s time to present Saul as king to the Israelite, and I’ll paraphrase a little here:

But when they looked for [Saul], he was not to be found.  So they inquired further of the Lord, “Has the man come here yet?”

And the Lord said, “Yes, he has hidden himself among the supplies.”

So Samuel appointed Saul as the first king who had been hiding in the kitchen pantry for some reason.  The people of Israel eventually had to seize him and force him to be king.

The Philistines mostly ignored the happenings within Israel, but the formation of a monarchy is about to renew the conflict with the Philistines.  The Philistines had defeated the Israelites in previous conflicts; if you remember all the way back to 1 Samuel 4, the Israelites made an attempt at independence, attacking the Philistines while holding the Ark of the Covenant in front of them like a luck rabbit’s foot.  On that day, 30,000 Israeli soldiers died and the Ark was captured by the Philistines.Slide3

The Philistines maintained control over Israel with strategically placed garrisons.  While the tribes of Israel were easily dominated, when Israel proclaimed they had a king, this was a sign of independence and the conflict began anew.

At the beginning of the chapter of 1 Samuel 13, the new king Saul divides his army and puts his son Jonathon over one division with 1000 men.  Jonathan was a devoted follower of the Lord and he faced a decision; the Lord had long commanded that the people of Israel occupy the land of Canaan, but the Philistines are in control.  Jonathan displays fearless devotion to God and immediately attacks a small Philistine outpost and routes them.  It’s a small victory.Slide4

Israel has been repeatedly defeated by the Philistines, so any victory here over the Philistines is significant.  Losing this garrison was humiliating to the Philistines, but it also threatened the Philistine’s control of the region.  While before small skirmishes erupted from time to time, this time because of the new proclaimed king and the loss of the outpost, scripture says Israel has become obnoxious to the Philistine.  The Philistines decide to eradicate the people of Israel.  Now it’s war.

The Philistine outmatched the Israelis in numbers, strategy, organization, and weaponry.  Let’s look at the Philistine army in 1 Samuel 13:5 –

The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore.

Some manuscripts say 30,000 chariots.  Either way, this is the largest chariot force mentioned anywhere in the Old Testament.  Continuing in verse 6 –

They went up and camped at Micmash, east of Beth Aven.  When the men of Israel saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns.

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Whew.  Israel expected some sort of punishment or military retaliation for their raid on the outpost, but this is a full-scale invasion that appears intent on eradicating Israel forever.

The Philistines had iron weapons and chariots; the Fighting Farmers of Israel had pitchforks.  Worse, Israel was dependent on Philistine blacksmiths for making and repairing tools they needed to farm.  This was a strategic decision by the Philistines; it says in verse 19 there was not a blacksmith to be found in Israel to prevent them from making swords and spears.  So the Philistines arrive in overwhelming numbers and defeat seems inevitable.

The Lord has a plan – doesn’t He always have a plan?  It’s our pride and independence that gets us into trouble, which we would avoid if we just stayed obedient.  What are the Lord’s instructions to Saul?  Let’s back up a little bit to last week’s lesson in 1 Samuel 10:5-8.  The prophet Samuel takes a flask of oil, anointing the new king Saul in the name of the Lord, and then says –

After that you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost… Go down ahead of me to Gilgal. I will surely come down to you to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, but you must wait seven days until I come to you and tell you what you are to do.

Pretty straightforward.  Wait seven days for the prophet Samuel who will offer a sacrifice to the Lord and then tell you what comes next.  But what does Saul actually do?  1 Samuel 13:7b-13 –

Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear.  He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter.  So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.”  And Saul offered up the burnt offering.  Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.

“What have you done?” asked Samuel.

Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash,  I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”

“You acted foolishly,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time.

God’s instructions through Samuel told Saul to Gilgal and wait seven days for the priest Samuel to come and sacrifice burnt offerings.  Faced with overwhelming odds from the Philistine army, Saul acts by assuming the role of the priest and offering a sacrifice.  Saul foolishly disobeys God’s command out of fear, and his disobedience reveals that Saul has no comprehension of his responsibility to God.  Saul feared the loss of his soldiers and he feared losing the battle.  And what’s more, the whole purpose of sacrificing a burnt offering indicates absolute dedication to God, so Saul’s disobedient offering had absolutely no meaning.  If Saul was truly dedicated to God, he would have obeyed and waited on God.

II.      Fear

After Saul has completed his sacrifice, Samuel arrives and asks, “What have you done?”  It’s not like Samuel didn’t know, the aroma of burned meat was still in the air.  Ever come home at the end of the day and your neighbors are barbecuing?  You know exactly what they’re doing.  Samuel knows, too, but he asks Saul anyway to get the disobedient king to think about what he’s done.

But instead, Saul comes up with excuses for being disobedient.  The 7th day was not over, yet Saul didn’t wait until the evening.  Therefore, it must have been Samuel’s fault for not arriving earlier.  Saul was forced to do what he did.  When scholars write of Saul’s disobedience, they discuss failures ranging from taking on the role of the priest to failing to wait the full amount of time.  But the real reason is Saul’s character.  He didn’t trust the Lord to do what he was supposed to do.  He feared the consequences of failing to sacrifice more than he trusted in the Lord to whom he was offering the sacrifice.

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Proverbs 29:25 says that fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord will be kept safe.  Saul was afraid of the battle, afraid of the enemy, afraid his own men were not up to the task.  And so out of fear, Saul was attempting to summon the Lord’s power with his sacrifice, to pull a miracle out of a hat.  But one cannot conjure up a miracle from the Lord.  One commentary calls this “theological blackmail.”  The Lord will save His people, not because He has been summoned through our actions, but because it is in His nature to do so.  We cannot compel God.  God acts because He loves us.

We still do this today, don’t we?  How often out of fear, out of panic, out of lack of trust do we go to the Lord in prayer?  I remember the panic when both Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Ike were bearing down on Houston and reading about how many people went to the Lord in prayer for the first time in weeks or months or even years?  Yet to seek the Lord’s favor only in times of panic is futile.  God wants us to seek Him always.  God does not want us to live in fear; 2 Timothy 1:7 says –

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

Slide10Samuel tells Saul that if he had obeyed, the Lord would have established Saul’s kingdom over Israel for all time, but because of his disobedience, Saul’s kingdom will not endure. Unfortunately, Saul doesn’t learn from his disobedience; I think Saul is in denial about his disobedience, especially since we’re about to see this disobedience continue.

 

III.      Redefine Obedience

Let’s turn to 1 Samuel 15; the Lord has put Saul in charge of punishing the Amalekites; we have to go all the way back to Exodus 17 to understand who the Amalekites are.  They’re one of the many -ites that trouble Israel over the centuries.  The Amalekites, the Amorites, the Canaanites.  The Nightlights.  The Stalactites and the Stalagmites.  The Saturday Nights.

Moses, leading the Israelites out of Egypt in the Desert of Sinai, are attacked from the rear by the Amelekites who are picking off women and children that are straggling.  You may recall Joshua led a battle against them while Moses held his hand in the air.  Moses’ arm is tired so his arm is held up by Aaron and Hur.   Joshua wins that battle, but our God isn’t pleased that while leading His people to freedom that they are attacked.  In Exodus 17:14-16,

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”

Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner.  He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”

Slide11God’s justice will remove the Amalekites and blot out their memory.  Anybody here know any Amalekites?

Now is the time God has chosen for Saul to wipe out the Amalekites; 1 Samuel 15:1-3,

Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD.  This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.  Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ “

The time for justice to be delivered to the Amalekites has come, but listen to how Saul carried out these instructions in 1 Samuel 15:7-9 –

Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, to the east of Egypt.  He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword.  But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.

Of course Saul obeyed the Lord, *if* you redefine what obedience means.  In 1100 BC, capturing the king during a war meant riches for the winner.  The king could be ransomed off for a handsome profit.  And it would be a shame to kill all the animals, too, when there were so much better uses for them.

IV.      Denial

In verse 10, the Lord tells Samuel that He is grieved because Saul didn’t carry out His commands, so Samuel goes to see Saul, who in verse 12 is told that Saul is busy building a monument in his own honor.  In verse 13-15 –

When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.”

But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”

Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

It’s like Saul is saying, “Hey, not only did I obey, but I improved upon the Lord’s instructions!  I did so good, I awarded myself a trophy!”

But did Saul obey?  Saul is in denial about his obedience.  “The Lord bless you, I have carried out the Lord’s instructions,” he says.  As Christians today, we have specific instructions, too.  “Forgive one another, up to seventy times seven.”  And our response?  Oh, I forgive him, I don’t hold any grudges.  I just want to talk to him or ever see his face again.  Submit to one another, love one another as Christ loves us.  Are we really being obedient?  Or are we in denial, too, redefining what it means to be obedient?

  V.      Partial Obedience

One method of denial, a method of disobedience, is to be partially obedient.  Samuel’s question – if you obeyed, why do I hear cows? – is a telling one.  First he is in denial, then Saul explains that partial obedience is more than enough.  Look at verse 20 –

“But I did obey the LORD,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king.

The Lord said to destroy the Amalekites; Saul said of course he destroyed them except their king.  Colossians 3:5-6 says –

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.

Those are the Lord’s instructions to us, these are the Amalekites of sin to us.   Yet, too often, we believe that we can pick and choose among God’s instructions, and then we act as though God should be appreciative of the bits and pieces that we do.  God defines obedience as total obedience.  We obey mostly, but we leave kingdoms of sin in our lives.

Let me offer a question for us to ponder – rather than asking ourselves how much we obey God, let’s ask God to show us where we do not obey.  Scripture tells us to hold captive every thought so that we do not sin.  Ever had a critical thought about somebody?  Scripture says we should be slow to speak so our tongue does not cause us to sin.  Ever said anything unkind?  We shouldn’t fool ourselves and imagine we are obedient.  We are nonstop disobedient; we just don’t want to acknowledge it.  We pretend partial obedience is sufficient.  But we cannot think ourselves as obedient to God when we redefine to ourselves what it means to be obedient.  If we’re partially obedient, we’re still disobedient.

VI.      Blame Others

Another way we are disobedient to is to blame our disobedience, our partial obedience, on somebody else.  I could forgive him if he wasn’t such a jerk.  It would be easier for me to go to church if the people there were friendlier.  That what Saul says.  In verse 20, Saul says, “But I did obey the Lord” and then he continues on in verse 21…

The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.”

I did obey the Lord, but the soldiers didn’t do right.   I had this great plan to serve the Lord, but somebody else messed it up.  Of course I made a covenant with my spouse for better or worse, but you don’t know my spouse.  Of course I can forgive my friend as soon as she asks for forgiveness. Sometimes we even blame God.  I lost my temper, sure, but God made me that way.

This disobedience is literally the oldest trick in the book.  Adam blamed his disobedience on Eve.  “It’s her fault!” And the Eve blamed it on the serpent.  But we cannot blame our own disobedience on somebody else.  God will see through that every time.

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VII.      Rely on Rituals Instead

And finally, we disobey because, well, that’s the way we’ve always done it.  There’s no need to change if nobody’s complaining.  Besides, as a Christian, I attend church, I go to bible study, I tithe, I serve, I pray, I teach.  So those things cover up what little disobedience remains, right?

Verse 22-23, Samuel answers that question.

But Samuel replied:

“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD ?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
he has rejected you as king.”

The Lord expects and receives our sacrifices, but He does not delight in them.  Sacrifices in the Old Testament atoned for sins.  Sacrifices in the New Testament further the Kingdom of God.  Those things are good, but God does not delight in them.  God delights in obedience.  God delights in the righteous who seek after Him.  Look at Matthew 5:23-24,

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

Jesus tells us that if we bring a sacrifice to the temple but we have something against our brother, we are to leave that sacrifice there and make amends with our brother.  Only then are we to return and offer our sacrifice.

Look, making it up to somebody when you’ve wronged them is a good thing.  But wouldn’t obedience in not wronging them in the first place be better?  Sacrifices are payments for disobedience, sacrifices are accepted by God, but it’s not sacrifices that God wants most.  He doesn’t need our sacrifices, because the Lord needs nothing from us.  He desires us to be obedient for our benefit.

VIII.      Conclusion

A man wanted to help his son understand the importance of making right choices.  He put up a post in the back yard, and every time his son made a bad choice, the father would give him a nail and have him nail it into the post.  When he made a good choice, he’d get to remove a nail.  As the boy grew, there were always a couple of nails in the post, but as he grew and matured, one day he pulled the last nail out of the post.  He felt pretty good about it, too.  But his dad asked him to take a good look at the post.  The nails were gone, but the post was full of holes.

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We’re forgiven of our bad choices.  But the effects of our sins leave scars.

We disobey for many reasons and in many ways..  Fear, redefine, denial, partial obedience, blame others, rely on rituals.   Saul performs a perfect hat-trick in verse 15; denial, partial obedience, *and* blaming others all in one sentence, so we’re not limited to disobedience in one category.

The Lord calls us to obedience, and sometimes we’re our own worst enemy when we try to obey.  We act out of fear instead of trusting in the Lord.  We deny our disobedience or try to redefine it.  We make excuses, or we try to make up for it afterword.   Don’t ask yourself in what ways you’re being obedient to the Lord; in some small ways, everybody is partially obedient.  Ask yourself instead how you’re not obeying the Lord.  Are you following God’s commands?  Are you living a life of partial obedience to God’s commands?  Do you find it easier to be obedient when you know people are looking?  Have you been struggling with some area of your life that you know needs to be surrendered to God?

Don’t try to answer the question by listing all the things you do.  I go to church, I sing in the choir or play in the band.  I teach a class.  I serve God most of the time.   That is not the standard God wants for us.  Partial obedience doesn’t cut it.   God wants us to trust Him and follow Him with all of our heart, our soul, our mind and strength.  Don’t settle for less.

To God be the glory.

Ark of the Covenant

I.      Introduction

Our lesson today studies the Ark of the Covenant, so I would like to back up a long, long way in scripture.  I’m never sure how far I should go back to provide the right historical context, and it seems like every time I study this I want to go all the way back to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning.”  But I suppose I don’t have to rewind that far back every time.  So where do I start in a study of the Ark of the Covenant?

Click here: Raider of the Lost Ark

II.      History of the Ark

Ok, so let’s turn to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning…” I’m just kidding.  We’ll start the famous crossing of the Red Sea, after Moses has led the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt, and heads for Mt. Sinai.  Three months after crossing the sea, the people of Israel are camped at the bottom of Mt, Sanai, and Moses goes up into the mountains where God etches the Ten Commandments on stone tablets for Moses to bring to the Israel people.

Exodus 24 says that God Himself engraved the stone tablets with His own finger, verse 12,

The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.”

The Lord God promises to dwell among the people, and the Ten Commandments are to be stored in the Ark.

So make yourself an Ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out.  This is how you are to build it: The Ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.  Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around.  Put a door in the side of the Ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.

Sorry, that’s the wrong Ark.  That was Noah’s Ark in Genesis 6, let me try again from Exodus 25, where we first read about the Ark, and God’s precise description of it to Moses:

“Have them make an Ark of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.  Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it.  Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other.  Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold.  Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the Ark to carry it.  The poles are to remain in the rings of this Ark; they are not to be removed.  Then put in the Ark the tablets of the covenant law, which I will give you.

“Make an atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide.  And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover.  Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends.  The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover.  Place the cover on top of the Ark and put in the Ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you.  There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the Ark of the Covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.

Here is what it looks like:

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Click here: Raider of the Lost Ark

Actually, this is a pretty good representation of the Ark of the Covenant, and many parts of this movie got it right.  Let’s take a look –

Some were exaggerations, like Brody saying it “leveled mountains.”  That’s probably a reference to Joshua at the Battle of Jericho.  Blowing horns and carrying the Ark, the Israelites circled the city, and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.  And remember the scene where Indiana tells Miriam, “Don’t Look!”?  The Ark was considered holy and dangerous, and only those specified by the Lord could touch it or look in it, and then only after they had been purified.  Coming into direct contact with the holiness of God was instant death.  In Leviticus 10, Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aaron, brought a foreign flame to offer a sacrifice in the Tabernacle, they were devoured by flames from the Lord.  In 2 Samuel 6 while moving the Ark, the oxen stumbled.  A Levite named Uzzah steadied the Ark, and Uzzah was struck dead instantly.

The Ten Commandments were placed inside and sealed with the cover.  The Ark was then placed inside the Holy of Holies inside the tabernacle and later the Temple of Jerusalem, and when the Levitical priest made his annual sacrifice for the people of Israel, he shed the blood of an innocent, unblemished lamb and sprinkled it on the top of the Ark, which call the Mercy Seat.  The shekinah of God rested on this holy seat.  This was the most important piece of furniture in the Tabernacle.  It is where God sat when He dwelled among His people.

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The location of the Ark today is unknown.  Centuries later, when the Babylonians sacked Israel, led by Nebuchadnezzar, they hauled off a great deal of religious artifacts from the Temple and made detailed lists of what was taken, but the Ark was not listed among them items.  One of the final kings, Josiah, may have buried it beneath the temple mount, beneath the Holy of Holies, and sealed it in stone.  One Jewish archaeologist, Leen Ritmeyer, has identified a section of bedrock below the Temple Mount cut out in the dimensions of the Ark.  It is unlikely any excavation will ever be allowed by either Muslims or Israelis.

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III.      The Ark is Taken

So it is within this history that we examine a time where the Israelites, in battle with the Philistines, gain a new understanding of the power and holiness of God.  Approximately 300 years after the battle of Jericho, in 1 Samuel 4, the Israelites went to battle against the Philistines.  The Philistines are mentioned as far back as the days of Abraham in Genesis 21, and they’re mentioned in the books of Samuel over 150 times.  These were originally a seafaring people from the Aegen Sea who sought to control the land we know as Palestine.  The word Palestine is derived from Philistine, and this conflict over territory continues to this day.

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Scripture says that at this battle, 4000 Israeli soldiers were killed.

The Israelis must have been perplexed.  Wasn’t this land given to them by the Lord?  Then why were the idol-worshipping Philistines defeating them?  When the remaining Israeli soldiers returned to camp, the Israeli elders conclude that the reason Israel lost is because they didn’t carry the Ark of the Covenant into battle like they did at Jericho.  If the elders had read their scripture, though, they would have read in Deuteronomy 28:25 and Leviticus 26:39 that their defeat was not caused by the Ark, or the lack of the Ark, but by their disobedience to the Lord.

So instead of searching their hearts and confessing their sins first, they decided to imitate Moses and Joshua and take the Ark into battle before them.  Rather than seek the will of the Lord, the people of Israel attempted to use the Lord to fight their battle.  In 1 Samuel 4 the people of Israel brought the Ark out of the Tabernacle and let out a mighty roar, so loud the ground shook.  The Philistines were afraid, look at verses 6-8 –

Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, “What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?”

When they learned that the Ark of the Lord had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid. “A god has come into the camp,” they said. “Oh no! Nothing like this has happened before.  We’re doomed! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness.

The battle began, but the battle did not end as expected.  The Israelites were slaughtered, this time 30,000 Israeli soldiers died, and the Ark of God was captured by the Philistines.  Israel was crushed, and the Philistines rejoiced.  The spiritual leader of Israel, Eli, mentor of Samuel, was so distraught by the capture of the Ark that he falls out of his chair and breaks his neck and dies.

These are dark times indeed for Israel.  It appears to the Israelites that God has been taken hostage by the Philistines.  They’ve lost their battle, their soldiers, their land, their spiritual leader, and worst of all, they’ve lost the Ark of the Covenant.  But we will see in today’s lesson that there is far more at play here.  God is not an idol.  God does not need for men to carry Him about.  God is the One who carries Israel.  They have forgotten who their God is.  In fact, the terms of their covenant with God was that God would sit on the mercy seat when the people were obedient and submitted to God’s will.

The Philistines took the captured Ark with them to Ashdod, one of 5 major cities the Philistines controlled.  In Ashdod, the Philistines worshipped their god Dagon, and they take the captured Ark of the Covenant and lay it prostrate into Dagon’s temple in a position of submission.  Rejoicing, no doubt that the God of Israel has been captured and forced to bow before Dagon.  But the next morning, they were astonished to see the roles reversed.

1 Samuel 5:1-3,

After the Philistines had captured the Ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod.  Then they carried the Ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon.  When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the Ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place.

They put their god Dagon back in his place.  Dagon is an idol that does have to be carried by man.  The next morning is even worse – not only is Dagon back on the floor in submission, but his hands and head had been broken off, with only the body remaining.

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Is Dagon in the hands of an angry God?  Dagon is prostrated before the Ark of God, but Ark of the Covenant is not a god.  It is not an idol like Dagon.  The Ark is a symbol of God’s presence among His people.  It has great symbolic value, but it is not an idol.  Dagan, the man-made God, has to be picked up, glued back together, sent to the shop for repairs.

Verse 6 says the Lord’s hand was heavy against the Philistines and brought affliction and tumors.  The people of Ashdod want nothing more to do with this captured Ark, so they send it to the next Philistine city, Gath.  In Gath, immediately the same tumors and afflictions affected all the people.  So the people of Gath decide to send it to a 3rd Philistine city, Ekron.  And the people of Ekron see the Ark arriving and they cry out, “They brought the God of Israel to kill us!  Send it away!”

I find it incredible how the Philistines don’t get it.  Earlier before battle, they heard the Israeli roar so loud the earth shook, and the Philistines were afraid of the God who brought the plagues upon Egypt.  Now, their idol God Dagon is hacked to pieces and lies prostrate before the Ark.  And the Philistines are dying of some sort of plague with tumors as long as they keep the Ark.  Their man-made god is powerless against the Almighty, but they still choose to worship their idol.

Send it back.  Send it back, they say.  With the presence of the one true living God in their midst, they want to send it away.  It is too hot to handle.  Send it away.

IV.      The Ark is Returned

For seven months, the Philistines hold on to the Ark and are plagued with tumors.  They know they have to get rid of it.  At first, it was a political problem as they passed it from one city to another, but now it’s a religious problem.  The want to return the Ark to Israel, but they don’t want offend Israel’s angry God.

1 Samuel 6:1-3,

When the Ark of the Lord had been in Philistine territory seven months, the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the Ark of the Lord? Tell us how we should send it back to its place.”

They answered, “If you return the Ark of the god of Israel, do not send it back to him without a gift; by all means send a guilt offering to him. Then you will be healed, and you will know why his hand has not been lifted from you.”

The Philistine priests come up with a guilt offering, a really weird one.  They make five gold tumors.  Yes, tumors, modeled after the tumors that afflicted their bodies.  They make 5 gold tumors, and also make 5 gold rats for carrying this plague.  Look how well the Philistine priests understand the Jehovah God in verse 4-6 –

The Philistines asked, “What guilt offering should we send to him?”

They replied, “Five gold tumors and five gold rats, according to the number of the Philistine rulers, because the same plague has struck both you and your rulers.  Make models of the tumors and of the rats that are destroying the country, and give glory to Israel’s god. Perhaps he will lift his hand from you and your gods and your land.  Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When Israel’s god dealt harshly with them, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way?

Again, it’s interesting that they know the power of God but they refuse to worship Him.  Instead, they continue to worship their idol Dagan who, as I understand it, doesn’t have any hands anymore.  Or a head.

They Philistine priests devise a plan in verse 7 to see if the Ark is really the source of their problems, and if the Lord will be appeased if the Ark is returned.

“Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up.  Take the Ark of the Lord and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way, but keep watching it.  If it goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then the Lord has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us but that it happened to us by chance.”

So they take 2 cows that have never been yoked, pen up their calves, and load the Ark on the cart.  Their thinking is that the natural inclination of the cows is to return to their young, but if the Lord is in control, He will guide the calves back to the Israelites.

Which is exactly what happened; the cows didn’t even look to the right or the left.  The Philistines followed the cows and the Ark to the end of the town of Beth Shemesh where the Israelites were harvesting their wheat.

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A big cry of joy from the Israelites when they see the Ark being returned on the cart of two cows.  So excited they were, they took the Ark down, chopped up the cart for firewood, and sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering.  The Israelites of Beth Shemesh lined up to look inside the Ark – some manuscripts say 70, others say 50,070.   Was the Lord pleased?  God responded by striking the Israelites dead.

The Israelites were ecstatic to have the Ark returned; now they are shocked that the Lord God would strike down so many worshipping Israelites.  The Israelites cry out, “Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this Holy God?”

Israel, in its exuberance, did not follow the law, and the punishment is death.  The book of Numbers, chapter 4, specifically says that those that look inside at the holy things inside the arc will die.  And the burnt offering of cows?  Leviticus 1:10 says that all burnt offerings shall be male.  In their exuberance, the Israelites disobeyed and were killed.

  V.      Conclusion

So what can we learn from today’s lesson?  We begin with Israel’s first battle with the Philistines, which Israel loses 4000 men and is defeated.  The priests of Israel are Eli’s sons at this time are corrupt and practicing evil.  1 Samuel 2:17 says the sin of the young priests was very great in the Lord’s sight.  And the Israelites decide to take their lucky rabbit’s foot, the Ark, into battle, for the Lord is undefeated.  Instead, their defeat is far, far greater, and 30,000 die and the Ark is taken.

When the Ark is returned, the Israelites celebrate the return of their lucky rabbit’s foot.  They celebrate the return but disobey the Lord’s instructions, and even more Israelites die.

As for the Philistines, they know about the power of the Lord and the plagues against Egypt.  After capturing it, they too mistake the Ark for the Lord God of Israel.  They try to place the Ark in a position of submission to another pagan idol god, not understanding that it’s not the Ark that has the power, but the Lord God Himself.

Before coming to Christ, at some point in our lives, we are like the Philistines.  We see the power of God all around us, we understand He is in control.  But we hold on to our pride, our lives of greed and gluttony, because seeing the power of God is not the same as following and trusting the power of God.  We think God, like the Ark, is too hot to handle, and we just want to move the Ark along to the next person or town.  We want to keep worshipping at the feet of the world, our reality tv, our social media, our idol god Dagon.  It’s comfortable, and our idol expects nothing from us except to occasionally glue him back together when he breaks.

In Mark chapter 5 we see the response of people who are uncomfortable with the power of God in their midst.  Jesus arrives by boat in Garasenes and a deranged man comes running out of the tombs at him.  The deranged man had been terrifying the local town, and chains and irons couldn’t hold him.  Jesus commands the demons to leave the man and go into a herd of pigs, and the man is able to sit there in his right mind and have a conversation with Jesus.  How do the people who witness this react?  They ask Jesus to leave.  The power of God is just too great to have in their midst.  They’d rather live among the demons.

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But sometime during our walk in the spirit, we become more like the Israelites.  But maybe we don’t fully understand what living by faith is all about.  We believe that we just have to give up smoking and drinking and start going to church more often, and our lives will be blessed.  We hold up our church attendance like the Ark in front of us and go into battle, like somehow our church attendance is a lucky rabbits foot.

Our God is not a god to be carried in front of us to win our earthly battles.  God is not a lucky rabbit’s foot.  If we expect nothing will ever go wrong when we hold out our crosses or rosaries or holy water in front of us, then we do not understand the battle or what God is doing with us.  God is less concerned about the challenge than He is with our response to that challenge.  Our battle has already been won for us by our Savior, Jesus Christ.

God doesn’t live in an Ark to be used for our personal gain.  God lives inside of us so that we may be used by Him.  We are the Ark of the New Covenant.  On our own, we have no power, but with the power of the Holy Spirit living inside us, the faith of a mustard seed will crumble mountains.

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To God be the glory.

The Many Ways We Disobey

Map of Canaan
Image via Wikipedia

Let’s recap the history in 1 Samuel so far and then continue reading in 1 Samuel 13-15. Today we’re going to focus on Saul, appointed by God and a man who gives every appearance to fear and obey the Lord, yet the Lord is displeased with him. Saul gives only the appearance of being obedient, yet we’re going to see how instead he is disobedient.

Last week, Fred taught us how the people of Israel asked Samuel to appoint a king over them; the elders wanted Israel to have a king just like their neighbors had. By appointing a king, the elders felt they felt that this would eliminate the organizational advantage their enemies had. Samuel warned them that the absolute power of a king held dangers, but the people wanted a king anyway. The Lord gave the people what they asked for, but considered this request just another of their rebellious choices. Samuel appointed Saul as the first king who had been hiding in baggage claim for some reason. The people of Israel eventually had to seize him and force him to be king.

When the Ammonites attacked, Saul finally acted, mobilizing an Israeli army and winning a decisive victory. During a national celebration at Gilgal, we see a transfer of political leadership. What used to be part of the judgeship and priesthood of Samuel now belongs to the monarchy of Saul. There is a division between Samuel and Saul that reflects their individual goals. Samuel is responsible to listening to the Lord and advising Saul what to do, and Saul is responsible for obeying the commands of the Lord and protecting the people. The prophet would receive instructions from God and relay them to the king; the king’s role was to protect the people from external enemies.

The Philistines mostly ignored the happenings within Israel, but the formation of a monarchy is about to renew the conflict with the Philistines. The Philistines totally controlled Israel from strategically placed garrisons. Saul divided his army and put his son Jonathon over one division. Jonathan was a devoted follower of the Lord and he faced a decision; the Lord had long commanded that the people of Israel occupy the land of Canaan, but the Philistines were intent in controlling the Israeli territory. And Jonathan displays fearless devotion to God and immediately attacks a Philistine outpost in 1 Samuel 13:5. While the victory was small, the confusion was great, and in the panic, the Philistines began to attack one another and the Philistine army was routed.

Israel has been repeatedly defeated in small battles against the Philistines, so a victory here over the Philistines is significant. Losing this garrison was not only humiliating to the Philistines, it also threatened the Philistine’s control of the region. While before small skirmishes erupted from time to time, this time the Philistines decide to eradicate the people of Israel. Now it’s war.

The Philistine outmatched the Israelis in numbers, strategy, organization, and weaponry. Let’s look at the Philistine army in 1 Samuel 13:5 –

The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore.

Some manuscripts say 30,000 chariots. Either way, this is the largest chariot force mentioned anywhere in the Old Testament. 1 Samuel 13:5-6 –

The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Micmash, east of Beth Aven. When the men of Israel saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns.

Whew. Israel expected some sort of punishment or military retaliation for their raid on the outpost, but this is a full-scale invasion that appears intent on eradicating Israel forever.

The Philistines had iron weapons and chariots; the Fighting Farmers had bronze pitchforks. Worse, Israel was dependent on Philistine blacksmiths for making and repairing tools they needed to farm. This was a strategic decision by the Philistines; it says in verse 19 there was not a blacksmith to be found in Israel to prevent them from making swords and spears. So the Philistines arrive in overwhelming numbers and defeat seems inevitable.

What are the Lord’s instructions? Let’s back up to last week’s lesson in 1 Samuel 10:5a,8; Samuel takes a flask of oil, anointing Saul in the name of the Lord, and then says –

After that you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost… “Go down ahead of me to Gilgal. I will surely come down to you to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, but you must wait seven days until I come to you and tell you what you are to do.”

But what does Saul actually do? 1 Samuel 13:7b-13 –

Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings. ” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.

“What have you done?” asked Samuel.

Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”

“You acted foolishly,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time.

God’s instructions through Samuel told Saul to Gilgal and wait seven days for Samuel to sacrifice burnt offerings. Faced with overwhelming odds from the Philistine army, Saul acts by assuming the role of the priest and offering a sacrifice. Saul foolishly disobeys God’s command out of fear, and his disobedience reveals that Saul has no comprehension of his responsibility to God. Saul feared the loss of his soldiers and he feared losing the battle. And what’s more, sacrificing a burnt offering indicated absolute dedication to God, so Saul’s offering had absolutely no meaning. If Saul was truly dedicated to God, he would have obeyed and waited on God.

FEAR

After Saul has completed his sacrifice, Samuel arrives and asks, “What have you done?” It’s not like Samuel didn’t know, the aroma of burned meat was still in the air. Ever come home at the end of the day and your neighbors are barbecuing? Samuel knows, but he asks Saul anyway to get the disobedient king to think about what he’s done.

But instead, Saul comes up with excuses, justifications for his disobedience. The 7th day was not over, yet Saul didn’t wait until the evening for Samuel to arrive; therefore, it must have been Samuel’s fault. Saul was forced to do what he did. When scholars write of Saul’s disobedience, they discuss failures ranging from taking on the role of the priest to failing to wait the full amount of time. But the real reason is Saul’s character. He didn’t trust the Lord to do what he was supposed to do. He feared the consequences of failing to sacrifice more than he trusted in the Lord to whom he was offering the sacrifice.

Proverbs 29:25 says that fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whover trusts in the Lord will be kept safe. Saul was afraid of the battle, afraid of the enemy, afraid his own men were not up to the task. And so out of fear, Saul was attempting to summon the Lord’s power with his sacrifice, to pull a miracle out of a hat. But one cannot conjure up a miracle from the Lord. One commentary called this “theological blackmail.” The Lord will save His people, not because He has been summoned through our actions, but because it is in His nature to do so. We cannot compel God. God acts because He loves us.

We still do this today, don’t we? How often out of fear, out of panic, out of lack of trust do we go to the Lord in prayer? Hurricane Ike bearing down on Houston; how many people went to the Lord in prayer for the first time in weeks or months or even years? Yet to seek the Lord’s favor only in times of panic is futile. God wants us to seek Him always. Fred also taught us last week that God does not want us to live in fear; 2 Timothy 1:7 says –

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

Samuel tells Saul that if he had obeyed, the Lord would have established Saul’s kingdom over Israel for all time, but because of his disobedience, Saul’s kingdom will not endure. Unfortunately, Saul doesn’t learn from his disobedience; I think Saul is in denial about his disobedience, especially since we’re about to see this disobedience continue.

REDEFINE OBEDIENCE

Let’s turn to 1 Samuel 15; the Lord has put Saul in charge of punishing the Amelekites; you have to go all the way back to Exodus 17; Moses, leading the Israelites out of Egypt in the Desert of Sinai, are attacked from the rear by the Amelekites who are picking off women and children that are straggling. You may recall Joshua led a battle against them while Moses held his hand in the air, held up by Aaron and Hur. Joshua wins that battle, but our God of infinite mercy is also a God of perfect justice. Exodus 17:14-16,

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”

Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”

Now is the time God has chosen for Saul to wipe out the Amelekites; 1 Samuel 15:1-3,

Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ “

The time for justice to be delivered to the Amalekites has come, but listen to how Saul carried out these instructions in 1 Samuel 15:7-9 –

Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, to the east of Egypt. He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.

Of course Saul obeyed the Lord, *if* you redefine what obedience means. In 1100 BC, capturing the king during a war meant riches for the winner. The king could be ransomed off for a handsome profit. And it would be a shame to kill all the animals, too, when there were so much better uses for them.

DENIAL

In verse 10, the Lord tells Samuel that He is grieved because Saul didn’t carry out His commands, so Samuel goes to see Saul, who is verse 12 is told that Saul is building a monument in his own honor. And Saul says in verse 13-15 –

When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.”

But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”

Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

It’s like Saul is saying, “Hey, not only did I obey, but I improved upon the Lord’s instructions! I did so good, I awarded myself a trophy!”

But did Saul obey? Saul is in denial about his obedience. “The Lord bless you, I have carried out the Lord’s instructions,” he says. As Christians today, we have specific instructions, too. “Forgive one another, up to seventy times seven.” And our response? Oh, I forgive him, I don’t hold any grudges. I just want to talk to him or ever see his face again. Sacrifice for our wives, submit to our husbands, love one another as Christ loves us. Are we really being obedient? Or are we in denial, too, redefining what it means to be obedient?

PARTIAL OBEDIENCE

One method of denial, a method of disobedience, is to be partially obedient. Samuel’s question – if you obeyed, why do I hear cows? – is a telling one. First in denial, Saul then explains that partial obedience is more than enough. Look at verse 20 –

“But I did obey the LORD,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king.

The Lord said to destroy the Amalekites; Saul said he destroyed them except their king.

Colossians 3:5-6 says –

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.

Those are the Lord’s instructions to us, these are the Amalekites of sin to us. Yet, too often, we believe that we can pick and choose among God’s instructions, and then we act as though God should be appreciative of the bits and pieces that we do. God defines obedience as total obedience. We obey most of this, but leave kingdoms of sin in our lives.

Let me offer a question for you to ponder – rather than asking yourself how you obey God, ask God to show you where you do not obey. Husbands and wives treating each other the way God commands? Holding captive every thought so that we do not sin? Impure or critical thoughts about another? Being slow to speak so our tongue does not cause us to sin? We cannot think ourselves as obedient to God when we redefine to ourselves what it means to be obedient. If we’re partially obedient, we’re still disobedient.

BLAME OTHERS

Another way we are disobedient to is to blame our disobedience, our partial obedience, on somebody else. I could forgive him if he wasn’t such a jerk. It would be easier for me to be faithful if she wasn’t always, you know, that way toward me. Of course I respect and submit to my husband as long as he does what I tell him to. Verse 21, Saul says, “But I did obey the Lord” –

The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.”

… but the soldiers didn’t do right. I had a great plan to obey the Lord, but somebody else messed it up. Of course I made a covenant with my spouse for better or worse, but I didn’t mean that. You don’t know my spouse. Sometimes we even blame God. I lost my temper, sure, but God made me that way.

This disobedience is literally the oldest trick in the book. Adam blamed his disobedience on Eve. Eve blamed it on the serpent. But we cannot blame our own disobedience on somebody else. God will see through that every time.

RELY ON RITUALS INSTEAD

And finally, we disobey because, well, that’s the way we’ve always done it. There’s no need to change if nobody’s complaining. Besides, as a Christian, I attend church, I go to bible study, I tithe, I serve, I pray, I teach. So those things cover up what little disobedience remains, right?

Verse 22-23, Samuel answers that question.

But Samuel replied:
“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD ?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
he has rejected you as king.”

The Lord expects and receives sacrifices, but He does not delight in them. Sacrifices in the Old Testament atoned for sins. Sacrifices in the New Testament further the Kingdom of God. Those things are good, but God does not delight in them. God delights in obedience. God delights in the righteous who seek after Him. Jesus tells us that if we bring a sacrifice to the temple but we have something against our brother, we are to leave that sacrifice there and make amends with our brother. Only then are we to return and offer our sacrifice.

Look, making it up to somebody when you’ve wronged them is a good thing. But wouldn’t obedience in not wronging them in the first place be better? Sacrifices are payments for disobedience, sacrifices are accepted by God, but it’s not what He wants most. He doesn’t want this for His benefit, because the Lord needs nothing from us. He wants us to obey for our benefit.

A man wanted to help his son understand the importance of making right choices. He put a post up in the back yard, and when his son made a bad choice, he’d give him a nail and have him put a nail in the post. When he made a good choice, he’d get to remove a nail. As the boy grew, there were always a couple of nails in the post, but as he grew and matured, one day he pulled the last nail out of the post. He felt pretty good about it, too. But his dad asked him to take a good look at the post. The nails were gone, but the post was full of holes.

We’re forgiven of our bad choices. But the effects of our sins leave scars.

Six ways we disobey. Fear, redefine, denial, partial obedience, blame others, rely on rituals. Saul performs a perfect hat-trick in verse 15; denial, partial obedience, *and* blaming others all in one sentence, so we’re not limited to disobedience in one category.

Discussion time. What are some examples of disobedience in a Christian’s life, and which category does it fall in?

The Lord calls us to obedience, and sometimes we’re own own worst enemy when we try to obey. We act out of fear instead of trusting in the Lord. We deny our disobedience or try to redefine it. We make excuses, or we try to make up for it afterword. Don’t ask yourself in what ways you’re being obedient to the Lord; in some small ways, everybody is partially obedient. Ask yourself instead how you’re not obeying the Lord. Are you following God’s commands? Are you living a life of partial obedience to God’s commands? Do you find it easier to be obedient when you know people are looking? Have you been struggling with some area of your life that you know needs to be surrendered to God?

Don’t try to answer the question by listing all the things you do. I go to church, I sing in the choir or play in the band. I teach a class. I serve God most of the time. That is not the standard God wants for us. Partial obedience doesn’t cut it. God wants us to trust Him and follow Him with all of our heart, our soul, our mind and strength. Don’t settle for less.

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Hearing God

I hear a story about a coach teaching his first soccer team made of seventh graders. The coach described the role of the goalie, how to setup offensive a defensive plays, and how to pass the soccer ball. When Saturday came for their first game, the kids all bunched up around the ball in a compact huddle, kicking at the ball for all they’re worth.

The next week, patiently, the coach again described offensive and defensive plays, took them out to the field to practice. Saturday came for the game… and again, the kids bunched up around the ball just kicking at it for all they’re worth.

The next week, frustrated, the coach again starts explaining how to run offensive and defensive plays, when one of the kids raises his hand. “Coach? You mean we’re supposed to do this during the game?”

It’s one thing to hear the message. It’s quite another to put it into practice.

Last week, Fred told us the story of Hannah and how she dedicated Samuel to the Lord. She kept her word and Samuel was delivered to the Lord’s sanctuary in Shiloh. Shiloh may have been a religious community, but it was a less than ideal place to raise a boy.

Samuel is growing up in the period between Judges and Kings in the bible. Judges is a period of failure for Israel. Spiritually, there was no direction. Religious leaders were corrupt. The Philistines oppressed the Jews and there was little justice for evil. And while there had been a few bright spots in the leadership of Israel like Samson and Gideon, the book of Judges ends on this note (Judges 21:25) –

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

I’m having a little difficulty drawing any sort of parallel between that statement and our society in America today. Anybody have any ideas?

1 Samuel provides a transition between Judges and kings. Later this year we’ll transition between the king Saul, a failure, with David, a success. Now we’ll transition between the priest Eli, a failure, and Samuel, a success. First, let’s look at Eli and see if we can see what is wrong with his ministry.

Let’s start with 1 Samuel 2:12-17

Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD. Now it was the practice of the priests with the people that whenever anyone offered a sacrifice and while the meat was being boiled, the servant of the priest would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand. He would plunge it into the pan or kettle or caldron or pot, and the priest would take for himself whatever the fork brought up. This is how they treated all the Israelites who came to Shiloh. But even before the fat was burned, the servant of the priest would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, “Give the priest some meat to roast; he won’t accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.”

If the man said to him, “Let the fat be burned up first, and then take whatever you want,” the servant would then answer, “No, hand it over now; if you don’t, I’ll take it by force.”

This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD’s sight, for they were treating the LORD’s offering with contempt.

Now skip down to 1 Samuel 2:22-25

Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. No, my sons; it is not a good report that I hear spreading among the LORD’s people. If a man sins against another man, God may mediate for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?” His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the LORD’s will to put them to death.

What I find interesting is that Eli’s knowledge of the Lord is very good. He has exemplary words and terrific advice. It’s his practice of God’s instruction that’s lacking. Eli’s sons are wicked men; verse 12 says “they had no regard for the Lord.” It more likely meant that they never gave God a second thought, much less a first thought. In the Book of Leviticus, chapter 7, the priests were entitled to a portion of the offerings brought to the Lord. The fat portions of the offerings were to be burnt as a sacrifice to God; the breast and right thigh were given to the priest, and the rest of the animal was cooked and eaten by the family of the person making the offer. Eli’s sons Hophni and Phineas sinned against the people by taking their share, but worse, they sinned against the Lord by taking the share that was dedicated to Him. Verse 17 says this was treating the Lord’s offering with contempt.

Eli gives very wise advice in verse 25. If man sins against another man, God may mediate for him. If man sins against the Lord, who will intercede for him? This is similar to the question in Job 9; if you get into a disagreement with God, who would be the referee? Who would you ask to settle the argument? It’s a rhetorical question, because we know that the almighty God is the dispenser of perfect justice. You cannot win an argument with God.

We know that Eli was unsuccessful at persuading his sons to change their ways. His sons not only stole the Lord’s portions of the offerings, but they also slept with the women at the Tent of Meeting. The disobedience of the sons to the Lord and their reprehensible acts could not go unpunished. In Romans 1:24-32, Paul writes that God “gave them up” to their sinful desires. Eventually, if we disobey God long enough, God will let us have what we want. He will let us have our selfish pride, our wanton lusts, our every kind of wickedness, greed and depravity. He will let us have death.

The book of Samuel continues, 1 Samuel 2:27-36. A man of God, an unnamed prophet, comes to Eli. This prophet tells Eli that Eli and his sons were chosen by the Lord to be His priest, to offer sacrifices to the Lord, and the Lord asks, “Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?” The prophet goes on to say that since Eli’s family has not served the lord faithfully, the Lord has passed judgment on Eli, and verse 34-35 says,

“And what happens to your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, will be a sign to you—they will both die on the same day. I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his house, and he will minister before my anointed one always. “

Basically, the Lord has given Eli’s sons over to their wicked ways. The Lord’s will, however, will still be done. It always is. But Eli and his sons will not be part of it. God will choose a new faithful priest to do His will.”

As for the people, “everyone did as they saw fit.” People of God are limited by the teaching, the discipleship, and the pastors of the church. One of the reasons for the mediocre spirituality of the people of God today is the low level of spirituality among pastors. God’s warning is that He will only tolerate this for so long, and then He will replace them. Eli and sons failed as spiritual leaders, and God took away their priesthood and promised to establish a new dynasty of priesthood from 1 faithful priest. God prepared a new leader and prophet in Samuel. Let’s look at 1 Samuel 3:1.

The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.

Without faithful leadership, the people did as they saw fit. In response, the Word of the Lord was rare. God was silent. He’s given them over to their ways. Silence from God is horrible. Silence is deafening. Because they were unfaithful, God was silent.

We should remember this when we go to God in prayer. If we will not walk in obedience to Him, we cannot be sure we hear Him. He may be silent. Often before God answers our prayers, He has an expectation that we will do our best to obey the Words He has spoken. If we are willfully disobedient, we may not be able to hear Him. He may be giving us over to our wicked ways. If we want God to hear us, we had better be listening to what He has already said. Sometimes we pray for God to light our paths, but we have no intention of ever moving our feet.

That’s the prophetic warning to Eli and to us that our obedience matters to a most Holy God, and that He will only tolerate our willful disobedience for so long before He passes judgment on us. While Eli’s sons led people astray, let’s look at a future man of God that the Lord has already put in place.

In the last chapter, 1 Samuel 2:18, Hannah’s son Samuel has been dedicated to the Lord. Samuel, who is about the same age as our 7th grade soccer players, is ministering before the Lord, despite the poor examples of faithful leadership around him. And in 1 Samuel 3:4, it says, “Then the LORD called Samuel.”

Our parents may have prayed for our salvation, and we may also pray for our children’s salvation, but it’s the Lord who finally speaks to a willing heart. Samuel’s mother had dedicated him years before to the service of the Lord, but now is the time for the Lord to call Samuel. And Samuel, obedient and faithful, answers the call. Except… he’s not sure where the call is coming from.

Verse 2-5 –

One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. Then the LORD called Samuel.

Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

Something to notice here is Samuel’s surroundings when the Lord calls him. Samuel is near Eli, who despite having raised disobedient children, is still the priest of the temple. The lamp of God is still shining, and Samuel is near the ark of the covenant. If we’re to hear the word of God, not only do we need to be obedient, but we need to surround ourselves, immerse ourselves, in godly situations with godly people. It is at this point that God calls Samuel.

And Samuel mistakes the calling of God. When we are listening to the world, there are so many voices that speak to us. The voice on the news, on the television. Voices from work and from family and from friends. The truth of God can get lost among the voices if we are not attuned to Him. It would me so much easier if God called us on the telephone. I have caller ID. I could look down when my phone rings and says, “Sorry, I have to take this. It’s God calling.” Or perhaps the UPS truck driver delivering a package that has a return label, “FROM GOD.” But God speaks to us in a still, small voice. He speaks to us when we read our bibles. He speaks to us through the wise counsel of others. He speaks to us through good experiences, and He most definitely speaks to us through bad experiences. The point is that God speaks quietly and we can easily mistake God’s calling if we’re surrounded by noise.

But even though Samuel mistakes the calling of God, it’s remarkable that Samuel heard Him at all. Only because Samuel was faithful, Samuel could see and hear clearly, both spiritually and physically. And he reports to Eli, who tells Samuel to go lie back down.

2 Samuel 6, the Lord calls a second time, and again, Samuel go to see Eli, and again Eli tells Samuel to go lie down. And again in verse 8. This time, Eli realizes that the Lord is calling Samuel. Why did it take so long for Eli to recognize the calling of the Lord? I think we can get a better understanding by re-reading verses 1 and 2.

The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.

One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place.

Eli wasn’t expecting to hear from God. The Lord rarely spoke because men weren’t willing to listen. Eli’s eyes had grown weak; Eli’s spiritual eyes are probably not much better.

But Samuel has been faithful; now we also see that Samuel is obedient. Eli gives appropriate spiritual advice to Samuel; when the Lord calls again, Samuel is to tell the Lord he’s ready.

In verse 10, the Lord calls Samuel yet again, and this time Samuel asks the Lord to speak, for His servant is listening. The Lord’s message to Samuel is that He will pass judgment on the house of Eli. Verse 11-14 –

And the LORD said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family — from beginning to end. For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them. Therefore, I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’ “

And with those words still ringing in his ears, Samuel went back to bed.

In the morning, Eli asks, “Oh, by the way. I meant to ask. What did the Lord say to you last night?” You know Samuel must be nervous. He was afraid to tell Eli that the Lord was going to judge Eli’s family and make an example of them before Israel. But bless his heart, Eli does the right thing. He tells Samuel to give it to him straight and not to be afraid. Samuel should be more afraid of the Lord than afraid of men. Samuel should give the world the Lord’s message, and not water it down to tell the world what it wants to hear. Pastors, teachers, and all people of God should pass along the Lord’s word, even if the world doesn’t want to hear it.

We know some of the harder words that the world doesn’t want to hear. That we are no inherently good people; we are sinners in need of a savior. That there are not multiple and many ways to heaven; Jesus says that no one comes to the Father except through him. That casual Christianity is insufficient; lukewarm Christians will be spit out of Jesus’ mouth, and wide is the path to destruction. People don’t want to hear those words. They’re harsh. They’re judgmental. But they’re God’s words and they reflect His perfect judgment.

Many commentaries discuss the Lord’s call to Samuel and about how to hear His voice. They discuss the Samuel’s upbringing in the temple of the Lord, maintaining his witness, preparing through obedience, growing in godly character. Few commentaries discuss Eli’s response to hearing this devastating news about his family. Eli says in verse 18 in response to Samuel’s prophecy, “He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

He is the Lord. God will do what is good in His eyes, not ours. The message was hard, yet Eli wants the truth from Samuel. He asks Samuel to be open and honest about God’s word, and not try to please him with a watered down message, to resist the temptation to edit or moderate God’s word, or even try to be a mediator between God and the one receiving the word. Just give him the truth.

I’m encouraged by Eli’s response; it is one of surrender. It’s a response of peace. It’s a response of acceptance. Let the Lord do what is good in His eyes. Eli surrenders to the word of God and recognizes that Samuel is the new leader that God has chosen. Samuel will be leading the people of Israel; Eli has no further role to play except to witness the death of his sons and to witness the capture of the ark next week.

Samuel became leader with these words in 1 Samuel 3:19 through 1 Samuel 4:1 –

The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD. The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

And Samuel’s word came to all Israel.

These words bring the story of Samuel’s birth, Samuel’s spiritual growth, and Samuel’s call. Samuel will return in our studies when we get to Chapter 7, but for now, the work God is doing in Samuel, from prophecy, character, and obedience, are enough to grow Samuel’s reputation from Dan to Beersheba. That’s like saying, “from California to the New York Island; from the redwood forests, to the gulf stream waters.” This is a time of Samuel’s maturing, as verse 19 says, “Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.”

The word of the Lord is hard to hear when you are doing your own thing, but if you’re obedient and listening, God can use you, just as He called Samuel. Not for our own interpretation, but for us to spread God’s word truthfully and faithfully. The key is to be faithful when God calls us.