Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Category: 1 Samuel

Learning how to listen for God

Over the years I’ve encountered many Christians who want to “hear from the Lord.”  We desire God’s guidance for our lives, but we tend to be rather unfocused in how we go about finding it.  We know that listening for God’s guidance is something that we need to learn and practice, but what we fail to realize is that means we’re going to need someone to teach us how.

We see an example of this at the beginning of Samuel’s career as God’s prophet:

1 Samuel 3:1-11
The boy Samuel served the Lord in Eli’s presence.  In those days the word of the Lord was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread.  One day Eli, whose eyesight was failing, was lying in his room.  Before the lamp of God had gone out, Samuel was lying down in the tabernacle of the Lord where the ark of God was located.

Then the Lord called Samuel, and he answered, “Here I am.”  He ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“I didn’t call,” Eli replied.  “Go and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

Once again the Lord called, “Samuel!”  Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“I didn’t call, my son,” he replied.  “Go and lie down.”

Now Samuel had not yet experienced the Lord, because the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.  Once again, for the third time, the Lord called Samuel.  He got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli understood that the Lord was calling the boy.  He told Samuel, “Go and lie down.  If He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’ ”  So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

The Lord came, stood there, and called as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”  Samuel responded, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”

The Lord said to Samuel, “I am about to do something in Israel that everyone who hears about it will shudder…”

Then the Lord went on to give Samuel his first prophetic insight into God’s plans for the nation of Israel.

Notice how Samuel had to be taught how to respond to God’s voice.  Even though Samuel had been serving the Lord under Eli’s guidance, recognizing the word of the Lord wasn’t a skill Samuel just naturally had.  He had to be taught how to listen and how to respond to God’s call.

We’re like that, too.  We believe Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and we accept His offer of eternal life, so we’re in His family.  We may even be serving – and serving well – within our local church congregation.

But if God called out to us right now, would we know that it’s Him talking?

For our current stage of human history, God doesn’t talk through prophets like He did in Samuel’s time.  Instead, we have the recorded words of Jesus and those who interacted directly with Him.  Perhaps the same question needs to be put into our modern context:

Do we know the Bible well enough to recognize God’s voice and direction?

When Joe began to mentor me, the very first thing he taught me was how to read and understand Scripture.  Learning how to properly observe, interpret, and apply Scripture was the major catalyst for growth in my relationship with God.  As I studied the Bible, I learned to recognize how God works and what He expects from His children.  I began to know Him better as He revealed Himself to me through the pages of the Bible.

Interacting with God’s word isn’t a one-and-done type of thing, either.  We don’t learn to handle the Scriptures and then consider it checked off our list of “ways to grow”.  We need to continually go back to where God has revealed Himself to us, because that is where our relationship with Him is found. 

Samuel had the same kind of experience:

1 Samuel 3:19-21
Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let nothing he said prove false.  All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a confirmed prophet of the Lord.  The Lord continued to appear in Shiloh, because there He revealed Himself to Samuel by His word.

I love that last sentence, where God revealed Himself to Samuel by His word.  We have the same opportunity, to have God reveal Himself to us if we take the time to learn how to handle Scripture.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Less than perfect

Many of us could be mentors, but we choose not to be.  Oftentimes, it’s because we convince ourselves that our personal history or poor choices would prevent us from “doing anybody any good.”

In our minds we don’t expect mentors to be completely perfect, just mostly so.  We think that only Christians who have their lives in order and are living “comfortably blessed” are in a position to really help others.  However, when we look throughout the Bible, we find the opposite to be true.  God has, in fact, used some seriously flawed individuals – even some who had significant problems due to self-inflicted wounds – to mentor and guide others.

For about 300 years after Joshua led God’s people into the Promised Land, the nation of Israel was governed by various judges.  This period was marked by political, moral, and spiritual anarchy and deterioration.  Although some God-focused revivals occurred, the nation was in a continual downward spiral.  The last verse of the book of Judges best described the culture at that time:

Judges 21:25
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever he wanted.

By the end of this period, the corruption had also infested God’s appointed representatives – the priests.  A man named Eli was the High Priest at that time, with his two sons serving as priests under his supervision. 

1 Samuel 2:12-13, 17
Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord or for the priests’ share of the sacrifices from the people…they treated the Lord’s offering with contempt [because they took for themselves portions the Law had reserved as an offering to God].

1 Samuel 2:22-29
Now Eli was very old.  He heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they were sleeping with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting.  He said to them, “Why are you doing these things?  I have heard about your evil actions from all these people.  No, my sons, the report I hear from the Lord’s people is not good.  If a man sins against another man, God can intercede for him, but if a man sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?”

But they would not listen to their father, since the Lord intended to kill them.  By contrast, the boy Samuel grew in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men.

A man of God came to Eli and said to him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Didn’t I reveal Myself to your ancestral house when it was in Egypt and belonged to Pharaoh’s palace?  I selected your house from the tribes of Israel to be priests, to offer sacrifices on My alter, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod in My presence.  I also gave your house all the Israelite fire offerings.  Why, then, do all of you despise My sacrifices and offerings that I require at the place of worship?  You have honored your sons more than Me, by making yourselves fat with the best part of all the offerings of My people of Israel.’

The problem is that Eli and his sons are supposed to represent the people to God and represent God to the people.  Eli had more than a passing knowledge of his sons’ long-running misdeeds and the disgrace they brought to God’s reputation.  God had given Moses direction on how to handle those in the community who blatantly disregard God’s laws:

Numbers 15:30-31
But the person who acts defiantly, whether native or foreign resident, blasphemes the Lord.  That person is to be cut off from his people.  He will certainly be cut off, because he has despised the Lord’s word and broken His command; his guilt remains on him.

These consequences were for the community at large, and Eli’s family held a much higher status.  Since he did not follow through with God’s prescribed consequence, Eli was showing preferential treatment of his own sons over God.  Because of this, God brings the prescribed punishment down on Eli, his sons, and the rest of their lineage:

1 Samuel 2:30-34
“Therefore, the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Although I said your family and your ancestral house would walk before Me forever, the Lord now says, “No longer!”  I will honor those who honor Me, but those who despise Me will be disgraced.

“ ‘Look, the days are coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your ancestral family, so that none in your family will reach old age.  You will see distress in the place of worship, in spite of all that is good in Israel, and no one in your family will ever again reach old age.  Any man from your family I do not cut off from My altar will bring grief and sadness to you.  All your descendants will die violently.  This will be the sign that will come to you concerning your two sons Hophni and Phinehas: both of them will die on the same day.’ ”

If God directly rebuked us like this, we would probably assume that we’re disqualified from any type of useful service toward God.  The consequences of self-inflicted wounds can become roadblocks to the ways we’ve previously served God, but that doesn’t mean we are completely useless to God the rest of our lives.

The punishments God told Eli eventually came true.  However, in the years between the sentencing and justice being served, Eli mentored another young man.  Samuel grew up to be one of the greatest prophets of Israel, and he shepherded the nation through some turbulent times.

Just because you’re down – it doesn’t mean you’re out.
Just because you have a “past”, or a “record”, or a “history” – it doesn’t mean you’re useless.
Just because God legitimately punishes us – it doesn’t mean we’re disqualified from mentoring others.

Keep Pressing,
Ken