Signs of the Times
2nd Sunday after Epiphany – B LSB #’s 901, 589, 412 v. 1, 3, 5-6
Text – 1 Samuel 3:1
Now the young man Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.
SIGNS OF THE TIMES
It’s fairly common in the Christian Church today to believe that people are no longer as familiar with the Bible as they used to be. Maybe you’ve thought that yourself. So I decided to begin this sermon with a quiz. You’ll have to keep score for yourself, maybe on your bulletin, so this is ‘scouts honor.’ We’ll stick to the book of 1 Samuel to narrow it down for you.
What was the name of Samuel’s mother? What was the name of Samuel’s father? How many wives did his father have? Eli was a priest & saw Samuel’s mother praying at the temple. What are the 1st words the Bible records Eli saying to Samuel’s mother? What was the very 1st prophecy that God gave to Samuel? Listening to the sermon will give you the answers.
The prophet Samuel was the last in the line of judges appointed by God, & he was a central character in the history of Israel. He was born to a mother with a familiar Biblical story. Like Jacob’s wife Rachel, Hannah went years without giving birth to a child, much to her shame. In her grief she spent time one day praying at the temple in Shiloh.
It was the normal custom for an Israelite to pray out loud, but Hannah did so silently. Thus, when Eli sees her praying, he assumes she’s not sober enough to speak, & he mocks her: “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” (1 Samuel 1:14 ESV)
Eli was the judge of Israel at the time, & had led its people for 40 years, dying at the age of 98. Hearing that you might think he died of natural causes at such a ripe old age, but you’d be mistaken. Listen to the 2nd chapter of 1 Samuel:
Now Eli was very old, but he was aware of what his sons were doing to the people of Israel. He knew, for instance, that his sons were seducing the young women who assisted at the entrance of the Tabernacle. Eli said to them, ‘I have been hearing reports from all the people about the wicked things you are doing. Why do you keep sinning?’ …But Eli’s sons wouldn’t listen to their father… (v. 22-23 & 25 NLT) And there came a man of God to Eli & said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘…The time is coming when I will put an end to your family, so it will no longer serve as my priests. All the members of your family will die before their time. None will reach old age… The few not cut off from serving at my altar will survive, but only so their eyes can go blind & their hearts break, & their children will die a violent death. And to prove that what I have said will come true, I will cause your two sons, Hophni & Phinehas, to die on the same day!’” (v. 27 ESV & 31, 33-34 NLT)
The Lord was done treating Eli with kid’s gloves. God had given him a sign that judgment was coming, but not for the moment, because Yahweh still had work for Eli to do. Hannah had promised God that if He gave her a son she would dedicate him to the Lord’s service. After Samuel was about three years old, she took him to Eli to be his servant.
Hannah wanted her son to live in the place of worship at a tender age to become aware of God’s presence & to belong totally to the Lord. After all, Yahweh had lifted the curse of being barren from her, so she honored Him by dedicating that son’s life to his Creator. Eli didn’t know it, but he was mentoring the judge whom God had chosen to replace him.
Yahweh promised His people that He’d send prophets to make known His purpose & will at all times. Yet, the unbelief & disobedience of the people might restrain the fulfillment of this & similar promises. God might even withdraw His word to discipline the idolatrous nation.
A time such as this arose under Eli, when revelations from God were universally rare. As the conduct of Eli’s sons proved, the priesthood had fallen into very deep corruption. Instead of continuing the family tradition of the Levite clan, rather than bringing God’s desperately needed forgiveness to the people, Eli’s sons were bringing them to prostitutes at the temple.
And Eli did nothing about it, so God held him accountable. Ezekiel shared the general guidance with us, “If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, & you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.” (Ezekiel 33:8 ESV) Because Eli did not remove his sons from the office of the priesthood, Yahweh was requiring his blood. That’s where Samuel enters the picture & it’s quite an intimidating place to be for a young boy – bringing God’s Word of judgment upon his 98 year old mentor & master:
“Then the Lord said to Samuel, ‘I am about to do a shocking thing in Israel. I am going to carry out all my threats against Eli & his family, from beginning to end. I have warned him that judgment is coming upon his family forever, because his sons are blaspheming God & he hasn’t disciplined them. So I have vowed that the sins of Eli & his sons will never be forgiven by sacrifices or offerings.’” (1 Samuel 3:11-14 NLT)
That is the message Samuel received from Yahweh when, at the end of the OT reading this morning, he did as Eli had instructed him: “And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant hears.’” (1 Samuel 3:10b ESV) The Almighty God of the universe spoke judgment upon Eli & his sons. This is what happened the next day:
“Samuel stayed in bed until morning, then got up & opened the doors of the Tabernacle as usual. He was afraid to tell Eli what the Lord had said to him. But Eli called out to him, ‘Samuel, my son.’ ‘Here I am,’ Samuel replied. ‘What did the Lord say to you? Tell me everything. And may God strike you & even kill you if you hide anything from me!’ So Samuel told Eli everything; he didn’t hold anything back. ‘It is the Lord’s will,’ Eli replied. ‘Let Him do what He thinks best.” (1 Samuel 3:15-18 NLT)
Can’t you almost hear the relief in Eli’s voice? Finally, his days of suffering in this sinful world are coming to an end. In his weakness he surrenders completely to God’s will, & there he finds a renewed strength to trust & believe. Samuel, on the other hand, is just beginning, & has many more years of service to offer the Lord.
Samuel is beginning to learn that, while God’s Word is a precious gift that leads & feeds its hearers unto everlasting life, it is not only sweetness & light. It is also challenging, difficult, unsettling, upsetting, & has potentially dangerous consequences if you have & share that Word. In our nation, we are beginning to see that in ways we have not for many generations.
Eli knew that what his sons were doing was wrong in the eyes of God, but he gave only
lip service to warning his sons. There are many things in our United States that are wrong in the eyes of God. Chapter 4 describes Eli as old & blind & overweight. It’s a physical description, but it certainly can be applied spiritually.
Have the leaders & people of this nation, & we ourselves, become too much like Eli? Are we giving only lip service to the warnings of God? Like Samuel, are we staying in bed until morning because we are afraid to tell others what the Lord has said to us? Here’s a quotation from Martin Luther King, Jr. in his hay day:
“The Church must be reminded that it is… the conscience of the state… It must be the guide & critic of the state… If the Church does not capture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.” Are you & I allowing the Word of the Lord to become rare in our day? Will God be rendering judgment upon people we know?
You still have the Word of Yahweh! Receive its blessings! Your failures are forgiven. In your weakness will you surrender completely to God’s will, & there find a renewed strength to trust & believe? Jesus is your Savior & He is your Lord! Hannah dedicated her son to God. By not disciplining them, Eli dedicated his sons to the prince of darkness.
God’s Word is not just sweetness & light. It is a fire, the Psalmist says. It melts the earth if it must; it abides forever; it creates weal & woe; it is what will never fail. Against it, who can stand? Today that Word can be very unpopular inside & outside the church, & sometimes, perhaps too often, we do not speak or live its truth in love, as we ought.
The Word of the Lord will at times test our strength of character & resolve. Increasingly that is becoming a sign of our times, but right now, it’s not because our government is banning the Word. It’s because we are. You & I are keeping that Word under lock & key. It is rare because the children of God are not using it to the extent that our Savior desires. The OT reading from 1 Samuel comes from a time in the history of the people of Israel when “the word of the Lord was rare,” & on the heels of the time of the Judges when “…all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) That well describes, not just our culture, but people we know, men, women & children we are related to & care for, people we meet in our lives.
“There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah… He had two wives; one was called Hannah & the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none. Year after year this man went up from his town to worship & sacrifice to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni & Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah & to all her sons & daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, & the Lord had closed her womb. Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept & would not eat.” (1 Samuel 1:1-7 NIV)
By including Hannah’s story at the beginning of his work, the writer of Samuel is setting the tone for this theme in the rest of the book – “The Lord gives both death & life; He brings down to the grave & raises up.” (1 Samuel 2:6) People in our communities need to know that God brings us down to humble us so that we will allow Him to lift us up.
In this way the book of Samuel points toward God’s grace in Jesus, who sacrificed Himself for the sins of the world, but whom God made alive again for the saving of many that they might inherit a glorious throne in His eternal kingdom. (2 Timothy 2:11–12; Revelation 20:6)
Hannah overcomes ridicule & barrenness. The young Samuel replaces Israel’s supreme religious leaders, Eli & his wicked sons, Hophni & Phinehas. The lowly are lifted up, & the arrogant are brought down. This is how Eli, Hophni & Phinehas came to their end:
A man from the tribe of Benjamin ran from the battlefield & arrived at Shiloh later that same day. He had torn his clothes & put dust on his head to show his grief. Eli was waiting beside the road to hear the news of the battle, for his heart trembled for the safety of the Ark of God. When the messenger arrived & told what had happened, an outcry resounded throughout the town. “What is all the noise about?” Eli asked. The messenger… said to Eli, “I have just come from the battlefield. I was there this very day.” “What happened, my son?” Eli demanded. “Israel has been defeated by the Philistines,” the messenger replied. “The people have been slaughtered, & your two sons, Hophni & Phinehas, were also killed. And the Ark of God has been captured.” When the messenger mentioned what had happened to the Ark of God, Eli fell backward from his seat beside the gate. He broke his neck & died, for he was old & overweight... (1 Samuel 4:12-18 NLT)
Spiritually speaking, if you are old & blind & overweight, even then, there is hope for you to be lifted up like Hannah, to receive the glory of God. In God’s plan it is good to be broken & in need, for He will provide. Amen.
Speak, O Lord, Your servant listens, let Your Word to me come near; newborn life & spirit give me, let each promise still my fear. Death’s dread power, its inward strife, wars against Your Word of life; fill me, Lord, with love’s strong fervor that I cling to You forever! Oh, what blessing to be near You & to listen to Your voice; let me ever love & hear You, let Your Word be now my choice! Many hardened sinners, Lord, flee in terror at Your Word; but to all who feel sin’s burden You give words of peace & pardon. Amen. LSB 589:1-2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet