Today we are looking at a story that is often called “The Calling of Samuel.” We have jumped into Samuel’s story a couple chapters in but the back ground to what we heard read today starts with a lady named Hannah.
Hannah was part of a blended family her husband Elkanah had 2 wives. The other wife was named Peninnah and she had given birth to a number of children, but Hannah had none. Even though Hannah wasn’t able to have children Elkanah loved her very much. One day when Elkanah saw Hannah depressed about not being able to have kids he said to her,
“Hannah, why are you crying? Why won’t you eat? Why do you feel so bad? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8)
To make matters worse Peninnah would viciously taunt Hannah about her lack of children, and flaunt her own in public.
I can’t imagine what kind of crazy family dynamic that was, it sounds like something out of a reality TV show.
Every year this family would go to the temple to make sacrifices to God. One year while they are there, Hannah goes and prays at the temple. She is not praying meekly in the corner, she is bawling out to God.
“Lord All-Powerful, I am your servant, but I am so miserable! Please let me have a son. I will give him to you for as long as he lives, and his hair will never be cut.” (1 Samuel 1:11)
She prays this for hours, and is so distraught that Eli the head priest accuses Hannah of being drunk. She insists that she is not (and Eli isn’t buying it) but to get rid of her, he says,
“You may go home now and stop worrying. I’m sure the God of Israel will answer your prayer.” (1 Samuel 1:17)
Hannah feels much better, and goes home, and to make a long story short, Hannah has a baby boy, she names him Samuel. As soon as baby Sam is old enough to stop nursing Hannah brings him back to the temple and gives him to old Eli to raise him in the temple.
Eli has his own back story. His sons were in the family business of being priests, but we are told that they would cheat and intimidate people who came to the temple. The priests were entitled to take the leftover meat from the sacrifices for themselves but Eli’s sons would force people to give them the best meat before it was sacrificed to God. They were the temple bullies who cared more about getting fat on good meat then helping people connect with the God.
Eli didn’t participate in this crooked scheme but he knew about it. He talked to his sons about their terrible behaviour, but he never punished them or kicked them out of the priest hood.
This goes on and on and eventually God sends a prophet to Eli to tell him that because of these abuses, that his sons along with the rest of his family are going to die young. Eli is also told that God is going to raise up a new Priest to replace Eli and his family.
And that brings us to where Today’s reading starts. We are told that Samuel has grown up into a helpful little boy who works for Old Man Eli.
Eli had gone blind in his old age and Samuel with his young eyes was a big help (he was sort of the ancient equivalent of a guide dog).
One of the themes that I think comes out of reading any story in the old testament is this idea of God moving history forward towards an ultimate plan. We saw that last week in the story of Ruth. There are hard times and tragedy but in the end things are OK and we get a happy ending, Ruth and Boaz get married and have a son. Great for them, but then like so often in the Bible we get a random genealogy tossed in. A list of who begat who, and it ends with David. King David. David who is the man after Gods own heart. All this biblical history leads to a plan.
If we skip ahead to the new testament we again see some genealogies, and they all start with David and end with Jesus. What we see is there is a line that connects points in history that contribute to God’s plan.
I was reading in a book called “The Shadow of the Cross” by Glenn M. Penner, about how Ancient Israel viewed history compared to their neighbours.
One neighbour was the Mesoptamian people. They viewed the events of history as squiggly line with no purpose or overall direction. Gods would from time to time intervene with the lives of people but with no overall plan. The Gods were as surprised as people to see how things turned out. Everyone was just playing a guessing game. People would try figure out what the gods liked. They would look and see what rituals worked in the past to get the Gods to act in their favour and then would repeat them to see if they might have similar results in the future.
It is a little bit like a superstitious hockey player. The player who ran out of clean underwear and wore a dirty pair for his winning game. After the game he thinks to himself, “This is one lucky, pair of underwear! I don’t want to mess with this luck, I’m not going to wash these for the rest of the season, and I’m going to wear them to every game from now on.”
Every time the hockey player wins a game he reinforces his belief in his crusty underpants. He keeps this up until he loses and then he thinks, to himself “No wonder I lost, I changed my socks, I need to wear my old pair, and for good luck I’m not going to wash them either.” The Mesoptamians were kind of like this, they would add and add rituals to their society trying to catch the attention of any god that might be able to help them move history in their favour.
On the other side we have the Egyptians who had a more static view of history. They believed that everything was exactly as it should be right now, and that nothing is ever meant to change, History is just a never ending repetition of events that circled around the divine order of things. In this view there isn’t a lot of room for change and too bad if life is sucks for you, that is just the way things are meant to be. There is no room for accusations of injustice because the status quo is divinely ordained.
The Biblical Israelites had a very different view of History then their neighbours. They believe that God, the one true God has a plan, and that He is moving all of history towards that plan. Things are not the way they are suppose to be, things are broken and God knows that, but he is moving things closer and closer to the way he intended the world to be. And throughout this process God calls people to intersect with this plan.
In the story of God calling Samuel, we see a young sleepy boy being humorously called by God. “Hey Sammy!” Sam wakes up thinking that his blind master is calling for him. Eli like any adult being woken by a child tells Sam to go back to sleep. This happens three times and then Eli tells Samuel,
“Go back and lie down! If someone speaks to you again, answer, ‘I’m listening, Lord. What do you want me to do?’”
Little Sammy goes back to bed and is woken one last time by the sound of his name and he says,
“I’m listening … What do you want me to do?”
God lets Samuel in on what he has already told Eli, that Eli’s sons are going to die because of their miss use of power.
The next day Samuel is scared to let Eli know what God told him. Eli demands to know every detail and Samuel repeats God’s message,
“The Lord said:
Samuel, I am going to do something in Israel that will shock everyone who hears about it! 12 I will punish Eli and his family, just as I promised. 13 He knew that his sons refused to respect me,[b] and he let them get away with it, even though I said I would punish his family forever. 14 I warned Eli that sacrifices or offerings could never make things right! His family has done too many disgusting things.”
Now, Eli isn’t hearing anything new here. He has heard this message before, and the message he got contained an extra piece of info. The first time Eli got this bad news he was also told,
“I have chosen someone else to be my priest, someone who will be faithful and obey me. I will always let his family serve as priests and help my chosen king.”
(1 Samuel 2:35)
So why did God bother to send a message to Samuel, was it for Samuel. Not really, it was for Eli, and since Eli wasn’t hearing anything new, what was the point. The point was for Eli to know that God was raising up Samuel to be this new priest.
God was letting Eli in on the plan. Old Blind Eli gets a glimpse of the plan and comforts Samuel with these words,
“He is the Lord, and he will do what’s right.”
In a couple weeks we will see Samuel in a couple other stories, continuing to convey God’s plan. We will see Samuel reluctantly usher in the age of Kings in the bible. First Saul and then David.
I actually think there are some interesting similarities here between David and Samuel. If you think about it, both weren’t God’s first choice. They both were chosen to replace someone who ended up going against God’s plan. Both these second choices were brought up in the middle of a very bad situation. Samuel was being raised by Eli in the middle of the temple being run by Eli’s corrupt sons. David becomes a warrior in Saul’s army just as Saul starts to stop trusting in God. In both cases things start moving away from the way God intended things to be. He calls out a new Priest and a new King. For a priest he chooses a boy who is doing the job of a seeing eye dog. For a king he chooses a shepherd boy (indecently another job we train dogs to do).
I feel like I have been rambling a bit today, and that I haven’t tied in this passage to our time and our place in history, so I thought maybe we can take some time to think about the idea of “being called” and “God’s plan” in our modern context.
- Share a time when your life took an unexpected turn?
- How do you view History?
Unpredictable: Do you think events just random?
Nothing Changes: Do you think everything is exactly the way it is
suppose to be?
Moving towards a Goal: Do think there a plan, or purpose that we are
- Have you ever experienced someone unexpectedly calling you into something new?
- Both Eli and Samuel got a very small peak at God’s plan. Have you ever had a moment where you feel like you got a glimpse of God’s plan?