Meditations in 1 Samuel 8. Lack of revelation
1 Sam 3:1-4 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. 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.
I find this particular passage one of the most poignantly symbolic passages of the Old Testament. The setting, as we have recently observed, is that the young boy Samuel has been left by his mother in the care and under the instruction of Eli the chief priest. We have just pondered on the whole business of the two sons of Eli who are abusing their positions as under-priests and Eli’s failure to do anything about it. From that we might rightly assume that those in charge of the nation of Israel at this time were not in a good spiritual state. Now look at the words that pile up in these verses above that speak to this situation.
First, “the word of the Lord was rare” Now I have a horrible feeling that most Christians when looking at these words take them for granted but they bring a tremendous assumption to the people of God – that God is a communicator and that He speaks on a regular basis to His people. Now we are going to think more deeply about this in the next meditation but for the moment can we note this assumption, that the expectancy is for God to speak on a regular basis – but at this time He wasn’t or perhaps, to be more accurate maybe, there was no one with an ear open to Him, to hear His words. What an awful picture that would be – God speaking to His people Israel and no one taking a blind bit of notice about it, no one hearing, no one responding, a spiritually static people. How terrible! Are we different today?
But then it is repeated but in another way: “there were not many visions”. Visions are simply one of the ways that God speaks to His people and thus for our era Joel being quoted on the Day of Pentecost said, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17) Prophecy, dreams and visions, all ways God communicates with His people in every age.
Who has visions? Those with eyes to see. Of course we mean spiritual eyes which makes the next words so poignant: “Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see.” Yes, that is physical but actually it also describes exactly what he was like spiritually: he could barely see because he had allowed his spiritual vision to become clouded by old age. We aren’t told any other reason for it and it that is so, how sad: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree …… They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 92:12,14,15) That is the challenge for those of us in older years.
But it gets worse for it continues about Eli that he “was lying down in his usual place.” Again, now this is a physical description but again it describes his spiritual state. The call is to “Stand!” (Eph 6:11,14) not to be lying down spiritually. You lie down when are going to sleep and sleep is the way of the sluggard, the lazy person (Prov 6:9), or the person who has given up. Spiritually Eli has given up. He still knows what is right and what is wrong but when it comes to his sons, he just hasn’t got the spiritual energy to bring the changes that are needed, he is lying down on the job. “in his usual place”. Yes, again it is physical but also true spiritually; he is in the same old place he always is in, spiritually indifferent or spiritually impotent, and so nothing changes.
Then we find a word of hope: “The lamp of God had not yet gone out,” Yes, yet again it refers to a physical lamp, probably the lamp-stand in the Tabernacle, but spiritually it was true as well. God had not been pushed out of this situation and He had not left Israel (as we see in Ezekiel where the glory of the Lord was seen to be moving in stages away from its place in the Temple in Jerusalem, as a warning of what was about to happen to Jerusalem). There is a glimmer of hope yet in this situation. What was it? “Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was.” Yes, the young boy was there. Yes, he was lying down reminding us that as yet he had not moved into a position of spiritual ministry for he hasn’t yet had his encounter with the Lord (that is coming next) – but he IS in the right place, he is there in the Tabernacle which was where, in the inner place, the ark resided, the ark that represented the presence of God.
This is why all that talk about the providence of God was so important. If change is to come about in Israel, it will happen when someone in the leadership gets in contact with God, listens and then obeys. Where are they most likely to make contact with God? Where He resides – in the tabernacle. Samuel is in the right place and so very soon God is going to initiate the contact and it will all change, the leadership will change from a blind, inactive, ineffective, worldly and dissolute leadership, to one that is holy, one that hears from God and is able to impact the nation accordingly. Now I believe that is all so clear that I really don’t have to labour the point. How is your spiritual leadership?