15. 1 Samuel

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 15.  1 Samuel

1 Sam 16:7   the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

This is all about spiritual realities and as we look into it, we will see various other verses that appear, I believe, as highlight verses in this book, but they all go together. It is about spiritual vision, about what you see with your eyes and understand in your heart.

Let’s observe the context first of all. This is the first illustration of at least five that we will look at in this book. Saul is king and has failed at the job so God is going to appoint a new king and he sends Samuel, the prophet, down to Bethlehem to the family of Jesse because He has chosen one of his sons to be the new king. The story that follows is quite hilarious. Samuel gets the sons lined up, starting with the eldest who looks big and strong. This must be the one, thinks Samuel, but then the Lord speaks the verse above. No, don’t go on looks. This is not the one. So he works his way along the line and at each of the seven sons before him, he gets a “No!” from heaven. You can imagine him at the last one thinking, “Lord, I’ve run out of sons. What do I do?” Ask if there are any more, is the answer, and David is revealed, the eighth son out on the hillside looking after sheep for his father. He’s the one!

But the principle has been laid down and it’s one that has already been seen earlier in the book. The second illustration comes before Samuel was born, his mother-to-be is crying out to the Lord because she seems unable to conceive. She is in the tabernacle praying, but not out loud. Old man Eli is the chief priest and he sees her lips moving. He jumps to a wrong conclusion: “Eli thought she was drink”. (1 Sam 1:13). No, Eli, she is praying her heart out! Don’t judge by outward appearances.

A third illustration perhaps, as an extension of this, can be seen in some of the most spiritually poignant words which are found in 1 Sam 3: “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.” (v.1-3) Spiritual reality? Prophetic words were rare and there were few visions from God. Physical outworking, if you like? Eli could barely see and was lying down. The physical reality reflected the spiritual reality. The lamp of God had not yet gone out – physical reality in the tabernacle, but reflected the spiritual reality; God has the next carrier of His light also in there, Samuel, who is also lying down at the moment. He’ll get up and into action as soon as he learns to hear God’s voice, so God’s light will shine brightly in Israel again.

The fourth illustration comes many years later, when Israel decide they want a king instead of the judges they have had, “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” (8:19,20) i.e. we can’t see God; we want someone we can see who will go before us to fight, just like the other nations have. But you’re not like the other nations, you’re better off, you have the Lord! But they persist and so the Lord allows them to have just what they want, a big, tough looking guy to be their king, a guy who was head and shoulders (as some older versions put it) above all others (10:23). That was exactly what Israel wanted except he didn’t live up to the job. Possibly the most memorable Bible Week series of teaching I have ever heard was called, I believe, ‘The King and his army’, given by an elderly Canadian, Pentecostal preacher, called Ern Baxter, back in 1975, who spoke of the transition from the head and shoulders man (head referring to human intellect and shoulders referring to human strength) to the heart man, David (a man after God’s own heart – 1 Sam 13:14, Acts 13:22) Israel wanted a big tough man, but human wisdom and human strength aren’t up to the job; it needed a heart man! It’s not looks, it’s the heart!

A fifth illustration that comes  to mind, revealing this same principle, is that involving a giant Philistine named Goliath who came with the Philistine army to attack Israel and challenged Israel to put up their best man to fight him, and the winner would designate the victorious nation. This petrified Israel who were cowed into inaction. What always surprises me about this was that Saul didn’t refuse the challenge and send ten of his best men to bring this threat down. But size seemed to hypnotize Saul and his people and so for forty days the two armies just faced each other while Goliath came out and roared out his challenge – the Philistines as an army couldn’t have been feeling too sure of themselves. (see 1 Sam 17:4-16). David turns up and is surprised that size is the criteria that brings Israel to a standstill. As far as he is concerned it is all about relationship: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (v.26) We’re the people of God, this guy isn’t! He knows God has helped him in the past (see v.34-37) and so He will do so in the present. It’s nothing to do with how big the problem looks! It’s all about relationship with the Lord.

And there is the same lesson, five times over in this book. Will we be a people who look and see only material things, or will we open our hearts to discern the spiritual realities of the world in which we live. Will we look at people’s appearances and write them off, or will we look with Jesus’ eyes and see the spiritually hungry and thirsty and be open to bring his love to them (Zacchaeus was a good example of this – Luke 19). The lovely thing about the New Testament gift of prophecy is that it looks past the outward appearance and sees the inner reality and the future potential. Dare we be a people who give up on ‘outward appearance Christianity’, and cry to the Lord to become heart and Spirit people who discern true spiritual realities?

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8. To Samuel

“God turned up” Meditations: 8 :  To Samuel

1 Sam 3:4-6 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. Again the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Over the years I have come to a conclusion. I’m not sure I can prove it from Scripture (I suppose I’ve never tried to), but it very simply is that God talks to everyone. I’m sure the Lord speaks to everyone on earth. Now it’s very obvious listening to people that the vast majority would say that they never hear from God; they just aren’t aware of Him speaking – and this includes Christians too! But one of the things that comes over loud and clear in the Bible – and we’ve seen it in these studies – is that God is a communicator; He is constantly making contact with individuals and speaking to them. I’m sure many of us hear things in our thoughts but shrug them off or reject them, yet in eternity we will find it was the Lord.

Samuel’s is a unique start – I suppose each of them we’ve considered is really – but this one stands out in its strangeness. The Lord seems to call out loud to Samuel (or at least he thinks it is out loud – it may just be in his mind). Samuel is so sure he’s heard a voice he gets up and goes to Eli who is the chief priest who he works for. Samuel is only a young person and so when Eli calls, he goes – except it is not Eli. For the first couple of times Eli doesn’t realise what is going on. It is only after the third call that Eli realises that Samuel isn’t just dreaming but must be hearing from the Lord.

Now the description of Samuel is interesting: “Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” (v.7)  In other words Samuel did not yet have a relationship with the Lord and did not realise that God speaks and, even more, had not yet learnt to discern the Lord’s voice.  As we said, it is only after the third call that Eli realises what is going on: “Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, `Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.(v.8,9)

So what has Eli told him to do? He told him to stay where he is when he hears the voice again, to reply to the voice and then stay still and listen. I think those three things are good guidance.

If you think you might be hearing the Lord, first of all stay where you are. Many people who do hear the Lord immediately jump into action or even more, they focus more on the wonder of God speaking than what He actually said. I know this is something that I have struggled with over the years. When God turns up we get all excited and our minds start running ahead and we lose the rest of what He is trying to say.

Now the second thing is to reply to the Lord. I think this is important too. It is a sign of your acknowledgment of the Lord and a sign that you are positively going to listen to what He has to say. It is a faith statement. I can look back on one or two very memorable conversations with the Lord, but a conversation is a backwards and forwards speaking, first one person, then the other, then the first person and so on. But for a conversation to ensue you need to acknowledge the first words. As I said, it’s a faith issue.

Now the third thing is to stay still and listen. This is perhaps the hardest. You’ve had the initial excitement of sensing the Lord speaking and then you’ve responded. But what we said in the first response is equally true here for I find that I have a mind that can suddenly get full of junk and go off at tangents, and before I know it a number of minutes have passed and I haven’t heard a thing from the Lord. At that point I apologise to the Lord and sit quietly and He graciously starts again. This is a real experience but because of the nature of the lives we live, so full of voices and information, I believe it is a very difficult experience and one we need to discipline ourselves in.

I have also noticed that I have a tendency to interrupt the Lord. He speaks and I join in. What I mean is that I cut across Him and I have to apologise. He graciously reaffirms His love for me and tells me He will not give up on me. This is a major learning experience and I am the learner. I have been learning to listen to God for probably over thirty five years and the only thing I can tell you is that I am obtuse and a slow learner – but still God loves me and still God keep speaking – just like He did with Samuel. He doesn’t give up when He sees our slowness to hear, our slowness to pay attention, our slowness to learn. No, He loves us and understands us and one of the things the story of Samuel tells us is that He will keep on speaking until we hear.

But then I hear you saying, but not everyone does hear. Yes, I agree. I believe He does speak again and again to everyone so no one will face Him in heaven and be able to say we didn’t know. But there are some that I believe the Lord knows will never heed and so He gives up speaking (I may be wrong), but with others He knows that if He keeps on speaking we will eventually hear. I am sure, when I look back, that the Lord was speaking to me long before I came to Him. That’s how I eventually came to Him. He spoke to me and stirred a hunger in me and then drew me and saved me. Isn’t He wonderful!