8. Lack of Revelation

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?

4. To Joseph

“God turned up” Meditations: 4 :  To Joseph

Gen 37:5-7 Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”

A question I am often asked is, “How can you know it is God speaking to you?” and I think the truth is that initially at least you don’t. If one of our biggest problems is that God is invisible, I think one of God’s problems is that we so often appear so hard of hearing. It just isn’t clear sometimes that it is the Lord speaking. Very often our immaturity or ignorance or naivety, are the reasons we don’t realise it is God speaking.  Again, I suspect that with a heading about God turning up, we also have preconceived ideas about how He will turn up. Very often His ‘turning up’ is just simply a few words spoken into our minds; that can be the start of it, or perhaps it’s a dream!

Joseph was a spoilt brat. Being one of the youngest sons of Israel (Jacob renamed), because of who his mother was, he was especially loved by his father, but when one child gets more attention from the parent that just leads to trouble. Jacob spoiled Joseph and that didn’t go down well with the other brothers; in fact they hated him. When you spoil a child you also tend to spoil their character as well. Joseph is spoilt and that means he is self-centred and self-centred people are insensitive to other people, and that, here, causes problems. The story of Joseph is fascinating because it starts with God turning up with a dream. It’s a good dream as far as he is concerned but bad as far as the brothers are concerned. It had them bowing down before him.

Now you have to wonder why the Lord gave him this dream – and the one that follows, just to make sure they get the message!   I mean, if this was going to be the outcome, why say something which the Lord surely knew would provoke the brothers?  But perhaps that is the very reason He gave Joseph the dream; He knew how Joseph would blurt it out and He knew how the brothers would respond.

It’s very like what happened with Jesus.  On the day of Pentecost, speaking about Jesus, Peter said, This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead.” (Acts 2:23,24) God knew how the Jewish authorities would react if Jesus was given into their hands, He knew that they would crucify His Son and He knew He would have to raise Him from the dead, all in the process of taking the Sin of the world and revealing His Son as Saviour.  A while later the disciples prayed, “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” (Acts 4:27,28)  God knew what He wanted to achieve and knew that He would use the wrong motives and bad reactions of the various people involved.

So here we have the same thing happening with Joseph. The Lord knows that in the long-term, quite a few years later, He would be able to use Joseph to save the whole of the Middle East and especially the family of Israel. He knew that the brothers would get so worked up about Joseph that they would sell him to slave traders, He knew the slave traders would sell him to Potiphar who would end up unjustly putting him in prison, and He knew that the end result would be Joseph being taken out of prison and being made Prime Minister of Egypt where he could have such authority that he could save the world against a coming famine.

So this instance of God turning up for Joseph sounds bad news. Well, no, not really. This was God’s training ground that He was leading him into – these years of slavery and prison – training to be able to handle the incredible authority he’s going to be given at the end.  In this training he’s going to be taken from being a spoilt brat to a wise world leader – some transformation! (Oh, by the way, read the story through and you’ll see that the Lord never left him to it; He stayed with him and gave him favour in the eyes of those who had power over him.)

So Joseph gets a dream as God turns up for him and the whole process gets under way – but Joseph really doesn’t have a clue!  But isn’t that how it is so often. The Lord comes with a prophecy and we think how incredible it is. I’m going to make you a mighty warrior. Right! But how are mighty warriors created?  Through much hard exercise and discipline and many battles. Right!  Or perhaps the word from the Lord comes, “I am going to make you a person of great grace to whom many others will come with their problems.” Wow, that’s great!  Well yes, but how are you going to get there?  The Lord is going to allow all your self-strength to be knocked out of you so that all that is left of you is His grace. Oh!  Oh yes, and vulnerable people only feel secure coming to share with people who appear vulnerable, so all your self-confidence is going out the door. Right!

Oh yes, Joseph tells us that when God turns up it’s the start of a life of transformation – for us. Paul knew something of it when he wrote, we…. are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18)  God loves us just like we are, but He also loves us so much He’s got something much better for us, a new ‘me’ in the likeness of Jesus. That’s what the Christian life is about so much of the time, God making sons in the likeness of Jesus. What fun! What glory!