Lucky Charm: A Sermon on 1 Samuel 3-4

I’m bursting with God-news!
I’m walking on air.
I’m laughing at my rivals.
I’m dancing my salvation.
Nothing and no one is holy like God,
no rock mountain like our God.
Don’t dare talk pretentiously-
not a word of boasting, ever!
For God knows what’s going on.
He takes the measure of everything that happens.
The weapons of the strong are smashed to pieces,
while the weak are infused with fresh strength.
The well-fed are out begging in the streets for crusts,
while the hungry are getting second helpings.
The barren woman has a houseful of children,
while the mother of many is bereft.
God brings death and God brings life,
brings down to the grave and raises up.
God brings poverty and God brings wealth;
he lowers, he also lifts up.
He puts poor people on their feet again;
he rekindles burned-out lives with fresh hope,
Restoring dignity and respect to their lives-
a place in the sun!
For the very structures of earth are God’s;
he has laid out his operations on a firm foundation.
He protectively cares for his faithful friends, step by step,
but leaves the wicked to stumble in the dark.
No one makes it in this life by sheer muscle!
God’s enemies will be blasted out of the sky,
crashed in a heap and burned.
God will set things right all over the earth,
he’ll give strength to his king,
he’ll set his anointed on top of the world!

I think this morning will be fun, and since I’m up again, I’m going to do it the same way as last week because there was a number of comments that doing it in the exegetical format was a good way to learn some of the other pieces that were going on. I think for the next little while we will keep reading Hannah’s song to start us off because there is a lot of illusion to what is coming further along in the chapters. We will do it in a different translation every week as well. So we can see and remember the beauty of God’s upside down ways of doing things (which of course we have seen over and over again in Jesus.)

We are now seeing that in the opening chapters – beginning with the opening of Hannah’s barren womb and her song of praise — highlight Samuel’s birth and growth to maturity as a prophet to the nation, in contrast to the house of Eli, which is falling fast as Samuel is rising.

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.

There is an allusion here of moving away from priestly authority with Eli to a prophetic authority (vision) of Samuel.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place.

Eli is blind! Remember all the mentions of Eli’s sight before. Remember it was Eli who ‘watched’ Hannah pray (he did not hear her). Also what is interesting is that when we first meet Eli he was ‘sitting on his chair/throne’ and now he was lying down in his own place. Posture and the senses are key literary points that the author uses to carry on themes and give subtle hints to a larger story.

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, and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down.

And the Lord called again, “Samuel!” and Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.'” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”

Again, notice everything that is going on with the senses. Eli can’t see things, but Samuel it seems is having a hard time hearing things.

“The opening exposition is full of language about the diminution of sight and light–no frequent vision, eyesight growing dim, not being able to see, a lamp not yet extinguished–metaphoric language pointing to a conspicuous lack of insight exhibited largely, but not exclusively, by Samuel.” – Polzin

Think about the irony that we are observing here. The old, blind rejected priest is instructing and teaching this inexperienced man who can’t distinguish God’s from Eli’s only so that Samuel can receive the word from God that Eli’s house is going to be destroyed.

Now, another thing, what we have to look for in this kind of literature is the use of words and obedience. The Hebrew word for listening and obedience is the same word, there is no different. Since we have been paying particular attention to the senses of listening and seeing, it is particularly important that we pick up on the fact that Samuel is having a hard time hearing God’s voice, but this is specifically linked to the reality that Samuel is having a hard time obeying as well.

Q: In this last bit of the story, do you see any hints where Samuel might not be listening/obeying?

In case we didn’t get it. Notice what Eli tells Samuel to do

“Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.'”

Compared to what Samuel actually does.

So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”

Do you see the difference? Samuel emits one of the words. Possibly the most important word. Commentators have a heyday with this little bit here and some think it’s just because Samuel doesn’t know God’s voice yet but others think that this is going to be an issue and that Samuel is going to have a hard time following instruction without twisting things around a bit before doing what he’s told.

Samuel lay until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. And Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” And he said, “Here I am.” And Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is the Lord. What is good in his eyes, let him do.”

Also ironic that Eli is threatening Samuel that bad things will happen to him if he doesn’t tell him what the LORD told him, since well, the prophecy was about him and bad things happening to him. Also notice that we have a new character’s eyes being mentioned which is meant to be a strong reminder that while Eli can’t see anymore, God still has a plan that is unfolding and can see fine.

And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord. And the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.

1 Samuel 3 represents an important transition, as the young Samuel is a temple lad at the outset of the chapter, and a prophetic man at the end and the entire nation is aware of this.

“This narrative, in concert with Israel’s most profound faith, finds it credible to have God assert, ‘Behold, I am doing a new thing.’ The narratives of Samuel want to assert that conviction, but they must do so in the midst of a difficult public crisis. God’s new thing is not a grand religious act but an invitation to a fresh and dangerous social beginning. All around the innocence of this narrative there were undoubtedly threats, bargains, and cunning calculations. In the midst of all these seductions, however, there is a season of naivete when a young boy can receive a vision, an old man can embrace relinquishment, a surprised mother can sing a song, the ears of the conventional can tingle, and life begins again.”
– Walter Brueggemann

Hannah’s song is almost like a prophecy in it’s own as we start to see the themes ring true in the stories that we read. We’ve seen God’s hand remarkably go to work overturning the status quo of opening up Hannah’s womb and raising up a young boy to take on the role of the house of the priest. We actually see Hannah herself give birth to a prophet who is the very instrument who speaks God’s word against Eli and his sons. The storylines are all starting to come together like a crazy movie that you knew they would be connected but not how.

As we move into Chapter 4 the attention starts to shift from individual characters to a national stage but the themes stay the same. Samuel’s part in this story is now put on hold a bit about the ark of God is introduced. For us to see how’s Samuel’s role will take shape it’s important for us to get an idea of what the national state of things are so we know what world he is stepping into.

And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.

Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines. They encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek. The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle. And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.

Things are starting to get crazy! As we pull the camera back and start to see what’s happening with the entire nation we can see that things aren’t doing so well. Israelites are dying and they are looking for anything to help. Of course, this kind of thing has happened many times before to Israel.

Israel’s theology here though needs to be questioned. There is a few things just in this little bit that should make them suspect. First, why does Israel say “Why has the LORD defeated us today?” We just read that it wasn’t the LORD but it was Philistines. Second, and what I want to spend some time on, why do they go and get the ark of the covenant? What purpose will that serve?

The ark of the covenant was nothing more than a box, about 2x4x4. It was built at the beginning of Israel’s forty years in the wilderness and provided a center to their worship. It was made out of wood and plated with gold and the lid of gold was called the mercy seat. There was two angel like figures at either end framing the mercy seat where God’s word was honoured. It contained three items: the tables of stone that Moses had delivered to the people from Sinai; a jar of manna from the wilderness years of wandering; and Aaron’s rod that budded. The objects were meant to be the continual reminder and evidence that God worked among them, commanded them (tablets), provided for them (manna) and saved them (the rod). After entrance to the promise land it was placed right where this whole story is taking place in Shiloh! As Peterson says, the “ark gave a hard, historical focus to the revealed character of God that Israel worshipped.”

So this is where we finally see how far off Israel has come. There was a national religion in Israel for sure that was lead by Eli’s sons and Eli, but it was far from what God had ever set up or intended. So much so that the very thing that was setup to be a reminder that God saved them was used as a lucky charm in a moment of anxiety of what was going to happen to them. All meaning has been removed and now it’s just seen as a magic trick to get what they want and save their asses as Philistines start to attack.

We also start to already see some big moments setting up. Eli’s two sons are the ones that are with the Ark and we’ve just read a word from God that they will be part of the destruction.

As soon as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded. And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And when they learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp, the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “A god has come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”

I find this one of the most fascinating bits here that I’m just going to mention because I’m not really sure how far to take it. But why in the world are the Philistines afraid of becoming slaves? Is it just because that’s what nations did to each other when they won a battle? What is happening here? I’m enthralled at the idea that Israel was not seen as any different than anyone else. They are just the same as all the other nations. They crush their enemies and will enslave them without thinking twice. So much for being the kind of nation that blesses all the other nations.

So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell. And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

This certainly was anti-climatic wasn’t it. Israel is ready to crush their enemies, they have their Goliath, they have their lucky charm to finally walk into battles and come out on top and they are yelling and screaming and getting all pumped up. And then they lost, the word of God comes true and Eli’s sons die as their ark gets captured. The last ditch effort was a massive failure.

That same day a Benjamite ran from the battle line and went to Shiloh with his clothes torn and dust on his head. When he arrived, there was Eli sitting on his chair by the side of the road, watching, because his heart feared for the ark of God. When the man entered the town and told what had happened, the whole town sent up a cry.

Eli heard the outcry and asked, “What is the meaning of this uproar?”

Notice again the reference to the senses. It’s ironic that Eli is ‘watching’ anxiously because as we know Eli is blind. Eli also heard the uproar.

The man hurried over to Eli, who was ninety-eight years old and whose eyes had failed so that he could not see. He told Eli, “I have just come from the battle line; I fled from it this very day.”

Eli asked, “What happened, my son?”

The man who brought the news replied, “Israel fled before the Philistines, and the army has suffered heavy losses. Also your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.”

When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell backward off his chair by the side of the gate. His neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man, and he was heavy. He had led Israel forty years.

His daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant and near the time of delivery. When she heard the news that the ark of God had been captured and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she went into labor and gave birth, but was overcome by her labor pains. As she was dying, the women attending her said, “Don’t despair; you have given birth to a son.” But she did not respond or pay any attention.

She named the boy Ichabod, saying, “The Glory has departed from Israel”-because of the capture of the ark of God and the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband. She said, “The Glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”

So that is chapter three and four. I wanted though before we end today to make a connection for us. As we’ve mentioned now a few times we are going to start integrating communion into our services each week as part of our regular practice of meeting together. In my church growing up as a kid, I remember when our pastor told everyone that we were going to do communion every single week. I think everyone got really annoyed. There was a number of people and it would take a while and it was always this solemn introspective time that extended the service and held us all up getting to Swiss Chalet. I remember the reason he gave for doing it as well. He said that communion allowed the Holy Spirit to move and would lead us closer into the presence of God and that it would be more likely that God would move if we did this every week. This was a church that was constantly jumping into the next big thing to invoke God’s presence and try and bring about a revival.

I couldn’t help but remember this sermon while reading the story of Israel and being defeated by the Philistines. Israel was looking for a gimmick; an easy way out to solve their problems. The ark of the covenant which was supposed to be a symbol and a tool to remember became a weapon and a lucky charm which got the entire nation pumped up. When we introduce change into our services at theStory, there is the temptation to see us doing it as trying to ‘get things right’ or trying to force God’s hand to show up. At my old church, communion was just another lucky charm invoked to try and convince God to show up and do his magic.

So I want to mention this because this is not the reason we are starting to do communion every week. We don’t think it has special powers and we don’t think it’s going to solve all our problems. The reason we are doing it is because as we grow as a community we start to recognize certain patterns in the way that we are formed and we want to introduce things that continue on forming us in the way of Christ. One of the things that shapes us is the way that we do liturgy. Liturgy means ‘the work of the people.’ It’s the way and the order in which we go about our daily living and our gathering. Liturgies have a lot of thought into it especially in mainline denominations. So if you look at say an Anglican church, their services follow a certain pattern. Gathering, Proclamation of the Word, Prayers of the People, Eucharist, Dismissal. Notice how early on the sermon is. However, in our traditions many of us come from, Sermon was always the pinnacle of the service. It is the draw to the church, is is the climax of the service and everything revolves around getting to it. What ends up happening is making churches into these self-help places where we go to get our spiritual fulfillment for the week and the preacher spends most of his week preparing a sermon to download a bunch of information into their heads. In the Anglican services, the sermons are only about 5 minutes long, because learning and being challenged by some new truth isn’t the pinnacle of the service.

theStory in many ways has followed this pattern already. The sermon while taking a large amount of time hasn’t been the main thing that we’ve focused on (or tried to), rather we’ve all lead up to Potluck and that is what the climax of the service has been. The issue with a lot of this, with the sermon and the potluck is that they don’t help serve the purpose of remembering the way we should. We eat because we always eat. We learn because we always learn.

So what communion does is tie all this together. It is a weekly reminder of why we are all here and it helps intentionally focus us on what is going on and pull us out of our selfish focus and onto a greater purpose. Eugene Peterson helps us see the significance of such a practice and I think it’s helpful so that we can see that we aren’t just looking for gimmicks to get us closer but see our practices as a long term benefit into shaping us into the people of God.

The operating biblical metaphor regarding worship is sacrifice. We bring ourselves to the altar and let God do to us what God will. We bring ourselves to the eucharistic table, entering into that grand fourfold shape of the liturgy that shapes us: taking, blessing, breaking, giving-the life of Jesus taken and blessed, broken and distributed; and that eucharistic life now shapes our lives as we give ourselves, Christ in us, to be taken, blessed, broken and distributed in lives of witness and service, justice and healing.
– Eugene Peterson

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