Weekly Prompts for Thinking Through Scripture
Covering 1 Samuel 4:12 – 8:22
Refresher: The beginning of 1 Samuel shows the people of God in a state of collapse. They are politically vulnerable; their ancient foes are circling closer; but the real problem is the spiritual corrosion eating out the society from within. Even the place of God’s dwelling is wobbling. The people who minister before God are corrupt, given over to the sins of the flesh, worldly.
And yet and yet: Away from the centers of political and cultural power, God is still quietly channeling out a way of salvation for his people, making a strange way forward. Did we say strange? Yes. Taunts maliciously directed toward a barren woman precipitate the birth of a great savior of Israel.
- Read 1 Samuel 4: 12-22
- V. 12 – “Clothes torn and dirt on his head” – this look was on purpose, a sign of bitter mourning. The dirt was intended to bring to mind the grave: death was at work.
When was the last time, or has it ever happened, that you deeply mourned over something that didn’t specifically pertain to just you?
- V. 18 – As we’ve already seen, Eli, the old priest was deeply flawed, yet to the end retained a deep, reverent affection for the things of God. Remember, people are complicated; if you’re painting someone as wholly bad you’ve probably lost perspective.
- V.18 – “He had judged Israel” – reminding us that, to this point, there was no monarchy in Israel. Most recently, the rulers (and often deliverers) of Israel were so-called “judges.”
- V. 21 – Ichabod – “the glory has departed.” A word that reminds us to strive and pray for the presence of the glory of God and not take His Presence of blessing for granted.
- Read 1 Samuel 5
- This chapter is a reminder that even when God allows Himself to be perceived as having suffered defeat, He is still and always the Only Sovereign.
- V. 7 – The good citizens of Ashdod connect their rash of hardships to the judgment of God. Do you realize how uncommon it is for people to make that connection? Also, a person’s or society’s vivid realization that God is against him/ them is itself a gift of God.
In our era, the Holy Spirit works through the life and word of the church to convince the world…of judgment (John 16:14)
- The Presence of God or the “hand of God” (vv..9, 12) not only caused the plague of tumors but also created a panic around the plague. There are physical and spiritual weapons in God’s arsenal. For a contemporary instance of this: see 2020-2021.
- Read 1 Samuel 6: 1-9
- V. 2, 3 – Every society has a cadre of learned people who are consulted during times of upheaval. Fortunate the society whose intellectuals fear God and take Him into account while offering their counsel. Unfortunately, we do not live in such a society and are thus, in an important sense, more backwards than the Philistines!
Learn: Whenever the conversation allows it, Christians should be relating current events e.g., Covid, to the work and ways of God. Think of how to do that accurately and sanely. Here is such an attempt.
- VV. 3ff – It is natural for human beings to sense that something is owed to God. The society that ignores His claims is truly in the dark.
- V. 6 – As we saw last week, the 400-year-old lessons of the Exodus remain fresh in people’s minds, to the extent that they’re still informing political decisions. Oh, that God would rend the heavens and come down and again make a name for Himself! That people would assume it practical and smart to fear God. Pray for this, brother and sisters.
- VV. 8 – 9 – The consultants had a pretty good idea of what should be done, but they weren’t sureit was going to work. And that’s how almost every decision feels.
Categorize this as another example of the principle that: “Emotional certainty is overrated.” You can have a good idea of what’s going on or what’s true, and yet not be 100% sure, and that little bit of doubt is almost to be expected. Application: Faith is not 100% emotional certainty. Do you see what I mean?
- Read 1 Samuel 6:10 – 7:2
- V. 12 – You find special cases of this throughout Scripture: animals submitting to the will of the Lord. Can you think of others? These act as confirmation that God is over the natural world. And also, these cases make us look at animals with a little more interest. Related: I sure wish the fear of God would get into my dog Teddy!
- V. 18 – I do love these kinds of things. The cows pull up next to a stone. That stone then becomes a “witness” to the events of that day, a tangible reminder to folks of the happenings of that day.
Think through the answer to this: exactly what did the stone witness to?
Also, are there any natural objects which hold a special spiritual significance for you, not because of something in themselves, but because you met God close by?
- V. 19 – the Presence of God is a great blessing…and dangerous to the careless ones. Love God…and fear Him too (sounds strange but totally possible).
- V. 20 – “Who is able to stand before the LORD, this holy God?” It’s a perennially good question. Be careful that you don’t so emphasize the possibility of warm relationship with the Lord as to lose the sense of his TRANSCENDENCE.
- V. 7:2 – The ark stays in the field for a long time. A necessary and negative impasse for twenty years – these things happen. And thus, there’s mourning throughout all that time.
There’s a lesson here: Mourn over things that are mournful, even if they remain in their sad condition over a long time. For instance, if your child is away from the Lord, don’t get used to it,in the sense of forgetting to grieve.
P.S. Pro tip: You can simultaneously grieve and rejoice.
- Read 1 Samuel 7: 3, 4
- V. 3 – Now Samuel begins his public ministry as a priest and prophet. Summarize his first public message in one word: ________________________.
- V. 3 – Samuel’s message. I’d like you to mull over these phrases today and imagine what it would look like for you to apply them:
- Return to the LORD with all your heart – whole-hearted repentance (instead of faking it, “trying it out for a time”)Put away… – repentance is not just starting some new things, but also requires some habits to be cast offDirect your heart to the LORD – Cease and desist from lazily drifting; take responsibility for your thoughts and attitudes and align them with GodServe him only – don’t try to do too much, don’t think you can have it all; rather head for the simplicity of obedience
- V. 4 – A really fascinating verse. Samuel’s message is neither intellectual nor novel nor even really that interesting. And yet, for some reason, the people respond exactly to it. For this nationwide repentance to take place, for Samuel’s words to pierce through to people, required years of God quietly honing Samuel into an effective instrument. A human being hidden away in obscurity (Isaiah 49:2), being trained by God “morning by morning (Isaiah 50:4)” ® ® watch out world!
- Read 1 Samuel 7: 5-17
- V. 6 – Pouring water before the LORD is a good portrayal of prayer in which words directed to God cascade out from a full heart. Take time today for this kind of prayer, telling God everything that is on your mind. In the same vein, confess all of your sins. A good way to start the day.
- V. 6 – Samuel is a transitional character – the last of the judges and the first of a certain kind of prophet. Here, “judging” has to do with providing general leadership, particularly by offering clarity about various political and spiritual matters.
- V. 7 – Very interesting. Did you notice? As the people respond obediently to Samuel’s call to repentance, their enemies react by re-starting their contest against them. “No good deed goes unpunished,” right?
Wouldn’t it have been better not to have met?
But obedience, though it might appear foolish in the short term, is ultimately your safest possible bet.
- V. 12 –Notice the beautiful understatement, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” “Till now.” Even when you don’t know how the future will play out, you can still celebrate and memorialize God’s goodness so far.
- Read 1 Samuel 8
- VV. 1,2 – Throughout the Scriptures, it’s not uncommon to find good, godly people with rascally children. Sometimes God’s Spirit suggests that the parents were at fault… their child rearing left something to be desired. Here, we’re not told why Samuel’s children “turned aside after gain.” Perhaps ‘twas Samuel’s fault, or perhaps not. We are told, however, that in indulging their greed they “did not walk in [Samuel’s] ways”… he didn’t set them this bad example, it arose naturally or they learned it elsewhere. Parenting is difficult, and let us go easy on judging others’ parenting, and let us pray for each other.
- VV. 4, 5 – Give up on trying to box in God, expecting him always go about things the straightforward way! Here’s why I say that today. The wickedness of Samuel’s children moves Israel to press Samuel for a new system of government, away from the heretofore theocracy and into a monarchy. God specifically infers their request as a “rejection” (v. 7) of his rule. And yet in the Law (Deuteronomy 17: 14ff [written 400 years before these events]) God makes provision for a monarchy and, without any sign of rebuke, imagines Israel asking for a king. So, all along this request was envisioned. We can even definitely say: ultimately, an Israelite monarchy was the will of God.
Anyway, hopefully you followed that, and can bring away from this passage yet another encouragement to trust the goodness and power of God, no matter how many people around you are messing up.
- VV. 10-18 – When making decisions, it’s healthy to hear exactly what you’re getting yourself into. God doesn’t endorse “pie in the sky” thinking.
Another point: every decision you can make will almost certainly have ill consequences. Remember, trade-offs are all we can expect in this world, not perfect solutions!