What does it take to be a king? Did you know that this year, Penn State University has decided to stop having a homecoming king and queen? They now claim that such terms are not inclusive enough and should be replaced by more generic language that doesn’t offend other categories of identity. Imagine how you would need to rephrase: “God save the Queen,” or “Long live the King” if you wanted to sanitize them to meet Penn State’s new standards. This week in our journey through the Bible, Israel has asked for a king, and God has given them one.
Our chronological Bible reading has taken us into 1 Samuel this week. We are reading what Walter Brueggemann calls “unlaundered history.” God tells us the good the bad and the ugly all through here. Just as we have seen throughout the scriptures. It’s one of the characteristics of scripture that provides further evidence of it being a record of real people, places and experiences. There are clearly political, social, cultural and economic forces working throughout. The people are real, struggling, flawed human beings, with rich personalities and moral highs and lows. Some of them are down right terrible, while others display honorable character, integrity and courage. God appears throughout not as an absolute dominant, irresistible power. God is very much involved, but amazingly restrained. Here in 1 Samuel, God chooses, and then regrets His choice of Saul as king. Did you notice that? Yet, in 1 Samuel 15:29, Samuel is rebuking Saul and says: “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man, that He should change His mind.” In verse 11 of the same chapter God said to Samuel, “I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.”
The theologian in us could easily have a hard time with those two verses. Instead of explaining them away, let’s just ask God to teach us what He wants us to know through them. God didn’t launder 1 Samuel through our theological standards. What I find is that God engages in our history on a level that we can know Him. God is sovereign over all creation, but God has created humanity with the capacity to interact with Him. God consistently refuses to overpower our free will. We can draw close to God and seek Him as our God and king. We can engage with Him in a relationship that is unlike anything else on earth. God rules over all, yet allows us to choose to follow His rule. Jesus said, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him, must worship in Spirit and in truth. These are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.”
1 Samuel opens with the story of a worshipping family. Elkanah and his two wives, Hannah and Peninnah come to Shiloh to worship God. Hannah is barren, but Peninnah has children. Eli is High Priest, and he has two sons, Hophni and Phinehas. These sons of Eli are priests too.
Part of their worship in those days involved eating together part of the sacrifice. Elkanah always gave Hannah a double portion of the food. Peninnah would then provoke Hannah and Hannah would cry and not eat. Elkanah would try to console Hannah by saying all the wrong stuff. Does any of this sound like a real family? God reveals this to us. We can relate, can we not? God also wants us to relate to Him!
The story continues and Hannah prays for a son. She’s reaching out to God as Her only hope for a child. Do you think God uses trials to make us reach out to Him? When Hannah prayed, Eli, the priest, saw her and thought she was drunk! He rebuked her saying, “Get rid of your wine!” But she quickly let Eli know otherwise. 1 Samuel 1:15-18. Eli, realizing his mistake, turned his rebuke into a blessing. Hannah left that time of prayer encouraged and hopeful. God responded by giving her a son, Samuel.
One of the great things about 1 Samuel (and a lot of Old Testament narrative) is how it records the speeches of its characters. In fact, a large percent of the book of 1 Samuel is just that. In it we read not only what the people say, but what God says is also recorded there mingled into the fabric of the conversations therein. Again we see that the Bible invites us into the lives of its characters and also into a relationship with God. The Bible draws us into this relationship with God to instruct us and to save us.
But there is another side of the story that we must not miss. God reveals both the faithful and the unfaithful early on in 1 Samuel. God also reveals how He is not bound to always give us freedom to choose. Let’s notice the unfaithful examples of Eli and his two sons. We discover that this priestly family was worse than flawed, there was blatant disrespect for God and disobedience of a measure that brought God’s sovereignty into play against them. Look at 1 Samuel 2:17, 22-25.
What we see here is that these men crossed a line beyond recovery. Eli and particularly his sons lost their privilege of free will. They have committed a crime that they will pay for with their lives. God is in control. He does have absolute authority and when He chooses to do so, God can remove our choices. This is not the only time this kind of example occurs in scripture. But this is a clear one. God has warned Eli with another messenger too. Then God also speaks to Samuel one night. Look at God’s word to Samuel as a child serving under Eli. 1 Samuel 3:11-14.
Evidently there was a time when Eli could have restrained his sons, but didn’t. Then we find that it became too late to do so.
Eli made Samuel tell him what God had said to him and Samuel told everything. Notice Eli’s response: 1 Samuel 3:18. Here is this old, almost blind High Priest, hearing the words of God through this young boy Samuel. What does Eli do? He accepts the word of the Lord. It is like Eli realizes there is no recovery now. Later when Eli dies, it is not word that his sons have died that shock him. What shocks Eli so that he falls and dies is that the ark of God has been captured by the Philistines.
Immediately 1 Samuel tells us that Eli’s daughter-in-law, who is pregnant with a son, as soon as she hers of this goes into labor and dies in childbirth. She names Eli’s grandson, Ichabod: the glory has departed, because of the deaths of her husband and father-in-law and the capture of the ark of God.
What lessons are here for us today? What is God telling us through these events in 1 Samuel?
Here are two families. Elkanah’s family has struggles, but he and Hannah are clearly people of faithfulness to God. Hannah promises that if God gives her a son, she will devote him to the Lord for all of his life. Elkanah accepts this vow too. Then, when Samuel is weaned, they make good on their vows. God blesses Hannah with more children too. Samuel follows in their walk of faith.
Eli and his sons, Hophni and Pinehas have privilege and power of the priesthood. They have every reason to be faithful, but what happened? God said it. 1 Samuel 3:13. There is a higher standard for those with higher privilege and power. James tells us, “Be not many of you teachers for you will incur stricter judgment.” Who among us here are priests? 1 Peter 2:9. What does God expect of us? How are we to parent our children? If there’s anyone we must concern ourselves with saving it should be our own children. Amen?
Eph. 6:1-4 says it best (read).
Does anyone here have a few flaws? Anyone struggle here and there in our homes? Elkanah and Hannah give us an example of how God works in flawed but faithful homes to produce faithful offspring.