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Posts Tagged ‘honoring God’

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 2:11-3:1

We are moving forward in the book of 1 Samuel, after the stories about Hannah, Samuel’s mother. The next two stories are about Samuel as a child. And today we look at the first of these, which is a contrast case between Eli and his family, and Samuel and his family and how they are going in different, even opposite directions. Eli and his house will fade from the scene due to God’s judgment, while Samuel’s family is blessed, and he himself is getting ready to do great things for God. We will look at the verses that treat Eli first and then Samuel.

The wrong direction: Eli and his sons

We begin with the sins of Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, starting in chapter 2:12.

12Now the sons of Eli were worthless men.

Worthless can also be translated as scoundrels. It literally means “sons of wickedness.”

They did not know the Lord. 

Wow! What a way to begin the story. Worthless and don’t know the Lord. You certainly get the impression that things are going downhill from here and that is correct.

13The custom of the priests with the people was that when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come, while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand, 14and he would thrust it into the pan or kettle or cauldron or pot. All that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is what they did at Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there.

Priests lived off of the offerings given to the Lord. And what portions of meat the priests got was legislated in the Law of Moses (Leviticus 7:28-36; Deuteronomy 18:3). The custom here at the Shiloh tabernacle is different than what the Law of Moses prescribes, but the real problem shows up in the next verses.

15Moreover, before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, “Give meat for the priest to roast, for he will not accept boiled meat from you but only raw.” 16And if the man said to him, “Let them burn the fat first, and then take as much as you wish,” he would say, “No, you must give it now, and if not, I will take it by force.”

Eli’s sons didn’t want boiled meat. And they took their portion before the Lord got his. And if there was resistance they threatened violence to those who came to sacrifice. They even took the fat, which was strictly reserved for the Lord (Leviticus 7:22-25)

This would be something like church officials today stealing the offering of the people for their own use and then threatening violence if church goers to give more.

17Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt.

And as if this wasn’t enough, there’s more.

22Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 23And he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all these people. 24No, my sons; it is no good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading abroad. 25If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” 

So their own father, the high priest and judge of Israel, testifies against them and warns them. (For women at the tabernacle see Exodus 38:8)

But v. 25 goes on to say, 

But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death. 

In other words, it was too late for them. God’s mind was made up. They had moved past the point of grace due to their previous sins.

Now we turn to Eli’s sins. 

27And there came a man of God to Eli and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Did I indeed reveal myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt subject to the house of Pharaoh? 28Did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before me? I gave to the house of your father all my offerings by fire from the people of Israel.’ 

Eli’s house, among all the Levites, was chosen to be the chief priests in Israel.

29Why then do you scorn (or, look with greed on) my sacrifices  and my offerings that I commanded for my dwelling, and honor your sons above me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel?’

Here is where we see that Eli is not without sin. All the “yous” here are plural. He warned his sons, but allowed the abuses to go on. As high priest he could have removed them from service (1 Samuel 3:13). He even seems to have benefited from their taking whatever meat they wanted. The prophet says, you all have “fattened yourselves,” and later we learn in chapter 4:13 that Eli was overweight. Perhaps there is a connection.

30Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that your house and the house of your father should go in and out before me forever,’ but now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me, for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed. 31Behold, the days are coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house.’  

A promise that God made forever is revoked because they despised the Lord. This is really serious!

32Then in distress you will look with envious eye on all the prosperity that shall be bestowed on Israel, and there shall not be an old man in your house forever.’ 

Notice how the judgment fits the crime. They were greedy with God’s offerings and now they will be cut off from the support of the offerings of Israel, even as Israel is about to enter into a time of real prosperity. 

33The only one of you whom I shall not cut off from my altar shall be spared to weep his eyes out to grieve his heart, and all the descendants of your house shall die by the sword of men.’

This part of the prophecy was fulfilled when King Saul killed 85 of Eli’s descendants in the city of Nob (1 Samuel 22:6-23). Only Abiathar was spared. And although he served David for a time, during Solomon’s reign he was exiled and this prophecy is referenced when this happened in 1 Kings 2:26-27.

34And this that shall come upon your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you: both of them shall die on the same day.’

This is narrated in chapter 4:11.

35’And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever. 36And everyone who is left in your house shall come to implore him for a piece of silver or a loaf of bread and shall say, ‘Please put me in one of the priests’ places, that I may eat a morsel of bread.’” 

This was fulfilled with the choice of the house of Zadok, another of David’s priests, to be the chief priests over Israel (1 Kings 2:35). Eli’s descendants will beg from them for an opportunity to receive of the Lord’s offerings for support.

Well, this is certainly the wrong direction – sin and fearful judgment. Now we move to –

The right direction: Samuel and his family

And first we look at his parents Elkanah and Hannah. 

18Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy clothed with a linen ephod. 19And his mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.

Both the ephod and the robe here were priestly attire. It is very sweet that his mom brought him a new robe each year. This gives us a picture of a loving and caring family, despite their distance. 

20Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the Lord give you children by this woman for the petition she asked of the Lord.” So then they would return to their home. 21Indeed the Lord visited Hannah, and she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. 

So Hannah was blessed with six children, including Samuel.

And then we come to Samuel himself. In the midst of all the sin and judgment on Eli and his sons narrated here there are five statements about Samuel, skillfully woven in, that show he is going in a different direction. The first and last are the same and begin and end this story:

2:11bAnd the boy was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli the priest. 

3:3Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli. 

He was under apprenticeship to Eli. And so even as a child he is carrying out various duties in the tabernacle.

Then we have:

v. 18 – Samuel was ministering before the Lord

v. 21 – And the boy Samuel grew in the presence of the Lord

v. 26 – Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with man 

This presents a picture of one who is getting ready, even with all the corruption around him; getting ready to serve the Lord in great ways.

Let me highlight –

Three themes

– that stand out to me and that we can take with us today.

1. God judges sin. And this is true no matter what position you hold – being important priests or even the high priest and judge over all Israel. And this is true no matter what promise you have from God, as Eli’s house had a promise “forever” from God. In the end this truth stands clear – “those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be treated with contempt” (v. 30). And we see the terrible results on Eli’s sons, Eli himself and his household.

And if we take the path of sin and walk in this direction, we too will find sorrow and judgment. No matter what position we have or what promise we may think we have from God. God judges sin. 

But just a surely, 2. God blesses faithfulness. We see this with Elkanah and Hannah and how God gave them 5 more children after giving up Samuel to serve the Lord. And we will see this for sure in Samuel’s life as he grows up.

And if we take the path of faithfulness to God and walk in this direction, we will be blessed as well. We will go through hard times too, but we will be blessed.

3. We must honor God above our family. Eli’s key sin is stated in v. 29 – you “honor your sons above me.” Faithfulness to God must come before our loyalty to our family. But he had it the other way around. So, when he had to make a choice, because his sons were sinning terribly – he chose to overlook their sin or even benefit from it, instead of being faithful to God. Notice he didn’t commit the sins his sons did, but since he could as high priest and judge stop them, but didn’t,  he became responsible for them also.

And we might one day have to make a choice like this as well. When we do what God calls us to do, or do what we know to be right, our family might reject us. But we must be faithful to God anyway. We must always choose God when faithfulness is at stake even in difficult family situations.

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We are continuing to talk about worship and today I want to show you –

A fundamental principle of worship

It comes from Exodus 34:20, talking about proper protocol for Israelite worship. This principle is this “no one shall appear before me empty-handed.”

I mentioned two weeks ago that in an ancient near eastern cultural context when you come into a king’s presence (or anyone of great rank) you were to offer up a gift that is fitting to honor them. We talked about giving praise and compliments.

Well, God is seen as the King, the great one  in the Scriptures, and so we should definitely bring gifts when we come before God

And this is the background context of Exodus 34:20, when the Lord says, “no one shall appear before me empty-handed.”

Another text that talks about this is Psalm 96:8. It says, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts!” We are to bring a gift. This is connected to giving God the glory due his name. Bringing a gift is a way of honoring God; of ascribing worth to the Lord, which is the meaning of the English word “worship” – to ascribe worth.

We’re not completely unfamiliar with this practice of giving gifts to honor someone.

  • Have you ever been to a party and you thought you weren’t supposed to give a gift?
  • Have you ever seen a child who didn’t bring a gift to a birthday party?

Well in the same way, magnified greatly – we don’t want to come before God without a gift to offer to honor God. We don’t want to come empty-handed!

But . . .

What shall we bring?

In the Mosaic Temple system what you brought were things like burnt offerings, various other sacrifices, grain offerings and the like.

But as the prophets saw people were bringing these gifts before God but they were just going through the motions. The gifts were meant to be an expression of much deeper and greater gifts of the heart. But often their hearts weren’t in it. It was insincere.

Psalm 50:8-13 says, “Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me. I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?”

In 1 Samuel 15:22 Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” God looks for sincere, heartfelt offerings.

Now we don’t live under the Mosaic Temple system, but as Peter tells us, we are a new temple. 1 Peter 2:4-5 – “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood (we are a temple), to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (our sacrifices).”  We are to give spiritual sacrifices and offerings to God.

Let’s get specific and look at –

Four acceptable sacrifices or gifts we can give to God

1. Our praise and thanksgiving (we talked about his two weeks ago)

We read from Psalm 50 that God doesn’t need or want insincere animal sacrifices. Instead it says:

  • “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving” –  Psalm 50:14
  • And, “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me” – Psalm 50:23

Hebrews 13:15 says it this way, “Through him (Jesus) then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.”

When we come before God, we give our praise and thanksgiving as a gift to honor God.

2. Our generosity. Giving of our resources to others in need is seen as a sacrifice to God in the Scriptures.

Hebrews 13:16 says, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

In Philippians 4:18 Paul speaks of having received a gift from others to support his ministry. “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”

When we give of our resources to the needy, this is a pleasing sacrifice and gift to God.

  • We can do this by bringing offering as a part of a worship service
  • Or by simply giving to those in need

When we come before God we offer these up, as it were, as a gift, a sacrifice that honors God. “Father, we have done this to honor you.”

3. Our obedience. There is a lot of material here.

We already saw how in 1 Samuel 15:22 it says, “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.”

Psalm 40:6-8 says, “Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.’”

Specifically, such offerings of obedience have to do with how we treat our neighbor. Here are three examples focused on treating others with fairness and justice:

  • Isaiah 1:12-13; 17 – “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings . . . learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”
  • Amos 5:21-24 – “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
  • Micah 6:6-8 – “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Our obedience and righteousness is a pleasing sacrifice to God. When we come before God, instead of going through insincere rituals, these texts are saying we offer up our obedience – what you have done, by God’s grace as a gift to God.

But not only that,  in the words of Paul, we bring our bodies and present them as instruments to do God’s will in the future.

He says, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” – Romans 12:1.

4. Our humble repentance

We don’t always do God’s will; we often fail. But we can bring our sincere repentance as a gift to God.

Isaiah 1:11; 16 says, “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats . . . Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil . . .”

David’s repentance is an example of this. “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” – Psalm 51:16-17.

When we come before God and we have failed, we should humble ourselves in repentance as a gift to God. And God will receive us.

These four things are the gifts that God desires and they are all gifts that we can bring. So let us not be empty-handed as we come before God. But bring an abundance of that which pleases and honors God, our great King.

William Higgins

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