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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
1 Samuel 3

 

 

Verse 1

"... the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli.."1 Samuel 3:1.

Have children been recognised properly by the Church? Have we not supposed that Wisdom of Solomon , experience, great maturity of character were all necessary for the ministration of the sanctuary?—There is a sense, of course, in which that is perfectly true: there Isaiah , however, another aspect which ought not to be disregarded by those who would assist in the organisation of a complete and effective Church.—Where are the children? Is not the service of God made a weariness to them? Are they not placed in the most awkward and undesirable positions in religious buildings? Is one definite thought given to them, or one special prayer offered for them, or are they called to any form of service in the Church?—It is vain to say that children do not understand, for who really can understand all the word of the Lord in its proper range and meaning?—Understanding, in any case, is a relative term.—We have no right to put too much upon a child, and we have no right to withhold from a child whatever duty it can execute.—The child who cannot turn a millstone may pluck a flower.—The little one who cannot enter into grammatical controversies may repeat its own sweet verse or hymn, and out of the mouths of babes and sucklings God may ordain praise.—Never are children spoken to in a congregation in a loving and intelligent manner without adults being also profited.—Whoever can simplify the truth, so as to bring any portion of it within the comprehension of a child does an essential benefit even to men of advanced years.—There is no lovelier picture on all the earth than a ministering child—whether it minister in things distinctively religious, whether it take its place in the Christian choir, or whether it be called upon to do some deed of love in the family; its very littleness, youthfulness, weakness, entitle it to attention, and constrain the heart so as to affect the whole soul with the purest emotions.—Whilst children ought not to be unduly urged forward, they should be lovingly recognised as having some part in the utterance of the music which alone can express the love of God.


Verses 1-18

The House of Eli Overthrown

1 Samuel 2:33; 1 Samuel 3:18

WE have seen that Hophni and Phinehas were corrupt men, and that as a consequence the people abhorred the offering of the Lord. We have discoursed upon the doctrine that bad priests make bad people. We now come to the divine visitation of priestly unfaithfulness. Once and again we are permitted to see with startling vividness the Hand which rules, and in which is the rod of power. Now and again God puts aside all ministries and mediations, and shows us all the glory of his personal presence and all the wonderfulness of his irresistible power. We are glad when he retires, for no man can see God and live. Better to have the ministry of the most inexorable, faithful prophet, who never spares the word of judgment or the stroke of the rod, then stand in the unclouded and blinding blaze of the divine glory. Men prefer sunshine to lightning. They are both, indeed, rays of the divine glory; yet we feel safer under the ordinary daylight than under bolts of electric fire. Let us be thankful, then, that God comes to us through Eli, through human priests, and through man"s ministry, being tempered, as it must be, by human limitations, rather than by bringing us face to face with himself, and pronouncing the word to us without minister or medium. At the same time we are made stronger, we are made tremblingly glad by occasional glimpses of his personality. Yet we are thankful that he puts a veil over his face, and communes with us by voices with which we are familiar. Hophni and Phinehas were evil-minded men; Eli was afflicted with weakness which dipped down sharply towards wickedness; and therefore God came out of his hiding-place to vindicate righteousness, to sweep the floor of his Church, and to use his great winnowing-fan.

Eli might have excited pity but for the misdirection of his amiability. There is nothing wrong in amiability, in paternal kindness, in fatherly forbearance and gentleness, within the limits of the household. Contrariwise, there is much that is beautiful and impressive and educational about such paternal administration. But no man may be amiable towards wickedness. The whole doctrine is found in that one sentence. Be amiable, kind, forbearing towards infirmity, natural defect, towards things that are of little or no consequence when compared with the verities of the eternal God. But when a man winks at an evil deed, he deserves the condemnation and wrath of God. When a man is tolerant of evil he himself becomes wicked. This is a doctrine which sometimes has severe application, and exposes a man to terrible reprisals; because people who look at comparative virtue, and not at holiness itself, always have the tu quoque ready for any faithful prophet, for any light-speaking and rod-using minister of God. Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord! If we can keep our garments unspotted from the world we shall have proportionate power over men; though even then there will not be wanting censorious critics who will be quick with their malicious repartee, pointing at a speck as though it were a blot which even God himself could never wash out of our life. Eli was an easy-going indulgent old man; he was more than that. Tell us that at his own fireside his children could trifle with him, mock him, and could turn him into a family joke. Well, it was a very naughty thing for them to do. But Eli was a priest, Eli was the high-priest of the Lord; and when a man"s character sinks below his office, he involves himself in complications of evil which ultimately ruin his life. The office requiring strength and character, which is distinguished by nothing but the most senile weakness,—when they get together you have a contradiction which involves terrible moral consequences.

In dwelling upon the overthrow of the house of Eli, we will look at the subject under two divisions,—personality and doctrine. There were two persons employed in connection with this communication of terrible intelligence to the old high-priest. The first is merely described as "a man of God." So far as the page before us goes we have to deal with an anonymous communicant. Here is no great historic name; here is no illustrious reputation to sustain the man"s words. He steps out of obscurity, as it were, and is known by the imperishable name, "a man of God." That is the one name that will do for all worlds, through all ages. You need not have "a man of God" described, ticketed, and detailed. When a man of God confronts you, he brings with him atmosphere and light and moral credentials which instantly show that he has been with Jesus and learned of him. There may be teachers who can analyse the character of a man of God. We prefer not to attempt any such analysis. Better let the character stand there, hear all he says, listen to his overpowering speech, and we shall soon know whether he hath learned his accent in the court of heaven. He was a terrible speaker! Did ever mortal speech exceed in massiveness, in thunderous force, in terrific all-cleaving might, the speech which this anonymous messenger delivered to Eli:

"Wherefore the Lord God of Israel saith, I said indeed that thy house, and the house of thy father, should walk before me for ever: but now the Lord saith, Be it far from me; for them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed. Behold, the days come, that I will cut off thine arm, and the arm of thy father"s house, that there shall not be an old man in thine house. And thou shalt see an enemy in my habitation, in all the wealth which God shall give Israel: and there shall not be an old man in thine house for ever. And the man of thine, whom I shall not cut off from mine altar, shall be to consume thine eyes, and to grieve thine heart: and all the increase of thine house shall die in the flower of their age" ( 1 Samuel 2:30-33).

The next messenger that came was a little child. This is how God educates us, by putting tutors on both sides, behind and before. You hear a man who tells you what to you may be evil tidings,—sharp, startling messages to your judgment and to your conscience,—and you say, "The man is a fanatic." You walk away, and before you have got a mile further a little child gets up and smiles at you the same message,—says it in smiles, in tender looks, in trembling childlike tones,—and you begin to think there is something in it. You go further, and the atmosphere seems to be charged with divine reproaches and divine messages. So you go on, until the oldest, best, and stateliest men tremble under subtle, impalpable, all-encompassing, irresistible influences. There are some testimonies which are so terrible that they cannot be believed on the spot. Some men have such a way of speaking—piercing, crushing—that when they are heard the auditor says, "This cannot be so; it is an exaggeration." So God hath appointed elsewhere child-priests, little prophets, young ministers, unexpected interpreters of his heart and will. When the thunder and the gentle breeze unite in speaking the same message men begin to open their ears to it—to cause their hearts to listen to the strange, the bitter, yet the most needful word. Very beautiful is this part of the story detailed,—the part, namely, which relates to Samuel, the little child about the holy place who did not know the Lord. Samuel had no acquaintance with God. That is a most important point to observe. Read the exact words of the narrative:

"Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him" ( 1 Samuel 3:7).

This incident brings before us some of the most solemn moments of life. Life is not one long holiday. Life is not to be spent upon one continuous level. There are some single moments in our life which make us old. There are some visions, which are but the flash of an eye, yet they make us old men. Look at Samuel, for the first time hearing of God. Is it not a solemn moment when we get our first notion of the infinite? Can you recall your mental sensations or spiritual condition when you first began to feel that yonder distant, dim horizon was but a trembling, almost transparent curtain, and that just behind it, so to speak, lied God"s eternity? After such a moment as that, a man can never, if he has made right use of it, fall back into the littleness and contemptibleness of the life that thinks the world a nutshell, that calls time all duration. Some have had these solemn moments in life; when they have heard a Voice they did not know, and from that moment have never ceased to hear it; it has been the sub-tone of all that has reached the ear, it has been in the hum of all nature, it has been softer than softest zephyr of the spring. A man is never great until he knows all about this solemnity. The child who hears a voice, naturally thinks it is a human voice. Can any voice be so human as God"s? Thou canst not thunder with a voice like his; thou canst not speak in so fatherly or motherly a tone either. Herein is the incarnation mystery,—God always showing his power to talk humanly, and to shoot out the lightning of his word from human lips. God has always during the history of the world been incarnating himself.

Samuel is taught that there is a voice other than Eli"s. The old man has still force enough left in him to speak this wondrously beautiful word to the bewildered child, groping about in the darkness, "When thou hearest the voice again say, Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth." That is what we are called upon to do; to be listeners, receivers, mediums of God. Do we ever see beyond our own limited circle? Do we know that there is a world larger than our England: that over that little thimbleful of water, which we call the sea, there are other countries? It is a difficult thing for some Englishmen to believe that there is any other land; very difficult for an islander to believe in a continent. Yet really we know that there are other places besides England. Are there no other spheres than the world which we call "the great globe itself"? There may be. Why then should we be compressing ourselves, minifying ourselves, and getting into the most microscopic compass? Why not pray for larger life, larger intellectual dominion, higher, sublimer moral sympathies? Why not, having infinitude around us, set ourselves as if we meant to take in as Guest and King the whole God? We shall never know what life is until we have passed this solemn moment which occurred in the history of Samuel, at the point to which we have now come. The non-religious man is not alive. How many are prepared to testify that they never knew what greatness was, what immeasurableness was, and what majesty was, until through Christ"s life they had one peep into the incomprehensible eternity and infinity of God!

Now we can believe the man of God, who speaks the keen, cleaving word, or we can believe the gentle little Samuel, who comes and puts into monosyllables the thunders of the divine will. They are both the same; only some men cannot endure the man of God—he crushes them, he is a tyrant—an imperial, dominating Prayer of Manasseh , in the way of whose arm there is death! Let such be thankful that they can hear the same message—not in a less noble music or more tender strain, so far as the man"s intent is concerned—from children, from other ministers and interpreters of God.

With regard to the doctrine brought out in connection with these events, it is plain in the first place, that God requires holiness in all who serve him. Why were Hophni and Phinehas dismissed with divine reproaches? Because they were wanting in original thought? We now dismiss our ministers because they are not very original, We do not learn that Hophni and Phinehas were dismissed from the priest"s office because they were wanting in vitality and freshness of brain power. Why were they dismissed? Because they were behind the age? The age! Oh, what a ghost that age is to some people. We do not read that Hophni and Phinehas were dismissed because they were behind the age,—but because they were corrupt men. Corruptness cannot be atoned for by genius. Gifts are no substitute for grace. Better be the poorest, slowest, dullest thinker; better be a man of stammering tongue, than be the most brilliant and gifted man who does not know what it is to be under the power of divine grace. Holiness, then, is the fundamental requirement in all persons who would interpret God and serve him in any department of the great ministry of his kingdom. Holiness is genius. Holiness hath keen, piercing eyes that see every filament of divine truth and holy communication to men. When the ministry is holy, when the Church is holy, when every Prayer of Manasseh , high-priest and doorkeeper, is holy, then the world will begin to feel that there is something in it that is not of its own nature.

It is evident, also, in the second place, that all the covenants of God are founded upon a moral basis. "I said indeed that thy house, and the house of thy father, should walk before me for ever." There is the bond, there is the covenant of God repeated by a servant. How, then, can Eli be overthrown? How can Hophni and Phinehas be dismissed from their office? "But now the Lord saith, Be it far from me." Is then the Lord fickle? Is he man that he should change, or is he the son of man that he should repent? "Be it far from me." Why? "For them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed." Where is God"s unchangeableness in the shape of trees and plants, in the order of the stars and the worlds, in any outside appointments, arrangements, and adaptations? Where do we find the unchangeableness of God? Only along the line of righteousness. When he speaks, he speaks upon a moral basis; all that he says is conditioned upon moral purposes. Hath he promised thee, O Prayer of Manasseh , and art thou living upon that promise? Know thou, that the promise is always secondary; the character is primary—righteousness first. If the first archangel whom God summoned into his own solitude were to sin against him, he would dethrone him and banish him into outer darkness! Let us look at details, at outside arrangements, and see if this is fickleness on the part of Providence, or changeableness of disposition on the part of God. Go to the first line—the great line on which all true things are built, all lasting empires and monarchies are founded—and you will find that along the line of righteousness God never moves to the right hand or to the left,—on from eternity to eternity, never a break or a deflection in the line of infinite righteousness!

In the third place, it is evident that some of the communications of God are at first very startling and terrible. Think of little Samuel making his acquaintance with the Lord through a speech like this! Understand that at the beginning Samuel did not know the Lord; that he received from Eli instruction as to his position; that having assumed that position, the introductory words of the divine communication are these:—

"And the Lord said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle" ( 1 Samuel 3:11).

We have spoken of holiness,—a word we can but dimly understand upon the earth. One day we shall recollect the sun as a poor pale beam that we could just see with, by using our eyes very sharply and putting our hands before us lest we should fall over something. One day we shall think of our professed sanctification as a poor morality. But as to holiness, the question is asked by many anxious hearts, How is this holiness to be had? In one way. "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin." There is "a fountain opened to the house of David for sin and for uncleanness." "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thought, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will abundantly pardon." That is the only answer. Some ministers of Christ have been saying that for twenty-five years, for forty years, and they can find no better thing to say. It is the same in every ministry, to whatsoever part of the great universe of truth we may go. If any man asks how to get up there, we have to point to the old way,—the Cross of Christ; to Christ, who tasted death for every man; to the atonement made by the Lamb of God! We want no other way. We never feel the need of any other way. When we have tried any other path, we have only had to be brought into some deeper sorrow and more bitter agony to call out after the living God to help us back again to the old way of the cross. He who walks that road finds his way to heaven!

Prayer

Almighty God, we have trangressed gainst thy covenant, and thy commandments have often been of none effect in our lives. We have forgotten God. We have lived in ourselves; we have been our own law; we have been our own gods. Truly, thou hast been angry with us. Thou hast scourged us until our life has become a daily pain. Thou hast impoverished us until we have seen the emptiness and vanity of our own resources. Now take us to thine heart again. Come through the dark cloud of thy judgment, and in answer to our penitence speak comfortably to our souls. We seek thee only through the covenant which thou didst make with thy dear Son. We stand behind him. Our hearts are safe in the infinite security of his righteousness and compassion. Give us joy in thy presence,—yea, fill us with the peace of God! Amen.


Verse 7

"Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him"1 Samuel 3:7.

Yet he was in the sanctuary; he was connected with Eli; he had a great destiny before him.—We are taken at various points, God always knowing our age and our capacity, and not expecting more from us than we can render.—It is not necessary to know the Lord in any purely intellectual sense before we engage in some department of his service.—Samuel was the child of prayer, Samuel had been lent unto the Lord, Samuel had but one destiny, according to the purpose of his mother; yet "Samuel did not yet know the Lord."—Observe the word "yet," and find in it an abundance of encouragement.—We cannot know all things now; we know in part, therefore we prophesy in part.—There are words of limitation, such as this yet, which are at the same time words of encouragement; on the one side they seem to discourage us, and on the other they are bright with hope.—"What thou knowest not now thou shalt know hereafter" may be said to every Samuel and to every Peter in the Church.—Let us be faithful to what we do know.—We can at least be in the sanctuary, expecting to hear messages from heaven, and showing our readiness to obey them when they come; we need not be far to fetch when the Master comes and asks for us.—Blessed are they who linger about the altar, and who find pleasure in waiting on the threshold of the sanctuary; for when the Lord comes they shall be ready to accept the duty which he assigns them.—A beautiful expression is this: "Neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him,"—it was to come; he was being prepared for it; his life pointed in one direction, and God recognised the direction, and honoured it.—This is open to us, every one.—We can show what we would be if we could, where we would always be, how we would always act; if we supply these conditions, God will not withhold his discretion or his blessing.


Verses 11-14

1 Samuel 3:11-14

"And the Lord said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle. In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end [completing it]. For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not. And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli"s house shall not [assuredly not] be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever" [a sentence made irrevocable by an oath].

The Causes of Eli"s Overthrow

OUR last subject was the overthrow of the house of Eli. So great an event as the overthrow of a consecrated house ought not to be allowed to pass without careful inquiry into its causes. It is the more important because of a statement in the second chapter of the book that we are now studying: "I said indeed that thy house, and the house of thy father, should walk before me for ever: but now the Lord saith, Be it far from me." If we once get the notion that God"s covenants are not to be faithfully carried out on his part, our moral foundations are destroyed and our confidence is shaken. For this reason, let us pause at this great breach of a covenant supposed to have been eternal, and ask how that breach came to be made. It must be noted that God himself annulled the covenant. Eli did not say that he wished for release from the bond. Eli did not complain of difficulty or incapacity. The word of rupture was spoken by God himself, thus: "But now the Lord saith, Be it far from me. Let the covenant which was made for ever between me and thee be far from me. I said the covenant was to be an everlasting covenant, and today I recall it. Thy house shall perish." We are shocked by such words. The conscience of man asserts a kind of right to have such words explained. Life would not be worth having but for profound and complete trust in God"s honour. It were cruel on his part to lift us almost to heaven that he might dash us into the abyss of outer darkness! The covenant was made for ever, yet God annulled it! We pause, as earnest men having some regard for social honour, to know how an eternal covenant can be set aside. The case grows in difficulty, and, to the eye of the mere artist, it increases in dramatic interest as we call to memory the many points of excellence in the character of Eli. Can you find one vulgar sin in the venerable high-priest? He was a man of advanced life, and therefore he had had opportunities of displaying his real quality. He was ninety-and-eight years old; his eyes were dim, that he could not see; he had judged Israel forty years. What of his character? Why was he dispossessed of the priesthood? Was he a drunkard, an adulterer, a liar, a thief, a blasphemer? There is not a tittle of evidence to justify the faintest suspicion of the kind. Nay, more. We can give Eli still higher praise than this: for, after having carefully read his life, as it is detailed in this book, we see not why Eli might not stand most favourable comparison with many of the leading Christians of our day. We cannot see, looking at the page in the light of merely literary critics, where the great lapse was. We know not but that if Eli, as portrayed in the inspired book, were set up as the standard of determination, a great many would fall short of his lofty altitude. These considerations justify the interest of the question how Eli came to be dispossessed of the priesthood.

Look at his noble treatment of the child Samuel. He knew that Samuel was called by the Lord to occupy an official position in holy places; he knew that Samuel was, at least in all probability, to succeed him in his sacerdotal functions. Yet what an absence of the usual elements of rivalry! When did he chide the young prophet? When did he superciliously snub the child? When did he flaunt all his own greatness in the eyes of the little one, and use his power as an instrument of terror, that Samuel might render him homage? Did he ever nibble at the character of Samuel? Did he ever try to reduce the importance of Samuel"s probable position in life? Did he point out blemish after blemish in the child"s character, and deficiency after deficiency in the child"s gifts? It is becoming in rivals to traduce one another. If you cannot actually slay a Prayer of Manasseh , yet it is permissible, by the rules of this honourable rivalry, to scratch him. Yet we find in Eli"s treatment of Samuel nobleness, magnanimity,—want of all the little miserable tricks which are made use of by men who seek to enhance their own glory by diminishing the lustre of others.

Look at the unpriestliness of his tone when he talks to the child. Samuel came to Eli in the hour of darkness and said, "Thou didst call me." Eli said, "No, my child, I did not call thee." Samuel came again, and yet again. What did Eli do, knowing that Samuel had heard a voice more than human? Did Eli say to Samuel, "Pay no heed to such voice, little child. I am the high-priest of God. If thou dost see a spectre or vision, or hear an unearthly voice or tone, be not led away superstitiously by these things; but come to me, and I will instantly tell thee all about it, and determine what thou hast to do"? That would have been the talk of a priest; that is the native accent of a true priest. Yet Eli said to the child, "It is God that calleth thee; go and speak to him face to face; stand before him and say, Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth." Why, that was not priestly at all; that was putting a man face to face with the Eternal, and clothing the soul with responsibilities which never can be transferred.

Looking at this aspect of Eli"s character, what reverence we feel for the old man! We see that he was a fine interpreter of the supernatural section of life. He was not self-obtrusive; he was no mere priest; he introduced men immediately to God; he did not claim any power of exclusive or tyrannic mediation. Look, again, at the submissiveness of his tone when his doom was pronounced. When he was told that his house would be rooted up, that both his sons should die on one day, that the judgment of the Lord had set in against him and his successors, what did Eli say? Remember, he was nearly a hundred years old; his eyes were dim; for forty years he had maintained a position of supremacy. Men cannot easily throw away the traditions and the social consequence of so long-continued an elevation. Yet when the old man heard his doom, he said, "It is the Lord: let him do what seemeth good in his sight." How few could have shown the same submissiveness, the same religious homage, under circumstances so terrible! An earthquake shaking the foundations of our house,—a storm-cloud pouring out its flood upon our inheritance! Yet Eli was no vengeful priest in that hour: he was no mere self-seeker in that terrible day. Even then, when the foundations were rocking under his feet, and all the surroundings of his life were full of tempestuous and devouring elements, he said, with an old man"s tremulous pathos, "It is the Lord." Equal to, "Let God be true, and every man a liar; he is Sovereign, I am servant; whatsoever the Judge of the whole earth doeth shall be done in righteousness."

Then look at the man"s interest in the ark of the Lord. When that sacred box was taken out into the battlefield and was captured by the Philistines, Eli"s heart trembled for the ark of God. Down to the very last, we see that Eli was an intensely religious Prayer of Manasseh , from whom God withdrew his covenant, and on whom he pronounced such severe judgments as these:—

"I will cut off thine arm, and the arm of thy father"s house, that there shall not be an old man in thine house.... And the man of thine, whom I shall not cut off from mine altar, shall be to consume thine eyes, and to grieve thine heart: and all the increase of thine house shall die in the flower of their age" ( 1 Samuel 2:31, 1 Samuel 2:33).

The answer, therefore, to the question which we put as from the conscience of universal Prayer of Manasseh , is this: Eli, notwithstanding all these points of excellence in his character, is distinctly accused of moral defect. That has now to be proved. "Them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed." These words were spoken to Eli by the man of God, who came to him with the divine message. These words are pointless, if they do not imply that Eli had, by some means or other, brought himself into the list of those who despise God. Then again: "I will raise me up a faithful priest." These words are out of place, if they do not clearly suggest that, to some extent or other, Eli had been unfaithful to the divine vocation. Yet again: "I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth—not for some iniquity of which he is unaware—I will bring up in his life iniquities which he himself has pointed out, as such; which he knows to be wickedness in my sight, and out of his own mouth I will condemn him." Now were God to keep his covenant in the face of such charges, the wicked would in time get advantage over him; the hypocrite might, in the long run, be as God in the world. God shows his Godhead in the cancelling of covenants where there has been a decay of character. Understand, this is not a business covenant; it is not a commercial bond; it is not between one man and another; it is between infinite righteousness and a human creature. We are not entitled to say that we may trifle with our human, social, commercial bonds, because there has been a lapse in character here or there. A commercial bond is a commercial bond. We are now considering covenants between God and man. These covenants cannot exist, except there be sympathy between the Maker and the creature. Moral sympathy, religious similitude: impair that, and of necessity the covenant is destroyed.

Viewed in this light, there are several impressive lessons urged by God"s treatment of Eli. First of all it is clear—and it ought to be made most distinct, because of a great practical delusion which exists upon this point—that it is not enough that there be many good points in a character. Character ought not to be a mere question of points at all. Character ought not to be viewed in sections and departments, in aspects and occasional moods. Character should have about it the distinctness of wholeness, entirety. Our goodness is not to be an occasional impulse or a transitory appearance of moral conscience and moral concern for others. Out of our character there is to stream continuous and beneficent influence. We lose when we can be talked about in sections. It is no compliment when we have to take out of a character three or four good points and say to those who look on, "Observe these; whatever defects there may be in the character, do not overlook these redeeming points." When we can talk so about ourselves and about others it is not a compliment, it is a sign of incompleteness. When our moral training is perfected we shall not have points of excellence; our whole character will be massive, indivisible, and out of it will go an influence that will constrain men to believe that we have been with God, and that we have imbibed the very spirit of his righteousness.

Eli was amiable. A great many mistakes are made about amiability. A man may be amiable simply through mere want of interest or force; he may be so constituted, that really he does not much care who is who, or what is what. He may have a senile grin—some may call it a smile—for anybody and for all persons alike,—a nice old man who never says a cross word, and never has a frown upon his face. That is not amiability Here is a man who is naturally unamiable; he looks with a discriminating eye upon men and things; he is very passionate, fiery, self-asserting. Yet, by the grace of God, he is kept back; at times he shakes in the leash; he often seems as if he would break it and be away! Yet God"s hold upon him is such that he speaks gentle words, restrains terms of indignation and wrath, moderates his rising passion. There,—though he cannot look very amiable, though he may have a grim face,—is the amiable man.

Eli had religious impulses. What then? There is a sense in which religious impulse may be but constitutional. It is more natural for some people to pray than others. It comes easier for some men to go to church than for others. We must not overlook the constitutional condition. We have heard a man say that there were two things in the world he could not tolerate; those two things were, sermons and lectures. We do not condemn the man; it is not worth while going into a rage over such men; by his very make one could see that sermons and lectures could not tolerate him. He would have been a mighty preacher who could have talked to such an auditor. Eli had religious impulses; but religious impulses are not enough. We have known a drunken man knock a Roman Catholic down because the papist said, "John Wesley is in hell." Was the drunken man a religious character? Certainly not; but he had religious emotions, impulses, sensibilities, and even when he was intoxicated, he would have preferred a hymn to a ribald song. Let us clearly understand, therefore, that mere religious sensibility, religious impulse and religious susceptibility, must not be understood as proclaiming and certifying sound religiousness of character.

Eli treated Samuel without official envy or jealousy. So far so good. We commend Eli for abstinence from such interference with Samuel, and criticism of the child as would have been small and contemptible in one occupying the lofty position of the high-priest of the Jews. But absence of envy may come of mere easy good-nature. There are men in the world who do not care one pin-point who is at the head of affairs. That is not magnanimity; that is not nobleness. This is nobleness: the man who wants to be at the head of affairs himself, and feels considerable consciousness that he would be able to sustain the position; he longs for it, works for it, hopes for it day and night. Yet, there is a young man put above him, set on the chief seat, and he himself is kept down. It would be natural for that man to shake an angry hand in the face of his successful rival. Yet, by the grace of God, he says, "I bid thee Godspeed." He says it perhaps with some difficulty; it does not escape him with that roundness and fervour of tone with which it would escape another man; but he does say it—says it from the heart, and the very reluctance of the speech is a sign of its sincerity. That is the man who has, by the power of the Holy Ghost, subdued the devil of jealousy and triumphed over the fiend whose name is envy!

The second lesson that is urged upon us by this view of Eli"s position is—that divine discipline is keen—intensely spiritual. We have asked, Can you point to any vulgar sin in the high-priest? The inquiry Isaiah , Can you point out any vulgar sin in Eli? Sin is not measurable by vulgarity. Some men seem incapable of seeing sin until it clothes itself in the most hideous forms. Forms have nothing to do with sin. Sin is sin before it takes form. Herein we see the keenness, the spirituality of divine discipline. Herein, the Church, as we have already said, fails in its purely spiritual mission. A man is expelled from the Church because he has been discovered drunk. We cannot call that Church discipline. It is simple decency, common respectability; it is not Christian discipline. Christian discipline would have applied itself to the man when he was longing for the drink; when he was drunk in his soul, before he touched the accursed cup. A man is expelled from the Church because he has committed manslaughter. That is not Christian discipline; that is legal discipline, magisterial discipline. Society will expel him. The Church should have expelled him when he was angry without a cause; when it was known that a bad passion had raged in his heart, and he had spoken some unkind, ignoble word. At that point,—invisible, impalpable, subtle, known only in all its significance to God, and understood only by those who understand the righteousness of law as revealed by God,—at that point Christian discipline would have interposed and asserted the law of right. The Church cannot have discipline except in its most common forms. Discipline would destroy the Church. Discipline would empty every pulpit and disband every Christian assembly if applied in all the keenness and intensity of its divine spirituality. Then let us regard the Church as an hospital; let us regard the Church as an infant school; let us regard the Church as striving after, not as having attained, the fulness of the divine idea; and having come to that conclusion respecting the visible Church of Christ, let us have compassion on some, making a difference—let us be charitable one towards another.

See further, in this case, the terribleness of God"s displeasure. "I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle. I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth. I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli"s house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever." These are terrible words. Yet, if they were less terrible we should have less confidence in God. If any one could be more terrible than God, we should not worship him. The measure of his love is the measure of his wrath; the height of his mercy is the height of his judgment. Terrible is a bad man"s fate! He cannot elude God. He may have success; but in his very success he will find a sting which will inject poison into his life, and destroy sweet, profound, refreshing rest! He who starts to war against God, starts on a war the end of which is known from the beginning.

We would that this doctrine could follow us all through our life. We do not invite men to accept Christ because there is a terrible pain following the course of unrighteousness. That is not preaching the Gospel. We do not desire to dwell upon the punishments that befall a bad man with any wish of drawing him from his course because of those punishments. That kind of teaching we have never been able to adopt. But this we do teach distinctly, that the bad man has a painful course before him. Do not leave it on that account! The serpent shall bite you and the adder shall sting you, but do not give it up on that account! The wild beast shall shut his jaws upon you, but do not be righteous on that account! The earth will not have you, the sea will not cover you, hell will not burn you, but do not come to Christ on that account! Be a man; "be a hero in the strife!" We do not urge that men should be good because God will lay the hand of judgment upon them. No man would turn on that account But the way of the transgressor is hard; he is making a hard pillow for his head. Be he high-priest or doorkeeper; be he mighty in gift or obscure in. talent,—God will not spare him. If judgment begin at the house of God, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? "I the Lord am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me." Having started the stream, you cannot dam it back!

What, then, have we to leave our study with these hard words? No. Jehovah says: "When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right, none of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him: he shall surely live." Song of Solomon , then, our "song shall be of mercy and judgment." Penitence is the one condition on which human souls can find God: repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." What tuneful words—words that shine upon our life like angels sent down from heaven! We have all sinned: "there is none righteous, no not one." Were God to set his mark upon one sin in a thousand and judge us for it, who could stand before him! But we go to Jesus Christ, God the Song of Solomon , Messiah,—God; and we find our infinite security in the fulness of his righteousness, and in the worthiness of his all-prevailing mediation.

Selected Note

Eli (raised up) was high-priest of the Jews when the ark was in Shiloh ( 1 Samuel 1:3, 1 Samuel 1:9). He was the first high-priest of the line of Ithamar, Aaron"s youngest son. This is deduced from 1 Chronicles 24:3-6. It also appears from the omission of the names of Eli and his immediate successors in the enumeration of the high-priests of Eleazar"s line in 1 Chronicles 6:4-6. What occasioned this remarkable transfer is not known—most probably the incapacity or minority of the then sole representative of the elder line; for it is very evident that it was no unauthorised usurpation on the part of Eli ( 1 Samuel 2:27-28). Eli also acted as regent or civil judge of Israel after the death of Samson. This function, indeed, seems to have been intended by the theocratical constitution to devolve upon the high-priest by virtue of his office, in the absence of any person specially appointed by the divine King, to deliver and govern Israel. He is said to have judged Israel forty years ( 1 Samuel 4:18). The Septuagint makes it twenty; and chronologers are divided on the matter. But the probability seems to be that the forty years comprehend the whole period of his administration as high-priest and Judges , including, in the first half, the twenty years in which Samson is said to have judged Israel ( Judges 16:31), when some of his civil functions in Southern Palestine may have been in abeyance. As Eli died at the age of ninety-eight ( 1 Samuel 4:15), the forty years must have commenced when he was fifty-eight years old.

Eli seems to have been a religious man; and the only fault recorded of him was an excessive easiness of temper, most unbefitting the high responsibilities of his official character. His sons, Hophni and Phinehas, whom he invested with authority, misconducted themselves so outrageously as to excite deep disgust among the people, and render the services of the tabernacle odious in their eyes. Of this misconduct Eli was aware, but contented himself with mild and ineffectual remonstrances, where his station required severe and vigorous action. For this neglect the judgment of God was at length denounced upon his house, through the young Samuel, who, under peculiar circumstances, had been attached from childhood to his person ( 1 Samuel 2:29; 1 Samuel 3:18). Some years passed without any apparent fulfilment of this denunciation—but it came at length in one terrible crash, by which the old man"s heart was broken. The Philistines had gained the upper hand over Israel, and the ark of God was taken to the field, in the confidence of victory and safety from its presence. But in the battle which followed, the ark itself was taken by the Philistines, and the two sons of Eli, who were in attendance upon it, were slain. The high-priest, then blind with age, sat by the wayside at Shiloh, awaiting tidings from the war, "for his heart trembled for the ark of God." A man of Benjamin, with his clothes rent, and with earth upon his head, brought the fatal news; and Eli heard that Israel was defeated—that his sons were slain—that the ark of God was taken—at which last word he fell heavily from his seat, and died (1Sam. iv.).

The ultimate doom upon Eli"s house was accomplished when Solomon removed Abiathar (the last high-priest of this line) from his office, and restored the line of Eleazar in the person of Zadok.

Prayer

Almighty God, thy presence overfloweth all things. All things are naked and open to thine eyes. If we take the wings of the morning and flee unto the uttermost parts of the earth, behold, thou art there! Thou art higher than all height, lower than all depth, and behold, none can take the measure of the breadth of thine infinitude. We come before thee with a song of mercy and judgment; for whilst thou art a terrible God—and it is a fearful thing to fall into thy hands—thy tender mercies are over all thy works. Thou renewest our strength in compassion; thou upholdest us by thy lovingkindness; and every day thou dost vindicate thy government to us, not by the greatness of thy power, but by the tenderness and persuasiveness of thy love. We have halted in the midst of worldly pursuits and ordinary engagements, that we might bow the knee to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus; that we might pour out our song of thankfulness, and renew our spiritual vigour by waiting patiently and lovingly upon God. May this hour refresh us exceedingly upon our earthly pilgrimage. May our strength be recovered; may our peace be augmented; may our hope be brightened; may our whole life be brought into truer harmony with thine! Dry the tears of our sorrow. Be pitiful to us by reason of our manifold infirmities. Give to us all the fulness of redeeming love, and pardon our sin, for it is great. Wash us in the precious blood of the Lord Jesus, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world. Whom thou hast pardoned, do thou also sanctify. To this end pour out upon us the gift of the Holy Ghost, that he may reign in our understanding, control our will, purify our affections, and bring our being into entire subjection to all thy purposes. May there be nothing in us upon which thou canst not look with approval. Sanctify us in body, soul, and spirit. Abide with us; reign in our life; stablish thy kingdom in our souls; put down every rival. Reign thou whose right it is! Amen.


Verse 21

"The Lord appeared again in Shiloh: for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel."1 Samuel 3:21.

This is a species of incarnation.—The Lord is said to appear through the medium of good men.—When they appear, he appears, so that each may say, He that hath seen me hath seen the Lord; he that hath seen me hath seen the Father.—The principle of incarnation runs from end to end of the Bible.—Wherever God finds a humble heart he dwells within it, and through that heart he manifests himself to all beholders.—Revelation is incarnation.—He who knows most of the truth shows forth most of the glory of God.—He who prays most ardently brings God most nearly to the consciousness of men.—God appears in any country when he reveals himself in the hearts and minds of his servants: they themselves may have some control over this:—"Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." "If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" "Ye have not, because ye ask not."—O that we had hearkened unto God"s commandments, for then our peace had flowed like a river, and God"s revelation within us would have been patent and fascinating to all men.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 3:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/1-samuel-3.html. 1885-95.

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Saturday, December 7th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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