Samuel the old man

1 Samuel 8:1; 1 Samuel 19:19; 1 Sam 25:1

Samuel had had a long and dramatic life as a judge of Israel, full of unbelievable events, from his birth, his calling to be a prophet, through to the last recorded event we have in scripture. Samuel judged Israel until we read in 1 Samuel 8:1 that ‘when he became old’ he made his sons judges over Israel. Then in 1 Sam 9 he anoints his first king, Saul, despite his and God’s misgivings. He did his best to guide Saul, but as Saul began to go his own way he anointed his second king, David, and both were still alive when he died. Saul was still on the throne and David was living in fear of his life, a fugitive constantly on the move to keep one step ahead of Saul’s soldiers searching for him to kill him, and Samuel then supported and did all he could to help David as he waited to become king.

The last we hear of Samuel before his death is in 1 Samuel 19:19. Samuel was at Ramah when David came to him and told him that Saul was trying to kill him and the two of them went together to Naioth. Word of this came to Saul who sent messengers to capture David – he had to send three lots of messengers and then had to go himself and none of them were able to capture David. Why? Because Samuel was standing in charge of a company of the prophets who were ‘in a frenzy’ and each set of messengers was drawn into this prophetic frenzy by the Spirit of God. When Saul himself arrived, the Spirit of God fell on him too and he joined them, stripping off his clothes and lying naked on the ground all day and night. This gave David time to flee, leaving Samuel to look after Saul and his messengers when the Spirit of God finally left them.

What an extraordinary situation, but I suspect that Samuel took it in his stride, knowing that God was in control and that he, Samuel, was still God’s anointed judge and prophet even in the presence of the other prophets and two kings. Samuel had started his life as Eli’s successor, priest and judge and effectively the leader of Israel. He had given in to the demands of the people and anointed Saul as king, handing over that leadership – at least in earthly terms – only to see it go pear-shaped as he had told the people it would. He then anointed a second king. And yet here he is, standing in charge of the prophets, king’s messengers, king and king in waiting.

It is not long after this that Samuel died and all Israel assembled and mourned for him. ‘All Israel’ would have included Saul and David. What a tribute to a life well-lived in obedience to God. May we strive to be as obedient as Samuel in our lives.

Samuel the Judge

1 Samuel 7

Then all the people of Israel turned back to the Lord. 3 So Samuel said to all the Israelites, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 4 So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the Lord only.

5 Then Samuel said, “Assemble all Israel at Mizpah, and I will intercede with the Lord for you.” 6 When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the Lord. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord.” Now Samuel was serving as leader of Israel at Mizpah.

7 When the Philistines heard that Israel had assembled at Mizpah, the rulers of the Philistines came up to attack them. When the Israelites heard of it, they were afraid because of the Philistines. 8 They said to Samuel, “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines.” 9 Then Samuel took a suckling lamb and sacrificed it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. He cried out to the Lord on Israel’s behalf, and the Lord answered him.

10 While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. 11 The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar.

For Israel, Kings were not in God’s Plan A; He intended them to be a theocracy, with God as King and His priests His representatives. But instead people (even the priests) went their own way and it took God sending Judges periodically to get the people out of the sticky messes they got themselves in. Samuel was not so much an early prophet as the last judge.

In the pattern of the judges, he led Israel to victory over their enemies, not this time by brawn (Sampson), or brains (Ehud), but by godly example, repentance and faith. They were terrified of a big Philistine incursion, but once the people had done their part in repenting and getting rid of false gods (v2-7), Samuel did his part in prayer and intercession (v8-9), and God did His part: He basically said “boo!” and the Philistines ran away (v10).

It really does not take much for God to do His part in dealing with whatever situations and problems we have made for ourselves. He is God, after all. All we have to do is return to Him in truth, speaking the truth (confession v6) and acting in truth (doing away with what we know to be wrong v3), then in His grace He will act.

As easy as that? Well, let’s remember that the real price in 1 Sam 7 was paid by the suckling lamb in v9; for us the Lamb of God, Jesus, on the cross. Neither easy nor cheap.

How many times God has heard my cries for help in one situation or another, yet all that was really needed was for me to truly “return to the Lord with all my heart”, because the Lamb has already been sacrificed.

Samuel the prophet

1 Samuel 9:5-10:13. 1 Samuel 19:24
Saul is looking for some missing donkeys and after a fruitless search the boy with him suggests going to the “seer” or prophet. The boy says (V6) there is a man of God in this town; he is a man held in honour. Whatever he says always comes true”. That is high praise indeed and a sign that Samuel’s dedication to God has resulted in a reputation for knowing and speaking God’s will. Maybe you know the story and are aware that God has already told Samuel that he was going to meet Saul and that he was to anoint him ruler over Israel. God tells Samuel to tell Saul that the donkeys have been safely found and sets about honouring him with a meal and a bed for the night. The next morning Samuel tells Saul what to expect including whom he will meet and what they will say and what he should do. All of Samuel’s prophecies are accurate and 1 Samuel 10:9 says all these signs were fulfilled that day.
Samuel has developed into a well-respected prophet, one who accurately hears from God and tells and obeys what he hears. I want to compare this to Saul’s experience of prophecy, for twice in 1 Samuel people exclaim” is Saul also among the prophets?” (10:11 & 19:24). For Saul the Holy Spirit comes upon him, possessing him, and under that overwhelming influence of the Holy Spirit Saul prophesies within a group of prophets. Saul only prophesies in a group and when the Holy Spirit is working in a very powerful way. In contrast Samuel’s prophecies seem to stem from a place of deep communion with God. Samuel spent a lot of time listening to God seeking his will and God chose to tell Samuel what was going to happen and what he should do. We might say one came from an external influence of the Holy Spirit and one from an internal influence of the Holy Spirit.
Similar situations can still arise today. There are some who can speak God’s Word, pray prophetically or foretell future events only when they are in a group who are under a powerful anointing of the Holy Spirit and there are those who have cultivated a deep and intimate relationship with God and can speak his Word and know and share his will at any time. I pray that we are seeking to be the latter kind. People who know God well and are open to receiving his prophetic word at any time. Let’s start today in committing to spending time alone with God to know him better. Choose a portion of time, whether it be 5mins or 50mins and be still. Simply inviting God to speak. If your mind wanders just repeat the invitation for God to speak. Do this every day or as often as you can. God is very willing to speak with us. As Lynette pointed out yesterday, we need to learn to listen.
Father, thank you for speaking through prophets like Samuel, for speaking through your Son Jesus and through the Holy Spirit. Unblock my ears and help me to hear your word so that I might know you better and more faithfully speak of you with others. Be glorified in my life, Lord. Amen

*Samuel the boy*

1 Samuel 2:21-23 NIV
‘Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the LORD. Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting. So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours…”’

We were reminded yesterday of God’s special purpose for Samuel even before he was born. But 1 Samuel chapters 2-3 tell us that his childhood in the temple was a study in contrasts: even as he served in God’s presence each day, the adult sons of his ‘foster father’ Eli treated God’s offerings with contempt, satisfying their own greed and sexual desires, ignoring the dire warnings to repent and seek forgiveness. Could there have been a worse place for a child to grow up, than with this family: the elderly Eli, too weak to discipline or control his sons; Phinehas and Hophni, abusing their priestly roles, whose arrogance, sin and rebellion earned God’s strong judgement and the punishment of death.

Yet amazingly, in the midst of all this, Samuel “continued to grow in stature and in favour with the LORD and with people” (1 Sam 2:26), words later echoed in Luke’s gospel: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Lk 2:52). If there was perhaps one good thing Eli managed to teach Samuel, it was the response we find in 1 Sam 3:8-10.
_Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel !” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”_

“Speak, Lord…” To be honest I often pray these words, but what follows might be:
“…but first let *me* tell *You* what I want…”
“…though I’m too busy/distracted to listen right now.”
“…and I’ll consider whether or not I want to obey.”
Two things kept young Samuel on track as he grew to become God’s faithful priest, and they are vital for us today: the grace of God, shielding us from the sin and temptation which lures us; and an earnest desire, honed and nurtured, to ask God for His word and direction, listen with humility, and obey with a servant heart.

“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” What is He saying to each of us today?

*Samuel the baby*

1 Samuel 1:2-20 (abbreviated)
“There was a certain man whose name was Elkanah. He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.
Year after year this man went up from Ramah to worship and sacrifice to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. Elkanah her husband would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you down-hearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”
Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Eli the priest was sitting by the doorpost of the Lord’s temple. Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord. And she made a vow, saying, “O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and give me a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life. Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”
Early the next morning they arose and worshipped and then went back to their home in Ramah. In the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.” “

In the Bible, when God has a special purpose for a man, there is something special about his birth. Like Hannah, Sarah, Rebekah and Elizabeth all experienced being childless. Like Samuel, Isaac, Jacob and John the Baptist, were God-given answers to years of prayer. Each had a special role to play in the hands of God. When God gave Hannah a son, He also gave Israel the last and greatest of the judges and the first after Moses of the great prophets.
Shiloh was the centre of worship at this time. Joshua had set up the tabernacle here – the temple was not built until Solomon’s day.
Today, if you climb up Mount Shiloh, there are 360’ views. But there is only one place flat enough for the tabernacle to be erected. As you look down on one side there is a flat piece of land, 100yds x 50yds – the exact size of the tabernacle. It has been marked out by white flags.
Hannah vowed to give the baby she was praying for back to God. It was usual to pray aloud but we are told only Hannah’s lips moved. Eli is quick to jump to the wrong conclusion. Religious life must have been at a low ebb if worshippers came drunk to the tabernacle.
Samuel would have been two or three years old when Hannah took him back to the tabernacle.
Prayer: Pray, today, for all those families with new babies. Pray that God would have a special purpose for their lives and that they might be brought up to know and love Him.

Priest and King: Foretold (Zechariah 6:9-15)

Zechariah – have you found it yet? Penultimate book of the Old Testament. Not a regular read, but scripture inspired by God. And not an easy read, as with many of the ‘minor prophets’. We think of them as minor, but in their day they were major, the Lord’s anointed person bringing his word to the Israelites. And just as it is not an easy read for us today, it wasn’t easy for the Israelites to hear at the time. Zechariah was prophet of the Israelites during the reign of Darius at the same time as Haggai and also appears in Ezra (who we think of as the major prophet of the time) alongside Zerubbabel the civil leader at the time and, like him, concerned with the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.

As we learnt on Monday from Heather, the Bible says a person cannot be priest and king, and yet here we find the high priest Joshua being given a crown, made from gold and silver taken from the exiles returned from Babylon, and being told that his name is Branch, which was understood by the Israelites to mean Messiah, and that he will build the temple of the Lord, sit and rule on the throne (ie, as King) and have a Priest by his throne. But is Zechariah talking about Joshua or using him to represent someone in the future? Who do we know as ‘Branch’, or the branch of Jesse, son of David, the Messiah?

In Ezra and Zechariah’s time they were concerned about rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem, and yet this prophecy talks about building the temple. Who do we know in the gospels who talks about building the temple in three days?

Zechariah prophecies about someone who shall be royal and have a peaceful understanding with the priest beside him. Who do we know described as the Prince of Peace?

The crown that has been made with the gold and silver and placed on the high priest Joshua’s head bringing priesthood and kingship together is to remain in the temple as a memorial – a reminder to the Israelites – of this prophecy that there is one to come who will be Priest and King. The final verse talks about those who are far off coming to help to build the temple of the Lord; it might be Israelites returning to Jerusalem to help rebuild the temple, or it might be a reference to the temple being the Kingdom of God – not a physical temple but a temple built of people, including the Gentiles – those from far off.

God foretold the coming of Jesus the Priest-King through Zechariah, hundreds of years before He came to earth but the Israelites did not understand at the time of the prophecy and did not understand at the fulfilment of the prophecy. Praise God that we can understand and know Jesus as our priest and king.

Saul’s mistake

1Samuel 15

17 Samuel said, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. 18 And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; wage war against them until you have wiped them out.’ 19 Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?”

20 “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”

22 But Samuel replied:

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
he has rejected you as king.”

OK, so this is one of my LEAST favourite passages in the Bible, partly because it is just too close to home. I shudder to think of how many times I have not done what God has said, been arrogant or rebellious.

This incident was the final straw that saw the anointing Holy Spirit of God move from Saul to David. Yet we know that David had his own streak of rebellion. Why did God forgive David and not Saul?

The clue, I think, is in Psalm 51, after David’s terrible sin, when he prayed, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11). Saul’s request for forgiveness was megre and we know after this he went from bad to worse. But David’s repentance was genuine and wholehearted.

Whatever is true of us today, let us not hesitate to throw ourselves on God’s mercy, for in Jesus He can and will.


*The Church: Priests and Kings*

Exodus 19:4-6 NIV
“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you a will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation .”

1 Peter 2:9-10 NLT
“…for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for He called you out of the darkness into His wonderful light. Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.”

Revelation 5:9-10 NIV
“…you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth .”

There’s a reason why so many people love movies about superheroes. At some point in the story, an ordinary person, living their ordinary everyday life, discovers that they have a hidden identity. Suddenly, they have a purpose and status way larger and more important than they ever expected, along with all the power they need to fulfil their new role and responsibility. More than that, they belong to a group of fellow superheroes with the same mission and purpose.

On a cloudy Tuesday morning in April, you and I may feel like anything but the priests and kings described in the scripture passages above. Faced with dirty dishes, busy schedules, or even empty diaries, we might find it hard to grasp that we and all believers, the Church, are God’s treasured possession. We are ALL called to be priests – models of holiness, prayer warriors – and kings – royalty, representatives of the King of Kings, bearers of all God’s goodness. But that is what we are. And together with all who belong to Jesus, we have a greater purpose than ever before.

Space doesn’t permit a full exploration of what this means, but take a bit of time to ask yourself:
-*Do we know what we were saved for?* Jesus died on the cross for every one of us for this precise reason: to forgive and redeem us, yes, but also because God’s plan was always that we should be a people who, together, live with a far greater purpose, focused on His glory, upholding His name.
*-As a church, how might we make more of an impact through our corporate worship and prayers?* We are called “Priests”, to seek holy lives which demonstrate God’s power to forgive, cleanse and purify. No-one is beyond His grace. As intercessors, our prayers together for individuals, for Northway and the wider world, can have an impact beyond what we ask or imagine.
*- As the “Royal Family” of Christ on Northway estate, how should we be seeking to bring the King’s goodness and mercy to our community?* The Bible calls us Royal People – we are no longer insignificant but are bearers of God‘s kingly status. We have His unique power to bring blessing in small and big ways: forgiving those who have wronged us, including and welcoming people who are on the margins, extending help to those we don’t know, in His name.

Pray: Father God, so much of this is not visible to us, and will not be entirely fulfilled until eternity. Please give us the eyes of faith to see these realities and the imagination to live each day as Your holy and royal people, that together we can bring Your light into a dark world.

(Genesis 14:27-20)

“As Abram returned from his strike against Chedorlaomer and the other kings at the valley of Shaveh, the king of Sodom came out to meet him, and Melchizedek, the king of Salem, who was a priest of the God of Highest Heaven, brought him bread and wine. Then Melchizedek blessed Abram with this blessing: ‘The blessing of the supreme God, Creator of heaven and earth, be upon you, Abram; and blessed be God, who has delivered your enemies over to you.’ Then Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the spoils.”

The Last Supper was not the first celebration of communion. The first celebration took place thousands of years earlier. Abram had just achieved a victory in a battle. Four kings had captured all the herds and carried off Abram’s nephew Lot. Abram had got together 318 men, surrounded the enemy at night and attacked. He brought back Lot and all the flocks and herds.
It was then Abram met a mysterious figure, Melchizedek, king of Salem. Who was he? Melchizedek means “King of Righteousness”. Salem was the original name for Jerusalem. The modern Hebrew word ‘shalom’ – peace, comes from the same root. King of Righteousness and King of Peace. Some say this was a pre-incarnation appearance of Jesus.

But the Bible says you can’t be a priest and a king. Melchizedek brought bread and wine. Abram accepted these. In Hebrews, speaking about Jesus as High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, it says, “after He had offered sacrifice for sin for ever, he sat down at the right hand of God.” Priests always stood, they never sat. But Hebrews 1:8 says, “Jesus sat”. The priests’ task was never complete, so they stood, but Jesus sat because He had completed His task. No more sacrifices would be needed again.
The bread and wine of the Last Supper were the same as the symbols offered to Abram.
Prayer: Whenever we take communion, may we remind ourselves that our great High Priest, Jesus, can now sit down at the right hand of God because His sacrifice was once for all time and all people.

David is a poet, and not just a poet but also a musician. The first we hear of David after his anointing is that he is known as a man skilful in playing [the lyre], a man of valour, a warrior, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and he was sent to play for Saul, to soothe him when evil spirits tormented him, and at this point Saul loved him greatly (1 Sam 16:14-23). As we know, the relationship between Saul and David did not remain on such a good footing, but after Saul’s death we read that David intoned a lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan (2 Sam 1:17-27). David’s final words recorded in 2 Sam 23:1-7 are also a poem – and in between we have the Psalms, many of them attributed to David.

David, like Moses last week, was a remarkable man, so blessed by God, so talented in so many areas (see 1 Sam 16 mentioned above) and yet so human. And he expressed his humanity in his music and poems:

his joy and love of God and God’s creation,
his fear and despair when Saul sought to kill him, his sorrow at the loss of Saul, his King and Jonathan, his friend,
his remorse at his own failings,
his dependence on God for the responsibilities of kingship.
We read his poems in translation so lose some of the poetic nuances of the original; some of them are acrostic poems – using each letter of the Hebrew alphabet to start each line or verse – and some were clearly not just poems but lyrics, set to music on the lyre (same Greek root word). It is worth looking through the book of Psalms and reading not just the Psalms themselves but the explanations given to many of them.

Many of our own hymns and worship songs are based on Psalms, probably the best known being Psalm 23, and some denominations for many years only used the Psalms in worship in what is known as metrical settings. David’s poems are an incredible resource for us in our worship individually and corporately and should not be taken for granted. Read them, sing them, get to know them so that you can turn to relevant ones depending on your own mood.

Praise God for blessing David with this talent, and for giving us this resource.

The heavens are telling the glory of God;

and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

Day to day pours forth speech,

and night to night declares knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words;

their voice is not heard;

yet their voice goes out through all the earth,

and their words to the end of the world.