1 Samuel 1:1-4:22
I have always loved the OT story of the boy Samuel first being introduced to the voice of God. I remember my mom reading it to me out of the Good News Bible when I was just a boy, complete with simple illustrations to drive home the narrative. I love reading it to my own children as well if nothing more than to teach them that the real presence of the Lord is with them. This story teaches that even children can call on the Name of the Lord and have a relationship with God. It also exhorts parents to the weighty responsibility of teaching our children to know the Lord and not just to know of Him.
The story was simple. Samuel as a boy is asleep in the house of the Lord in Shiloh where he lived with Eli the priest. In the night Samuel hears Eli call his name and he runs to his room to answer the call. Grumpy Eli tells him that he didn’t call and to go back to bed. It happens again. Eli no doubt is a bit frustrated having been woken up by this child twice, but nevertheless he settles back down. Then, a third time Samuel enters into Eli’s chambers and says, “you called and here I am”. Eli suddenly realizes that the Lord is calling this boy’s name and that he has not taught him how to commune with God.
Such was the case with Eli’s own children. Eli had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas and the Bible says that they were “worthless men”. They were appointed as priests by their father Eli, but they were corrupt. One of their corrupt priestly practices was to steal from the sacrifices that the people brought to offer to the Lord. They would do this by taking a huge fork and sticking it into the pot of meat which was devoted as sacrifice to take for themselves all that the fork brought up. Priests by right and custom were allotted portions of each sacrifice, but these two worthless men took more than their share, and they took from parts devoted only to the Lord. Their servants would demand from those sacrificing that they give the fattest part to the priests before it was boiled, (roasted meat tastes better than boiled meat) and if they refused they would take it by force. In addition to these evil practices the men were having relations with the women who served at the entrance of the tent of meeting. These practices were a complete disregard for the holiness of God and the root of their actions came down to one simple statement given at the end of verse 12 in chapter 2 of 1 Samuel. After declaring Hophni and Phinehas to be worthless men the Bible says, “They did not know the Lord”.
As I read through this story again the other day I was struck by that phrase, “they did not know the Lord”. I was struck because in the next chapter (3:7) it says that Samuel “did not yet know the Lord”. Here were three “sons” of Eli who were brought up under his tutelage, were taught to serve in the House of God as priests, and were appointed (or to be appointed) as leaders and priests over the people of Israel. Of all the people who would know anything about the Lord it would be the priests, these “sons” of Eli. Yet here within two chapters all three of them are described as having not “known the Lord”.
This speaks to the great difference between knowledge and relationship. I often use this analogy when talking or writing about this subject. When I mention the name Billy Graham most of us acknowledge the name of this person. We know he was/is an evangelist. We know he traveled the world preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We might even know that he lives in the greatest state in the USA, in Montreat NC. But there would be very few of us who could actually say, I know Billy Graham. There is a difference in being familiar with the biography of Mr. Graham and being familiar with his voice, with the way he looks at you, with the way he smiles and speaks your name. Yet this is the very knowledge we have of God himself when we have relationship with Him. Our knowledge of the Lord is more than just a biography. It’s more than just knowing the OT stories, or knowing the stories of Jesus. It’s more than the acknowledgment that Jesus existed, or even that Jesus was God incarnate. Our relationship with the Lord is even more than knowing that Jesus died for my sins. Our relationship with the Lord is just that, a relationship. It is a working, daily, relation with one whom we cannot see, who nevertheless sees every facet of our soul. We know Him. We know His voice. We experience His smile and the way He calls us by name. We are familiar with His Spirit when He moves in that way He does.
I hope this encourages us to evaluate our relationship with God and to seek Him in our own quiet time alone. All of us have joys we can celebrate and for which we are thankful, and most of us have trials that we need to lay at His feet. He is the friend that sticks closer than a brother and he wants us to come to Him. Even when we cannot “see” the way forward, we trust that He gives us a wisdom that is beyond our own knowledge and calculation. Even when we cannot “sense” His presence we believe His promise that He never leaves us or forsakes us. He is always there. And even when we cannot “hear” Him call our name like the boy Samuel did, it shouldn’t deter us from speaking the words Eli taught him to say; “speak Lord for your servant is listening”. As Christian parents we want to encourage our children in their own relationship with God. Let us be people who speak these words, and teach our children to do the same.