Samuel’s Dose of Realty
Have you ever heard the phrase along the lines of “that person needs to get a dose of reality” or perhaps the phrase “Reality Check”? You hear it in the conversation when someone, stereotypically the young, idealistic crusader bent on changing the world, who has great ideas, great theories, great passion tries to convince the seasoned veteran how much better they can do things. Many things sound good on paper, but are disastrous when they are put into practice. It’s also heard when you have a passion for the way something should be, but no one else has it figured out like you do.
Samuel had a vision of God and a growing understanding of what a relationship with Him should be. He ministered before the LORD at Shiloh, where the Ark of the Covenant was housed. In a day when the Word of the LORD was rare and there were not many miracles—Samuel was one who lived with them regularly. But I believe he received a major “reality check” whenever he looked at the faith of the people. No matter how hard he may have tried, he couldn’t get them to Hunger and Thirst for God, for pleasing Him, for serving Him wholeheartedly, the way he did. And just after we read in 4:1 how Samuel’s word came to all Israel—we get to see an example of Samuel’s Dose of Reality
1. Samuel First Dose—He Saw the Ark Go—4:1-11
a. Samuel now was probably a young man, late teens early 20’s. As God was appearing to Him at the Sanctuary, Samuel was growing in his own faith, but also able to see something of the faith of His people.
b. He had seen the hearts as they came to worship and offer sacrifices. He had seen the defective animals, he had seen Eli’s sons abuse the system for their own advantage,
c. One thing he would have noticed is that on their own, the people experience defeat—
The Israelites went out to fight but before going into battle, there is no seeking of God, no asking for His guidance, no thought of God at all. Long gone are the lessons learned from Joshua and how the LORD fights their battles. If they felt like doing it, then God should bless them for it. God was expected to bless whatever they wanted—they didn’t really care what He thought.
d. Until they experienced defeat, then all of a sudden, they began to wonder about God and His place in their lives—vs. 3. Before, they didn’t give God a second thought, didn’t ask Him to be a part of their lives. But once they had experienced defeat, they came griping—and blaming--why did the LORD bring this defeat—questioning Him more than they did themselves. Then they went for the quick fix—the instant cure.
e. Let’s go get the Ark. We can’t lose with the Ark—this is the star player, the sure thing, the ace in the hole. But what they revealed was that they thought they could call upon God whenever they needed Him. I’m in trouble, I guess I should pray now. Let me take God off the shelf and dust Him off a little bit now that I’m in a bit of a jam. Let’s go get the Ark.
f. Samuel, even though young, was able to see what kind of faith the people had. And it was nothing like the relationship that he began when he heard the Call of God. They didn’t care about God and how they could know Him, they only cared about what God could do for them. To paraphrase and reverse one of our Presidents, their attitude was “Ask not what you can do for God but what God can do for you.” They wanted God only for what He would give, what they could get.
g. We are so like them. When things are going well, God seems to be the last thing on our minds. You and I leave our homes each morning many times without asking God to Before us, to go With us, to Grant us Victory, to Keep Us from Defeat.
And when we are in trouble, all of a sudden we go running to Him and expect Him to fix the mess we’ve made.
h. But God’s not interested in that kind of faith—nor is that what He wanted from the Israelites. That’s why in vs. 10, the Israelites were defeated even with the Ark. That’s why those who blasphemously claimed to serve God, Eli’s sons, were killed, that’s why the Ark was captured. The people’s Lucky Rabbit’s Foot, their Good Luck Charm, their quick fix and instant cure had failed. It’s not the kind of faith God wanted to grow in them, nor is it the kind of faith He wants to grow in you or me.
2. Samuel’s Second Dose of Reality--and the Capture of the Ark—12-22
a. After the defeat and capture—Samuel & Eli received the Report from the Front Lines—I know that Samuel is not mentioned in the text, but we do know that he was ministering in Shiloh—the ark was gone, but Eli was still there and until he died, Samuel would have been there as well. When the report came we get to see a glimpse into the heart of Eli—and what that must have said to Samuel.
b. Eli’s The Greatest Concern—was not for his two sons of the battlefront, but vs. 13—“his heart feared for the ark of God.” I find it amazing the place that the Ark had in the mind of the people. This object was more central to their faith than the God it represented. It borders on idolatry, they were in danger in trusting in the Ark rather than God who was behind all the power.
c. Even the news of his sons death did not knock Eli to the ground, instead it was the Ark—vs. 18--
d. Samuel’s Mentor Died—vs. 18—Samuel’s spiritual mentor fell over dead on the spot.
Samuel was now at Shiloh essentially alone, trying to manage the whole affair himself. To make it even worse, it is also believed, based on Psalm 78 and Jeremiah 7 that not long after the battle that saw the Ark captured, that the Sanctuary at Shiloh was destroyed.
e. But just in case there was confusion about what had happened to Israel—a child was born. The baby boy was symbolic of Israel’s Spiritual Condition—Ichabod—God’s Glory is Gone. God didn’t do what we wanted Him to, so that means He has left and abandoned us.
f. Many of us at various times feel that God has abandoned us, that His Presence is not with us when things don’t go our way. It leads us to a tremendous despair. So many question the power, the sovereignty, the love of God when our loved ones lie dying, when our lives are falling apart.
g. Samuel was seeing the faith of the people sink into greater despair, thinking that God had been defeated. The young mother didn’t lament the loss of her Father-In-Law, nor even her husband, but the fact that God had left them—vs. 21. She could not even rejoice or celebrate the birth of a baby. Was this life really worth it? She questioned God’s Presence, and probably His very existence.
h. Let me say without a doubt that God is never defeated, He is never outmaneuvered or caught by surprise. Our real enemy is sin and death and they have been knocked out, they have been defeated, they have been subdued by the power of the Resurrection. No matter how bad things get here, our victory is assured.
i. Many argue that Germany’s defeat during WWII was secured on D-Day—June 6th 1944, with the beachheads of Normandy—but the reality of that victory was not realized until VE-Day—May 8th 1945 almost a year later.
j. You and I live in a world between the Victory Won and the Victory Fulfilled. We experience many doses of reality. And you and I are tempted to doubt because of the pain of the world, the suffering, the struggle. I’m not going to stand here and claim that the battle in our hearts, spirits, and minds should be a piece of cake or that you’re not a good Christian of Jesus if you struggle.
k. But we must be careful that we don’t have the same kind of faith that Samuel saw—he saw a faith based on fulfilled expectations, and an object, something tangible to look to. And as soon as those things were removed, the honoring of God diminished—they were pulled even further away from God rather than closer to Him.
3. Samuel’s Third Dose of Reality
a. 6:1—Ark held by the Philistines for 7 months and it made life horrible for them because they were not “authorized” to have and handle the Ark properly. After many plagues, they sent the Ark back to the Israelites with offerings. But Israel proved that they were not very different than the unbelievers.
b. People treated the Ark flippantly—6:19 the looked into the Ark and did not consider it holy. Curiosity killed more than the cat. They didn’t really believe God was Holy and set apart—they did not really consider Him the Awesome Creator of the Universe. They looked at Him not with awe and wonder but with an eye to figuring out His “secrets”, how they might be able to gain some advantage or power over Him or over others.
c. They took for granted His greatness, His transcendence—something we do as well. It’s great to realize that God invites us into His presence, that we can call Him Abba, Daddy and have free access to Him at any time, to know that we are His friends when we trust in Him by faith. But that can also lead to casual attitude toward Him that is too familiar and friendly. God is not our good ole buddy that indulges our every whim and joke. We forget we are in His presence by invitation only, that He is still to be revered and held in awe. We need to have a healthy understanding of God’s greatness and how amazing and awesome it is to be invited into His presence in worship and adopted as a part of His family.
d. God gave the Israelites a reminder—those that looked into the ark were killed. As a result, the Israelites were just as afraid of the Ark as the Philistines were—they are not really any different than the unbelievers around them. And I expect that wasn’t the only similarity between them. They worshipped in similar ways if not the same gods. They claimed multiple faiths, multiple truths, sacrificed to whomever they pleased. They were pickers and choosers in their religion—if they liked it, they did it—there was no true allegiance to One God, One Faith. The Israelites were not a unique or peculiar people anymore because they lived, breathed, talked and acted just like the pagan nations around them.
e. Just like us—the church has very little difference between ourselves and the world—we live the same, talk the same, want the same, play the same way in time off, sin the same, divorce the same. God can easily tell the difference between you the Believer and the unbeliever, but can anyone else? Do you pick and choose your faith—if you like it, you believe it? Are you a cafeteria Christian—a little of Christianity, a little of Buddhism, a little astrology.
f. Samuel saw all of this in the people of his day. His vision of God and call to faith was hit with a strong dose of reality that most of his people were not interested in sharing his faith. And we see those same attitudes today. What must we do, how should we live?
g. First—every day, every morning, ask God to go before you, ask Him to go with you, ask Him to guide you and to provide victory. Do not leave Him out, do not think of Him at the last minute as if He were a garnish or window dressing. Don’t run to Him only in times of crisis or defeat. Make Him a priority, call upon Him when you sit and when you rise, when you come and go, He already knows it all, but He wants you and I to include Him.
h. Second live with Confidence that we serve an awesome and wonderful God that has not been defeated, that has not abandoned us even in the midst of trials and struggles. Allow your faith to cling to Him no matter what and Live with conviction and hope to a world that is hurting and despairing for some kind of peace.
i. Third, hold a healthy view of Him, yes we can approach the throne of grace with Confidence, yes He is our friend and savior, but never lose sight of the fact of His awesome power and majesty. Much like the character Aslan in the Narnia chronicles—he is still dangerous and he’s not a tame lion—but he is good.
j. Fourth—don’t pick and choose your faith and be inconsistent with what you claim to believe. Don’t mix your faith in Christ with other religions or systems. Live without hypocrisy—live set apart from the world and don’t blindly accept the values and perspectives they do but always test beliefs and attitudes with the Word of God.
k. How is your faith? Do you have a faith like Samuel’s, with a desire for others to share your closeness with God? Or do you have one like the people of Israel?