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Category: Sermons

What To Do With An Uncontrollable God

Last Sunday we read about the first of many battles recorded in the book of 1 Samuel. And at this time in Israel’s history – their main enemy was the Philistines! The Philistines had been a thorn in Israel’s side throughout their early history – battling first with Shamgar and then Samson – later on they would battle against King Saul and against David…. but at this time there was no judge or king to lead the Israelites into battle against the Philistines. Although Samuel was widely recognized as the prophet of God by this time – He had not yet become Isreal’s judge – that would happen shortly, but at this time, Israel was led primarily by the elders – the older, supposedly wiser leaders of the different clans and tribes of Israel.

But these elders didn’t seem to be particularly in-tune with God. And as we’ve noted over the past few weeks, the nation of Israel as a whole had kinda drifted away from following God. Their relationship with God had become a religion rather than a relationship, even though they were God’s specially choose people. Out of all the people on earth, God had specifically chosen them to be His holy nation – and they would be His people and He would be their God! He even promised to dwell among them… We saw last week how the Ark of the Covenant would identify God’s presence among his people. It was from the Ark that God promised meet his people and speak to them from above the cover of the Ark.

But as we’ve noted, the people of Israel weren’t all that interested in hearing from God at this point. They chose to ignore God’s commands – and everyone did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. They had no interest in serving and pleasing God – they really just kept God around because of what God could do for them!

And last week’s battle with the Philistines was a prime example of that. After being defeated in the first battle against the Philistines, the elders of Israelites decide to go get the Ark of the Lord and carry it into battle with them. We read in 1 Samuel 4 verse 3…

Then they said, “Let’s bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord from Shiloh. If we carry it into battle with us, it will save us from our enemies.” 1 Samuel 4:3b

And I think it’s very telling that they say “IT will save us from our enemies” – Not, “GOD” will save us from our enemies – but “IT” – the Ark of the Covenant – will save us from our enemies.

Their faith was in a gold box, rather than in the God who spoke to them from the gold box. They had been disobedient to God for years and really had no interest in changing their ways, but yet, they thought they could harness and manipulate the power of God by trotting out the Ark of the Covenant and carrying it into battle with them.

But one of the main themes that comes out of the book of Samuel – and we’ve seen this several times already – is that God will honor those who honor Him, but he will despise those who think lightly of Him. And we see that playing out clearly in this story.

The Israelites carry the Ark of the Covenant with them into battle – hoping to manipulate the power of God in their favour, but God does not honor those who refuse to honor Him and the Israelites are soundly defeated. 30,000 men are killed and the Ark of the Covenant is captured by the Philistines!

And that leads us into our passage today. As I mentioned last week, the story of 1 Samuel doesn’t revolve around Samuel – it doesn’t even revolve around the Israelites – it revolves around God! This is His story, and so the camera pans away from the defeated Israelites and it follows the Ark of the Covenant carried by the victorious Philistines into the nearby Philistine town of Ashdod.

We pick up the story in 1 Samuel chapter 5, verse 1.

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God’s Not Your Lucky Charm

This morning we are continuing on in our study of First Samuel. For the first 3 chapters of this book, the author has focused mainly on the birth and early life of Samuel, but for the next three chapters, the focus shifts and the story revolves mainly around the Ark of the Covenant (or the Ark of the Lord.) Samuel isn’t even mentioned again until chapter 7.

And in some ways, this next part about the Ark of the Lord might seem like a bit of a rabbit trail from the story of Samuel – but it’s not a rabbit trail at all. It actually reminds us who this story is really about – this is not a story about Samuel – this is a story about God!

And that’s important to remember when we read through any of these great old testament stories! These stories are not about Daniel and the lions or David & Goliath or Moses or Jonah or any of those guys – the entire Bible is the story of God. He is the main character. These fantastic stories are only in the Bible because they teach us about God – Who He is, what’s He’s like, what He’s done, and what He’s going to do! 

So today’s passage about the Ark of the Lord is most certainly not a rabbit trail from the story of Samuel – but rather it conveys to us some very important information about who God is and how we are to interact with Him! As we go through it, we’ll see that it fits very much within the themes of the book of First Samuel!

First Samuel chapter 3 ends on the note of little Samuel growing up to a confirmed prophet of the Lord. His messages proved to be true and reliable as He faithfully delivered the Word of God to all the people of Israel.

But after saying that, the scene totally changes and we are told in chapter 4 verse 1…

At that time Israel was at war with the Philistines. The Israelite army was camped near Ebenezer, and the Philistines were at Aphek. The Philistines attacked and defeated the army of Israel, killing 4,000 men. 3 After the battle was over, the troops retreated to their camp, and the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord allow us to be defeated by the Philistines?” Then they said, “Let’s bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord from Shiloh. If we carry it into battle with us, it will save us from our enemies.” 1 Samuel 4:1b-3

Now just for a little bit of background here, the Philistines are probably the most well-known enemies of the Israelites. We first hear about the Philistines way back in Genesis – during the the time of Abraham. But of course, there was no nation of Israel to fight with at that time – there was just Abraham’s family!

But the real fighting between the Philistines and the Israelites began during the time of the judges. We’re told that one of the first Judges, Shamgar, once killed 600 Philistines with an oxgoad! The strongman, Samson, fought his many battles against the Philistines – burning down their crops, killing them with a jawbone of a donkey, pulling down their temple on top of them! Most of Saul’s battles, as the first king of Israel, were fought against the Philistines. David’s first battle was against the Philistine giant, Goliath. And so its not unusual to see Israel at war with the Philistines! But this particular war was going to be unusual.

As we read in the passage, the first battle in this war was a total loss for the Israelites. They were soundly defeated and 4,000 men were killed. So they go back to their camp and regroup. It’s at this point that the elders of Israel ask a very important question. They say “Why did the Lord allow us to be defeated by the Philistines?”

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Responding to the Voice of God

Over the past month or so, we’ve been looking at the life of Samuel. And chances are, if you’ve only ever heard one story about Samuel – today’s story is likely the one. If you attended Sunday school as a kid, this would be the story that your Sunday school teacher would have had up on the flannelgraph. (And if you don’t know what a flannel graph is, talk to Randall. He’ll tell you all about it!)

But our story takes place when little Samuel was probably about 12 years old. And it’s been really interesting to me to see how frequently the Bible talks about how Samuel is growing up serving the Lord. He’s only a kid, but look what the Bible has already said about him…

1 Samuel 2:11 it says…

And the boy served the Lord by assisting Eli the priest. 1 Samuel 2:11  (7 vs later…)

But Samuel, though he was only a boy, served the Lord. 1 Samuel 2:18 (3 vs later…)

Meanwhile, Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord. 1 Samuel 2:21 (5 vs later…)

Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew taller and grew in favor with the Lord and with the people. 1 Samuel 2:26

And then finally to begin today’s passage:

Meanwhile, the boy Samuel served the Lord by assisting Eli. 1 Samuel 3:1

For a kid who is probably only about 12 years old, the Bible sure has a lot of positive things to say about Samuel! In fact, I don’t think there are any other children in the Bible that receive so many positive comments.

But I think that’s a great reminder to all you kids! Even while you’re young, you can serve the Lord. All you kids can learn to love Him and please Him and honor him with how you live your life!

I mean, wouldn’t it be great to have your name in those verses? it could read something like this:

“But Caleb, though he was only a boy, served the Lord.”

“Meanwhile, Sophia grew taller and grew in favor with the Lord and with the people.”

“Meanwhile, Logan served the Lord by assisting Pastor Dave.”

Wouldn’t that be awesome? And you guys can do that! You can serve and honor the Lord even when you’re a kid – just like Samuel.

But anyway, that’s how our story begins.

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God Honors Those Who Honor Him

This morning we are getting back into our story of Samuel. When we last left Samuel, he was about 2-5 years old and his parents, Elkanah and Hannah, had just left him at the tabernacle to live with the priest Eli. And if you missed our previous messages, you might wonder why Samuel’s parents might do such a thing! What would cause a mother leave her 2-5 year old child to live at the tabernacle and be raised by someone else?

Well, just to give you a quick recap, previous to all this, Hannah had been barren – she was unable to have children – which of course, caused her a great deal of heartache and sadness. But she prayed to God and asked Him for son – promising that if God were to give her a son, then she would give her son back to the Lord. She would dedicate him to live and serve the Lord for his entire lifetime.

And graciously, God heard her prayer and gave her exactly what she asked for. Before long, little Samuel was born – and true to her promise, as soon as he was weaned, Hannah brought him to live at the tabernacle. He would be raised by Eli the priest, and would learn to serve the Lord by assisting Eli in his priestly duties.

We read in 1 Samuel 2:11…

11 Then Elkanah returned home to Ramah without Samuel. And the boy served the Lord by assisting Eli the priest. 1 Samuel 2:11

God had answered Hannah’s prayer and so Hannah kept her promise to God and left little Samuel to grow up serving the Lord at the tabernacle.

And so that’s where we are picking up the story today. Today’s passage gives us some snapshots of Samuel’s life growing up at the tabernacle. But it doesn’t revolve solely around the life of Samuel – but it also includes what’s happening with Eli and his two sons – Hophni and Phinehas. And as we are going to see, things are not good with Eli and his sons. Even though they were the priests – representing God at His tabernacle – we quickly see that they were not the Godly representatives that God intended them to be.

In fact, the rest of this chapter is written in a way that contrasts the goodness of Samuel with the wickedness of Eli and his sons. It’s a series of back-and-forth snapshots showing how Samuel grows up honouring the Lord – but Eli and his sons increasingly dishonour the Lord.

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Hannah’s Prayer

This morning I’m excited to get us started into a new sermon series. I’ve been wanting to do another character study for some time now – the last one we did was back in May of 2019 when we went through the life of Joseph.

So I’ve been eager to do another one – and originally, my intention was to do a series on the life of David. I’ve preached a few sermons on David – but I’ve never systematically gone through his whole life. And so in preparation, I started looking at the beginning of David’s story – which begins by the prophet Samuel anointing David as the future King of Israel when he was just a young boy.

However, as I started reading about that in 1 Samuel chapter 16, I ended up flipping back a few pages – reading more and more about the prophet Samuel and all that happened before David was even the scene. And eventually, I ended up right back at 1 Samuel chapter 1 – which describes the events around Samuel’s birth. And there was so much good stuff in all of those chapters that I wanted to share all that stuff with you as well!

So as it stands today, I’m not entirely sure what this series is going to be about! Maybe this will be all about Samuel. Maybe we’ll eventually get to David too? Maybe we’ll throw King Saul in there somewhere – I’m not entirely sure yet.  All I know is that we’re going to start in 1 Samuel chapter 1 – and we’ll see where we go from there.

But, before we jump into our text, let me first give you a very quick run-down on exactly where we are in the greater story of the Bible.

The book of 1 Samuel begins right at the end of the era of the judges. By this point in time, the people of Israel had conquered the Promised Land led by Joshua and had been living there for some time. But during this time they really failed to be the “holy nation” that God intended them to be – they neglected to follow God’s commands and instructions and instead they just did whatever they wanted.

In fact, the very last verse in the Book of Judges says this:

25 In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. Judges 21:25

And as you can imagine, when people do whatever seems right in their own eyes, things go off the rails pretty quick. The book of Judges contains some of the most horrific stories in the entire Bible as people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. We’re going to see in a few weeks that even the priests at God’s tabernacle had abandoned the ways of God and and were living selfish and sinful lives!

So because of that, God had allowed many different enemies around them to invade and oppress the Israelites. This would continue for several years until the Israelites turned to God and God would then send them a deliverer – or a judge. You remember guys like Ehud (the left-handed man who stabbed the fat King Eglon), or Samson and Gideon, Deborah – those people were all judges of Israel. They would rescue Israel from their enemies and lead the people to again follow God. This happened over and over again many times during the time of the judges.

And Samuel, as we’re going to find out later, is actually the very last of those judges. In fact, he’s considered to be the last judge and the first of the prophets. I suppose Moses would technically be the first prophet, but he’s kinda in his own category. But Samuel would be the first of a long line of prophets who would faithfully declare the Word of the Lord to the people of Israel. That’s something that didn’t really happen during the time of the judges. In 1 Samuel 3:1 we read:

“Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon.” 1 Samuel 3:1b

In the time of judges, we see very little prophetic revelation from the Lord – but from the time of Samuel onward, we see nearly a constant presence of prophets in Israel – and of course, their prophecies make up a large portion of our Old Testament.

But this was the world into which young Samuel was born. It was a time when God seemed to be silent. The people of Israel had no king and everyone did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. There was constant danger from enemies who would invade and oppress Israel.

Overall, it was a fairly dark time. But it wasn’t all bad. Despite the many who did evil – there were still those who loved and obeyed God. And Samuel’s parents were among those people. 

We are introduced to them in 1 Samuel chapter 1. So if you have your Bibles, feel free to turn with me to 1 Samuel chapter 1, and we will begin at verse 1.

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