Monday, 27 February 2012

1 Samuel 3:1-4:1a - God Speaks

Here are last night notes and questions from LightHouse:

1. Why do you read the Bible?
2. How can we encourage those who encourage and teach the bible to us?

1. Treasure God speaking (1-10)
(Ch1-2)paint a bleak picture of Israel spiritually; everyone did as he or she saw fit, even Eli assumed that worshippers were drunk rather than praying, and some of the priests don’t know God and therefore treat his offerings and worship with contempt. That spiritual blackness is added to 3:1”In those days the word of Yahweh was rare, there were not many visions.” God’s people and their leaders don’t know God and they don’t hear very often from God. Just as Hannah and Elkanah are righteous exceptions to Israelite life so the words of the prophet to Eli in ch2 are exceptions to the normal state of affairs in Israel with God’s word. God has stopped speaking to his people as an act of judgement against them, (c/f Amos 8:11f) they will not listen to God so he stops speaking to them – Israel is in a time of famine not physically but spiritually.

It is tempting for us to think that could never happen to us because we always have God’s word in the Bible. We may have God’s word in terms of access to it but what about in terms of our accessing it? Do we open it expectantly? Do we actively read it and allow it to examine us and cooperate with it so that it changes us? We may have God’s word physically and yet not hear from God.

(4)Sounds the note of hope against this bleak backdrop, **what is it? “The LORD called Samuel.” God has been working through Hannah’s barrenness and vow, through young Samuel’s ministry before him and now he graciously calls Samuel. God is not done with Israel yet, he will not leave them wordless forever, there is hope. But before Samuel can deliver God’s message something else must happen; he must come to know God for himself and as yet he doesn’t (7)but that is all set to change. Three times God calls to Samuel and young Samuel because he doesn’t yet know God assumes its Eli, and it takes old Eli three times to realise it may be God calling Samuel.

(8-10)Finally Eli twigs and finally Samuel knows God. It tells us something vital about those who bring and teach God’s word, what they need first and foremost is to know God. Teaching the bible isn’t just a matter of textual observation and comprehension and being able to deliver a good talk. Teaching the Bible is teaching about a living God, it is relational and it requires bible teachers be it pastors, youth leaders, Sunday school teachers, parents, to know God as Samuel comes to know God. Training, degrees etc are all well and good but fundamentally we need people teaching about God who know God. We must pray that for those who teach the Bible above all – that they would know God.

But this passage also teaches us something about the character of God, he is patient as well as gracious. God lovingly calls and patiently waits for Samuel to come to know him, he isn’t like the baseball umpire with the three strikes and you’re out rule. God is gracious and patient he waits longing for his people to listen to him and to know him.

Grace ought to dominate our thinking about treasuring God’s word not guilt. **Too often when someone talks about reading the bible our first feeling is what? Guilt, because we haven’t done it, or haven’t done it enough, but guilt de-motivates. Grace by contrast calls us to treasure the God behind his word because he is attractive and relational. God graciously reminds us that he speaks to us both through his word read and preached and he waits patiently calling us again to treasure it because we treasure him and through his word he wants us to get to know him.

God’s word to us is relational, it is how we get to know him, if we treasure our relationship with him we will treasure his speaking to us.

2. Speaking God’s word isn’t easy (11-16)
Having been called to be a prophet Samuel straightaway comes face to face with the challenge of speaking God’s word. He isn’t given an easy word of encouragement, or a gentle word of reminder, or even a call to repentance, **what is the word of God Samuel is given? Judgement on Eli and his house and (14)there will be no atonement made for this sin. It is a judgement that will set Israel abuzz about what God is doing.

Speaking God’s word will not be easy for Samuel, we see the challenge of being God’s prophet. (15)Samuel is afraid to tell Eli the vision, and you can’t blame him can you. Samuel loves Eli and he has compassion for him, he knows that this word is confrontational and that it will be a hard word to tell and to hear. But the prophet is to be a compassionate speaker of God’s truth. That is the role to which God has called him.

We aren’t prophets but we are called to be God’s witnesses in everyday life and we often feel this same push pull which Samuel experiences don’t we. We love people and don’t want to hurt them and sometimes we know that it will be hard for them to hear but we also know we must speak God’s truth to them precisely because we love them. I guess we particularly feel this when it comes to talking about the reality of judgement or hell, or the fact that salvation is only found in Jesus, or maybe it’s a topical issue such as homosexuality or sex before marriage, or other religions. Speaking God’s word is not easy, but just like Samuel we must be compassionate truth tellers.

In Colossians 4:2-6 Paul asks for prayer for himself and prays these same two things for the Colossian church – that they would love others in action and speak the truth of God’s word with grace.

We must learn to hold these two things together as we speak God’s word to people; we love people and are compassionate understanding how hard what we have to say may be to hear but we also know we must speak God’s word in all its truth.

3. Welcome God’s word(3:1717-4:1a)
There is a background to Samuel’s calling as a prophet, turn to Deuteronomy 18:18f. The words of a prophet place a responsibility on those who hear them to listen and respond, to do something with them.

Here Eli functions as a model listener. Remember that in ch2 a prophet has just told him that of God’s impending judgement on his house. You might expect him to meet Samuel in the morning with ‘I know God spoke to you but it is just for you!’ Especially when he sees that Samuel is reticent to tell him – let’s be honest people are rarely reticent to tell us good news. **But what does he say? Eli encourages Samuel to share God’s word with him even though it is a word of judgement, in fact he compels him to do so. And his acceptance of it (18)is not fatalistic but faithful, I think it’s a sign that he has repented of his failure as a Father and is now honouring God above his sons.

The question is will Israel respond as Eli has to Samuel’s word, God testifies to the truth of Samuel’s words, and all Israel recognise Samuel as a prophet(3:20-4:1a). Will they listen? Will they welcome God’s word to them through Samuel? Will they take it in? Will they recognise that it is for their good? Will they change where God calls them to change? Because the word of the Lord spoken makes the hearers responsible for what they do with God’s word.

God is a God of grace who desires real relationship with his redeemed and rejoicing people who respond to his word and work on our behalf ultimately in Jesus. That is why he speaks, and his people are responsible for how they welcome his word.

How are we at listening to God’s word? How are we at encouraging others to speak God’s word to us? There are a number of ways we can encourage those teaching us the bible be it in preaching or home groups or 1-2-1.

How is your listening? What is your facial screen saver as you listen to the bible being taught? There are a number of facial screen savers you will find in a congregation:

  • The Bulldog screen saver – They just look angry all the time, furrowed brow, bunched eye brows.
  • The Brick Counting screen saver– Looks round the room as if counting the number of bricks, chairs, carpet tiles etc... but never makes eye contact with the speaker.
  • The White Rabbit screen saver – Like the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland always looking at their watches or the clock.
  • The To Let screen saver- 5 minutes in there are no signs of life, this person hasn’t blinked since the first minute and you find yourself wondering if you should dial 999 with one hand whilst you continue to teach.
  • The Nodder screen saver – Their head begins upright but gradually dips down towards their chest before bolting back up again.
  • And lastly the Eutychus screen saver – These people may not drop out of the window and die but they are asleep.
That’s a bit of fun but there is a serious side to it. We need to welcome and encourage people to speak God’s word to us, and we ought to think about how our face and body language encourages or discourages others from speaking God’s word to us. For example it may help to make eye contact, follow the passage, smile occasionally, nod. Engaging with someone is welcoming and helps us listen. It might help to take notes, or listen again during the week.

Talk about the Bible – raise questions with each other and with the person teaching you, discuss its implications and work out what it will look like for you this week.

Put it into action – God’s word is designed to produce change, it is described as active and transformative, but it won’t do that if we don’t listen or listen passively. We need to engage with it, think it through and act in line with the Holy Spirits leading and empowering.

God saves us by grace for relationship with him and graciously gives us his word and others to teach us and encourage us with it. But that brings a responsibility to listen, to welcome it, and to do something with it.

1. What stops you treasuring God’s word? What makes it hard to understand?
2. When are we tempted to duck out of speaking God’s word to people and why?
3. How can you welcome God’s word to you better: a. Personally? b. When listening to others teach the Bible?

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