Sleeping Near the Ark
The early passages of 1 Samuel paint such a sorry picture of the spiritual condition of Israel during the administration of Eli, the Priest. The ESV describes his sons, Phinehas and Hophni in 1 Samuel 2:12, “Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord.” They were lewd and greedy; contemptuous of the things of God. To Phinehas and Hophni the temple of the Lord was a personal playground, the people of God a source of lewd pleasure and personal enrichment, and the holy things of God were treated with great contempt. (v. 17) They utilized the offerings brought to the temple for their own personal profit, they engaged in immoral behavior with women who came to the temple; they were lewd, bullish and arrogant; wholly lacking in spiritual discernment, no longer able to distinguish between the profane and holy.
God rarely spoke in those days. Perhaps He spoke, but there was no one with spiritual ears to hear His voice. The Lamp of God had not gone out, but it was very dim. There was no clear spiritual vision. How could there be when those tasked with the responsibility of being the ear and mouth of God to His people were spiritually and morally bankrupt? How could there be vision when the keepers of the Lamp of God in the Temple were so dull of spirit and bereft of spiritual sight? Proverbs 29:18 tells us, “Where there is no vision, the people dwell without restraint.” Phinehas and Hophni had lost their vision and as they did, they cast off restraint, falling deeper into rejection of the holy and more engaged with the profane.
Their father Eli was unable or unwilling to restrain them, satisfied with a weak and powerless rebuke and for it he and his household were judged, cut off from service to God. Both men were killed in battle against the Philistines and the blood line of Eli was swallowed up in anonymity.
It would seem that the nation was lost beyond hope. The Lamp of the Lord was dying out and the vision of the Lord was hidden from His people. The land was falling into chaos as a vision-less people cast off restraint. Their armies were defeated and the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God’s Presence, taken from them. Their priests were dead and the nation was cast into a darkness of spirit, the hopelessness of abandonment by God; Ichabod stamped upon their national forehead – “the glory of the Lord has departed.”
However, though the lamp was dim, hope was not dead, for serving in the shadows of the temple was a young man; a boy the Lord was keeping in reserve for a new day of His Presence. Samuel had been conceived out of the urgent prayer of his mother (1 Samuel 1) and dedicated to the House of the Lord in an act of supreme worship, given to the Lord by a grateful mother, and being prepared by God as he slept in the Presence, making his bed “in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was.” As the agony of a broken nation mourns and groans under the weight of its sin, a whisper is heard in the temple, “Samuel. . . .Arise.”
In this hour when many despise the things of God because they have repeatedly witnessed His priests drive their fork into the pot to get theirs first. When ministry after ministry disintegrates under the weight of abuse, immorality, and compromise. As more and more churches announce that they are giving up on the holy and righteous standards put forth in the Word of God in favor of a more open and affirming stance, removing the reproach of sin without confession or repentance; caving in to the strident demands of a rebellious and prurient culture; days look dark for the church. But, if you have an ear to hear it, if you listen carefully through the din and clamor of angry and impertinent voices, you can hear it, “Samuel. . . . Arise.”
There is a remnant arising that longs to lay down in His Presence, to sleep near the ark of Promise, and to hear the voice of God. There is a generation represented by Samuel whom God will raise up “a faithful priesthood who will do according to what is in My heart and My mind.” I know, because I was with some of them recently; vibrant young men and women who have heard the whispered call of God and have replied, “Speak Lord, I am your servant and I am listening.” They are just children really, but children in whom courses the hot blood of one who has heard the voice of God and have run to Him, who pour over His Word for illumination of His will, who strain at the bridle and who, in God’s time will emerge on the scene to speak with holy anointing to the kings and princes of this culture. I visited with them for the purpose of challenging and encouraging them, but in the process, my own hope was rekindled.
Samuel served Israel and her God for many years, serving as the Lord’s voice in the midst of His people. He raised up and rebuked kings and he gently led Israel from the despair of Ichabod to restoration at Ebenezer. He was a pillar to the obedient and a rod to the rebellious. He feared no man, only God; and his voice caused the mighty to tremble. His spirit is among us. Listen, and you will hear it; the whisper of God calling to His remnant – “Arise.”