What we read in 1 Samuel 3:1 should sting: “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.” In other words, God was rather quiet, and that quietness was likely related to the sinful corruption of the people in that day, namely, Eli’s sons. We live in a day, however, when God’s Word, in one sense, is abundant.
Many people have several copies of the Bible in their homes, in multiple translations. We have the Scriptures on our smartphones and can access them on a number of free websites. And yet, perhaps we too hold God’s Word in contempt. No, surely not like Eli’s sons—we would never say we despise or reject God’s Word—but by our neglect of it. How many days go by without us cracking open any of the copies of the Bible we have all around us? How often do we nibble on God’s Word rather than feast on it?
We may long for God to break the silence in our lives and world audibly, but our neglect of what He has spoken to us in His Word should cause us to tremble.
What is your plan to spend regular quality time in God’s Word?
Generations before Eli, the Lord had commanded Israelite parents to teach their children about Him and His ways (see Deut. 6:4-9). Not long after, we saw how tragic failing to obey this command could be when an entire generation arose who did not know the Lord (Judg. 2:10). Now we see again, in the case of Eli and his wicked sons, the importance of passing on the faith to the next generation (1 Sam. 2:12).
We are all accountable for our own sin and relationship with God. We cannot blame our parents for our rebellion against God any more than we can credit them for our salvation. Parents play a role, a key role, in our evangelism and discipleship, and yet, we are each accountable for ourselves and will stand before God as such. We are also held accountable in the role God has given us as stewards of the children He has entrusted to us. When Eli was very old, he implored his sons to refrain from their evil actions (vv. 22-25), but it seems he did not understand the gravity of his role in influencing the next generation toward God, such that he was counted guilty along with his sons (v. 29).
If you have children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren, how are you discipling them and pointing them to Jesus? If you do not, whom else might God have placed in your life to care for spiritually?
We are a curious people. We remember for years the most minor of slights against us but are amnesiacs when it comes to remembering God’s graciousness to us even five minutes ago. Perhaps it is because deep down we believe we deserve God’s goodness to us.
Notice, however, how Hannah began her prayer. After leaving her son in the care of Eli, she did not offer up a prayer of lament or a prayer seeking comfort from God. She was no amnesiac. Instead, Hannah rejoiced in the Lord because she did not take God’s goodness for granted. She had not forgotten how God answered her prayer, how He had lifted her up. So now, she lifted Him up. Yes, Hannah also boasted in the victory over her enemies, but even that was not the foundation of her praise—God’s goodness was. Hannah understood that God was just as good when she cradled Samuel in her arms as when she placed him in the care of Eli.
How has God been good to you in recent days? Be as specific as possible and worship Him as He is due.
Hannah had carried the grief of not having a son for years (1:7), which makes it so surprising—shocking would be a better description—when she made good on her vow to dedicate Samuel and leave him to serve God with Eli. We expect her to make such a vow when she was barren; attempting to bargain with God from a place of such weakness would lead most of us to make lofty promises. But when she cradled her son in her arms and nursed him, we can imagine her maternal instincts kicking in to high gear and the rationalizing to begin.
We imagine this because it is what we likely would have done, or have done. Who would fault a mother for keeping her son in spite of a vow? But instead, we see the shocking reality of Hannah following through on her promise and leaving her young son with Eli. Surely this was not easy for Hannah. Surely she wept as she made her lonely journey home, with arms now empty. But what sustained Hannah was knowing God’s goodness to her in providing a son as she had asked, and that same goodness would sustain her as she gave God’s gift back to Him in worship.
What gift from God might you be holding onto instead of giving it back to God in worship? Why?
Few of us are comfortable being vulnerable with others, especially not in public. For most of us, this means hiding or disguising the fear and hurt we feel. We would rather wear a plastic mask presenting the notion that we have our lives together and that we are good, happy even, when in reality our souls are being crushed within us. We don’t want others to see or to know that we are in pain or that we are barely holding on for dear life. To admit the struggle seems rather unspiritual, rather untrusting. And so, we press on with a stiff upper lip, hoping no one catches on to what we are really experiencing.
We can learn much from Hannah here, as she laid her soul bare before the Lord and whoever else happened to be worshiping near her. There was no plastic mask, no stiff upper lip, no façade. Only tears—many tears. Hannah was more concerned with presenting her pain before the Lord than presenting false strength before others. She was feeling crushed in spirit. She was in great need. So she wept.
What we need to realize is that the tears rolling down Hannah’s cheeks were not a sign of weakness but rather strength. Each tear, each sob, and each gasp for breath in between was an evidence of Hannah’s recognition that to be real and transparent before God is what matters. We might fool others, but we will never fool Him, so why try? It does no one any good. Instead, God wants us to be real with Him and with others. When we do, we show how God is able to meet us in our greatest times of need, in our greatest anguish, to provide mercy, grace, love, and comfort. And we show others that they are not alone in their pain and can also cry out to the Lord.
What are some ways you might be wearing a mask before others, or perhaps even before God?
You may read Judges 8, turn up your nose, and think, “That’s how the story of Gideon ends?!?!” Gideon disciplined some Israelite leaders in one city with thorns and briars and killed the men of another city because they refused to help Gideon’s soldiers. He also crafted what became an idol out of the spoils of war. And to top it all off, we see that he had seventy children because he had “many wives” and at least one concubine (Judg. 8:30-31). It’s not the ending we would expect, or pen if we were writing the story. True stories don’t always end the way Hollywood stories end.
But here is what we need to remember: This story is not about Gideon; it’s about God! God delivered the Israelites, and even when they would live in idolatrous disobedience again, He would be ready to forgive them and bring them back to Himself again. That is the essence of this story. That is the essence of the Book of Judges. And that is the essence of the gospel story that runs throughout every page of Scripture. God’s superabundant grace is poured out generously upon His people, most notably through the person and work of Jesus Christ.
What are some seasons of defeat in your life? How can you walk in freedom from the past?
We love transformations. From fixer-upper homes to total body makeovers to restaurant re-dos, we enjoy watching something not-so-great turn into something amazing. Gideon is one of the great transformations in Scripture. From a fearful, hiding thresher to a brave warrior, his story is a favorite in all of Scripture because we see such a drastic change. In Judges 7:15, we discover what led to Gideon’s transformation: “As soon as Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped.” He had heard God’s word, witnessed His powerful presence, and believed the truth. And that brought him to his knees in worship. What we believe—the gospel—matters, and it is designed by God to change us deeply and eternally.
When was the last time you responded to God in spontaneous worship? How can you add more worship of God in your life?
The way God whittled down Gideon’s army was far from random. First, He had Gideon send home all who were afraid. Second, it seems God further narrowed down the army based on who was wiser when it came to drinking water. The remaining force of three hundred men was small in number yet the bravest and wisest of Israel’s army. In much the same way, God has chosen “armies” for each of us—fellow believers to stand shoulder to shoulder with us in life, no matter what may come our way.
Who is in your army? Perhaps it is a parent, who has modeled the humble, sacrificial love of Christ. Perhaps it is a long-term friend who has shown you what faithfulness looks like. Perhaps it is the teacher or pastor who has demonstrated how important it is to understand and live out the gospel. God chose Gideon’s army; He has chosen yours too. And just as with Gideon’s, He knows exactly whom you need in your battles to fight alongside you, encourage you, and speak strength into your heart.
Whom has God placed into your life as your army? When was the last time you thanked Him for them? When was the last time you thanked them for standing faithfully by you?
Though they were God’s chosen people, loved and shepherded by Him, the Israelites were openly worshiping pagan gods. So God instructed Gideon to tear down the altar of Baal and the Asherah pole and build an altar to the one true God in their place. So Gideon did just that—in the dark when nobody could see him. Does that sound like us? We are called to stand for God and point others to the gospel. But sometimes when we have an opportunity to do just that—to speak truth in our culture—we freeze. We don’t know what to say or perhaps how to say it, so we end up saying nothing. As believers, we need to remember that the stand we take for God is not taken alone— the Holy Spirit is with us and empowers us—nor is our stand the first stand God’s people have taken, and it won’t be the last.
How has God positioned you to take a stand for Him in your community? What will you do this week to take such a stand?
The Midianites oppressed the Israelites and made life terrible for God’s people. They attacked them, destroyed their crops, stole their livestock, and laid waste to the land. And because of this, Israel was “brought very low” (v. 6). You might feel like an Israelite today, ambushed and decimated by your enemy. But we must start with the very first verse in this passage: “The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian” (v. 1). When adversity comes, as followers of God, we should seek His face and ask, “Lord, is this chastisement? Are You using this difficult situation right now to pull me back to You?”
Not all pain is God’s discipline for sin, but God’s discipline is often painful. And if what we are experiencing is His loving discipline, we need to know that so we can identify and repent of the sin we have committed, rest in His grace and mercy, and enjoy renewed fellowship with our God. For every sin in our lives, there is forgiveness and restoration and peace. But the first step is allowing our eyes to be opened, seeing the truth that only God can reveal.
Where in your past might God be pointing you to unconfessed sin? What steps can you take to turn away from it and to Christ?