As we continue to look at stories in the Bible that may have something to teach us during this trying time, we are going to look at the story of Samuel from the Old Testament. You may be familiar with some of Samuel’s story, his story follows the time of the Judges and he ultimately anoints Israel’s first king, Saul and King David.
However, I want to zero in on a specific story that happens when Samuel is very young, probably around the age of twelve or thirteen. Samuel’s mother had made a promise to God that if he were to give her a son, she would ‘return’ him to the Lord. Indeed, she did have a son (Samuel) and at a young age he was brought to work and learn from the priest Eli. When this story takes place, Samuel has probably been working for and learning from Eli for almost ten years.
Samuel 3:1 – 10
“The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.
One night Eli, who eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.
Samuel answered, ‘Here I am.’ And he ran to Eli and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.’
But Eli said, ‘I did not call; go back and lie down.’ So he went and lay down.
Again the Lord called, ‘Samuel!’ And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.’
‘My son,’ Eli said, ‘I did not call; go back and lie down.’
Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
A third time the Lord called, ‘Samuel!’ And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.’
Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, ‘Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ Then Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’”
Samuel was probably around the age of a middle school student when this happens. He was young and it is obvious that he’s a little bit thrown off by the circumstances. Remember, this is not his home and he doesn’t know who is calling him. He’s a bit lost and confused by everything. It takes him three times and the guidance of Eli to figure out that it is the Lord that is calling him.
I think we all feel a bit lost and confused by everything we are experiencing right now; global pandemic, online home school, not being allowed to leave our house, etc. For lack of a better term our ‘normal’ lives have been thrown off course.
I wonder if God is trying to speak to us in a unique way during this time. In the passage above it mentions that ‘In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions’. That sentence resonates right now because it’s hard for some to see God at work right now, you could even use the word ‘rare’.
What if we, like Samuel, are just a bit lost and confused and it may take three times and some advice to see God during this time? However, I can assure you that he is here! Maybe we’re just not catching it. Maybe we are experiencing God and think that it is Eli. What I mean by that is, maybe we are experiencing God and we just don’t know it’s him.
This week I want you to take a moment and think of your unique, confusing life that’s been thrown off course a little bit. Where can you see God at work in your life? Where can you see God at work in the world? How has your new reality hindered or helped you experience God on a day to day basis? He is still there, calling out our name, maybe we’re just looking in the wrong places to find him.
Questions for discussion or contemplation:
When reading the Bible there are often sections or entire books that we skip over. For whatever reason we don’t read them or pay much attention to them. I think this is true for a lot of us with Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. We know the stories of Genesis and the Exodus. Often, from here, we skip right to Joshua. It makes sense a little bit because we’ve convinced ourselves that those three books in between are just old laws and lists of people. However, there are some stories in those books, one in particular that I wanted to write about today.
The story is about a man named Balaam, and it happens in Numbers chapter 22. To give you a little context, this happens during the Israelites' forty years of wandering after leaving Egypt. They were constantly at war with different enemies because they were reclaiming the land that God had promised them.
They had just defeated the Amorites and were marching towards Moab. The king of Moab is terrified because he does not believe he can win a war against the Israelites. So what do you do if you’re the king of Moab and you’re about to fight a war you don’t think you can win? Well, the obvious answer is to summon a sorcerer to put a curse on your enemy. You may think I’m joking but that’s what the king does, he summons Balaam (who is a sorcerer, diviner, magician) to put a curse on the Israelites.
Balaam is no ordinary sorcerer. He is internationally known and famous. He is the best of the best when it comes to sorcery. He also doesn’t live in Moab so the King sends messengers to Balaam to have him curse the Israelites. After the messengers explain the situation to Balaam he tells them to spend the night and he will give them an answer in the morning. That night God comes to Balaam and tells him not to go with these men and curse Israel, which then Balaam tells the messengers in the morning.
You can imagine the King of Moab is not happy about this. So he sends more distinguished messengers (and probably more money) back to Balaam. This time God tells him to go but do only do what God tells him, meaning that he can go to Moab but don’t curse the Israelites.
The next morning Balaam gets on his donkey and begins the trip to Moab. God now becomes angry because Balaam has it in his mind that he now WILL curse the Israelites. He sends an angel to stand in the road to oppose him. At this point only the donkey can see the angel and it turns off the road into a field. Balaam beats the donkey to get it back on the road.
Then the angel stood in a narrow path of a vineyard with walls on both sides. The donkey again sees this and presses up against the wall which crushes Balaam’s foot. So naturally he beats it again to get it moving.
The angel finally moves ahead and stands in a narrow place where there is no room to turn. The donkey sees the angel again and lies down in the path because there is nowhere to go. Balaam is furious now and starts to beat the donkey.
Here’s where to fun starts. Numbers chapter 22:28 says “Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth and it said to Balaam, ‘What have I don’t to you to make you beat me three time?’” That’s right everyone, there’s a talking donkey in the Bible. It’s at this point that Balaam’s eyes are open and he too see the Angel. He realizes that God knows what he is thinking and that he is wrong. He falls down and apologizes and promises to now only say what God tells him to say.
That is the story of Balaam. A fun story that often gets overlooked in the Bible, but what does it have to do with us? Is there anything we can learn from a story about a magician and a talking donkey? I would argue that there is. Plain and simple God is trying to tell Balaam ‘No’. He sends his angel three times and even opens the mouth of a donkey for Balaam to ‘get it’.
We often think in terms of ‘what is God trying to tell me here’, or ‘what does God want me to do’. Have you ever thought in these terms, ‘is God trying to tell me no about something?’ Maybe it’s 'no' to a temptation. Maybe it’s 'no' to an unhealthy relationship. Maybe it’s 'no' to something else.
We are all spending more time at home and in isolation these past few weeks. Chances are your ‘screen’ time is going up as well. Are you developing any unhealthy habits that God might be saying ‘no’ to? We all need phones, computers, and other devices to stay in touch and do school work right now and there’s nothing inherently wrong with technology. However, I wonder if during our new temporary reality, we develop new habits that God might be saying ‘no’ to.
Questions for discussion/contemplation:
What am I doing here? It's probably a question you're asking yourself lately. Why am I at home? Why can't I see my friends? You may even get to the point to ask 'When can I go back to school?'.
Reality and life seem to be ever changing right now, but your questions (although unique for our time) are not new over the course of history. You probably know the name and book Ezekiel from the Bible. He ministry and message was to people who were asking similar questions.
To give you an idea of when and where Ezekiel was written, here's a little backstory:
After the time of David and Solomon the kingdom of Israel split into the northern kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. In 722 BC the Assyrian empire conquered and destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel. So now there is only the southern kingdom of Judah left of David's old kingdom.
In 605 BC Nebuchadnezzar (from Babylon) has overtaken the Assyrians and Egypt for control of the Middle East. He lays seize to Jerusalem (in the southern kingdom) in 597 BC and exiles about 10,000 Jews (including Ezekiel) to Babylon. After eleven more years of fighting, the city of Jerusalem was breached and plundered. On August 14, 586 BC, the city and the temple were burned.
As mentioned, Ezekiel is one of the 10,000 Jews that was taken from his home and exiled to Babylon. He was a member of a priestly family (so if he wasn’t exiled, and if there wasn’t a war) he probably would have been a priest in the Temple of Jerusalem. This is someone whose plans and future were drastically changed through no choice of his own. What he thought his future would be and what actually came to pass were two very different things. Sound familiar?
Just like your life right now. You didn't plan on being home from school in mid-March, you didn't plan on being isolated to your house, you didn't plan on being 'here' right now; but you are. Through no choice of your own, this is your reality right now.
Ezekiel is God's messenger to the Jews in exile in Babylon. His book has three main sections:
Chapters 1 - 24: Recall that Ezekiel was taken from his home in 597 BC but Jerusalem was not destroyed until 586 BC. So we have this eleven year period that the Jews in exile still have hope that Judah would win the war against Babylon, meaning they could return home. Ezekiel however has another message for them. Their only hope is that God is with them and that they should live at peace with themselves and God during their exile. Sound familiar? Exile and isolation are not the same thing but they can feel similar. My guess is a lot of Jews were asking those same questions; 'what am I doing here?', 'when can I go back?', that we all are right now. Ezekiel's message to them is to be at peace with God where you are right now.
Chapters 25 - 32: Jerusalem has now fallen and the Jews are in mourning. They no longer have a home to go back to. God tells Ezekiel that he must be an example for others not to mourn for Jerusalem. Just because their home was now gone did not mean their hope in God needed to be gone too. They wanted to return home, to 'normal'. That was not going to happen now. We don't know what kind of lives we will be returning to when this is all said and done. What Ezekiel is telling us is that even when our lives change, our hope in God does not need to too.
Chapters 33-48: Once news was received that Jerusalem had fallen, Ezekiel's message turns to the Lord's consoling word of hope for his people. They would experience revival, restoration, and a glorious future as the redeemed and perfect kingdom of God. We don't know what the future holds for us, but we do know that we are redeemed in God and that he does have a future for us.
The book of Ezekiel can seem kind of rough, but remember what Carly said in the video. She hoped that none of her students ever have to identify with the book. It is God’s promise and commitment to his people during times of trauma, upheaval, and disorder. Ezekiel was literally taken from his home; his future plans crushed, and had no future hope. In that space God comes in and offers hope. He reassures Ezekiel and the exiled Jews that he is still their God and will not abandon them.
I think this is the main message we can take from Ezekiel and apply to our lives. We all will experience times of trauma, upheaval, and disorder in our lives. During those times it is often hard to see God at work. We will probably not be ripped from our homes as Ezekiel was, in fact the opposite has come to pass. Most of us are stuck in our homes.
Whatever it is, the book of Ezekiel is there to remind us that in the midst of all of that, God continues to love us and offer us hope. It’s hard to see sometimes, in fact, that’s why God called Ezekiel in the first place.
Questions to discuss or contemplate: