Today’s reading: 1 Samuel 1-7, Psalm 36-37
In the opening chapters of 1 Samuel, we have an opportunity to observe the behavior of two men, Eli and Samuel. It is quite a study in contrasts.
Eli, the old priest, has inherited his position as birthright and seems to disregard the responsibility that comes with it. He demonstrates carelessness and complacency, as well as a lack of discernment or courage. In just a few episodes from his life, we have ample evidence to convince us of his failure to provide the kind of leadership Israel needs. We see him jump to conclusions, misinterpreting Hannah’s behavior in the temple. We find out that he is, at best, out of touch with what is happening under his own watch or, at worst, complicit in his own sons’ outrageous treatment of sacrifices in the temple. We notice his disinterest or lack of attentiveness in the story of Samuel’s call, needing three visits from the boy during the night before he realizes something important might be happening. Finally, we see his poor judgment and spinelessness in allowing the ark of the covenant to be carried off into battle.
Then we have Samuel, the one who seems to understand even as a young boy that his very life itself is gift–a miracle in response to his mother Hannah’s earnest pleading. From childhood, we see him “ministering before the Lord” and growing “in favour with the Lord and with the people.” When God speaks to him as a youth, Samuel is both attentive and responsive. He courageously delivers the hard message he receives from God to Eli, the priest. As he grows up, Samuel steps in to clean up the mess left by Eli and his sons. In the last chapter for today, we witness him first confronting the Israelites, then boldly leading them in a renewed commitment to the LORD their God.
In reading today’s material, I can’t help but think that it sounds like a tale of two pastors. I wish it were not true, but over the years, I have experienced pastors who remind me of Eli–they seem to have absolved themselves of their role as both prophet and priest, failing to take responsibility as the bold leaders that their churches and communities need. On the other hand, I have been inspired by pastors who remind me of Samuel–clear about their call and courageous in pointing others toward God, even when unpopular or risky. Today, I am reminded that I want my ministry to look more like Samuel than Eli.