Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
Some people are ATHEISTS. They are those who deny that there is a god. They think life is just about chance and evolution.
But there are also those who are DEISTS. Deists are those who believe that there is a god who created the universe but he is not involved in the day to day activity of the universe. They see God as kind of like a watchmaker who makes a watch and winds it but then just leaves it to run by itself. So they believe that there is a god but he is somewhere ‘out there’ doing his thing and we are down here doing our thing, and that’s as far as it goes. You may well know many people like this. Their lives are completely unaffected by the god they say they believe exists.
But there are also those who believe that God created the world and now “upholds, directs, disposes, and governs all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least,’ in other words, they believe in the God of providence.
Well, you might be one of those who does not believe in the God of providence. And if so, I pray that what we consider today might help you see that life really only has meaning and purpose and hope when the God of providence is your God.
But if you are one of those who claims to believe in the God of providence, how does that reveal itself when things go well for you, and when things go against you?
Well, today we want to consider the account of Eli and his sons and the man of God and Samuel. And what we are going to see is that all the Articles of our WCoF chapter are all on display, to one degree or another, in this account. And as we see this together, we then want to consider the implications of what we read here for our relationship with the God of providence.
I. So let’s begin by stepping back from the action in these chapters to take in more of a WIDE-ANGLE VIEW OF THE STORY OF THE BIBLE.
A. Way back in Genesis 3, just after sin had come into the world, God came to Adam and Eve and made a promise; He promised them that a child of Eve would one day defeat sin and all its consequences. Well, that promise required a plan. And that plan had in view the first coming of the Lord Jesus and the Second coming of the Lord Jesus. And history is the unfolding of God’s plan so that He can fulfil His promise. And it stands to reason that the unfolding of that plan has to take in every single creature and every single action and every single thing, from the greatest even to the least, as ARTICLE 1 of our WCoF chapter puts it. For God’s promise to come to fulfilment, He must be in sovereign control of absolutely everything! And that includes what we read here in 1 Samuel.
B. So zooming in to our text now, the providence of God was at work in the miraculous birth of Samuel to Hannah, a woman who had been unable to conceive. ARTICLE 3 of our WCoF chapter talks about how God typically uses ordinary means but is “free to work without, above, and against them, at His pleasure.” So without surgery or medicine, God simply made it possible for Hannah to conceive. And there are many similarly astonishing and wonderful miracles recorded in the Bible. And miracles can and do still occur today. Perhaps there are certain things that you have personally encountered for which there is no rational explanation. Well, the God of providence is free to work outside the ‘normal ways’ that things work.
C. Well, the special circumstances of Samuel’s birth gave Hannah the desire to dedicate him to the Lord by having him live and serve at the tabernacle. So let me ask you this question: What brought Samuel to the tabernacle? And you would be right to answer, The desire of Hannah to dedicate him to the Lord. But you would also be right if you answered The providence of the Lord! Look at ARTICLE 2 of our WCoF chapter: There we see God described as the first cause of everything that happens, but that He “orders them to occur according to the nature of second causes.” So Hannah’s decision was a second cause. Ultimately though, it was God, as the first cause, who inclined the heart of Hannah to dedicate Samuel as she did. And so, in every area of life, there are all sorts of second causes. But ultimately, it is God who is the first cause. So let me ask you this: Is that how you think and talk about things that happen? Do you give God and His providence due recognition? Or could it be that because of the modern, scientific, and rational world that we live in, when it comes to the things that go on around about us, we believers probably give more attention or weight to the second causes than we do the first cause?
1. Let me illustrate what I mean: During the US CIVIL WAR, a soldier wrote home to his wife. He said, “My beloved wife, Providence has brought me to this point in my life, and I know not what Providence has in store for me tomorrow. And if it should be according to Providence that I not survive the morrow, I will entrust the care of you and the children to that same benevolent Providence.”
2. How do you think many of us would write that letter today? I think we would discuss military tactics and give our opinion of the general’s decisions, and we would talk about having the will in order and double-checking if the army pension and disability allowance and life insurance payments are up to date. We might want to comfort our wives by explaining how bullet-proof Kevlar vests and night-vision goggles gives us a clear advantage over the enemy. And of course, if we were in the US, we might suggest the possibility of a wrongful death lawsuit, should things go wrong, or compensation for PTSD if we do get home safely…
3. I suggest to you that increased knowledge about how things work brings with it the danger to forget that God is the first cause of everything. And I am not trying to be anti-science or anti-insurance, or anything of that nature. But as part of our witness to an increasingly godless world, if we truly believe that God is the first cause of everything, shouldn’t we be deliberate in how we honour God, as the God of providence, even in how we speak?
D. Well, next we are introduced to the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phineas, who are referred to as “worthless men” in 2:12. Now, we could easily devote a sermon or two to the complex matters we are about to consider. But we shall return to these matters later on as we consider later chapters of the WCoF. So we limit ourselves today to just these comments:
1. The first matter has to do with WHO IS RESPONSIBLE for the wickedness of H&P. And I am sure you can see why this question must be addressed: If God’s providence means that He “upholds, directs, disposes, and governs all creatures, actions, and things…” then are H&P really responsible for the terrible things we read about here?
a. And this question comes into very sharp focus because of what we read in CH 2:23-25. There Eli rebuked his sons and challenged them about their behaviour. And in v25 we read, “But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death.” So it sure seems like H&P never had a chance.
b. But listen to what we read in JAMES 1:13-14 says, “Let no one (which includes H&P) say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”
c. So H&P were not tempted by God; they were lured and enticed by their own desires. What we read in 2:25 is recorded to teach and to protect, if you like, the sovereign providence of God. As ARTICLE 4 of our WCoF chapter says, God’s providence includes “the first fall and all other sins of angels and men … [and not just by allowing it to happen or what the confession calls a] bare permission, but by a permission which has joined to it a most wise and powerful limiting, and otherwise ordering and governing of them … However, the sinfulness comes from the creatures alone and not from God.” God’s providence includes the wickedness of H&P, but it is H&P alone who bear the responsibility for their sin.
2. And this truth is closely connected with the second matter. You see, if God’s providence extends to everything, then that must include SALVATION. And everything we read about H&P in these verses suggests that they will be among those condemned to an eternity in hell. And they alone bear the responsibility for that, as we have seen.
a. And yet, behind this too is the providence of God. ROMANS 9:18 is crystal clear, “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” As ARTICLE 6 of our WCoF chapter spells out, God withholds His grace from some.
3. I am sure you can see why I said that these are complex matters that we could say much more about! What is vitally important to remember though is that what we are talking about here is GOD’S BUSINESS, not ours. Only God knows those whom He has chosen to show mercy to and those whom He has chosen to harden. The message of the gospel though is simple: Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved!
E. Well, as we come to vv22-25, we see that Eli tried, quite feebly, we have to say, to rein in the behaviour of his sons. Boys, come on now. Tut tut! And then, from v27, a ‘MAN OF GOD’ comes to Eli with words of rebuke and punishment. And as a consequence of his failures, the Lord reveals that he is going to strip away the priesthood from Eli’s family and give it to another, and that none of Eli’s family will live into old age. And as a sign to Eli, we see in v34 that he is told that H&P will “die on the same day.” And in ch 4:11, that is exactly what happened as H&P are killed during a battle with the Philistines. Now, just think about this for a moment; think about the great number of circumstances needed to bring about the fulfilment of this prophecy – H&P, conflict with the Philistines, the soldiers who killed them, at the same time, the circumstances around all the other members of Eli’s extended family dying at an early age, the circumstances that bring the other priestly line to prominence… God truly “upholds, directs, disposes, and governs all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least,” as ARTICLE 1 of the WCoF Chapter puts it.
F. But what the words of this account really help us see is what is summarized for us in ARTICLE 7 of our WCoF chapter. For there we are told that while the providence of God reaches to all creatures in a general way, “so, in a very special way, IT CARES FOR HIS CHURCH AND DISPOSES ALL THINGS FOR ITS GOOD.” So we have seen the detail of God’s day to day providence in the life of Hannah and Samuel and Eli and H&P. But now we see that the ‘bigger picture’ of God’s providence for His church is also in plain view here. How so?
1. Well first of all, we read here about a PRIEST of Israel who was a spectacular failure. So clearly a better priest is needed. So look at ch. 2:35, where the Lord says through the man of God, “And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever.” Who is the priest that is ultimately in view here? The Lord Jesus Christ, who is referred to in Hebrews as our “high” and “great priest.”
2. And secondly, our account introduces us to Samuel as the PROPHET of the Lord. And take note of how he is described in 1:26, “The boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favour with the Lord and also with man.” But later on, in 1 Samuel 8, we are going to read this about Samuel, “When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.” So clearly a better prophet than Samuel was needed. So listen to what we read about Jesus in Luke 2:52, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.” And Hebrews 1 explains that while God spoke through the prophets, now He has spoken by His Son, who is “the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word.” Jesus Christ is the God of providence who is the great prophet who speaks words of eternal life!
3. And thirdly, it is in 1 Samuel 8, just after we read about Samuel’s sons being poor judges in Israel that the people of Israel demanded a KING. So there was King Saul, who was the choice of the people, but he was a failure. And then there was King David, who was God’s choice. But as good as David was, he also engaged in adultery and murder. So a better king was needed. And that king is? King Jesus! He is the king the Magi came to worship. He is the king who now lives and reigns on the throne of heaven.
4. So stepping back again to take in the wide-angle view of the story of the Bible, do you see how this account is one part of the wonderful unfolding of God’s plan to bring a Saviour into the world? This account broadcasts a God of providence!
G. If you do, then by way of conclusion, learn something from ELI’S RESPONSE that we read in 3:18. The Lord had revealed to Samuel the terrible judgment that He was about to bring on Eli and his household. And even though Samuel was afraid to tell this to Eli, Eli demanded that he not hide any part of the message. So Samuel told him everything. And Eli said, “IT IS THE LORD. LET HIM DO WHAT SEEMS GOOD TO HIM.”
1. If you have been ticking off the articles of our WCoF chapter as I have mentioned them, you will notice that the only one unmentioned thus far is ARTICLE 5. Well, this response of Eli suggests that he is an example of what we read in Article 5. Article 5 tells us that sometimes God allows His children to encounter the effects of sin in themselves or in others, for a time, in order make them aware of the power of sin, and to “raise them to a closer, more constant dependence upon Himself for their support, to make them more watchful against all future occasions for sinning…”
a. I think we can get a sense of Eli’s pain as he heard the message of the Lord. We can imagine how these words cut deeply into his heart. We can imagine his regret at how his own failings had contributed to this situation. And while we have the rest of the OT and the NT to understand God’s grand plan working itself out in the details of Eli’s life, he did not. Much of this was a profound mystery to him. Nevertheless, Eli believed in the God of providence. Even though there was much that he could not understand, he said, “It is the LORD. Let Him do what seems good to Him.”
I don’t know what circumstances of providence you are in at present:
Perhaps things are going well for you. If so, are you thankful to the God of providence? Or could it be that God is forgotten because He isn’t so needed?
But perhaps things are against you at present, or maybe they have been for a long time. Ill-health, unemployment, depression, family troubles, marriage hurts, church concerns… Are you content? Are you patient? Are you with Eli in saying, “It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good to Him”? You will be only if you know and believe that the God of providence is your God and that nothing can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Amen.