Month: April 2015

Samuel: A Trustworthy Prophet

Hannah presenting Samuel to Eli (van den Eeckhardt, 16XX)

Hannah Presenting Samuel to the Priest Eli

“Samuel, Samuel.”

Most readers of the Old Testament are familiar with the story of young Samuel sleeping at the tabernacle, under the care of the priest Eli (1 Sam. 3).  Each time YHWH calls to the boy, he runs to Eli thinking the priest called him.  Only on the third time does Eli figure out that YHWH wants to give Samuel a message.  Eli tells Samuel to say, “Speak, YHWH, for your servant is listening,” which he then does and YHWH delivers his message finally.

Most times when this story is taught, the actual message is ignored, de-emphasized, or forgotten.

Do you remember the content of YHWH’s message? 

It was a brutal one.  God told Samuel that he was going to punish Eli, his family, and his priestly dynasty, basically cutting them off from the priesthood because of the blasphemous behavior of Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas (taking the best portions of the meat for sacrifices and sleeping with the women who served at the tabernacle).

Why speak to the boy and not to the priest directly? 

Good question.  As the narrative is laid out, YHWH had already spoken to Eli via a prophetic man of God a similar message (1 Sam. 2:27-36; because of the language, scholars typically attribute this message to a Deuteronomistic redactor—what do you think?  If so, which one: Dtr1, Dtr2, DtrH, DtrN, or DtrP? A Deuteronomistic school, perhaps?).

To his credit, Eli seemed to know what the message was about.  The next morning he told Samuel to give him the brutal truth, even pronouncing a curse on Samuel: whatever the judgment was in the message it would befall the boy if he wasn’t fully honest.

To his credit, Samuel spoke truth to Eli, telling him everything, hiding nothing.

Why would this message be hard for Samuel to deliver?

Eli was a priest, Samuel was a boy.  Eli was essentially Samuel’s father; he calls the boy “my son” twice in the story (1 Sam. 3:6, 16).  Most of us have a hard time confronting others.  Young Samuel needed to do it to the old man who served as priest and judge for the nation of Israel.  As the boy Samuel became a man, he became known as a “trustworthy prophet of YHWH” (1 Sam. 3:21).

What made Samuel a trustworthy prophet?

Because Samuel was able to speak truth in difficult situations, as YHWH, and even Eli, had taught him.  He rebukes the nation of Israel for idolatry (1 Sam. 7).  He twice rebukes Saul, the man he himself had anointed to be king, first for a premature sacrifice and second for an incomplete slaughter (1 Sam. 13; 15).  He then essentially commits an act of treason, by anointing David as king, while Saul is still on the throne (1 Sam. 16).

We like the story of the boy who heard from God, but we don’t like the part about delivering bad news of judgment for disobedience to people in authority.  Trustworthy prophets, like Samuel, speak truth, even to those over them.

What do you think of Eli, good guy, bad guy?  Does he get a bum rap?  

Image “Hannah Presenting Her Son Samuel to the Priest Eli” by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (c. 1665)

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Jesus Rested in Peace on the Sabbath

According to the Bible, Jesus wasn’t dead for three days.  It was closer to a day and a half, perhaps just over a day.  Which day?  The Sabbath.

Let’s go through it step by step.

“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice…And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last…And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath” (Mark 15:34, 37, 42).

The ninth hour is nine hours past dawn (about 6:00 am), so Jesus died about three on Friday afternoon.  We don’t know exactly when he came back to life, but we do know it was before dawn on Sunday (Mark 16:1-6).  Jesus was dead from Friday at 3:00 to before six am on Sunday.  That’s a lot less than 72 hours (= 24 hours times 3 days), probably between thirty and thirty-six hours.

You might object and say, “But the gospels say Jesus was supposed to be dead three days” (see Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34; 14:58).  Yes, and in the Jewish system of counting, Jesus was dead for three days: the day of Preparation (for 3 hours), the Sabbath (for 24 hours), the day after the Sabbath (for we don’t know how long, but less than twelve hours).  (In the Jewish calendar a new day begins not at midnight, but at dusk, which goes back to creation, “There was evening and there was morning, the first day”; Gen. 1:5.)

In our system of counting, Jesus was dead for a little over a day. 

We celebrate Good Friday to commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion, and Easter Sunday to commemorate his resurrection, but Jesus himself remembered the Sabbath by resting in peace.

In the Jewish calendar, the year of Jubilee was celebrated every fifty years (Lev. 25:8-55), the Sabbath year, every seven years (Lev. 25:1-7), the Passover, every year (Lev. 23:5), but the Sabbath was celebrated, or perhaps we should say remembered, every week (Exo. 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-15).  The Sabbath was supposed to be celebrated 52 times more frequently than the Passover.  The Sabbath was also the only festival mentioned in the Ten Commandments (or as I like to say, the Fourteen Commandments).

Why was Sabbath so important? 

It commemorated two of the most important events of the Old Testament.

According to the Fourteen Commandments, the Sabbath commemorated Creation when God rested on the seventh day (Exo. 20:8-11), and it commemorated Deliverance when God brought his people out of Egyptian enslavement (Deut. 5:12-15).  Whenever the people of Israel rested on the seventh day they were remembering the two most dramatic events in their history, when God displayed his awesome acts of power as Creator and as Deliverer.

Instead of just celebrating Good Friday and Easter Sunday once a year, why not celebrate the Sabbath by resting once a week?  The Sabbath commemorates God’s Creation, Israel’s Deliverance, and Jesus’ Death.

God knows that we need rest, so he commanded us to remember the Sabbath and rest.  For me, I often teach on Sunday morning, so I rest Old Testament-style, from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown.

We live in a world that desperately needs rest.  Let’s follow Jesus’ example and rest in peace on our Sabbath. Just as it did for Jesus, resting on the Sabbath will give you new life.

What are your thoughts on taking a Sabbath?