<< 1 Samuel 3: Samuel and Eli >>
“And the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli. And the Word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision. ” And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see; ” And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep; “That the Lord called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I.”-1 SAM.iii. 1-4.
PERHAPS there is no period in the whole career of the Israelitish nation more sad to contemplate than that in which Eli was high priest. His feeble and heedless government suffered the elements of evil and decay to gather on- every hand. It is true that he came to a position sunk in corruption, a land disordered, a people ignorant and degraded; a priesthood droning lazily a drowsy service, offering sacrifices not as offerings of the heart, but as their trade. All was mean, debased, and disorderly. But he made no real effort to stay the impending ruin, to restore that which was decayed, or to stand up for God and right among men. He was false to his vocation, faithless to his duty, permitting his children to mock at virtue, and to ruin the Church it was his supreme duty to preserve. In positions of great dignity and responsibility, neglect is treachery. Eli was a watchman, but he gave no warning. The wreck came, and the slothful heedless captain perished with the ship.
Before we proceed to the especial lessons of our text, it will be useful to notice the inference that presents itself from the statement that “the Word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision.” It would seem to be suggested by that language that open vision had preceded the Word of the Lord, that there had been a time when men consorted with angels, and saw the things of the eternal world.
The invisible world is not distant; it is “only too refined for the coarse observations of natural life. The better world is as it were a soul to this-an inner universe; and when the eyes of our spirits are opened, it is visible all around us. When the Prophet Elisha prayed that his young man’s eyes should be opened, we are informed, “And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kings vi. 17). This was open vision. But when men became corrupt, they attracted to themselves impure and malignant spirits; and to prevent the influence of such spirits becoming all-powerful, Divine Providence veiled the one world from the other; so that spirits generally do not openly see men, nor men spirits, but the intercourse is only that of impulses and hints. There is no open vision.
The Word of the Lord is the teacher now, and it is indeed precious. It replaces all that angels taught, and discloses ever more and more. It contains divine thoughts. It is the ladder of communication on which the angels ascend and descend, and the Lord Himself is above it. The Word of the Lord is the refuge and strength of man, his very present help in trouble. The Word is the well of salvation, where we meet with the Saviour who gives us the living water which springs up to everlasting life. The Word is the soul’s armoury, from which he derives the sword, the shield, the spear, the bow and arrows of his spiritual battle. The Word is the divine table to furnish the soul’s meat and drink. The Word is the meadow on which the flocks of the soul can feed, the pillow on which the shepherd can rest his weary head. The Word is precious for its uses, precious for its fulness, and most precious in that it unites the soul to the infinite Word, the Wisdom of the Lord Himself.
But we must not despise the uses of open vision. When vouchsafed by the Lord, at times whose necessities are observed by a merciful Providence, open vision has been the means of sustaining the faith of men, and restoring the light of immortality to a darkened world. The open visions of the patriarchs and prophets were gleams of glory from the inner world. The open vision of the shepherds of Bethlehem enabled them to see the messenger of heaven, and hear the heavenly multitude who sang to their descending and redeeming Lord, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace; good-will towards men.” The open visions of John unrolled to his prophetic gaze the whole history of the Church of the future; and through superstitions: and, errors, persecutions, degradations, and struggles, its triumphant issue in universal light, love and peace. We must not disbelieve in visions as impossible, or imaginary, nor despise them as unworthy; but take their lessons as a blessing, when “ve have satisfactory evidence that they are truly given by the Lord. Of the decayed Jewish church at a later time it is said, as one of the sad signs of her degeneracy, ” Her prophets also find no vision from the Lord” (Lam. ii. 9). ” There was no open vision.” Of the renewal times and better days of a restored church, we read, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my spirit” (Acts ii. 17, 18).
Let us now turn to the other intimations of the text, and we shall surely be impressed with the graphic portraiture of a church glimmering in a misty gloom, and tottering to its fall.
Of course the description is a literal portraiture of a night-scene at Shiloh. But it was selected and placed in the Word of God, as a picture of the Church at the time, and of the Church as it ever is at the end of a dispensation. The priests are sleepy, their eyes are dim, and they can hardly see. The lamp of God is going out in the temple of the Lord. Just regard the words again, ” Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see; and ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord.” The very words seem all full of drowsiness, dimness, and decay. And nothing could better describe a church nearing its doom. A drowsy priest, dim eyes, and a dying lamp.
Natural life, as compared to spiritual life, is as sleep to wakefulness. The intention of our Heavenly Father is that our existence in this world should be an alternation of natural blessings and spiritual blessings, like sleeping and waking, or night and day. Our duty at present is not to be always engaged on interior and spiritual subjects, but to change from the eagerness with which we pursue heavenly things, to the comparative rest and quiet of everyday life: then again, to awake with new interest to the acquisitions and the joys of interior wisdom and angelic delight. Hence it is written, “So He giveth His beloved sleep” (Ps. cxxvii. 2). The confidence and rest of healthy sleep are images of the inner rest of ‘souls under the protection of the Lord, while the hands are busy with the engagements of daily duty. Such sleep is refreshing. We ought not to be always thinking on the same subjects, however exalted. The outer world of our Lord is His, and is full of beauty, and good, as well as the inner and higher world. We should love it for Him, and seek His wisdom in it. We should be earnest in our duties, as well as delighted to gaze on the angelic mountain. In describing our regeneration, the Lord said, “So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how” (Mark iv. 26, 27).
That is true order, sleeping and waking, using both, and enjoying both. But where a person sleeps too much, when the sleep is unhealthy, and he is hardly ever properly awake; when the sleep is the result of narcotics, and is gloomy, full of horrid dreams; it is then the type of an evil state, a drowsiness to good. The wicked man, who never earnestly awakes to his eternal concerns, is like a pilgrim asleep in a dark valley, stupified by the fumes of the poppy. To such the Apostle cried, ” Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light” (Eph. v. 14). The sleep of Eli represented sleep of this kind, the “sleep of death” (Ps. xiii. 3).
How graphically does the Prophet Isaiah describe a priesthood of this kind. “His watchmen are all blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; SLEEPING,LYING DOWN, LOVING TO SLUMBER. Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, everyone for his gain, from his quarter. Come ye, say they, I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink; and tomorrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant” (lvi. 10-12).
A power-loving and luxurious priesthood are the greatest curse of a church. Their minds are absorbed in their appetites. They are so greedy for gain that they are lynx-eyed for whatever will lead to pelf, but blink like owls at any ray of heavenly light. Their eyes are waxing dim, like Eli’s, and they cannot see. They come at last to love mystery, and pride themselves in the darkness of their dogmas, hoping to keep power from the laity, under the plea of their being privileged guardians of impenetrable secrets, and awful, magical sanctities.
How simple is truth! “Cease to do evil, learn to do well.” “Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with thy God.” How simple is truth! Child of eternal love, live a heavenly life, and you shall go to heaven, Let heaven enter you, and diffuse itself around you here, and you will be prepared for the joys of hereafter. How simple is truth! The Lord Jesus, your Heavenly Father, has given His Word to guide you, read its plain precepts, and practise them. Pray to Him for humility and strength; then walk on the path of life. You will rise as you are true to practice, and the higher you rise, the farther you will see. How simple is truth! Shun every thingthat is forbidden by the Lord, as sin against His Love and Truth and hurtful to your fellow-immortals, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren” (I John iii: 14.) How simple is truth! By living a heavenly life, the saint becomes more and more perfected in its spiritual body; it is an angel in its house on earth, and when the dust is laid aside, having done its work, the angel within goes to its fellow-angels in its house in heaven.
But these truths a corrupted, and benighted priesthood cannot see; their eyes are dim to things really divine.
” Then ceremony leads her bigots forth,
Prepared to fight for trifles of no worth:
“While truths on which eternal things depend,
Find not, or hardly find, a single friend.”
A drowsy, dim priesthood stifle inquiry, dishearten research, warn against seeking to understand the truth. “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, are we!” is their cry, like the condemned priests in the time of Jeremiah. To them religion is a series of mysteries, These mysteries were settled and decided upon ages ago, and you must believe them. You cannot understand them; nobody can. Our eyes are dim, and we cannot see; and you must not think of opening your eyes; you must bow to our authority. O blind leaders of the blind! Step out of the way. Remember Eli! Give way to your Master. The soul needs light. It does not need you, unless you are yourselves lovers of light. You should teach every disciple to pray: “Send out Thy light; and Thy truth; let them lead me; let them bring me unto Thy holy mountain, and to Thy tabernacles.” “Lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.” Away, dull souls! ye are they who will not learn, and cannot teach.
The text continues: “Ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord.” The idea presented is that of a lamp, flickering, sinking, and dying out. The dimness of the eyes of Eli is the type, as we have seen, of the little understanding possessed by the priesthood of a decaying church. The lamp dying out represents the light of the Word almost extinguished in the Church.
A church, however much it has fallen from the truth, and however much it has hidden the light under the bushel of its own unwarranted dogmas, must keep up a professed reverence for the sacred volume. A few passages are believed to be the foundation of their authority; and to sustain that authority among the people, it must be understood to be supported by the word and will of the Almighty. The Word in the Church in such case is like a mysterious treasure, believed in, but seldom seen. Like the beast in the Revelation (xvii. 11), it is, and it is not. For the purposes of power and pelf, it is; for the illumination of the mind and the regeneration of the heart, it is not. For the aggrandizement of the clergy, it is; but for diffusing light in every home, in every soul, it is not. For the authorization of an awful power of benumbing the intellects of men, and scowling at science, it is; but for its own sacred work of diffusing spirit and life, of promoting the glorious liberty of the “children of light,” it is not. And yet IT IS; for where the Word is, though only as a flickering lamp, there is the source of restoration, when the time comes, and the men are there. The Lord knows His own, and in due time He will call them.
Those who can form the centre of a New Dispensation are usually very few, humble people, who are, however, loving, thoughtful, faithful, and obedient. They are usually in Scripture called “a remnant.” Here they are represented by young Samuel. They are the pith of the former church still remaining to give it life, when the lamp of Divine Light is flickering to its death: they are the handful of corn in the bushel of chaff which remains when a blighted harvest is ended; they are the gleaning grapes when the vintage is done. Anna, the prophetess, the aged Simeon, Zacharias, and the Apostles, were such a remnant at the end of the Jewish Church. “Fear not, little flock,” the Lord said, “for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke xii. 32).
Such a remnant is alluded to in the Divine Word in terms so glorious as to form a comfort to humble souls who feel compelled to stand for truth and goodness amidst shallow and unthinking multitudes, The seven thousand who had not bowed their knees to Baal, were the remnant in the days of Elijah (I Kings xix. 18). Indeed at all times of general sensuality and decay it may be said, “Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah (Isa. i. 9). To be one of such a remnant, however despised by proud and haughty formalists, is the truest glory. “The remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward; for out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of Mount Zion: the zeal of the Lord of hosts shall do this” (Isa. xxxvii. 31, 32.) “And the remnant of Jacob shall be “in the midst of many people, as a dew from the Lord, as the showers upon the grass, that tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of men” (Mic. V, 7).
The mission of the remnant. whose hearts are uplifted to the Most High in supreme affection is to bring down holy thoughts like celestial dew. In the inmost of their being, in the tranquil hours of meditation and devotion, the truths of peace descend like the zephyrs of a heavenly atmosphere. They are tranquillized, refreshed, encouraged and strengthened. They feel within themselves the assurances of Divine Love; thoughts of holy trust and glancing brightness fill the soul, like the calm dew of a new morning from the Lord, as the tender showers upon the grass.
Samuel represented such a remnant, especially among the priesthood; the Lord’s voice ever comes to such. They are touched by the divine influence, and awakened. “The Lord called Samuel; and he said, here am I.” In such tender souls as constitute the remnant there is a ready response to the voice of God in the conscience. “Here am I,” is said in a moment. But although they have been aroused by a voice only heard by themselves, touched by an unseen hand, they always at first suppose they owe their new call to the old constituted order of things. Samuel ran to Eli, and supposed it was he who called him. The newly-awakened do not discriminate between the old and the new order of things. They suppose the church is as earnest as they are. They think the grand thoughts which are being unfolded within them, will be welcomed by the authorities, and they will be encouraged and cheered in the glorious visions opening before them. It is not, however, so; Eli had made no call. He had nothing to say, but “I called not, lie down again” (ver. 5.)
Nevertheless, the divine message does not rest; it is given again, and a third time. Still it appeared to Samuel that the call was from Eli. ” He did not yet know the Lord, nor was the Word of the Lord yet revealed to him ” (ver. 7.) It is one thing to know of the Lord, and quite another TO KNOW THE LORD. To know the Lord is a thing of the heart, not of the head. We know the Lord in proportion as we are in sympathy with him. It is a deep and holy experience which comes from warm and inward affections. They who love God know God. “He that loveth not knoweth not Gael, for God is Love” (I John iv. 8).
Those who are to lead great movements in a New Dispensation, know but little of the Divine purposes, or the meaning of the Divine Words. They are only conscious of a yearning after something higher, of a desire to be true to the inward voice that is stirring them up. They demand of their old teachers what they have to say in their wonderful circumstances. All that they can obtain in reply is, “We are compelled to believe for the moment there is something divine in this; wait and be obedient.” Eli said unto Samuel, “Go, lie down; and it shall be, if He call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” Wise advice was this, though it made no difference to the giver of it. How many can give good counsel! how few follow it ! The Samuels, however, hear and do. The name Samuel signifies “PLACED OF GOD.” And those who are placed of God to be the seed of a new kingdom, are always they who pray for the divine guidance, who ask for the leading of Love and Mercy, affecting their minds, and touching their hearts. These are not content with following dull routine, having no convictions, no deep thoughts, no hallowed communings with the Lord in the silent depths of their being. To them the voice of a Divine Guide is a welcome voice; they are ready to follow it. They look around at so much that is “stale, flat, and unprofitable,” that they rise above their prejudices and their fears, and with devout, yet trusting love exclaim: “Speak, Lord; thy servant heareth!”
In the changes and turmoils of to-day; in the indisposition to receive new light; in the confessions of multitudes that their eyes are dim and they cannot see, we may recognise a parallel to the time of Eli. Let us devoutly pray and strive that in the new unfoldings of the Word, and the new manifestations of Divine care from the Saviour God, we may ever preserve that humility of mind which bends down before the Mercy Seat, and says, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.”
Author: Jonathan Bayley— The Divine Wisdom of the Word of God (1892)