Accepting Evil Without Question ( Or Action ).
August 9, 2015
1 Samuel 2-3
August 9th, 2015
1 Samuel 2-3
ACCEPTING EVIL WITHOUT QUESTION (OR ACTION)
Today, I want us to think about our own ability to bring about positive change in the world, or in our society, or simply in the life of one individual. Which reminds me of a story.
A woman who had locked her keys and cell phone in the car when she parked at the Pharmacy to pick up some medication for her sick child, was very distraught. She paused for a few minutes and prayed for God to intervene.
A few minutes later, a beater of a car rolled up, and a pretty rough looking character got out and asked if he could help.
She said, "Yes, my daughter is very sick. I stopped to get her some medication and I locked my keys and cell phone in my car. I must get home to her. Is there anything you can do to help me?"
The man said, "Sure". He pulled a flat piece of metal from the back seat of his car, walked over to her car, and opened it with lightening speed.
She hugged the man and through her tears of relief and said, “Thank you so much! You are a very nice man."
The man replied, "Lady, I am not a nice man. I just got out of prison last week for stealing cars.”
The woman hugged the man again and with sobbing tears cried out loud, "Oh, Thank you God! You sent me a professional!"
We may not be a professional, but like the man, we can make a huge difference if we are looking for the right opportunities.
Last time I spoke, I relayed the story of Israel, under the leadership of Joshua, crossing into Canaan in order to settle there. The invasion was only partially successful. Once it was completed, Israel went through a spiritually dark time, the time of the so-called Judges.
The recurring theme that runs through the book of Judges is SIN-EXILE-REPTENTANCE-RESTORATION (SERR). Over and over again the Israelites would start to worship the gods and goddesses of the Canaanites.
They would only turn back to God during a crisis, that is, when they were oppressed by the Philistines or other nations that lived in or around Canaan. At that time a judge would rise up to lead the Israelites in battle against their oppressors and initiate a time of peace.
This merry-go-round lasted for about 400 years.
The two books of the OT we know as 1. and 2. Samuel, are named after a man who was exemplary in his relationship to God. Unlike King David who lapsed into moral failure and vindictiveness, or King Solomon who ended up worshipping the idols of his many wives, Samuel never failed God personally or abused his leadership for personal gain.
As the judge over all Israel prior to the kings, he did not demand tax or payment, he never accepted a bribe, and he was loved and respected because of it.
Samuel, literally, Shemu’el, was born to a married woman named Hannah who was barren and greatly troubled because of it, in part because the second wife of her husband, who had children, made her life a misery.
The name “Samuel” could be a combination of Shem and the shortened form of Elohim. If so, the name would mean “name of God.” However, Samuel could also be a combination of the words Sh’ma and Elohim. If so, the name would mean, “God listens” or “God hears.”
This second meaning is more likely since Hannah said regarding her choice of the name Shemu’el, “because I have asked YHWH for him” (1 Sam 1:20). In other words, I will call my son “God hears” because I asked God for a son and God heard my prayer.
Samuel was dedicated by his mother to full time service to God in the tabernacle at Shiloh, the place in which the arc of the covenant was kept at the time. And so, at age 3, the time when he had been weaned, she brought him to live there permanently under the direction of the high priest, whose name was Eli.
By the way, while Hannah may have lost a son in her home by dedicating him to God and bringing him to Shiloh, but subsequently she had three more sons and two daughters (2:21).
Included on the map are the towns of Shiloh (where a tent of the tabernacle to YHWH housed the arc of the covenant, and the place where Eli, and his two sons, Phineas and Hophni served as priests).
Ramah (the birthplace of Samuel, where he anointed Saul as Israel’s first king, where Samuel lived all of his adult life, where he died, and where he was buried).
Beth’el, Mizpah and Gilgal (the last possibly located near Jericho and the Jordan river), were towns other than Ramah, in which Samuel would sit as judge over Israel, that is, where the Israelites could have their disputes settled).
Mizpah is also very near the place where Samuel and the Israelites won a great battle against the Philistines and where subsequently Samuel set up a big rock he called Eben-hezar, which we know as Ebenezar, and which means, “Rock of help.”
In the area where Samuel spent most of his life, the two furthest points apart are Shiloh and Bethel, about 13 km. That means that he rarely travelled more than a few hours walk from his home.
But let’s get back to Samuel after he was dropped off at Shiloh by his mother under Eli’s tutelage. We first have to understand that not all things were as they should have been at Shiloh. Eli had not only been the main priest at Shiloh, but also was the judge of Israel for 40 years. He had grown old and had relegated his priestly duties to his two grown sons, Phineas and Hophni (Sophni).
2:12 The sons of Eli were worthless men. They didn’t care about YWHW. 13 Usually when someone from the nation sacrificed an animal, and the meat was being cooked, a servant of the priest would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand. 14 The servant would poke the fork into the cauldron or pot, kettle or bowl, and everything that the fork would bring out was the portion for the priest.
But now this is what was done to all the Israelites who came to Shiloh. 15 Even before the fat was burned in the flames, the servant of the priest came and said to the one who brought the sacrifice, “Give me some meat so I can cook it for the priest. He will accept only the raw meat, not the cooked meat.” 16 If the man replied, “The fat has to be rendered first in the flames, then take what your heart desires,” the servant would say, “No, give it to me right now otherwise I will take it by force.” 17 The sin of the young men was very grave in the eyes of YHWH since they treated the sacrifices to YHWH with contempt.
22 Eli had grown very old. He heard of all that his sons were doing to the Israelites, also, that they were sleeping with the women who were staying close to the tent of the tabernacle. 23 He said to them, “Why are you acting in this way? Why do I have to hear from the nation such bad things about you? 24 No, my sons, that which I hear, what is known about you among the people of YHWH is not good. 25 If a person sins against another person, God can judge. But if someone sins against YHWH, who can intercede for him?” But they didn’t hear to the voice of their father…
Because the priests could not grow their own crops, a provision was made in the Law of Moses to make sure they would not starve to death. Only the so-called “burned offering,” had to be totally consumed by flames and the priests received no portion of it. In all other cases, the priests were to receive a portion of the sacrificed animal, for example, the breast and right thigh (Lev 7:28-36), or the shoulder, the cheeks or jowls, and the stomach (Deut 18:3). At times, we aren’t told just how much of the meat the priests were allowed to eat.
What was strictly forbidden to priests was the consumption of blood or any of the fatty areas, such as the tail, the kidney and liver and the fatty membranes that connect the inner organs (Lev 7:3-22-27).
At Shiloh, apparently another system was followed, in which the attendant would stab a fork into a boiling pot full of meat and pull up for the priest whatever stuck to the fork. This in itself was not a problem. But at the insistence of Eli’s sons, the attendants were to choose the best portions prior to the animal being cooked or the fat being burned on the altar.
This they did with everyone who would come to Shiloh to offer sacrifices to God. By demanding that they get their share even before God’s portion was burned, they showed utmost contempt for God, and the threat of violence only compounded their guilt.
Of course, Eli could have put an end to what was happening. We don’t know why he didn’t. Perhaps he himself received the better cuts and could roast his portion instead of having it boiled. That he didn’t lack food could be seen by the fact that he was a very large man (4:18).
Perhaps Eli was more concerned that his sons were able to flourish … that they were successful rather than godly. Whatever the case, a prophet who confronts Eli accuses him of honouring his sons more than God himself (2:29). Even though Eli is warned by a prophet, that if he didn’t put an end to what was happening, God would put an end to Eli’s house, that is, that he and his sons and all his male descendants would die out, Eli does not react.
Ultimately, the actions of the sons of Eli brought about grave negative results, not only for the house of Eli, but for the nation as a whole. God was no longer blessing them or granting them victory in battle.
The greatest foe of the nation at the time of Samuel were the Pelishtim, which we know as the Philistines. The Pelishtim were a sea faring people that came from the countries along the Mediterranean, possibly from Greece or Crete or Egypt, that had settled along the coast line of Canaan and had lived there a relatively short time prior to Israel settling in the high country.
Ironically, the Pelishtim were the reason why Canaan was eventually called Palestine, even though Palestinians are not descendants from the Pelishtim, instead, being the offspring of nomadic Arabs who came from the desert.
Prior to the rise of the Assyrians, the Philistines were Israel’s greatest foe and numerous battles between the two nations are recorded in the Bible. During the time of Samuel, the Philistines are said to consist of 5 city states and the surrounding area.
So in one lost battle against the Philistines, about 4,000 Israelites fell. In the next battle, the ark of the covenant was carried to the battle field by Eli’s sons. The battle was a disaster. Another 30,000 Israeli foot soldiers lost their lives. The ark of God was captured, remained in Philistia for about 7 months and eventually was placed in a border town between the Philistines and Israel called Kiriath-Jearim. It remained there for about 70 years, until it was moved by king David and placed in a tent or tabernacle near Jerusalem.
In direct contrast to Eli’s sons stood Samuel. While not of the tribe of Levi (instead being from the tribe of Ephraim), and thus not able to be a priest himself, Eli must have taught him to love and follow God, and also how to be a good judge.
2:21 But the boy Samuel grew up with YHWH. … 26 He grew up and grew in favour with YHWH and also with the people. … 3:1 The young Samuel did his service to YHWH under the watch of Eli. … 19 Samuel grew up and YHWH was with him and all of Samuel’s predictions were fulfilled. 20 All Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, recognized that Samuel was validated as a prophet of YHWH.
As I said, Samuel grew up to become the best judge and prophet that Israel could possibly wish for. He was responsible for putting an end to idol worship in his day (cf. 7:2-6). But as Samuel grew older, he too had a blind eye toward the actions of his own sons.
8:1 When Samuel had grown old, he appointed his sons as judges over Israel. 2 His firstborn was named Joel, his second born, Abijah. They were judges in Beersheba. 3 His sons did not follow in Samuel’s ways but were out only for their own interests. They could be bribed and so perverted justice. 4 For this reason, the elders of Israel got together and went to see Samuel in Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old now and your sons are not following your ways. Therefore place a king over us as is the case among all other nations.”
Samuel was upset and felt personally rejected by their request. He also recognized that the peoples’ request was a rejection of God as their king. Lastly, he warned the nation, that having a king will be a very costly affair, with sons being conscripted into the army, women assigned to do the chores for the king, the men being forced to plow and harvest the king’s fields, the best of the land being confiscated by the king for his own purposes, and on top of that, a heavy tax burden would be placed on the people in order to enrich the king and his court and pay for everything a king could desire. Yet despite this, they still wanted a king to rule over them, to lead them into battle, and … to be a just judge for them – unlike the sons of Samuel, Joel and Abijah.
Samuel could have and should have done something about his own sons before it got to this point. As much as it was possible for Eli to replace his sons with godly priests, so Samuel could have replaced his own sons with just judges. And, as with Eli, we do not know why he didn’t do so. But as a result, the nation desired a king to rule and judge them, which ultimately led to a kingdom that would split within 120 years, and eventually to each half being destroyed by whatever empire was most powerful at the time.
As much as Eli blessed the nation by performing sacrifices before the ark of the covenant as priest in Shiloh and teaching Samuel to love and honour God, and as much as Samuel did to bless Israel as judge and prophet, both men ultimately failed God and the nation when they placed their own corrupt sons in positions of authority and did nothing to depose them when they had the chance.
They accepted this evil, despite the fact that they could have done something about it.
As I thought about these two men, I couldn’t help but think about the famous quote by Edmund Burke, a British politician from the 1700’s.
The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.
So on the one hand, there are evils against which we can speak out or even do something about, that we often don’t … not because we can’t, but because we are lethargic, or because we don’t really care enough, or, most likely, because it will take us out of our comfort zone in one way or another.
The question is whether we have a moral or religious obligation to do otherwise, to actually try to change a bad situation or to alleviate an evil if it is in our power to do so?
I think the answer is a definite, “YES.”
If we simply remain inactive when we can help out, or support those who are making a difference, I think God will hold us to account.
Anyone, who knows the good that he ought to do but doesn’t do it, sins. James 4:17
I tell you the truth, whatever you have not done for one of the least of these, you failed to do for me.
This second passage is from the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25. According to Jesus, the punishment for not caring or turning away is eternal separation from God (25:46 “eternal punishment”).
That may seem rather harsh, but another way of putting it, is that faith without works is dead, or another way, that if we, you and I, are not concerned about personally helping to alleviate the suffering and death that can be found all around the world - living relatively comfortably while others are dying of easily preventable diseases – then there has to be something wrong with our faith.
Obviously we cannot do something about every issues.
However, God may have given us, gifted us, with some innate concern about something. It could be child labour, human trafficking, AIDS, huge number of deaths due to malaria, lack of education, suffering of the elderly, animal abuse, the destruction of the environment, homelessness, domestic violence, habitat destruction, global warming, injustice, world hunger, the sick, the dying, hunting animals at the brink of extinction, … or another of a host of issues that are plaguing the world and our world.
Just as an aside, the man in the picture who killed the rhino is the same dentist from Minnesota who shot Cecil the lion in early July. Some people just don’t care. Reminds me of a story.
One beautiful autumn day, a Park Ranger discovered a man at his campsite roasting a bald eagle over his campfire.
He took the man into custody, along with the evidence and soon the man was charged with killing a protected species.
During the trial, the man defended his actions by stating that he did not know what kind of bird he had killed, and that he would have starved to death had he not eaten the bird.
The judge was sympathetic to his plight, but just prior to pronouncing the judgment, he asked the man,
"I would like you to tell me something before I let you go. I have never eaten a bald eagle, nor ever plan on it. But I'd like to know: What did it taste like?"
The man answered, "Well, it kinda tasted like a cross between a Peregrine Falcon and a Spotted Owl."
I personally see nothing wrong with hunting for food, but trophy hunting, especially of species that are already in decline or endangered, I find abhorrent.
Yet even if we have a deep concern over an issue, we still may not do anything about it, even when it is within our means to do so. We leave it up to others, to non-profit organizations, to charities, or worse, to politicians.
But we don’t even think to supporting organizations that really do make a difference. Why? For one, we may be concerned over the potential loss in our standard of living. I personally think, the greatest barrier is because we would need to change our self-orientated approach to life.
We are held accountable for the evil we allow to flourish because of our inactivity. And the greatest witness to the truth and reality of our faith is when we actively are involved in changing things for better when it is in our power to do so.
And yes, there will be cases when we will be taken advantage of. But it seems worth the risk (man putting a quarter jar in a laundromat).
Two beggars are sitting on a park bench in Ireland. One is holding a cross and the other a Star of David. Both are holding hats to collect contributions. People walk by, lift their noses at the man with the Star of David and drop money into the hat of the man with the cross. Soon, the hat of the man with the cross is filled and the hat of the man with the Star of David is empty.
A priest watches for a while and then approaches the men. He says to the man with the Star of David, "Don't you realize that this is a Catholic country? You'll never get any contributions holding a Star of David."
The man turns to the one with the cross and says, "Moishe, can you imagine, this goy is trying to tell us how to run our business?"
So there is this rather stupid social alcohol chugging game called NekNomination, where an individual chugs a huge amount of alcohol, records it, and posts it on a social network site with a challenge to two or three of his friends to outdo him within 24 hours.
NekNomination originated in Australia, but became popular after a rugby player in England posted his challenge in December 2013. At least five deaths have been linked to the game. But within weeks it continued to spread internationally, including to South Africa and Canada.
I wanted to show you a South African who decided to redirect NekNomination into something a lot more positive.
Last year, this video also inspired a Canadian university student by the name of Josh Stern to do something very similar. He called it Feed the Deed, that is, he recorded himself doing a good deed and then challenge two friends to also do a good deed within the next 24 hours.
A facebook page that is linked to Feed the Deed is called Kindness Counts. On it are all kinds of stories about how people are showing kindness to others. Just reading through it and watching some of the videos was pretty inspiring. Here is one of them:
The oft repeated refrain of the song, “If you get a little love you can give a little love of your own,” indicates the power that kindness has when it is acknowledged … it might actually motivate the recipient or someone witnessing it to pass that kindness forward.
Jesus’ teaching regarding the two most important commandments in the Mosaic Law, loving God more than anything else, and, just as importantly, loving our neighbour as ourselves, is reflected in this video. Jesus also put it another way:
Love your neighbour as yourself. Mark 12:31
In everything, do for others what you would want them to do for you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12
The summation of God’s will for our lives. Paul writes of doing the good that we were place on this earth to do.
The most powerful way to deal with evil in the world is by doing and encouraging good in whatever way possible.
So here is my challenge to you and me:
THIS coming week …
… I will go out of my way ONE TIME …
… to be kind to someone else.
So individually that might not seem like much. But let’s not underestimate the impact it may have on the individual.
I would love all Christians of every church on the Saanich Peninsula to think about doing just one act of kindness once a week throughout the year. I think that would have the potential of changing the tenor of our society.
 According to an article by David Suzuki, Cecil was likely baited so he would leave the national park where he lived. He was wounded with an arrow first, then tracked for 40 hours before being shot dead with a rifle. That dentist paid an alleged $ 55,000 US for the privilege of killing Cecil.