Today's Readings: 1 Samuel 3 | Isaiah 49 | Revelation 7-9
Reading 1 - 1Sa 3
"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" (1Sa 3:1).
The word "yakar" (precious) literally means "heavy", and is used of precious stones (1Ki 10:2,10,11). It is also used of the most desirable building stones, such as the "costly stones" of Solomon (1Ki 5:17) and the foundation stone of the Temple mount -- the "precious corner stone" (Isa 28:16) which typifies Jesus Christ (1Pe 2:6; Rom 10:11). The word of the Lord was precious or "rare" (RSV, NIV) because there were "not many visions" (NIV). The earlier pages of Bible history are filled with references to open visions. In the beginning communion between God and man was quite direct: "the Elohim walked in the garden." In the days of Abraham and Jacob, angels appeared relatively often to men, bringing special messages. Angels appeared frequently to Moses also, and the Angel of the Lord's presence led the tribes of Israel in the pillar of fire and cloud. Even in the days of Joshua and the Judges there are references to angels who brought God's word to men. But when we come to the later history -- of Samuel and Kings and Chronicles -- such incidents are few indeed. The times of Samuel are a period of transition. Indeed, God is continuing to speak to His people, but now more so through special human messengers -- the prophets, of which the child Samuel was destined to be one of the greatest.
Is God's word "precious" to us today, who have no open vision whatsoever? Surely it should be esteemed as, if anything, more precious to us than it was to those of Samuel's day -- because we can expect no other means of direct revelation from God than what we may find in the pages of our Bibles. And again, God's word should be precious to us when we realize that today, in many parts of the world, the supply of Bibles is severely limited, and some people desperately seek for even a hand-copied fragment. And all the time our shelves and tables are loaded down with Bibles in half a dozen different versions, each one easier to read and understand than the one before -- if we can find the time to read any of them properly!
We may learn valuable lessons by contemplating what things are considered "precious" by the inspired writers, who knew the mind of God. In addition to His word, the "precious" things of God include:
wisdom and understanding -- "more precious than rubies" (Pro 3:13-18; cp Pro 8:11);
the lips that speak knowledge (Pro 20:15) (for knowledge must not only be possessed; it must be disseminated!);
the thoughts of God (Psa 139:17);
the redemption of our lives (Psa 49:8); and
the blood, or the deaths, of God's saints (Psa 72:14; 116:15).
It may be just as instructive also, with this list in mind, to reflect on the unnamed things -- so many different things! -- that apparently are not nearly so "precious" in the eyes of God.
"Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, 'Here I am.' And he ran to Eli and said, 'Here I am; you called me.' But Eli said, 'I did not call; go back and lie down.' So he went and lay down. Again the LORD called, 'Samuel!' And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, 'Here I am; you called me.' 'My son,' Eli said, 'I did not call; go back and lie down.' Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, 'Here I am; you called me.' Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, 'Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, "Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening." ' So Samuel went and lay down in his place. The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, 'Samuel! Samuel!' Then Samuel said, 'Speak, for your servant is listening' " (vv 4-10).
Perhaps this lovely story of 1Sa 3 may provide the answer to a question which arises in the life of Jesus: How (and when) did Jesus come to know of his Divine parentage? It may be that Mary and Joseph revealed this to him, but then again the Bible does not say so. We do know that Mary very modestly refrained from telling Joseph of the conception of Jesus, waiting instead until God, in His own time, made matters clear. It would be in keeping with her character if she and Joseph likewise refrained from explaining to Jesus who his real father was, knowing that God would choose His own method to explain Himself.
If this were so, then when and how did God tell Jesus? The record is silent; but perhaps the story of the child Samuel provides a key. The similarities between Samuel and Jesus are many: each a special conception, each a holy child, each dedicated by a righteous mother to the service of God. A Bible-directed imagination may supply the rest:
It was night and the child Jesus, now twelve years old, lay down to sleep near the Temple of God in Jerusalem, where he had come with his family to keep the Passover (Luk 2:41,42). That night the Lord called Jesus, and he answered, 'Here I am.' He came to Joseph, who was sleeping nearby: 'Here I am, father; you called me.' But Joseph replied, 'I didn't call; it was only a dream.' And Jesus went to lie down again. The Lord called yet again, 'Jesus!', and again he went to Joseph, only to find that he had not called. A third time the same thing happened. Finally the light dawned for Joseph and Mary, and they knew the source of the calls. 'Go, Jesus, lie down: and it shall be, when the call comes again, you must say, "Speak, Father; for Thy Son heareth." '
Thus, perhaps, in or near the courts of his Father's house, the child Jesus (the same age, 12, as Samuel had been?) followed that voice to his first meeting with his true Father. And thus began that majestic, mysterious communion like no other. Through so many long nights, on mountaintops, by the seaside, and in crowded cities, he spoke with the Father. And Jesus grew, and the Lord was with him, and let none of his words fall to the ground.
Reading 2 - Isa 49:15,16
"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands" (Isa 49:15,16).
A slave was tattooed on his hand with his master's mark (cp Rev 13:16; Exo 13:9; Isa 44:5). Thus, in this figure, God makes himself the "slave" of Israel. By contrast, the ten commandments were engraved in stone -- 2Co 3:7 -- which could be smashed -- and it was. But God's hands can never come to any harm, and on them our names are written... forever!
And then there are the hands of God's SON! "Then he said to Thomas... 'See my hands' " (John 20:27).
An orphaned boy was living with his grandmother when their house caught fire. The grandmother, trying to get upstairs to rescue the boy, perished in the flames. The boy's cries for help were finally answered by a man who climbed an iron drainpipe and came back down with the boy hanging tightly to his neck.
Several weeks later, a public hearing was held to determine who would receive custody of the child. A farmer, a teacher, and the town's wealthiest citizen all gave the reasons they felt they should be chosen to give the boy a home. But as they talked, the lad's eyes remained focused on the floor. Then a stranger walked to the front and slowly took his hands from his pockets, revealing severe scars on them. As the crowd gasped, the boy cried out in recognition. This was the man who had saved his life. His hands had been burned when he climbed the hot pipe. With a leap the boy threw his arms around the man's neck and held on for dear life. The other men silently walked away, leaving the boy and his rescuer alone. Those marred hands had settled the issue.
Many voices are calling for our attention. Among them is the One whose nail-pierced hands remind us that He has rescued us from sin and its deadly consequences. To him belongs our love and devotion.
Reading 3 - Rev 7:14
"These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev 7:14).
"We know from experience that no one is ripe till he has known trouble. He may be good but he is unsympathetic. He may be interesting, but he is not entirely disinterested. There is always a degree of refined selfishness (and sometimes not very refined) about those who have known only pleasure. Trouble, if there be the right stuff to work on, removes the dross of the character, subdues and purifies and refines and ennobles, and makes fit for the kingdom of God. Therefore it is that the community of the glorified saints, as a whole, are described in the Apocalypse as 'those who have come out of great tribulation' " (Robert Roberts, "Seasons of Comfort" 18).