A Bottomless Pit

Nathan George, Speaker

1 Samuel 2:12-36 | June 13, 2021 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
June 13, 2021
A Bottomless Pit | 1 Samuel 2:12-36
Nathan George, Speaker

Well, it seems that the last few passages that I have preached from have been heavy. This is no exception. It’s a little intense. It deals with rebellion and contempt and immorality and judgment, and yet there is also a thread of God’s kindness and hope. I pray that we will be able to see both, that we will be convicted and encouraged.

This chapter presents us with contrast, some striking contrasts. There’s contrast between taking and serving, between cursing and blessing, worship and self-gratifying immorality, between faithless priests and a promised faithful priest. At first glance, this could most obviously be applied to the leaders the church, which is actually quite fitting since we have an ordination and installation in just a few minutes.

But as you will see, I think it touches all of us, and we need the meal that this passage has for us.

So if you would, please turn to 1 Samuel, chapter 2, and we’re actually going to pick it up at verse 11. I don’t often approach a sermon like I will this morning, but today the way I’m going to do this is read and then stop quite a few times along the way as we go through the passage, so you’ll want to keep your Bibles open, ’cause we’ll be talking and then reading and then talking and reading, and if you have your Bibles starting at verse 11, and the story picks up just after Hannah sings her song, a Magnificat of sorts.

Verse 11.

“Then Elkanah went home to Ramah. And the boy was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli the priest.”

It’s that wonderful? Aren’t you just, parents, aren’t you just, just so glad when your child gets a job in the church? Oh, good, he’ll be working around good folks. And then you get to see how the sausage is made. [laughter]

“Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord.”

They didn’t regard the Lord. They didn’t look to Him. They didn’t consider Him. They had no working relationship with their Creator and proved that every man was walking according to what was right in his own eyes.

Verse 13.

“The custom of the priests with the people was that when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come, while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand.”

Well, first of all, notice that the priests had their henchmen do the deed: “You go out there and you do the stealing.” But they didn’t send them with just like one little shish kebab stick, not a two-pronged fork, but a three-pronged fork. The better it is to steal more of your food, my dear.

And then they “would thrust it into the pan or kettle or cauldron or pot.”
It didn’t matter what they were cooking in, they were going to get some.

“All that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is what they did at Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there. Moreover, before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, “Give meat for the priest to roast, for he will not accept boiled meat from you but only raw.” And if the man said to him, “Let them burn the fat first, and then take as much as you wish…”

We’ll finish that sentence in a moment, but just notice, the henchman would come and then the people would remind him, “No, no, the Levitical saw says we do it differently.” He said, “No, the priests want what they want,” and they wanted the best fat portions raw.

I couldn’t help but think of another Lord of the Rings example, when Samwise Gamgee asks Gollum to try his nicely seasoned, cooked food, and he says, “Even you couldn’t say no to that,” and Gollum says, “Oh, yes, we could spoiling nice fish. Give it to us raw and wriggling.”

They simply didn’t care. They would say, “No, give it to us now, and if now I will take it by force.”

Verse 17. “Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt.”

They didn’t care. They were taking when they should have been serving. And now we start to see the scenes shift. We’ll see this flip-flopping throughout the passage.

Verse 18.

“Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy clothed with a linen ephod.”

The priests were covered in their fat, and the boy was clothed in a priestly robe. And here you have the first hint of the priestly role being jerked away, stolen away from Eli’s house, from Aaron’s house, and given to a newcomer, a young boy, that was given as a sacrifice. So the priests were taking and this young boy was given. Eli’s sons were taking, Hannah’s son was given.

Verse 19.

“And his mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.”

That’s kind of a beautiful and poignant little scene, a change of scenes once again. We see the mother’s love and care. Have you bought pants for your growing kids and then one week later they’re too short? Well, one year later, I’m sure that Hannah provided a robe that you would sort of throw over your shoulders and tie, it was long enough to cover the knees and maybe the ankles, I don’t know how, well, in Leviticus, I think it goes down to the ankles, and then later on the would be wearing high-waters.

So the next year momma would come and provide him with a new one. You see the mother’s love. I wonder if Samuel ever thought, “This year it’s Legos!” [laughter] And out come the Christmas socks and sweaters again.

Just notice that even as she provides clothes, she is faithfully fulfilling her promise, to give her son. She’s still sacrificing, still steadfastly encouraging her son to know his purpose before the Lord.

Verse 10.

“Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the Lord give you children by this woman for the petition she asked of the Lord.” So then they would return to their home.”

As one commentary put it, this is typical, or as we might say, vintage Yahweh. No sacrifice ever seems to impoverish the servants of Yahweh.

Remember what Peter said to Jesus in Mark, chapter 10. He said, “‘See, we have left everything and followed You,’ and Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for My sake and for the Gospel who will not receive a hundredfold.'”

So many lessons we could draw out from this sacrifice that Hannah made.

Verse 21.

“Indeed the Lord visited Hannah, and she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. And the boy Samuel grew in the presence of the Lord.”

She got five for one. Pretty good deal. But just note the picture. Like mother, like son. The faithfulness of the mother, the faithfulness of Samuel, leads to them being established, and now we have the contrasting theme, the dark theme rising again in this little movie, and it’s time to notice that it’s like father, like sons.

Verse 22.

“Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting. And he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all these people. No, my sons; it is no good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading abroad. If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?””

Well, if we stopped right there, we might get the picture that Derek was wrong last week and Eli’s actually a pretty good guy. But the passage keeps going. If we see that Eli was truly grieved, we might think all right, good, he’s being a good dad. Plus, he gets some theology right, doesn’t he? He knows that we need a mediator. He knows that he Lord is the only mediator, and if the Lord’s out of the picture, we’re in a big fix. Perhaps Eli was grieved, but as we will see shortly, he was not grieved to the point of really doing much about it. Continuing on with that verse.

“But they,” the sons, “would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death.

We’re going to save that little snippet for a little later. And now we have a very brief change of scenes. Verse 26.

“Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with man.”

Isn’t the contrast between the scenes very easy to see? Eli’s sons were continuing to grow in contempt and bad reputation with God and man, their public reputation was plummeting, their numbers were off, but Samuel was the opposite. Like Jesus, he grew in favor with God and man.

And now back to the difficult story.

Verse 27.

“And there came a man,” seemingly out of nowhere, of God,” a man of God, “to Eli and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Did I indeed reveal Myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt subject to the house of Pharaoh? Did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to My altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before Me?”

Of course, these are all rhetorical questions, right? Eli knows the answer to these questions. And the prophet continues.

“I gave to the house of your father all My offerings by fire from the people of Israel. Why then do you scorn My sacrifices and My offerings that I commanded for My dwelling, and honor your sons above Me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of My people Israel?’”

What’s missing from that rebuke? Did you notice the prophet didn’t bring up the sons’ sleeping with the women at the entrance? First of all, the prophet of God, and therefore God, is concerned that worship, worship is kept. Did you notice that the prophet was also accusing Eli of this? He didn’t come out of the gate pointing towards immorality, he came out of the gate saying, “You’re not worshiping Me. You’re treating me with contempt, you and your sons.”

But didn’t it look like it’s the sons that’s the problem? Why Eli? Well, maybe Eli wasn’t sleeping around and he wasn’t copying pagan temple worship prostitution like the other nations, but as we learn in chapter 3, he really, really liked those fatty portions of food and he had grown in girth and he was used to his comfort. It’s as if he said to his sons, “Hey, guys, could you just maybe not sleep around? You’re giving us a bad name. We might have to start a publicity campaign here if you don’t watch it. You’ve got to be careful, or else my steady supply of filet mignon might dry up.”

It’s not as if sexual immorality is not a big deal, but the bigger deal was that they had no regard for the Lord. No concern for true worship. No care for honoring the Lord. No care for their sin. No felt need to repent. No concern for their souls, only for their bellies.

And the prophet includes Eli. He had grown fat by honoring his sons with every tasty morsel he would savor in his mouth. His desire for the pleasures of this world had become an open grave, an open sepulcher, a bottomless pit that could not be satiated. He could even sort of turn a blind eye. Yes, he said, “Hey, could you stop, but you don’t have to stop stealing and bringing me food.”

Therefore, verse 30.

“Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that your house and the house of your father should go in and out before Me forever,’ but now declares the Lord: ‘Far be it from Me, for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed. Behold, the days are coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house. Then in distress you will look with envious eye on all the prosperity that shall be bestowed on Israel, and there shall not be an old man in your house forever. The only one of you whom I shall not cut off from my altar shall be spared to weep his eyes out to grieve his heart, and all the descendants of your house shall die by the sword of men. And this that shall come upon your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you: both of them shall die on the same day.”

Oooph. Remember that we said the faithfulness of the son and the mother leads to being established and now we clearly have the faithlessness of the sons, or the sons and the mother, now the sons and the father, leads to rejection.

Note that here the Lord’s promise, the one that He referenced as past tense, the Lord’s promise was conditional. Many of the Lord’s promises are conditional. If you are faithful, if you believe, if… You see, there is no unconditional promise that just because you’re a human you’re headed to heaven. The promise of the privilege of going in and out before the Lord, that is being in the King’s presence, that is worshiping and serving the Lord, that is being in His presence forever, was dependent upon honoring Him.

You can’t keep serving the King if you express contempt for Him. You can’t keep serving the President if you publicly decry his policies. You can’t be a part of the Lord’s family if you continually express disdain and disregard for His body, His temple. He’s going to replace you.

So let me ask you a question. Do you trust in the Lord, in Christ, or do you trust in your family heritage? That’s part of my testimony. In my 20s I realized I trust that I was born into the priesthood. My father’s a pastor, my grandfather’s a pastor, my great-grand, my great-great grandfather worked in the church, all the way back to Thomas Chalmers. I’m good. And then in my 20s I was hit with my sin. I can’t trust in my family heritage. There is no promise that just because your father, grandmother, or your sweet aunt was a Christian that you’re safe, that you have your fire insurance.

Let me ask this another way: Do you trust in your church heritage? There is no promise that just because you’re in the PCA and you love the preaching of Harry Reid or Mike Ross or Kevin DeYoung, that you are safe, that you’ll be skating through the pearly gates.

The Lord looks to see if any of the sons of man will honor Him. 2 Chronicles puts it this way: “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless before Him.”

If He does not find it, the implication is clear.

So now He promises to rip the privilege of serving in the temple away from the house of Aaron and Eli.

And finally we come to verse 35. Verse 35.

“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.”

This is a great promise, and we’re going to come back to this verse as well. But just first, the final judgment to Eli.

“And everyone who is left in your house,” verse 36, “shall come to implore him for a piece of silver or a loaf of bread and shall say, “Please put me in one of the priests’ places, that I may eat a morsel of bread.””

Please, just give me a menial or a mundane job within the house of God. No longer will they be bobbing for apples or stabbing for raw meat. They’ll just be begging for bread.

All right. I said I would come back to two points, and I have two more to add to that, so four quick lessons, which I hope will pull this passage together for us.

Number one: Heed the Lord’s warnings.

Number two: God is at work even if you don’t see it. It’s wonderfully encouraging.

Number three: The priesthood of all believers, we’ll look at that, there’s a slight hint toward that there.

And number four: The faithful priest is promised.

So number one, heed the Lord’s warnings. Well, that phrase, I think one of the most difficult phrases in this passage, is “it was the Lord’s will to put them to death.” If that’s not uncomfortable, I don’t know what is. Clearly it’s contrasted with the Lord’s will to raise up a new and better prophet and priest.

One commentary connects this with Pharaoh. You remember how Pharaoh hardened his heart, but we also learned in that passage that the Lord was hardening Pharaoh’s heart as well. Who can understand the way the heart works? These two passages are just living examples of Romans chapter 1, verse 24. You see, if someone knows the truth and then continues in overt rebellion, his mind, his soul, his being is in danger of being given over to that sin, the sin of perhaps that empty abyss of self-worship.

It might be tempting to just understand, okay, how do the mechanics work? How does the Lord do that and we do that? How does that work? It also might be tempting to just be curious and say, okay, or maybe it’s even tempting to get accusatory: “Well, what is this stuff? The Lord’s will to put them to death? I thought God was merciful?”

It’s tempting to move in those directions. But I think it’s better for us to consider how it is that our hearts become callused.

I suspect that maybe little Hophni and littler Phinehas weren’t born just as bad as they could be. Yes, I know they were born sinners, but I think they probably developed this skill of rebellion over time. Perhaps they tasted it and they liked it a little bit and first they felt a little shame, maybe they hid it, but then they got used to it and they played a few more immoral scales and built up their calluses, and pretty soon they felt entitled to it. Soon they could take a woman and not even feel remorse for it.

You see, sin doesn’t initially offer itself to you in overt ways all the time. Sometimes it does, but often it’s mission creep. It’s just creeping, but while it’s creeping, the Lord is gracious. The Lord is kind. You see, Eli did try a little bit. The warning went out. They had another chance. Those warnings are the Lord’s mercy and protection. Don’t wait on miracle protections. If you’re walking into a brothel, don’t be praying, “Lord, if you don’t want me to go in here, would you please drop a brick wall in front of me?”

No, you’ve had a myriad of warnings in your heart throughout your life. By the time you get there, you will run headlong and crash through any brick wall to get what you want. But don’t wait. The Lord already knows every filthy thing about you, therefore run to Him. Why hide it? He is quick, quick to forgive. That’s lesson number one. Heed the Lord’s warnings.

Lesson number two is really just coming from the structure of this passage itself as seen through contrasts and parallels. It’s easy to lose sight of how the Lord works. We can look at a passage like this and go, “Oh, good grief, the Church is in disarray. What’s going on here? It’s all just going downhill.” We might be emotionally invested, really invested, in the way the country is going or our state or some organization, or a family member, and as much as those concerns are motivated by a love of neighbor, that’s great. However, if we simply devolve into fretting or accusations or castigating certain groups or individuals, we show that we have simply forgotten our Bibles.

The very structure of this passage teaches us an incredibly important lesson. The world can be going to hell in a handbasket, and still the Lord has His 7000. Still the Lord has a Hannah somewhere, a Samuel somewhere. Your pastor may fail, your favorite preacher may fail, and yet the Lord has a Hannah, a Samuel. The other team may be winning, but God is forming another Solomon to proclaim the Good News. It’s easy to see the long passages of rebuke and sin and these little short snippets of and Samuel was still at it.

Notice verse 11, Samuel’s serving; 12 through 17, we have liturgical sins, church sins. Verse 18, Samuel is serving; verse 22 and following, moral sins. Verse 26, Samuel is still growing in favor; verse 27, judgment. And chapter 3, verse 1, Samuel is still faithfully serving.

Look at some the parallels that we see here. The Lord wants us to see that amid all the muck and the filth, verse 19 we have the mother’s love. Verse 22, the father’s sorrow. Verse 20, Eli’s blessing. Verse 23 through 25, Eli’s rebuke. Verse 21, life is given by the Lord. Verse 25, death is doled out. Samuel’s growth in verse 21b, Samuel’s growth in verse 26. You see, the Lord is trying to say, “Yeah, it looks bad, but I got this.”

They’re striking. The church leaders are leading in wickedness, and yet God was silently subverting all their sinful ways. That’s beautiful.

The next time you are tempted to fret or point fingers or tear down, ask for the heart of Hannah, for the faithfulness of Solomon. A heart that’s willing to be faithful in the small things, the unnoticed things, even the mundane things.

I want to read this, because it makes the point so well. This is from a commentary written by Dale Davis. He writes this: “Several years ago, Leadership, a ministry journal, included a story about a B17 bombing run over a German city during World War II. Nazi aircraft flak hit the gas tank of the bomber and no explosion. The morning after the raid, the pilot went down to ask the crew chief for the shell that had hid the gas tank. He wanted it for a souvenir. The crew chief indicated that there were 11 un-exploded shells in the gas tank. The shells had been sent to the armorers to be defused, then Intelligence had picked them up and the armorers had found that the shells contained no explosive charge; they were empty. All but one. It contained a rolled up note written in Czech and finally Intelligence found someone on the base who could reach Czech and the translation was this: This is all we can do for you now. So there were these Czech’s who were compelled to work in a munitions plant for the Nazi war effort. They didn’t try to blow up the plant or assassinate Hitler. They simply didn’t put charges in some of the cells they produced. It was all very quiet and unnoticed, and it worked salvation all the same.” And then he says this: “Such is frequently God’s way for His people.”

Sometimes I think we’re tempted to look for the amazing, the big stories and yes, we should pray for revival, and yet I think this passage reminds us to quietly and faithfully offer your heart in worship, and maybe that’s the path to revival.

There’s also here our third lesson, a hint toward the priesthood of believers. As I read this passage, I have to admit that I identified with these poverty-stricken folks, asking to be put to work, begging for morsels.

Let me ask you, when you search your heart when reading a passage like this, do you find that you’re a descendant of Eli, Hophni, and Phinehas, or do you find that you’re a descendant of Hannah? Are you starving? Are you a beggar? Has life kind of lost its luster? Do selfish pleasures leave you needing more and more to stay satiated? Have you finally begun to see your need for a faithful priest?

Well, first of all, back to lesson number one, don’t wait. Turn now and ask the Lord for a morsel of bread, to be placed in His family, to be adopted into His family. But be assured, we all began as Eli’s next of kin, and we all need to be adopted into Hannah’s line. We need to be transformed from self-serving faithless priests into the royal priesthood, given simple, mundane, but eternally valuable tasks, within the family of God.

Perhaps you were adopted out of Eli’s house years and years ago. Well, then there is great encouragement here to simply sow the next robe for the next year.

There is eternal value in simply carrying on, serving the Lord. And when I say “serve,” I don’t mean the sort of negative duty-bound service. I mean reorienting our whole lives to love to take care of the little things in the presence of the faithful priest, both in mundane ways and sometimes in dramatic sacrificial ways, ultimately because we’re grateful.

Just don’t discount being reliable, faithful, steadfast.

Fathers, will you gloss over sin like Eli? Or are you willing to gently, leaning on Galatians chapter 6, to gently say and do the hard things? To honor the Lord?

Mothers, are you willing to sacrifice fully entrusting your children to the Lord in prayer, and even outfitting, creating their environments to serve the Lord?

All of us, are we going to nitpick and tear each other down, or will we simply pray in our closets and grow in grace? All of us have a great calling to serve as little priests to each other, and to a watching world.

Then finally lesson number four. Thankfully, the faithful priest is promised. There is some immediate fulfillment, or at least some say it’s in Solomon [sic], but some will say that it’s more clearly in Zadok, who was the priest serving under David, and then there, of course, is the full and future fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

In chapter 1 and 2, we learned that Solomon [sic] worships, minsters, and grows. He was probably just trimming wicks and taking out the trash and polishing and cleaning up after Eli and Eli’s barbecues. But in verse 35, we learn that God promised to raise up a faithful priest, and I love this little phrase: “For Myself.” This points to the idea that this priest that’s coming would know the mind of the Lord, He would do not His own will, but the will of His Father in heaven.

And again there’s a hint of an application for us all here. Isn’t a Christian supposed to be like that as well? Isn’t a Christian supposed to know the mind of God and do it? Aren’t we supposed to be sons and daughters of our Father in heaven? Matthew 5:45. Aren’t we supposed to have the mind of Christ? 1 Corinthians 2:16. More specifically, elders and deacons, the question is will you be faithful little priests? Will you make knowing the mind of Christ your calling? Will you be faithful in service? Killing the desires of the flesh and replacing those passions with affections and regard and care for the Lord and His people?

You’re called to be Christ-like, and therefore to shepherd others in that same faithfulness.

One word of warning: You are also a target. The bottomless pit is calling your name. You can hear the echo just ringing. And on the way in it will offer your pleasures for both your belly and your lusts, a little recognition, a little respect, a vote at the table, being in the know, freedom from a few rules, freedom from delayed gratification, and maybe it even offers you a few perks if you’re leaders in the church.

The problem is that it actually kind of delivers. And of course, the bigger problem is that it only delivers for a very short amount of time. Try as you might, you can’t fill it up.

In conclusion, I was filling the windshield washer fluid tank in my car the other day and the next morning I got in, started my car up, and the little light was on, telling me it’s out again. I thought, uhh, so I look and yep, it’s wet all underneath. I open it up and sure enough it’s close to empty and all right. So I pour water in this time instead of the soap and I watched it dribble out the bottom, and I thought no matter how much I do this, I’ve got a bottomless pit. It’s kind of like teenagers eating pizza. Five pieces and one hour later and they need another five. It never stops.

The fact is, however, we like to nibble at little temptations. This is true whether we ultimately trust in Christ or not. Perhaps you know Christ, but you need this warning because you’ve been tasting again, nibbling again, sampling the delicacies of this world. Perhaps you’re still not sure what to believe about all this stuff, and you still think you can fill up your life with distractions, pleasures, and plans. Either way, it’s time, it’s time to be filled by the bread of life, whether we are nibbling or we’re sinking our teeth full bore into stolen delicacies, hunger is the perfect metaphor for our need of Christ. Even if you had a plate of good, healthy black-eyed peas and greens, tomorrow you’ll be hungry.

Christianity is not a sign on the dotted line and we’re done sort of thing. It’s not a one and done arrangement. Now, I’m not throwing justification under the bus. I fully believe that justification is an act of God’s free grace. I’m talking about rather looking at your heart and asking what your life shows about your desires and about your heart. This passage provides us with the opportunity to examine our hearts. What have we been pursuing that leaves us empty?

But this passage also holds out a great, great promise. Faithful service to your faithful high priest is a spring of water that will quench your thirst for all eternity. It’s a feast that never ends. And it’s been paid for in full by our high priest.

Heed the warnings. Know that the Lord is at work. His kindness is still working and He’s raising up the next generation of servants and I’ll fold lessons three and four together, be a faithful little priest in service to the faithful high priest.

And finally, if you are starving, come, eat without cost, worship and receive the bread of life and be filled with the lasting joy of faithfulness, such that one day you will hear, “well done, well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Would you join me in prayer?

O Father, we can look at our lives and go, I don’t think it was well done. We can look at our hearts and go, I still want the distractions of this world. Would You please invade our hearts that we might put all this aside and lean wholly upon our great high priest, who has washed us clean by His blood, that we might hear from now and in all eternity, and especially on that great day, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Would You hear our prayer. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.