This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
1 Samuel 3:1-21
Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
3 The child Sh’mu’el continued ministering to Adonai under ‘Eli’s direction. Now, in those days Adonai rarely spoke, and visions were few. 2 Once, during that period, ‘Eli had gone to bed — his eyes had begun to grow dim, so that it was hard for him to see. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out; and Sh’mu’el had lain down to sleep in the sanctuary of Adonai, where the ark of God was.
4 Adonai called, “Sh’mu’el!” and he answered, “Here I am.” 5 Then he ran to ‘Eli and said, “Here I am — you called me?” But he said, “I didn’t call you; go back, and lie down.” So he went and lay down. 6 Adonai called a second time, “Sh’mu’el!” Sh’mu’el got up, went to ‘Eli and said, “Here I am — you called me.” He answered, “I didn’t call, my son; lie down again.” 7 Now Sh’mu’el didn’t yet know Adonai; the word of Adonai had not yet been revealed to him. 8 Adonai called, “Sh’mu’el!” again, a third time. He got up, went to ‘Eli and said, “Here I am — you called me.” At last ‘Eli realized it was Adonai calling the child. 9 So ‘Eli said to Sh’mu’el, “Go, and lie down. If you are called again, say, ‘Speak, Adonai; your servant is listening.’ Sh’mu’el went and lay down in his place.
10 Adonai came and stood, then spoke as at the other times: “Sh’mu’el! Sh’mu’el!” Then Sh’mu’el said, “Speak; your servant is listening.” 11 Adonai said to Sh’mu’el, “Look! I am going to do something in Isra’el that will make both ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. 12 On that day I will do against ‘Eli everything I have said with regard to his family, from beginning to end. 13 For I have told him that I will execute judgment against his family forever, because of his wickedness in not rebuking his sons, even though he knew that they had brought a curse on themselves. 14 Therefore I have sworn to the family of ‘Eli that the wickedness of ‘Eli’s family will never be atoned for by any sacrifice or offering.”
15 Sh’mu’el lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of Adonai. But Sh’mu’el was afraid to tell ‘Eli the vision. 16 Then ‘Eli called Sh’mu’el: “Sh’mu’el, my son!” He answered, “Here I am.” 17 ‘Eli said, “What did he say to you? Please, don’t hide it from me; may God do whatever he said and worse, if you hide from me anything he said to you.” 18 So Sh’mu’el told him every word and hid nothing. ‘Eli replied, “It is Adonai; let him do what seems good to him.”
19 Sh’mu’el kept growing, Adonai was with him, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. 20 All Isra’el from Dan to Be’er-Sheva became aware that Sh’mu’el had been confirmed as a prophet of Adonai. 21 Adonai continued appearing in Shiloh, for Adonai revealed himself to Sh’mu’el in Shiloh by the word of Adonai
Again today I’ve used the Complete Jewish Bible translation for its freshness and its proper transcription of Hebrew names. It’s good to hear God calling “Sh’mu’el” rather than “Samuel.”
I was introduced to this great story as a child, but only as far as Samuel saying, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,” because our Sunday school had made it into a pious tale about how children could listen to God. As with other pious interpretations – check out the history of Elijah’s “still small voice” – the content of God’s message is covered up. Here the message is an uncompromising announcement that Eli and his family were going to be punished for the profanation of the Lord’s sanctuary by Eli’s sons, who had raped its female attendants. Adonai, the Lord, tells the child Sh’mu’el of the punishment he is going to bring.
Is this the right way for Adonai to treat a child, handing him a judgement on the man who has nurtured him? The story is meant to awaken the reader to the human/more than human contradiction in the character of God. This God is no-one’s buddy: he stands for an implacable justice that human beings find harsh.
Most human beings, but not Eli. The great act of faith in this story is not Sh’mu’el’s, but Eli’s. Having heard from the mouth of a child that God has set his face against his family, he says, “It is Adonai. Let him do what seems good to him.” His long experience allows him to recognise the true God in the child-prophet’s message even when it announces disaster for his family. When, from whatever source, I hear a true judgement on my own behaviour or that of my family / class/ society/ nation, can I say with Eli, “It is the Lord”? It’s always easier in such instances to reject the message and blackguard the messenger.
The author of the story is inviting the reader to appreciate the character of a God who enters into relationship with his human creatures while retaining his otherness. In this portrayal God reveals himself, in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s splendid phrase, as “the beyond in the midst.” When bad faith makes God cuddly, there’s no better cure than the books of Samuel, which portray the greatness of God without diminishing the greatness of the human figures who dare to obey and disobey him.
The author will tell us a great deal more about Sh’mu’el; for the moment, however, Eli is the model of faith.