************ Sermon on 1 Samuel 2:11-26 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on August 20, 2000

1 Samuel 2:11-26
Proverbs 1:8-9; 16:6b
"What Children Should Do"

A couple of weeks ago, during vacation, I was people-watching along the waterfront in San Francisco. A man came along who kind of reminded me of an ape, with long arms and a peculiar form of walking. A couple of minutes later I noticed a teenager with the same long arms and the same form of walking. "Aha," I thought, "they are related." Sure enough, the boy walked straight to the first man, whom I presumed to be his father.

We all know the influence of parents on their children. We say things like:
-"It runs in the family."
-"Like father, like son; like mother, like daughter."
-"He is a chip off the old block."
These sayings all express the truth that children are like their parents.

And yet, parents are the first to admit that each child is unique, separate, different. If there are 3 children in a family, you can bet all 3 are different and unique from each other. Oftentimes I have to marvel at how children from the same family can be so different from each other.

These differences within a family are also to be found when it comes to religion. Within the typical Christian Reformed family, all the children receive the same upbringing: all are disciplined the same way, all are sent to Church School, all are taken to worship services, all attend the Christian School, all sit through 18 or more years of family devotions. And yet, some grow up to be faithful, solid church members and others are weak members or even non-members. Why do we have these differences? Or, to put it another way, why do some of our sons and daughters follow the Lord's ways and others do not?

This evening, in our 6th sermon on marriage and the family, we will look at the 3 boys raised by Eli. They all received the same upbringing. Yet, two of them, Hophni and Phinehas, forsake the ways of the Lord; and, one of them, Samuel, follows God's ways. Why is there this difference?

In answering this question it has to be admitted that we are looking at this from purely a human perspective. On the divine side we know we can speak of election and reprobation. Today we are confining ourselves to the question of what do we see on the part of man that makes some follow and others leave the ways of the Lord.

I Contrast
A Last time we learned about the sins of Hophni and Phinehas. Scripture tells us that they treated the Lord's offering with contempt (2:17) when they, in their greed, took the meat that belonged to the Lord. And, we are told that they committed adultery with the young women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting (2:22); they probably introduced into Israel's worship the cultic prostitution so popular in the Canaanite religions.

In talking about these young men, Scripture has nothing good to say about them. We are told they are wicked (2:12). We are told they sinned against the Lord (2:25). We are told they made themselves contemptible (3:13); this means they brought the curse and wrath of God upon themselves, that they were damning themselves to everlasting hell-fire. And, we are told it was the Lord's will to put them to death (2:25) and to visit them in His terrible wrath and judgment.

Some people object to this last line, to what we know as God's judgment of hardening. "Those poor boys," they say, "didn't stand a chance. Even the Lord was against them. Like Pharaoh (Ex 4:21), their hearts were hardened by the Lord to the point where they could not repent and be saved. How could they possibly resist if it was the Lord's will to put them to death and send them to hell? How can they be held responsible for something that seems to be the Lord's will?" Those who talk this way don't understand the ways of God here.

To clarify the situation we need to ask a question: "When is it that God is said to harden someone's heart?" As we look through Scripture, we see that God's judgment of hardening is exercised only in those instances where someone refuses to hear the Word of the Lord and repent. As we look through Scripture, we see that God's judgment of hardening is exercised only in those instances where someone does not listen to God's warnings. In stubborn, willful pride these people refuse to change their ways. That's the way it was with Pharaoh and that's the way it was with Hophni and Phinehas. They hardened their hearts against the Lord and His Word. Seen this way, the Lord's hardening is but the fruit of sin. Seen this way, the Lord's hardening is but His punishment upon man's rebellious ways. Seen this way, the Lord's hardening is but God's way of letting man continue along the way he so stubbornly and obstinately has chosen for himself the way that leads to everlasting hell fire and damnation.

"His sons made themselves contemptible." "It was the Lord's will to put them to death." What an awful thing to say about anyone: that they are sons of perdition, that their appointed place is the fires of hell, that their end is destruction and judgment, that their hearts are hard as stone.

As I said to the children, we all need to feel our heart. What do you feel there boys and girls? What do you feel there, young people? What do you feel there, moms and dads? Do you feel a hard heart, a heart of stone (HOLD UP STONE), a heart that keeps saying "No" to Jesus? Or, do you feel a heart that, by grace, has said "Yes" to Christ?

B As it so often does, the Bible presents a contrast. In contrast to the wickedness of Hophni and Phinehas is the service and ministry of Samuel. Four times we are told that Samuel "ministered before the Lord" (2:11,18,35; 3:1). He started this ministry as a boy of only 3 or 4 years of age. What was this ministry? We are told that he slept in the tabernacle, right beside the ark (3:3f). He wore a linen ephod and robe (2:18). In other words, he served as a personal servant of the Lord and as a priest of God Most High. Furthermore, we are told that Samuel "grew up in the presence of the Lord" (vs 21). We are also told:
(1 Sam 2:26) And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and with men.
It is no accident that the Gospel writer Luke uses almost the exact same words to describe the increasing growth and maturity of Jesus (Lk 2:52). Like the boy Jesus, the boy Samuel grew and matured in faith, in grace, in knowledge, and in godliness. Samuel was a boy who loved and served the Lord with all his heart and soul.

C On the one hand are Hophni and Phinehas who are cursed by God and despised by the people. On the other hand is Samuel who grows in favor with God and man. Now, what is the reason for this difference?

All 3 boys received the same training from Eli, all 3 boys were raised in God's ways, all 3 boys were surrounded from childhood on by the religious trappings of the tabernacle. So how come 2 are so wicked while the third, Samuel, loves and serves the Lord? Or, to bring the question closer to home, how come some of our sons and daughters serve the Lord while others do not? How come some of our sons and daughters love the Lord while others have hearts of stone?

Usually it is said that Hophni and Phinehas are so wicked and godless because their father was too soft. We talked of this last time of Eli's lack of loving discipline (1 Sam 3:13). We learned how he didn't spank his boys when they were young and didn't restrain them when they were older. We said that in his lack of discipline, Eli failed his sons. Yet, as any parent can tell you, discipline by itself is not the answer though it certainly is part of the answer. A couple of chapters later the Bible tells us about Samuel as a father. Undoubtedly, he learned from Eli's mistakes and was a much better disciplinarian. Yet, his sons did not walk in God's ways either (1 Sam 8:3,5). Why, then, is it that some children follow God's ways and others do not? Why the difference?

II Not Know the Lord
A Our text from Proverbs answers our question and tells us the reason for this all important difference:
(Prov 16:6) ... through the fear of the LORD a man avoids evil.
The difference lies in the persons themselves. Do they or do they not "fear the Lord"? Those who fear the Lord do not lead a life of evil. On the other hand, those who do not fear the Lord, theirs is a heart of stone and a life of evil.

When we look at Hophni and Phinehas, we see that they do not fear the Lord. The Bible tells us "they had no regard for the Lord" (2:12). A study of the Hebrew word used here tells us what this means. The word means "to know." When this word is applied to God, it means a personal knowledge of Him involving sincere worship, joyful obedience, true prayer, thoughtful Bible reading, and the like. Hophni and Phinehas do not know the Lord, they do not fear the Lord, so theirs is a life of evil and wickedness. Samuel, on the other hand, does fear the Lord, does know the Lord, so he joyfully serves the Lord in righteousness.

B We have to be careful to distinguish between knowing about a person and actually knowing that person. Thanks to the TV, newspapers, and magazines we can know all about President Clinton far more than any of us wishes to know. Yet, none of us knows him personally. And the same thing can be true about God. In our typical Christian Reformed family it is possible to know all about God. After all, we have regular family devotions, attendance at two worship services a week, church school, youth societies, Christian Schools, and personal devotions. It is possible to know all about God without knowing God Himself. Let me tell you an illustration I know I used once before:
Topic: Bible
Index: 414-434
Date: 3/1998.101
Title: He didn't know God

There was a young man in Russia who studied for the Orthodox priesthood. He applied himself to his studies to the point that he could recite the entire Bible from memory. But something happened and he entered politics. He worked his way up the political ladder by killing opponents and entire villages of people. His nickname: The Butcher of the Ukraine. We know him as Josef Stalin.
Josef Stalin knew all about God, yet he didn't know God Himself. He knew all about God but never once met Christ.

I need to ask you, boys and girls, young people, do you know the Lord? I'm not asking if you know about the Lord. I want to know if you know the Lord? Do you have a personal, living relationship with Him? Do you have intimate knowledge of God? In your life do you find sincere worship, joyful obedience, true prayer, thoughtful Bible reading, and the like?

C I would like to ask every parent here to do something. I want you to challenge your children to "know the Lord." And I ask every teacher here to challenge their pupils to also "know the Lord." Challenge your children and young people to say "Yes" to Jesus, to give their heart to Jesus. For, don't forget, the alternative is a heart of stone. Either you know Jesus and fear the Lord, or you live a life of evil.

III Not Listen to Parents
A On the human side there is also another reason for the difference, the contrast, between a Samuel who loved and served the Lord and the two sons of Eli who did not. Or, to bring it closer to home, there is also another reason why some of our children serve the Lord and some do not.

Scripture tells us how Eli rebuked his sons for their behavior. What did they do? How did they respond? We are told they "did not listen to their father's rebuke" (vs 25). This shouldn't surprise us. It has been demonstrated more than once that those who have no regard for the Lord have no regard for their fellow man either. If Eli's sons won't walk obediently before the Lord, it only follows that they won't walk obediently before their father either. You see, the vertical and horizontal are always related. Our relationship to and with God always reflects on our relationship to and with man.

B I spent some time this past week looking through the book of Proverbs. I discovered 16 places in which children are told to listen to their parents. Obviously, this is very important. Listen again to the voice of wisdom:
(Prov 1:8-9) Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching. (9) They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.
It is important, so very important, for children and young people to listen to and obey the voice of their parents.

I mentioned last time that too many of our children today are out of control. They not only don't listen to parents, teachers, ministers, and policemen, they even dare to talk back! More than one world traveler has returned home from vacation to a so-called primitive or backward country. They tell me that the first thing they noticed over there is that children of primitive societies obey their parents. If what we have is progress, then it is backwards instead of forwards. If what we have is progress, then we are better off without it.

C Boys and girls, young people, don't be like Eli's sons who did not listen to their father. Boys and girls, young people, obey your parents, submit to them. I have to laugh about a letter written to Ann Landers in May of 1990.
Topic: Young People
Subtopic: Honor to Parents
Index: 3971
Date: 8/2000.101
Title: Listen to Your Parents

Dear Ann Landers: I'm a 16-year-old girl who is a nervous wreck from getting yelled at. All I hear from morning till night is, "Stop smoking, get off the phone, hang up your clothes, do your homework, clean up your room."
How can I get them off my case?
Signed: Sick of Parents.

Ann's Reply:
Dear Sick: Stop smoking, get off the phone, hang up your clothes, do your homework, and clean up your room.
Ann's advice: listen to your parents. Young People, children, Ann has good advice. And, as Christians, we know this is more than advice. We know that God commands children and young people to obey their parents.

What is God's will, God's leading, for children and young people? Does He want them to have a heart of stone (HOLD UP STONE), a heart that keeps saying "No" to Jesus? Does He want them to disobey their parents? Of course not!

God's will, God's leading, for children and young people is a heart that knows the Lord. God's will, God's leading, for children and young people is a heart that obeys one's parents. I ask you, boys and girls, young people, do you follow the leading of the Lord?
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