A reflection on 1 Samuel 2:18-26 and Psalm 148 for the First Sunday After Christmas Day, December 26, 2021.
Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy wearing a linen ephod. 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. Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, ‘May the Lord repay you with children by this woman for the gift that she made to the Lord’; and then they would return to their home.
And the Lord took note of Hannah; she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. And the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.
Now Eli was very old. He heard all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 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 not a good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading abroad. If one person sins against another, someone can intercede for the sinner with the Lord; but if someone sins against the Lord, who can make intercession?’ But they would not listen to the voice of their father; for it was the will of the Lord to kill them.
Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favour with the Lord and with the people.
1 Samuel 2:18-26 (NRSVA)
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for he commanded and they were created.
He established them for ever and ever;
he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike,
old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people,
praise for all his faithful,
for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the Lord!
Psalm 148 (NRSVA)
There are a number of moments in the telling of this story of Samuel that point to a very human child moving in the direction of maturity.
Our story starts with a description of Samuel ‘ministering before the Lord’ as a ‘boy’. Here is a young child doing the work of God. Although his tasks may be age-appropriate, the child Samuel is giving what he has to God. He is clearly working for God in the capacity that is his.
There are also a few moments in this telling that point to the growth of Samuel – and, importantly, the direction of this growth. There is the curious detail of his mother’s habit of sewing and bringing a small ‘robe’. It reads like a mother’s memory, a personal reminder to the young Samuel that he was never abandoned or forgotten. Perhaps these robes were worn through between visits. Maybe it was a result of Samuel growing out of each one. Given the direction of the passage, I favour the latter.
Samuel is growing.
As is his family. Three younger brothers. Two younger sisters. Elkanah and Hannah have been abundantly blessed. There family life finally looks normal – at least next to the childhood of their eldest.
Samuel, we are simply told, ‘…grew up in the presence of the Lord’.
At first glance, this may seem ideal for a young judge and prophet-to-be. Yet any sense of protection from the world is quickly put to rest in light of the behaviours around him. Temple-life surrounds the young Samuel not only with the ‘presence of the Lord’. It also puts him in an environment that includes rape, gossip, compromise, and promised death.
Samuel is not growing up in a holy religious bubble.
Rather, he is being exposed to religious hypocrisy and immorality. It would be a nice – but unrealistic – idea that such things were absent from the House of God.
And yet, even in this environment, the boy Samuel grows. He grows physically. He grows in the sight of people. He grows in the sight of God.
It is all so human – and profoundly hopeful!
I wonder if this miracle-child is simply learning what, according to Psalm 148, all creation is learning. He is learning to delight in, and ‘praise’ the Lord – even in this broken and imperfect setting.
Samuel is growing in the right direction even when those who surround him are not.
Perhaps the psalmist’s lines ‘he has fixed their bounds’ and later ‘he has raised up a horn for his people’ relate well to Samuel and his unusual upbringing. The oppression of Eli’s sons will be limited.
But the growth of Samuel will bless Israel beyond anyone’s imagination.
What are the measures, like Samuel’s robe, that indicate growth for you? In what direction do you see yourself growing? How easy – or difficult – do you find it to recognise God’s growth in you?
What are the imperfections in the environment in which you are called to ‘grow in the Lord’? Do you respond to these as hinderances to spiritual growth, or as opportunities to grow in grounded and realistic directions?
How have the imperfections of your word moulded your faith in creative, perhaps unimagined, directions?