Summary: The results of receptiveness to the word of God can have a significant impact on our world
1 Samuel 3: 1-10
According to the Times newspaper (December 24, 2005), new research says that hearing voices is a relatively common experience, albeit one that many people prefer to keep to themselves. Estimates suggest that more than half the “normal” population have auditory hallucinations at some time, while about 4 per cent hear voices regularly. It should be say at the research showed that not all the voices heard are attributed to supernatural beings. Even so, if someone turned up at work and spoke about meeting an angel or hearing the voice of God there would be anxious looks. Hearing voices that no one else can is supposedly a sign of madness.
So what are we to make of Samuels experience that we read about in our first Bible reading this morning. Is it just madness, a delusion, or should we take it seriously?
Well, as Christians, we believe that all scripture is inspired by God, and is useful for us. So I think we have to examine this seriously, and see what we can learn.
The rarity of the word of God
Of course as both teachers and students will know, there is quite a lot of difference between hearing and listening. And one of the problems with our familiarity with the Bible is that very often we hear the words of the Bible reading, but we’re not really listening. We tend to miss bits out. We tend to skip over bits of it. And in this story, because it’s very familiar, it is very easy to skip over a crucial bit of background. For the first thing to note (v1) is that the word of God was a rarity. ‘In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.’
So what does this mean? What is it all about? I think there are two strands to this statement. The first is that God was still speaking, but the people were not hearing. That is to say they might have been listening, but they were not taking it, in they were not hearing. Sometimes when we are talking to our children, especially when we are telling them some harsh truths about their behaviour, they put their hands over their ears, because they do not want to hear. They know we are speaking to them, but they do not want to hear. And there is an element of that in this situation at the time of Samuel. The people did not want to hear what God was saying. They were very happy with their religion, and they liked the feeling that God was there if they needed him, but they didn’t want to hear what he had to say to them day by day. You get a sense of this if you read the earlier chapters, when you can see that Eli’s sons, who were also priests, had no regard for the Lord ch2:12. And one of the reasons they had no regard for the Lord was because of their wickedness. They treated the offerings of the Lord with contempt and they were sexually promiscuous. 2:22. They didn’t want to hear what God was going to say.
The second strand to this statement is that God was in fact speaking to them much less. And this is entirely understandable. You see, the Jewish people were a people who had a covenant relationship with God. They had a relationship with God. And relationships depend upon communication. And what these few words encapsulate is that the relationship with God was on the verge of breakdown. It was a situation in which the relationship between God and his people was on the verge of breakdown. If people do not want to really hear, if they are not really listening, it is difficult to really communicate. It’s difficult to have a one-sided conversation. And is difficult to sustain a relationship on one-sided conversation. So it’s difficult for God to communicate when his people don’t want to hear. So it was no surprise that the relationship with God had broken down, and the word of God to his people was rare.
I wonder how this applies to us? Do we expect God to be speaking to us? And if he is speaking to us are we listening? Do we really want to hear what God is saying to us? You see sometimes, we get very comfortable in our religion. We get comfortable with the regularity and the ritual. We get comfortable with the familiar words, and we don’t really hear them. And deep inside we probably know that it’s sometimes uncomfortable when God wants to speak to us. So we don’t like it when the sermon goes on for a few extra minutes, because it increases the possibility that God might get through. We don’t like it when someone reads from a very modern translation of the Bible because it takes away the insulation of the old words. But we too are a covenant people. We have inherited the new covenant that God has put in place through Jesus. So we have, or should have, a real relationship with God. A relationship that depends on communication. A relationship that is a two-sided conversation.