Is This Those Days?
The book of 1 Samuel is a fascinating tale of a major shift for God’s people. They are moving from the dark time of the judges to a glorious time of the kings. There is much pain yet to be experienced, but redemption is coming and 1 Samuel tells of its birth. We’ll dive further into the book next week, but I want to point out just one truth from the lesson that I believe is critical for our church.
Early in the book, we find these words:
“And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.”
1 Samuel 3:1b ESV
This sentence is the introduction to a passage where we see God speak. God’s voice breaks in through the deafening silence the people had experienced for so long. Why had God been silent? Perhaps to test His people. Maybe because His people had been refusing to listen. Possibly in His sovereign wisdom He was waiting for “the fullness of time.” Scripture doesn’t tell us why God didn’t speak, it only tells us He was quiet.
What about now? In 2016, is “the word of the Lord rare?” As the title of this article asks, are we in “those days?” Let me offer a version of 1 Samuel 3:1 that I fear applies to today’s church:
“And the word of the LORD was common in those days; but no one cared.”
1 Samuel 3:1b ESV (Easley Standard Version)
OK, OK…I’m only one semester into Hebrew, but even I know this isn’t an accurate translation. I do fear, however, it is an accurate diagnosis. God has not been silent. We have the full, inherent, authoritative, inspired word of God. We just don’t care about what He has spoken. His precious word to us sits on our books shelves while we come up with our version of the truth. We prefer an imaginary bible that tells us about salvation but excludes difficult commands. We love that God has spoken about His grace but prefer to ignore that He has spoken about discipline. We claim all our favorite traditions are in the text of scripture, but don’t bother to go The Book to understand what God has actually asked of us.
Brothers, sisters, the word of the Lord is not rare, but the careful study, interpretation and application of it is all but extinct. I see precious copies of the word of the Lord everywhere, but I see a general tendency to either carelessly read and apply it, or ignore what it says altogether. This is heart breaking.
The church is in trying times right now. We tend to think the great threat is external, but I beg to differ. Every verse we carefully dance around, every time we act as though a passage we like should trump one we don’t, every time we try to soften a text of scripture, we move the needle towards destruction. Who are we, as the supposed people of God, if we refuse to trust His word? How many verses do we have to believe “don’t apply in our day” before we admit we really just don’t believe we have God’s revealed word? How many practices must we add to scriptures prescriptions before we just admit we don’t believe His word is sufficient?
If you keep reading in 1 Samuel 3, God speaks to Samuel and tells him that judgement is coming. Telling people they are wrong and under judgement was no more popular in Samuel’s day that in our own. Thankfully, Samuel was faithful. He took God at His word and delivered a difficult message to Eli and his family. Would it have been more loving for Samuel to hide what God had said?
If you can’t tell, I’m deeply concerned. I’m concerned for the church in the US. I’m concerned for my sister churches in the SBC. I’m even concerned in my own church here at Arlington Heights. I don’t think many in my circles would articulate a disbelief in the inspiration of scripture (though tragically some would), but I do fear that our approach to the word of God is generally one of standing over it, not under it. Brothers, it must not be this way.
In the words of John Stott, “We need to repent of the haughty way in which we sometimes stand in judgment upon Scripture and must learn to sit humbly under its judgment instead. If we come to Scripture with our minds made up, expecting to hear from it only an echo of our own thoughts and never the thunderclap of God’s, then indeed he will not speak to us and we shall only be confirmed in our own prejudices. We must allow the Word of God to confront us, to disturb our security, to undermine our complacency and to overthrow our patterns of thought and behaviour.”
Perhaps the word of the Lord is rare in these days. Not for a lack of provision, but rather for lack of submission. Let’s be people who seek to believe every verse, submit to the authority of the word, and let it be our only guide for faith and practice.
NOTE: These notes are my own, but they are meant to supplement Session 12 of the Spring 2016 Gospel Project Chronological curriculum.