It’s an all too common theme. So and so has “quit the meeting,” says one person. “Why?” asks another. “Use your imagination and choose one of a hundred reasons,” says I. It’s such a common thing that I’m sure we can think of at least one or two reasons we’ve heard (or used). Now, there are clearly times when, for the sake of conscience over issues of sin, someone may feel they have no choice but to “quit the meeting.” But most of the time, though there may be a legitimate grievance, it’s something far less dramatic.
The time of Samuel’s birth was a particularly sad time in Israel’s history. Not because there was famine or drought; by all accounts, it was a prosperous time. Not because of war; the details of the first three chapters of 1 Samuel suggest peace between Israel and the surrounding nations in those many years. Not even because of internal strife among Israel’s tribes; in fact, given the events of chapter 4, things seem particularly harmonious among the people. It was a sad time in Israel because “men abhorred the offering of the Lord” (1 Sam 2:17).
Israel was chosen by God to be His own people. “For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth,” says the Lord to Israel in Deut. 7:6. Israel were “God’s people.” And although one purpose of Israel was that through them, the name of the Lord “may be declared throughout all the earth” (Exodus 9:16), Israel’s primary function was to know the Lord and “commune,” that is, to have fellowship with Him (Exodus 25:22). This was what the “House of God” (i.e., the tabernacle and temple) was all about. It was the place where God’s people could come and meet with the Lord to deal with their sins, to pray, to learn of Him, and to worship Him (e.g., Lev. 1:3). The entire sacrificial system of the Old Testament was to fulfill these purposes. Imagine the sorrow which must have filled God’s heart when “men abhorred the offering of the Lord” as recorded in 1 Sam 2:17. The primary reason for Israel to exist as a nation at all was for the pleasure of the Lord and now Israel went to God’s house only out of duty, and hated the whole process. What had happened?
The short version of what happened was that some men had corrupted what God had established.
1 Sam 2:12-17
Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial [worthless]; they knew not the Lord. And the priest’s custom with the people was, that, when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant came, while the flesh was in seething, with a fleshhook of three teeth in his hand; and he struck it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot; all that the fleshhook brought up the priest took for himself. So they did in Shiloh [where the house of God was located] unto all the Israelites that came thither. Also before they burnt the fat, the priest’s servant came, and said to the man that sacrificed, “Give flesh to roast for the priest; for he will not have sodden flesh of thee, but raw.” And if any man said unto him, “Let them not fail to burn the fat presently, and then take as much as thy soul desireth;” then he would answer him, “Nay; but thou shalt give it me now: and if not, I will take it by force.” Wherefore the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord: for men abhorred the offering of the Lord.
What a heartbreaking scene. Can you imagine dreading a trip to the “House of God” because of what you knew would be going on there (see also 1 Sam 2:22)? We’re talking about the offerings people wanted (or needed) to make to the Lord. And these wicked men who “knew not the Lord” stripped all desire from God’s people to visit God’s house and commune with and worship Him there.
Much, much more can be said about the sin of these young men and their impact on the nation and how the same things happen today among God’s people. So and so dictates the meeting and won’t let anybody else have a chance to speak. Some person is terribly offensive toward the women. Some influential person is unkind. Some elder is insulting in his manners. Such and such a place is just not friendly. And on and on and on.
Every one of these things may be true in any given situation. But I don’t want to talk about any of them – or the corrupt priests in Israel, for that matter. Instead, I want to talk about the one person in Israel during those times who, despite what these wicked men had done to the House of God, actually looked forward to the yearly sacrifice. Her name was Hannah and you can read about her in 1 Samuel 1:1 through 1 Samuel 2:21.
You see, Hannah had wanted a son desperately but wasn’t able to have one: “The Lord had shut up her womb” (1 Sam 1:6). There was nothing to satisfy this poor woman’s desire, though her loving husband tried to ease her suffering. Year after year she faced ridicule from her rival for being childless and year after year she continued to be childless.
Hannah’s husband (with Hannah and the rival) “went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto the Lord of hosts in Shiloh. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the Lord were there” (1 Sam 1:3,7). On the trip to the house of God one year, Hannah “was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore” (1:10) and asked the Lord for a son, vowing to “give him unto the Lord” (1:11) if He would answer her prayer. Verses 19 and 20 tell us upon their return from Shiloh that “the Lord remembered her … and she bare a son, and called his name Samuel.” Then for the next several years, until Samuel was weaned, Hannah did not go on the journey for the yearly sacrifice. “And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, … and brought him unto the house of the Lord in Shiloh: and the child was young. … And [she] brought the child to Eli. And she said, ‘… For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him: therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord’” (1 Sam 1:24-28). So Hannah, satisfying her vow, left her three or four year old son at Shiloh to live in the House of God, trusting him ultimately to the care of the Lord.
The next time we read about Hannah, we read (with some context):
1 Sam 2:17-19
Wherefore the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord: for men abhorred the offering of the Lord. But Samuel ministered before the Lord, being a child, girded with a linen ephod. Moreover his mother made him a little coat, and brought it to him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.
Though Israel was filled to the brim with men who “abhorred the offering of the Lord,” there was at least one woman who didn’t. Through the course of each year after she left her son in Shiloh, she spent her time thinking about him. She wondered how he was growing, imagined how big he must be getting, pictured his arms and his weight, and “made him a little coat.” Then at the time of the yearly sacrifice, a time she would have been eagerly looking forward to throughout the whole year, she went to see him. Yes, the corrupt priests were there. Yes, the best parts of the sacrifice her husband brought would be stolen just like the year before. … But she would see her son again: that very special son the Lord had given to her. The men of Israel might abhor the sacrifice of the Lord, but Hannah didn’t. That’s when she got to see her son.
What about us? What’s our response when we feel men are corrupting the House of God? Whether we’re right or wrong, don’t we have a “Son” we go to see, too, like Hannah did? What sorrow it truly is when men make choices that lead us to prefer staying home on “the Lord’s day” morning over remembering the Son of God in His chosen way. Maybe men have done things to make the meetings difficult for us. Maybe we have personality conflicts or feel slighted. Maybe even we’re right! But if we believe the Lord Jesus is there, don’t we want to be there, too, regardless of what others may be doing? It’s certainly sad when men corrupt the House of God, but how much more sad is it when we forget just Who it is we’re going there to see? Perhaps sometimes we need to be like Hannah and prepare a “little coat” in our minds through the week to help us remember just what, or Who, it’s really all about. … And while we’re at it, why not also make a real effort ourselves not to cause others to “abhor the sacrifice of the Lord.”