The Rev. Thomas Nibbe
Sunday, September 20, 2020 @ 11:00 a.m.
Gracious and loving God, in the midst of forest fires all around us on the West Coast, in the midst of a world pandemic, and, in the midst of a sagging world and national economy, we acknowledge your redemptive presence as the key factor giving us hope and encouragement in what may be called, “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4). We need to know you are here with us. We need the faith to know that things will get better, but nonetheless, we will still affirm that we willingly walk through that “valley” in confidence. Keep us from panic and fear. Keep us from despair. You are our redemption, and therefore you have become our song. We remember those in desperate times who proceeded us — women and men of faith who trusted you — and were uplifted in the midst of their struggles…and eventually blessed in a remarkable way. We therefore commend ourselves into your tender care and rest secure in your precious love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Introduction to the message
Today it’s my purpose to go a bit beyond a regular Bible Study to what may well be called, “exegesis”. It’s one thing to know your Bible and yet another thing to understand it with insight. Exegesis is the interpretation of any given text in the Bible. Some years back I heard a rather remarkable sermon on 1 Samuel 3:1-21. The sermon was presented by a rather well-known preacher and the thing that impressed me was the fact that the preacher had very little insight into the meaning of the bible passage. I was astounded and somewhat outraged. Today I would like to go into this particular portion of the Bible and demonstrate the power of the insight…as we “Unlock the Bible Narrative Timeline”, starting with 1 Samuel.
For the time being, let us focus in on the importance of Samuel for any student of the Bible. Samuel was the last of the Judges. Samuel was the first formal prophet of Israel. Finally, Samuel was the anointer of the Kings of the United Kingdom of Israel
UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG
Upon the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg I want to acknowledge the greatness of this extraordinary human being, this extraordinary woman. I recall her comment about the three things she had to overcome in order to eventually end up, as a lawyer first of all, and eventually, a Supreme Court Justice. She said these three factors were: she was a woman, she was a mother and she was a Jew. At this point in my life I can understand what she was talking about. She was delightful, she was tough, and she was brilliant. We all as Americans have been the better as a result of her efforts, especially American women.I am proud to mention that my son-in-law recently presented a case before the United States Supreme Court with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg present. Our larger family was pleased that that case was won by the presentation my son-in-law made. On the tapes of the case I could hear him talking back and forth with her.
The text of 1 Samuel reads as follows, “The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare, there were not many visions…” (1000 BC)
We need to focus in on the phrase, “…the word of the Lord was rare…” and hold on to that statement.
This whole lesson will attempt to make clear what the phrase means and how we are enabled to interpret the events of the history of Israel…and even…go so far as to say…here…we are not talking about Jewish history…yet! I will explain that as we go along. At any rate…”the word of the Lord was rare”.
…for the time being…
Approximately the 16th Century before the common era…
“The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain, so Moses went up (Exodus 19:20)…and God spoke all these words…’I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Eygpt, out of the land of slavery’…” (Exodus 20:1,2) [This is the giving of the the Ten Commandments.]
About a thousand years before the common era…
1 Samuel 3:2 — “One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place…” Good: but then…”The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was…”
What was Samuel, the youth under the High Priest Eli, doing lying down in the temple where the ark was?
He was sleeping in the sanctuary. Didn’t he know better? Wasn’t he told? According to the 16th chapter of Leviticus, the High Priest (Aaron) was to enter the Most Holy Place once a year, and only once, not when he chose, but only on the Day of Atonement. The consequence of being there on all other occasions was death. (This was writen at the time of Moses, approximately 16th Century B.C.)
Samuel was the assistant to the High Priest, Eli…and yet…1 Samuel 3:7 says, “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him…” Surely living daily with the High Priest Eli, Samuel would have been very thoroughly grounded in the Bible, at that point, in the Five Books of Moses. He would have known more about the Lord. Not so. At the end of the chapter, we discover that Samuel receives “revelation” from the Lord and not exposure to the written word. In 1 Samuel 3:20, we note “…and all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord…”
The prophets from the time of Samuel will then say directly, “Thus saith the Lord…”
It should seem strange to us that Samuel is not exposed to the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) in his relationship to the God of Israel, but rather, Samuel receives “direct revelation”…and the Office of the Formal Prophet is established in Israel. Where is the Torah? Where are the Five Books of Moses?
In the Eighteenth Year of the Reign of King Josiah — 622 BC…We read in 2 Kings 22:8, the High Priest at the time, Hilkiah (note Jeremiah 1:1) informed King Josiah’s secretary, Shaphan, “…I’ve found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord…” Eventually Shaphan read from the book in the presence of King Josiah. The date is precisely 622 BC. […meanwhile…remember the narrative of Samuel in the temple, approximately 1000 BC…] We are beginning to get what had actually happened….Israel somehow had misplaced the Torah, the Five Books of Moses. We still need to find out when and how this could have possibly happened. Anyway, the narrative continues, at verse 11, “…when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes.” The king continued, “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book…they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.”
Now that he knows about it, King Josiah gives the order for all Israel to celebrate the Passover.
So…this gives us a clear idea of what portion of the Scriptures were first discovered in 622 BC. Formerly, it was determined that the text was Deuteronomy, chapters 5 through 11, because this section deals with the Ten Commandments in chapter 5, the “Shama” in chapter 6 (verses 4,5) quoted eventually by Jesus as the most important verse in the bible, and “the Jewel of the Talmud” in chapter 10 (verses 12-22).
This would be incorrect. Why? Because Josiah gave the order to celebrate the Passover…that is found in the section under Deuteronomy, chapters 12 through 26. The Passover “details” are found in chapter 16.The other reforms of King Josiah as covered in that same section, Deuteronomy 12 through 26.
How long had the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, been lost? …for approximately eight hundred years…
We turn to 2 Kings 23:22-23 to read the astonishing passage, “Not since the days of the Judges (16th Century) who led Israel (Othniel through Samuel), nor throughout the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah, had any such Passover been observed. But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah (622 BC) this Passover was celebrated to the Lord in Jerusalem.”
It seems the Torah (and the Ten Commandments) had been abandoned, forgotten, misplaced during the time of the Conquest of Canaan under Joshua and Caleb. Everybody, evidently, was initially preoccupied with conquering or later having too much fun to pay solemn attention to religion or faith. Yet, it is true, some remnants of the tradition of Mosaic faith, Yahwism, were evident, but not until the Babylonian Captivity (586 BC) did study of the Torah predominate in Israel. The exception was the brief time of Reform under King Josiah. It was in Babylon, from 586-516 BC, that a new faith-form developed within Israel, wherein a new religion developed (same God) named Judaism. One of the new establishments of this faith-form was the synagogue. During this same period of time, a new name came into being for a Hebrew person…Jew… appearing in Scripture in Jeremiah 32:12…for the first time..586 BC…the beginning of “Jewish” history…
[As a sideline, let us consider who the Holy Bible thinks was the greatest king — Was it David? — Solomon?2 Kings 23:25: “Neither before or after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did — with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.”]
So what can we learn from this attempt at exegesis in the Hebrew Bible…
First of all, it’s important for each and every Bible student, every person of bible-faith, not only to know the Bible, but also to know how to interpret the Bible…the best way to do that…is to study the Bible with others at church, or in fellowship, around a table, hopefully with a cup of coffee. There are too many ways to go wrong in interpreting without others to help keep things straight and correct…I like the commitment of our church denomination to have the guidance and the leadership of men and women ordained and called by God, who receive the extensive education to present an accurate exposition of Scripture.
Second of all, it’s important to recognize that our Enemy, Satan, is much more knowledgeable about the Bible than any of us mortal humans, so we need to see the importance of an obvious commitment to the Lord, from the heart. James, the brother of Jesus, says, “You believe there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that…and that’s what makes them tremble.” (James 2:19) So, the point here is, we need to consider that Satan and his demons believe in God as well as sound, well-established Christians or Jews. The difference is we have a heartfelt commitment to the Lord. We not only need to have a knowledge of the Scriptures, but be fully committed to be on God’s side. Obviously, from this quote from James, bible knowledge is not enough.
In the third place, the lesson for today regarding the careers of Samuel and Josiah alert us to the huge difference between religious organization, on one hand, and a true, solid, informed, heartfelt faith on the other hand. One designation is “form”, the other is “essence”. We can very easily get caught up in the elements of spirituality that we see with our eyes. The church building. The preacher. The robes and other dress. The music. The fervent people. The impressive television worship service. It is yet another thing to establish in our heart and mind the things we don’t see as being more real to us than that which is visible.Also, the lesson from bible history is that religious traditions all too often have the habit of “going through the motions” rather than making our spiritual concerns essential to our existence…putting Christ first…
I’m talking about a profound sense of God’s presence and person without any form or image to assist our spirituality. A moral compass that allows us to be just and merciful even being pressed hard by the world and surrounded by corruption. Divine Order in the midst of chaos. Seeing the divine complexion of God on a smiling human face. Taking to heart the commission Saint Francis of Assisi to his Franciscan monks to “…preach the Gospel constantly…and sometimes…open your mouth to speak…”
Often people confuse the essence of faith with the form of religion…the two come together and touch at times…but we need to set our heart upon “the unseen essence” and visualize it with the inner eye of faith…
I am grateful for God who seeks us out, filling our hearts with joy, and finding the way to get us back on track. It is a great assurance to know that God’s love will bring us into the fullness of being daily.
His love makes us whole.