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Apr 14 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

It Just Keeps Getting Better

Sometimes I come to a passage of scripture that I know well and wonder, could there possibly be anything here that I have not seen before? Of course, there always is something new. That’s the wonder of it. 

Yesterday I began reading through 1 Samuel, and it hit me that right from the outset worship is the central theme of the opening chapters. After we are briefly introduced to the characters and given a couple of details (1:1-2), the plot begins with Elkanah taking his family every year “to worship and to sacrifice to the LORD of hosts in Shiloh.” In the same paragraph we learn that the two sons of Eli the priest were there (1:3). This is significant, because these young men had so abused worship that there was no hope of repairing the damage. The problem here is that Israel had worship leaders who “did not know the LORD” (2:12). As terrible as that sounds, it is not unheard of today. When church leaders have a poor understanding of worship and are only interested in whether it is enjoyable enough to draw a crowd, a gifted musician or clever entertainer can sometimes slip into the worship leader position whose spiritual life is negligible or nonexistent. 

There was a tragic consequence of Eli’s sons being so “worthless” (2:12); namely, they “brought a curse on themselves” (3:13). The destiny of the tribe of Levi was to be blessed (Ex. 32:28-29), to bless the people in God’s name (Nu. 10:8), and for their work to be blessed (De. 33:11). But they violated worship so that their blessings were turned to curses and they were also cursed (cf., Mal. 2:1-2).

This is what every believer does; we either bless or curse (Jas. 3:8-12). Our lives in this world become either a blessing or a curse. A life of authentic worship is a blessing (Col. 3:16-17).

The plot is moved forward by the ongoing conflict between Elkanah’s two wives. The tension between them was intensified by Peninnah, who had sons and daughters, belittling Hannah who had no children. Already in this personal drama, God was preparing a child not yet born (Samuel) to replace the priests at Shiloh and to restore worship to its proper place in the life of Israel and in their relationship to God. 

Elkanah is the patriarch of a worshiping family (1:3, 19, 28). In fact, worship is the backdrop of the stage on which they played out their lives. They not only observed a regular pattern of ritual worship, but Hannah knew to approach Yahweh’s temple in her distress and pour out her soul before him (1:9-10, 15-16). When her prayers were heard, she did not only give thanks, but she composed a song of praise. 

So the life of this family and all that the circumstances they braved reveal the theme of worship. This is, in fact, the biblical role of worship, that within its circumference we have all of our meaningful interactions with God. 

God had to remove Eli and his sons from the priesthood. When he announced his intentions to Eli, he first reminded him of the privilege that was given to his ancestral tribe of Levi (2:27-28). It was against this privilege that Eli’s sons had violated both worship and worshipers. Eli’s replace, God said, would be someone “who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul” (2:35). As it turned out, God’s replacement, Samuel, was not even from the tribe of Levi. 

 In this respect, Samuel is very similar to David. Samuel was the priest after God’s heart who replaced the corrupt Eli. David was the king after God’s heart (13:14) who replaced the corrupt Saul. Like Samuel, David was also a worshiper. And at this point in my reading I realized something about the two volumes of Samuel’s writings I had never seen before. The two books together are enclosed by ideas that appear in the beginning of 1 Samuel that are repeated at the end of 2 Samuel. For example

  • near the beginning of 1 Samuel we find a psalm of praise composed by Hannah, and near the end of 2 Samuel we find a psalm of praise composed by David (1 Sam. 2:1-10 & 2 Sam. 22)
  • in the opening story of 1 Samuel, Elkanah is seen going to Shiloh to sacrifice to the Lord, and in the very last verses of 2 Samuel, David goes to the new site of God’s temple (after Shiloh was destroyed and abandoned) to offer burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord ( 1 Sam. 1:3 & 2 Sam. 2:18, 25). 

Of course there is much more we can learn about worship from King David, but this is where I left off the biblical part of my meditation yesterday and began thinking about our situation in Reflexion.

Having experienced the reverence of sacred space and ancient liturgy in Roman Orthodox churches and then the life-giving joy of scripture, prayer and praise four times a day in a monastic community, I have found myself disenchanted with contemporary worship music–for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it has become an “industry” with an increasing emphasis on commercialization and commodification. Those factors by their very nature diminish the spiritual depth, authenticity, and value of whatever they touch.

I am not certain how we should approach worship (it is one of the questions I have wanted to ask you). But my reading in 1 Samuel reminded me that I cannot neglect worship or forget that it is the context in which all of my interactions with God take place. I am remembering now the way that worship reawakens me to God’s nearness (that it is in essence a drawing near to God, He. 10:19-22). That in both solitude and community, the worship of God provides me with a language with which to praise God, and that as I do, I am again (and again and again) filled with his Spirit.

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