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Samuel, You’re Not So Hot

Samuel wasn’t all that hot, you know? I mean, okay, he was a prophet. He has two books of the Bible named for him. He was the last judge of Israel, and God used him to commission the first two kings of Israel. But with that kind of pedigree, you just assume Samuel must be some kind of wonderful person. And, really, he’s not.
Samuel’s story begins with so much promise. Hannah, his mother, who was infertile, prayed for a child. She promised that if God would grant her a child, she would dedicate him to the Lord’s service. God did, and she brought Samuel to serve under the prophet Eli. In chapter 2, the writer tells us that Eli’s sons were “scoundrels” who “had no regard for the Lord,” so we assume God will make Samuel a prophet in their place. In chapter 3, God does exactly that. Then, in chapter 4, Eli and his sons die, and for the next few chapters things go badly for Israel at the hands of the Philistines. But Israel puts away its false gods and God defeats the Philistines, and chapter 7 concludes by saying that Samuel judged Israel all his life.

As a judge, Samuel may have been tolerable–if you read the book of Judges, you see that’s not a very high bar to jump–but his sons, like Eli’s, were poor candidates to succeed him. In chapter 8, we read they “took bribes and perverted justice,” and the people, who had enough of judges, clamored for a king. (From the frying pan to the fire.)

God picked Saul to be king and Samuel anointed him, but Saul wasn’t such a great king, and in chapter 15, God announced, “I regret that I made Saul king.” When Samuel gave him the bad news, Saul’s only response (1 Samuel 15:30-31) was to ask Samuel to take part in a charade so people would think he still had God’s blessing–and the amazing thing is that Samuel agreed! When God finally told Samuel to anoint David as successor to Saul, Samuel asks, “How can I do that? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me!”

Good grief, Samuel! On top of everything else, you’re a chicken? I mean, I could understand if I was afraid to do what God called me to do. I might go along with a deceptive, meaningless ritual, if the king pressured me. But Samuel, you’re a prophet! You’re supposed to be this great man of God, and here you are, all human.

But that’s the point, of course. Samuel was always like that–he didn’t change. But God used Samuel to do great things despite his very real flaws. God does it all the time: look at the story of Abraham. Or Moses, or David. Or Peter and Paul. God uses flawed people because–except for Jesus–that’s all there is. Just flawed people.

Just people like you and me. So what about you? Are you afraid? Did your kids turn out different than you thought they would? Are you old, or frail? Are you sick, or tired? If people would wonder why God would ever use you to do great things, you’re the kind of person God works through! Maybe it’s already happening. You better watch out.

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