Monday, April 02, 2012
A STUDY IN CONTRAST
"Now Eli was very old. He heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they were sleeping with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting. He said to them, 'Why are you doing these things? I have heard about your evil actions from all these people. No, my sons, the report I hear from the Lord's people is not good. If a man sins against another man, God can intercede for him, but if a man sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?' But they would not listen to their father, since the Lord intended to kill them. By contrast, the boy Samuel grew in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men." (1 Samuel 2:22-26 HCSB)
When I was in art school, one of the assignments sometimes given was to do a study in contrast. There were several ways to do this, but the use of pen and ink on whiteboard, along with a brush and a black watercolor wash, were my favorite method. The result of the stark contrast was meant to focus attention and create a sense of drama.
The Holy Spirit takes the canvas of Scripture, and with the brush of inspiration, paints in word pictures, a study in contrast in the early chapters of 1 Samuel. We have contrasting parents in Hannah and Eli, with starkly different child-rearing methods. This brought about a contrast in the future of the sons. The corresponding emotions for Eli and Hannah are likewise at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Black and white--old Eli, the high priest, was a man of prominence in ancient Israel; Hannah was a peasant woman who was childless. From outward appearance, the people of their day would have thought that God delighted in Eli and despised Hannah. But, we are reminded that God does not judge by outward appearance, but looks on the heart. He knows all things, sees every action and even discerns the motive behind the deed. Hannah references this when she says, "Do not boast so proudly, or let arrogant [words] come out of your mouth, for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and actions are weighed by Him." (1 Samuel 2:3 HCSB)
Black and white--Eli was a permissive parent; Hannah was a praying parent. Eli gave scant guidance to his sons. Their lusts were unbridled. When Eli hears of their immorality, he says, "Boys, don't do that." But, that was it. They were not disciplined by their father, so they will be disciplined by God. Hannah's baby boy came as a result of her fervent prayer. She honored God and God honored her. A man of God presents this contrast to Eli, "Therefore, [this is] the declaration of the Lord, the God of Israel: 'Although I said your family and your ancestral house would walk before Me forever, the Lord now says, "No longer!" I will honor those who honor Me, but those who despise Me will be disgraced.' " (1 Samuel 2:30 HCSB). Eli gives his boys over to the sins of the flesh and Hannah surrenders her son to the service of the Lord. " "I prayed for this boy, and since the Lord gave me what I asked Him for, I now give the boy to the Lord. For as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.' Then he bowed in worship to the Lord there." (1 Samuel 1:27, 28 HCSB)
Black and white--Eli's sons are carnal; Hannah's son is spiritual. Hophni and his brother, Phineas, are scandalous in their behavior--loathed by people and by God. Samuel was a model of godliness--a good reputation with God and man. The sinful siblings descended into the darkness of spiritual regression. The child Samuel ascended the path of spiritual progression, "By contrast, the boy Samuel grew in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men." (1 Samuel 2:26 HCSB)
Black and white--the despair that would break Eli's heart and the joy that would bless Hannah's! Eli would hear soon of a disaster--the ark of the covenant would be taken by the Philistines as Israel would suffer an ignominious defeat in battle. The priest would learn of his sons' deaths in that military disaster. Then, the old, fat man, with heart broken, would fall back from his seat, and with neck broken, everything would suddenly go black. Hannah, in contrast went from the darkness of barrenness into the sunrise of motherhood, and watched as her son rose to noonday glory in his usefulness for God. Few have been Samuel's equal in devotion to God and impact on God's people--a brilliant light. So it was, "Hannah prayed: 'My heart rejoices in the Lord; my horn is lifted up by the Lord. My mouth boasts over my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation." (1 Samuel 2:1 HCSB) Eli's remorse; Hannah's rejoicing--quite the contrast.
Black and white--it's a matter of choice. Which path will you take? What kind of parent will you be? Will it be a broken or blissful heart that marks the years to come? How will your life end--a heavy thud or a blaze of glory? You and I are part of this study in contrasts--this interplay of light and shadow. Where do you stand?