Does God Really Hold Us Accountable?

When I was doing ministry in Oklahoma City, I would drive once-a-week to a town called Slaughterville in Lexington County. Next to Slaughterville there was some beautiful land on which I would hunt. This is the same place where I experienced the squirrel-nado; that’s a different story. On this particular occasion, I was hunting coyotes. I put out the proper scents, and since I’ve never had that much luck calling them in when hunting pressure is on, I waited. After about an hour-and-a-half, the sun started to come up and I saw three beautiful deer standing in the clearing. Their ears perked up. I heard a twig break and some leaves rustle. In a split second, a coyote had leaped onto one of the deer. All three deer started running in the same direction (perpendicular to my line of sight), and a few other coyotes trailed behind. I lifted my rifle.

Yes, this is a true story. I’ve only seen that once. Nature was taking its course. The deer had chosen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Earth’s scavengers turned into predators. By the deer’s own choice and unawareness, she was in the wrong place and unable to overcome the course of nature. By my awareness and the power I had available at that time, I could potentially save her life. In this illustration, we are the deer. The coyotes are sin. The man with the gun is not God. That is where the illustration breaks down and becomes insufficient.

Last week, we saw this narrative play out. Eli’s sons were honoring their own wills and refused to listen to their father’s correction because they were sons of Belial. In fact, we saw that the Lord desired to put them to death. Today, we will see the next part of the story and finish chapter 2 in the first book of Samuel.

1 Samuel 2:26-36

Now the boy Samuel was growing in stature and in favor both with the Lord and with men.

Then a man of God came to Eli and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Did I not indeed reveal Myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt in bondage to Pharaoh’s house? Did I not choose them from all the tribes of Israel to be My priests, to go up to My altar, to burn incense, to carry an ephod before Me; and did I not give to the house of your father all the fire offerings of the sons of Israel? Why do you kick at My sacrifice and at My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling, and honor your sons above Me, by making yourselves fat with the choicest of every offering of My people Israel?’

Therefore the Lord God of Israel declares, ‘I did indeed say that your house and the house of your father should walk before Me forever’; but now the Lord declares, ‘Far be it from Me—for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed. Behold, the days are coming when I will break your strength and the strength of your father’s house so that there will not be an old man in your house. You will see the distress of My dwelling, in spite of all the good that I do for Israel; and an old man will not be in your house forever. Yet I will not cut off every man of yours from My altar so that your eyes will fail from weeping and your soul grieve, and all the increase of your house will die in the prime of life. This will be the sign to you which will come concerning your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas: on the same day both of them will die. But I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul; and I will build him an enduring house, and he will walk before My anointed always. Everyone who is left in your house will come and bow down to him for a piece of silver or a loaf of bread and say, “Please assign me to one of the priest’s offices so that I may eat a piece of bread.”’”

Growing in righteousness (v. 26)

In the first chapter, we read about how Samuel came to serve in God’s tabernacle before Eli. Chapter 1, verse 5, reveals that God had closed Hannah’s womb. After Hannah’s first prayer, verses 19 and 20, God enabled her to conceive. Hannah dedicated her son at the tabernacle. It is through her son, Samuel, that God would prepare Christ’s throne within creation. God was working all of this out for His glory and the good of His people. At the beginning of chapter 2, we read this amazing praise from Hannah as she proclaimed God’s sovereignty and affirmed His provision in all things.

Here in verse 26, we read that Samuel is growing in stature and favor both with the Lord and with men. What does it mean for anyone to grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with people? The first thing that we notice is that growing in stature and favor as it is written here is the same whether one is growing in stature and favor with men or with God. Stature is the same both ways and favor is the same both ways. We cannot rightly interpret this to be two different types of stature or favor. At the same time, we remember that the story has already made God’s providence evident. Whatever is meant by stature and favor does not contradict the truth of God’s providence over and in all things. It is God who provides the stature, and it is God who provides the favor. Samuel did not earn these things but was growing in them. So we know what stature and favor are not. They are not something that we earn, provide, or gain for ourselves.

Samuel is growing (,הלך meaning “to walk”) in stature (גדל, meaning “become great, wealthy, or important”). If the text meant that Samuel was simply growing up, this first word would not be in the text. there is something more going on here. This has to do with Samuel’s status. Notice that Samuel is not simply becoming great. He is walking to become great. Out of context, this concept could be taken and used to justify some sort of works-based righteousness. This is by God’s provision. Still, in some way, Samuel is actively walking out the faith that was provided by God. By God’s provision, Samuel is, in some way, walking out his faith in such a way that he is becoming great.

Samuel is also growing (,הלך meaning “to walk”) in favor (,טוב meaning “become desirable, usable, or morally good). Samuel is not simply becoming morally good or desirable to God and people. By God’s provision, he is, in some way, walking out his faith in such a way that he is becoming desirable, usable, or morally good.

Samuel is growing in stature and favor with both God and people. He has an active, not a passive, part in this by God’s provision.

Paul spells this out for us in his letters to the saints,

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10),

and,

“For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:9-13).

It is not, “I have to do what God wants me to do…” No, it’s, “I get to actively participate in the good works that God has prepared!” This is the difference between the checklist of works-based religion and the sincere response to God’s providential, saving grace! According to Scripture, this is part of the reason we are saved- so that we might walk in the good works that God has already prepared. We do not walk in good works so that we might be saved. It is God who is at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure- so that we might also walk in such a way as to become great and desirable with God and people. Samuel was brought by God’s providence to the tabernacle. That is where he served the Lord. In serving the Lord, he grew in the stature and favor provided by God.

When we look to the Gospel, we see that this language is used to describe the incarnate Jesus. We can read about that in Luke 2:52 keeping in mind that there will be a slight difference in word meaning because we are crossing over from Hebrew to Greek.

Consequence of unrighteousness (v. 27-34)

Then a man of God came to Eli and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Did I not indeed reveal Myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt in bondage to Pharaoh’s house? Did I not choose them from all the tribes of Israel to be My priests, to go up to My altar, to burn incense, to carry an ephod before Me; and did I not give to the house of your father all the fire offerings of the sons of Israel? Why do you kick at My sacrifice and at My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling, and honor your sons above Me, by making yourselves fat with the choicest of every offering of My people Israel?’”

A man of God (meaning a prophet) came to Eli and rebuked him. It is here we learn that Eli was participating in the sins of his sons. He was eating of the stolen meat with his sons and honoring his sons above God. Prophets spoke the word from God. This prophet made it very clear that God had chosen Eli’s house and had set Eli’s house apart during the time of Aaron. Yet Eli and his sons dishonored God. God had called the nation of Israel out of Egypt. God had reserved the priesthood for Aaron’s descendants. In these first two chapters God had shown Eli that He is the provider of all things. Eli recognized the sin of his children, yet he was unable to recognize his own sin as he participated with his children. God had provided every good thing, including a position in His holy priesthood, and still Eli had rejected God.

Have you ever heard it taught that God invites people into salvation and it is up to each person to respond? This text seems to indicate otherwise by confirming what we have already seen in this chapter in the preceding weeks. If God were to leave it up to us by simply having an open invitation or by giving blessings or by putting us in lofty positions, every single person would deny Him like Eli and his sons. The New Testament confirms what this Old Testament narrative seems to indicate.

In John 6, we see a great crowd of people looking at the Messiah. Jesus is teaching them in person and in the flesh. Jesus told them about bread that comes down from God and gives life to the world. They asked Jesus to give them this bread, always. When Jesus claimed to be that bread, then pointed out that the people did not believe. He pointed out a first time that all the Father gives Him will go to Him (John 6:37). He said a second time that of all God has given Him He will lose nothing but raise it up on the last day (John 6:39). The people began grumbling. Jesus replied to their grumbling by saying a third time that no one  could go to Him unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). Jesus then proved what He was teaching Biblically by quoting the Old Testament Prophets, which say that the remnant of Israel that is to be established in God’s righteousness must be taught of God (John 6:45, Isaiah 54:13-14, c.f. Jeremiah 31:33-34).  The people continued to grumble even though Jesus, in the flesh, was telling them about the eternal life that was available. Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who would not believe and who it was that would betray Him (John 6:64). He said a fourth time that no one can go to Him unless it has been granted him by the Father (John 6:65). Many of those who were face-to-face with Jesus in the flesh, rejected Him there and did not follow Him

This reinforces the Biblical teaching that repentance and faith are gifts. God doesn’t merely put the invitation out and hope that people will respond. God is faithful to bring those He has chosen to belief in Christ. Christ will lose none of those the Father has given. Thank the Lord that He doesn’t leave it up to us! In Matthew 22:14, Jesus will say that “…many are called (or invited), but few are chosen.”

“Therefore the Lord God of Israel declares, ‘I did indeed say that your house and the house of your father should walk before Me forever’; but now the Lord declares, ‘Far be it from Me—for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed.’”


This verse seems to contradict what we have just seen in the text. We have seen that God is working all things together and that God is the one who sets the destinies of people from before the foundation of the world. Now, we see that God appears to be changing His mind concerning the place of Eli and Eli’s sons based on their sin. Does God change His mind based on our actions?

God instructed Moses in Exodus 29:9,

“You shall gird them with sashes, Aaron and his sons, and bind caps on them, and they shall have the priesthood by a perpetual statute. So you shall ordain Aaron and his sons.”

God reaffirmed this covenant with Phinehas (a different Phinehas) in Numbers 25:11-13,

“Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy. Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.’”

God did say that Aaron’s descendants, specifically through the line of Eleazar and then Phinehas (not Eli’s son), would maintain a perpetual priesthood for Phinehas and his future descendants.

Luke 1:5 says this, “In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest of Abijah’s division named Zechariah. His wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.” Elizabeth was Mary’s (that’s Jesus’ human mother) relative (Luke 1:36). This means that Mary is in the lineage of Aaron, Eleazar, and then Phinehas. Jesus was not only in David’s kingly line (David was an Ephraimite), but also descended from the Levites in Aaron’s line (the priestly tribe).

After Eli’s sons sinned and God removed Eli’s family from the priesthood, giving the role of priest and prophet to Samuel (who was at this time a boy). Samuel’s father was part of the tribe of Levi (1 Chronicles 6:16-30). God was keeping His promise in the short term through Samuel. His promise would be fulfilled eternally in Jesus Christ, Mary’s son. He would not fulfill His promise through Eli’s descendants. God fulfills all His word. He did not go back on it. He did not change His mind or His will. He did discipline Eli’s house for their sin.

‘Behold, the days are coming when I will break your strength and the strength of your father’s house so that there will not be an old man in your house. You will see the distress of My dwelling, in spite of all the good that I do for Israel; and an old man will not be in your house forever. Yet I will not cut off every man of yours from My altar so that your eyes will fail from weeping and your soul grieve, and all the increase of your house will die in the prime of life. This will be the sign to you which will come concerning your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas: on the same day both of them will die.

In the Bible, we see that people are held as the responsible parties for their own actions. We make choices, and we choose according to our nature and will- which is opposed to God. So, we are entirely responsible for the choices we make. If we choose to act and believe according to our own wills, it is just as much an act of God’s grace to let us. Romans 1:24 uses language such that God gives people over in the lusts (επιθυμαι, meaning desire or passions) of their own hearts. God doesn’t force people to sin. We are unrighteous by nature. We don’t need help with that. We will pay the price for our own actions when we choose according to our own lusts. If God rescues us, then we are no longer living according to our own wills. We will reap the victory that God alone has won. It is God who preserves us by His mercy alone.

Result of righteousness (v. 35-36)

God raises up people who do His will. They receive a reward by God’s mercy alone. Years before He dealt with the sin of Eli’s house, God was already working all things together that He might raise up for Himself a faithful priest. This priest would walk before God’s anointed always. Remember, Israel does not have a king yet. This is similar to Hannah’s statement in verse 10. God is preparing a throne. This throne belongs to Christ alone. In fact, Samuel becomes a type of Christ in the story. From his miraculous birth and lineage as both a Levite and Ephraimite (1:1) to his role as prophet, priest, and king, Samuel’s life and the throne that will be prepared through his service to God is a testimony to Jesus Christ, who would come 1,100 years later.

In verse 36, we see God confirm the second half of verse 30, “those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed.” We know that this is all according to God’s providence. Still, we are responsible and accountable for our own actions, whether or not they honor God. Still, we get to actively work out the faith that we have been so mercifully given by grace alone.

The church is responsible for how it uses the tithes and offerings of God’s people. Do we use those offerings to further our own interests or to participate with God? The same question applies to our personal finances. Are our resources used to honor ourselves or our families above God? Or, are we dedicated, by God’s providence and grace alone, to serve Him sincerely and faithfully with everything He has given us?

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