Epiphany 2

1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

John 1:43-51

I always feel bad for poor old, half blind Eli, the priest of the Lord at Shiloh who Samuel is about to replace. Eli was of the priestly tribe of Levi and he tended the temple of the Lord where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. Note that this is not yet the temple in Jerusalem which will not be built until the reign of King Solomon (David’s son) some 50 years later south of Shiloh.

Eli seems to be trying to be a faithful servant of the Lord and a good mentor to Samuel whose parents have committed him to service in the temple from birth to fulfill a vow. But Eli just kind of sucked at his job. He totally blows the interpretation of Hannah’s magnificent prayer thinking she is drunk. His blindness is a sign of his inability to discern God’s activity. And he has another problem, Actually he has two other problems, his sons Hophni and Phinehas, are major buttheads.

Hophni and Phinehas are two goons who also served as priests in the temple at Shiloh. They are like the kids that steal your lunch money. They stick their pokey forks into the boiled offerings and grab the meat for themselves. They also sexually assault women who come to the temple. They are a big problem.

Eli knows his sons are jerks but he can’t bring himself to take decisive action against them. It is the worst possible situation for a parent and Eli is judged harshly for his failure. When Samuel is “called” by God he is told what will be the fate of the house of Eli and he will be the messenger announcing the punishment of that house. It’s a lousy job but Eli, who must have known something was coming, demands that Samuel deliver all the news God has entrusted to Samuel and he does.

I suppose this story of the call of Samuel is read this week because of the Gospel reading of the call of the disciples in John. But I will admit that aside from the fact of that God audibles to Samuel and, through Jesus, to the Philip and Nathanael I don’t see a lot of similarities between the stories. Is it that in both instances God is calling people to important but potentially unpleasant tasks? Possibly, but that would be true of virtually any call story in the Bible.

Perhaps a connection may be found in how the call of God equates with personal discovery. Nathanael is astounded that Jesus knows things about him. Jesus seems to know who he is without having met him. Of course, all of the disciples will find out who they really are through their discipleship. Christians ever since have found themselves known by the one who called disciples beside the sea of Galilee.

Perhaps this week will be a week to reflect on how the call of God reveals something to us about who we are and what we are called to be. How does the call of God in Jesus open our eyes to truly see and what might we see when our eyes are opened?


  1. Luanne Skurka

    My “aha” moment was the concept of unforgivable sin. I believe all of our sin was forgiven when Jesus dies for us. I was not familiar with “unforgivable sin” which I understand to be a conscience act to vilify or reject the Holy Spirit.

    • Pastor Frey

      I agree. The notion that there is a sin which God cannot forgive is akin to God creating a rock too heavy for God to lift. The answer is yes. God is not limited by what are conundrums to us. But I believe the Samuel text is very much a justice text. Eli’s sons, in their actions of capture gifts shared at the altar and assaulting women, was blasphemy against God. I always imagine blasphemy as a spoken denial of God. But here blasphemy against God is the assault on God’s people. It’s also interesting that the sons of Eli take what rightly belongs to God and the whole community (the sacrificed meat was shared) and in fact they take “the best parts” and keep it for themselves. Siphoning off the best part of the communities resources and selfishly keeping it and victimizing women is the blasphemy against the Lord described here. Thank God these kinds of things never happen today!

  2. Kathy J

    I can relate to Eli and Samuel….I solve all the problems of the world when I pop awake at 2:30 every night! 🙂

    This week’s Psalm, the Gospel about Nathaniel, and the Old Testament lesson about Samuel all remind me of how close God is to us and how he knows us, really knows us. Like Samuel and Nathaniel, God sees our potential and loves us for who we are and, more importantly, for who we can become. That’s very comforting and empowering! But (there’s always a “but”!) God has many voices. He speaks to us and comes to us in many ways and I’m not always good at sorting out His voice from all the other “chatter” around me! Sometimes I think I know what path God wants me to follow but it’s so easy to rationalize taking an easier course of action! And then there are the times (like when I wake up at 2:30!) that I think I know best how to handle things or fix things and set off down my own path!

    I agree, this week is a good week to reflect on God’s call and for me it will also be a week where I’ll allow myself to be more intentional in hearing/discerning his voice…

    • Pastor Frey

      God always rings three times in the Bible (the postman rings twice). Poor old Eli couldn’t discern Hannah’s prayer but he does correctly recognize God’s call to Samuel. Is this because Hannah was a woman and revelations (recognized ones anyway) to women were pretty rare back then? (then?) This is unconnected to your comment but I’m going to mention it here. Before we get too tough on Eli for his wicked sons it would be worthwhile mentioning that Samuel’s sons end up the very same way (1 Samuel 8:3). [PKs!] Yet Samuel is not rejected. God’s call is not principally based on fairness but on God’s sovereignty. We don’t like this since we are socialized to believe everyone can rise or fall on their own merits. (really!) But this is precisely NOT how God operates. God’s call is about God’s will. The good news is that God’s “unfairness” ultimately is in our favor. Mark Twain famously declared, “Heaven goes by favor; if it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.”

  3. Donna M

    The idea of interdependence vs independence fits here as well- Eli’s and his sons’ actions are interdependent? Is that what we get from Samuel’s call from God? We should feel some responsibility to assist those who are drifting in the wrong direction, but how can we always be sure who/ when that is – when we are not sure about our own next steps to follow the will of God and when to encourage others to do that as well. Is prayer for ourselves and those we feel are in need an answer?

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