Tuesday, November 05, 2019

They Did Not Know

“Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord.”

“Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.”

The first of these two editorial comments from the writer of 1 Samuel sheds a little light on an otherwise inexplicable feature of Christendom: that a non-trivial number of people who make their living from full-time religious service are vile human beings. They care only for themselves, and in catering to their own desires do great evil to their fellow men and women, even casting doubt on the reality of Christ and the salvation he offers.

This is a deeply regrettable but inevitable reality. It is possible to know all about God intellectually without understanding what he is like, without delighting in him, without possessing any of the character qualities which make him who he is, without taking pleasure in the privilege of serving him ... and, most importantly, without having any genuine association with him at all.

Worthless Men

The phrase translated “worthless men” is literally “sons of Belial”, an appellation used frequently in the Old Testament about willfully perverse individuals of all sorts, from the would-be homosexual rapists of Gibeah to the Israelites who despised King Saul despite God’s public anointing. It was an apt description of the sons of Eli. Despite functioning as priests, they were violent, thieving sexual predators. If there had been a #MeToo movement 3,000+ years ago, the names Hophni and Phinehas would have been right at the top of its list. And deservedly.

These things were well known. These men had earned their reputation. Yet they stood and officiated daily at the house of God. Because of the importance of the institution they represented and their position in it, no Israelite dared to speak against them publicly or call for their removal. Moreover, their own father protected them politically.

Sound familiar? I’m sure it does. But the thing is, they did not know the Lord. Despite the priestly garments and the religious employment, nobody who spent even a few moments around either man could possibly have been unaware of that deficiency.

Men of God in Waiting

On the other hand, here was Samuel. Like the sons of Eli, he too had a position of responsibility in the house of God — relatively minor and heavily supervised though it may have been — and he too did not know the Lord. In fact, the writer of 1 Samuel uses the same words as he uses about the ignorance of the sons of Eli: yada` YÄ•hovah.

That said, Samuel’s lack of knowledge of God was comparatively innocent and wholly understandable: he was a child. Things could not possibly have been any different for him. Our passage says the word of the Lord “had not yet been revealed to him.” He was working with a limited tool kit and, as the writer himself acknowledges, “the word of the Lord was rare in those days.” Consequently, when God began to speak to young Samuel, he was more than a little confused.

If Samuel did not yet delight in God’s character or understand his ways, it was only because he had yet to meaningfully encounter him. His whole being was primed to respond obediently once God revealed himself to him.

The sons of Eli, however, were adults. They had the Law and the Testimony. They had the word of the Lord in written form, and the word of the Lord in pictorial form in the various sacred articles in the tabernacle in which they served. Day by day they had the inestimable privilege of acting out God-designed rituals that spoke of sin, accountability and the character and work of the coming Christ. They lived surrounded by precious holy writ, faithful traditions and spiritual object lessons of every sort.

They were as accountable as accountable can be.

Ignorantia Juris Non Excusat

There is nothing new under the sun, right? Tens, even hundreds of thousands of men and women make their living under the umbrella of institutional churches today, where there is a living to be made, and every one of them is regularly exposed to the truth of God, even if only when reciting his word to congregants. Some are true servants of Christ. Some are well-intentioned but naive. And some are wicked pretenders of one sort or another.

The existence of a “lavender mafia” should not shock us anymore than it should surprise us that pedophiles are reliably found working with children. Predators go wherever potential victims gather. Opportunists use whatever circumstances are afforded to them to advance their situation. There have always been evil religious people, and until the Lord returns, there always will be.

It is said about the law that ignorance of it is no excuse. But where God is concerned, lack of knowledge may be quite inadvertent, natural and entirely forgivable. This sort of ignorance is related to immaturity and lack of information, not sinful rejection of light offered.

But there is another variety of ignorance that is deliberate, carnal and completely culpable. Ignorance that exists because we have deliberately turned away from the light given us is not excusable at all, and it will not be excused. Such a lack of knowledge puts men in imminent danger of the judgment of God in this life, not to mention eternal peril.

Why did the religious leaders receive the strongest rebukes from the Lord Jesus? Because they did not know the Lord in every way that matters.

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