Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 7, Number 28, July 10 to July 16, 2005

Seeds of Hope

1 Samuel 2:11-36

By Rev. Russell B. Smith

Covenant-First Presbyterian Church 717 Elm Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202

In our first studies on Samuel, we saw that when God is up to big things, he loves to bless little people. We also saw how to respond when God blesses us. But now 1 Samuel 2:11-36 pulls back to reveal a national concern of Israel: life under tyranny. Remember how the book of Judges ends? The nation is in chaos, clamoring for a strong, God-given leader who can lead them rightly. That is the picture here. Eli's sons, the main priests at Shiloh, bully the worshippers and abuse their power.

Imagine yourself back in that time. This was not an era where people thought religious exercises were optional. Everyone knew the vital necessity of religious observance, as well as the law that regulated religious observance. Worshippers would come, burn the choice pieces on the altar as an offering to God, and then give the priest the allotted portion. Subsequently, they would be allowed to feast upon what was left. The regulations for the fellowship offering are covered pretty extensively in Leviticus 7. This was not an offering to take away sin, but an offering of response to God's blessing. God was to receive the fat, the priest was to receive the breast meat and the right thigh as his portion, and the celebrants were to receive the remainder of the meat for their celebration.

So here are good, decent and faithful people freely offering of themselves, while the priests are bullying their way around taking what they will for their own purposes. These thug-priests didn't really care what God thought. They broke all the rules and indulged their gluttony and their sexual lusts, they sneered at their father, and everyone knew about it. Because the religious leaders were basically the law in those days, the worshippers had no place to turn for recourse. Rather, they had to accept the injustice.

If you've been following the trail of corporate scandals and executive abuses, then you may have heard about Tyco. Tyco's former CEO, Dennis Kozlowski, emerges as a paragon of sleaze. He's on trial right now for fleecing the company to the tune of $600 million dollars. Kozlowski amassed huge debt at the company while frittering away millions on personal extravagances such as a $5 million dollar diamond ring, a $2 million dollar birthday party in Sardinia for his wife, a $6 million dollar decorating tab for his Manhattan residence (including $6000 shower curtains), and payments for many other personal expenses. His assistant testified in court that she was both his mistress and his accomplice; the company covered her daughter's education at private schools in Florida and Maine. The extravagant abuses hurt employees, shareholders, and customers all around. 1 But until he was caught, there was no hope in sight for all those who suffered.

Where do we experience the tyranny today? For many, it comes in the form of a boss who is a slave-driver, a hypocrite, or just plain cruel. Others see a decadent tyranny emanating from an entertainment industry where the tastemakers foist more violence and sexuality upon our culture, which in turn leads to an ever-more coarsened society. For others, the tyranny seems to come from life circumstances: the mounting debt that looms ever larger, the schedule that exhausts you and there's no break in sight, or the mounting pressures of expectations from all sides. Perhaps you are in a scenario right now where you feel the chaos swirling about you. You might feel helpless before what faces you. What hope is there in the face of such circumstances?

God provides hope here. He provides hope through a promise. In 1 Samuel 2:27-36, God sends a message. He sends a man of God with His word to pronounce a message. And it's a hard message — a message of judgment against the house of Eli, but a message of hope for the oppressed. Now, remember that announcements of judgment are always revocable if there is turning and repentance. We saw that that was the case when we studied Jonah this December. Jonah pronounces judgment, the Ninevites repent of their really evil ways, and God shows mercy. So, implicit in the announcement of judgment is hope for repentance and mercy on the part of Eli and his house.

But there is also a message of hope for Israel. These rotten priests had failed in their high calling. But God offered this hope: "I will raise up for myself a faithful priest who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his house, and he will minister before my anointed one always." Now in the short term, this is anticipating the replacement of Eli with Samuel. But in the longer term, this looks ahead to Jesus Christ.

The classic exploration of Jesus as our perfect High Priest is the whole book of Hebrews. Take this selection just as an example:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Here the promise is that where the poor leaders inspire terror and dread, Jesus Christ inspires confidence and hope. Where the tyrannical leaders prey upon our insecurities and hold our wrongdoings and mistakes over us like a threat, Jesus Christ extends grace — he sympathizes and forgives. Tyrants are more concerned with what you do for them; Jesus Christ is concerned that you trust in what he has done for you. Tyrants suck you dry, Jesus Christ fills you up. You can approach God's throne in confidence not because you have the right formula of words or because you're spiritual enough or because you've done lots of good things. Rather, you approach God's throne entirely through the grace of Jesus Christ. That is the fulfillment of the promise made by God here to Eli.

But God has a slow and curious way of fulfilling His promises. The promise here is but a seed that his people are to cling to until they see it fulfilled. God works with his people over time, over centuries. The faithful were to believe and hope in the promises. And that takes us to the second seed. Already, in Eli's midst, God has given another seed: the boy Samuel.

This is God's curious way of doing things. There in the midst of the corruption and evil, God has placed the very agent who will overturn it. Samuel will grow up to be the powerful leader through whom God will ordain his Kingship — and the kingship will grow into the picture of what Jesus Christ does for us as our divine king. Here, with Samuel, we have a humble boy born from a hurting mother, a little boy sitting at the feet of his master to learn the things of God. No one anticipated that he would become the great prophet of Israel.

I love how the story of King Arthur, as told in T.H. White's masterpiece The Once and Future King, 2 relates the story of his childhood. Arthur spent his childhood as the adopted son of a knight, Sir Ector. He didn't know his own destiny to be king. He thought he would only become an assistant to his foster brother. White paints the picture of a land ruled by force and might and greed. All the while, young Arthur is growing up, being tutored by Merlin, and unaware of what he will become. No one has any idea until one day a sword appears in a stone inscribed with the writing "whoever pulls me from this stone is the rightful king of England." And all the knights in England try, including Arthur's brother and father. None of them are able to pull it. And then Arthur tries, and he is made king. He moves England away from rule by force to rule by law, and he institutes the Knights of the Round Table. It's really quite masterful the way that White shows the extensive education and preparation of Arthur long before anyone knew he was the king.

And that is often the case with God. Whatever scenario you're in, God has planted seeds of hope in your midst. God never abandons his people totally. Instead, he places his agents of change and blessing even in the darkest places. This is one way we can latch on to the truth of Romans 8:28, which says, "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." No matter how dark your circumstances, you have God's word proclaiming hope to you. No matter how crushed down you are, you can rely upon God's character. You can count on the fact that he has placed, in your circumstance, some seeds of hope that will blossom and turn into his blessing and deliverance.

Going back to the earlier story about Dennis Kozlowski, we see that God was even working in that scenario. While the tyranny was building at Tyco, God was preparing a successor. Ed Breen had diligently worked his way up through the ranks to be Chief Executive at his company when it merged with Motorola. As part of the deal, he was named president of Motorola. Motorola had its share of tough times, but under Breen's leadership it saw a turn-around. He showed himself to be a courageous leader.

But what is most striking is his character contrast with Kozlowski. Breen is a graduate of Grove City college, an evangelical Presbyterian school. He's been a churchgoer all his life and maintains a plain lifestyle. He invests time in his family. He coached his son's softball team. His idea of a vacation is not an extravagant trip to the Mediterranean, but a quiet week away with the family. While at Motorola, he was known for his stance on ethics: "Ethics is the bedrock of everything we do." 3 He said at a recent speech at Grove City, "You need to have these two things in life: passion and compassion. I can tell you they work in the business world if applied well." 4 He also said, "Humility, service, and lifting the human spirit work just as well in the boardroom as they do in the classroom." 5 While at Tyco, Breen had to show immense courage in changing a corrupt culture — he fired 100 of the corporation's top executives because Kozlowski's flamboyant abuses had corrupted them too.

The point is this: even today, on a much smaller scale, God is slowly developing seeds of hope to counteract tyranny. It is part of his gracious character to do so. And so if you are suffering under tyranny, look to see what seeds of hope God has placed in your midst.

But here's the kicker: through our faith in Jesus Christ, God has placed the Holy Spirit within each one of us. God has given us a calling and a work to do. What I suggest to you is that in the midst of the chaos around you, the Holy Spirit may be raising you up to be his faithful instrument. We know that Jesus Christ has done all the work for salvation, but he still wants to use us as his instruments in the world. And he has a calling for every person in his body. You think about that. Amen.


1. McCoy, Kevin. "Kozlowski borrowed $5M to buy ring," USA Today, January 6, 2004.

2.White, T.H. The Once and Future King (Ace Trade Printing, 1996).

3. Grove City College website (, July 28, 2005.

4.Grove City College website (, March 26, 2004.

5.Thottam, Jyoti. "Can this man save Tyco?" Time Magazine, February 09, 2004.