Tag Archives: Samuel

The Glory of God’s Absence

by Michael Gallup

There is this interesting story that comes near the beginning of First Samuel. The Israelites are battling the Philistines (I know, big surprise) and are losing. So the Israelites get the Ark of God and bring it out into battle with them. Yet something funny happens at the this point, the Israelites are completely defeated and lose the Ark. Not only are thousands of the sons of Israel slain, but the very presence of their God, Yahweh, has left them. The news is so shocking that Israel’s chief priest Eli dies at the reception of the news. His daughter-in-law goes into labor at the sound of the shocking report and dies in the process. As she is dying, she names her son Ichabod, which means ‘no glory.’ In her dying words she sums up the desperate condition of her people: “The glory has departed Israel.”

Now we have to take some time to understand the desperate situation Israel finds themselves in this story. Yahweh is the defining attribute of this people, they are keenly aware that without Him they have nothing. They have no protection against their warring neighbors, they have no leader. The only reason they occupy the land that is so precious to them is because the glory, Yahweh, has been with them. And now all that they are has been stripped from them. They no longer have any real hope, any real future. Without Yahweh they are no longer Israel but merely a group of sojourners, former slaves in a foreign land. Their very source of being is gone, the glory had departed.

I think that if we are honest with ourselves there are those times when God feels like a figment of our imaginations. These are times when we parade out our spirituality in hopes that it will have some effect against the various trials of this life and yet not only do we find ourselves defeated, but God Himself seems to have left us all alone. We may not be willing to admit it, but the glory has departed. These can be very trying times. Nothing appears as it once did; we become hopeless in a way that deteriorates our very drive to wake up again. These are times when inevitably something must die.

This is a familiar story. In fact the succession of events in the history of Israel are rather cliché, with God and Israel tottering back and forth between blessings and cursings, between presence and absence. Yet when you isolate an episode like the one found in Samuel, it magnifies the despair behind the absence of God. Yet, we have the privilege of knowing the rest of the story. God returns and all of Israel unpops the cork and throws one heck of a party. And it is no ordinary party, not just another Friday evening, but an explosion of celebration, a once-in-a-lifetime extravaganza. I’m sure years later they will sit around the campfire reliving that night, perhaps growing a bit embarrassed about how undignified they acted. The joy is certainly not unfounded, for God left and they had no reason to expect His return, but here He comes and it is good news indeed.

However, we do not have the luxury of knowing the end of our own stories. We have no way of knowing if the dark night will pass. In the moment of pain, it could seem that all is lost. But we should know better. These stories and even are own are testimonies that although God may seem distant now, He will not always remain so. There is a day coming, when we too will lose our dignity in joyous celebration. The glory may have departed but it is not lost forever and that is good news indeed.

I mentioned earlier the inevitably of death during these times of divine absence. In the moment, death seems to have the ultimate say, the final word. As we acquire scars, it can seem as if our state is deteriorating. But it is in the dying and in the scars that true life and true beauty emerge. Just as the soil cannot produce its yield until it is broken, nor can we truly thrive unless we are pruned. These times when God is absent remind us that He is all we truly need, that He is all we truly hunger for. And that realization kills the things that have seized our attention away from Him. That realization brings death and scars, but by God, it also brings life.

The good news is that today is not the end of our stories, even if today brings death, because death no longer has hold of the final chapter. The joy is that even in the face of the Absence of God, we can rejoice in His ultimate return. The beauty is that we can pull the cover off our wounds and see them for what they are, simply the breaking of our soil so that we may finally blossom.


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Are You in God’s Family Tree?

The internet makes researching family trees relatively easy. So many people are interested in their family stories Ancestry.com predicts it will earn $280 million in 2010. Ancestry.com is capitalizing on more than a fad, however. The industrial revolution and modern transportation enabled people to move away from their places of birth. Rootlessness is epidemic. Sadly even with speed-of-sound transportation and speed-of-light communication we’re losing connectedness with family and family histories.

Before I was born, my parents moved 200 miles north from Trinidad, CO to Denver, looking for work. We quit driving back down for visits in the late 60s. Over the years, as my grandparents and parents passed away, I lost touch with my family, my history. I now know very little about my grandparents and nothing before them.

Yet I know I am who I am in part because of who they were. Trouble is I don’t know who they were. When my mother passed away in 2003, I imagined myself as a small boat drifting out to sea, having been cut loose from the dock. I know I have a history, but don’t know what it is, and worse, don’t know how to carry it into the future.

Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.

TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)

1 Kings 5:1-6:38

Acts 7:1-29

Psalm 127:1-5

Proverbs 16:28-30


1 Kings 5:1-6:38: Solomon’s Temple was a wonder. Its splendor spoke to how powerful Israel under David had become. The Temple and its courts covered as much ground as a modern shopping mall. Yet this is the top of the slide. The nation is so safe and comfortable that even their wise king begins to forget who got them there: God. Pride comes before a fall.

Psalm 127:1-5: Aristotle posited the concept of “the unmoved mover.” This is the power that first caused the universe and set it in motion. Later Paul Tillich called this our “ground of being.” The psalmist simply says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.” Sometimes a metaphor spun by the poet tells a truth better than any scientist or philosopher. God is the beginning and end. If we try to move or live without him, we will fail. Maybe not instantly, but eventually.

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The Bible is many things. Some see it as a life instruction manual. There’s even an inane acronym for this: B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth). Others treat the Bible as a theological textbook. But what we don’t recognize is that the Bible is a family history: a narrative of God’s ongoing interaction with his sons and daughters.

In Acts chapter 7 Stephan continues the narrative as a defense against the accusations of the Jewish religious leaders. A strange defense. Why do they stone him in the end?

Because Stephan takes his place in a long line of God’s storytellers who, at critical points in time, add their present story to God’s past interaction. Past storytellers added Isaac to Abraham and Joseph to Jacob and David to Samuel. Stephan adds Jesus to them all.

The religious leaders knew what Stephan was about, validating Jesus by connecting him to a long line of people who carried God’s redemption from the past into the present. Stephen declares Jesus the denouement, the final resolution to a dramatic thousand year-old narrative, the amen.

What does this mean for us today? Though Jesus is the final resolution, the story is not over. God wants to add our stories to his story. Just as God added each new generation to the narrative, when they stepped into the story of his redemption, so too can we.

We have not moved too far from our family home, nor are we boats loosed from the docks and adrift. We have not lost touch with our true family. We are connected through our brother Jesus to our Father, God.

Ancestry.com mirrors how much many of us need to be connected to our past.  But we don’t need Ancestry.com tell us who we are truly connected to. It is written on every page of this book we call the Bible.

  1. Which passage spoke to you and why?
  2. Has God connected you to his story?
  3. If so, when and how?

If you’re reading this blog on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com.

Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO and writes a blog eugenesgodsightings.blogspot.com


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I once considered pasting the bumper sticker on my car that reads, “Question Authority,” except I questioned where they got off telling me who to question. I must admit I’m not the greatest follower. In that I am not alone.

Though rare, we can often name great leaders. Not so, great followers. Today’s readings testify to that. Even Jesus’ disciples are famous for how often they failed to follow. And how tired poor Samuel sounds after leading stiff necked Israel from his “youth until this day.”

“Here I stand,” he challenges. “Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed.”

There seem to be a slew of poor followers. What makes for a good follower?

Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.

TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)

1 Samuel 12:1-13:22

John 7:1-29

Psalm 108:1-13

Proverbs 15:4


1 Samuel 12:1-13:22: Samuel says farewell using the familiar formula of other leaders from Israel’s past. He retells of God’s faithfulness and the people’s unfaithfulness. Only the names and times seem to change. Israel now moves into living under its fourth system of government: from slaves of Pharaoh to nomads under Moses and a loose system of priests and tribal leaders to freedom under tribal leaders and judges to a flawed kingship.

John 7:1-29: Jesus didn’t seem to want people to follow him, even his brothers, for what he could do for them, miracles for example. Rather he seems to be seeking followers interested in an authentic relationship with him. He wants us to “know him,” verse 28. This is more than knowledge about, but rather an intimacy of heart and mind.

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends. Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: www.bibleconversation.com.


One of the highest values of our modern world is to be an independent thinker, to question authority. Poet Robert Frost intones, “take the road less travelled by.” To be sure there is value in avoiding group think and mindlessly believing every crazy email that pops up in your inbox. But believing you alone have found the road not taken and dutifully trooping off into Robert Frost’s woods is equally mindless.

In “The Way of the Wild Heart” John Eldredge tells of a swampy, dangerous section of wilderness in Alaska that has a scanty trail wending through it. To go off the trail is to drown in a muddy morass. It’s “an ancient and fearful path through a wild and untamed place” that was blazed by generations of grizzly bears that live in the area. Eldredge says the young bears find their way through by placing their young feet in the prints of those who have gone before. They are good followers.

This, of course is a metaphor for how we humans too can find our way through “wild and untamed” places by becoming good followers. Good followers think for themselves but they also listen to those God has placed in relational authority around them. Jesus calls us to know him and then follow him. Above all they listen to and obey God. They look up and around to other followers of God in times of need. Unlike Israel in Samuel’s time and Jesus’ brothers’ in Jesus time and too many of us modern-minded Western types today, good followers do not believe they are self-made or independent islands. Good followers are comfortable stepping in the footprints God has left in the form of other God-followers. They connect with a faith community, not mindlessly, but engaged heart, mind and soul. Good followers are God-followers. And good followers are then the best leaders.

I still like breaking my own trail. If you don’t believe me, just look at my bruises and scars. But even in the wilderness I keep finding the marks and footprints of the One with the deepest scars, the One who went before, the One I can follow: Jesus.

  1. Has there been a time you followed someone to a place God was leading?
  2. Have you ever refused to follow and gotten lost in the woods?
  3. Who is the best leader you can think of?
  4. Is that person a good follower too?

If you’re reading this blog on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com.

Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO and writes a blog eugenesgodsightings.blogspot.com

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What We Can Learn From Operation Repo

So the other night, a television program grabbed me by the throat and demanded my attention. While browsing on YouTube, I ran across a program called Operation Repo. The show, which airs on the truTv network, focuses on a team of people who repossess vehicles in the Los Angeles area. The confrontations between the team and the deadbeat owners are nothing short of terrifying.

The video above tells the story of a couple who had their car repossessed on their wedding day. How agonizing!

After two hours of adrenaline-filled viewing, I decided to learn more about the show on Wikipedia. To my utter astonishment, I read this:

Although as a channel, truTV is described as presenting “real-life stories told from an exciting and dramatic first-person perspective,” Operation Repo consists of scripted re-enactments where the team is often confronted by actors portraying debtors and police officers in the repossessions.

Did you get that? The show isn’t even real! Yet the tagline of the truTV network boasts: “Not reality. Actuality.”

I wasted two hours watching reenactments! I felt like I wasted an entire evening.

Join me today as we explore how to prevent that from happening to you.


Remember that today’s readings cover Saturday and Sunday.

1 Samuel 2:22-7:17
John 5:24-6:1-21
Psalm 106:1-31
Proverbs 14:30-33


1 Samuel 2:22-7:17. After reading about Hannah’s admirable qualities as a mother (in yesterday’s reading), we also witness Eli’s shortcomings as a father. Despite the evil he saw in his sons, he did nothing to remove Hophni and Phinehas from their responsibilities as priests (see 3:13).

While the two brothers were falling deeper and deeper into darkness, we read this description about Samuel: “By contrast, the boy Samuel grew in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men.” Incidentally, this same description is used of Jesus in Luke 2:52.

Soon, Eli would die along as well his two sons—albeit prematurely.

In 3:3, we read that “Before the lamp of God had gone out, Samuel was lying down in the tabernacle of the Lord where the ark of God was located.” The Bible Background Commentary explains what this means:

The menorah in the tabernacle was to remain lit all night (Exodus 27:21; Leviticus 24:1–4), but it was never supposed to be extinguished, so the comment that it had not yet gone out would be pointless. On the other hand, we have seen that the practices at Shiloh did not necessarily follow what was stipulated in the Law. The phrase “lamp of God” is also used to refer to hope (2 Samuel 21:17; 1 Kings 11:36; 2 Kings 8:19), and that would also make sense in this context.

Chapter 3 verse 7 says, “Now Samuel had not yet experienced the Lord, because the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” That means God hadn’t yet spoken to Samuel…until now.

Samuel served as a dividing line between a famine in terms of God’s silence and God speaking. Notice 3:1 says, “In those days the word of the Lord was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread.” But by the end of the chapter we read, “The Lord continued to appear in Shiloh, because there He revealed Himself to Samuel by His word.”

In chapter 4, God proves that the ark of the covenant can’t be treated as a good luck charm. In the end, the ark was taken by the Philistines, Hophni and Phinehas were killed in battle, and Eli died as a result of injuries sustained after falling off his chair. Notice that Eli was more distressed by the ark being taken than that the deaths of his sons.

Chapter 5 is as humorous as chapter 4 is dark. First, Dagon, the God of Israel proves that the god of the Philistines is no match for him. Then we read that whoever maintained the ark was stricken with tumors. The tumors mentioned in the chapter are literally translated “hemorrhoids.” Sometimes translators shield the rawness of Scripture from its readers. Kind of like truScripture versus truTV.

In chapter 6, the ark is returned to Israel, but the people learn quickly that God’s presence isn’t to be taken lightly. God struck seventy men dead for peeking into the ark. God’s presence is a wondering, life-giving, dreadful thing.

In chapter 7, Samuel calls the people to repentance. The Philistines rally to attack the gathered country, but God preserves them. Then Samuel erects a stone and calls it Ebenezer, which means “Thus has the Lord helped us.” Rather than take for granted that God would continue defending them, Samuel used the words “thus far,” which means “up to this point.” As long as they were faithful, they knew God would protect and provide for them.

John 5:24-6:21. Verse 24 was one of the first Bible verses I memorized as a teenager: “Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.” In his gospel, John provides plenty of instruction on how we can receive eternal life.

Jesus further explains how we receive eternal life in verses 39-40: “You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me.” Knowing the word of God isn’t enough, we must know God the word—Jesus Christ.

In my experience, many well-intentioned believers master the word of God without knowing God the word. They spout Scripture but lack any life, any vibrancy, in their walk with God. Life only comes from Jesus, who says he is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

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Psalm 106 struck me as the opposite of Operation Repo. It offers us a picture into true transparency (as opposed to truTV).

The purpose of the psalm is to remember God’s goodness and faithfulness. In verse 6, the psalmist begins recounting Israel’s many failures in the wilderness. But he prefaces it by saying, “Both we and our fathers have sinned; we have gone astray and have acted wickedly.”

Rather than assume Israel fell short in the past, he included Israel in its current condition.

All too often, I share about my struggles and sins as if they occurred in the past.

  • “I used to wrestle with dishonesty, but praise God, now I don’t!”
  • “My wife and I used to struggle with problems in our marriage, but now we don’t.”
  • “I used to be paralyzed with fear, but now I don’t.”

As long as we keep our struggles and sins hidden, they continue to foster. Now, transparency isn’t the cure-all to our problems, but hiding them is a guarantee that they won’t change.

At the same time, I doubt we can truly appreciate God’s goodness and faithfulness until we truly see our shortcomings.

Hearkening back to yesterday’s reading in John 5, Jesus asked the invalid if he wanted to get well.

Perhaps voicing our weakness is our first step.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What prevents you from being the truYou? What is the cost? What are the benefits?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado


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A Tribute To Mothers

Tributes to mothers date back to the ancient Greeks and Romans who designated a day to celebrate the mothers of their gods.  On those occasions, sons and daughters gave gifts to their mothers. Christian churches then continued this practice until they become a commonly-held holiday among church-goers and non-church-goers alike.

Most countries honor their mothers on the second Sunday in May, which means Mother’s Day is only two days away.

Consider for a moment how our society would be different without our mothers. Unfortunately, fathers can’t boast the consistency in raising their children; absent fathers are much more common than absent mothers. Without those significant women in our lives, society would literally fall apart.

Please join me today as we explore the life of one significant mother.


1 Samuel 1:1-2:21
John 5:1-23
Psalm 105:37-45
Proverbs 14:28-29


1 Samuel 1:1-2:21. For the next three months or so, our main Old Testament reading will focus on a span of about 1000 years, beginning with Samuel the prophet (ca. 1100 BC) and ending with Judah’s exile into Babylon (586 BC). We’ll read about the kings who led Israel and the prophets who advised them on God’s behalf. Their successes and failures will provide us with plenty of material to discuss—and apply to our lives. But through it all, we’ll see the fingerprints of God. If you’re interested in timelines (like me), click here or here for two helpful websites.

Originally 1 and 2 Samuel were one book, but the people who translated the Old Testament into Greek (called the Septuagint) broke it into two parts. Proving that people are reluctant to change, later translators followed their example. This two-part series retraces Israel’s history through the lives of Samuel, Saul, and David.

Historians believe Samuel was still an adult when Jephthah and Samson were judges. In fact, Saul probably appeared on the scene only five years after Samson died. But I‘m getting ahead of myself…

Just like Samson, Samuel’s mother made a permanent Nazirite vow for her son. But that was the only thing the two men shared in common because Samuel was a righteous man.

Hannah was a pretty amazing woman. For years she agonized for a son, and then when God answered her request, she gave her son back to God. More on that later. In chapter 2 we read Hannah’s prayer, which resembles Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55.

Then we read about Eli’s evil sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who resemble Aaron’s evil sons Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10:1-7.

The differences between Eli’s sons Hophni and Phinehas, and Samuel are striking. The two brothers treated the things of God with contempt whereas we read that Samuel “ministered before the Lord” and “grew up in the presence of the Lord.” All three men, however, were raised by Eli.

John 5:1-23. The story of Jesus healing the invalid at the pool of Bethesda is quite telling. The man had laid around the pool for 38 years, waiting to get well. Then Jesus walked past all the other blind, lame, and paralyzed people sitting around the pool and asked the invalid, “Do you want to get well?”

All too often we become so accustomed to our infirmities (physical, emotional, physical) that they become our friends. To be healed requires a change.

So the man gives Jesus an excuse for not jumping in the water when it is stirred (assumedly, the first one in would be healed), so Jesus says to him, “Get up, pick up your bedroll and walk!”

And he walked.

Incidentally, archeologists have located this pool in Jerusalem.

Proverbs 14:29. “A patient person shows great understanding, but a quick-tempered one promotes foolishness.” I have proven this proverb true on many occasions—not because I was patient but because I was quick-tempered. James 1:20 says, “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”

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Hannah wanted a child. Desperately. After crying out to God, we read in 1 Samuel 1 that Eli the high priest blessed her request—and within a year, Hannah gave birth to Samuel.

A year later, this unconventional mother gave her son to Eli so he could grow up in the presence of the Lord.

Initially, the story of Hannah bothered me. How could she give away the son she so desperately wanted? I mean, what kind of a mother would do that?

Yet we know Hannah was a praying woman. Look at her words in 1:27-28:

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 and worshiped the Lord there.

Reading these words I realized she intuitively understood who her son belonged to: God. “I now give the boy to the Lord,” she says.

Children are on loan to us from God. He lends them to us for a time, but they ultimately belong to him. Our responsibility as parents is to raise them.

Immediately after giving Samuel to Eli, Hannah breaks into praise. She must have been sad about leaving her son, but she also knew God had a different plan for him that included a voluntary separation. Nevertheless, Hannah demonstrated her love for her son by bringing him a new ephod every year.

Hannah. A praying mother. A loving mother. A woman who understood that her children belonged to God.

Seems a like a pretty good model to all of us parents.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What can we learn from Hannah?
  3. How do you think Samuel’s unique upbringing affected his ability to lead Israel? How can parents raise up their children in a similar way?
  4. Read John 5:19-23. What does this tell you about the relationship between Jesus and his heavenly Father?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.

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