I decided I wanted to read the story of Samuel and the transition to a monarchy in the life of Israel for my daily devotional and I saw something I'd not seen before in the first few chapters. Well I guess I had noticed it, but not quite in the same way. As the story unfolds we find Hannah praying, moving her lips but with no sound coming out. Eli assumes she's been drinking but soon discovers that's not the case and that in fact it is out of her deep distress that Hannah is praying with such intensity.
But why did Eli presume Hannah was drunk? How bad had things got at the Tabernacle that it was more normal to assume someone was drunk than deep in prayer? This has little to do with ecstatic prayer or issues around speaking in tongues as was the case in Acts. Things must have been pretty awful, and indeed we soon discover just how bad things were as the antics of Eli's sons are revealed.
Yet God still speaks. Hannah gets an answer to her prayer, Samuel is born. Even though life around the Tabernacle is far from holy, God still connects with his people, still looks for someone to stand in the gap, still desires righteousness. His passion remains to be amongst his people.
A second thing that caught my eye comes after the battle and the loss of the Ark. Now quite why Israel thought that taking the Ark into battle was a good idea and that a wooden box covered in gold was a solution to their problem is a bit of a mystery when you think about it. I guess they were trying to assure God's presence with them, but as with all human beings, they'd forgotten the fundamentals. Anyway they lose the battle and lose the Ark.
The Philistines however win the battle, capture the Ark, but things don't go so well for them. All along, whether Israel or Philistine, the people look for man-made solutions. The Philistines never ask what the wider implications are of the presence of the Ark. In fact their response to the Ark is to avoid stepping on the threshold of the temple because that's where some of the bits of the statue of their god had landed when it fell over.
Life among the Philistines was pretty messed up too.
As it get moved from town to town, people fear it's arrival, and at the end of chapter 5 of 1Samuel there's this little phrase: the cry from the town rose to heaven.
The cry from the town rose to heaven. God even hears the cry of the Philistines. Somehow they work out a solution. There's no great act of repentance, they just want rid of this problematic box.
But this got me thinking. If God still speaks in the midst of the mixed up, messed up life of Israel; and if God hears the cry of the mixed up messed up lives of the Philistines; and he he responds, then what about my neighbourhood and what about yours?
Our God is the God of mission and we are called to partner with him. IF he is listening to the cries of our neighbours then how do we learn to listen too? And having heard, how do we then respond? I have no simple answers, only questions. But if he cared enough to engage with unfaithful Israel and irreligious Philistia, then there surely is hope for the place where I live.