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The sin of Samuel

As we drill into 7 different sins from parents in the Bible, I hope that these will serve as guard rails for us as we raise our children not to make us feel weighed down, but rather to free us to do what is right without caring what others think about our decisions because we are seeking to follow God’s leading in the way we raise our children.

Samuel was a great judge and leader in Israel. He served the Lord faithfully from when he was a boy, growing up in the temple. The story of him hearing the Lord as a boy is infamous among children’s leaders and others who want to see a generation raised up who know the Lord.

As it says in 1 Samuel 3:19 ‘So Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.’

Towards the end of his public ministry Samuel was able to look back on all his years as a judge in Israel and state, I’ve served you from childhood to old age, who have I cheated or wronged. The people reply in 1 Samuel 12:4 “You have not cheated us or oppressed us, nor have you taken anything from any man’s hand.”

Samuel was an incredible leader, prophet and man of God. Yet in one area he was an absolute failure – his family.

1 Samuel 8:3-5 says, ‘But Samuel’s sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice. Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.”’

Israel gave two reasons why they needed a king: Firstly, because Samuel was getting old and secondly because his sons were not people of integrity who could take on his mantle.

Ultimately, Samuel failed in ministry because he failed in family. If that sounds like I am overstating the case, look at the effects of this failure - Samuel’s failings with his family led to Israel’s request for a king and ultimately paved the way for YHWH, the God of Israel, to be rejected by the people of Israel. That’s a heavy charge and shows the importance that our ministry to our family should have for the sake for future generations.

When we are serving God in ministry, we must not neglect ministry to our own family.

We read that Samuel held an itinerant ministry that led him to travel around all Israel. 1 Samuel 7:16-17, ‘He went from year to year on a circuit to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah, and judged Israel in all those places. But he always returned to Ramah, for his home was there. There he judged Israel, and there he built an altar to the Lord.’

So he was away from home frequently. When he was at home we can only imagine the pressures that were on him and the unexpected visitors who would continually stop by to interrupt his plans. Although he did not have a telephone that would ring every time they sat as a family to eat (I know ministers will relate to this), he would have had a continual stream of visitors coming to him when he was home.

Samuel failed to invest in his children, as shown by their total disregard for his value system. Sadly he is not alone as a minister, frequently robbed of time with his children. From our years in ministry as a family, we know that time is often the first and greatest pressure on our families.

Practically this means we must carve out time to prioritize our families above all other aspects of ministry except for our personal ministry with the Lord. As an example of this in action, in our home we celebrate the Sabbath each week, we also have a family night (if you ask my children, they will probably call it a no tech night) when we get to be together to play games, chat or watch a movie. In the rhythm of ministry we make sure we take off one day each week to be with family and spend with the Lord.

In addition to this rhythm of life, we aim to spend a bit of a time with each child a few times a year on a one-to-one basis. Some of you may be puzzled by that last statement, but if I tell you we have five children it probably makes more sense! With two parents and five children that ten one-on-one slots that we have to make time for.

Time is frequently the most pressured thing for those who minister and volunteer in churches, but it is not the only thing our children need from us.

They need to hear, understand and see our values worked out in our lives. If those we minister to feel loved, but our children feel neglected this dissonance can turn them from God, it really is that important. As we explain to them why we don’t keep the extra change that was given to us by mistake and discuss why we should tell the truth even if it means we get into more trouble, bit by bit we provide our children with a model to follow until our values become theirs. As we give them time, we get to listen to them and hear what is going on in their hearts, advising them as we help them to grow in wisdom and character.

But this is not something that happened in Samuel’s family. Let’s go a bit deeper into Samuel’s life because I believe there is an error that Samuel made which led to all that we have been discussing so far. Why did he neglect his family? What model of family did he have and how did this affect him?

While the Bible is not explicit on some of these questions it does provide us with clues as to what was going on in Samuel’s heart and mind.

Samuel grew up in a place without his mother, with Eli the high priest and two ‘stepbrothers,’ Hophni & Phineas, who lacked godliness. He saw his mum once a year when she presented him with a new linen ephod. His childhood must have been hard and as a young boy he must have longed to return home to be with his mother, who lived many miles away.

Indeed, when he was old enough to choose where to live, he left the temple in Shiloh and made his home Ramah.

If you know the story of Hannah giving birth to Samuel and giving him back to the Lord, the place of Ramah may ring a faint bell in your mind. Ramah was the town where Hannah lived and Ramah was the place Samuel chose to locate himself when he grew up.

Why did he move from Shiloh – the spiritual capital of Israel at the time? Why go live in the more obscure mountainous region of Israel? It seems that grown up Samuel had been shaped by his lack of family love and longed for the one place where he knew love was – Ramah. Samuel, the mighty man of God, was like a little boy when it came to his family life – he just wanted to be near his mummy.

Yet acknowledging this it seems that Samuel, the anointed prophet of the Lord, never sought the Lord concerning how he should lead his family. He only looked to the Lord for how to lead the nation. Are you seeking the Lord for his wisdom in how you lead your family?

Samuel did not just fail his children, he failed to recognise why he was failing them.

He should have taken time to acknowledge the deficiencies of his past and refuse to allow his personal struggles to influence his children. That can be hard for one who is in leadership, it takes a lot of humility to admit to yourself that there is an area where you are not strong when those around you expect you to have all the answers. I have seen this sin outworked in a pastor who counselled many couples on their marriages, but failed to invest in his own.

I don’t know what your upbringing was like, the strengths and weaknesses of the model of family you were a part of, but I do know that the Lord’s model is the most wholesome and the best.

We must fight to ensure that we don’t unintentionally dump our own childhood issues on our children, instead striving and seeking the Lord that he would help us to be the fathers and mothers he intended us to be.

Practically this involves us acknowledging where there were weaknesses in our family and recognising those weaknesses in us so we can work for them to be ironed out. Indeed, when our children see us changing and benefit from these changes, this in itself becomes a positive influence on them. Thankfully, it’s not perfection we are looking for as none of us could achieve this. Rather, it is the direction of travel towards God’s vision for family that matters.

Secondly, if you are not sure what a model of family looks like choose a family in your community that you recognise is wholesome and start to spend time with them. You will see their weaknesses and flaws, but you will also learn something about how family should be that will help you as you lead your family.

However successful you are in your career, your ministry or your social status, we cannot neglect our God given role in our families. We must be careful to avoid the sin of Samuel –the consequences could be devastating for the future of the church.

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