In the Old Testament days of Eli the priest, the word of the Lord was precious. Eli failed to teach his own sons to hear and obey the Word of the Lord. Eli was certainly capable of teaching children to hear the word of the Lord as he taught Samuel and trained him to listen to God. In this chapter, Spurgeon offers a warning to parents who serve in Children’s Ministry. Those of us who work diligently for the souls of others must also work diligently for the souls of our own kids. Spurgeon summarizes:
“O that those who are diligent about the souls of others, would look well to their own households. Alas, poor Eli, like many in our day, they made thee keeper of the vineyards, but thine own vineyard thou hast not kept. As often as he looked upon the gracious child, Samuel, he must have felt the heartache. When he remembered his own neglected and unchastened sons, and how they had made themselves vile before all Israel, Samuel was the living witness of what grace can work where children are trained up in God’s fear, and Hophni and Phineas were sad specimens of what parental indulgence will produce in the children of the best of men.”
Eli’s kids were evidence of what happens when parents indulge their children. Spurgeon contrasts Eli’s raising of his sons with Samuel parents. Sameul had a gracious father and a holy mother. Hannah was a woman of great poetic talent and a woman of prayer as indicated in the following verses:
And Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in the LORD. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation. “There is none holy like the LORD; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and on them he has set the world. “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail. The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the power of his anointed.” [1 Samuel 2:1-10 ESV]
In giving Samuel to the service of the Lord, Hannah gave up that which was most important to her. Spurgeon sees this as a lesson for godly parents that they should dedicate their children unto the Lord. What blessed parents we would be to see our children grow in the knowledge and service of the Lord.
The story of Eli and Samuel seems to indicate that Eli taught Samuel the spirit of religion but did not teach him the particulars about how God speaks to people. Perhaps because “the word of the LORD was rare in those days,” Eli never imagining the time would come the following would happen:
And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” [1 Samuel 3:10 ESV]
Samuel was not able to discern the voice of God because he had not been taught. Samuel was however obedient repeatedly answering what he thought was Eli calling him.
The scriptures relate the following account of God’s interaction with Samuel:
Then the LORD called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. And the LORD called again, “Samuel!” and Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the young man. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” Then the LORD said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. [1 Samuel 3:4-11 ESV]
It is clear from the text that Samuel had been taught the idea of obedience. Despite the dark temple, he was willing to leave his warm bed three times to go see what Eli needed. Spurgeon says:
“Better far to have the young heart trained to bear the yoke than to fill the childish head with knowledge, however valuable. An ounce of obedience is better than a ton of learning.”
Eli’s response to Samuel’s inquiry was to teach him a simple prayer – “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears”. Christian parents should teach their kids to pray. We must teach them what prayer is and that God answers prayers. I contributed recently to the Children’s Ministry Think Tank on teaching kids to pray. You can read my response there as well as responses from several other people who work in Children’s Ministry. In teaching kids to pray, point them to their Savior and encourage them to express their desires in their own words. Listen to them pray. Offer suggestions on their needs and remind them of God’s promises. You will be amazed, and sometimes humored, at their expression, their confessions and their desires. Furthermore, in teaching kids to pray, Spurgeon reminds us that spontaneous prayer is much superior to teaching them forms for prayer and warns that if you do teach them a form prayer or catechism you should, at the very least, make sure that it is true! Spurgeon elaborates:
“Better to supply no sign-posts to the young traveller than to mislead him with false ones. The light of a wrecker’s beacon is worse than darkness. Teach our youth to make untruthful statements in religious matters, and Atheism can scarcely do more to corrupt their minds. Formal religion is a deadly foe to vital godliness. If you teach a catechism, or if you teach a form of prayer to your little ones, let it be all true; and, as far as possible, never put into a child’s mouth a word which the child cannot truly say from his heart.”
Spurgeon warns that e must teach our kids truth, and we must teach them to be truthful in all respects. For example, don’t encourage kids to take the Lord’s Supper unless you know there is a work of grace in their heart. Following God is not something that should be faked or mimicked. Spurgeon further explains that we shuld:
“seek to bring the child to understand that there is no vice more abhorrent before God than hypocrisy.”
Finally, he offers the following words of advice to those who teach children:
“I beseech you, the teachers of the Sunday-school—though I scarcely need to do so, for I know how zealous you are in this matter—as soon as ever you see the first peep of day in your children, encourage their young desires. Believe in the conversion of children, as children; believe that the Lord can call them by His grace, can renew their hearts, can give them a part and a lot among His people long before they reach the prime of life.”
I saw a quote on Twitter recently (I wish I could remember the source so I could cite it) that said something to the effect “To be good parents, we need to stop putting our kids on a pedestal and instead put them on the alter.” In our society today, so many parents set their kids up for failure by placing them on a pedestal and idolizing them. When we make our kids the center of our life and the basis upon which we find our joy and satisfaction, they will buckle under that pressure. Instead, we must give our kids to God and trust him to lead them through a life that brings honor and glory to his name.
Links to Complete Text
If you’re interested in reading the complete text of “Come Ye Children,” it can be found on at: http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/cyc.htm
The complete text of Chapter Ten can be found at: http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/cyc10.htm
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