This is The Living Word Bible study for January 17, 2021 (TLW02B), based on the set readings shared by many church denominations, from the Revised Common Lectionary. It is non-denominational, treating the Bible passages in the order of Old Testament, New Testament pre-resurrection (gospels), and New Testament post-resurrection (Acts and letters) and it draws out the progressive revelation of God’s word which comes through these three views. Read the Bible passages as they stand first and ask the Holy Spirit to begin to reveal them to you — this is His job! Then use the verse by verse commentary and application notes to go deeper. Above all, enjoy! This is God’s life-giving word, not a set of rules or warnings, and you will encounter His love and encouragement in all of it.
1 Samuel 3:1-10, 19-20 — The apprentice Samuel’s encounter with God calling him at night.
John 1:43-51 — The first disciples find Nathanael and Jesus shares a word about what he has been reading
1 Corinthians 6:12-20 — Genuine conversion to new life in Christ brings a desire to live distinctive holy lives
And also: Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
Theme: How we are called to live differently through knowing God
See also the linked article on this theme, ‘Apprentice — you’re chosen!’
1 Samuel 3:1-10, 19-20 — Samuel’s encounter with God at night
The tabernacle apprentice hears God call him, an unusual experience for the time
1 The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.
“The boy Samuel” — the word means ‘youth’, a teenager.
“Word of the Lord was rare” — sin had blocked the revelation of God at the spiritual centre of the nation. The time of the Judges was a time of spiritual drought, Amos 8:11-12. Rare is Hebrew yāqār, ‘highly valued’, indicating a past time when the word of the Lord was experienced and treasured.
2-4 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.
“He could barely see” — physically and also spiritually.
“Not yet gone out” — shortly before dawn with the seven-branched golden lamp-stand burning low. It may have been Samuel’s place of duty, to sleep near the lampstand and ensure it had enough oil.
4-6 Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.
Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”
“I did not call” — At this time of low spirituality, Eli was not prepared to expect the Lord’s voice.
7-8 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
“A third time” — often the Lord gets our attention before speaking further.
• For further study, see Genesis 22:1, 11; Exodus 3:4; Isaiah 6:8
8-10 Then Eli realised that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
“The Lord came and stood there” – in a vision, a theophany, not just an audible voice. Samuel’s response sets the pattern of his life, a priest who became a prophet bringing God’s word to the nation, 1 Samuel 4:1.
19-20 The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and He let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognised that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord.
“Dan to Beersheba” – from north to south, like John O’Groats to Lands End.
• For further study, 1 Samuel 2:30-35, 1 Kings 2:26-27.
SUMMARY Samuel has had an early lesson in hearing a word which is hard to deliver. With Israel facing many enemies, Samuel’s obedience in hearing and speaking out for God was going to be vital. Eli and his sons died abruptly and family line ceased with Abiathar’s dismissal by Solomon two or three generations later. God found true faith He could use in the apprentice Samuel, and young leader David; both grew as renowned leaders dependent on God.
This is a story of two extremes. One, the young Samuel’s obedience and readiness to receive a word which would be difficult to share. And Eli, the experienced priest and the one in charge, who might be expected to receive the word, but was in no place to receive. The opening words of the passage tell us that words from the Lord were rare at that time of the judges, of about three centuries.
APPLICATION Why were words rare? The immediate reason is in the corrupt and abusive behaviour of Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, in which Eli was compliant. God will not be mocked; wanton, rebellious sin causes His withdrawal and worse. Many churches struggle on, wondering why the favour and presence of God seems distant, oblivious to the effects of power struggles, harsh treatment of individuals and a history of resisting moves of God.
QUESTION How ready are you to hear the Lord in an unexpected way? What ways does the Lord have for getting our attention?
John 1:43-51 — The first fishermen-disciples find Nathanael
Jesus perceives exactly what he is thinking with prophetic insight
43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow Me.”
The first two disciples, Andrew (named) and John (not named, but probable) joined Jesus on the testimony of John the Baptist. Peter came because of his brother Andrew. Greek-named Philip was chosen by Jesus Himself. Later, when Greeks in Jerusalem sought Jesus, it was Philip they approached, John 12:20-22. Jesus’ message reaches all cultures.
44-45 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
“The One Moses wrote about” — an allusion to Deuteronomy 18:18 where the Lord says to Moses, ‘I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put My words in His mouth, and He will tell them everything I command Him.’
“The son of Joseph” — He was the legal son of His adoptive father.
46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
“Nathanael” — Nathanael of Cana, John 21:1-3, a personal name of Bartholomew. Cana was probably a few miles north of Nazareth and the location of Jesus’ first miracle which follows Nathanael’s call, John 2:1-11.
“Can anything good” — Nazareth had a poor reputation, and to be a ‘Nazarene’ was a way of saying ‘despised’.
47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, He said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
“No deceit” – literally, no guile. The father of Israelites, Jacob, gained his brother’s blessing dishonestly, Gen. 27:35. Jesus goes on to relate Jacob’s experience at Bethel, v.51 below. It seems that Jesus knew (by word of knowledge) that Nathanael had been meditating on Jacob’s dream about a heavenly ladder’, Genesis 28:1-17, and told him that, unlike Jacob, he had integrity.
48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
“I saw you” — in a prophetic picture about Nathanael-Bartholomew joining Him. It was a sign to him (v.50).
“Under the fig tree” was an expression for someone who studied the Scriptures
49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the king of Israel.”
His doubt about a person from such an insignificant place as Nazareth (nowhere mentioned in the OT) are overcome by Jesus’ insight.
50-51 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
“You will see heaven open… on the Son of Man”. God revealed Himself to Jacob at ‘the habitation of God’, Bethel. Jesus is identifying Himself as the new ‘Bethel’ through whom God reveals Himself.
SUMMARY The story of Nathanael’s call is about a well-read young man, who saw, initially, a tradesman carpenter-builder from a rather despised nearby village. Jesus shared a word of knowledge in which he had “seen” Nathanael and what he had been pondering, and knew his character. This was transformational: Formerly sceptical Nathanael now addresses Jesus as “Rabbi” or Master and recognises Him as Messiah.
APPLICATION We can carry the baggage of prejudices about class and status and appearance. Do they influence us or do we value the Holy Spirit’s insight more highly? We rarely receive such a dramatic word of knowledge as this, but as we know God looks on the heart; with the leading of the Holy Spirit we can see beyond the immediate presentation of a person or situation. Jesus was asking His Father who He should call, and Nathanael was alert to what God would show Him. It is an object lesson for us.
QUESTION When have you known your prejudice or undiscerning preference to have been misplaced?
1 Corinthians 6:12-20 — Christians are called to live distinct holy lives
Genuine conversion to new life in Christ brings a desire to live for Him
9, 11 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God…And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
“Washed… sanctified… justified” — genuine conversion through trusting Christ’s work on the Cross results in the pollution of sin being removed, a growing in holiness like God Himself, and declaration of right-standing with God, free of condemnation from the past. And wanting to live differently.
12-13 “I have the right to do anything,” you say – but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” – but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.
“I have the right to do anything” — a saying going around in Corinth showed that some were distorting the freedom of the gospel (v.11) to mean ‘free lifestyle’. God’s grace towards sin does not mean a licence to live selfishly. Truth warped by exaggeration becomes a heresy.
14 By His power God raised the Lord from the dead, and He will raise us also.
“He will raise us also” — in this Greek culture spirit and body were wrongly viewed as separate, so what one did with one’s body was unimportant to God. Paul reminds us that we will one day be resurrected to new life in the presence of God.
15-17 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ Himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with Him in spirit.
“Your bodies are members of Christ” — continuing the explanation that spirit, soul and body are not separate entities and that the new life we are born again into, is incompatible with prostitution.
18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.
19-20 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.
“Your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit” — when we become Christians, God takes up residence by His Holy Spirit and the physical body is where the Holy Spirit is at home. We were bought back from sin’s ownership at the cost of Jesus’ death on the Cross, and no part of us should be defiled.
SUMMARY Corinth was a large sea port city with every kind of lifestyle — and promiscuity. Christians in Corinth were saved out of all sorts of backgrounds, many rather unsavoury. So the challenge for them was to remember that they had been bought at a price, namely Jesus’ blood. Belonging to Him spelled freedom from the guilt of the old life, but not a freedom to indulge without consequences.
APPLICATION Every born-again Christian is called by God, given gifts to bless others and extend the kingdom, and set on a path of spiritual growth towards maturity. The young Samuel grew up to be the significant leader of his time who was instrumental in the call of Israel’s greatest king, David. Philip and Nathanael were called to live alongside Jesus as His disciples, learning to do what He did. New Christians in Corinth came with all their baggage — and the same call as disciples, empowered by the Holy Spirit to live differently.
We are called, able to live free of the baggage of the past, knowing that we belong to the Lord, united with Him and one with Him in Spirit. And also with other believers. We have a ministry to share and a kingdom to serve. It will be different from the ways of the world, and that difference, like Samuel, Philip, Nathanael and Jesus Himself, is attractive as people see the reality of the Lord in us.
QUESTION Like the Christians in Corinth we, too, imagine we have entitlements. What ‘rights’ should we say ‘no’ to as we trust Jesus?
PRAYER Lord Jesus, thank You that You cared enough about me that You would go to a cross and die for me. And then call me and help me to respond. And then, as I have got to know You personally, to entrust me with some Holy Spirit gifts and situations and help me grow in them.
It’s too easy to slip back in to the old, familiar ways — but You alert me and enable me to say ‘no’ to them.
Help me to keep growing in You, and to keep growing more like You — a disciple helping others to become Your disciples, too. Amen.
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