New beginnings often mean facing up to some painful realities about the way that things have been. Weeds and thorns must be exposed and cleared away before new life that has been planted can begin to grow. The new and shocking thing that God promised Samuel is, indeed, the exposed futility of Israel’s leaders and liturgy. Israel experiences arguably the greatest defeat yet in their storied history: the army is routed, the priestly line of Eli is extinguished, and the ark of the Lord – that irreplaceable symbol of God’s presence and favor – is taken by the Philistines.
This passage illustrates what can happen when God’s people take God lightly. It exposes our propensity to go through routine of worship without taking God seriously, to broadcast our beliefs without being willing to surrender to God. If we look at the Israelites in this passage, we may find a startling picture of ourselves. And as we look at this passage we hear its word for us today: belonging to God means more than going through the motions; it means being moved by the weight of God’s glory.