Our children are the future. In youth-obsessed America, this seems a simple, self-evident truth. But is it so simple? ¶ A missionary ministering among native Americans tells how an elder once observed that old people were more important in their culture than in “white” society. He explained, “If there were one last flight out of here, you would take the young and leave the old, but we would do the opposite.” “Why would you do that?” asked his friend. “Simply because,” the elder replied, “it only takes nine months to make a baby, but sixty years to make an elder. In our culture, we have elders; but you only have senior citizens.”
It is the kind of adults that children grow up to be that determines the future. Children are the future in a sense, but what kind of men and women will they be? First Samuel 1–4 is full of children, but they point to very different futures.
An Aborted Future
Hophni and Phinehas might have been cute little babies at one time, but they became corrupt priests who robbed God’s offerings and chased other women. They ignored their father and flouted God’s law (2:11–26). The “future” they brought to their world was one of God-denying church life, family breakdown, and personal and national spiritual and moral ruin. They aborted the future that God promised would come from faithfulness.
The parallels with our day are striking. The modern Hophnis et al are chaplains of humanism working inside the church to obliterate our Christian past, present, and future. Denying God, they are leading the church to a ruinous future. Therefore, pray and work for revival in the church.
A New Future
Samuel was the son of a miracle to childless but godly Hannah (1:20). Her famous song was a prophecy of a new future that eventually reached all the way to Jesus Christ, the final king to whom God would “ ‘give strength’ ” and the “ ‘anointed’ ” (literally “messiah,” 2:10) whom He would “ ‘exalt.’ ” Meanwhile, the Lord raised up a child to sweep away the decayed house of Eli and bring a fresh start to God’s people. The Lord “let none of his words fall to the ground” (3:19).
No situation is so dark that God cannot bring light. Indeed, the darker the night, the brighter the light when it shines. At the heart of this is God’s call—and our readiness to respond. Eli teaches Samuel to listen to the Lord, and so gives us all the starting point for practical discipleship: “ ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears’ ” (3:9). God is the future. Keying into His plans is vital. Everything else is just a stay of execution. Why? Because the “way that seems right to a man” has a habit of ending up in “the way of death” (Prov. 14:12).
The last child in this section is Ichabod, whose birth resulted from his mother’s shock over the loss of her husband, her father-in-law, and, not least, the ark of God. His name—literally “no glory”—provides the epitaph for a nation that had forgotten God (Ps. 9:17). Like all good epitaphs, it looks forward as well as backward. God had left the Israelites to themselves, but had the glory of God departed forever? No. “Ichabod” no more doomed Israel than Jonah’s message—“ ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown’ ” (Jonah 3:4)—finished that heathen nation.
So what does “Ichabod” teach us? Simply that there is no future in choices that leave out the Lord. Jesus asks, “ ‘For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?’ ” (Mark 8:36). Write “Ichabod” over the so-called “great” religions and civilizations that have perished or are soon to perish. Write it over false hopes, over fame and fortune, over lives whose “successes” go no further than the grave.
An Everlasting Future
Samuel was raised up to lead God’s people to a new future. Hannah’s prophetic song, however, anticipated another child—an “ ‘anointed’ ” one—who would secure an everlasting future. After Jesus was born, Simeon said, “ ‘Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising again of many in Israel’ ” (Luke 2:34). He was the Man born to be King, the One who would secure the future for those for whom He would die.
Paul stresses the centrality of Christ to our personal future in Colossians 1:19–22: “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.…” John applies this to the destiny of nations in Revelation 21:24–27: “And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.… And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.”
Outside of a saving knowledge of Christ, there is only a lost future. In Christ, we have the future, now and forever, even life that never ends (Ps. 133:3).