One of the things we learn from the opening chapters of 1 Samuel is that it’s God who opens and shuts things. If Hannah cannot bear children it is because God has shut her womb. If Hannah bears a son it is because God has opened her womb.
Beyond childbearing, we recognise this truth in every other area of life. The Maker of heaven and earth can and does open and shut the sky (2 Chronicles 7:13), the Red Sea, job opportunities, the doorway to marriage and ministry (1 Corinthians 16:9), your local church and the kingdom of God itself (Isaiah 22:22, Luke 13:25).
The other thing we learn from the opening chapters of 1 Samuel is that, way before Israel’s kings corrupted temple worship in Jerusalem, Israel’s priests had already corrupted worship in the house of God at Shiloh (1 Samuel 2:12ff).
Hophni and Phinehas, the son’s of Eli, were there at Shiloh. Worthless men in positions of power. Men corrupted by greed. Ministers engaged in corrupt worship. Men who fleeced the flock, fattened their belly’s and fornicated with fair maidens.
Corrupt worship always places believers in an awkward position and causes them to move in one of two directions.
First, there are those who will choose to quietly separate from all signs of man-made worship (2 Corinthians 6:17). This is often a conscience issue and a legitimate choice we find expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith,
God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to His Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship.
Simply put, we are not bound by the commandments of men in matters of faith and worship (Colossians 2:20-22). In such matters, we are only bound by the word of God.
If the church elders decided that only those with pink lipstick may join in worship, we can cheerfully ignore them. They have no authority to enforce, much less make such demands binding on the Christian conscience.
Moreover, to put a brother in this situation is to put him in a terrible position, one that could lead him into sin (Romans 14:23).
Those who withdraw for conscience sake, and are in all other respects living faithful lives, should not be given the stink eye. They are to be loved as brothers for whom Christ died.
The second option is to just go with the corrupt flow. These are people who either do not know any better, or don’t care, or for whom reputation and social status are more important.
Eli’s failure to correct the corrupt worship of his sons falls into this category (1 Samuel 3:12-13).
There is, however, a third option, and it’s something we see going on with Hannah. In Hannah, we learn that it’s possible to worship faithfully even in the midst of a corrupt sanctuary.
In the midst of corrupt worship at Shiloh, Hannah, a true worshipper of God, came to offer sacrifices and cry out to God. There, amongst the false and faithless, the Lord opened the door to Hannah and answered her prayers.
Jesus worshipped in a temple that was every bit as corrupt as Shiloh was, and every bit as much under judgement. Yet, He went there to pray and offer sacrifices to His Father anyway.
He did this because this was His house and these were His people.
He went there with both the rod of correction (John 2:15) and a willingness to lay down His life for those who were there. He did this because He loved true worship and He loved His people.
He pointed out their corruption, their faithlessness and their man-made worship knowing full well they would snatch the rod of correction out of His hand and use it on Him. And so He was wounded in the house of His friends (Zechariah 13:6). But He spoke up anyway and was willing to bear the cost of true worship.
And He kept speaking until they slammed the door in His face and shut Him out.
Sometimes we will find ourselves in the midst of less-than-faithful worship. The decision to stay requires the courage of Christ to speak the truth in love, lest we incur guilt (Leviticus 19:17).
At other times, peaceful separation may seem like the only option, lest we sin against our conscience. What is never an option for those who love the Lord and love their neighbour is to sail along with the corrupt flow.
Faithful worship comes at great cost. Loss of family, friends, status and more. But this is the way of the cross and this is the way of those who long to worship in spirit and in truth. And such are the worshippers God is seeking (John 4:23).