No introduction today. This is a familiar Bible story so I want to just dive right in. 1 Samuel 3.
1 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. 2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was.
Let’s stop for a moment just to appreciate the writing here. The story is told in a way that reinforces the writer’s purpose. He says, “the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision”. Then he tells us Eli literally had no vision. He was blind. And the lamp of the temple was in danger of going out.
So, there’s a deeper message here. These were dark times. Israel was on the verge of abandonment by God. Few words from God. The lamp of presence was flickering.
4 Then the Lord called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am!” 5 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.
6 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.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
Notice here the kindness and patience of God. He allows time for Samuel to figure things out. It is also worth mentioning that none of us, not even Samuel, can understand the word of the Lord unless it is revealed to us.
8 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 boy. 9 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.
10 And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” 11 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.
In other words, God is about to get the attention of His people.
12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”
15 Samuel lay until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. And Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli.
We can understand why Samuel was afraid. Eli was basically a father to Samuel. Eli was also the high priest. This is a pretty heavy thing for a young boy to deal with.
16 But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” And he said, “Here I am.” 17 And Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.”
I have to give Eli some major credit on this response. He takes it on the chin. How embarrassing must it have been – not only to receive this bad news – but to know that God is speaking to a young boy, but not to the high priest.
Incidentally, that is why most of the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus. In pride, they couldn’t accept that Jesus was from God and they knew nothing about it. They were jealous.
But Eli doesn’t respond in jealousy or anger. He accepts the judgment of God.
19 And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord. 21 And the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.
I love that sentence in 19 – the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.
When my kids were little, we played a game trying to keep a balloon in the air. We just hit it up and tried not to let it touch the ground. But my kids had small arms and small legs, so most of the time I had to help. That’s how I think of this sentence.
The point is not that Samuel was such a good prophet that none of his words fell. The point is that God was big enough to keep them from falling. The words carried because God was with him.
Remember what God said in chapter 2. He said, “I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind.” Emphasis on “my”. My priest. My heart. My mind.
Samuel functioned as a priest, but he was also the first named prophet since Moses. His call resembled the call of Moses. And as the chapter ends, we feel a sense of hope that things are getting better. Israel may finally be leaving the dark ages.
But that hope hinges completely on the “word of the Lord”. The writer mentions it at the beginning, middle, and end of the chapter. And that’s what I want us to focus on – a few important lessons about God’s word.
First is this: the absence of God’s word is an indicator of God’s judgment. Without the “word of the Lord”, God’s people are in darkness. We are in trouble. We are not a healthy church without the Word. In fact, we wouldn’t even be a church.
Here in Samuel, the lamp of the tabernacle is fading. In Revelation, Jesus threatens to remove his lampstand from some of the churches. The message is the same. Without God’s word, we lose our effectiveness as the people of God. Losing the Word is losing the light. It is judgment upon the church.
The opposite is also true. The presence of God’s word is an indicator of God’s grace. A church that loves the Word is a church full of grace – a church full of light.
But we need to clear something up. Verse 1 said that the word of the Lord was rare. That does not mean God was silent. It means that either no one was speaking the word, or no one was listening. They had the book of Moses. God had given them plenty of words. The issue was a failure to listen and obey what was already spoken.
The same thing is true today. We now have a finished Bible, but do we have ears to hear it?
If God’s word seems rare today, it is not because God is silent. It is because people won’t listen and/or because Christians won’t speak. Paul’s prophecy in 2 Timothy comes to mind:
3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
Why won’t people endure sound teaching? Because the Word of the Lord is heavy. It was not easy for Samuel to tell Eli that his legacy was lost. And it’s not an easy thing to tell people their souls are lost unless they repent. It’s not easy to speak the truth in a world that calls good evil and evil good.
God’s Word always breeds conflict, because most people don’t want to hear it. Even for the Christian, it breeds warfare in our hearts between God’s spirit and our sin.
And there is a tension in the Gospel itself. Just as God sends bad news to Samuel before the good news, the Gospel comes to us with a similar tension. Bad news before the good news.
Look at what Jesus says at the end of Matthew 11:
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
This is such a humble, beautiful invitation – to find rest and acceptance in Christ.
But look at what Jesus says just a few chapters later in Matthew 16:
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
That’s a much different invitation! The cross is no easy yoke. It is not a light burden.
And that is the tension of the Gospel – the Word of the Lord – Jesus Himself! – comes to us with both an invitation and a challenge. Repent and believe. Trust and obey. Rest and die.
Sometimes we need the Word of God to comfort us. Sometimes we need conviction.
As Jack Miller said, “Cheer up! You’re a worse sinner than you ever dared imagine, and you’re more loved than you ever dared hope.” Both of these things are true at the same time for the Christian. And the Word of God compels us to see both in Christ.
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” – Hebrews 1:1-2a
The hopefulness of 1 Samuel 3 is not about Samuel. The hopefulness is found in the presence and work of God. The Lord was with him. The Lord appeared… The Lord revealed…
Those are all hints of Jesus. God with us. The presence of God in the person and work of Jesus. The Lord being with us. The Lord appearing with His people. The Lord revealed…
The Word of the Lord was available. And it still is. And it is still how He changes things.
In the difficulties of our lives, what do we most need? We don’t need more money or better health or happiness. All of that is temporary. We most need God’s Word, best revealed in Jesus.
All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things came to be,
declares the Lord.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word. – Isaiah 66:2
May we be a church full of people who tremble at God’s Word. Be here. Regularly. Hearing the Word. Being with God’s people. This is where Jesus promises to be. This is what we need.