“And the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli. And the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision. And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see; And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep; That the Lord called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I. And he ran unto Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me.
And he said, I called not; lie down again. And he went and lay down.
And the Lord called yet again, Samuel. And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And he answered, I called not, my son; lie down again.
Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him.
And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me.
And Eli perceived that the Lord had called the child. Therefore, Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.
So, Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the Lord came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth.
And the Lord said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle. In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end. For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not. And therefore, I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering forever” (1 Samuel 3:1-14).
The Word of God must be carefully studied. The poet Cowper reminds us that in the Scriptures, “We learn with wonder, how the world began, Who made, who marred and who ransomed man.”
The ransom, or the purchase of man from the slave market of sin is really the greatest theme of all. Those of us who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, those of us who have been made captive to the grace of the Saviour can sing with Charles Wesley,
“My heart is full of Christ, and longs
Its glorious matter to declare!
Of Him I make my loftier psalms,
I cannot from His praise forbear;
My ready tongue makes haste to sing
The glories of my heavenly King.”
In the community of Shiloh, the Ark of the Covenant of God had found a resting place. Once the Ark, along with many other articles associated with the Tabernacle had been portable. Historically, during the days of the wilderness journey of the Exodus generation, the Tabernacle was moved daily. The priests personally packed all the holy articles and moved them to the next location by following an unusual cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
When the cloud paused, the people stopped. When the pillar of fire was stationary, the people set up camp for the night. In the center of the camp was the Tabernacle. Around the Tabernacle the various tribes pitched their tents. For forty years this was the regular routine.
No one was alive anymore who remembered those glorious days of old when the presence of God was so powerfully manifested in the midst of His people. Time had passed. Moses died, and then Joshua passed away. The period of the Judges came.
The national life of Israel entered into a predictable cycle. Time after time, judge after judge would witness fellowship with God, apostasy, divine judgment, a cry for forgiveness, divine deliverance and restoration to fellowship followed by apostasy. It was a vicious cycle.
During one period of apostasy, when “there was no open vision” in the land (1 Sam. 3:1), a few precious souls managed to maintain their faith, such as Hannah. She was a wife of Elkanah who was of the tribe of Ephraim. From Joshua 21:20 we know that certain districts within the tribal possession of Ephraim were assigned to the Levitical families, which descended from Kohath. One of these families [that of Zophai or Zuph, 1 Chron. 6:25,35] had given its name to the whole district, as the “land of Zuph” (1 Sam. 9:5). From this family sprang Elkanah (lit. the God-acquired, or purchased). This name was mostly found only in Levitical families.
As a man, Elkanah was morally irresponsible, though spiritually sensitive. This is reflected in the fact that he kept two wives, but worshipped each year before the Lord. Such is the nature of the human heart, that it tries to have the best of both worlds. The heart wants to have fellowship with God. Elkanah will go and observe the Passover each year. But he also wants to fulfill his fleshly appetites. Elkanah wanted two women, and so he married a lovely lady named Peninnah (lit. pearl), and he married Hannah as well (lit. favor or grace). It is not hard to suspect that Elkanah married Peninnah for her good looks, and Hannah for her sweet disposition. Of the two, he preferred Hannah.
While beloved by her husband, the relationship between Hannah and Elkanah was strained because no children had been born, and Hannah wanted a child. More than life itself, Hannah wanted a baby to hold in her arms. Peninnah had sons and daughters. Hannah had nothing. She made herself sick over the situation until the day the seed of faith began to grow in her soul. Faith grew and grew, until Hannah was finally able to say, “I will go to God. I will go to Shiloh. I will ask the Lord to give me a child.”
And that is what she did. It was early evening in spring time when Hannah went to the place where the presence of the Lord was known to rest in a permanent structure. In the dust of Shiloh she knelt towards the Tabernacle where, inside the Holy of Holies God dwelt. After pouring out her heart, first to God and then to Eli, the High Priest, Hannah was given assurance that her prayer for a child would be answered. She would have a son. And, in the fullness of time, the child was born and named Samuel, which means, “heard of God.”
God honored Hannah’s prayer for a son. The Lord agreed to the covenant Hannah made with Him, that if He would give her a child, she would give the child back to Him in the service of the Temple. Three years later, according to promise, the day came when Hannah took Samuel and delivered him to be reared in the House of the Lord as a Nazarite. A Nazarite was a person who was not allowed to drink any wine or cut their hair with a razor. The Nazarites were considered to be a separate or holy people. Samuel was under the Nazarite vow as he lived with Eli the high priest in the House of the Lord in Shiloh. At the time that Samuel was brought to live with Eli, the priest was growing old. He was afflicted with all the agonies of aging.
He needed to rest often. He could not see well. He was going blind. The daily cares of the Temple were a burden to him.
There was no strength to be diligent about his religious duties. As a result, there was no open vision in the land and the lamp of God began to grow dim in the Temple of the Lord. The physical darkness that was descending upon the Temple was symbolic of the spiritual darkness which had gradually descended on a place where the bright light of the seven branched candlestick was never to have been allowed to be diminished. But it happened, because the moral character of the future spiritual leaders of Israel had not been maintained. Specifically, the sons of Eli had desecrated the office of the prophet and the people, by open immorality. Because of this there was concern.
Would the Lord find someone to re-light the holy lamps in the Temple?
Would the Lord speak to His people again? Would God find a man who would do those things which were on His mind and in His heart? The good-news is that the answer is yes!
Israel, did you hear that? God will not always forsake His people!
The Lord will yet come again into His holy Temple, and the light will shine once more. Israel, come close and listen!
God is still present in the growing darkness, and, He will not keep silent. Israel, rejoice! The Lord will yet seek for souls who will walk before Him as anointed servants forever (2:35). And so we read that out of the shadows of the holy sanctuary, God began to speak. “Samuel,” just one word. “Samuel.” That was all God said, and yet that one word speaks volumes, for it indicates three things.
First, God is the Living God. Idols do not speak. Figures of stones and wood are silent, but the Living God can thunder from the mountain top or whisper in the stillness of the night.
Second, God is the Sovereign God. The Lord speaks where, and when, and how He pleases. And no one can stop Him.
Third, God is the gracious God. He condescends to talk to children. Perhaps it would be good to pause and remember afresh that the Lord places a high value on young people who are spiritually inclined. Realizing this might help modern Christians understand that what our youth need most in the church is a vital relationship with the living God. But do they have that? There is a growing concern among careful thinkers as to why it is that so many youths leave the church they have attended since infancy when they go away from home.
In 1966 a minister of a major Canadian denomination told evangelist Leighton Ford of the Billy Graham association that he was troubled by the teenage inquirers he interviewed who had joined a church as children, but said it meant nothing. All of their instruction in a religious environment meant nothing.
But religious instruction should mean something. Christian education ought to lead to a time of personal spiritual choice. Its goal should be conversion, and commitment. When Christian teaching becomes a substitute for conversion instead of a guide to it, the results in the congregations are predictable. There is religion and no righteousness. Evangelist E. Stanley Jones has observed that our churches are filled with people who know about God, but don’t know Him. They are informed about Christ but are not transformed by Him. People know about the moral laws but are powerless to fulfill them.
Why? In many cases, entertainment has taken over that instruction in righteousness that leads to the Living God. The church is left with pretty phrases, but no spiritual power. After all, it is easier to say “in Christ, in the church,” than it is to live out Christian ethics in the church. Certainly “in Christ, in the Church” is true, but can we assume that it is also true to say—“in a Church, in Christ?” Does the outward form guarantee the inward reality? (Leighton Ford).
The obvious answer is no! A thousand times no! To be in the Church is not to be in Christ. There is the need for the new birth. There is need for gospel light. There is a need to hear the voice of God calling out of the darkness that drapes across the soul.
“Samuel,” said the Lord. And young Samuel opened his eyes. Eli must need him. As a good child, Samuel immediately ran to Eli. He did not walk. He ran to his spiritual father only to discover that the High priest had not called. “Child, I did not call you,” said Eli. “Go lie down.”
Samuel was obedient. He moved to his cot, took off his sandals and laid down. No sooner did his head touch the pillow then he heard his name being gently whispered. “Samuel.” Again, Samuel arose and went to Eli. He did not run this time, but he did go quickly and said, “Here am I. You called me.” Samuel was confused when he heard Eli say, “Child, I did not call you. Go lie down.”
Samuel walked slowly back to his cot. This time he did not close his eyes. He simply waited. It was not long before he heard the voice, for the Lord called a third time, “Samuel.”
However, not knowing it was the Lord, Samuel went to Eli. Suddenly, divine illumination came to the mind of the High priest of Israel. The voice out of the darkness must be the voice of God. Eli knew what to do. “Samuel,” the old man said with excitement. “Go, lie down: and it shall be, if He call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. The young child was wide-awake now. Samuel was alert with youthful wonder and excitement. He had heard about God. Would he meet Him tonight? His heart began to beat faster in anticipation. As Samuel laid in the darkness, he sensed there was a presence in the room with him. He was not afraid for he knew that God was drawing near. “And the Lord came, and stood, and called as at other times, “Samuel, Samuel” (1 Sam. 3:10).
There is a theological term for these Old Testament appearances of God. They are called theophanies. They are to be found from Genesis to Malachi. It was the Lord who walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. It was the Lord who spoke to Moses in the burning bush. It was the Lord who visited with Abraham as the Angel of Jehovah. It was the Lord who wrestled with Jacob until the breaking of the day. It was the Lord who came and stood and called
to Samuel one holy night and heard Samuel answer “Speak, for thy servant hearth.”
We will have to leave the Divine narrative at this point in order to make practical application in closing.
First, it is possible for the lamp of God to begin to go out in the Temple of the Christian’s heart. The lamp of God will go out when careful attention is not paid to holy duties. John Bunyan warned of this in his allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress. On his journey to the Celestial City, Christian meets with Hope, who asked what could be the manner of this Going Back, the manner of this sliding backward, of this danger of despairing darkness descending upon many? And Christian answers: “They draw off their thoughts, all that they may, from the remembrance of God. Then they cast off by degrees private Duties, as Closet Prayer, and the curbing of their lusts, and such. They shun the company of lively and warm Christians. After, they then grow cold to Public Duty and the like, they begin to play with little sins openly and soon become hardened to the big ones.”
Every Christian has holy duties. We are to study the Word of God. We are to visit the sick. We are to do the work of an evangelist. D. T. Niles defined evangelism as “one beggar telling another beggar where to find the Bread of Life.” We are to be careful to do good works. We are to be confessing all known sins. There are commandments for Christians to delight in. When holy duties are attended to the Lamp of God will shine brightly in our lives. Our light will glow and others will see God.
Second, it is possible to move so far away from the Lord that He will only speak indirectly through others. When relationships break down, a third party is often the only way to carry on communication. We bring in lawyers, negotiators, and arbitrators who help to serve as peacemakers, or at least as conduits of communication. In context, God was not talking to Eli directly. Their relationship had broken down. The Lord would only speak through a third party. That is the bad news. The good news is that God still speaks to the person who cares to listen. Many years ago while serving in the Army in Ft. Polk, LA, I came across the writings of A. W. Tozer. The title of one of his works is God Still Speaks to the Man Who Cares. I found that title full of hope. God will still speak to the person who cares. If we are not familiar with holy things, the voice of God may sound strange and confusing. However, with the passing of time the voice of God can be recognized: by the Divine authority it conveys, by the persistency it displays, by the prophetic nature it portrays, by the fulfillment of the promises made, by the inherent righteousness it reveals, by the humility it produces. “Speak Lord, for thy servant is listening.”
There is something else to consider from the narrative. A good man who comes under the rod of Divine discipline will remain righteous. God has a great controversy with Eli. The Lord will deal with Eli as harshly as the situation demands, for whom the Lord loves He chastens. Therefore: Eli and his house will be set aside. They will no longer be allowed the privilege of serving as priests unto the Most High God. Eli will no longer have any direct revelation from the Lord. Eli will grow sick. His health will continue to fail.
To his eternal credit, Eli did not try to get away from the Divine discipline. He manifested his sorrow for sin, and he continued to love the Lord. “Though He slay me,” said Job, “yet will I trust Him.” Similarly, “Though He disciplines me severely,” said Eli, “yet will I love Him so.” We believe this is true because Eli was able to discern that it was the Lord who was speaking to Samuel. He still had an understanding of spiritual realities. Eli instructed Samuel to listen to God.
Those who are agnostics, atheistic, or antagonistic to the Lord, encourage others not to listen to anything that has to do with God. Eli made Samuel tell him the message, even when he suspected how unpleasant it might be. Eli accepted the Divine punishment without a word of protest.
Finally, let all Christians keep an eye on the future. No moral, spiritual, or physical darkness can ever completely overcome God. This should encourage the Church. No matter how difficult the days may be, God still reigns. Moreover, He has promised that He will work all things for the good according to His purpose and His good pleasure. Despite the growing spiritual darkness in any given situation, God will still call individuals by name to salvation, to sanctification, and to holy service.
If the Lord calls you be sure to answer, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.”