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The First Book of Samuel (9)

J Riddle, Cheshunt

Chapter 3 – SAMUEL’S CALL

We have already noticed the steady progress of young Samuel. He must have been very young indeed when his parents brought him to Shiloh, but he never looked back. (i) "And the child did minister unto the Lord before Eli the priest" (2.11); (ii) "But Samuel ministered before the Lord, being a child" (2.18); (iii) "And the child Samuel grew before the Lord" (2.21); (iv) "And the child Samuel grew on" (2.26); (v) "And the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli" (3.1); (vi) "And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel...knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord" (3.19-20); (vii) "And the word of Samuel came to all Israel" (4.1). Let us remember that this progress was made against a background of failure in priestly ministry (2.12-17), failure in priestly purity (2.22), and failure in priestly authority (2.29). Are we growing "in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 3.18)? Do not make your circumstances an excuse for slow progress or no progress. Remember Samuel!

Samuel had been "lent to the Lord" (1.28), he "ministered before the Lord" (2.18), and he "grew before the Lord" (2.21). Now he heard the voice of the Lord. "The Lord called Samuel...and the Lord called yet again, Samuel...and the Lord called Samuel again the third time...and the Lord came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel." (3.4,6,8,10). Samuel learned at least four things in this chapter. (i) He learned to recognise the voice of God (vv.1-10); (ii) He learned to appreciate the holiness of God (vv.11-14); (iii) He learned to communicate the message of God (vv.15-18); (iv) He learned to trust the word of God (vv.19-21). This chapter describes a milestone in Samuel’s life. Thus far, he had come to know a great deal about the Lord. Now he began to know the Lord, and nothing was ever the same again! We are not told at what age God spoke to Samuel. He is described as a "child" at the time (v.8), but we should remember that the word "child" is used in a wide sense in the Old Testament. He was obviously a growing lad (see 2.21,26).

1) He learned to recognise the voice of God (vv.1-10)

Israel and the voice of God (v.1)

"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." The word "precious" means "rare", and the words, "there was no open vision", are literally, "a vision was not spread". J.N.Darby translates this: "And the word of Jehovah was rare in those days; a vision was not frequent". Very simply, but very sadly, God was not speaking to His people. We do not have to look far for the reason. The word of God was flouted, not only by the priests, as we have seen, but in the worship of "strange gods" (7.3). See Psalm 78.55-66, which refers to this period. Disobedience will rob us of the voice of God. There is no record that God communicated with Abraham whilst he was in Egypt. When we read God’s Word, we should expect to hear His voice, but we cannot expect Him to speak to us if we are not prepared to obey Him. Disobedience is sin. Samuel himself makes this clear in 15.22-23.

A.McShane suggests that it was because "the word of Jehovah was rare in those days" (JND) that Eli was so slow in realising that God had spoken to Samuel. People just did not expect to hear God’s voice.

Samuel and the voice of God (vv.2-10)

The circumstances of the call (vv.2-3). It was "at that time". The spiritual and moral life of the nation, and in consequence, its national life in its entirety, had reached rock bottom. But God was determined, in His sovereignty, to bless His people, and it all began when a boy heard His voice at Shiloh. J.N.Darby’s translation might help us to get the details more clearly. "And it came to pass at that time, when Eli lay in his place (now his eyes began to grow dim, he could not see), and the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel lay in the temple of Jehovah, where the ark of God was, that Jehovah called to Samuel." The words, "ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord", simply mean that God spoke to Samuel during the night. The seven-branched lampstand ("the lamp of God") burned "from evening to morning before the Lord" (see Ex 27.20-21; Lev 24.3).

The reference to Eli’s physical eyesight reminds us that spiritual eyesight is vital. See, for example in 2 Peter 1.9: "But he that lacketh these things (they are listed there in vv.5-7) is blind, and cannot see afar off". If you cannot see the necessity for spiritual progress ("add to your faith"), then you are blind: "Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Rev 3.17). If you are completely occupied with material progress, then you are blind. How is your eyesight?

The individuality of the call. Samuel heard his name! God spoke to him personally. Note: "And the Lord called yet again, Samuel" (v.6), and, "And the Lord came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel" (v.10). God does speak to us individually, doesn’t He? Haven’t you heard Him say, through His Word, "This is the way, walk ye in it" (Is 30.21)? Perhaps it has been His "still small voice" saying, "What doest thou here?" (1 Kings 19.12-13).

The persistence of the call. God spoke to Samuel four times that night. This exceeded Elihu’s expectation. "God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not" (Job 33.14). But God did not become impatient. After all, Samuel was still young (vv.1,8), and "did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him" (v.7). God dealt with Samuel gently and tenderly. We must notice that on each occasion Samuel did respond, even if he did get it wrong three times! It would have been another matter entirely if Samuel had been a mature grown man, and had deliberately shut his ears to the voice of God. We all have good reason to thank God for His patience and grace, but we must not trade on His understanding and compassion.

God wanted Samuel to know Him, which is more than knowing about Him. He came to know God at an early age. Once again, A.McShane has some valuable comments here: "Whatever care Hannah bestowed upon her child, Samuel, whatever training she gave him, and whatever clothing she provided for him, there was one thing she could not do, and that was to impart to him the knowledge of the Lord. This he must have for himself".

The help with the call. Whatever we may say about Eli, he did recognise that God was speaking to Samuel. He "perceived that the Lord had called the child" (v.8). Good advice followed. "Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth" (v.9). The old man was ready and willing to help the lad, which reminds us that older Christians should be ready to help younger Christians, and younger Christians should be prepared to accept the advice and guidance of older Christians.

The response to the call. "And the Lord came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth" (v.10). We know that he was told to say, "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth". But he was not reprimanded. After all, he was still very young! Notice, too, that "the Lord came, and stood, and called as at other times". We can therefore understand his omission. It is surprising that he said anything at all! Whilst we are told how God appeared to His servants on other occasions (see, for example, Gen 18.1-2; Josh 5.13-15, etc.), we are not told in what way the Lord came, stood, and revealed Himself here.

There can be no better prayer before reading the Scriptures than, "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth". There should be a desire to hear His voice ("speak"), a desire to recognise His authority ("Lord"), and a desire to do His will ("thy servant heareth"). Samuel certainly learned to recognise the voice of God. He evidently enjoyed very close communion with God, which is confirmed when we read, "Now the Lord had told Samuel in his ear a day before Saul came, saying, To morrow about this time I will send thee a man out of the land of Benjamin, and thou shalt anoint him to be captain over my people Israel" (9.15-16). Samuel was obviously very well attuned to the voice of God! God was able to have "a word in his ear"! It is so important to hear and obey God’s voice (see 1 Sam 22.15).

To be continued.


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