1 Samuel 3:1-21: How to listen when "the word of the Lord is rare"
“The word of the Lord was rare in those days.”
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 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. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 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. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up 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.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lordhad not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told 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. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”
Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” 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.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”
As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord. (1 SAMUEL 3:1-21 NRSV).
The Lord dramatically calls the boy Samuel in the night, but Samuel does not recognize the voice. Thinking it is Eli who calls, Samuel runs to him three times. Eli, who as priest should have been listening to the voice of God, does not realize it is the Lord until the third call. Finally Eli instructs Samuel on how to respond to the call of God, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9).
The Lord’s message is one of action. He is about to do something in Israel. He is about to judge Eli and his family. The next morning Samuel is reticent to tell Eli what the Lord said, but after Eli asks him in the name of God, Samuel repeats the message. To his credit, Eli accepts the message of his doom with acceptance, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes” (1 Samuel 3:17).
This is just the first of many times the Lord will appear to Samuel the prophet. Samuel learns to listen to God. He proclaims the message of the Lord to his people, even when the news is bad. As a result of his faithful listening, God is with Samuel and “let none of his words fall to the ground” (1 Samuel 3:19). When Samuel spoke the people could depend on his words being from God, not from his own wishes or imagination.
When Samuel spoke the people could depend on his words being from God, not from his own wishes or imagination. What is it like for people when you speak?
God who speaks, give us ears to listen.
DR. GARY HOLLOWAY
Gary Holloway is Executive Director of the World Convention. Holding degrees from Freed-Hardeman, Harding, The University of Texas, and Emory University, he has written or edited thirty books, including (with Douglas Foster) Renewing God’s World: A Concise Global History of the Stone-Campbell Movement from ACU Press. He is married to Deb Rogers Holloway.