Samuel’s encounter with God

1 Samuel 3:1–20 Monday, January 8

The young Samuel has his first encounter with God at night, hearing his voice in the Temple

1 The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.

  • The time of the Judges was a time of spiritual drought (Amos 8:11–12) and the young apprentice Samuel, perhaps 12 years old, had not experienced people hearing from God. The word of the Lord was ‘rare’ — Hebrew yāqār, ‘highly valued’ — indicating that there were memories of greater blessing.
  • For further study: during the whole period of the judges, (2 Chron. 15:3 may refer to this time) we are only told of two prophets, Judges 4:4 (Deborah) and 6:8 (unnamed), and five revelations, including two to Gideon, Judges 2:1–3, 6:11–26, 7:2–11, 10:11–14, 13:3–21.

2–3 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was.
4 Then the Lord called Samuel…
2–3 “Not yet gone out” implies that it was burning low — perhaps shortly before dawn. It had to be kept burning all night.

  • Owing to Eli’s failing eyesight, Samuel’s place of duty was in the Temple where the seven-branched lampstand would burn all night until morning.

…Samuel answered, “Here I am.”

5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.
6 Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”

  • This may indicate that Eli himself was not attuned to the Lord’s voice at this time of low spirituality in Israel.

7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
8 A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy.
9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

  • “The Lord came and stood there” — this is a vision, as well as an audible voice. It was an unmistakable, unforgettable call and Samuel’s response sets the pattern of his life, as a priest who grew into a prophet, such that God’s word captivated him so much that Samuel’s words became as God’s word to the nation (1 Samuel 4:1).

11 And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle.

  • “Ears… tingle”: an expression used of a particularly severe judgment.

12–14 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family — from beginning to end. For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them. Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’ ”

  • Eli, as the head of the household, had responsibility for his sons’ insubordination. This points to the seriousness of insubordination or mocking behaviour in a spiritual situation, and also a distinction between committing sin unwittingly, and high-handed rebellious sin. For the guilt to rest on Eli’s family without any possibility of sacrificial remedy was a harsh sentence — a curse on the family line. He was aware of this through having already received a prophetic warning, 1 Sam. 2:25, 31. When people today struggle with life, the pattern may possibly point to an ancestral failing which is being visited down through subsequent generations who are unaware of the spiritual reason. We have a better remedy through the Cross of Jesus!

15–16 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, My son.”
Samuel answered, “Here I am.”
17–18 “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything He told you.” So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let Him do what is good in His eyes.”

  • Eli accepts the situation and humbly acknowledges the Lord’s sovereignty in it.

19–20 The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and He let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord.

  • “Dan to Beesheba” — our equivalent expression would be John O’Groats to Lands End.

Samuel has had an early lesson in hearing a word, and handling a word which is hard to deliver, but also knowing the Lord’s enabling in this. With Israel facing many enemies, Samuel’s uncompromising obedience in hearing from God and speaking out was going to be vital.

This is a story of two extremes, Samuel’s obedience and readiness to meet with God and at the same time, receive a word from God which would be difficult to share — as they sometimes are.

One might expect God to bring His word to Eli, the experienced priest and the one in charge. But was Eli in a place to receive? We are told in the opening words of the passage that words from the Lord were rare at that time; the time of the judges lasted about three centuries.

Why were words rare? The immediate reason is in the corrupt and abusive behaviour of Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas in which Eli was compliant. God will not be mocked; wanton, rebellious sin causes His withdrawal and worse. Many churches struggle on wondering why the favour and presence of God seems distant, oblivious to the effects of power struggles and harsh treatment of individuals and resisting moves of God that are part of the history.
Eli’s and his sons died abruptly and family line ceased with Abiathar’s dismissal by Solomon two or three generations later.

• For further study, 1 Samuel 2:30–35, 1 Kings 2:26–27. King Saul’s high-handed actions had a similar effect. God bypassed the hierarchical order and found true faith He could use in the apprentice Samuel, and young leader David; both grew as humble leaders, dependent on God and were renowned accordingly.

Discussion starter
How ready are you to hear the Lord in an unexpected way, or showing you an unexpected direction? Probably not an audible voice, but the Lord has many ways of getting our attention and confirming what we sense we are hearing (discuss).

Originally published at The Living Word.



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Ian Greig

Ian Greig


Husband+Father | Missional Christian | Author+ Speaker+Creator — offering ‘Faith without the Faff’ to encourage those not attracted to a formal club-like church