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GOD’S CALL TO SAMUEL

1 Samuel 2:12-4:1a
Key Verse: 3:10

In the last lesson we thought of Hannah, a woman of prayer. Hannah prayed because she knew her misery as a woman who was deeply troubled. She asked God to look upon her misery and remember her. She prayed out of her great anguish and grief. She prayed, pouring out her soul to the LORD, LORD Almighty, who had closed her womb and so could open it. She prayed clearly for a son, not only because she wanted to overcome her human misery but also she wanted to serve God’s will in that generation. May we have Hanna’s prayer spirit.

Today’s passage is about God’s judgment upon Eli, the priest and his calling upon Samuel, a boy. The priest’s sons were wicked and the time was dark and hopeless with no vision, because the word of God was rare. In that situation God called a boy Samuel, who had been prepared. And the LORD revealed himself to Samuel through his word, and Samuel’s word came to all Israel. In this study let’s think about the preparation for and meaning of God’s call to Samuel.

First, Eli’s wicked sons and a boy Samuel (2:12-36). Look at verse 12. “Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD.” This is a concise description of Eli’s sons. Their wickedness was directly related to their having no regard for the LORD. No regard and no respect for God is the cause of human wickedness and evilness. Their actual wicked deed was described in verses 13-14: “Now it was the practice of the priests with the people that whenever anyone offered a sacrifice and while the meat was being boiled, the servant of the priest would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand. He would plunge it into the pan or kettle or cauldron or pot, and the priest would take for himself whatever the fork brought up. This is how they treated all the Israelites who came to Shiloh.” When they had no regard for the LORD, they had no regard for God’s people. Moreover they were not satisfied with boiled meat. They wanted raw meat to roast. When the man who was sacrificing tried to prevent the servant of the priest from doing so, the servant would use force. Verse 17 says, “This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD’s sight, for they were treating the LORD’s offering with contempt.” They may have thought that no one saw their wicked deeds, but the LORD’s sight was there to watch every act of their wickedness.

Their wicked deed went further in verses 22-25. Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. When they had no regard for the LORD, they were morally degraded. They were sinning directly against the LORD. So Eli said to them, “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. No, my sons; it is not a good report that I hear spreading among the LORD’s people. If a man sins against another man, God may mediate for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?” His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke.” When they had no ears to hear their father’s rebuke, that’s the end. So it is written in verse 25, “for it was the LORD’s will to put them to death.” This is the expression of God’s dreadful judgment.

When we think about the lives of Eli’s sons in the house of the LORD, the environment was so bad that people might wonder how a boy Samuel could be reared in such an environment. It seemed that the boy Samuel could have been bullied and badly influenced by them. Yet, notably the author inserted the story of Samuel’s well growth amid the story of Eli’s sons in verses 18-21. “But Samuel was ministering before the LORD—a boy wearing a linen ephod. Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.” Although he was a boy, Samuel was living and ministering before the LORD. He was wearing a linen ephod. The ephod was a priestly vest used to inquire of the LORD and listen to him. Surely his mother made the little linen ephod. The mother must have wanted Samuel to learn prayer from his boyhood. And Hannah would bring Samuel a little linen robe she made for him. His linen robe reinforced his identity as a priest and as someone set apart for the LORD. Also, we can conjecture that at least once a year when she came to the house of the LORD to offer the annual sacrifice, she had a quality time with Samuel, teaching him to honour God as God and serve him wholeheartedly. And verse 21b says, “Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the LORD.” Despite living in corrupted surroundings, Samuel did not follow the ways of Eli’s sons. Rather he lived before the LORD and grew up in the presence of the LORD. And verse 26 says, “And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favour with the LORD and with men,” while it was the LORD’s will to put Eli’s sons to death. We can see his mother Hannah’s influence upon the life of the boy Samuel through her faithful prayer, considerate care and annual education on top of her parenting while nursing. Also, certainly God protected and brought him up when Hannah offered him to God by faith. In this way the invisible spiritual environment was there for the boy Samuel to grow.

In these days our society and campus environment seems so corrupt that it seems to be impossible to raise young spiritual leaders. However, we learn that when parents pray for their children and shepherds for God’s flock of sheep, and when they teach them the word of God truthfully and wholeheartedly, the invisible spiritual environment can be made for the future spiritual leaders to be raised.

In verses 27-36 God’s judgment message was delivered to Eli. The LORD pointed out Eli’s sin that he did not bear God’s blessing of serving the LORD. Particularly, his great sin was that he honoured his sons more than God. He spoiled his sons against his wishes because he loved his sons more than God. Probably he rebuked his sons too late. The LORD said to him, “Those who honour me I will honour, but those who despise be will be disdained” (30b). This is the truth of God. This is an unchanging principle of God’s way of work generation after generation. It is clearly shown in 1 & 2 Samuel and the whole Bible and in the history of the world. We also learned this truth in Hannah’s song prayer: “those who oppose the LORD will be shattered”; “he humbles and he exalts” (2:10, 7).

And the LORD said to Eli, “The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your family line and you will see distress in my dwelling. Although good will be done to Israel, in your family line there will never be an old man. Every one of you that I do not cut off from my altar will be spared only to blind your eyes with tears and to grieve your heart, and all your descendants will die in the prime of life” (31-33). Here we see that God’s judgment is actual and concrete and dreadful shown in this world besides his judgment after death. Truly, he is the one we are to fear and dread. As we studied, God cannot be mocked.

Despite men’s wickedness God continues his work. So he said, “I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his house and he will minister before my anointed one always” (35). Throughout the study of 1 and 2 Samuel, may we learn to honour God and fear him and live in his presence.

Second, God’s call to Samuel (3:1-4:1a). Look at 3:1. “The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli.” Samuel’s ministering before the LORD under Eli is written 3 times so far (2:11, 18; 3:1). We wonder what kind of work he was doing as he ministered before the LORD under Eli. No doubt this little boy lived as Eli’s assistant, running all kinds of errands for him and taking care of all his daily needs. It seems it was his job to keep the lamp of God burning throughout the night (3:3). His other job seems to have been to open the doors to the house of the LORD every morning (15a), and he probably had to close them each night. Presumably his work also included washing dishes after sacrifices, sweep the floors, and take out the garbage. Little Samuel did all the serving work before God.

And verse 1b says, “In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.”

This one verse well depicts the spiritual condition of those days. This is the depiction of the dark time. We can infer that the word of God was rare because the people had abandoned God’s already revealed word in Scripture. When they began to enjoy the promised land, God’s people gradually lost interest in the word of God. When this continued for some time, they finally became biblically illiterate. Their hearts were dark and the time was dark. They lost even a basic understanding of who God is. They also lost basic discernment of right from wrong and let go of clear moral and spiritual standards. When the people had no word of God, they could not have vision. Proverbs 29:18a says in KJV, “Where [there is] no vision, the people perish.”

Look at verse 2. “One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place.” Eli’s weak eye and dark eyesight could be a poetic expression of the dark time due to rareness of God’s word. He was lying down in his usual place. And verse 3 says, “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.” The gold lampstand located in the Holy Place of the tabernacle was lit at twilight (Ex 30:8) and was kept burning from evening till morning (27:20, 21). It was just before dawn, while the lamp was still burning. And this verse tells us that God had hope. God regarded a little boy Samuel as the lamp of God. He was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God containing Ten Commandments was.

In that situation what happened? Look at verses 4 and 5. “Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, ‘Here I am.’ 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.” Here we see Samuel’s readiness. When he heard his named called, he answered, “Here I am” and ran to Eli even in the dark night just before the dawn. In verse 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.” Sadly, while the boy Samuel was awake in spirit, Eli the priest was not. At this time the boy Samuel must have felt strange not knowing where the voice came from. The author commented in verse 7, “Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” According to this verse, Samuel did not know the LORD, not because he was a young boy, but because the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. Whether young or old, one can know the LORD when the word of the LORD is revealed to the person, and vice versa.

The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went Eli and said, Here I am; you called me. Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. Eli was very slow to perceive the LORD’s calling the boy Samuel, due to spiritual insensitiveness and lack of discernment (1:13-14), not just to his dotage. Anyway after the third calling, 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. The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

In this calling, first of all we see that God was desperate to call someone who would be a prophet of the LORD, to whom the word of the LORD could be revealed and who so would speak the word to his people(3:20). In other words, God was desperate and urgent to call a servant of the word of the LORD in such a time when the word of the LORD was rare. Even he was calling a boy. At the fourth call the LORD himself came and stood near the boy, calling the boy’s name twice emphatically, “Samuel! Samuel!” He was calling with such intensity until his call reached to and was responded by the very person he desired. It was because the lamp of God was about to go out. And it was because his people had no word of God and no vision of God, and so were living with no restraint and no spiritual life. They were dying out in darkness cut off from God. The word of God had to be revealed, for otherwise his people would perish in eternity. That’s why God was calling Samuel so urgently and desperately. God had a great shepherd heart for his people.

Also, we see that God is calling one who is willing to hear his word. Being taught by Eli, Samuel said to the LORD, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” In the gospel narrative Jesus often said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mk 4:9; Lk 8:8; 14:35) or, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear,” (Mk 4:23), God blesses those who have ears to hear, disclosing his words to them.

And we are moved by Samuel’s readiness. The words, “Here I am”, are written 5 times in this passage (4, 5, 6, 8, 16). He was a ready servant to Eli, even getting up at dark night repeatedly; then he could be ready for God’s calling.

When we think of our times, we can confess that the word of the Lord is rare amid the flood of information about the Bible and many church buildings. It is possible that the words of God are rare even among Christian fellowship. When God’s words are rare, various kinds of human teachings and humanistic ideas are rampant and mislead people presenting another gospel. Worldly teachings and ideas infiltrate even into churches and throw weak believers into confusion. A prophet Amos described young people’s hunger and thirst for the word of God in this way: “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Sovereign LORD, ‘when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it. In that day the lovely young women and strong men will faint because of thirst” (Amos 8:11-13). We believe that there is an urgent need of servants of God’s word and Bible teachers in our time. This calling of God may be reached to and rightly responded by prepared and desired young men and women one by one.

And those who received this precious calling of God can renew the attitude toward the word of God. God reveals his words more and more to those who are indeed listening to him in personal obedience to his word. Also, in a church when the church members together eagerly desire to hear the word of God, God will reveal his words abundantly to them. Jesus said, “Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him” (Lk 8:18; Mk 4:24).

When Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening,” the LORD said to Samuel. The words spoken to Samuel, however, was not a pleasant message. It was rather a dreadful judgment message that would make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. We wonder why such a message was given to a boy Samuel. Probably God was preparing Samuel’s inner person to grow strong from his young age so that he could deliver any message of the Lord, even an ear-tingling and very difficult message of judgment, to any person. To serve God’s word, Samuel would need to have an uncompromising attitude with people, no matter who they might be.

After the calling, “The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground.” (19). The expression, “let none of his words fall to the ground” meant that whatever Samuel said came true (9:6). It also implies that Samuel did not speak recklessly, or his own ideas, but only spoke the words of God. Usually, people listen to the words they like, but do not listen to the words they do not like. But Samuel had an absolute attitude toward the word of God. This was the quality for which God regarded him as the lamp of God in that generation. This was the quality for which God could use him as his servant in that chaotic generation. When Samuel had the words of God in his heart, all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord (20). God wants us to be approved Bible teachers and servants of God’s word. The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word (21). And 4:1 says, “And Samuel’s word came to all Israel.” Here we can imagine Samuel’s strenuous effort to continue to come to God personally and listen to his word, and then continue to give God’s word for his people. This one man’s spiritual influence turned an entire nation back to God.

In this study we learn that even in a terrible environment young people can grow spiritually when the invisible godly environment is made. In our time where the word of God is rare, may his desired young people respond to God’s urgent calling for servants of God’s word and Bible teachers. May God raise up Samuels in our generation. May we be ready to listen to his word like Samuel, saying, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

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