In the last essay we studied a broad sweep of material; namely, 2:11-4:22. We did that in order to get the full story of Eli and his sons. In this essay we are going to retrace our steps and look more carefully at what was happening to Samuel during that same period.
Samuel came to Shiloh because of a vow made by Hannah, his mother. She vowed that if she had a male child she would bring him to serve the Lord as a life-long Nazirite (1:11). And that was what happened. As soon as Samuel was weaned, Hannah brought him to Eli at the tabernacle and left him there (1:24, 28).
The first mention of Samuel’s ministry is in 2:18-19, which say, “Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy girded with a linen ephod. And his mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year, when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.” Then Samuel is mentioned again in 2:26: “Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men.” Then in chapter three we find the call of Samuel and his activity as a prophet.
Notice first how the author, in verse one, prefaces his story about Samuel’s call with a statement, “the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” The author wanted it to be clear to his readers that something fresh, or new, was beginning with this remarkable boy, Samuel. The implication is that the word of the Lord will no longer be rare in Israel. And then comes an account of the Lord’s first revelation to Samuel.
Eli was sleeping in his room; and Samuel was sleeping in the tabernacle when the Lord called Samuel by name. The dimness of Eli’s eyes was mentioned, probably because Samuel occasionally had to assist Eli during the night. Thus it would not be unusual for Eli to call for Samuel during the night hours.
The fact that “the lamp of God had not yet gone out” refers to the practice of keeping the seven-lamp lampstand in the tabernacle burning throughout the night. It implies that Samuel’s call came during the early morning hours.
The Lord’s call awakened Samuel; but because Samuel did not yet know the Lord (v. 7), meaning he had no experience with direct revelation, he thought it was Eli calling him. So Samuel hurried to Eli, but was told by Eli that he had not called Samuel. The same thing happened two more times. And when Samuel came to Eli the third time, Eli realized that it was the Lord who was calling Samuel. So Eli told Samuel what to do.
In verses 10-14 we see that after his third trip to Eli, the Lord came and stood before Samuel, so that the experience became a vision as well as an audible revelation. This time when the Lord spoke, Samuel did as Eli instructed, and said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Then the Lord revealed to Samuel what he planned to do with Eli’s family. All that the Lord already had told Eli he would do, the Lord intended to do. In addition the Lord told Samuel that no sacrifice could bring expiation, that is, forgiveness, for Eli’s family.
In verses 15-18 we see that Samuel did not want to tell Eli what the Lord had said. But Eli insisted; and so Samuel told him everything. Interestingly, Eli accepted it without complaint. It was exactly what the Lord had revealed to him earlier. It simply confirmed what Eli already knew.
In 3:19-4:1 we see that the chapter ends with a brief account of Samuel’s ministry and his reputation in Israel. His primary ministry was that of a prophet; and his reputation was impeccable, because the Lord spoke through Samuel; and the Lord didn’t let any of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. That is, he left none of Samuel’s words unfulfilled.
The following poem tells the story in a different way.
In Israel’s fane, by silent night,
The lamp of God was burning bright;
And there, by viewless angels kept,
Samuel, the child, securely slept.
A voice unknown the stillness broke,
“Samuel!” it called, and thrice it spoke.
He rose–he asked whence came this word.
From Eli? No, it was the Lord.
Thus early called to serve his God,
In paths of righteousness he trod;
Prophetic visions fired his breast,
And all the chosen tribes were blessed (Cawood).
Now then, turning to application, in the last essay we noted, first, that Samuel was faithful in a negative environment. That is, he did not become part of the pervasive corruption at the tabernacle around which he grew up. Then second, Samuel was obedient. He was obedient to Eli (ch. 3) and to the Lord. And third, in contrast to Eli, Samuel succeeded in fulfilling his divine call from God.
Another way that the passage could be approached is as follows. First, Samuel opened himself to the Lord’s presence. He was a genuine believer. Second, Samuel acknowledged the Lord’s claims. He saw himself strictly as a servant of the Lord. Third, Samuel listened to the Lord’s message. Samuel carefully listened. He was able to tell all the next morning. And fourth, Samuel followed the Lord’s will. With either approach, we see that it is our privilege and duty to follow Samuel’s example.