The Book of 1 Samuel

It may be difficult to hear what God says

1 Samuel 3 SCC 10/5/14


There have been many spiritually dark times within the church, amongst Godís people (Eze 9-10). We would agree that we are living in one of them now within the church in the west. God confronts that spiritual darkness to remove its influence and replace it with the light of His proclaimed word by faithful ones whom he raises up for that purpose. The story of 1 Sam 3 reveals how God works toward this end.



1. The writer informs us that, word from the LORD was rare in those days, visions were infrequent v 1. Men were not listening to God in those days, and God did not speak very often. This silence is often a form of divine judgment, and if not broken, would prove to be Israelís undoing (Psa 74:9; Isa 29:9-14; Micah 3:6-7). We are told that prophecy was rare, so that we see the calling of Samuel as an end to Godís silence.


2. With Eliís age, weight, and visual impairment, he needs the help of a boy like Samuel. Samuel can bring Eli a drink of water or run other errands for him. It is only natural for Samuel to assume that a call late at night comes from his master, Eli. From the writerís statement in verse 3, we know that the call of Samuel comes in the early hours of the morning, for he says, the lamp of God had not yet gone out. The lamp is the golden lamp stand, with its seven lamps, which are to burn continually at certain times.


3. The first two times Samuel is called by God, he assumes he is hearing the voice of Eli, his master. Note v 4, 6, and 8. It makes sense, especially if Eli sometimes calls to Samuel for assistance during the night. It is not until the third ďcallĒ that Eli finally grasps the situation and realizes that God is calling Samuel to reveal His Word to the boy. At his instructions, Samuel responds to God when He once again calls.


4. God announces to Samuel that what He is about to do will cause the ears of those who hear the news of it to tingle, both ears. This is no exaggeration. When Eli hears, he collapses, resulting in his death (4:18). The message seems to be a personal one addressed to Eli. In fact, the prophet will be Eliís replacement, functioning as a prophet, a priest, and a judge. The message given to Samuel focuses on Eliís sin more than on the sins of his sons. More specifically, God indicates that He is bringing about judgment on Eli and his house because Eli knows of the sins of his sons and does nothing to hinder them. In contemporary terms, Eli is an ďenabler.Ē He facilitates his sonsí sinful behavior rather than resist and oppose it.


NB: God hates sin, and He judges sinners who will not repent. These are dark days for the nation Israel. The priesthood is corrupt. Those who are to serve God and the nation are abusing their office and abusing the people. The priests are thieves and robbers. They are corrupt and immoral. Godís Word clearly indicates the sacredness of this office and ministry and reveals the ways in which priests should reflect and respect the holiness of God. Eliís sons shake their fists in Godís face, and finally their day of judgment comes, precisely as God has said. Godís day of judgment may come later than we expect, but it will most certainly come.



Godís explanation to Samuel provides us with two more glimpses of Eliís troubles. 

First, in verse 13 we discover that Eliís house would be judged because of the sins of his sons that Eli knew all about, for his sons brought a curse on themselves.  Actually it is better to translate the concept of Ďcurseí here as their blatant disregard for Godís expectations as priests had meant they Ďcursed Godí. This atrocity would be unthinkable, namely, that the priests were actually cursing God (treating him lightly, with contempt) by there perverted priesthoodóone God had personally constructed for fellowship with his people.


Secondly, when Eli heard about it, he did not rebuke them v. 13.  Rebuke is not the best choice, since Eli did rebuke them, albeit too little and too late.  It can mean that admonish or restrain. Eliís eyes are dim; they can barely see. But Eli does not take a dim enough view of his sonís actions. He may not be able to extinguish the high beam light of their sins, but he can have a dimming effect. He can exercise some restraint -- for example, he can remove them as priests. He can make it difficult for them to sin. Instead, he facilitates their sins, and it is for this that God deals so severely with Eli and his entire house v 14.


Eli did not exert the effort to influence the way his sons thought, through appropriate instruction, discipline, warning, and correction.  He simply waited until they did vile things, and then said they should not do such things.   He did not admonish them; he did not put it in their minds to do what God said had to be done.  This idea is close to Paulís admonition that a minister is supposed to be able to rule his household and ensure that his children are faithful and righteous. That comes from a life-time of careful teaching, encouraging, correcting, and warning.


NB: So under the Mosaic Law the penalty for showing contempt for the priesthood, for disobeying parents, and for blasphemy was death (Deut 17:12; 21:18-21; Lev 24:11-16). This was what Hophni and Phinehas would experience. The cutting off of Eliís line happened about 130 years later (I Kgs 2:27, 35). Verse 14 indicates that the sin of Eliís house is now beyond repentance; Godís judgment is imminent. There is no sacrifice or atonement to set this matter straight, only judgment. In simple terms, Eli and sons have passed the ďpoint of no return.Ē They refuse to repent, and judgment is coming. This is because Eliís sin and the sins of his sons are committed with a high hand; they are sins of presumption.




1. When morning comes, Samuel seems to avoid Eli. He goes about his regular routine, just as always, as though nothing has happened v 15. Eli knows better. He knows that God has called Samuel three times during the night. He knows it is God who is about to reveal something to Samuel. He does not know what it is, although he surely has his fears. The last message he received from a prophet was a foreboding one. And so Eli presses Samuel to tell him all that God spoke to him v 16-17. He does not allow Samuel to hold back. And so Samuel reluctantly tells Eli the whole message v 18.


2. The word of the Lord, when repeated to Eli, drew a sad response from the unfaithful priest: It is the Lord; let him do what seems right v 18.  Eli could only surrender to Godís judgment on him, for he knew his life and his failure.  He was old, and made no effort to plead for mercy; he simply gave in. This has been his track record and it seems a fatalistic response when there is still time for him to come to terms and at least repent of his negligence before God.


3. The way a true prophet is accredited is spelled out in Deut 13:1-5; 18:14-22. A true prophet speaks in a way that calls upon men to follow God, to obey Him. A true prophet is one whose words come to pass. Our author tells us literally that God let none of Samuelís words fall to the ground v 19. Everything Samuel says will happen does happen. And every Israelite realizes that Godís hand is upon Samuel and that He speaks the Word of the Lord v 20. From Dan, the northern-most part of the land, to Beersheba, the southern-most city, all Israel recognizes Samuel as a prophet of God. The silence is broken v 21.


So What?

1. Many people want to do something spectacular to obtain Godís blessings and power. Samuel teaches us that this is not the norm. Samuel does not do anything to prompt Godís appearance or to reveal His Word in prophecy. Samuel is simply going about his daily duties. There is nothing particularly romantic or ďspiritualĒ about dusting and cleaning tabernacle furnishings, about sweeping the floors, or about serving a nearly blind, nearly dead old man (Eli). But in the course of going about his assigned tasks, God finds Samuel and reveals Himself to Him. Let us go about our lives, faithfully doing the work God has given us to do, leaving the spectacular interventions, the great successes, to God. When it is His time for them to happen, they will happen, not so much because of what we have done, but because God always keeps His promises.


2. God will replace spiritual leaders who fail to honor him.  If they live only for themselves, fulfilling their own needs and desires, and do not preserve the standard of righteousness, and do not encourage and assist the truly devout, then they should not have a ministry.  God has someone else who is faithful. It is that one he will bless.