A. Samuel is unable to recognize God’s voice.
1. (1) The scarcity of revelation in Israel.
Now the boy Samuel ministered to the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation.
a. The boy Samuel ministered to the LORD: For the third time, it is emphasized that Samuel ministered to the LORD (also in 1 Samuel 2:11 and 2:18), just as Aaron and his sons did at their consecration as priests (Exodus 29:1) and just as Paul and Barnabas did before they were sent out as missionaries (Acts 13:1-2).
b. The word of the LORD was rare in those days: The only word of the LORD we read of in the first two chapters of 1 Samuel is the word of judgment brought by the man of God against Eli. God didn’t speak often, and when He did, it was a word of judgment.
i. The word of the LORD was rare in those days because of the hardness of heart among the people of Israel and the corruption of the priesthood. God will speak, and guide, when His people seek Him, and when His ministers seek to serve Him diligently.
2. (2-4) God’s first words to Samuel.
And it came to pass at that time, while Eli was lying down in his place, and when his eyes had begun to grow so dim that he could not see, and before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle of the LORD where the ark of God was, and while Samuel was lying down, that the LORD called Samuel. And he answered, “Here I am!”
a. His eyes had begun to grow so dim that he could not see: This was true both spiritually and physically of Eli. His age made him an ineffective leader for Israel.
b. Before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle of the LORD: As a figure of speech, this simply means “before dawn.” But it is also suggestive of the dark spiritual times of Israel – it is dark and will probably get darker.
i. Exodus 27:21 refers to the responsibility of the priests to tend the lamps until sunrise, or just before dawn.
c. While Samuel was lying down, that the LORD called Samuel: We don’t know for certain how old Samuel was. The ancient Jewish historian Josephus said Samuel was 12 years old. However old he was, God spoke to Samuel.
d. And he answered, “Here I am!” This leads us to believe God spoke to Samuel in an audible voice, instead of in an “inner voice,” though this is not certain. But Samuel was so impressed by what he heard, he responded by saying, “Here I am!”
i. This is a beautiful way to respond to God’s word. It isn’t that God does not know where we are, but it tells God, and it reminds us, we are simply before Him as servants, asking what He wants us to do. Samuel is among several others who also said, “Here I am” when the LORD spoke to them: Abraham (Genesis 22:1), Jacob (Genesis 46:2), Moses (Exodus 3:4), Isaiah (Isaiah 6:8), and Ananias (Acts 9:10).
3. (5-9) Samuel doesn’t recognize God’s voice.
So he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” And he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” And he went and lay down. Then the LORD called yet again, “Samuel!” So Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” He answered, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” (Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor was the word of the LORD yet revealed to him.) And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. So he arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you did call me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD had called the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and it shall be, if He calls you, that you must say, ‘Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
a. He ran to Eli: Samuel was an obedient boy. He was wrong in thinking Eli spoke to him, but he was right in what he did. Samuel came to Eli quickly because he knew Eli was blind and might need help.
b. And the LORD called yet again: When speaking to us, God almost always confirms His word again and again. It is generally wrong to do something dramatic in response to a single “inner voice” from the LORD. If God speaks He will confirm, and often in a variety of ways.
c. Samuel did not yet know the LORD: Samuel was a godly and obedient boy, serving God wonderfully. Still, he had not yet given his heart to the LORD. Even children raised in a godly home must be converted by the Spirit of God.
d. Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears: Eli gave Samuel wise counsel. Eli told Samuel to:
· Make himself available for God to speak (Go, lie down).
· Not be presumptuous about God speaking (if He calls you).
· Respond to the word of God (Speak, LORD).
· Humble himself before God and His word (Your servant hears).
e. Speak, LORD: We must hear from God. The preacher may speak, our parents may speak, our friends may speak, our teachers may speak, those on the radio or television may speak. That is all fine, but their voices mean nothing for eternity unless God speaks through them.
B. God’s message to Samuel.
1. (10) Samuel responds just as Eli told him.
Now the LORD came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel answered, “Speak, for Your servant hears.”
a. Then the LORD came and stood and called: This seems to have been audible and because it says the LORD stood, it may be that this was a unique appearing of the LORD, perhaps in the person of Jesus before Bethlehem. This was not a dream or a state of altered consciousness.
2. (11-14) God’s message to Samuel: the coming judgment on Eli and his house.
Then the LORD said to Samuel: “Behold, I will do something in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. “In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them. And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”
a. Both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle: God will give young Samuel spectacular news. In other places in the Old Testament, tingling ears are signs of an especially severe judgment (2 Kings 21:12, Jeremiah 19:3).
b. For I have told him that I will judge his house: Through the word of the man of God in 1 Samuel 2:27-36, Eli already heard of the judgment to come. This word to young Samuel was a word to confirm the previous message from God.
i. “The Lord sends him a word of threatening by a child; for God has many messengers.” (Spurgeon)
c. For the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile: Eli knew of this iniquity from his own observation and from the reports of the people, but especially because God made it known by the message of the man of God.
d. And he did not restrain them: Eli’s responsibility to restrain his sons was not only or even mainly because he was their father. These were adult sons, no longer under Eli’s authority as they were when they were younger. Eli’s main responsibility to restrain his sons was as their “boss” because he was the high priest and his sons were priests under his supervision. However, Eli’s indulgence towards his sons as a boss was no doubt connected to his prior indulgence of them as a parent.
e. The iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever: What a terrible judgment! This means, “It’s too late. Now the opportunity for repentance is past. The judgment is sealed.”
i. Probably, the judgment declared by the man of God in 1 Samuel 2:27-36 was a warning, inviting repentance. Because there was no repentance God confirmed the word of judgment through Samuel. Or, perhaps Eli pleaded that God might withhold His judgment, and this is God’s answer to that pleading.
ii. Do we ever come to a place where our sin cannot be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever? Only if we reject the sacrifice of Jesus for our sin. As Hebrews 10:26 says, if we reject the work of Jesus for us, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.
3. (15-18) Samuel tells Eli the message from God.
So Samuel lay down until morning, and opened the doors of the house of the LORD. And Samuel was afraid to tell Eli the vision. Then Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son!” And he answered, “Here I am.” And he said, “What is the word that the LORD spoke to you? Please do not hide it from me. God do so to you, and more also, if you hide anything from me of all the things that He said to you.” Then Samuel told him everything, and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is the LORD. Let Him do what seems good to Him.”
a. Samuel lay down until morning: Of course, he didn’t sleep at all. We see young Samuel laying on his bed, ears tingling at the message from God, wondering how he could ever tell Eli such a powerful word of judgment (Samuel was afraid to tell Eli).
b. Opened the doors of the house of the LORD: Presumably, this was one of Samuel’s duties as a servant at the tabernacle.
c. Samuel, my son! Eli was not a good boss or a good parent to Hophni and Phinehas. But Samuel came to him as a “second chance,” and Eli did a better job of raising Samuel than he did with his sons by birth.
d. What is the word that the LORD spoke to you? Eli had an idea of what the message of God to Samuel was. Kindly, he took the initiative and asked Samuel, knowing it was difficult for the young man to tell him.
i. Eli made it clear to Samuel he had the responsibility to bring the message even if it was bad news. With a threat like God do so to you, and more also, Samuel was suitably motivated to tell Eli everything.
ii. Eli was admirable because he was willing to be taught from an unexpected source, he wanted to hear the bad news of his condition, and he wanted to hear all God’s message.
e. Then Samuel told him everything: How hard it is to bring a message of judgment! There may be a few with hard hearts (like Jonah) who are happy to announce God’s judgment, but most people find it difficult. Yet it is always the responsibility of God’s messenger to bring everything God says, not just the “easy” words.
f. It is the LORD. Let Him do what seems good to Him: It is hard to know if Eli’s response was godly or fatalistic. We should always submit to God’s rod of correction. Yet this submission is not totally passive. It is also active in repentance, and in doing what one can to cultivate a godly sorrow.
C. Samuel matures and is established as a prophet.
1. (19-20) Samuel grows, maturing physically and spiritually.
So Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel had been established as a prophet of the LORD.
a. The LORD was with him: Nothing compares to this, to have and to know you have the LORD with you. The Christian can know God is with them: If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)
b. Let none of his words fall to the ground: This means all of Samuel’s prophecies came to pass and were known to be true words from God. Therefore, all Israel…knew that Samuel had been established as a prophet of the LORD.
i. Since the days of Moses (some 400 years before the time of Samuel) there were not many prophets in Israel, and certainly no great prophets. At this important time in Israel’s history, God raised up Samuel as a prophet.
ii. Coming in this place in Israel’s history, Samuel is rightly seen as Israel’s last judge and first prophet. Samuel bridges the gap between the time of the judges, and the time of the monarchy when prophets (such as Nathan, Elijah, and Isaiah) influenced the nation.
c. From Dan to Beersheba: This is a way of saying “from northernmost Israel to southernmost Israel.” It is a similar idea as saying in the United States, “from New York to California.”
2. (21) The word of the LORD comes to Samuel.
Then the LORD appeared again in Shiloh. For the LORD revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the LORD.
a. The LORD appeared again in Shiloh: When did the LORD first appear in Shiloh? We know He appeared to Samuel in 1 Samuel 3:10. Now, in some un-described way, the LORD appeared again.
b. The LORD revealed Himself…by the word of the LORD. God reveals Himself by His word. Whenever God is moving, He will reveal Himself by the word of the LORD.