1 Samuel 3
The Lord Calls Samuel
3:1 Setting The Stage
Now the young man Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.
The writer has told us that Eli and his line will be replaced. He now moves to tell us of the calling of Samuel into the service of the Lord. To set the stage, he reminds us that Samuel is ministering to the Lord under the supervision of Eli. The people were not hearing from the Lord on a regular basis. It was rare that the Lord revealed his word to the people or that he gave someone a vision. We see throughout the Bible that the Lord often conveys a message by giving a vision. Proverbs 29:18 says “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.” We certainly have seen that in Israel’s history. (This verse is often cited as a kind of management tool, meaning that you have to have plans to succeed. But, it is speaking of a vision from God, a message from God.) In Hosea 12:10, the Lord said “I spoke to the prophets; it was I who multiplied visions, and through the prophets gave parables.”
The Lord described this process in Exodus 12:6-8. He said “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream.”
The fact that the word of the Lord was rare probably means Israel was under God’s wrath. It is a matter of judgment that he did not give his word. His word is a blessing to his people, then and now. If he did not speak, they suffer. In Amos 8:11-12, the Lord declared a judgment on Israel when he said:
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God,
“when I will send a famine on the land—
not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.
12 They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord,
but they shall not find it.
Similarly, Psalm 74 laments the judgment of God, and in 74:9, says: “We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet, and there is none among us who knows how long.”
We know that the priesthood was corrupted by Eli’s sons, and now we know that the Lord was not speaking to them frequently, so the stage is set for the Lord to act, calling someone to whom he can reveal his word and who will speak it to the people.
We are blessed in this time to have the Bible and to hear it preached and taught. But, many churches do not preach and teach it, and other activities take its place. We are blessed when we are in a place where the Lord speaks through the preaching and teaching of the scripture on a regular and continual basis.
3:2-5 The First Call
2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place. 3 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.
4 Then the Lord called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am!” 5 and ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down.
The first call came at night. Eli was lying down in his place, wherever that was. He had become old and nearly blind. However, even though God’s man had lost the ability to see the light, the light was still burning, the lamp of God had not yet gone out. Exodus 27:21 tells us the priest is to keep the lamp burning all night, until morning. Samuel was actually sleeping in the tabernacle, here called the temple. The ark was in the temple. The ark is where the presence of the Lord was. So, the Lord called this little boy. He thought it was Eli, and obediently went to Eli to see what he wanted. But, of course, Eli had not called, and he sent him back to bed.
3:6-7 The Second Call
6 And the Lord called again, “Samuel!” and Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
Again the Lord called Samuel, and again he thought it was Eli. The writer explains to us that Samuel did not know the Lord, so he did not recognize his voice. He had not yet received a revelation of the Lord’s word as a prophet, so he did not know what was going on.
3:8-9 The Third Call
8 And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the young man. 9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
When the Lord called the third time, and Samuel went to Eli, Eli finally perceived it was the Lord calling. Normally, the Lord would have spoke to Eli. Eli was the priest and the judge. But, Eli had already been told his line was ended in God’s service. His sons would in fact be killed. He realized the Lord was calling his replacement. So, he told Samuel to respond to the Lord next time he heard the voice.
3:10-14 The Fourth Call
10 And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” 11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. 12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God,  and he did not restrain them. 14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”
After Eli’s instruction to Samuel, the Lord again called. This time the writer tells us that he actually came and stood when he called. This would make us think it is an appearance of Christ. Samuel responded as Eli instructed: “speak for your servant hears”. And the Lord did speak, and the message was bitter.
At this point, it would seem that Samuel’s prophetic ministry has been inaugurated. He has received a word directly from the Lord, and even experienced the presence of the Lord.
The message of the Lord is the destiny of Eli’s family. The “man of God” has previously delivered much of this message. It is now confirmed to Samuel, with a little added. The Lord confirmed the message of the man of God, that he will do all he said. Then he added an even more chilling message. He will punish the house of Eli forever because of their blasphemy. Further, the Lord swears that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.
Not only will Eli’s house be cut off from the priesthood, and not only will his sons be killed, but their sins will not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering. If their sins are not atoned for, they are not forgiven. If their sin is not forgiven, they will die in their sins, and they will not go to heaven. Their blasphemy has resulted in their damnation.
God takes his name and his reputation seriously, and so should we.
Even though the message here is one of judgment, we should not miss the demonstration of the Lord’s kindness. He called this young boy, and boy did not understand it. Yet, the Lord is patient and calls repeatedly. He is not in a hurry and he does not berate Samuel for his lack of understanding. He gives him time to understand and respond. There is a sense of gentleness here in this calling, in dealing with one who will serve him, in contrast to his stern judgment for those who blasphemed him.
3:15-18 Samuel Relays the Message
15 Samuel lay until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. And Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16 But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” And he said, “Here I am.” 17 And Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.”
Can you imagine Samuel’s state of mind? He has been in the presence of the Lord as only a little boy. The Lord has spoken to him and delivered a terrible message. Eli is his surrogate parent and his leader. Yet, he is given the message of Eli’s destruction. So, he is afraid. But Eli demanded that he tell, and he does. That, by the way, is what a prophet does. He delivers the message of the Lord, whether it is pleasant or not.
For all his faults as a parent and priest, Eli accepted the word of the Lord and bowed to his sovereignty.
3:19-21 Samuel the Prophet
19 And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord. 21 And the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.
Samuel continued to grow up. He was careful and did not ignore the word of the Lord. Even though he was a little boy, he was a prophet. Verse 20 tells us that all the people knew he had been established as a prophet. And the Lord continued to appear to him and to speak to him. You see here the things that made Samuel great and considered on the same level as Moses. He met with the Lord face to face and received his word directly. The passage we referred to previously, in Exodus 12, explained that God appeared to the prophet in visions. He went on, however, to elevate Moses above the ordinary prophet, because he spoke to Moses face to face. God said:
“Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD.”
We see the same is true of Samuel.
It is with Samuel that the office of the prophet becomes the normal thing in Israel. There have been prophets before, but, beginning with Samuel, there will be a constant prophetic voice in Israel, relaying God’s message, his word, to his people.