The Young Prophet is Called
1 Samuel 3:1-21
1Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. 2At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place. 3The 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. 4Then the Lord called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am!” 5and 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. 6And 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.” 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8And 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 boy. 9Therefore 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. 10And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” 11Then 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. 12On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13And 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. 14Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.” 15Samuel lay until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. And Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” And he said, “Here I am.” 17And 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.” 18So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.” 19And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord. 21And the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.
This is one of the most endearing stories of all the Scriptures for me. (It doesn’t hurt that used to tell this story to my grandson, Samuel, before his nap whenever we were together when he was very young.) The Lord God comes to a boy, calling him by name into the ministry. It is simple and profound all at once.
It is easy to view this story with your sanctified imagination, watching as a young boy (maybe 12?) lies sleeping the Holy Place (not the Holy of Holies) near the lamp, which was not allowed to go out during the night. It would have been Eli’s job to make sure that lamp stayed lit, as he was the High Priest. But he was also very old and blind. He was unable to perform the task, and his worthless sons were probably unwilling to serve. So the task is placed into Samuel’s hands. Suddenly, he hears someone call his name and assumes that it is Eli. That happens three times, with the third one finding Eli finally figuring out who is actually calling Samuel. After receiving some instruction, Samuel responds in the affirmative when the Lord calls for a fourth time.
Samuel was lying in God’s house, the tabernacle, which is called a “temple” here, for one of only three times in the OT. Samuel had seemingly replaced the high priest Eli, since he is in the presence of God’s ark and is tending to God’s lamp. The lamp was to burn continually, and it was the responsibility of the high priest and other priests to attend to it. Three times we are presented with God calling to Samuel and Samuel reporting to Eli. After the second time Eli sent Samuel back to lie down, the author informs us that Samuel did not yet know Yahweh. At first one might think that he had this ignorance in common with Eli’s faithless sons, but the author explains that in Samuel’s case it means that Yahweh had not yet directly revealed his Word to Samuel. Samuel was not yet a prophet—a circumstance that would change quickly.
Steinmann, A. E. ©2016. 1 Samuel. (p. 113). Saint Louis, MO: CPH.
Now Samuel faces a trial by fire. His first message as a prophet of God is for Eli and the news is not good. Samuel must deliver a sad message, but Eli accepts it with grace and knows that it is indeed the Lord Himself who has spoken. What we witness here is the passing of the torch from one generation to the next. From that moment on, Samuel is seen as the one through whom the Lord will speak. He carries that role for the next 70 plus years.
A unique detail stands out in this story. We know that God’s place of residence in the Tabernacle was the Holy of Holies. This was the place where the Ark of the Covenant was kept and where God “hovered”. Samuel is sleeping in the Holy Place, just outside of the Holy of Holies and in verse 10, we are told, 10… the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” The Lord draws near to Samuel, not the other way around. Eli doesn’t tell Samuel to go looking for God. No, he is instructed to wait until God calls again. The Lord always comes looking for us, not the other way around. That truth follows through to the New Testament and the coming of Jesus into humanity.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Our God is every seeking after us, calling us into His presence and into His service. There could be no greater sound in all the world than that of the Lord calling your name.