God calls Samuel
- Main Text: 1 Samuel 3:1-21
- Accompanying text: John 20:21-23
“The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions” (1 Samuel 3:1). Leadership in Israel had been exerted at first through the patriarchs and then through Moses and Joshua followed by the judges. Samuel was to be last judge. “God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet” (Acts 13:20). A transition was about to take place from judges to monarchs, and then, after the captivity, on to priests, taking us up to the time of Christ. The story of the judges often looks like a narrative of anarchy — “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 21:25). Although there were glorious highlights to come, especially at the time of David, “we see in (the book of) Samuel the beginning of a decline which continues through 1 and 2 Kings until Israel loses everything they gained in the previous 1,000 years” .
Part of that declined was in the leadership of the ailing Eli, and of his two sons. God had told Eli that they would be replaced: “I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his priestly house, and they will minister before my anointed one always” (1 Samuel 2:35) — there are echoes of fulfilment of these words in the life of Samuel, the kingship of David, and, of course, in the ministry of Jesus Christ.
Samuel, who would later be named as being among “those who called on his name;
they called on the LORD (the “I am”), and he answered them” (Psalm 99:6), had a humble and miraculous birth. His mother, Hannah, had been mocked by her polygamist husband’s other wives because she had been barren. After visiting the tabernacle at Shiloh, she later gives birth to Samuel, and in gratitude, dedicates her only son the service of God. It’s possible that Jesus’ mother, Mary, recalls Hannah’s song of joy at Samuel’s birth when she offers her prayer of thanksgiving in Luke 1:46-55.
It appears that the child Samuel would sleep not far from the ark of the covenant, where, nearby, the seven-branched candlestick would burn all night (see Exodus 27:20-21). Therefore, it would have been probably just before dawn when God first called Samuel. Samuel thinks it’s Eli who is calling him, but Eli says it was not him, and tells the boy to go back to bed. The same thing happens again. The third time Eli comes to his senses and realises that it must be God who is speaking to Samuel. Eli tells Samuel to go back to bed again, and, if it happens again, to say “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9). Once more Samuel does go to lie down, the Lord appears to him, and Samuel obediently recites the words Eli told him to say. God gives Samuel a devastating message for Eli, but Samuel is afraid to tell him until Eli coaxes it out of him. Samuel hides nothing from Eli.
“The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD. The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word. And Samuel’s word came to all Israel” (3:18-4:1). Samuel is listed along with Moses by Jeremiah as one of the most influential of the prophets — “Then the Lord said to me: ‘Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go!’” (Jeremiah 15:1).
Thoughts re application today
“And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets…These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:32, 39-40). And that perfection comes only through Jesus Christ. Samuel is made perfect with us in Christ.
Jesus reminds us that each believer is sent by him into the world to witness to his name. “For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me…As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world” (John 17:8,18).
Just as Samuel was called and sent by the Lord, so too are we.
- Psalm 99
- Hebrews 11:32, 39-40
Footnotes and references
- David Pawson, Unlocking the Bible: a unique overview of the whole Bible, published by the HarpersCollinsPublishers, UK, 2015:264.