1 Samuel 3:1-21
(watch here: https://youtu.be/ku-b7KTIDug)
1Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
2At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 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! 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. 6The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up 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. 8The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up 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 is listening.”’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’ 11Then the Lord said to Samuel, ‘See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. 12On that day I will fulfil against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13For I have told him that I am about to punish his house for ever, 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 expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.’
15Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16But Eli called Samuel and said, ‘Samuel, my son.’ He said, ‘Here I am.’ 17Eli 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. Then he said, ‘It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.’
19As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord. 21The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.
This morning we return to our lectionary and are introduced to another key character in God’s revelation to his chosen people of Israel. Samuel is a faithful priest who would go on to anoint the first two kings of Israel, Saul and David. His obedient faith in God is rewarded with privilege and status as Israel’s foremost priest. Our passage tells the story of his being called as priest and prophet to God’s beloved people. But before we can fully understand the importance of Samuel’s calling and glean some relevance to our own lives, I think it would first be helpful to recall the context within which Samuel was called.
As we heard at the start of our passage, Samuel was a young man ministering to his master, Eli. For many years, Eli was considered Israel’s most powerful priest. Unfortunately, he had two sons who were wicked and would steal for themselves from the sacrifices made to God. This greatly angered God so He cursed Eli’s household never to be able to reach old age. All his ancestors would die at an early age and God had Eli’s two wicked sons killed on the same day. Pretty harsh treatment for a priest who’s committed faith had earned him the privilege of prophesying the birth of a child to the barren woman, Hannah! God had used Eli to both foretell the birth and bless her child, Samuel. Yet, because of his inability to maintain faithfulness within his own household, Eli became a disgraced, forever cursed priest.
Samuel was miraculously born from the barren Hannah and trained by Eli to become the faithful priest he had wished for his own two wicked sons. God had continued to use his faithful servant, Eli, despite his wicked family. Samuel was trained to know God as Eli knew God—with obedient faith and trust. But Samuel was young and didn’t really know God, at least not by voice. God called out to him three times, “Samuel! Samuel!” and mistook his voice as that of Eli. All three times Samuel ran to Eli under the impression that he had been the one calling out to him. The wise Eli, who had had a rich relationship with God, knew it was God calling Samuel. He advised Samuel to respond at God’s next calling with, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Samuel obeyed and God confirmed the curse he had placed on Eli’s household. Of course, the curse was new to Samuel and he was afraid to relay it to his master but Eli managed to get Samuel to confess what God had told him.
This was the beginning of Samuel’s rich and blessed priesthood. By revealing Eli’s curse to Samuel, God passed the burden of being Israel’s foremost priest on to Samuel. In a way, Eli’s curse seemed to validate Samuel’s calling by giving it necessity and approval. Neither of Eli’s sons could carry the burden of being God’s preferred priest and prophet, nor could any of Eli’s short-lived ancestors. No, God needed someone trained by Eli and of miraculous birth to carry on Eli’s legacy and authority. Samuel fulfilled the requirements quite well as we heard at the end of our passage: “And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheeba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.”
So what does Samuel’s call story reveal to us about God? It is like the call stories of Abraham and Jacob in that God chooses unexpected and unsuspecting people to lead his people. Samuel’s miraculous birth to a barren woman suggests God had a special plan for him since his conception. Perhaps Samuel’s calling reveals more about God’s method of choosing his leaders than about the leaders he chooses. Jacob was chosen because of the inadequacy of his brother, Esau. Samuel was chosen because of the inadequacy of his master, Eli. So God chooses according to the inadequacies of others, eh? Yet Jacob and Samuel weren’t exactly ideal candidates to lead God’s people. Jacob was just as flawed as his brother and Samuel was young and unproven, certainly not ideal candidates.
No, I like to think of Samuel’s call story as another example of revealing God’s character and the character of his leaders. God sticks to his curse on Eli’s household despite Eli’s dedicated faith and service. Samuel heeds God’s calling and shares God’s revelation of the curse despite how it might make him appear to his master. Character, persistence, integrity, honesty, and justice are all revealed by God and Samuel, even to some degree Eli. We look to our God and his leaders to help build our own character and persistence and integrity and honesty and justice. We look to their witness to help guide our own call stories. God calls each of us to serve and how we respond determines our character. Let us listen for his calling in whatever situation we find ourselves in. Let us seek out his voice and his voice alone and strive to answer his calling whatever it may be.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.