Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
1 Samuel 3:1-10, 11-20
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O LORD, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them — they are more than the sand;
I come to the end — I am still with you.
1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 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. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 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 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.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The 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. Therefore 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.
Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Then 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. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told 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. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”
Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” 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.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”
As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.
This story of Samuel hearing God calling to him repeatedly and Samuel’s not knowing who is calling him has fascinated my imagination. It is one of the few stories centered around a child or youth. And so it made listening to God something a child could do. I suppose it always gave me hope that God could speak to me also. I just needed to be listening and receptive.
I hope that any youth listening will take note of this: God is reaching out to YOU, speaking to You! Believe it!
But today I read the scripture with new eyes, noticing things I’d never before noticed.
Did you realize that while Eli slept in his own room in the temple, Samuel slept in the innermost sanctuary where the arc of the covenant was housed? Perhaps Eli did this as well from time to time. They may have rotated, or perhaps this was a task given over to Samuel, once Samuel grew old enough to be responsible for protecting the arc & light of God during the night.
Scholars note that just enough oil would be put into the lamp of that room – as to last the night. So the indication that the light hadn’t yet gone out, implies the time to have been early morning, just before the light would have gone out naturally. They point out that since Eli was of poor sight, Samuel may have been used to listening for Eli – to assist him, as he had need, tending to him during the night when needed. But on this night, though Samuel swears Eli is calling him, he finally learns that it is the Lord who has come there to be with him, calling his name. And Eli, suspecting it to be God, instructed Samuel to respond saying, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening,” and so Samuel does.
At this, Samuel is given an earful about how Eli’s house will be punished, their sins not forgiven.
Samuel doesn’t want to tell Eli a thing. But Eli implores him saying, May God do to you the same or more if you do not tell me. And so Samuel is coaxed into speaking the Word of the Lord in full – that condemning word concerning the fate of Eli’s family. And to this grave Word, Eli replies, “It is the Lord; let Him do as He sees best.”
And so this is the way Samuel first hears God speak to him.
Several weeks ago, we discussed whether or not we wished to hear God speaking to each of us. Simeon & Anna were two who had heard the Word of God, God’s promises spoken to them! And they wait and watch and endure LONG – for God’s Word to be fulfilled in their lifetimes.
Here we have Samuel, but a child. He wears a linen loin-cloth and a little robe that his mother makes and brings to him each year. Scripture tells us that Samuel has been ministering to the Lord under Eli. Samuel is growing in stature and in favor with God and people. But still he does not know God, and God’s Word had yet to be revealed to him. So this experience takes him quite off guard, especially as the Word of God was rare in those days and visions were not widespread.
I can relate to this. Culturally we place very little faith in visions and words allegedly from God. We tend to think someone crazy or over-inflated if they claim to have gotten a word from God or seen a vision from God. Do we not?
This is most unfortunate for we see God doing both things here. And our God is moving and speaking still…
But because it’s not something we’re well versed in discerning or recognizing or imagining, we aren’t attuned to listening for God to reveal Godself in such ways. And such was the case with Samuel, who – not even yet an adult – is hearing someone call his name and struggling to piece together what is actually going on!
We are akin to Samuel in this way, in many of our inexperience with listening for God, in today’s world and our daily lives.
Finally, I am struck by the finishing words of this story:
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.
I find this phrase, Samuel “let none of [God’s] words fall to the ground,” to be most inspiring.
What we do with God’s Word is of utmost importance.
What do you think it means to not let God’s Word fall to the ground?
Might it be similar to the defilement of letting a national flag touch the ground?
Or perhaps is it obedience?
Does this mean that Samuel both spoke and did whatever God spoke and asked of him?
Scholars convey here that in Israelite culture, one’s word was almost a concrete expression of character. Words could be active or idle. But God’s Word is active; God speaks and it is done. So the meaning believed to be communicated by this phrase, “Let none of God’s words fall to the ground” is that whatever Samuel said, came true.
Samuel’s words were his action. And his words came from God – faithful each one. Such that from the northernmost sanctuary to the southernmost sanctuary of the nation, Samuel became renowned as a trustworthy prophet of God. And this must have been significant, given the realities that God’s Word was rare in those days.
Samuel was blessed to be born of a woman Hannah who KNEW this fervently-prayed-for gift of her first son Samuel was a gift undeserved by God, granted by God after. In profound act of devotion and faithfulness, she pledges her firstborn male child to be God’s servant, a Nazarite, forever. And when God grants her prayer, opening her womb, she remains faithful to God, following through with her promise. Her WORD is her ACTION.
This is Samuel’s mother, and though he does not live with his mother long, he too grows in faithfulness – such that his WORD is his ACTION. And God’s Word is Samuel’s word. It would appear that Samuel learns some of this devotion from his mother.
Samuel also serves the Lord, ministering to God, day after day – before he understands it or knows God. He is faithful in character, such that even in this state of separation from God, he is growing in the favor of God and of people. He is a child of integrity and faithfulness.
When we meet Samuel, he is attending to the arc of the covenant of God, assisting Eli in his priestly and probably his personal duties. Samuel grows in stature BY DOING good, by working faithfully, even without understanding.
And Samuel is ever-so-blessed to have a mentor in Eli. For though Eli’s own boys are hardened in doing evil in God’s sight, Eli himself has been serving the Lord his life-long. So when Samuel begins to hear God speak, Eli has the foresight to guide Samuel in surrendering himself to God, making himself open and attentive to God.
I believe that in this story of Samuel’s coming-of-age, if you will, we are given a picture of listening for God, of watching for God, of faithfulness even amid confusion, and of surrender to God’s will.
Listening for God’s voice to you and to me is perhaps not as far-fetched or as difficult as we have often been led to believe. God has been revealing Godself to us through-out human history! And sometimes it is indeed through visions, hearings, and visitations by angels. Our Christmas story re-attests to this fact – as does the story of Christ’s baptism, in which a voice from heaven says, “this is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
God STILL speaks
God is speaking.
God is showing up.
God is telling us what we need to know,
when we need to know it.
So are we,
growing in faithfulness and devotion, day by day, even when our understanding is incomplete?
positioning ourselves in service to God and to others?
remaining in the presence of good teachers
who can help us grow in our open obedience
surrendering to God’s Word?
Would that we be so faithful as Samuel,
such that many more might come to hear God’s voice,
and live devotedly:
proclaiming God’s Word