This is one night Samuel will NEVER forget. It is the night he first heard the voice of God calling out to him. Eli pointed him in the right direction. (This is one of my favorite stories! It is not THE favorite but it ranks high on my list.)
Samuel has spent many years following Eli around and helping out in the Tabernacle. He had taken on some of the duties of the Tabernacle as he got older. This story even has him making his bed in the Tabernacle itself. What a WONDEROUS place to fall asleep! In the very presence of God every night, or right next to it. He wasn’t behind the veil in the Holy of Holies but he was by the lampstand and the altar of incense.
The people might have felt far away from God in those days but Samuel didn’t. Samuel grew up learning about Him and His laws. It was as familiar to him as food and water yet he hadn’t had a personal experience with the Lord. He knew all about Him but didn’t KNOW Him personally.
Unfortunately that’s were a LOT of people stay. They read the word, do the ‘right things’, and even wear the labels but they never go beyond the ‘about Him’ stage to ‘knowing Him.’ Knowing God is where real life begins. Samuel is getting ready to cross that boundary.
OH how I wish I could hear God audibly call my name! I hear His Holy Spirit speak to my heart but I have never heard with my physical ears the voice of God. Samuel gets that opportunity in our story.
I need to set up a few things first before we join our story in progress. First is Samuel’s age. In Hebrew society boys became of age at 13. Until this point they were not accountable for their sins, they were the father’s to carry and deal with. They were not counted into the role of working men until the age of 20. When God called for the census’ He told Moses and Joshua to count the men 20 years of age and older. I believe that there was training for manhood during the years in between these two ages. Because of this ‘age restriction’ I believe that Samuel was approaching the age of 13 at the time our story takes place. This is when a boy becomes a young man and moves from knowing about God to knowing God personally.
Another thing we need to set up in Eli’s relationship with Samuel. Eli’s eyesight is failing and he is relying more and more on Samuel for his daily needs. Eli is old and his health is failing. Originally the office of the high priest was a lifelong office so Eli will remain in his place until his death. (In Jesus’ time the high priest served for a specified term, usually one year.) Eli had a more ‘comfortable’ bed than Samuel did. His old bones didn’t take to sleeping on the floor of the Tabernacle. His bed was within shouting distance but not in the Tabernacle itself as Samuel had to “run” to him when he called. It was Samuel’s job to care for Eli and come whenever he called.
With these assumptions in mind, we will join Samuel the night he meets the Lord.
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Yesterday was a long day! Many people had made petitions to the Lord. Samuel had been kept running from sun up to sun down. He was very grateful when the time came to light the evening lamps and curl up with his blanket in their warm glow. He had become expert at falling asleep under their watchful eyes. He even missed their presence in the short time between when their oil for the night was used and the oil for the morning was applied. This was one of the ways Samuel knew when it was time to rise for the day. The absence of their light is what woke him daily.
Samuel’s eyes snap open. The first thing he sees is that the lamps are still burning. His mind registered the call of his name even though he was asleep. He has been trained to listen even in his sleep for the call of his lord Eli. Samuel calls out to Eli to let him know he has heard him and gets up quickly and runs to Eli’s sleeping quarters.
Eli is first roused by Samuel’s words. He is a bit confused when Samuel arrives at his bedside.
“I’m here. What did you need?” Samuel asks.
“What do you mean “what do I need”? I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.”
Samuel thinks it must have been a dream. He quickly goes back to his warm blanket and snuggles back in for a few more hours of sleep. As he is drifting off into sleep once more he hears his name being called again.
Quickly Samuel gets up and runs back to Eli’s side.
“I’m here father. What do you need?”
Eli had been nearing sleep too when Samuel presented himself a second time. “I didn’t call you my son. Go lie down again.”
Samuel is even more confused. He is certain that he heard his name being called and Eli is the only one who calls for him. “Maybe my father is calling out in his sleep” he thinks. He goes back to his blanket again and tries to go back to sleep. Minutes later Samuel hears it again.
He gets up again, a little slower this time as this is getting old. When he reaches Eli’s bedside he presents himself once again, ready to tend to Eli’s needs.
“Here I am, for you called me” (verse 8b).
Eli is getting a little frustrated at being woken up so many times but before he can voice this something clicks into place in his spirit. He is pretty certain he knows Who is calling Samuel. “I didn’t call you my son. ‘Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears”’ (verse 9b).”
Samuel makes his way back to his blanket again. This time he is filled with excitement. Was it the Lord calling him? Will He call again? He sincerely hopes so! Samuel lies down and waits.
Samuel sits up immediately. “Speak, for your servant hears” (verse 10b).
As soon as Samuel spoke these words he was filled with urgency and listened with his whole being as the Lord poured out His intentions.
“Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle…”
Samuel knew HIS ears were tingling! He wanted to hear more so he remained quiet and listened.
“…On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end…”
Samuel wonders what the Lord has told Eli. “Is it a good thing or a bad thing?”
“…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…”
Samuel’s face pales at the Lord’s words. Shame also creeps into his mind for Eli. He knew Eli had been turning a blind eye to his son’s behaviors. All the people knew this too. And now the Lord was going to punish him.
“…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” (verses 11-14).
Samuel’s jaw dropped. “Forever! OH my Lord! This is a terrible punishment! What do I do? How do I tell him? Maybe he will have forgotten about my coming to him by morning and I can keep this a secret.” Samuel lays back down under his blanket and the weight of his vision presses down on him like the weight of a hundred blankets. He stays where he is as the lamps finally go out and morning dawns. He finally gets up and opens the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel busies himself with the chores of the morning; relighting the lamps, moving the showbread, preparing the incense. Anything he can think of to occupy his time and delay a confrontation with Eli.
As Samuel is working he hears his lord’s voice calling him.
“Samuel, my son” (verse 16b).
There is no putting off his response. He immediately goes to Eli. “Here I am” (verse 16c). Samuel flashes back to the many times during the night when he spoke these very words. Now there is more significance to them as he is certain what Eli wants this time but he is afraid to give the man who has become his father the answer he seeks.
Eli is certain that the Lord did indeed call Samuel again last night after they spoke last. Eli needs to know what was told to Samuel. He is pretty sue he knows the message the Lord delivered. Yet he needs to hear it from Samuel’s lips. “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” (verse 17).
Samuel swallows the lump that has formed in his throat. He MUST tell Eli everything that was told to him. He WILL NOT disobey for he wants NONE of the punishments that Eli and his sons have brought down on themselves!
“The Lord indeed spoke to me early this morning. He told me that He would be doing a new thing in Israel and that the people’s ears would tingle at the hearing of it.”
Samuel pauses for a moment as he looks at the face of the man who has been his father since he was brought to the Tabernacle. He MUST go on with the words the Lord spoke to him. Eli sits patiently and expectantly for Samuel to continue.
“The Lord also said that He was going to punish you and your house for the sins of your sons and for your sin in not correcting them. He said “I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever” (verse 14).
Samuel watched Eli closely as he delivered this last part of the Lord’s message. Eli nods his head in acceptance. Samuel wants to offer comfort to Eli. To somehow take the sting out of the Lord’s words but His words leave no room for comfort. Samuel’s sorrow for Eli will have no effect on the outcome of the Lord’s judgement. And He is just in His judgement.
Eli sits quietly for a bit as the Lord’s words sink deep into his heart. He had already heard his house would be punished and this is only a confirmation of that prophecy he had received. “Thank you my son for holding noting back from me. I recognize the difficult position you have been put into but you MUST share what the Lord speaks to you at all times. Not all of the messages He gives you will be painful but the ones that are must be delivered just as faithfully. The Lord is always just in His actions and to hold back His words would remove the opportunity for repentance.”
“I will remember your words father and will give myself over to the Lord to do with it as He wills.”
“That is all He asks my son.”
Samuel continues on with his duties for the day. As he works he is both thankful and a bit nervous about the fact that the Lord chose him as His messenger. “I pray Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that I serve You faithfully all the days of my life. I will do as You direct me. Give me strength for the tasks that lie ahead. Let me never step out in my own strength to a task that required Yours. Guard my heart from sin. Keep me ever in right relationship with You.”
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“And Samuel grew, and 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 established as a prophet of the Lord” (verses 19-20, emphasis added by me).
Father God, I pray the same prayer I gave to Samuel for my own life. I know I have failed You MANY times. Thank You for Your forgiveness each and every one of those times. I cannot imagine the pain of being told that my sins would NEVER be forgiven again. How did this change Eli’s life? Did he surrender to his fate? Did he confront his sons with this knowledge? If he did, did they even care? Or did they figure that it couldn’t get any worse so why bother trying? It SHOULD have brought them to their knees! But I don’t believe it did.
THANK YOU for taking me from a ‘knowing about You’ existence to a KNOWING You relationship! I pray that for each of my family members who haven’t crossed that boundary. Not only for my children and grandchildren but for ALL my family. Please make Yourself so real in their lives that they too can’t help but hear Your voice.