Elon, North Carolina
Today, we come to one of my favorite chapters in I Samuel. It is one of the most famous chapters in I Samuel. It is a short chapter, but it is a powerful chapter. Every child knows this chapter. Every kid in Sunday School has heard this story. This chapter raises all kinds of important questions.
Does God speak? Is He speaking today? How is He speaking today? Does He speak to people personally? If he speaks to people personally, can you hear His voice? How do you know when you hear God’s speak? How do you know for sure if you are hearing the voice of God or the voice of someone else?
How many times have we thought that we were hearing God speak but it turned out not to be God but someone else? We thought we were hearing God’s voice, but we were just hearing our voice. Whole religions are based on some supposed revelation from God that did not come from God.
Samuel had the opposite problem. He thought God was not speaking to Him when He was speaking to him. He spoke to him and even called him by name, but he thought that Eli was talking to him. He mistook the voice of God for the voice of a man, not once but three times. God was speaking to him, but he did not recognize the voice of God. How do we recognize when God is talking to us? We will look at that topic.
Before we begin, let’s do a little review. We are studying the life of Samuel. We saw his BIRTH in I Samuel 1 and how he was born as a result of intense prayer on the part of his mother and a radical vow. We saw his CHILDHOOD in I Samuel 2. We saw how he ministered to the Lord in his linen ephod in the Tabernacle. In this chapter, we see his CALL to prophetic ministry. He became a prophet to kings.
In this chapter, there is an old man and a young boy. Samuel was a boy. Jewish tradition places him around twelve at this time. Eli was in his nineties and was blind (I Samuel 3:2). He needed help. Samuel helped the old blind priest in the Tabernacle.
The setting of this story is SHILOH, where the Tabernacle and the ark of God were located. Samuel did not just go to church and work in the church, which was where he ministered (cf. I Samuel 3:1), he grew up in the church literally. He lived in church. He slept in the church. Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. (I Samuel 3:3 NIV). In the middle of the night something happens.
Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” (I Samuel 3:4-5 NIV). God calls his name and he thinks that Eli is calling him. Samuel’s job was to help Eli. Eli is blind and he is thinking that the needs something and the text says that RUNS to Eli.
Samuel wakes Eli up in the middle of the night and Eli says, in essence, “I didn’t call you. Stop bothering me. Go back to sleep.” Samuel thinks that Eli is calling him and Eli thinks that Samuel is hearing things. It happens three times. By the fourth time, Eli realizes that something supernatural is going on here. God is speaking. Eli had bad physical vision. He was blind but he had great spiritual vision. He had great spiritual insight.
Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” (I Samuel 3:8-9 NIV). Samuel goes back to bed. God calls him again and Samuel says, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
God does speak and gives a prophecy of judgment against the house of Eli. Samuel wakes up, immediately rush to Eli and say, “I must be special. God spoke to me last night. I had a word from the Lord.” It was a terrible message that a twelve-year-old boy would have to give to a ninety-year-old man. It was horrifying. It was a shocking prophecy. He did not immediately go tell Eli the bad news that his whole family was under the judgment of God, because he was a terrible parent and did not restrain his wicked sons.
God gave Samuel an ear-tingling word. He gave him a word of judgment. It was negative, not positive, uplifting or comforting. Samuel wakes up and does what he normally did. He opened the doors of the Tabernacle so people could come in (I Samuel 3:15), like nothing had happened. Samuel does not want to tell him the prophecy. Eli has to threaten him to get him to tell it.
“What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” (I Samuel 3:17 NIV).
We are told, “So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him” (I Samuel 3:18 NIV) Samuel tells Eli that because he did not restrain his sons, God was going to judge his family forever and there was nothing he could do about it. Sacrifices would not work. Nothing would work.
Eli’s response is an example to us today. Samuel gives his terrible news from God and he is completely submissive to the will of God. He does not argue with God. He does not shake his fist at God. He does not say that this is unfair. He does not say, Why? He accepts it. He said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes” (I Samuel 3:18 NIV). Few Christians today respond this way to bad news.
Why This Story Matters
It is a very important chapter. It is not just a good Sunday School story for kids.
1) This chapter is important because God SHOWS UP
He makes an appearance. He shows up and He shows up unexpectedly. Most people think this is just a story about God talking to Samuel in the middle of the night. God does not just talk to Samuel; He appears to Samuel. The Lord CAME and STOOD THERE, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” (I Samuel 3:10 NIV). The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh (I Samuel 3:21 NIV). This is a theophany.
What is strange is that God does NOT show up and speak to the priests Hophni and Phinehas. He did NOT appear to Eli, the High Priest. He bypassed the religious establishment. He bypassed all of the religious leaders. He bypassed all of the old people and went straight to a little boy. This is a good verse about God speaking to the youth. We sometimes underestimate youth. God can use young people to do great things. Sometimes they can do more than adults can do, especially when the old people drop the ball and do not do their job.
2) This chapter is important because Samuel gets SAVED here
He has a conversion experience. Apparently, he was not saved before this. Now Samuel did NOT yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had NOT yet been revealed to him. (I Samuel 3:7 NIV). He gets saved as a boy.
Samuel was like a lot of professing Christians today. He believed in God. He was religious. He went to church. He even did some type of ministry, like many do today, in his linen ephod, but he did that without knowing God. He knew about God, but he did not know God personally.
He did not have a relationship with God. God had never spoken to him. He probably thought, like many Christians today thought, that was not even possible. God does not do that. He had some reason for thinking that. We are told, “In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions” (I Samuel 3:1 NIV)
Samuel has a personal encounter with God for the first time and it changed his life. He heard God speak and he responded to it. He could NOT just live off the experience of Eli the High Priest. He could NOT just live off of the spiritual experiences of his parents. He had to have his own experience with God. We need to have our own personal encounter with God.
3) This chapter is important because Samuel gets his CALL to ministry here.
Samuel found out what God wanted him to do with the rest of his life and what his call was. He tells him what his lifelong ministry will be. He learned that as a boy. Many adults do not know what God has called them to do but Samuel found out very early. God calls a lot of people in the Bible to be prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel). This is the only time that He called a child.
This ministry was different than what he was already doing. Samuel already had one type of ministry. He was training to be a priest. He was working as an apprentice at Shiloh under Eli. Now, God is giving him a different ministry.
What is interesting is that Samuel is a young boy when God calls him, but he does not wait until his is grown to begin his ministry. He started it right away. Samuel is the only boy prophet in the Bible. I Samuel 3 gives us Samuel’s first prophecy. He hears the Word of God (I Samuel 3:8-10) and he speaks it (I Samuel 3:11-18). He RECEIVED the message and then he REPEATED it. He delivered it. He RECEIVED a message FROM God and DELIVERED a message FOR God.
Samuel gained a reputation as a prophet. He did not just claim to be a prophet. It was confirmed by others. The whole nation from Dan to Beersheba recognized him to be a prophet. That is like saying he was recognized as a prophet from the North to the South or from New York to LA.
The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word. (I Samuel 3:19-21 NIV)
God is not just calling Samuel to be a prophet; He is starting something brand new. He is beginning a new type of ministry. Samuel begins a new prophetic ministry. He starts a prophetic school, a school of the prophets. God is going to start sending prophets to people.
Applications for Today
We have seen that this chapter matters but why does it matter to us? What are the applications to us today?
God still CALLS people today. If you plan to go into ministry, you have to have a genuine call from God. God said in Jeremiah 23:21 says, “I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their message; I did not speak to them, yet they have prophesied” (NIV).
He knows us all by name and He calls us by name, like He did Samuel. He does not call us all to be prophets or preachers. He does not call us all to be pastors. He gives us all a job to do. Sometimes his call is unexpected. Sometimes He calls us to do new things and start new ministries, like Samuel did. The way God worked in one day may not be the same way he works in another day. There is something else that applies today. If we are genuinely called to do something and if God’s hand is on us, other people will recognize it.
God still SAVES people today. He saves people of all ages including young boys and children. He wants people to know him and have a personal relationship with Him. God especially wants people who minister for Him to know Him with Him, because they represent Him. He still REVEALS Himself to others.
God still SPEAKS to people today. He speaks to them in a lot of different ways. He primarily speaks today in His Word but that is not the only way God speaks. He spoke to Samuel audibly in Hebrew. Samuel did not hear a voice on the inside. He heard a voice on the outside. He thought Eli was calling him. He did not hear a voice in his heart. He heard a voice with his ears. It woke him up. God can still do that today.
Does he speak to people in dreams and visions today? In I Samuel 3:1 it says there were not many visions. Some believe that there are not any today. Some believe that in OT times, there were dreams and visions and in the last days, there will not be any, because we have a completed Bible today. The Bible says the exact opposite.
No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “‘In the LAST DAYS, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see VISIONS, your old men will dream DREAMS. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will PROPHESY. (Acts 2:16-18 NIV).
On the other hand, this is NOT the only way that God speaks. It was not the only way that He spoke in Bible times. He also spoke with a still small voice (I Kings 19:12). God can speak to us on the inside as well as on the outside. We have the Holy Spirit living inside us who leads us.
How to Recognize God’s Voice
I Samuel 3:1 rises a very interesting question. It says, “In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.” It is very similar to what Amos 8:11 says. “Behold, the days are coming when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD” (Amos 8:11 ESV). Does this describe today? Is there a famine of the words of the Lord today?
No. There is NOT a famine of the words of the Lord today for most of us. There may be a famine in some parts of the world that are closed to the gospel but there is a big difference between the time of I Samuel 3:1 (the time of the judges) and today.
At the beginning of the chapter, God was not speaking. Today, He is speaking. We live in a day of incredible revelation. We live in a day of a closed canon. God has written sixty-six books of Scripture. Samuel did not have that. There is more access to sermons, more access to preachers, and more access to bible teachers today than at any time in history.
We can pull up any version of the Bible on our phone and access any sermon on the Internet. If we do not know the Word, it is our own fault. We have all of the resources. Our problem today is not that God is not speaking. Our problem today is that we are not listening. We are not open to hear His voice.
God primarily speaks to us through His Word, but He also speaks to us primarily through a still small voice today. He can still speak audibly but that is rare. How do we know that are actually hearing the voice of God today?
1) If the voice you hear is from God, it will be consistent with Scripture
If the voice you are hearing contradict Scripture, it is not from God. God gave a revelation about judgment on the house of Eli to the boy Samuel in I Samuel 3. In I Samuel 2, he gave the same revelation to another prophet, an unnamed prophet. What God said in I Samuel 3 was consistent with what he said in I Samuel 2. We have to always compare everything we hear with Scripture. God will not say something to you that will completely contraction Scripture.
2) If the voice you hear is from God, you may hear it more than once
God had to speak to Samuel four times before he got the message. God uses repetition. If we call someone and leave a message twice on a phone, we don’t continue calling that person. God is persistent. If He is speaking to you and telling you to do something, you may hear that voice more than once.
3) If the voice you hear is from God, it will be confirmed by others
How did Samuel know that God was speaking to him? Eli told him. He learned it from an older more mature believer. We really need people who are older than us spiritually around us. We need their godly counsel and advice. Eli was more spiritually sensitive. Samuel learned to be more sensitive to God as he got older.
4) If the voice you hear is from God, you must be open to hear it and obey it
When Samuel finally realized who was speaking to him, he said, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (I Samuel 3:9). That is the right response. Samuel was completely open to anything that God had to tell him. Are we? Some of us are open to hearing God’s voice and some are not. Samuel did not argue with God or object. He didn’t protest or complain. He received what God told him and what God told him as unpleasant. So Samuel told him EVERYTHING, hiding NOTHING from him. (I Samuel 3:18 NIV). Do we obey the same way when God speaks to us?