Can You Hear Me Now?

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1 Samuel 3:1-21 (Samuel’s call)
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INTRODUCTION: This is a great passage. Kids especially love this passage because they can relate to Samuel as a young boy. Kids also love repetition, and they love the part about God calling Samuel over and over again and Samuel thinking it’s Eli each time. But this is a great passage for adults too. There is much we can learn from this passage about hearing from God.

You probably remember the commercials where the Verizon guy with the glasses and the short black hair walks around checking the strength of the signal on his cell phone. He keeps asking the question, “Can you hear me now? Good!” Obviously, the point of the commercial is to emphasize how good Verizon’s signal strength is when it comes to cell phones.

Well here’s a question for you. How good is your signal strength when it comes to hearing from God? Do you have an open line of communication with God? Or are there dead spots? If you were to rate your communication with God, how many bars would you give it? Two bars? Three bars? Four bars? None? If God was trying to get through to you, would he be able to say, “Can you hear me now? Good!”

This passage in 1 Samuel marks the transition from a time when Israel was not hearing from God to a time when God’s word came freely to all of Israel. And that difference came about through God’s call of Samuel as a prophet. So, let’s take a look at this passage together, and see what we can learn about hearing from God, especially as we look at Samuel and Eli’s place in the story.

I. God’s silence (1-3)

The story actually begins not with God speaking, but with God’s silence. Look at verse 1:

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)

Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli’s supervision. According to the historian Josephus, Samuel may have been about twelve years old here, but we don’t know for sure. We do know he was still a boy.

We are also told that the word of the Lord was rare at this time, and there were not many visions. This was a time in Israel’s history when Israel was out of communication with God. There was the occasional prophet, such as the man of God who came to Eli in the last chapter, but by and large there was no prophetic word from God to Israel.

This was not a good thing. Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.” (Proverbs 29:18) In other words, when we do not hear from God, society tends to go from bad to worse. You can just look at our society today to see how true that statement is. We need God’s word to guide and direct us and keep us on the straight path. When there is no word from God, that is really a judgment from God, as when God gave the following judgment through the prophet Amos: “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land — not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.” (Amos 8:11) There is no greater judgment of God upon a people than God’s silence – the withholding of his word.

Back to Samuel, the word of the Lord was rare in those days, but God was about to change all that. Samuel was the first named prophet in Scripture since Moses, and with the calling of Samuel God instituted the prophetic office to operate alongside the kingship in Israel.

Verses 2-3 give us the setting for Samuel’s call:

One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 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. (1 Samuel 3:2-3)

The details here are rich in symbolism. Eli’s eyes are weak which reminds us of his weak spiritual vision. We have already seen that Eli was not very discerning when it came to spiritual things. He thought Hannah was drunk when she was praying in the temple. He did nothing when his sons made a mockery of the priesthood. His fading eyesight, his fading vision, is highly symbolic of this time in Israel when the word of the Lord was rare and there were not many visions.

We are also told that the lamp of God had not yet gone out. The priests were required to keep the lamps burning in the temple every night from evening until morning. (Exodus 27:21) So this detail places the timing of Samuel’s call late in the night, perhaps shortly before dawn, but it also gives us a ray of hope. Yes, the word of God was rare, but God had not given up on his people. The lamp of God had not yet gone out.

Eli was lying down in his usual place, and Samuel was lying down in the temple, close to the room where the ark was. This is the first time the Ark of the Covenant is mentioned in 1 Samuel, but it will become very important in the chapters to come.

II. Samuel’s call (4-14)

So the nation of Israel was in a time of spiritual darkness. The priesthood was corrupt. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes. There was no word from God. And it was in this context that God called Samuel. Look at verse 4:

Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. (1 Samuel 3:4-5)

I love this scene. Samuel is alert; he is responsive; he is obedient. He goes running to Eli. “Here I am; you called me!” Eli says, “It wasn’t me. Go back to bed.” So Samuel goes back to bed, and the Lord calls him again. Verse 6:

Again the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” (1 Samuel 3:6)

Now the beauty of this passage is that we know who is calling Samuel right from the start, but Eli just doesn’t get it. This is yet another example of Eli’s spiritual sluggishness. We saw it with Eli and Hannah. We saw it with Eli and his sons. Now we see it with Eli and Samuel.

That explains Eli, but you might be wondering why didn’t Samuel know it was God. We find that out in verse 7:

Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. (1 Samuel 3:7)

God had never spoken to Samuel in this way before, and Samuel, as young as he was, did not realize that this was God calling him. After God’s word was revealed to him, Samuel would learn to recognize God’s voice. But for now, he just assumed it must be Eli. And Eli just kept sending him back to bed. Verse 8:

The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. (1 Samuel 3:8-9)

Finally Eli figured out what was going on. Remember, Eli was not all bad. Eli blessed Hannah in the temple, and God honored that blessing. He rebuked his sons for their sin, even if it was too little, too late. Eli just seems a little sluggish. He is slow to act and slow to pick up on things, although he also sinned by honoring his sons above God. But once he figures out that it is the Lord who is calling Samuel, he gives Samuel some good advice. He tells him to lie down as before, and this time to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” So Samuel goes back to bed a third time, lies down and waits.

Verse 10:

The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” (1 Samuel 3:10a)

Notice that God calls Samuel’s name twice in this verse. This double address of Samuel’s name is significant. When Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Isaac, God called out to him, “Abraham! Abraham!” (Genesis 22:11) When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, he called out, “Moses! Moses!” (Exodus 3:4) Abraham was the father of Israel and the father of faith. Moses was Israel’s deliverer and the giver of the law. Samuel was the first in a line of prophets who would faithfully bring God’s word to his people. All three men were key people in Israel’s history, and God gave all three of them this double call of their name at the key turning points in their lives.

This was the key turning point in Samuel’s life. So how did Samuel respond to this call? Just like Eli told him:

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:10b)

That is a great prayer to pray anytime before hearing God’s word. It shows a desire to hear, a willingness to listen, and a heart that is ready to serve and obey. “Speak, for your servant is listening.” You can pray that prayer before hearing a sermon; you can pray it before reading your Bible. It is a great prayer to pray anytime before hearing God’s word. “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Well, Samuel asked God to speak, and God spoke. It probably was not the message Samuel wanted or expected to hear, but it was the word God had for him. Look at verses 11-14:

And the LORD said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family — from beginning to end. For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them. Therefore, I swore to the house of Eli, `The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.'” (1 Samuel 3:11-14)

Basically, God was confirming the earlier message of judgment he had brought against Eli. Eli’s sons had sinned, and Eli had failed to restrain them. Now Eli’s house would be removed from the priesthood and all the words of the earlier prophecy would be fulfilled. There was no turning back.

III. A prophet attested by God (15-21)

God broke the silence of those days when he called Samuel and gave him this word. Now the only question that remained was, “What would Samuel do with this word?” Remember, he was only a boy, and this was a pretty heavy message for a young boy to deliver to an aging priest.

Verse 15:

Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the LORD. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.” Samuel answered, “Here I am.” “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.” So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes.” (1 Samuel 3:15-18)

We find here the perfect model for giving and receiving God’s word. Eli asks Samuel to tell him God’s word, hiding nothing. Samuel faithfully tells him everything God told him, leaving nothing out. Eli humbly receives God’s word, saying, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

This is the way we should always approach God’s word. The person delivering God’s word should faithfully proclaim the whole counsel of God, leaving nothing out. There are some pastors who only share the positive parts of Scripture and avoid the negative parts. But we need pastors like Paul who told the Ephesian elders in Acts 20: “I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.” (Acts 20:26-27) And like Eli, we should humbly receive all of God’s word, even – perhaps especially – the parts we don’t like or the parts we really don’t want to hear.

Let’s close out the passage now picking up at verse 19:

The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his 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. (1 Samuel 3:19 – 4:1)

After Samuel showed himself faithful as a prophet to Eli, God made him a prophet to all of Israel. I like that phrase, “He let none of his words fall to the ground.” God confirmed Samuel’s prophecies again and again. All of Samuel’s words hit straight to the target, none of them fell to the ground, and all Israel recognized that Samuel was a prophet attested by God. Remember, chapter three began by saying that God’s word was rare at that time. It ends by saying that through Samuel God’s word came to all Israel. There was a new prophet in town, and his name was Samuel.

CONCLUSION: So what are some of the things we can take away from this passage? Let me share several with you.

1) God desires to speak to us. God did not just create the world and walk away. God desires to speak to us and to have a relationship with us. God has always taken the initiative in speaking to man. We just need to learn to listen.

2) We don’t always hear very well. Sometimes we’re like Samuel: we don’t hear very well because we need instruction. Samuel did not recognize God’s voice until Eli explained it to him. Sometimes we’re like Eli: we do not hear from God because we are spiritually sluggish. Remember, it took Eli three times to figure out what was going on. But sometimes we’re like Eli’s sons: we do not hear from God because we have closed our ears to God’s word and we are disobedient. You can’t expect to hear from God when you are covering up your ears. God wants to speak to us, but sometimes we don’t hear very well.

3) God speaks to us primarily through his Word. God rarely speaks directly to people. Even in the Bible God rarely spoke directly to individuals. Samuel was the exception, not the rule. Most people in the Bible received God’s word through a prophet attested by God. Today we primarily receive God’s word through the Bible, which is God’s written word given through men. We need to come to God’s word with reverence and expectation, saying like Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening,” and then let God apply his word to our hearts and minds.

4) God is patient with us. I love the way God keeps coming back to Samuel in this passage. Four times God came and called Samuel’s name before Samuel finally got it. God is remarkably loving and patient. If you approach the Bible with a sincere and listening heart, God will speak to you through his word. You may not get it all the first time, but keep coming back.

5) God has spoken to us through Jesus. The book of Hebrews says, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-2) Do you want to know who God is? Look at Jesus. All the Old Testament prophets looked forward to Christ, and all of the Scriptures are fulfilled in him. When God sent Jesus, it was as if he said, “Can you hear me now? Good!”

© Ray Fowler

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