Joy in Sorrow?

There are moments in our lives that make us stronger. I remember being in the second grade and being sent to the principal’s office at school. I walked into the principal’s office and as soon as I saw the principal, I started sobbing uncontrollably. My infraction was minor and I was only going to receive a talk from this authority figure. My tears were so uncontrollable and unceasing that the school ended up having to call my mom. My mom had to come to the school and pick me up because I was so hurt. I was fragile. Yes, there are moments in our lives that make us stronger and many are more intense than this.

I wonder if our pursuit of happiness and comfort limits our growth. God has promised Eli that his household will be destroyed. He has promised to raise up a faithful priest for Himself. As God raised up this faithful priest, He would prepare that priest. There were moments that God worked together to build him up, moments that were uncomfortable and ever terrifying. I wonder how this truth informs our tendency to pursue happiness and comfort on this earth.

1 Samuel 3:-4:1

The boy Samuel served the Lord in Eli’s presence. In those days the word of the Lord was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread.

One day Eli, whose eyesight was failing, was lying in his room. Before the lamp of God had gone out, Samuel was lying down in the tabernacle of the Lord, where the ark of God was located.

Then the Lord called Samuel, and he answered, “Here I am.” He ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“I didn’t call,” Eli replied. “Go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

Once again the Lord called, “Samuel!”

Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“I didn’t call, my son,” he replied. “Go back and lie down.”

Now Samuel had not yet experienced the Lord, because the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. Once again, for the third time, the Lord called Samuel. He got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli understood that the Lord was calling the boy. He told Samuel, “Go and lie down. If He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

The Lord came, stood there, and called as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”

Samuel responded, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”

The Lord said to Samuel, “I am about to do something in Israel that everyone who hears about it will shudder. On that day I will carry out against Eli everything I said about his family, from beginning to end. I told him that I am going to judge his family forever because of the iniquity he knows about: his sons are defiling the sanctuary, and he has not stopped them. Therefore, I have sworn to Eli’s family: The iniquity of Eli’s family will never be wiped out by either sacrifice or offering.”

Samuel lay down until the morning; then he opened the doors of the Lord’s house. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.”

“Here I am,” answered Samuel.

“What was the message He gave you?” Eli asked. “Don’t hide it from me. May God punish you and do so severely if you hide anything from me that He told you.” So Samuel told him everything and did not hide anything from him. Eli responded, “He is the Lord. He will do what He thinks is good.”

Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and He fulfilled everything Samuel prophesied. All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a confirmed prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear in Shiloh, because there He revealed Himself to Samuel by His word. And Samuel’s words came to all Israel.

The Lord chooses (3:1)

When we jump into this part of the story, we read the first verse. Samuel is serving Eli as a boy. In those days, the word of the Lord was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread. Does that strike anyone else? Does this make you stop and think, “Wait a second. I thought God was always speaking.” Here we have an instance recorded in God’s inspired word saying explicitly that the word of the Lord was rare. Very few people were actually hearing from the Lord. I had to stop and ask what this meant. What does it mean that in some ages of human history God’s word is prevalent and, in some ages it is rare (no, not like a steak)?

In the context of the story, Eli was getting old and his sons had taken over the priestly duties. Eli’s sons were embezzling and causing the whole nation to break the law that God had given. We can read that in 1 Samuel 2. They were not representing God to the people. God states that He will remove this family and raise up a faithful priest for Himself (2:30-35). This priest will be Samuel. Under the trust of Eli’s sons, the word of the Lord was not being taught. God was speaking. God had given them the Torah. They were not considering the instruction that God had plainly made available. Furthermore, prophetic visions were not widespread. There were not prophets that God had raised up to proclaim the words of the Lord in a widespread way. This is why God would raise up Samuel, a man who would “do whatever is in [God’s] heart and mind” (2:35).

It is not that God wasn’t speaking. It is not that God wasn’t drawing people to Himself. It is not that God was being silent. The word of the Lord was rare because no one was preaching it. There were the priests who used the sacrifices for self-gain and there were some people having prophetic visions, but few people, if any, were proclaiming boldly the Lord’s words. So God, because He desires His word be proclaimed and heard and understood, promised to raise up a priest who would do this boldly.

In the world today it seems as though there are very few people who are actually proclaiming the word of the Lord as well. Most sermons I hear or most of the time a verse of Scripture is quoted, it is quoted with the sole intention of defending an already held belief. We have become embezzlers of God’s word, using it for our own gain and for our own defense, just as Eli’s sons became embezzlers regarding the sacrifices to the Lord.

God has spoken. He has given us His word. Most of the time, we use it to justify our own beliefs regarding salvation, election, gender identity, sexuality, Christian living, religion, and even church. God’s word is rare because we have not sought to understand it and we have not taught it fully and genuinely and honestly. We are mostly just interested in gaining for ourselves or defending ourselves. Scripture does its work in transforming us by renewing our minds. That is the very thing that we resist.

God chooses people to do His work.

The Lord speaks (3:2-10)

God speaks to Samuel. Keep in mind that Samuel is still a boy. He hears a disembodied voice. Naturally, he thinks the man not far from him in the same place has called him. So, the boy, Samuel, runs to Eli, “Did you call me?” When Eli said, “No,” the first time, I imagine Samuel is thinking, “Well that was weird.” I’ve had a dream before where my brain perceived a sound, it woke me up, and I tried to find the source of that sound in the material world. I know the feeling, here. Samuel goes back to sleep and it happens again! It happens a third time. He goes to Eli and Eli recognizes what is happening. It was God speaking audibly to Samuel. Eli instructed Samuel to respond to God.

I don’t want you to come away from this thinking that if we listen really intently, we will be able to hear God’s voice like this. That is not the application here. This was weird. It was abnormal. This was not the way that God chose to speak to everyone. God speaking to Samuel was not even on Samuel’s mind. He was not listening intently. God just chose to speak to him in this way and God has done so with a few people through history. God speaking did not depend on Samuel’s pursuit of Him. God chose Samuel. God was raising Samuel. God spoke to Samuel. Samuel would become this prophet God promised to raise up for Himself that would do all that was in God’s heart and mind. Just as we read in Hannah’s prayer (1 Samuel 2), God is the one who has all authority. God is the one working all things together. So, God does what He does to see His work accomplished. At this moment in the story, it meant speaking audibly to Samuel as a young boy.

God does what He does to accomplish His own work.

The Lord instructs (3:11-16)

Choosing Samuel, God spoke to him. God not only spoke to him but gave him instruction. Before this, Samuel had been serving the Lord in Eli’s presence. Eli was like a father to him. Eli had raised him. Breaking this news to Eli would be the most uncomfortable thing that Samuel had ever done. Samuel was afraid. He was not happy about what God had asked him to do. He risked much by stepping out and declaring the word of the Lord.

God was asking Samuel to do something Samuel was afraid to do. I’m not sure we understand the reality of this truth. In our society and in our day, we are concerned about being happy. It is one of our primary pursuits. As we consider the application of God’s word to our happiness and peace and contentment, we notice this truth: God asked Samuel to do something that he was afraid to do. God’s primary concern was not Samuel’s comfort and it wasn’t Samuel’s happiness on this earth. God’s concern was that things were done according to His own heart and mind. He was raising Samuel up to do this.

Please don’t read into this what I am not saying. I do think that God desires us to be happy and to be at peace and to be content. His word says as much and even more:

“It is also the gift of God whenever anyone eats, drinks, and enjoys all his efforts” (Ecclesiastes 3:13).

“Until now you have asked for nothing in My name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete” (John 16:24).

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23a).

“You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and new wine abound” (Psalm 4:7).

“Happy are the people with such blessings. Happy are the people whose God is Yahweh” (Psalm 144:15).

“You reveal the path of life to me; in Your presence is abundant joy; in Your right hand are eternal pleasures” (Psalm 16:11).

I could go on and on. God clearly desires that His people experience deep, unmatched joy. He even provides that joy on this earth. It is not God’s goal, though, to make us happy. We need to make that distinction. There are too many people who imagine that because God loves them, His goal is to bring them happiness. It is not. Consider the words of Solomon,

“In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity, consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man cannot discover anything that will come after him” (Ecclesiastes 7:14).

and Jesus’ half-brother, James,

“Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4).

God has made the day of prosperity and He has made the day of adversity. He has done this for a reason- so that we don’t think too highly of ourselves. When we experience trials, we can consider them to be a joyful experience, though we are not happy in those trials. When God brings us through trials, He is producing in us endurance. Endurance must (yes, must) do its complete work so that we may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. Just as God was raising up Samuel, so He builds us up so that we can be mature and complete.

Here is our problem, we have made our happiness and satisfaction the goal of our religion. Our happiness has become our god. If our goal is to be happy or comfortable or correct all of the time, we have crippled ourselves. We will never gain understanding. We will never be mature and complete, lacking nothing. The day of adversity, being made by God according to Scripture, is good for us. We experience adversity because the Lord is speaking.

So, there is a president you don’t like, you work with someone you don’t like, something about your significant relationship isn’t making you happy? Get over yourself. Work through it. Strive to honor God. Adversity is a good thing. It will make our marriages stronger. It will make friendships deeper. It will help us to love people better. It will make us mature and complete, lacking nothing. This is called sanctification.

God is, first of all, interested in the proclamation of His word. He is also interested in the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. He is interested in our good, not merely giving us happiness on this earth.

Some of the worst advice we receive in this world is, “Do what makes you happy.” That is a terrible way to live. That sort of life philosophy ensures that we will never mature or be complete.

God is interested in the good of His people.

The Lord builds (3:17-4:1)

Samuel did the difficult thing. He followed God’s instruction and God confirmed Him as Israel’s prophet. God was working this together. God was building Samuel up for the purpose He had for Samuel. Samuel’s satisfaction that day was not in Eli’s acceptance but in the Lord.

Our satisfaction is in Christ, so we can do difficult things. Our joy is not based in this world and we have this amazing promise of joy forevermore!

“Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

This is the source of our present joy and satisfaction and peace and contentment. We know that there is trouble in this world. We know that there must be tribulation. This light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So, as bad as things might seem, as bad as our circumstances are, we do not focus on what is seen. When we think about what God is doing in our affliction, we can have joy through that affliction, trusting that God is making us mature and complete. Because of the faith that has been so richly supplied to us, we can, in the present age, be heavenly minded and experience joy through sorrow. God is building His church.

We can experience joy that is based on God’s work, not our experiences.


God chooses people to do His work.

God does what He does to accomplish His own work.

God is interested in the good of His people.

We can experience joy that is based on God’s work, not our experiences.

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