God’s Self-Revelation

Last week, we spent our time talking about what it meant that Samuel was being established as the first Old Testament prophet. We also talked about the purpose that the Old Testament prophetic office had in redemptive history as Christ’s throne within His creation was prepared. The text for this morning sounds very familiar. That’s because it is the same text that we read last week. This week, we will move through the remainder of the passage.

1 Samuel 3:1-21

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord before Eli. And word from the Lord was rare in those days, visions were infrequent. It happened at that time as Eli was lying down in his place (now his eyesight had begun to grow dim and he could not see well), and 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, that the Lord called Samuel; and he said, “Here I am.”

Then he 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 yet again, “Samuel!” So Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he answered, “I did not call, my son, lie down again.”

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, nor had the word of the Lord yet been revealed to him. So the Lord called Samuel again for the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli discerned that the Lord was calling the boy.

And Eli said to Samuel, “Go lie down, and it shall be if He calls you, that you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Then the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”

The Lord said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. In that day I will carry out against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons brought a curse on themselves and he did not rebuke them. Therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”

So Samuel lay down until morning. Then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. But Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli.

Then Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” And he said, “Here I am.”

He said, “What is the word that He spoke to you? Please do not hide it from me. May God do so to you, and more also, if you hide anything from me of all the words that He spoke to you.”

So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is the Lord; let Him do what seems good to Him.”

Thus Samuel grew and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fail. All Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of the Lord. And the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, because the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.

Infrequent visions (v. 1)

When we read the first verse, we see that the word of the Lord was rare and visions were infrequent. In order to get at what this means, we have to think back to last week, when we considered what the Old Testament prophetic office was. This Old Testament gift of prophecy was given to God-ordained men who would speak His revealed word to the audience of God’s choosing. That is what Biblical prophecy is, simply speaking the word of the Lord as the Lord reveals it. In the Old Testament, it took the form of the prophets hearing from God in whatever way God chose to speak to them. The word of the Lord was rare because God had not yet ordained a prophet to speak on His behalf. Here, God is raising up a priest who will do according to what is in His heart and in His soul (2:35).

God was providing a prophet who would speak His words faithfully.

Samuel confirmed as a prophet (2-17)

In verses 2-17, we see Samuel’s first experience as a prophet. He was still a boy (v. 1). It is amazing to me how often God uses children and young people. We would expect that God might use those who are more experienced. We cannot forget that God works in such a way that He receives all glory. He does not rely on human experience or knowledge or will. We will see this confirmed throughout these verses.

It happened at that time as Eli was lying down in his place (now his eyesight had begun to grow dim and he could not see well), and 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, that the Lord called Samuel; and he said, “Here I am.”

There are a couple of details we see through verse 4. First, Eli was getting old enough for his eyes to begin noticeably failing. Second, the lamp of God had not yet gone out. When we look back to Leviticus 24:3, we see that this simply means that it was sometime between dusk and dawn- the time people would normally be asleep. Third, Samuel was lying down next to God’s ark. Forth, God called to Samuel for the first time.

The pointings, here, are difficult in the Hebrew. It is either Samuel replying to God, saying, “Here I am,” or God saying, “Here I am,” as He calls out to Samuel. Most commentators seem to think that it is Samuel replying to God as if Eli was calling from the other room. This would not be difficult to imagine. I know that when my wife calls me from across the house, my first reply is to elevate my voice from my side of the house and say, “Yeah?” Then, realizing the difficulty of communicating across distances like this, I walk to her and ask again, “What did you need?” This does seem to be the most natural reading of the text in English. In Hebrew, the literal translation would read, “and called Yahweh to Samuel and said Here I am.” Whether it is God speaking these words or Samuel speaking these words, the interpretation is not changed. God speaks. Samuel does not recognize His voice.

Then he 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 yet again, “Samuel!” So Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he answered, “I did not call, my son, lie down again.”

We’ve all experienced something like this. We are half awake or asleep and we think we hear something. So, we get up to go see what it is and we can’t find the source of the sound. Only in Samuel’s case, God was actually verbally speaking. This happened a first and a second time. Both times, Eli, who was equally as tired, encouraged the boy, Samuel, whom he had raised, to go back to bed. It is like that moment in the parent’s life when the child gets out of bed for the first time, comes into the room, and whispers “mama” or “dada.” We can imagine what might be going through Eli’s mind.

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, nor had the word of the Lord yet been revealed to him.

Here, we see something about the providence of God reaffirmed in the text as the text points back to God’s promise in chapter 2 and verse 35. God was raising up for Himself a priest. Even though Samuel did not and had not known the Lord and even though Samuel had not yet understood the Lord, God had chosen Samuel from even before he was conceived. Samuel is not seeking after God. Samuel is not overly concerned about his spiritual life. Samuel isn’t expecting God to speak to him. Samuel isn’t even really that spiritually aware. God is the one who took the credit for raising Samuel up to do according to all that is in His heart and His soul. In fact, God has even stated that Samuel would be a faithful priest before His anointed always. God takes the credit for working all of this out according to the counsel of His own will.

Samuel did not yet know the Lord. Even though he heard God’s voice twice at this point, the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to Him. Even though God is clearly visible in and through His creation, this is general revelation, it takes God specially revealing Himself to those whom He calls in order for His people to know and recognize Him. Furthermore, we see that the gift of prophecy (whether Old Testament or New) is not a gift that is inherent within the person. This gift depends entirely on God’s decision to reveal Himself and to reveal His own word.

So the Lord called Samuel again for the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli discerned that the Lord was calling the boy.
And Eli said to Samuel, “Go lie down, and it shall be if He calls you, that you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

So far as we know, Eli had never spoken directly with God. In fact, we only see God speaking to Eli through another man who exercised the Old Testament prophetic gift (2:27). This has now happened three times and Eli has had experience with at least one prophet speaking from God. He discerns that it is the Lord speaking and gives Samuel some instruction.

Then the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”
The Lord said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. In that day I will carry out against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons brought a curse on themselves and he did not rebuke them. Therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”

Eli and his sons were priests and they did not follow God (2:12,29). Here, the Lord reveals to Samuel that Eli’s and Eli’s sons’ sins will not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever. Because they did not know God, they would die in their sins without having their sins forgiven. Atonement would never be made on their behalf- even by the death of Christ. We know that atonement is limited in its extent because Scripture, here, says very clearly that Eli and his sons would never have their sins atoned for.

We continue to see this theme of God’s providence and sovereignty in salvation, in redemptive history, and in the events of this world. Samuel was chosen, called, and followed wholly after God- even working out the faith before He knew God (2:26). Eli and his sons were not chosen. In fact, they were reprobate (2:12, 25, 29). As we have already seen in chapters 1-2, the destinies and paths of people are set in place by God and people are still responsible for their sin. If you missed any of this, please go back and review those sermons. We can’t understand what is going on here without understanding the first part of the narrative in 1 Samuel.

So Samuel lay down until morning. Then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. But Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli.
Then Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” And he said, “Here I am.”
He said, “What is the word that He spoke to you? Please do not hide it from me. May God do so to you, and more also, if you hide anything from me of all the words that He spoke to you.”
So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is the Lord; let Him do what seems good to Him.”

Eli, here, shows some level of submissiveness to God. We have seen this before as he addressed one sin (adultery) of his sons but not the other (idolatry, 2:22-23). Still, even Eli recognizes, here, the sovereignty and holiness of God. Furthermore, he concedes, saying, “let Him do what seems good to Him.” There is no repentance. There is no real remorse that we see described in the text. We may be able to discern some feeling of guilt. Eli, the community’s religious leader at this point, has no clue who God is and is going to die in his sin according to God’s judgment.

I have to plead with you. Please do not assume that you know God because you are religious or because you attend a church, mosque, temple, tabernacle or some other place of worship. Do not assume to know God because you are an elder, pastor, rabbi, or imam. Do not assume to know God because you said a prayer or got baptized. Let us receive this warning from the lives of Eli and his sons.

God’s role in the ministry of His word (19-21)

In verses 19-21, we see these basic truths:

    • It is God who guards the words of His messengers.

The place of the preacher-teacher is lowly. I notice that Eli’s family exalted self. Samuel served the Lord. God did not guard the words and lives of Eli’s family. God is the one who takes responsibility and credit for guarding Samuel’s words so that they did not fail. This means that without God’s direct intervention, His protection, and His revelation of Himself, people always fail to communicate God’s message.

    • God confirms us in the roles that He has for us in His kingdom.

In the book, Spirit-led Preaching, the Greg Heisler asks,

Where did we get offtrack with regard to the supernatural- especially the Holy Spirit’s involvement in preaching? (p. 11).

This is a question we ought to ask. This is why preachers are lifelong learners. This is why we pray through each text. We pray to God that He guards our words and gifts us for the ministry of His word. We know, without a doubt, that we are dependent on His mercy as we seek to serve Him and the body. We are completely dependent on God in the ministry of His word. He alone confirms not only the preacher but anyone in any position in His church. This humbles us and glorifies Him. We cannot boast.

    • The Lord reveals Himself through the proclamation of His own word.

God will not likely be made evident to us, in us, or through us if we are not regularly under the Spirit-gifted and Spirit-enabled and Spirit-guarded preaching and teaching of Christ’s explicit word. We need this. God’s word spoken through the Holy Spirit enable person is life to us in every single aspect of the lives that God has given as a gift. No wonder the early church met day-by-day (Acts 2:42). As we forsake, more and more, our worship meetings in healthy, Christ-centered, Biblical local bodies, we sense the power and awe of God less and less.

There are people reading this who haven’t really been seeking after God, who have not been overly concerned about their spiritual lives, who aren’t really expecting God to reveal Himself, and who aren’t really that spiritually aware. Like Samuel, you’ve just been living and doing. Samuel was literally in church for most of his life up to this point before having any sort of spiritual experience and before knowing God. He saw all the religious stuff, but it wasn’t real for him until God revealed Himself to Samuel. Maybe this is true for you today. Jesus says this in John 10:22-30,

At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

Jesus explicitly told this to the Jews. He explained to them the Gospel and identified Himself as the Christ. The people did not believe because they were not His sheep. Christ’s sheep are those who are given by the Father. All of Christ’s sheep hear Him and follow Him. In the Old Testament, God spoke through the Prophets. In our current time, God has spoken directly through Jesus Christ in Christ’s inspired word (Hebrews 1:1-2). Those whom Christ calls will hear and will follow Christ. They will not be mediocre or part-time Christians. When we follow anything, we are all in- like sheep following a shepherd.

Have you truly heard the call of God through the receiving of Christ’s word, or, like Samuel, have you merely been churchy up to this point. Is God calling you? Do you hear? Will you respond by beginning to really follow Him today. Like Samuel, let us say, “Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.”

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