God’s Call Established Samuel as Prophet

I. Samuel learned to recognize the voice of the Lord – 3:1-9

A. Samuel already ministered, under the instruction and authority of Eli, aiding in priestly work in the tabernacle wearing a garment symbolic of the work of the priest (See 2:18 also.)

B. Israel had not been blessed with the blessing of divine revelation for some time—the “word of the Lord was rare in those days.”

1. The priest was to make sure that the revelation that had been given and inscripturated was held before the people (Malachi 2:7).

2. We should cultivate a spirit of deep gratitude to God for the fullness of revealed truth to which we have access. The promised Christ has come, the nature of his work had been disclosed, his sure return in glorious triumph and judgment has been set forth, and the glorious employments and enjoyments of eternity have been put before the eye of the mind. While we sense the wonder and gravity of such exuberant manifestations of love from God in thus redeeming and revealing, we also should be warned that increased blessing involves commensurate responsibility. (Hebrews 2:1-4 – “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?”)

C. One evening, just as Eli and Samuel had begun to retire, Samuel heard his name called. Assuming the call came from Eli, he went to Eli ready to do what he requested. Eli assured young Samuel that he did not call. This occurred three times.

1. Samuel did not discern that this was the manner in which God would speak to him or even that God would speak to him. Though he served in the house of God, ministering according to the instructions that Eli would give him, “He did not yet know the Lord.” Samuel had had no personal encounter with Yahweh and did not discern that his service would go far beyond the perfunctory matters of the tabernacle.

2. Furthermore, Samuel had no knowledge of the dynamics of prophetic utterance. “The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” That he would be the main instrument by whom God would usher the nation into a new form through the anointing of kings, would press forward the body of prophetic words and types, and utter prophecy even from beyond the grave (1 Samuel 28) was not even a dim imagination of this young man.

3. Eli, however, though in many ways a weak leader, whose family already had been brought under prophetic judgment because of the unchecked perversity of Phineas and Hophni, nevertheless understood that God was moving forward in his purpose for Israel. He recently had received with meekness a severe prophetic utterance against himself (2:27-36).

His house, established as priests by divine revelation (2:27), would be displaced (2:30, 31), and a superior priest, one that is faithful “according to what is in my heart and in my mind,” would be given a “sure house” with unhindered access before the Lord’s “anointed.”

Eli’s sons would be killed on the same day (1 Samuel 4:11), Eli would die when he heard of their death and the capture of the “ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts” (1 Samuel 4:12-18).

His own family would cease to have any presence in the priestly line, fulfilled in 1 Kings 2:27.

The promise of the priest who would please the Lord entirely and whose house would be a “sure house” was fulfilled in its first, but subfinal, manifestation in the appointment by David of the line of Zadok (2 Samuel 8:15-17).  Ultimately only the Lord Jesus Christ himself would bring to perfect culmination all the conditions of this prophecy (Hebrews 8:1-7 et multi).

4. Eli told Samuel that he was receiving a message from the Lord, and to respond with a spirit of compliance and obedience: “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”

II. Samuel’s first message a hard message – 3:10-14 Samuel would be called on to do some striking things in his life and even after death. This word from the Lord would certainly test his willingness to speak the hard truths of revelation.

A. In one of the many theophanies (appearances of God) of the Old Testament (cf. Genesis 18:16, 22), the Lord “stood” in sight of Samuel and spoke to him audibly. Samuel responded in the way in which Eli had instructed him. Close adherence to the advice of experienced people wise and safe; Eli’s problem was notg inordinate perversity of mind, or lack of perception of the ways of God, but weakness of resolution in the matter fo the blasphemous actions of his sons.

B. The prophecy that had been given earlier (2:29, 30) is repeated. In Malachi 1 and 2 we find pronouncement of severe judgment against the priests for their abuse of the sacrifice and their consequent dishonoring of God. God is the only being for whom it would be wrong if he were not with purposeful intent focused on the manifestation of his own glory and zealous for all rational beings to love him above all other things. Iniquity itself consists only of dishonoring the name and will of God. Eli’s sons were worthy of death for their abuse of the sacrifices, their promotion of their own pleasure, and their aggressive possessiveness even over the protests of the people bringing animals for sacrifice. Eli had reprimanded them, but had allowed them to continue their managing, and thus their abusive actions, of the sacrifices.

C. God told Samuel one of the severest statements we find in Scripture. “The iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.” For the sins of head, heart, and hands of Phineas and Hophni no sacrifice of atonement could be offered, even by Christ himself. God had given them up; they had profaned that which was most holy in Israel, the emblems of the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God. Their callous and carnal disregard for the signs of infinite grace had brought pure justice to bear upon them and no sacrifice would deflect it from them.

III. Samuel warned against hiding any of the word of the Lord – 3:15-18

A. Understandably Samuel had fears about telling Eli the message God had given him. He was a child still, and had served Eli, and had heard Eli’s blessings given to his mother (2:20, 21), and probably knew that, in some sense, Elli recognized from before Samuel’s conception that the intervention of God brought about his being (1:17, 18).

B. Eli knew that God had spoken and probably knew already what the message would be. He could not allow Samuel to pollute his own service to the Lord, as Eli had, by refusing to deliver the word of the Lord even in all its severity. So in order to bind Samuel to the full deliverance of the message, he invoked on Samuel the curses of the message if he refused to tell him any part of it.

C. Samuel, therefore, did as Eli had insisted. The spirit of Eli’s submission to the justice of God is seen in his quiet spirit of resignation to the goodness of God: “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.”

D. Because much of contemporary Christianity focuses on God’s desire to make us happy and successful in this world, his judgment of a kind and spiritually sensitive man like Eli might puzzle us. This is because our sense of sin, God’s holiness, and his sovereign prerogative concerning his manifestation of mercy is not in tune with its scriptural symmetry at all. In our fallen condition, none of our works deserves anything but hell. We are unrighteous in all we do, and, when, by his Spirit, he works in us that which is well-pleasing to him, it still has so much of the corruption of the flesh intermixed that it is acceptable only because it comes before the Father cleansed by the blood of Christ. Eli’s calm submission to the divine judgment is a mark of grace even in the face of divine displeasure.

IV. The prophetic office renewed through Samuel (19-21) – God’s purpose through Israel entered a new surge of development through Samuel.

A. Whereas the chapter began, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days, it ends with the nation’s recognition that God had visited his people again and was speaking to them through Samuel. “The Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.”

B. Probably because some male member of each family in the entire nation had to appear to offer sacrifice at some time during the year at Shiloh, “all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord.”

C. “The Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.” In his earliest encounter with the Lord, Samuel had a visual and well as an audible experience of revelation. This text indicates that, in its most enduring and communicable form, the revelation Samuel received came as verbal revelation from God. He judged the people and led them into a more profound understanding of the uniqueness of their place in God’s purpose. The progress of revelation compounded generation after generation, sometimes slowly and then more rapidly. When the Psalmist finished putting together the book of praise for Israel, one of the consistent themes was the goodness of the Lord in his separating them from the other nations on the basis of his revealed truth. For example, the end of Psalm 147 says, “He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his rules. Praise the Lord.”

D. During the time of Christ and the apostles, divine revelation multiplied at a greater pace than at any other time in redemptive history. With the completion of the apostolic age, God’s revelatory work was complete because he had completed his promised redemptive work through his Son and the witnesses that he had appointed had completed their writing that explained the meaning of all those events. We cannot live without the word of the Lord, and now that his revelation has been given perpetuity through Scripture we find that it is “living and powerful and sharper than a two-edged sword” and is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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