Last week we read about the mysterious man of God who appeared to Eli, the old priest, to announce to him that the Lord was going to cut short Eli’s family so that there would not be an old man among them and none of them would serve the Lord as his priests. It was a terrible word of judgment on Eli, because he did not remove his wicked sons from serving as priests. But at the end of the message, the man of God spoke about how the Lord would raise up a faithful priest, who would serve before the Lord’s anointed king. And I said last week that the man of God’s words were fulfilled on one level by Zadok the priest and David the king. The time would come when the last of Eli’s descendants was removed from the priesthood and Zadok was appointed in his place. And Zadok served before David, who was God’s anointed king in those days. But, of course, the man of God’s words are fulfilled in an even greater and better way by the Lord Jesus Christ, who is both our Great High Priest and our Great King. As our Great High Priest, he offered himself as the perfect, once-for-all, never-to-be-repeated sacrifice for sins. He died to make atonement for sinners so that all who believe in him are set free from condemnation; and their guilt is washed away forever. And then, as our Great King — who rules and reigns over all things in heaven above and on the earth below — he calls us into his kingdom, which is an everlasting kingdom, and he promises to keep us in his kingdom forever. And he’s able to defend and protect us from all his and our enemies.
The man of God’s message to Eli was fulfilled ultimately by the Lord Jesus who is our priest and our king. And now, in 1 Samuel 3, God calls Samuel to be his prophet and to declare God’s word to his people. And by serving the Lord as his prophet, Samuel foreshadows the Lord Jesus Christ, who is not only our Great High Priest and our Great King, but he’s also our Great Prophet, who reveals to us by his word and Spirit God’s will for our complete salvation. And so, once again, as we read this very familiar story, and as we study it together, we’re to look upwards to heaven and to Jesus Christ our Great Prophet who is the fulfilment of what we read here.
And as we turn to the passage, let me outline the chapter for you. It begins in verse 1 by telling us that the word of God was rare in those days. And then, in verse 2, we’re told about Eli’s decline. And then, in verses 3 to 9, God called Samuel. And then, in verses 10 to 15, the Lord revealed his word to Samuel. After that, in verses 16 to 18, Eli called Samuel. And in verse 19, we read about Samuel’s growing stature. And the chapter ends by telling us how God continued to reveal himself through his word.
Now, I wonder did you notice that the first half of the chapter and the second half of the chapter mirror one another? The chapter begins and ends by telling us about the word of God: at the beginning, it was rare; but at the end, the Lord had begun to reveal himself through his word. In the first half, we’re told about Eli’s decline and in the second half, we’re told about Samuel’s rise. In the first half, God calls Samuel. And in the second half, Eli calls Samuel. And right in the middle of the chapter, is God’s message to Samuel about Eli.
So, Eli is fading away. In fact, in the next chapter, we’ll read about his death. And Samuel is rising in prominence. And he’s rising in prominence because the Lord continued to reveal his word to Samuel his prophet.
So, let’s turn to this passage to study it now.
In verse 1, we’re told that the boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. We’re not told what age Samuel is. When his mother took him to the tabernacle at first, he was very young. And we read in chapter 2 how his mother would come each year to visit him and to give him a new robe to wear. And that suggests that some years have passed between chapter 1 and chapter 3. But he’s still described as a boy. And we’re told that he ministered before the Lord. The word ‘ministered’ normally refers to the work of the priests and Levites. However, since Samuel is Eli’s helper, it makes sense to use the same word to refer to his work.
And then we’re told that in those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions. Now, in the modern church, as well as in business, people often talk about having vision. What we need — we’re told — is people with vision. People who can see what’s wrong with the church or with a business and what needs to be done to put it right. We need vision casters, we’re told. People who can see what needs to be done and who are able to talk about it in such a way that it inspires everyone else to get on board. But that’s not what is meant here. In the Bible, God would reveal his will to his prophets in visions. And the prophets would see these visions from the Lord. In fact, in 1 Samuel 9 we’re actually told that the prophets used to be known as seers. They were seers, because they used to see visions from the Lord.
So, think of Ezekiel who saw the valley of dry bones. Or think of the visions Daniel received of strange looking beasts, one like a lion but with the wings of an eagle; and one like a bear; and one like a leopard with wings on its back; and another like a very terrifying and frightening beast with large iron teeth. Or, in the book of Acts in the New Testament, Peter saw that vision of a large sheet with all kinds of animals on it. And then there’s the book of Revelation, which contains many visions which the Apostle John received from the Lord about heaven and earth and the things that will happen in these, the last days, in which we’re living. The Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles received visions from the Lord. The Lord showed them certain things. And then, what did the prophets and apostles do with the visions they had seen? Well, they told the people the things they saw and they wrote it down so that God’s people in future generations can read what they saw.
But in those days, the days when Samuel was growing up in Shiloh, the word of the Lord was rare, because there were not many visions. God was not revealing himself or his will in those days. But that was about to change.
We’re told in verse 2 about Eli’s decline. He was an old man and his sight was getting weak. If he were alive today, he’d probably be given bifocals to wear. So, he’s getting old and his sight is failing. And we’re told that one night, he was lying down in his usual place. It seemed like a normal night in the tabernacle and Eli was settling down to sleep. Just like any other night.
Verses 3 to 9
And we’re told in verse 3 that the lamp of God had not yet gone out. This was a lamp-stand made of gold with six branches on it so that it looked like a tree. It was kept in the Holy Place, which was located next to the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle. The lamp had seven lights on it which were kept lit throughout the night. And so, by telling us that the lamp had not yet gone out, the text is telling us that it was night time. And since it was night time, Samuel was also lying down. It says he was lying down in the temple, that is, the tabernacle, where the ark of the Lord was. This puzzles the commentators because the ark was in the Most Holy Place and only the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place. So, it doesn’t seem likely that Samuel was sleeping in the Most Holy Place. Presumably it means that he was sleeping somewhere near it. But it’s a wonderful picture of what it was like for Samuel, because it seems he grew up literally in the Lord’s tabernacle. That is, in the Lord’s dwelling place. This was his home.
And we’re told in verse 4 that the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered the call, saying: ‘Here I am.’ And he ran to Eli and said to him: ‘Here I am. You called me.’
Well, Eli hadn’t called him. The Lord had called him. But it seemed to Samuel to come from the old priest, which tells us that the voice he heard was not a voice in his head, but a voice coming from somewhere else.
Eli replied that he hadn’t called Samuel and he told the boy to go back to his place and lie down. This happened again. And again. And after the third time, it dawned on Eli that it must have been the Lord who was calling Samuel. Now, according to verse 7, Samuel did not yet know the Lord. So, that’s the explanation for why Samuel didn’t realise it was the Lord who was calling him. Now, the very same phrase — ‘did not know the Lord’ — was used in chapter 2 to describe Eli’s worthless sons. In their case, it meant they had no regard for the Lord and did not honour him, even though they were serving him as priests. And because they did not know him or regard him as holy, they did those wicked things which we read about last time. But Samuel was very different, because we’re told how he ministered before the Lord and he grew in favour with the Lord and with men. So, he knew the Lord was holy; and he was careful to love and serve the Lord and to honour him. And so, when it says he did not know the Lord, it simply means that he didn’t yet know the Lord in the way he would know the Lord, as the God who reveals mysteries. So, since God had never called him like this before, it’s not surprising that he didn’t realise what was happening. But finally Eli realised what was happening and he instructed Samuel what to do.
Verses 10 to 15
And in verse 10 we read how the Lord came and stood there, calling Samuel as he did before. And this time, Samuel replied by saying: ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’ And the Lord’s message at that time was really only to confirm what he had said before in chapter 2 about how he was going to cut short Eli’s family. What he was about to do to would make the ears of everyone who heard it tingle because he was going to carry out everything he said he would do from beginning to end. By the things they did — stealing from the people; stealing from the Lord; defiling the Lord’s dwelling place with their sexual immorality — Eli’s sons had made themselves contemptible in the eyes of the Lord; and Eli was at fault for not removing them from their priesthood. because according to the Lord. Therefore — and here again are chilling words from the Lord — therefore, the guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or by offering. The Lord would not forgive them.
Verses 16 to 18
As I said, the message to Samuel at that time really only confirmed what the Lord had already revealed in chapter 2. The significance of the message was not so much the content of this message, but that the Lord was revealing his word to Samuel. When the Lord called Samuel in the night, he was calling him to be a prophet, because the Lord was no longer going to be silent, but he was going to reveal himself and his will to his people.
Samuel went back to bed and didn’t get up until the morning, when he opened the door of the tabernacle. And, at first, he was afraid to tell Samuel what the message was. That’s understandable, isn’t it? Who likes to be the bearer of bad news? And we can imagine Samuel, going about his work, trying to avoid Eli’s eye, hoping that Eli will have forgotten all about it. But eventually, Eli called him. And the old priest instructed Samuel to tell him the message and not to hide anything from him. If he’s going to be a prophet of the Lord, he must learn to declare God’s word no matter what the message is. He’s not to tamper with the message, or change it in any way, but he’s to deliver the word of the Lord as faithfully and as accurately as possible. Isn’t that what the Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians? In chapter 4, he wrote how he had renounced secret and shameful ways and he would not use deception and he would not distort the word of God. That’s always the temptation for preachers. People may not like what they hear, because God’s word rebukes us and it corrects us and it humbles us. And people don’t like being rebuked or corrected or humbled. They want to be praised and told what fine people they are. But instead of distorting God’s word, Paul the apostle was determined to set forth the truth of God’s word plainly. And that’s what Samuel eventually did, once Eli encouraged him. He told the old man everything and hid nothing from him.
Verses 19 and 20
In verse 19 we read that the Lord was with Samuel as he grew up. And the Lord let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. In other words, the Lord made sure that the things he revealed to Samuel happened. And so, all of Israel recognised that Samuel was indeed the Lord’s prophet. They recognised that the Lord has chosen Samuel to be his prophet; and that Samuel has been set apart by the Lord to proclaim God’s word to God’s people. So, whereas Eli was declining as a leader, growing older and weaker and frailer, Samuel was growing up and he was growing in stature and in prominence among the people.
And the chapter ends by telling us that the Lord continued to appear at Shiloh and that he revealed himself to Samuel through his word. At the beginning of the chapter, we were told that in those days, the word of the Lord was rare. God was silent in those days. But now, the Lord was beginning to speak once again and to make known his will to his people. And, of course, he began to speak once again because of the new thing he was about to do in those days, because in those days he was going to give his people a king to lead them in victory over all their enemies and to let them live in peace and safety in the Promised Land.
So, what’s the significance of this passage for us? Well, it’s this. God chose Samuel to be his prophet. And in the New Testament book of Hebrews we read that long ago, at many times and in various ways, God spoke to our fathers through the prophets: through men like Samuel and Elijah and Elisha and Isaiah and Jeremiah and so on. Long ago, at many times and in various ways, God spoke through the prophets. But — the writer of Hebrews goes on to say — in these last days — and we’re living in the last days, because the last days is the whole period of time between the first and second coming of Christ — in these last days, God has spoken to us by his Son. Jesus Christ is the Eternal Son of God and he’s the word of God the Father, the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. And so, who better to reveal God than God himself? And God has come in the person of his Son to reveal to the world his will for our complete salvation. And so, not only is he our Great High Priest and our Great King, but the Lord Jesus is also our Great Prophet, declaring the word of the Lord.
And so, while he was on the earth, the Lord Jesus went from place to place to proclaim the word of God. Do you remember in Mark’s gospel? The Lord had healed many people in one of the towns. Afterwards, he went off to pray by himself. And the disciples came looking for him and when they found him, they said to him that everyone was looking for him. People were coming so that he could heal them. But rather than stay in that one place in order to heal the sick, the Lord said to his disciples that they had to go on to the next towns so that he could preach there also, because ‘that is what I came for’. That’s why he came to earth. Yes, he came to die for his people. But he also came to preach to his people. And so, as our Great Prophet, he spoke about the broad road that leads to destruction and many are on it; and the narrow way that leads to life and few find it. He spoke about the coming day of judgment, when the great king will separate all the people of the world into two groups: one group will be brought in to enjoy eternal life; while the other group will be sent away to be punished forever. And he spoke about how he would suffer and die, before rising again afterwards; and how the forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name. And he called on people to repent and to believe the good news. Turn from your life of sin and unbelief and believe the goods news that God is willing to pardon his people. And he taught his people how to live as God’s people in the world, doing God’s will and obeying his commands. And he taught his people how they could trust their Heavenly Father to care for them.
While he was on the earth, he was our Great Prophet, declaring the word of God. And now that he’s in heaven, he’s still our Great Prophet, because from his throne in heaven, he continues to proclaim God’s word and to call his people out of the world and into his kingdom. But he does it now through the preaching of his word by preachers sent from God. And through the reading and preaching of his word, he’s still calling on sinners to repent and to believe the good news and to cross over from the broad road leading to destruction to the narrow way that leads to life. And through the preaching of his word, the Lord Jesus is still teaching his people how to live as God’s people. And he’s still teaching God’s people that their Heavenly Father will care for them.
Even though he’s now in heaven, he’s still our Great Prophet, because he’s still declaring the will of the Lord though his word and by his Spirit. Every time you come here to church, and the word of God is read and preached, the Lord Jesus, God’s Great Prophet, is speaking to you. He’s speaking to you. So, will you listen to him? Will you believe his promises and will you do his will? Many people hear, but they disregard what he’s saying. They harden their hearts to the word of God. So, what about you? Will you receive the word of the Lord on Sundays? You must receive it, because when you come here on Sundays, it’s not to hear the word of a man, but it’s to hear the word of Jesus Christ the Lord.