The Lord Who Speaks
1 Samuel 3:1-20 January 17, 2021
The Bible is replete with accounts of the Lord God conversing with human beings. God is not the man upstairs who is indifferent to humanity. He has great concern for humans and seeks to be in a serious relationship with them. Have you heard the voice of God? Do you see God speaking in nature? Do you anticipate hearing the voice of God? I suspect many have no confidence that God speaks today. I know that some believe God ceased speaking to people a long time ago. What if God still speaks today?
In Scripture we find God talking numerous times with people. In Genesis we read that God not only spoke to Adam and Eve but he walked with them. He clearly was in relationship with them. Odd thing is that he placed them in a garden of paradise and told them to enjoy everything but not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A serpent tempted both Adam and Eve and they both ate the forbidden fruit. As a consequence, we deal with the reality of sin and death. However, God continued to seek friendship with his creation.
Later in Genesis, we read that God spoke to another human being. God was fed up with the sinfulness of humans and sought out Noah to rescue his family from the coming flood. God made up his mind to eliminate humanity by sending a terrible flood. However, he decided to rescue one family. He told Noah to build an ark. Not only did he tell him to build it but he gave Noah specific directions regarding it. Noah heard and obeyed the Lord God. He built an ark and consequently he and his family were rescued from disaster. This is another example of God speaking to a person and that person listening and obeying him.
Later the Lord chose Abraham as the person he wanted to speak to and bless. Abraham and Sarah were two old folks who had no children. The Lord spoke to both of them and promised that he would make them the parents of people more numerous than then sand. Both were rather amused at this promise as by human terms they were highly unlikely to have children. However, Sarah became pregnant and her son became the father of many generations. God spoke to Abraham and Sarah and they had faith in his promises. In Abraham and Sarah we find two people who were friends of God and who listened and obeyed him.
Most of us know about Moses, the Hebrew leader who led his people out of slavery and captivity in Egypt into the land God promised Abraham and Sarah. God first spoke to Moses when he was taking care of his father-in-law’s sheep in the wilderness. He saw a bush that was burning but not being consumed. He turned aside and checked it out. God spoke to him out of the bush and called him to go back to Egypt and lead his people. In the account of the Exodus from Egypt one reads that God spoke to Moses many times and was with him throughout his life. God called Moses and Moses listened and obeyed him.
Throughout the Old and New Testaments we read account after account of God talking with people. We read the writings of the prophets. God spoke through Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Micah, and other people he wanted to deliver his message as his prophets. The Lord God speaking to people was not unique or unusual.
However, there were times when the voice of God was silent. The reading from 1 Samuel begins during such a time. “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread (1 Samuel 3:1b).” It seems that God is silent when people do not want to listen and obey him. The people of Israel were not receptive to listening to God. They were into doing their own thing. The tribal system was breaking down. They went through one leader after another. The book of Judges ends with these words, “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25).” Nothing good can come from people ignoring the Lord God and doing what was right in their own eyes.
Into this situation comes a woman who was the second and favored wife of a Hebrew man. Hannah had a big problem as she was unable to become pregnant. That condition was a serious issue for a Hebrew woman. She begged God for a child. Once she was praying in the holy place at Shiloh. She was praying fervently and the Chief Priest, Eli, accused her of being drunk. However, he realizes she was in serious prayer and told her that her prayer would be answered. Indeed, she becomes pregnant and gives birth to a boy she names, Samuel. She was such a devout person that when Samuel was weaned and independent she gave him into the custody of Eli and he was raised by Eli.
Eli was not a good Chief Priest. He permitted his sons to get away with some serious crimes. Although they were priests, they violated the priestly rules and also abused women who came to the Tabernacle to work. Eli did not control them. This was a serious violation of his role as Chief Priest. I’ll come back to this later.
We find Samuel in the Tabernacle sleeping near the Ark of the Covenant. It appears that he was doing his job and not taking a nap. According to Jewish custom, he was 12 years old. We now enter a time when the Lord decides to speak. Samuel is asleep in the tabernacle and Eli, nearly blind, is asleep in another room. The Lord calls, “Samuel! Samuel!” and the boy replies, “Here I am!” He runs to Eli’s room and says he heard him call. Eli replies that he didn’t call him but he should go back to lying down. Samuel goes back and lies down. A second time the Lord calls him, “Samuel!” Again the boy goes to Eli as he thinks Eli called him. We read that “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him (1 Samuel 3:7).” Samuel was clueless and did not know what was going on. He did not recognize the Lord was calling him. He went back and lay down. A third time the Lord calls Samuel and again he goes to Eli. At this point, Eli begins to comprehend what might be happening and tells the boy to lie down and if he hears the call again to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” The boy goes back and lies down.
This time the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” Do you get the picture? Now the Lord is standing before the young boy calling him by name. That certainly got his attention. He did exactly what Eli told him and called out, “Speak Lord, you’re your servant is listening.” The Lord then gives Samuel his first divine message. He says, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears tingle.” This means that the Lord is about to do something very serious. He then tells Samuel that he is going to punish Eli’s house completely. His lineage will end. And there is no option for forgiveness either by sacrifice or offering. Eli was forewarned and had the opportunity to set his house in order and obey the Lord but he did not. The Lord has decided to punish his family forever due to the blasphemy of his sons and his not restraining them. What a message! Here we have a 12 year old boy given a terribly serious and disastrous message to the Chief Priest. There’s no question that he did not go back to sleep but pondered what he was to do. Would he remain silent? Would he tell Eli what the Lord is up to?
Morning comes and Samuel is in fear. Eli calls him and asks him what the Lord told him. He says, “Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” Samuel told him everything, and Eli replied, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.” Samuel successfully delivers his first message—his first prophesy. This begins a long career of being God’s spokesperson who speaks God’s messages to the people of Israel. Throughout his life Samuel listened to the Lord and obeyed him.
Even though 12 year old Samuel was not trained in the ways of the Lord, the first thing we notice is that he was receptive, not closed off. God spoke to him three times before Eli gave him the advice he needed to understand what was going on. The fourth time the Lord stood before Samuel and called him. Samuel was receptive to doing what Eli told him and to doing what the Lord God told him to do. The beginning of hearing from the Lord is being receptive to him.
We live in a time when people are becoming less receptive to hearing God speak. In our secular culture, God is being pushed out. It appears that people don’t want to hear from the Lord. Perhaps they don’t want to hear because they fear God will upset their life. And God may indeed upset their lives. This is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. Years ago Mother Teresa spoke God’s message and it was rejected. She said, “Any country that accepts abortion, is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what it wants.” I can see why many don’t want to hear from God. In order to hear from God we need to be receptive to whatever he says even if it violates our social and political mores.
God speaks when we are receptive to hear what he says and to be obedient to do what he calls us to do. I don’t think we will hear from God if we are not receptive nor if we listen then disobey him. Jesus was obedient to the Father and the best we can do is also be obedient to him. He speaks to us in many ways. Sometimes he speaks audibly. Other times he speaks as that “still quiet voice.” However, he always speaks to us in his Word, the Bible. If you want to know what God is up to, read, study, and meditate on the Word in Scripture. Given that he speaks to us through his word in the Bible, we cannot say that God is silent. Those who hear God’s voice are those who read what he says to us in the Bible. Those who are most receptive are those who can discern what he is saying in Scripture and are willing to be obedient to his words. We are in a nation that is in serious need of a clear word from the Lord and that will come through people who are receptive to him and who are obedient to him.