And the Lord came and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth.
The, one great joy which Eli had in life was in the child Samuel who ministered before him.
Eli was an old man, and he had lived a very hard life. He was high priest before the Lord at Shiloh; but in the Israel of his day that was hardly cause for any great respect or honor. It was toward the end of the period of the judges and the disintegration of spiritual life in Israel had gone very far. Sadly Eli had looked on year after year as very few any more in Israel came to the tabernacle with any regularity, and many of those who did come came more in a spirit of frivolity than of serious dedication and worship. It was hard for a man as dedicated as Eli was to look upon such degeneracy alone and without knowing what could be done about it. But the hardest blow came when his own sons grew to years of discretion and began to fill the priestly functions of the tabernacle. For these young men, rather than following in the spirit of their elderly father, were children of their day and they used the services of the tabernacle as occasion for their own carnal satisfaction and sin. They made the office of the priesthood a mockery and an offense to the name of the Lord. But Eli was now an old man. Hophni and Phinehas were his natural successors in office, and he did not know who he could possibly call in to replace them. Besides, they were his sons. Pained and grieving, Eli did nothing.
But in Samuel he found something different. He had been brought to the tabernacle by Hannah while still but a small child hardly out of infancy; but from the very start there had been something in Samuel that was different, different from the age in which they lived, and different from his own sons Hophni and Phinehas. Samuel was a Levite, a son of the tribe of Levi. It was, therefore, his rightful place to serve within the tabernacle, for the tribe of Levi had been set aside from the days of Moses to perform the special services of the tabernacle. But with Samuel it was different. According to the law, no Levite was required to perform the services of the tabernacle until he was over 25 years of age, and then only from time to time. Samuel, however, came to the tabernacle already as a little boy and he remained in its service all of his life. In addition to this, he was also a Nazarite. This meant that he took upon himself the threefold vow of the Nazarite, not to drink strong drink, not to cut his hair, and not to touch dead bodies. These were signs of absolute dedication to God through refraining from all of the contamination or influence of a wicked world. But again in this Samuel was unique. In most cases the vows of a Nazarite were temporary taken for a set length of time determined by the one who was taking them; but for Samuel, as for Samson and John the Baptist, these vows were for life, observed even by his mother before his birth. As Hannah had promised, he was dedicated to the service of God throughout his life. Still these were only external things. Most wonderfully in Samuel, there was a heart which loved God in absolute dedication. God gave him the inward principle of new life to go along with the external function which he filled. It was this that had filled Eli with joy from the very first day that Samuel had been left in his care. His interests were not in the things of the world about him. Samuel loved the service of God and it consumed all of his interest. He had none of that spirit of rebellion and self-seeking which Eli had witnessed so often in his own children. Samuel recognized that be was there to do service, and he responded quickly and with obedience to whatever Eli would ask of him. Here was a unique spirit which no one had taught him; it was given to Samuel of God.
Through the years Samuel grew from a child into a youth; but his attitude and dedication remained the same. He belonged to the Lord, and to the tabernacle of the Lord he gave his life. He was to Eli a constant source of comfort and joy. It was a strange sort of companionship, an old man and a young child; but it was real for they shared together the love of their God.
Through all of these years though, there was especially one thing which marred the life of the tabernacle, that was the way in which Eli’s sons conducted themselves. It was not long before Samuel also began to realize the shame which they brought upon Eli and the tabernacle; but Eli continued to lack the courage to do anything about it. Just how serious this situation was became apparent when a prophet of God appeared at the tabernacle to warn Eli that because of the sins of his children a curse would rest upon his family, and the office of high priest would be taken from them. Still Eli did nothing.
But the Lord would not be ignored. It was not long before He sent yet another revelation which was to prove to be one of the most significant events in Israel for many years.
We are told that “the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision.” This did not mean, of course, that there was no knowledge of God and of His Gospel. The books of Moses were written and surely maintained as a precious possession in the nation of Israel. The reference here is to direct revelation from God, to new and different revelation in addition to that received through Moses.
We are told first that the word of God was “precious” or “rare” in Israel. It has reference to the period of the judges, and during that period prophetic utterances from the Lord were indeed rare. It was not that they were completely lacking; there were occasional prophets that appeared upon the scene also during that period. There had been the prophetess Deborah, besides a number of minor figures such as the prophets referred to in Judges 6:8 and 10:11 and the one which had spoken to Eli just shortly before this. But these prophets had appeared on the scene only briefly to utter very limited and specific utterances from God, and then they were heard of no more. What had been missing from Israel for many years was a prophet who could communicate with the Lord in “open vision”. Such had been Noah, Abraham, Jacob, and Moses and others. These men had met with the Lord in open vision and had spoken with Him face to face. Through Moses particularly the nation of Israel had received direct guidance from the Lord in all of their needs. But now over four hundred years had passed since these visions had ceased. The children of Israel were conscious of this lack. It often seemed as though the Lord had hid His face from His people by refusing to speak to them as He had in the past.
But now the time had come for this to be changed.
It began late in a rather ordinary night at Shiloh. Eli and Samuel as usual had gone to sleep, each in one of the rooms which surrounded the court of the tabernacle. The seven golden candlesticks, which usually flickered out toward morning for lack of fuel, were still burning brightly in the Holy Place. Eli slept the light and uneasy sleep of an old man while Samuel slept the healthier sleep of a child. But when through the darkness a voice sounded; it was the child who heard it and not the old man. It was addressed to him; and, although he did not yet realize it, no other ears but his own were able to distinguish it. It was the voice of God and it said, “Samuel, Samuel.”
The response of the child was immediate. Trained as he was for service under Eli, he could imagine nothing other than that Eli was calling him to look after some immediate need. Quickly he ran to the room of the elderly high priest and said, “Here am I; for thou calledst me.” To old Eli the matter seemed plain, the child had merely had a dream. Without special concern, he answered the child, “I called thee not; lie down again.” Soon both had returned to sleep.
It was not long, however, before the whole matter repeated itself again. Samuel hearing the voice once more ran to Eli and said, “Here am I; for thou didst call me”; and the old man replying answered back, “I called not, my son; lie down again.”
Finally, though, when it happened yet again for a third time, the old high priest began to think. Had it been anyone else but Samuel, Eli might have been more irritated than anything else. But Samuel was not one to be playing fools’ jokes. He was as honest as anyone that Eli had ever met; and he was intelligent enough not to be easily misled. In addition, for a long time the old high priest had felt that there was something special about this lad, that God had brought him to the tabernacle for some very special purpose. Could it be that now the Lord was ready to speak to this youth, hardly more than a child, in the way that He had spoken to Moses and the fathers before him? Eli could not dismiss the thought from his mind as impossible. Rather he addressed the waiting child and said, “Go, lie down; and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.”
Quietly and obediently the child turned from Eli once more to return to his room. But now there was no more sleep, not even for the old high priest. We can well imagine with what strained ears he lay and tried to see if he could hear that voice returning himself. But no, the visions of the Lord were not such as could be intercepted by ears for which they were not intended. Nevertheless, the old man continued to lie there thinking, wondering if the voice would come again, wondering if Samuel would return to tell him about it, wondering what it was that the Lord might wish to tell that child. Painfully Eli remembered the concern of the last prophet who had visited the tabernacle, and he trembled to think that this might be the concern of the Lord still.
And so it was. Samuel had hardly laid himself down again before that voice was there calling, “Samuel, Samuel”; and just as Eli had said, he answered, “Speak, LORD, for thy servant heareth.” Then the voice continued and said, “Behold, I will do a thing in Israel at which both the ears of every one that heareth shall tingle. In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end. For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not. And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever.”
Here was an amazing thing for a child so young to experience; Not only had God spoken to him, but God had spoken to him a prophecy of condemnation against the one person who was closer to him than anyone else. It was no joy to him, it was a trial. He knew that in the morning Eli would be there asking, and then what would he say? Could he tell this man he loved so much what God had said or not?
When morning came, Samuel sought to avoid Eli by going straight to open the gate of the court; but Eli was soon behind him asking, “What is the thing that the LORD hath said unto thee? I pray thee hide it not from me: God do so to thee, and more also, if thou hide any thing from me of all the things that he said unto thee.” For Samuel there was no remaining choice. It was God’s word and it had to be spoken. Word for word he told the old man what God had said until the old man whispered back, “It is the LORD: let him do what seemeth him good.” To Samuel already had come the burden of a prophet.