You'd think that when God broke his apparent silence it would have been a time of great rejoicing. But that was not the case for young Samuel. Today on Truth for Life we'll hear about the devastating message God gave Samuel to deliver in his brand new role as a prophet in Israel.
Let's join Alistair Begg as he teaches from chapter 3 of 1 Samuel verses 1 through 14. The silence is a virtually deafening silence. And the word of God was rare in those days, and there was no frequent vision. Now, it is in that context of silence that we read verse 2.
At that time—at what time? Well, at the big time of the rarity of the word and the absence of frequent vision, but at the specific time of this evening hour, Eli, whose eyesight is failing—we're going to discover in chapter 4 that he's also increasingly heavy—and his eyes have begun to grow dim so that he could not see. And he was lying down in his own place. So we're getting this picture of the aging man, and there's something of a metaphor there, isn't there, that his eyesight had begun to grow dim? This is a physical statement We've also become aware of the fact that his spiritual eyesight is increasingly dim.
I mean, he thought that Hannah was a drunk, he can't see what's going on with his own boys, and we're about to discover more evidences of his lack of perception. The lamp of God had not yet gone out. The lamp of God, you can read about in the earlier parts of your Bible, in Exodus, I think, around chapter 27 or so, the very less and specific instructions are given about the lighting of the lamp, where it is to be, how it is to be tended, and the privileges of being there to make sure it is burning and then realizing when it is to be extinguished. And so this lamp had not yet gone out. That gives us, then, a time reference, because it burned until the morning hours, it burned virtually until dawn, and so we know, then, that what is taking place here is in, if you like, the watches of the night.
The middle watches of the night, perhaps, in Shakespearean terms. And the physical picture that you have is of Eli, who's in his own bed, lying in his own place. You would expect that to be the case. And yet Samuel, now, we're told, is lying down in the temple of the Lord. I think it's striking, isn't it? Because we would be tempted to say that Eli, since he is the priest of God, would be lying down in the temple of the Lord at the tent of meeting in the context of the ark of God, which contained the tablets of the commands and an expression of God's covenant, that you would expect that would be the priest, and he would say, Now, Eli, you go and go over there.
You've got a little place for yourself over there. But it's actually reversed. Eli is now somewhat distanced, at least visibly, from this, and Samuel is lying down where the ark of God was. I think there's a metaphor in that lamp as well, isn't there? Be very, very careful about suggesting that this is why it says what it says. When it says, The lamp of God had not yet gone out, it's talking about the physical lamp that had not yet gone out.
Okay? That's what it means. It doesn't mean something other than that. But given what we know, we recognize that it is virtually a metaphor for the fact that in the darkness—in the spiritual darkness, in the absence of the Word—it is actually true as well that the lamp has not yet gone out, and that's the significance of little Samuel. Here is the light in the darkness—a failing, distanced Eli in sharp contrast to the emerging Samuel. So the lamp is still burning, the tent is still standing, and, as the poets tell us, the darkest hour is just before dawn.
For me, that's the mamas and the papas, if you're interested. Each night before you go to bed, my baby. Because the darkest hour is just before dawn. Well, that's exactly what we find here. So, verses 1–3, silence. Verses 4, essentially to 14, the silence is broken.
The silence is broken. And it's broken by God calling out to Samuel. And Samuel, quite understandably, assumes that it must be Eli who's calling him. And you will notice that he gets up, and he runs to Eli. So you have this picture of Samuel being just a really good young fellow. Up and out of his bed, if Eli's calling, I'm listening, and I'm going to run over there.
I'm not going to trudge over there. And so he arrives, and he says, Here I am, for you called me. Only to discover that Eli did not call him, and so he directs him, I did not call, lie down again. And so he went and lay down. Verse 6, and the Lord called again Samuel. And Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, Here I am, for you called me.
But he said, I didn't call my son, lie down again. Now, let's just pause and notice something here. Some of you are teachers. I had teachers—good ones.
I was going to say bad ones and ugly ones, but that wouldn't be fair. But just, I had teachers. We've all had teachers. I was not very good at many subjects—number one being mathematics. And I didn't need a teacher who said to me, Look, if you don't get it the first time, you're on your own.
I needed a teacher who realized, Beg, I'm going to have to say this to you again and again and again until you get it. Now, notice the gracious dealing of God in speaking out his word to his servant who doesn't get it—in fact, to two of his servants who don't get it. Remember, Jesus says to his followers, I have things still to tell you, but you're not ready yet to understand. And in the quadruple call of God here, we have at least in passing a reminder to us of his tenderness and his kindness of the way in which, if you like, he stoops down to the situation. And in verse 7, the writer gives us something of an explanation.
How do we account for the disconnect? If this little fellow Samuel is consecrated to the Lord, if he is a Nazarite for his life, if he is growing in favor and growing in stature, if he's doing such a good job, why doesn't he, as soon as the Lord's voice sounds out, why doesn't he just get up out of his bed and says, Yes, Lord, here I am? Answer? Samuel didn't yet know the Lord. Well, what does that mean? Isn't that what we just saw about the sons of Eli? Verse 12 of chapter 2? Now, the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord. Well, this is a reminder to us, again, about the way in which they study the Bible. The context of a statement determines the way in which a statement, an expression, an explanation is to be understood.
And if you're not careful, you will notice that the two statements are actually not identical. In 2 12, it says that the sons of Eli did not know the Lord. Here, in chapter 3 of Samuel, it says, he did not yet know the Lord. The reason that Hophni and Phinehas did not know the Lord was because they didn't want to know the Lord. That's the reason that some of you don't know the Lord. Because you don't want to. If you wanted to, you would know him.
No. You see, you cannot defy God and know God simultaneously. You cannot turn your back on the place where God meets with you—namely, his cross—and still meet with God.
Because he keeps all of his appointments at the same place. So the reason that the worthless sons did not know the Lord was different from the context of Samuel. In Samuel's case, we're actually told that the reason he didn't know the Lord was because God's Word had not yet been revealed to him.
He was involved, he was ministering, he was engaged, but there was a personal dimension that had not yet been his experience. And what is so wonderful about this is that God takes the initiative—that not only does he take the initiative but that he's gracious enough to persist by issuing the call repetitively. Some of us would be here this morning, and at a different dimension, but applicable, we would say, you know, I went and listened to that many times, or I read More Than a Carpenter twice and could make nothing of it.
Somebody told me I should read C. S. Lewis, and I read C. S. Lewis, and it meant nothing to me at all. And then one day I heard the voice of Jesus say, Come unto me and rest. Lay down, O weary one, lay down your head upon my breast. And I came to Jesus as I was.
I was weary, I was worn, I was sad. I found in him a resting place, and he has made me glad. But up until that point, no, I didn't know.
Isn't that what we have here? And so the Lord called a third time. We're now in verse 8, making steady progress. And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he rose and went to Eli and said, Here I am, for you called me. Now, I have to confess, I find a significant measure of humor in this now, by this point, in reading this. When I've been reading it out loud for myself, just in my study—'cause I like to read it out loud and I get the sense of it—but you will notice every time Samuel informs Eli, say, I am here, he doesn't say, I'm here, and somebody's shouting in here, and I don't know who it is. No. Every time he comes and he says, I am here, for you called me.
That's funny. Because Eli says, No, I didn't call you. Go and lie down. Off he goes and lies down. Now, again, we don't know, was there five minutes? Did he fall asleep again before the second one? And did he get wakened again? Or did he only have to wait a couple of minutes and then avoid?
I don't know! But if in any protracted period to it at all, you've gotta imagine that he dozes off, gets wakened up again, goes back, and goes through the same whole program. And old Eli, his eyesight is dim, for sure. But now what do we discover? Then, all of a sudden, Eli perceived. He perceived. It's a good verb, isn't it? Because you see, what he was lacking in was spiritual perception.
We all are. By nature, we are blind. When there is perception, it is an indication of the work of God. Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things out of your law.
Until you open my eyes, I can read them, and I don't behold hardly anything at all. Eli's going about the business, the ministrations of the temple, in increasing darkness, in increasing uselessness. Why would we think, on the first instance, that it was the Lord who was speaking? Well, he's a priest, for goodness' sake.
Yes. But what do we know in verse 1? The word of the Lord was rare. Therefore, his immediate response would not be, Oh, this must be the word of the Lord. Because it wasn't a lot of the word of the Lord. And if he'd had an inkling in it that it was the word of the Lord, then it would have caused him to say, Oh, wait a minute. If it's the word of the Lord, and I'm the priest of the Lord, surely the Lord would be speaking to me so that I could tell Samuel, rather than speaking to Samuel, so that he could come and speak to me. There's another sidebar in that, when old ministers and old pastors are wary lest the boys among them are gonna hear what they don't hear and see what they don't see and are called to preach in a way that the old boys no longer have a platform. J. C. Ryle has a wonderful section in that, in Volume 7 of his works of J. C. Ryle by Banner of Truth, where he says, Don't worry about it when the old ministers die. He says, God has got much better ones that are coming behind.
And that is certainly true here, isn't it? Eli was over there lying in his own place, and Samuel was ready. So there we have it. He says, Now I get it now. I want you to go back and lie down again. And if he calls you, you shall say, Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.
So Samuel went and lay down in his place. The coming and going is terrific. And then look at verse 10. The audible is now accompanied by the visible. The vision was infrequent. The word was rare.
Now we have both, if you like, vision and word combined. And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. I don't suggest you spend a lot of time speculating about the mechanism, about how it was that there was this appearance, who it was, what it means for a theophany, and so on. It's the kind of thing that will get you off track in the average home Bible study group. What is the point here? The point is that now Samuel is addressed. Notice he's addressed in a twofold way. This is not unusual in the Bible. Abraham, Abraham.
Which is before he is to take his boy and sacrifice him. Jacob. Jacob. Moses. Moses. Samuel. Samuel.
You see, this is crucial. This is pivotal in this chapter, because now what is happening in this instance is that the role of the prophet is being assigned to Samuel. That God has now reached down into the life of this young fellow, and he is setting him in the place of his appointing. It's going to be radical for him.
It is going to have implications beyond anything that he could ever imagine. And he is immediately aware of this, because when he replies and he misses out a word in his reply—because, remember, Eli said, you're supposed to say, Speak, Lord, for your servant hears. Apparently he misses out the Lord, and he just goes straight to it, Speak, for your servant hears.
You can see that. And the LORD said to Samuel, Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel, at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. This is not a unique phrase, incidentally. You'll find this phrase at least a couple more times, where the Word of God comes in a way that is going to be quite devastating. I find it an interesting phrase—I hope you do, too—at which two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle, as opposed to, like, one ear of everyone.
You know? It's a two-ear tingler, not a one-ear tingler. Or why it says the two ears of everyone is like, We got a lot of people here that only got one ear, or what's going on? Why does it not simply say, you know, and the ears of everyone will tingle? Well, you say, Now you're doing what you told us not to do, because you told us that the main things are the plain things, and now you're off on the ears of people, and that's not good.
No! So what is the point? The point is that what is about to come out of the mouth of God, to be put in the ears and the heart of this boy Samuel, is a nerve-jangling, heart-stopping, radical, back-on-your-heels encounter with the living God, which he in turn is going to have to deliver to his boss, who's called Eli, who is the priest of God, and he is facing the judgment of God. Now, Samuel, welcome to the ranks of the prophets.
Let's get up and get on. No wonder. Verse 15. And Samuel had a long lie. Samuel lay in his bed in the morning. But he's been up and down all night. Of course he should be lying in his bed in the morning. The poor fellow's tired.
Yeah. But you know that when you don't want to get up? And it's not because you're lazy. It's because when you get up, you know you've got to do, or you know you've got to say. And what you've got to do or what you've got to say is so devastating in its impact that you try and squeeze as much time in your bed as you possibly can.
We're gonna have to leave, Samuel, lying in his bed at least until this evening. There are times when God may call us to a difficult task, one that fills us with dread. And he persists until we hear him. You're listening to Truth for Life with Alistair Begg. Please keep listening.
Alistair will return to close with prayer in just a minute. If you're enjoying this brand new study of 1 Samuel, you might be interested in knowing that the whole series is available on USB. It's titled Give Us a King.
It includes 54 messages through the entire book of 1 Samuel. The Give Us a King USB is available to purchase for just $5. You'll find it on the mobile app and online at truthforlife.org slash store. Now we're excited about today's book recommendation. It's a book written by Alistair along with his good friend Sinclair Ferguson. The book is titled Name Above All Names.
In the midst of the busyness of life and the diversions we face in this world, we can often find ourselves distracted from knowing the most important person we could ever know. This book helps us come to know Jesus even better as we dive into seven key qualities that make him unique. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of the person and work of Christ. You'll learn about Jesus as the seed of the woman, the true prophet, and how Jesus is the king that the first monarchy we're learning about in 1 Samuel ultimately points us to.
This book comes with a companion study guide that you can complete on your own or use it with a small group. You'll answer provocative questions that will help you gain a deeper understanding of Jesus as he is explained and revealed to us in scripture. Request the book Name Above All Names when you donate today.
To give, visit us online at truthforlife.org slash donate or call us at 888-588-7884. Now here's Alistair with a closing prayer. God our Father, thank you that you are the God who speaks, that into the darkness, into the famine, you deliver your word, that on the days when it would appear that hope is gone, that your voice is no longer to be heard, you shine out in the light of your word and in the service of your prophets. So we thank you that the word that is spoken by him, which will prove to be a word of judgment, is nevertheless a word of hope—a reminder that there is one who is going to come, who is going to fulfill all that it means to be a prophet in speaking the Word of God to us, who's going to fulfill all that it means to be the priest of God in sacrificing his very self on our behalf, who will be the king who out-kings all the kings so that he might rule and reign and subdue our rebellions. Thank you that this hope does not make us ashamed and is part of our birthright as a result of the fact that your Word, in the person of your Son, has come to us and changed us. And in his name we pray. Amen.
I'm Bob Lapine. All of us sin, but God graciously forgives us when we turn to him in faith and repentance. But is there a point we can get to where forgiveness is no longer possible? Be sure to listen tomorrow to find out. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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