When God Calls: Samuel


When God Calls: Samuel

Today I am starting a study for the next 4 weeks or so on God’s Call as we look at the lives of a number of significant Old Testament figures. I am going to begin with Samuel ben Elkanah, who became one of the most significant prophets in the transition between the Israelite system of “Judges” and the beginnings of the Davidic dynasty.
In fact, Samuel was the last of the Judges of Israel, after the death of the High Priest and Judge Eli. We’ll tell a little of Eli’s story because it is part of the record of transition. Samuel’s whole story is more than we will tell today, because it is quite involved and interesting, covering the time of the last Priest-Judge of Israel until the anointing of the second king of Israel, David ben Jesse.
The book of 1 Samuel starts with the parents of Samuel, Elkanah and Hannah, who were faithful people of Ephraim. They went every year to the Tabernacle at Shiloh, to worship and sacrifice before the Lord of hosts.
Shiloh, also in the hill country of Ephraim, is mentioned just 31 times in the Bible, but it was the spiritual heart of Israel for 369 years. Now, at the time of my birth, the United States of America was only half that old. When the land was conquered, Shilo became and the permanent place of the Tabernacle of the Lord and the Ark of the Covenant. And so it was for more than three and a half centuries. That is, until the Ark was captured by the Philistines. We’ll get to that.
At Shiloh sat the Judge of Israel, Eli, who was also a priest—we know that because his two sons Hophni and Phinehas were also serving as priests of the Lord. We don’t hear anything about them before what appears here in 1 Samuel.

Elkanah and Hannah, Come to Worship

The opening of the story of Samuel is the story of his mother Hannah, who was barren and distressed, for Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah had children and was very unkind about it. However, Elkanah loved Hannah and did his best to show it when they ate the feast of his peace offering at Shiloh. The scripture shows that Elkanah was faithful to bring his annual vow, or his tithe, along with his animal sacrifice to the priests and Levites that served the Lord there.
The sacrifice of a year-old ram or young bull was done before the Lord at the altar of the Tabernacle, where the blood drained off, and then the carcass butchered and washed. A part of the animal and some sheaves of the crop were waved, or heaved when it was heavy, by the priests before the altar. Then part of that plus fat of the beast was burnt as a “fragrant offering” to the Lord; some of the best parts of the animal were given for the priests and Levites, and the rest was for the family to use as a feast of thanksgiving in the presence of the Lord.

Hannah’s Prayers and Promise

Whenever they came to Shiloh, Hannah came childless, depressed and bearing the shame of a barren woman in her culture. So as the book of Samuel opens, we find that instead of eating the feast, Hannah went to the entrance of the Tabernacle in Shiloh, and poured out her heart in prayer before the Lord, weeping and shuddering and silently mouthing the words of her prayers.
As she prayed, Hannah made a vow to the Lord:
1 Samuel 1:11 ESV
11 And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”
Eli was not used to this kind of behavior. Most of the people who came to the entrance of the Tabernacle were proper and very serious about their visit. Especially the women, I would think, because of the social norms of the time.
But here was Hannah, broken hearted and sobbing herself into a puddle. That’s when Eli decided it was time to come over and straighten her out.
1 Samuel 1:14 ESV
14 And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.”
Of course, that wasn’t the case at all, just the guesses of someone unused to this kind of emotional distress. Hannah was able to gather herself enough to say back to him,
1 Samuel 1:15–16 ESV
15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.”

Eli’s Blessing

Now, to his credit, Eli was able to capture the essence of what was going on, and turned his earlier disgust into a blessing for Hannah.
1 Samuel 1:17 ESV
17 Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.”
We find out that this was enough to ease Hannah’s heart. In fact, she went away from there as if her prayer had already been answered. Sad no more, in the morning, after worship, she and her family went home to Ramah, and
1 Samuel 1:20 ESV
20 And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.”
Samuel, or Shemuel in Hebrew, means “Heard by God” because he was the answer to Hannah’s prayer for a son.
Now, my sermon series is “When God Calls,” so the story of Samuel’s birth is not yet about the call of Samuel. It is about a prayer for a son and God’s answer of that prayer to bless Hannah, the dearly loved wife of her husband Elkanah.
Samuel was treated as a gift from the beginning, which will lead to his dedication to serve the Lord at Shiloh. As Hannah nursed him, and Elkanah continued to go to Shiloh each year, Hannah stayed home until the boy was weaned, and no longer dependent upon his mother.
I wonder how Hannah talked to him, to prepare him for his service to God, and the separation that would come when he was dedicated. I wonder the stories she told him, and the lullabies she would sing. This precious boy, granted after years of barrenness, was not hers to keep but was hers to prepare as an offering back to God.

Hannah’s Promise Fulfilled: Samuel Is Brought to Eli

Hannah did not turn into a helicopter parent for Samuel, or a doting mother who considered her child so precious to herself that she couldn’t let go. Instead, she considered him the gift of God. and according to her vows, she also knew that this youngster Samuel was her gift to God.
1 Samuel 1:26–28 ESV
26 And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. 27 For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. 28 Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there.

Samuel Grows Up Serving Yahweh God

Hannah did not quit caring for her boy Samuel. In fact, although she would see him only once a year while he grew in service to the Lord and to Eli at Shiloh, she looked forward to that time and every year took some of her household allotment of wool or of flax and made the yarn, then made the cloth, on her loom at home, and sewed it for Samuel. It’s really quite a tender little snippet that shows up in 1 Samuel 2:18-20:
1 Samuel 2:18–20 ESV
18 Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy clothed with a linen ephod. 19 And his mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. 20 Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the Lord give you children by this woman for the petition she asked of the Lord.” So then they would return to their home.
The blessing of Eli was granted by God. The Bible tell us that Hannah and her husband Elkanah were not forgotten, and her womb was opened, as they said in those days, and
1 Samuel 2:21 ESV
21 Indeed the Lord visited Hannah, and she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. And the boy Samuel grew in the presence of the Lord.
Not only a child, but as a maturing young man, Samuel was growing up before the Lord:
1 Samuel 2:26 ESV
26 Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with man.
Clearly, he was becoming someone that would be used by God.

The Sons of Eli: Unfaithful Priests

But while God was faithful, and Samuel was growing, with and Eli serving as Judge and priest, we also read that Eli had failed as a parent himself, in regards to adult sons Hophni and Phineas.
The Bible states it pretty plainly:
1 Samuel 2:12 ESV
12 Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord.
The story goes on to talk about how they used their position to get the very best part of the sacrifice for themselves; how their servant would go to every Israelite who came with a sacrifice, and while the meat was boiling they would go after it with a big fork and dig out the best for these two worthless men who were masquerading as priests.
They did not know the Lord, so they did not serve the Lord. Instead, they were in it to fatten themselves. It got so bad that they would take the Lord’s portion, and even demand the meat to be given raw so they could roast it instead of boil it, keeping the fat for themselves. If the man who brought the sacrifice objected, he was faced with violent threats.
For years Eli had let this go on; and God would hold him accountable.
It got so bad that they even started to use and abuse the women who came to serve at the tabernacle, and their reputation was ruining the reputation of the tabernacle and of the priesthood. The story tells us that Eli had ignored this until there was a lot of complaints, and finally he told them that he could not intercede, for their sins against God were first-hand acts of thumbing their noses at the Holy One of Israel.
1 Samuel 2:25 ESV
25 If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death.
Eli would soon have a visit from a prophet of God to tell him he and his family was now past saving, and that God would destroy his sons and his progeny; any who would come after him in his line would die young, “so that there will not be an old man in your house.”
This story of bad parenting by the leader of Israel is just the beginning of a repeating cycle of bad parenting that would effect generations of Israel’s leaders, all the way through and including King David’s family, and Solomon’s sons, to the ultimate destruction of the nation of ancient Israel.

A Faithful Priest of God’s Choosing

God would not abandon his people. He was about to interrupt the nepotism of the priesthood in order to bring his own name honor again. For, although the sign of God’s displeasure would be the death of both of Eli’s sons on the same day, God gave a promise to Eli that would be for his people:
1 Samuel 2:35 ESV
35 And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever.
Now that was about to come true in the life of Samuel, the gift of God to Hannah because of her heartfelt prayers, who was also that gift she gave back to God. And so finally, I get to the main theme of the message:

The Call of Samuel

We read first that
1 Samuel 3:1 ESV
1 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.
So it seems that God had removed his counsel from the leaders of his people. We are blessed today to be under the leadership of Christ Jesus, who is the word of God, and whose word we have written down in this Bible that speaks to us. But in the days of Eli and Samuel, they were dependent upon the word of God through the “many times and many ways” of prophets, as it says in Hebrews 1:1. But for now that had mostly dried up, and a vision from the Lord or a visit from the Lord was unexpected.
The Bible sets the scene for us with these words:
1 Samuel 3:2–3 ESV
2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was.
When we read that “the lamp of God had not yet gone out,” that is not just about the light in the temple of the Lord; it was a reference to the spirit of the Lord in the place of the Ark of the Covenant. That would change before the story of Samuel’s call is finished.
But young Samuel didn’t understand the call of God when he first heard the voice in a dream.

God’s Voice come to Samuel

The First Time God Calls:

1 Samuel 3:3–5 ESV
3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am!” 5 and ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down.

The Second Call of God

1 Samuel 3:6–7 ESV
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 did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

The Third Time God Calls Samuel

1 Samuel 3:8 ESV
8 And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.

Eli’s Instructions to Samuel

1 Samuel 3:9 ESV
9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

The Lord Comes to Samuel

1 Samuel 3:10 ESV
10 And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”

The Lord’s First Message to Samuel

1 Samuel 3:11–14 ESV
11 Then 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. 12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”

Samuel’s Uneasy Morning

1 Samuel 3:15 ESV
15 Samuel lay until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. And Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli.
1 Samuel 3:16–18 ESV
16 But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” And he said, “Here I am.” 17 And Eli said, “What was it that he told you? 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.” 18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.”

Growing Into the Role of Prophet

1 Samuel 3:19 ESV
19 And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.

A New Voice in Israel

1 Samuel 3:20 ESV
20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord.

The Lord’s Word is Again Common

1 Samuel 3:21 ESV
21 And the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.

The End of Eli’s Leadership

The Battle that Changed Everything

1 Samuel 4:3–4 ESV
3 And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” 4 So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.

The Defeat of Israel

1 Samuel 4:10 ESV
10 So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell.

The Capture of the Ark and Eli’s death

1 Samuel 4:11 ESV
11 And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.
1 Samuel 4:16–18 ESV
16 And the man said to Eli, “I am he who has come from the battle; I fled from the battle today.” And he said, “How did it go, my son?” 17 He who brought the news answered and said, “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great defeat among the people. Your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.” 18 As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years.

The Son of Phinehas is Named Icabod

1 Samuel 4:21–22 ESV
21 And she named the child Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel!” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. 22 And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”

Lessons from the Call of Samuel

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