The Word of the Lord
If you have your Bible (and I hope you do) please turn with me to 1 Samuel 3. Keep your Bible open before you as we look at this chapter together this morning.
The front page news at the time of 1 Samuel 3 is discouraging; it’s bleak. It’s worse than the news headlines today, and that by a mile: In those days, the word of the Lord was rare.
The word of the Lord was rare—not entirely unheard (the Lord just spoke to Eli through one of His prophets). The word of the Lord wasn’t unheard, but it was rare. There were not many visions.
But that’s all about to change:
1 The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions. 2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. 6 Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8 A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 11 And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’ ”
The Lord’s Silence is Horrifying
The Lord’s Silence is Horrifying
We can’t miss it; this is a huge deal. The fact the Lord has withheld His word is a sign of His displeasure.
In the book of Amos, the Lord announces a coming judgment upon His people for their sinfulness, their disregard of Him and His ways. He announces a famine—not of food or water—but a famine of the Word of God.
11 “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine through the land— not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. 12 People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.
This is, far and away, the most frightening kind of famine. You see, it’s just as Jesus said: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
We need the Word of God. We need to hear from Him. King Saul, later in 1 Samuel, will lament the absence of God’s Word. He laments because God’s silence is horrifying.
In judgment, the Lord withholds His Word.
Why would the Lord be displeased with His people? We don’t have to look very far to find the answer: Israel stood under His wrath.
Think about what the priests of God were doing in the house of God to the people of God. They were perverting the worship of the Lord Yahweh, stealing from Him; they were greedy and unfair and immoral.
When the Lord spoke to them (as far as it’s recorded for us here), it was in judgment. There was promise and hope attached to it, but it was judgment at its core.
In those days the word of the Lord was rare.
Here, the Lord speaks. The Lord is breaking His silence. This is big. This is really good news.
1 Samuel 3:19–4:1 (NIV)
19 The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground.
20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord.
21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.
1 And Samuel’s word came to all Israel...
The Lord Speaks
The Lord Speaks
Through Samuel, the Lord will speak to Israel on the regular. The Lord’s Word will no longer be rare. In the person of the young man, Samuel, there is an authorized, on-duty prophet speaking the Lord’s Word to the Lord’s people.
We should note that this—the Lord speaking—is a sign of God’s grace. It’s God’s grace when God’s Word has free course among God’s people.
The Lord speaks. And freely. All Israel realized Samuel was a prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to reveal Himself to Samuel through His word.
As the reformers would say, “Post Tenebras Lux.” That is, “After darkness, light.” After silence, the Lord Yahweh speaks.
Davis and Motyer say this:
“If contemporary believers have a church where social activities, committee meetings, and nifty programs have not eclipsed the place of the word of God; if the teaching of the Word of God stands at the heart of the church’s life; if there is a pulpit ministry where the Scriptures are clearly, accurately, and helpfully preached, then they are rich in the grace of God.”
That is my prayer for this church. And, I think, in large measure this local church body is hungry for the word of God. It’s part of what drew me here, honestly. A church that is most concerned with the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, a church that wants the pastor focused on preaching and teaching the Word of God—this is the grace of God on display.
A church can lose itself in programs and activities that distract from and diminish the Word. It happens all the time. May it never be!
We must never lose sight of the God who speaks and how He speaks.
If I say “The Lord spoke to me” you better believe I’m about tell you chapter and verse.
On the same hand, I will never not be skeptical (even angry) when someone says “God spoke to me” without giving a Bible reference.
God speaks through His Word. If you want to hear God speak today, read the Bible. If you want to hear God speak audibly, here’s what you do: read the Bible out loud.
The word of the Lord was rare in the time before Samuel. The word can’t be “rare” today, not exactly, because we have His complete Word in writing.
What made the word of God rare in Eli’s day was the Lord not giving it very often.
But God’s word can also become “rare” when there are problems on the receiving end.
Raise your hand if you have trouble hearing. Some of you who didn’t raise your hand, I’ll just assume you couldn’t hear me.
It bugs me to no end when there’s something occluding my hearing. Flying in a commercial airplane almost always leaves me in an echo-chamber for a few of days. Swimming usually leads to swimmer’s ear and I feel like Kramer jumping up and down in a futile attempt to get the water out.
Sometimes the problem is not in the word being spoken, but in the hearing.
Some people don’t have ears to hear. This is how the word of God becomes rare today.
9 Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
We have the Bible, but suffer a spiritual deafness. The worries of the world have come and choked out the word of God. The hardened hearts and deaf ears have hindered the receiving of what’s right here before us.
Starvation may not come from absence of food but from a lack of appetite. We may have the Word and yet be deaf and blind. We have the Word and yet have no appetite or desire for it. This is our modern tragedy.
It’s God’s grace to us to give us God’s Word, to give to us a desire and hunger for the Word. When God’s word is preached and welcomed, shared and heard, it’s grace.
The Lord speaks. That’s grace.
11 times in this short chapter the word call shows up. It’s kind of the main point of these verses. The Lord calls to Samuel.
If you think about it, the Lord has to do things on repeat for His people to get it. Here with Samuel, it takes a while.
But you gotta give the boy a break. It’s not that he’s slow. He heard the voice of the Lord clearly—so clearly he thought it was Eli in the next room. He heard the voice of the Lord, He just didn’t know who it was. He’d never experienced that before.
This statement about Samuel not knowing the Lord is explaining to us the situation. It’s not like Hophni and Phinehas who had no regard for the Lord and didn’t know Him.
Samuel simply hadn’t had any direct experience with the Lord Yahweh. He had no practice at receiving God’s word; this is a road he has never traveled. No wonder it baffled him!
Samuel is in a unique situation.
We, today, don’t stand in his shoes. We are not being called to receive direct divine revelation like Samuel (we won’t). Samuel was an OT prophet. I hate to break it to you, but we are not OT prophets.
This chapter isn’t ultimately about Samuel. The point is not to be like Samuel. The question for us is what this chapter teaches us about our God.
The Lord is Kind and Direct
The Lord is Kind and Direct
This is the character of God on full display. The Lord is exceedingly patient and kind with young Samuel. The Lord calls Samuel, and Samuel thinks it’s Eli. The Lord calls Samuel, and Samuel thinks it’s Eli. The Lord calls Samuel, and Samuel thinks it’s Eli.
Eli realizes that the Lord is calling Samuel. Samuel goes back to his place and waits.
The Lord, as He did with Abraham and Jacob and Moses before, calls Samuel twice by name.
It’s often difficult for the recipient to receive the Lord’s initial revelation. Moses wasn’t all that excited, telling the Lord to “send someone else.” The Lord tells Isaiah what to do and Isaiah responds by saying, “Um, for how long?!?”
For Samuel, this is brand new territory. Now that Eli has told Samuel what to do, Samuel has heard from the Lord. It took some time, though. And mercifully, God is patient.
God is not an impatient parent who gets easily irritated at how long it takes Samuel to respond.
He’s nothing like us, which is really good. I often think if I could bottle up the time it takes my family to leave the house, I could sell that extra time and make a killing. Total it up all the time I’ve spent waiting and I’d have a good 6-7 months worth.
“God isn’t exasperated and short-tempered. He’s not ready to light-into Samuel for being so slow. He doesn’t launch into a tirade about how Samuel ‘never gets anything right.’” - Dale Ralph Davis.
The Lord Yahweh is kind beyond all measure. His kindness, expressed in patience, gives Samuel the time to understand Him. The Lord is similarly patient with us.
God is not holding a stopwatch over Samuel, threatening to be done with him if he doesn’t get his act together.
Our God is no gruff, impatient deity concerned only with efficiency. Our God is not some cosmic drill sergeant.
He is kind and gentle. Jesus, likewise, is kind and gentle. He invites us to come to Him, invited by His deep, deep love and kindness.
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The Lord Yahweh is kind, and also direct. After Samuel had heard from the Lord, he laid back down until morning. I doubt he slept at all:
15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.” Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 17 “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”
The Lord has let Samuel in on what He’s about to do. It’s going to stun everyone who hears it. Tingle doesn’t quite get at the sense of the word. The peoples’ ears will ring like they’ve been punched in the head.
God is going to act in judgment, as He said He would. Eli’s sons have brought this upon themselves.
Samuel’s message is one of severe, irreversible judgment. Imagine being a young man tasked with giving that message!
Eli demands to hear what the Lord has said. Samuel is to hold nothing back, under threat of a curse.
What Samuel has to do is no easy task. It is not easy to speak the truth. Pressure, conflict, and pain almost always accompany speaking the truth.
It’s a heart-wrenching task.
This is the tension of God’s Word. We must share God’s Word, but it’s not all rainbows and fairy tales and puppy dog kisses. God’s Word confronts sin and rebukes disobedience. It also comforts and encourages the weak and poor.
If the Word of God convicts you and offends you, that’s a good thing. It doesn’t feel good at the time, but that’s evidence of the Spirit’s work in your life, correcting and challenging you where need-be.
The Lord’s Word cuts. And it heals. It’s both/and. It’s a double-edged sword. It cuts to the quick. And it’s restorative. It breathes life and gives life. It is the word of life from the Author of life. It’s imbued with power.
We must remain committed to the truth of God AND have consideration for the troubles of the church. God’s Word is true. It’s direct. There are issues in any gathering, issues among the people of God that need to be addressed.
The only way to do this is to hold tightly the tension of grace and truth.
The Lord is kind and direct to Eli, kind and direct to us. He is kind and direct to the people of Israel. He has given them His Word through His prophet.
There’s judgment there, but also grace. There’s stomp-on-your-toes truth as well as hug-you-and-dry-your-tears grace.
The comfortable are afflicted and the afflicted and comforted. This is how God works.
>Hearing about the silence of God should make us value His Word all the more. I can’t imagine not having His word, and yet there were times of famine where God’s people didn’t hear from Him; times where He might have been speaking and the people couldn’t care less.
I wonder about us. We have the word of God—it comforts and calms—and yet we’re more focused on Fox News and Facebook. The word of God isn’t rare today, but our hunger for it might be.
We cannot miss that God has spoken. He has given us His Word. And He sent to us the Word incarnate. This is kindness beyond comprehension.
God has spoken, and He has spoken to us by His Son:
1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
This, friends, is as direct as it gets. God spoke definitively and clearly by Jesus, the Christ. God broke His silence and sent His only Son to provide purification for sins.
The Word of the Lord incarnate, the Word of the Lord in the flesh, came to us directly. He took our sins and bore our shame. He absorbed the wrath of God. He restored our relationship to the Father.
May we never take for granted or get bored with what He has done. May our hunger for His Word, the Bible, be unmatched by our desire for anything else.
“Father, confront us and afflict us with your Word. Comfort us and feed us, this we pray.”