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David Guzik :: Study Guide for 1 Samuel 3

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God Speaks to Samuel

A. Samuel is unable to recognize God's voice.

1. (1Sa 3:1) The scarcity of revelation in Israel.

Then the boy Samuel ministered to the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation.

a. The boy Samuel ministered to the LORD: For the third time it is emphasized that Samuel ministered to the LORD (also in 1 Samuel 2:11 and 18), just as Aaron and his sons at their consecration as priests (Exodus 29:1) and just like Paul and Barnabas before being sent out as missionaries (Acts 13:1-2).

b. The word of the LORD was rare in those days: The only word of the LORD we read of in the first two chapters of 1 Samuel is the word of judgment brought by the man of God against Eli. God didn't speak often, and when He did, it was a word of judgment!

i. Why was the word of the LORD rare in those days? Probably, because of the hardness of heart among the people of Israel and the corruption of the priesthood. God will speak, and guide, when His people seek Him, and when His ministers seek to serve Him diligently.

2. (1Sa 3:2-4) God's first words to Samuel.

And it came to pass at that time, while Eli was lying down in his place, and when his eyes had begun to grow so dim that he could not see, and before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle of the LORD where the ark of God was, and while Samuel was lying down, that the LORD called Samuel. And he answered, "Here I am!"

a. His eyes had begun to grow so dim that he could not see: This was true spiritually of Eli, as much as it was physically. His old age had made him less able to effectively lead the nation.

b. Before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle of the LORD: As a figure of speech, this simply means "before dawn." But it is also suggestive of the dark spiritual times of Israel: it is dark, and will probably get darker.

i. Exodus 27:21 refers to the responsibility of the priests to tend the lamps until sunrise, or just before dawn.

c. While Samuel was laying down to sleep, that the LORD called Samuel: How old was Samuel at this time? We don't know for certain; the ancient Jewish historian Josephus says Samuel was 12 years old at the time. However old he was, God spoke to Samuel.

i. How does God speak? How did He speak to Samuel? Some people wait for God to speak in a audible voice, and others (some of them mentally disturbed) believe they hear God speaking in an audible voice. But most people believe God speaks to them by an "inner voice"; by the thoughts and feelings which may come into our hearts and our heads, which one believes are prompted by God.

ii. But this hearing from God is an uncertain business. God is not the only source of thoughts and feelings coming into our hearts and heads. Thoughts or feelings (good or bad) can come from ourselves, or they can also come from Satan. Peter, in Matthew 16:13-23, was at one moment speaking from God, and at the next moment speaking directly from the Devil.

iii. Because it is uncertain, there are three things to keep in mind. First, we must always judge what we think God may be telling us by what He has certainly told us in His Word, the Bible. God will never contradict His eternal Word. Second, we should always be humble when it comes to the idea of God speaking to us. We can never completely trust our ability to hear from God by this "inner voice" accurately. It is easy for us to add something to what God has said, or to stop listening, or to misapply what He has said, or to think that it was God when it was ourselves or something else. It is far better to say and think, "I think the LORD told me …" than to talk and think as if you hear God perfectly. Finally, no one should feel "unspiritual" because they think God does not speak to them the way He seems to others. If you really want God to speak to you, and to speak to you the best way, get into God's Word, the Bible! We know He has spoken there!

d. And he answered, "Here I am!" This leads us to believe God spoke to Samuel in an audible voice, instead of in an "inner voice," though this is not certain. But Samuel was so impressed by what he heard, he responded by saying, Here I am!

i. What a beautiful way to respond to God's Word! It isn't that God does not know where we are before we tell Him, but it tells God and it reminds us we are simply before Him as servants, asking what He wants us to do.

ii. Samuel is in pretty impressive company with this response to God. Here are some others who said, Here I am when the LORD spoke to them: Abraham (Genesis 22:1), Jacob (Genesis 46:2), Moses (Exodus 3:4), Isaiah (Isaiah 6:8), and Ananias (Acts 9:10).

3. (1Sa 3:5-9) Samuel doesn't recognize God voice.

So he ran to Eli and said, "Here I am, for you called me." And he said, "I did not call; lie down again." And he went and lay down. Then the LORD called yet again, "Samuel!" So Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." He answered, "I did not call, my son; lie down again." (Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor was the word of the LORD yet revealed to him.) And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. Then he arose and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you did call me." Then Eli perceived that the LORD had called the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down; and it shall be, if He calls you, that you must say, 'Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears.' " So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

a. He ran to Eli: What an obedient boy! He is wrong in thinking Eli was speaking to him, but he was right in what he did. If Eli was calling, he would run to Eli! After all, Eli was blind and might need Samuel's help.

b. And the LORD called yet again: When speaking to us, God almost always confirms His word again and again. It is generally wrong to do something dramatic in response to a single "inner voice" from the LORD. If God is speaking, He will confirm, and often in a variety of ways.

c. Samuel did not yet know the LORD: Here is Samuel, a godly, obedient boy, serving God wonderfully. Yet, he has not yet given his heart to the LORD. Even children raised in the most godly home must be converted by the Spirit of God, and Samuel now is hearing God speak to his heart.

d. Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears: Samuel is given wise counsel by Eli. Eli tells Samuel to make himself available for God to speak (Go, lie down); he tells Samuel to not be presumptuous about God speaking (if He calls you); he tells Samuel to respond to the word of God (Speak, LORD); and he tells Samuel to humble himself before God and His word (Your servant hears).

e. Speak, LORD: We must hear from God. The preacher may speak, our parents may speak, our friends may speak, our teachers may speak, people on the radio or television may speak. That is all fine, but their voices mean nothing for eternity unless God speaks through them.

i. Spurgeon expressed this well, by showing how one should pray: "'Speak, Lord!' While the minister is speaking, Lord do thou speak. I have heard the minister's voice, and sometimes it awakens me, but I am not saved, and I never shall be, Lord, if the minister speaks alone. Speak, Lord! My mother has talked with me; my earnest teacher has sought to lead me to the Saviour; but I know that the words of blessed men and women will fall to the ground if they come alone … Oh, let it be to-night a real work of grace in my soul! Let divine power come and operate upon me."

B. God's message to Samuel.

1. (1Sa 3:10) Samuel responds just as Eli told him.

Now the LORD came and stood and called as at other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel answered, "Speak, for Your servant hears."

a. Then the LORD came and stood and called: Because it seems to have been an audible voice, and because it says the LORD stood, it may be that this was a unique appearing of the LORD to Samuel, perhaps in the person of Jesus before Bethlehem. Clearly, this was not a dream or a state of altered consciousness.

2. (1Sa 3:11-14) God's message to Samuel: coming judgment on Eli and his house.

Then the LORD said to Samuel: "Behold, I will do something in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. "In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them. And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever."

a. Both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle: God is going to give young Samuel spectacular news. In other places in the Old Testament, tingling ears are a sign of that an especially severe judgment (2 Kings 21:12, Jeremiah 19:3). And, if both ears are tingling, it must be really shocking news!

i. Poole on both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle: "That not only those that feel it shall groan under it, but those that only hear the report of it shall be struck with such amazement and horror, which will make their heads and hearts ache."

b. I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end: God's judgment against the house of Eli would be complete. "Execution of justice is God's work, though his strange work (Isaiah 28:21), and when he once beginneth, he will go thorough-stitch with it: he will neither dally nor desist till it be done." (Trapp)

c. For I have told him that I will judge his house: Through the word of the man of God in 1 Samuel 2:27-36, Eli has already heard of the judgment to come. This word, given to young Samuel, is a word to confirm the previous message from God.

i. "When God had sent a man of God to Eli, and the message did not arouse him to a sense of his sin in over-indulgence of his sons, and toleration of evil in those under him, the Lord sends him a word of threatening by a child; for God has many messengers." (Spurgeon)

d. For the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile: Eli knows of this iniquity, not only by his own observation, but because God has made it known to him by the message of the man of God. The iniquity is not directly his own, it is the sins of his sons, which Eli failed to confront and restrain.

e. And he did not restrain them: Eli's responsibility to restrain his sons was not only, or even mainly, because he was their father. These were adult sons, no longer under Eli's authority as sons as they were when they were younger. Eli's main responsibility to restrain his sons was as their "boss," because he was the high priest, and his sons were priests under his authority and supervision.

i. Eli's indulgence towards his sons as a boss was no doubt connected to his prior indulgence of them as a parent. "So, there is an age when children may be restrained, and if that age is allowed to pass the power of restraining them goes along with it." (Blaikie)

f. The iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever: What a terrible judgment! God is saying, "It's too late. Now, the opportunity for repentance is past. The judgment is sealed."

i. Probably, the judgment declared by the man of God in 1 Samuel 2:27-36 was a warning, inviting repentance. Because there was no repentance, God confirmed the word of judgment through Samuel. Or, perhaps Eli had been pleading that God might withhold His judgment, and this is God's answer to that pleading.

ii. Do we ever come to a place where our sin cannot be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever? Only if we reject the sacrifice of Jesus for our sin. As Hebrews 10:26 says, if we reject the work of Jesus for us, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins. Yet, we will always reject the work of Jesus for us unless God softens and speaks to our heart. Therefore, it is necessary we always be responsive to the work of God in our hearts, so we can receive the atoning work of Jesus for us.

3. (1Sa 3:15-18) Samuel tells Eli the message from God.

So Samuel lay down until morning, and opened the doors of the house of the LORD. And Samuel was afraid to tell Eli the vision. Then Eli called Samuel and said, "Samuel, my son!" And he answered, "Here I am." And he said, "What is the word that the Lord spoke to you? Please do not hide it from me. God do so to you, and more also, if you hide anything from me of all the things that He said to you." Then Samuel told him everything, and hid nothing from him. And he said, "It is the LORD. Let Him do what seems good to Him."

a. Samuel lay down until morning: Of course, he didn't sleep at all! Young Samuel, laying on his bed, ears tingling at the message from God, wondering how he could ever tell Eli such a powerful word of judgment (Samuel was afraid to tell Eli the vision).

b. Opened the doors of the house of the LORD: Presumably, this was one of Samuel's duties as a servant at the tabernacle.

c. Samuel, my son! Eli had not been a good boss, or a good parent, to Hophni and Phinehas. But Samuel was given to him as a "second chance," and Eli did a better job of raising Samuel then he did with his sons by birth.

d. What is the thing that the LORD has said to you? Eli had an idea of what the message of God to Samuel was. Kindly, he takes the initiative and asks Samuel, knowing it would be difficult for the young man to tell him.

i. "He suspected that God had threatened severe judgments, for he knew that his house was very criminal; and he wished to know what God had spoken." (Clarke)

ii. Eli made it clear to Samuel he had the responsibility to bring the message, even if it was bad news. With a threat like God do so to you, and more also, Samuel would be suitably motivated to tell Eli everything.

iii. Eli was admirable, because he was willing to be taught from an unexpected source, he wanted to hear the bad news of his condition, and he wanted to hear all of God's message.

e. Then Samuel told him everything: How hard it is to bring a message of judgment! There may be a few, with hard hearts (like Jonah) who are happy to announce God's judgment, but most find it difficult. Yet, it is always the responsibility of God's messenger to bring everything God says, not just the "easy" words.

i. It is a dangerous thing, both for the messenger and the hearers, when the messenger fails to tell everything God says. In the prophets, God says those who only bring a "good" or "happy" message seduce God's people: Because they have seduced My people, saying, "Peace!" when there is no peace (Ezekiel 13:10). God also says the messenger who doesn't say everything God says doesn't help his listeners: They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, Saying, "Peace, peace!" When there is no peace. (Jeremiah 6:14)

ii. Paul could say of his own ministry, Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:26-27) Can the modern messenger of God say the same thing? If he cannot, he risks being guilty of the lives of others.

iii. "I cannot bear to be cast away for ever from the presence of God; yet this woe will be unto me if I preach not the gospel, and do not declare the whole counsel of God. The result of sin and unbelief in others will fall on us if we do not warn them. O sirs, if we are unfaithful, God will deal with us at the day of judgment, as he will deal with the wicked; this is an awful outlook for us. May we never dare to tone down the more severe parts of the story, and flatter men in their sins; for if we do this, God will mete out to us a portion with the condemned!" (Spurgeon)

iv. "Bitter truths must be spoken, however they be taken; and if ministers be mannerly in the form, yet in the matter of their message let them be resolute." (Trapp)

f. It is the LORD. Let Him do what seems good to Him: It is hard to know if Eli's response here is godly, or fatalistic. If is the submissive response of a heart that knows there is nothing which can stop God's judgment, his response is godly. But if he is missing another opportunity to repent, and get things right, and instead having the fatalistic, "whatever" kind of heart, his response is ungodly. Only God knows where Eli's heart was in this matter.

i. We should always submit to God's rod of correction. Yet, that submissive is not totally passive. It is also active in repentance, and doing what one can to cultivate a godly sorrow.

ii. "There is much of a godly submission, as well as a deep sense of his own unworthiness, found in these words. He had sinned, so as to be punished with temporal death; but surely there is no evidence that there is no evidence that the displeasure of the Lord against him extended to a future state." (Clarke)

iii. Trapp says this was "a humble submission to his heavenly Father: for if Eli had been an ill father to his sons, yet he was a good son to God."

C. Samuel matures and is established as a prophet.

1. (1Sa 3:19-20) Samuel grows, maturing physically and spiritually.

So Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel had been established as a prophet of the LORD.

a. The LORD was with him: Is there anything better than this? To have, and to know you have, the LORD with you? For the Christian, we can know we have God with us: If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

i. William Newell, in his commentary on Romans, speaks well to this point: "Our weak hearts, prone to legalism and unbelief, receive these words with great difficulty: God is for us … They have failed Him; but He is for them. They are ignorant; but He is for them. They have not yet brought forth much fruit; but He is for them." God is not for us because we are so good, or so great, but because of who we are in Jesus. God is for you. God is with you, even if you are not as good as Samuel, because you have given to you the goodness of Jesus.

b. Let none of his words fall to the ground: This means all of Samuel's prophecies came to pass, and were known to be true words from God. Therefore, all Israel … knew that Samuel had been established as a prophet of the LORD.

i. Since the days of Moses (some four hundred years before the time of Samuel) there have not been many prophets in Israel, and certainly no great prophets. Now, at this important time in Israel's history, God raises up Samuel as a prophet.

ii. Coming in this place in Israel's history, Samuel is rightly seen as Israel's last judge and first prophet. Samuel bridges the gap between the time of the judges, and the time of the monarchy when prophets (such as Nathan, Elijah, and Isaiah) spiritually influenced the nation.

iii. Through the book of judges, when God raised up a judge, he led the nation mostly through political and military influence. Samuel, as a judge, mainly led the nation by his spiritual influence.

c. From Dan to Beersheba is a way of saying "from northernmost Israel to southernmost Israel." It carries a similar idea as saying in the United States, "from New York to California."

2. (1Sa 3:21) The word of the LORD comes to Samuel.

Then the LORD appeared again in Shiloh. For the LORD revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the LORD.

a. The LORD appeared again in Shiloh: When did the LORD first appear in Shiloh? We know He appeared to Samuel in 1 Samuel 3:10. Now, in some undescribed way, the LORD appears again.

b. As the LORD appeared again, how did He reveal Himself? The LORD revealed Himself … by the word of the LORD. God reveals Himself by His word. Whenever God is moving, He will reveal Himself by the word of the LORD.

© 2006 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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