1 Samuel 2:27, 30 Now a man of God came to Eli and said to him, This is what the Lord says: . . . Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained.
Eli dishonored God by permitting his wicked sons to remain in the ministry, so God sent a prophet with a word of judgment. Eli’s sons would both die on the same day (1 Samuel 2:33-34), and God would replace Eli with a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind (1 Samuel 2:35), said God.
Ultimately, this looks forward to Jesus Christ, the great high priest of all believers. Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself (Hebrews 7:26-27), says Hebrews.
Ordinary ministers often fail due to their sinful natures. But we have a priest who can never fail because he has no sinful nature. And because he offered a perfect sacrifice, he can bring us to God no matter what we may have done. He can even save ministers who have failed at their calling.
1 Samuel 3:1 The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli.
We do not know Samuel’s age at this time, but twelve years old is a reasonable guess. Eli had been his guardian and mentor for several years, and Samuel was now familiar with the sacrificial system.
1 Samuel 3:1b In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.
The work of the priests was being carried out, but God was rarely speaking through prophets. He was under no obligation to speak, and could even withhold his speech as a form of punishment. 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 (Amos 8:11), wrote Amos.
Hearing God’s word is a privilege that God can take away due to our neglect. In fact, there are places where the church used to flourish, but no longer exists (Revelation 1:20, 2:5). Hearing God’s word is not a right that we can assume; it is a privilege that should never be taken for granted.
1 Samuel 3:2-7 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 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. Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, Here I am. 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. 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. Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
Samuel knew about God, and was doing God’s work, but did not know God for himself. Like Eli’s two sons, he was on his way to becoming an unconverted minister who would die and go to hell. Eternal life does not come from knowing about God, or even serving God, but from knowing God personally. Now this is eternal life [said Jesus]: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent (John 17:3).
A friend of mine attended seminary and was preparing for pastoral ministry. He studied Greek, Hebrew, systematic theology, and church history. But a lady from his church told him that was not enough. He had to know God for himself. By repenting of his sin, and turning to Christ with all his heart, he came to know God personally. Likewise, Samuel was about to meet the Lord.
1 Samuel 3:8 A third time the Lord called, Samuel! And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, Here I am; you called me.
Neither Samuel nor Eli were getting much sleep that night. This was the third time God called Samuel, and the third time Samuel mistook the voice of God for the voice of Eli. Finally, Eli understood it was God who was calling Samuel. So Eli told Samuel, Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening (1 Samuel 3:9).
1 Samuel 3:10-11 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, Samuel! Samuel! Then Samuel said, Speak, for your servant is listening. 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.
God told Samuel that he was about to punish Eli for not restraining his sons. The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering (1 Samuel 3:14), he said. This was a lot for a boy to hear, and Samuel was afraid to tell Eli. But Eli said, May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you. So Samuel told him everything (1 Samuel 3:17-18).
Whoever speaks for God must be willing to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—not just the parts that people want to hear. False teachers will often tell the truth about God’s love, but are silent about his wrath. And yet, the first message God gave Samuel was a word of judgment on his beloved guardian, Eli. Samuel was reluctant, but he told Eli the cold hard truth.
1 Samuel 3:19 The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground.
This probably means that whatever Samuel said came to pass, but it may also reflect the authority with which he spoke. Some preachers’ words fall to the ground before they reach the front row. But whenever Samuel spoke people paid attention. This also reminds us of Jesus Christ who taught as one who had authority (Matthew 7:29). And all the people hung on his words (Luke 19:48), wrote Luke.
Reflection and Review
Why is Jesus Christ a perfect high priest?
What is the difference between knowing about God, and knowing God personally?
Why is it hard to tell the whole truth about God?