3:16 – The Rest of the Story – Our Response 11: 1 Samuel

A Bible Study exploring all the 3:16s in the Bible as they illuminate

  • the Human Condition
  • God’s Revelation of His Plan
  • God’s Fulfillment of His Plan
  • Our Response (Current location of study)

But Eli called Samuel and said, ‘Samuel, my son.’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’” – 1 Samuel 3:16

This week’s 3:16 verse is in the context of Samuel’s call by God to be His prophet. It’s a good story that has several points of application for those of us who have heard God’s call in our own life. Here’s the story from 1 Samuel 3 for background, with some additional relevant background from 1 Samuel 1 and 2.

Hannah, Samuel’s mother, had been unable to conceive and was very distressed over this. When she and her husband Elkanah went to Shiloh, where the tabernacle was currently residing, to worship, she went there to pray. We’ll pick up the story in verse 9 of Chapter 1.

After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the LORD. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly. 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.’

Skipping ahead to verse 19, we read:

They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the LORD; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. 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.’

When Samuel was very young, Hannah and Elkanah took him back to Shiloh and placed him in the care of Eli the priest. Eli raised him and Samuel lived in the service of God at the tabernacle. Now our main story picks up in Chapter 3.

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.

This comment on the rarity of vision and word from God comes at the end of the time of the Judges, which I discussed briefly last week. The period of the Judges lasted for about 300 years and the Israelites as a whole strayed further and further from God. The book of Samuel represents a transition from the time of the judges – individual tribal leaders who sought to rescue God’s people from oppression and turn their hearts back to repentance – to the period in Israel’s history in which prophets of God spoke God’s word and the nation demanded that God give them a king so they could “be more like the nations around them”. Samuel played a critical role in this transition. Now we’ll continue with verse 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. 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.

I’ve often thought that there are a couple of double meanings in this verse, but that may just be from the English translation and was not intended in the original Hebrew. At least, no major commentator that I could find says anything about it. First, the plain meaning is simply that Eli is losing his sight as he gets older, and the lamp of God is simply referring to the lampstand in the tabernacle that was to remain lit during the night-time hours. Also, since both Eli and Samuel were sleeping in or near the tabernacle indicates that more permanent structures had been erected near the tent itself, hence the inclusion of the word “temple” here to mean something more permanent than the tabernacle itself.

Here are the possible double meanings that I have noticed and wondered about:

  • Eli’s loss of sight – 1 Samuel 2 emphasizes the way that Eli’s sons have treated the office of priesthood with contempt and Eli did very little to stop them. He does chastise them (vss. 22-25), but later in the chapter (vs. 29) a man of God confronts Eli and accuses him of being complicent with his sons’ misbehavior. I think that the author may have been using Eli’s loss of physical sight as a metaphor for his loss of spiritual “sight” as well.
  • The lamp of God – Similarly, while the obvious meaning is in reference to the lampstand remaining lit through the night as prescribed by Mosaic law, the author may have also been following up his claim of the diminished spiritual sensitivity of the priest (Eli) by saying that the spiritual “light” from God had not yet disappeared completely. In other words, the author is still holding out the hope that God’s Word will be made available to His people. We’ll see this play out as we read the rest of Chapter 3.

Then the LORD called Samuel, and he said, ‘Here I am!’ 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. 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.’ Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. 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. 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.

There are three observations I’d like to make from these verses (3:4-9). First, the explanation that “Samuel did not yet know the Lord” reveals to us that, although Samuel had been raised in the environment of the tabernacle, he did not at this point have a personal knowledge or relationship with God. This is very important for us to understand. It is entirely possible for someone to have knowledge ABOUT God without knowing Him. The apostle James, in his letter (James 2:19) said, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” His point is that knowledge, even correct knowledge, about God does not give one a personal relationship with Him – it requires repentance, submission and faithful trust in God to verify and validate a personal relationship with Him. At this point, Samuel did not have that.

The second observation lies in the fact that God was persistent in His call of Samuel. It took Samuel a while to recognize God’s voice and that’s okay. God is patient and faithful to continue His call to those He chooses. Peter assured his audience on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:39), “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” God is the one who calls His people to himself. Paul reiterated this in Romans 8:29-30: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Notice that throughout the calling-justification-glorification process, it is GOD who is doing the work. We simply respond to Him in obedience.

The third thing this passage shows us is that Eli was growing distant from God. It took 3 times for God to call Samuel before Eli discerned the source as being from God.

And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant hears.’ 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. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 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. 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.

At Eli’s prompting, Samuel responded to the Lord the third time and God instructed him on what He had already revealed to Eli. God told Samuel that he had already told Eli what was going to happen to him and his family. However, he did so in a manner which was directly speaking to Samuel (e.g. God said, in verse 14, “Therefore I swear to the house of Eli …). Samuel now had to make a decision about what to do with this information. This brings us to our 3:16 verse (starting with verse 15 below).

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. But Eli called Samuel and said, ‘Samuel, my son.’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 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.” 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.’

Samuel was afraid to confront Eli with the message that God had given him. However, you’ll notice in our 3:16 verse that we have a replay of the events from the previous night where Samuel hears Eli’s summons and comes to him, except this time Eli actually did call him. Samuel, who Eli knows has now directly encountered the Lord in a manner that Eli has not, fervently instructs Samuel to give him a word from God. Samuel fulfills his mission of accurately relating God’s word to Eli. Verses 19-21, below, confirms Samuel’s new place as God’s messenger and prophet.

And 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 was established as a prophet of the LORD. And the LORD appeared again at Shiloh, for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the LORD.

At the beginning of this study I made the statement that this story “has several points of application for those of us who have heard God’s call in our own life.” Have you heard God’s call? Paul the apostle wrote in Ephesians 4:1-7, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” All of us who claim Christ as our savior have been called by God. Be faithful to listen to him, respond in obedience, and do His bidding!

Our next 3:16 verse will take us to the book of Colossians. See you then!

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