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Responding to the Voice of God

Over the past month or so, we’ve been looking at the life of Samuel. And chances are, if you’ve only ever heard one story about Samuel – today’s story is likely the one. If you attended Sunday school as a kid, this would be the story that your Sunday school teacher would have had up on the flannelgraph. (And if you don’t know what a flannel graph is, talk to Randall. He’ll tell you all about it!)

But our story takes place when little Samuel was probably about 12 years old. And it’s been really interesting to me to see how frequently the Bible talks about how Samuel is growing up serving the Lord. He’s only a kid, but look what the Bible has already said about him…

1 Samuel 2:11 it says…

And the boy served the Lord by assisting Eli the priest. 1 Samuel 2:11  (7 vs later…)

But Samuel, though he was only a boy, served the Lord. 1 Samuel 2:18 (3 vs later…)

Meanwhile, Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord. 1 Samuel 2:21 (5 vs later…)

Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew taller and grew in favor with the Lord and with the people. 1 Samuel 2:26

And then finally to begin today’s passage:

Meanwhile, the boy Samuel served the Lord by assisting Eli. 1 Samuel 3:1

For a kid who is probably only about 12 years old, the Bible sure has a lot of positive things to say about Samuel! In fact, I don’t think there are any other children in the Bible that receive so many positive comments.

But I think that’s a great reminder to all you kids! Even while you’re young, you can serve the Lord. All you kids can learn to love Him and please Him and honor him with how you live your life!

I mean, wouldn’t it be great to have your name in those verses? it could read something like this:

“But Caleb, though he was only a boy, served the Lord.”

“Meanwhile, Sophia grew taller and grew in favor with the Lord and with the people.”

“Meanwhile, Logan served the Lord by assisting Pastor Dave.”

Wouldn’t that be awesome? And you guys can do that! You can serve and honor the Lord even when you’re a kid – just like Samuel.

But anyway, that’s how our story begins.

Meanwhile, the boy Samuel served the Lord by assisting Eli. Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon. 1 Samuel 3:1

And we talked about this a little bit when we first talked about Samuel several weeks ago. This was pretty dark time in Israel’s history. The book of judges closes with the comment that “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.”

We saw last week that even the priests did whatever seemed right in their own eyes – with Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, stealing from the offerings and seducing the young women who served at the tabernacle. No wonder messages from the Lord were rare – it seems no one, not even the priests, were interested in listening to God!

No one, that is, except for Samuel! Even as a boy, Samuel was ready to listen to the Lord. The story continues in verse 2.

2 One night Eli, who was almost blind by now, had gone to bed. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was sleeping in the Tabernacle near the Ark of God. 1 Samuel 3:2-3

So here’s the setting for this story. It’s the middle of the night – in fact, I’d guess it’s probably just a few hours until dawn – because it says the lamp of God had not yet gone out. Now the lamp of God was to burn all night long, and if it hadn’t yet gone out, there must still be some time until morning.

Eli, as you will remember, was getting to be very old – and as such, we see that he was almost blind by now. Samuel was sleeping near the Ark of the Covenant – likely fairly near to Eli – at least within earshot – so that if blind Eli needed some help in the night – Samuel would be available to go and give him a hand.

So that’s the setting for this story. There’s probably an element of symbolism in this description as well. For example, Eli is not only nearly physically blind, but it seems he’s nearly spiritually blind as well. A few years earlier – he couldn’t tell the difference between someone who was drunk and someone who was earnestly praying – as he had mistaken Hannah’s sorrow and prayer for drunkenness. Later he failed to see how grievous his son’s sins were in the sight of God. (He “turned a blind eye” to their actions, so to speak.) He doesn’t seem to be very spiritually discerning at all. He seems almost spiritually blind.

The other element of symbolism is in the phrase, “the lamp of God had not yet gone out.” Even though it was a very dark time in Israel’s history, and the light of God seemed very dim as people had no interesting in listening to God – but yet, the lamp of God had not yet gone out. There was still light. There were still people like Elkanah and Hannah – who honoured and obeyed the Lord. There were still little boys like Samuel who served the Lord and would go on to share the Light of God brightly throughout the nation. The lamp of God had not yet gone out.

And just for your encouragement, that’s the case today too! It may seem like we live in a very dark world – but the lamp of God has not yet gone out! Evil may seem to run rampant and more than ever, people do whatever seems right in their own eyes. But there are still those who love and serve the Lord today and who shine Light of God in their communities. I pray that we would boldly be some of those people – and that we would not allow the lamp of God to go out in Penhold.

But to get back to our story, as Eli and Samuel lay sleeping in the tabernacle, we read in verse 4….

4 Suddenly the Lord called out, “Samuel!”

“Yes?” Samuel replied. “What is it?” 5 He got up and ran to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?” 1 Samuel 3:4-5a

Now of course, at this point, Samuel doesn’t realize it’s the Lord who’s calling him – he thinks it’s Eli! But just love how Samuel responds to what he thinks is Eli’s call. It says he got up and ran to Eli! “Here I am. Did you call me?” he says.

Samuel is so quick and eager to answer Eli’s call! This is a great lesson for all of us – kids and adults alike. Let me start with the kids. Kids, if you want to serve and honor the Lord, be like Samuel and be quick and eager to listen to God and to your parents! For example, when your mom or dad call you, don’t slowly saunter out, but come running just like Samuel! Don’t wait to finish the game you’re playing or read one last page of the book your reading, or whatever you’re doing, but answer immediately! Be quick to respond and quick to obey! This is a great way to honor your father and mother. It’s a great way to honor God.

And that’s not just for kids, either. That applies to us older ones too! We can honor our bosses, for example, by being quick to respond to what they ask us to do. We can honor our spouse by being quick to listen to them and eager to serve them however we can. And actually, just that simple action of being quick to listen and eager to respond conveys a great deal of honor and respect to that person!

That’s why I’ve always told my kids – delayed obedience is disobedience. When we are slow to respond and slow to obey, that conveys an attitude of disrespect and dishonour. 

And of course, that’s true even in our relationship with God – perhaps even more so! We need to be quick to listen and quick to obey when God tells us to do something! Our delayed obedience is really no different from disobedience – both conveys an attitude of disrespect and dishonour to God.

We need to be like little Samuel and be quick answer and quick to obey!

Now of course, in this case, Samuel was quick to answer – but Eli wasn’t the one calling him! It says in verse 5…

“I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go back to bed.” So he did.

6 Then the Lord called out again, “Samuel!”

Again Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”

“I didn’t call you, my son,” Eli said. “Go back to bed.”

7 Samuel did not yet know the Lord because he had never had a message from the Lord before. 1 Samuel 3:5b-7

So twice, God has called Samuel. Twice, Samuel has quickly responded and run to Eli. And twice, Eli has sent him back to bed.

Samuel’s got to be wondering what’s going on here. And verse 7 gives us that little added insight. It says “Samuel did not yet know the Lord because he had never had a message from the Lord before.”

Samuel would one day grow up to be God’s spokesman to the people of Israel. God would speak to Samuel – and Samuel would relay those words to all the people. But first Samuel had to learn to recognize the voice of the Lord.

And I guess that’s true for all of us. Now, God may not speak to us out-loud like he did with Samuel – but God has spoken and does speak to us today through His written Word – the Bible.

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

In other words, God speaks to us today through the Scriptures. As we read, memorize, and meditate on those Scriptures, God’s Holy Spirit in us, uses those words to speak to us. And the more we spend time in God’s Word, the more familiar we become with the voice of God. God is always speaking – we just need to learn to recognize his voice.

As for Samuel….

7 Samuel did not yet know the Lord because he had never had a message from the Lord before.

8 So the Lord called a third time, and once more Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”

Then Eli realized it was the Lord who was calling the boy. 9 So he said to Samuel, “Go and lie down again, and if someone calls again, say, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went back to bed. 1 Samuel 3:7-9

It took a whole, but finally, Eli realized what was happening. He was nearly spiritual blind, but not entirely! He finally came to realize that the Lord was calling to Samuel – and so he told Samuel –  If you hear the voice again, Samuel should reply “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

And you know, I think that’s the best advice that Eli could have given young Samuel. When God calls, our best response is to willingly and humbly listen to what God says. And listening to God isn’t just hearing what He has to say – but it means being willing to carry out whatever God tells us to do.

It’s kinda like how when we talk to our kids – they hear the words we say, but they don’t always listen! There’s a difference between hearing and listening. Listening implies obeying…

And that’s how we need to respond to God when He speaks to us – don’t just hear God – listen to him. Obey Him.

I wonder if that’s why some people don’t seem to hear the voice of God very often today – they’re ready to hear Him – but they’re not ready to listen. They’re not ready to obey.

I would encourage you not only to be willing to hear the Lord, but be willing to listen to Him! In fact, maybe that’s a great way to start your devotions each morning. As you sit down to read your Bible, begin by praying “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” You’re not just ready to hear what God has to say, you’re ready to obey!

Indeed, that’s what Samuel did. Verse 10 says:

10 And the Lord came and called as before, “Samuel! Samuel!”

And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening.”

11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, “I am about to do a shocking thing in Israel. 12 I am going to carry out all my threats against Eli and his family, from beginning to end. 13 I have warned him that judgment is coming upon his family forever, because his sons are blaspheming God and he hasn’t disciplined them. 14 So I have vowed that the sins of Eli and his sons will never be forgiven by sacrifices or offerings.” 1 Samuel 3:10-14

This is a pretty intense first message from the Lord for little 12 year old Samuel. You’d think that God might start off with a message more like a ‘John 3:16’ kinda message where God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. This was not that kind of a message. Samuel’s first message from the Lord was about sever and shocking judgement. God was going to punish the sins of Eli and his sons for their continual blasphemy of God!

That’s a pretty hard first message for Samuel to receive from the Lord. But you know, I think that really shaped the kind of prophet that Samuel would become. He would be a prophet who understood the seriousness of obeying God. He would certainly not treat the commands of God lightly – as Eli and his sons had done.

We can see that later in Samuel’s life, for example, when King Saul disobeyed the Lord. God had told Saul to completely wipe out the Amalekites (including all their livestock and everything they owned.) But King Saul disobeyed the Lord, sparing the Amalekite King and keeping the best of the livestock for himself – saying that he was going to sacrifice them to the Lord.

But look at how Samuel responds to that…. (In 1 Samuel 15:22)

22 But Samuel replied,

“What is more pleasing to the Lord:

    your burnt offerings and sacrifices

    or your obedience to his voice?

Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,

    and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.

23 Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft,

    and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.

So because you have rejected the command of the Lord,

    he has rejected you as king.”

1 Samuel 15:22-23

Samuel clearly understood the importance and the seriousness of obeying God. He had learned  about the awful consequences of sin when God first spoke to him when he was just a kid.

From that first message, he understood the uncompromising justice of God. 

And sometimes I wonder how well we know those lessons? When I see how lightly we treat sin, when I see how quick we are to disobey God – do we really understand the seriousness of our sin? Do we really understand God’s holiness? Do we understand that just one sin is enough to condemn us to an eternity of punishment, separated from God forever? Because it is!

And if we don’t understand the seriousness of sin and holiness of God, I’m not sure we’ll really understand the amazing gift of God – in that He would send His Son Jesus, to take our deserved punishment for all our sin and take our guilt and for Him to die a horrible death on a cross – all so that God’s wrath against our sin can be poured out on Jesus and we can be forgiven.

Until we see the ugliness and severity of our sin, we’ll never understand the amazing grace of God.

But to get back to our story of Samuel, I’m pretty sure Samuel didn’t sleep much for the rest of that night. Verse 15 says…

15 Samuel stayed in bed until morning, then got up and opened the doors of the Tabernacle as usual. He was afraid to tell Eli what the Lord had said to him. 16 But Eli called out to him, “Samuel, my son.”

“Here I am,” Samuel replied.

17 “What did the Lord say to you? Tell me everything. And may God strike you and even kill you if you hide anything from me!” 18 So Samuel told Eli everything; he didn’t hold anything back. “It is the Lord’s will,” Eli replied. “Let him do what he thinks best.”

1 Samuel 3:15-18

Samuel’s first act as a prophet of God was not an easy one. The message God had given him was a message of judgement against the very man who had raised Samuel for most of his childhood.

How hard it must have been for Samuel to share with Eli everything that God had told him! And I think Eli probably sensed that the message not a pleasant one! That’s why he had to give Samuel the threat of “May God strike you and even kill you if you hide anything from me!” I think Eli knew this would not be an easy message from the Lord for Samuel to deliver.

And you know, sometimes it’s not easy to tell the truth. It’s not easy to tell someone something they don’t want to hear. As a pastor, it’s certainly not my favourite thing to preach about sin and hell and judgement! I’d much rather tell you about God’s love and his goodness and his compassion!

But I can’t just tell you half of the truth! I have to tell you the whole truth. And that’s what Samuel did. He told Eli the whole truth – he didn’t hold anything back. 

It was possibly the hardest thing Samuel had ever had to do in his young life – but it set him on course to be a faithful messenger of God as he spoke the whole truth from God for the rest of his life!

The next verses go on to say….

19 As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him, and everything Samuel said proved to be reliable. 20 And all Israel, from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, knew that Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh and gave messages to Samuel there at the Tabernacle. 1 And Samuel’s words went out to all the people of Israel. 1 Samuel 2:19-3:1

After showing himself to be a faithful prophet of God in this incident as a young man – speaking the whole truth to Eli even when it was hard – God went on to make Samuel a prophet to the entire nation. The Lord continued to speak to Samuel – and Samuel faithfully shared the whole truth to the people of Israel.

And just as a closing thought for today, we’re not all that different from Samuel. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been given a message from God to deliver to the people around us. That message is the Good News – that Jesus Christ died and rose again to pay the price for our sin – and that through faith in Him, we can have eternal life.

And though our message is the Good News, people also need to hear and understand the bad news – they need to understand the devastating consequences of their sin – and that there is no escape from God’s eternal judgement unless they put their faith in Jesus.

Our message is not likely to be popular – but it is the truth. And people need to hear the truth. 

I would encourage you, to be like Samuel and faithfully proclaim the whole truth to the people around you.

  • Maybe this week you need to speak the truth in love to one of your co-workers.
  • Maybe this week you need to speak the truth in love to someone in your family.
  • Maybe this week you need to speak the truth in love to someone in your school.

Not to condemn them – but maybe to warn them – to give them hope! To let them know that there is God in heaven – who is not only holy and righteous and just – but he’s also loving and compassionate. And he loves each one of us, so much so, that he was willing to take our punishment upon Himself so that we could be forgiven and have life.

Let’s be faithful messengers of God this week – and speak the whole truth to the people around us.

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