The Man Who Listened to God – I Samuel 3:1-14
I Samuel 3
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.’”
How do you want to be remembered? I read this week that King Alfred the Great of England (9th c.) has inscribed on his tomb, “The mildest, justest, and most beneficent of kings”. That’s pretty good. I looked up other epitaphs – some odd ones like one for a man whose inscription is “World’s Greatest Electrician” and another “Computer Genius”. OK; it is good to be remembered for your life work. This past summer in a farming community near where I live there was a funeral for a farmer who loved John Deer farm equipment. His casket was pulled on a John Deer wagon, by a John Deer tractor, and carried by pall bearers wearing John Deer caps. More significant is D. L. Moody’s inscription: He that doeth the will of God abideth forever” (from I John 2:7) and the words of the author of “Amazing Grace”, John Newton, who at age 82 said, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Saviour.” Then, there is Ruth Bell Graham’s self-chosen epitaph, “End of construction. Thank you for your patience.”
Perhaps she was thinking of Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
End of construction. Thank you for your patience.
We have just read I Sam. 3:1-14, the familiar story of young Samuel in the temple, told by old Eli to listen to what God wanted to say to him. This morning I want to think through Samuel’s life and learn some lessons about listening. Samuel might be said to be the man who listened to God. That could be how he is remembered.
You will recall the beginning of his story. His mother, Hannah, prayed for a son and promised to give him back to God. Samuel was in effect raised in the temple by the elderly priest, Eli, and grew up to become the last of the judges of Israel, following in the footsteps of others like Samson and Gideon, and bringing to an end that era of leadership for the nation, handing over the reins to the first King, Saul. Samuel also became the first of a new era – the time of the prophets who for some centuries all the way to John the Baptist, challenged the people and its rulers to return to God.
Acts 3: 24 “Indeed, beginning with Samuel, all the prophets who have spoken have foretold these days.”
Acts 3:20 All this took about 450 years. After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet.”
His name means “name of God”; “his name is El”. Samuel would make the name of God known during his lifetime of ministry. But if one is to do that, he or she needs to learn on how listen to God. This takes us to the first lesson of Samuel’s life.
B. We first need help to learn how to listen.
In Samuel’s case the help he needed to get started from his parents and his mentor, Eli.
(1) Parental Help I Sam 1:9-11, 21-28
It is clear that he had devout parents. Elkanah, his father, would take the family each year to worship and sacrifice to the Lord in Shiloh (1:3). Shiloh was the place the tabernacle was set up and, at that time, the religious centre of the nation. It was 20 miles north of Jerusalem. Then we read of Hannah’s prayer in vv. 9-18. Her prayer was earnest and in it she promised to give her son to the Lord’s service (v. 11) – dedicated to lifelong Levitical service. When he was weaned (v. 23), she took him to Eli in Shiloh. Hebrew children were normally weaned at 2 or 3 years of age, but this word may refer to more than physical weaning. It may also carry with it the idea of spiritual training – being weaned on the milk of the word of God – which would have taken a little longer. Thus, Samuel may have been 5 to 7 years old. Some even say that the term may suggest the time when a child might be considered able to get along without her or his mother, e.g., 10-12, with 12 being the age a son was thought to enter adult responsibility. In any event, he learned from his mother that he was dedicated to God’s service and what that might mean.
Children need parental help in learning how to listen to God. Spurgeon said, “A child has not only to live as you and I have—but also to grow; hence he has double need of food. … Children in grace have to grow, rising to greater capacity in knowing, being, doing, and feeling, and to greater power from God; therefore, above all things they must be FED. They must be WELL fed or instructed, because they are in danger of having their cravings perversely satisfied with error! Youth are susceptible to false doctrine. Whether we teach young Christians truth or not, the devil will be sure to teach them error. They will hear of it somehow, even if they are watched by the most careful guardians. “
He added, “Let us expect our children to know the Lord. Let us from the beginning mingle the name of Jesus with their A B C’s. Let them read their first lessons from the Bible. It is a remarkable thing that there is no book from which children learn to read so quickly as from the New Testament! There is a charm about that Book which draws forth the infant mind. But let us never be guilty, as parents, of forgetting the religious training of our children; for if we do we may be guilty of the blood of their souls!”
See http://www.biblebb.com/files/spurgeon/cyc01.htm and https://books.google.ca/books?id=NeCoBwAAQBAJ&pg=PT710&lpg=PT710&dq=.+It+is+a+remarkable+thing+that+there+is+no+book+from+which+children+learn+to+read+so+quickly+as+from+the+New+Testament!+There+is+a+charm+about+that+Book+which&source=bl&ots=yQeZhr6qZB&sig=T2yZ5wSFSUhQu11sbRW8GxHD3u4&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwis3cOk_IfZAhXsx1QKHUJUBIMQ6AEILDAB#v=onepage&q=.%20It%20is%20a%20remarkable%20thing%20that%20there%20is%20no%20book%20from%20which%20children%20learn%20to%20read%20so%20quickly%20as%20from%20the%20New%20Testament!%20There%20is%20a%20charm%20about%20that%20Book%20which&f=false
But not only did Samuel receive parental help to listen to God, he also received
(2) Priestly (Mentoring) Help I Sam. 2:18, 26; 3:1-18
We read that he was left in the care of the priest Eli. Eli kept young Samuel near him. He wore a linen ephod (a sleeveless, apron-like jacket like the one worn almost exclusively by the priest) and served before the Lord (2:18). He “grew before the Lord” (2:21), working alongside Eli. This is where our text comes in. One night he heard a voice calling him and assuming it was Eli ran to him. This happened three times before Eli realized it was God calling Samuel. Samuel received good advice: “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” (3:9). This good advice continued the next morning when Eli asked what God had told him and insisted that Samuel not hide from him the message. It was a difficult message – concerning Eli’s failure in raising his own sons and the end of Eli’s family’s role in the priesthood. Eli taught Samuel to listen and then to proclaim the message however difficult it was. Then, Eli also taught Samuel to accept God’s will v.18, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”
All of us need mentors in life. Perhaps it is an older follower of Jesus. Perhaps it is a pastor or teacher. Perhaps it is a good friend who comes along side and will be given the freedom by us to say what needs saying. Perhaps it is a member of a small group of which we are a part. We need help to learn how to listen to God. Samuel listened and grew some more – Then…3: 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.”
C. We need to combine listening with living.
This involves showing faithfulness to God in what He has called us to do.
- Steadiness – “year by year” living and listening I Sam. 2:18,26;3:1, 18, 19-21; 4:1; 7:15-17
It is said of Samuel that 7:15 Samuel continued as Israel’s leader all the days of his life. 16 From year to year he went on a circuit from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all those places. 17 But he always went back to Ramah, where his home was, and there he also held court for Israel. And he built an altar there to the Lord.
Look at the phrases used: “all the days of his life … “year to year … in all those places … always …” There was consistency in Samuel’s life. At different ages and stages of his life, in different places that were his responsibility, year after year, Samuel lived a faithful life. We need to listen and then apply on a regular basis God’s message to our hearts. He combined living with his listening.
(2) A difficult message delivered I Sam. 7:3-4,12; 8:4-22; 9:22-27; 10:1-8, 17-27; 12:6-25; 13:8-14; 15:1-34; 16:1-13
Then, we have the evidence that he faithfully spoke God’s word. We saw that Eli encouraged him to do so, even if it was a difficult message. And throughout his life, Samuel had some tough assignments. We read that he let none of the words of the Lord fall to the ground (2:19). Several passages in chapters 7,8,9,10,12,13,16, and 16 show this. He did not want to appoint a king when the people asked for one, knowing that the king would demand much of the people and that the people were following a worldly example of government. But when God said, give them what they want, he did so. Later, he would have to rebuke Saul on more than one occasion, and would even have to risk his life to deliver the message (16:2 But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”).
In his anointing of Saul and David, he selected people who might not have seemed the best choices. On coronation day, Saul was hiding among the baggage (10:22). Later, when David was identified to replace Saul, David’s father didn’t bother to introduce him to the prophet but left him tending the sheep.
In these sometimes difficult messages, the prophet left us memorable and vital truths. It is from Samuel, or from the Lord’s dealings with him, that we learn
15: 22 But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
In this instance, Saul had partially obeyed a command and substituted his own idea of what was best – keep some of the spoils of battle for sacrifices to God – but that was not what God had commanded. Forms of religion are not what God wants. He desires full obedience.
And in ch. 16: 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
This case is the anointing of David as king. Samuel thought one of David’s taller, heroic-looking brothers would be the choice for king. But God desires a heart devoted to Himself.
Human standards are less than God’s standards.
And this anointing was something Samuel did in a sense in his retirement. With the appointment of Saul as king, Samuel retired as the judge/leader of the nation. His many years of public ministry were over, but he remained active – still having work to do, including the anointing of David.
All his days, year after year, at the different stages of life – such is required of us if we will claim to be ones who listen to God.
(3) Prayer I Sam. 7:5
On top of steadiness all his days and faithful delivery of God’s message, Samuel was a man of prayer. People who listen to God converse with Him also. Someone has said, “Prayer is how you begin a conversation with God. Think of it as saying ‘hello.’”
Psalm 99:6 – Samuel was among those who called on the name of the Lord.
Jeremiah 15:1 – Then the Lord said to me: “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go!
Samuel’s prayer life is evident in ch. 7.
5 Then Samuel said, “Assemble all Israel at Mizpah, and I will intercede with the Lord for you.”..7 When the Philistines heard that Israel had assembled at Mizpah, the rulers of the Philistines came up to attack them. When the Israelites heard of it, they were afraid because of the Philistines. 8 They said to Samuel, “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines.” 9 Then Samuel took a suckling lamb and sacrificed it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. He cried out to the Lord on Israel’s behalf, and the Lord answered him.
10 While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. 11 The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar.
12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”
12: 23 As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.
When you listen to God you hear His heart for people and respond by reaching out in prayer. Perhaps you hear about hear a need here today and in the week to come lift up prayer to God on that person’s behalf. Perhaps you choose one or more of the children in the service today and pray regularly for them. Perhaps you take the names of the church staff listed in the bulletin and pray for one each day.
(4) Integrity I Sam. 12:1-5
The final point of living and listening deals with integrity.
Hebrews 11:32 – And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets
In ch. 12 we have Samuel’s retirement speech. The first five verses focus on his integrity of life. He had not cheated the people like Eli’s sons did. Samuel said to all Israel, “I have listened to everything you said to me and have set a king over you. 2 Now you have a king as your leader. As for me, I am old and gray, and my sons are here with you. I have been your leader from my youth until this day. 3 Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right.”
4 “You have not cheated or oppressed us,” they replied. “You have not taken anything from anyone’s hand.” 5 Samuel said to them, “The Lord is witness against you, and also his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.”
You cannot be really listening to the voice of God if you are defrauding the people you claim to serve. Living the life of faith and integrity goes along with being a listener.
I Samuel 25:1, “Now Samuel died, and all Israel assembled and mourned for him; and they buried him at his home in Ramah.”
So, we began before his birth and conclude with the people mourning his passing. He lived about 1000 years ago and his life still speaks to us.
We need help to learn how to listen. We need a commitment to a life that is faithful if we wish to hear what God is saying.
Listening to God requires a right attitude in our hearts. In order to listen to God and receive His instruction, we must want to do His will, much as Habakkuk did. God honors the heart that is fully surrendered to Him. If we are stubbornly clinging to our own desires, we are likely to get a garbled message that will not be God’s voice at all. ..
Psalm 40:8 says, “I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” (“All About God” website http://www.allaboutgod.com/listening-to-god.htm )
Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue. (II Peter 1:2,3)
A sermon by Don A. Wicks, presented at First Baptist Church, London, Ontario on November 15, 2015.