ALL IN - Samuel
We move on through this series looking at different features we see in a life of faith. This week the example we are looking at from the Old Testament is the prophet, Samuel. Samuel’s story starts out a bit different from most other people. He is something of a miracle child. In the first chapter of 1 Samuel we can read about Hannah, who earnestly prays to God for a child. When God answers that prayer and Samuel is born, Hannah dedicates the boy to God. This creates the setting for what we see here in chapter three. Samuel is not yet an adult, but stays as a resident with the priests who work at the tabernacle.
Samuel’s main task he performs at the tabernacle to be a helper for Eli
We pick up the detail in this passage that the chief priest, named Eli, has very poor vision. It makes sense in this context that Samuel’s main task he performs at the tabernacle to be a helper for Eli, whose poor eyesight likely leaves him needing daily assistance. Look at this scene in 1 Samuel 3 now where God comes and calls out to Samuel. Given the context I just mentioned, it makes perfect sense that Samuel’s immediate response is to think he is being called by Eli.
1 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.”
those who led God’s people at that time were blind to what God wanted of them
There is an interesting feature taking place in this story. We should not overlook the author’s first observation that in those days the word of the LORD was rare and there were not many visions. This is immediately followed up by the observation that Eli, the chief priest, had failing vision. It is a literary feature the author is using to highlight for us the way in which those who led God’s people at that time were blind to what God wanted of them and what God was doing among them.
Even though this is a storyline which tells us about God’s call to Samuel, we get a better picture of what this call is about by understanding the contrast between Eli and Samuel being made in this passage. If we were to read on past verse 10, we would see that the word of God which came to Samuel that night was pretty bad news for Eli and Eli’s household. It was a word of condemnation for Eli because of the way he had been blind—figuratively—to seeing and doing the will of the Lord.
this whole scene taking place between Eli and Samuel is messy and confusing
How ironic it is, then, that Eli is the one who first catches on to what is happening when God keeps calling out to Samuel. Let’s notice something about this whole scene taking place between Eli and Samuel: it’s kind of messy and confusing. It is confusing because it took three times until Eli realizes it is the word of the Lord. And it is messy because the message Samuel receives is probably not anything he wanted to hear. If it were me, I would be experiencing a certain amount of anxiety about sharing this message with Eli the next morning. But at this point there is no hiding it. Eli knows what is taking place. And, sure enough, the very next morning Eli calls for Samuel and insists on knowing everything God had spoken to Samuel.
it is worth spending a few minutes and imagining just how jarring and disjointed and surprising this whole chain of events would have felt in the lives of these two characters as this was taking place
Look at what is happening in this story. Maybe you have read this story before and maybe you already knew how this goes. We read it today with a sort of matter-of-fact rendering. We just take it in as necessary plot exposition so that we can be introduced to Samuel as the prophet who God would use to anoint the first kings of Israel. I think it is worth spending a few minutes and imagining just how jarring and disjointed and surprising this whole chain of events would have felt in the lives of these two characters as this was taking place. When God suddenly decides to show up, it was confusing, surprising, disruptive, messy. The part of the story we are left to imagine here is just how much both Samuel and Eli are left to wrestle with this event when God suddenly breaks into their lives. We—the readers—are left to wonder for ourselves how it might have felt to be in that situation. We—the readers—are left to ponder how both Samuel and Eli had to deal with giving a response to this word from the Lord. We ought to take a moment and just sit with that today.
our immediate automatic response to disruption is to seek a way back to whatever is the most familiar
We have a natural aversion to disruption; we don’t like it. I don’t think I need to convince anyone here of that; we all know it. We have been living through the disruption of a health pandemic for over a year now. Do you remember way back to April and May of 2020? How many of us were thinking, “okay this will all be over soon?” And then when the winter surge happened we thought, “can things just get back to normal now? That’s enough disruption already!” Notice this: our immediate automatic response to disruption is to seek a way back to whatever is the most familiar. That’s what we mean when we say, “get back to normal.” What we mean to say is, “keep me in a world where everything is familiar and makes sense.”
And it is not just us. Remember what happened when God brought the people of Israel out of Egypt and over to the promised land of Canaan. Moses sent in twelve scouts to survey the land. When they returned, ten of them gave a report that filled the people of Israel with fear about what lay in front of them in this new land. When faced with the disruption of this new challenge in front of them, most of the people were opting to go back to Egypt. Egypt was familiar; Egypt was a world they knew; Egypt was normal. The automatic response to disruption was to seek a way back to what was familiar. It was true for the Israelites, and it is still true for us.
there are moments in the life of faith which confront us with a certain amount of disruption — sometimes God has to knock at the door a few times before we realize it because our first inclination is always to respond by staying with whatever is most familiar
What we see in this story of Samuel today is that the calling of God came with a certain amount of disruption. There are moments in the life of faith which confront us with a certain amount of disruption. Sometimes that’s not very easy for us to see or accept. Sometimes, like Samuel, maybe God has to knock at the door a few times before we realize it. Because our first inclination is always to respond by staying with whatever is most familiar.
it would be a mistake to push this observation to the extreme
Alright, let’s try to make some sense out of this so we can track something meaningful for our lives of faith from this story. It would be a mistake to push this observation to the extreme and somehow cast every moment of disruption in our world as a knock on the door from God. That would be a mistake. In a similar way, it would also be a mistake to assume that there will never be moments of faith folded into the normal patterns of our familiar world. We don’t need to go looking for disruption or causing disruption in some attempt to seek out steps of faith.
the life of faith is meant to transform us
No, I think we can identify a feature of faith which goes one layer deeper than a simple familiar-verses-disruption dichotomy. The operative word here for us is transformation. It is God’s intention that the life of faith is meant to transform us. Sometimes in our language of church doctrine and teaching we call this sanctification. That’s a big church word which simply means that God is in the business of making us more-and-more holy. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:29,
29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
And the Apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 1:15
15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;
it is transformation which is always meant to make us more-and-more holy
God was up to something when he came knocking on the door of Samuel’s heart. And Samuel’s response of faith was transformative. In faith, it was a step of obedience to God through which God brought Samuel one step further on that journey of being made more holy. Faith is meant to be transformative in our lives, and it is transformation which is always meant to make us more-and-more holy.
Let’s put these ideas together and find some application for our own life of faith. Samuel faced a rather inconvenient disruption when God came calling. Let me be honest, I think my hardline response would have been, “can it wait till morning? I am trying to get some sleep.” It hardly seems like convenient timing to send a moment like this in the middle of the night. That’s a pretty inconvenient disruption. But there is a step of faith to be taken in that moment.
I remember in those first months of the Covid pandemic when this church went entirely online for several months. This was before any economic stimulus or relief had begun. It was during those months when this church basically turned our entire lobby into a nonperishable food warehouse. We expanded our food pantry hours and pulled in more volunteers because of the need during those months. It was an inconvenient disruption which also carried an opportunity; an inconvenient disruption which also held a moment for us to take a step of faith in obedience to God; a step to care for the overwhelming needs in our community around us at that time.
are we willing to be inconveniently disrupted for the benefit of others?
I believe it was a moment in the life of this church which presented us with an opportunity for transformative faith. We had to ask ourselves the question: are we willing to be inconveniently disrupted for the benefit of others? Are there other moments like that in your life? Instead of seeing inconvenient disruptions as annoyances to be pushed away; might there me moments tucked in there to embrace holiness? Are there moments in your life in which your faith can be transformative?
hearing the word of the Lord is information; responding to the word of the Lord is transformation
One more observation: Samuel did not just hear the word of the Lord, he responded to it in obedience. Hearing the word of the Lord is information; responding to the word of the Lord is transformation. There is a difference between information and transformation. Samuel lived during a time with the word of the Lord was spoken through the prophets. We live in a time when the word of the Lord has been fully revealed in the words of scripture. There may be plenty of people who read the Bible for information, but that is not the same as reading the Bible for transformation.
It is God’s design and desire in your life to make you more-and-more holy. God does this by conforming us into the image of his Son Jesus. It was Jesus who embraced inconvenient disruption for the benefit of others. Jesus took hold of a sacrificial love which endured the cross for our benefit. Jesus lived the perfect holiness that we never could so that we could be made right with God. Our steps of faith before us today are only possible because of the righteousness of God opened up for us in Jesus. We can only step in holiness because he is holy; we can only love because he loves us; and we can only step forward in faith because he is faithful.