Speak, Lord, for Your Servant is Listening!
Most every week, this week excluded, the most difficult sermon task is crafting one statement for the sermon theme. That theme needs to attract the attention of you – the members of Messiah, be applicable to lives today, and--most important--be absolutely faithful to the lesson on which is being preached. Usually, that takes a ton of time and thought and editing.
But with this text that task was easy. What lesson for us and application to us is there here than, “Hear what God has to say!”? I realize that you’ve never taken a sermon-writing class in your life, and yet I’m sure most of you quickly identified that as the main point when this lesson was read earlier!
What’s difficult in connection with this lesson is the same difficulty we sinners face as we read every page of God’s Word. The difficulty here is doing what the lesson tells us, believing the truth which God teaches us, hearing and applying what this section of Scripture says to us. Hearing and applying what God told Samuel wasn’t all that comfortable for him; nor is it for us. But that doesn’t change the truth that Samuel was willing to listen to the Lord and hear here; so will we. With this Bible lesson, well-known and dearly-loved by both children and adults, the Spirit leads us children of God to say with Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening! We listen as You reveal Yourself and as You call Your people.”
A smug attitude toward God and His Word had infected Israel at Samuel’s time. You know Samuel’s birth story. Childless Hannah prayed fervently to God for a child, promising that if He granted her a son, the boy would serve God all his days. God blessed Hannah and her husband Elkanah with a child, a boy, who was given the meaningful name “Samuel”, a Hebrew phrase for “Heard by God”. When Hannah was no longer nursing Samuel, she took the little boy to the house of God for year-round service to the Lord. Imagine what that must felt like; some of you mothers know!
But are you as familiar with the sons of the high priest Eli? Those young men regarded God’s house and its regulations as things to be used for their own good pleasure. They took, sometimes by force, portions of meat brought to be sacrificed to God! They even slept with women who came to the tabernacle!
Samuel – uncorrupted by--and in startling contrast to--Eli’s sons, served well at God’s house. Likely a teenager by this time, his work seemed to include leading nearly blind Eli from place-to-place in the temple and assisting Eli with any number of priestly duties. His job description was very similar to the job description of a vicar! Perhaps Samuel fetched oil for the lamps, drew water to wash the sacrifices, helped Eli put on his robes. Samuel had a cot just inside the tabernacle--remember, the movable tent-temple for Israel before the permanent stone temple was built--where he guarded the entrance to God’s house.
Now, the Lord used Samuel to reveal Himself once again to Israel. “In those days the word of the Lord was rare” (v. 1) was God’s way to say, “Because so many Jews refused to listen to what I say, I will be silent!” Indeed, it had been a long, long time since God had spoken to Israel directly through a prophet. This night that would change. Once, twice, three times the LORD called Samuel by name. Three times Samuel, thinking that Eli needed his assistance in the darkness of the night, ran to the priest’s room, only to be told that Eli hadn’t called.
“Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him” (v. 7) It’s not that Samuel didn’t know who his saving Lord was – rather, this verse means that Samuel had not yet heard the Lord’s voice the way he was that night. Samuel certainly knew the Lord by faith. Hannah, from Samuel’s birth, had revealed the Lord to her son. Eli had, too. But now the Lord wanted reveal more about Himself and His plans in a miraculous way. Samuel--and Eli, who told Samuel how to respond to the Lord--were ready. “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening” (vv. 9,10).
One more time, “The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’” (v. 10). This time the Lord used some miraculous form also to show Himself to Samuel! The Lord revealed a portion of His glory to Samuel’s ears and eyes. Throughout this text, listed in the bulletin, printed in a special way in the Old Testament is the special name God used to reveal Himself to Samuel, “the Lord”--which we spell with all capital letters to show how special this name is. It is the name that the Lord first revealed to Moses at the burning bush centuries earlier. It’s the name that the Lord uses to reveal His unmatched power--no one pushes God around, no one forces God to go against His perfect will. It’s the name that the Lord uses to reveal His faithfulness to His promises--everything He has said He will do, He will do. More important than miraculously revealing Himself to Samuel is the Lord revealing Himself to Samuel as “the Lord”.
The same Lord also reveals Himself to us. Do we say to Him, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening” (v. 10) as He reveals Himself to us as the God who uses His power and promises in order to teach us His laws? Do we respond that way as he warns us of our sins and guilt, as he blesses us with all we need, and saves us through His death? Or do we insist on bending, shaping, twisting, and turning God into someone who fits our earth-bound, preconceived, and selfish ideas of God?
The Lord speaks to us just as clearly, just as powerfully, as He did to Samuel. Really? Yes, this is the Lord speaking to us, revealing Himself to us! Do we say, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant has come to Your house to listen, has opened Your Word in her own home and with her family to listen to You?” Or do we say, “Not now, Lord. There is something more important going on today so I won’t listen to You reveal Your saving work and Your will for my life today!”?
We know the right answers to those, and related, questions. But putting those answers into practice is possible only through God-worked humility. We seek the Lord’s help to make use of every opportunity to have Him reveal Himself more and more to us from His Word, to strengthen us more and more in His way of salvation for us sinners who would be damned forever without His life lived for us and His death died for us. Without that humble knowledge of that Lord, any knowledge of God--any idea of God! --is useless and leads to destruction. With all our members saying weekly, daily!, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening to You reveal Yourself!”, how much more we could accomplish for His kingdom!
Human nature hates humility. Human nature praises pride. By nature we don’t want others--even God!--telling us what to do and whom to believe. But the new nature the Spirit planted in us when He led us to trust in Christ alone has--as one of its great fruits--the humility to be quiet and take time to listen to God. “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening (v. 9), listening also as You call Your people to serve You.”
These ten verses don’t tell exactly what the Lord called Samuel to do. But the rest of the chapter, and the rest of First Samuel, and some of Second Samuel tell us. The Lord called Samuel to be the first great prophet among His chosen nation since Moses more than three hundred years earlier.
True, Joshua sort of served as a prophet when Israel marched into the Promised Land. But in the period of the judges, God’s representatives over Israel after Joshua died, “everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 17:6) and not as God desired. God’s silence, as we’ve said, was God’s displeasure with Israel refusing to listen humbly to--and do faithfully--what He said.
That special night the Lord called Samuel to be His specially trained prophet, much as centuries later the same Lord Jesus would call twelve men to be His specially trained disciples. Is your Old Testament knowledge sharp enough to remember what the Lord called Samuel to say in his first message as God’s prophet? When Samuel got the Lord’s message, he “lay down until morning” (1 Samuel 3:15), but I doubt that he slept. When morning came and Eli asked Samuel what the Lord had told him, Samuel solemnly, but faithfully, repeated God’s message. “Your sons, sir, have greatly angered God with their rebellious attitudes and behavior. The Lord intends to carry out against them everything He threatened!” Not a happy message, but a necessary one! Not a feel-good prophet, but a faithful one!
The frightened human nature of Samuel maybe wondered, “Why did I tell the Lord that I was listening, that I was willing to be His spokesman, if this is what it entails?” But love for the Lord and for His will moved Samuel to repeat God’s message truthfully, and then serve faithfully as God’s prophet in Israel. The Lord called Samuel as His voice in Israel for a long, long time. The Lord called Samuel to anoint God’s choices for Israel’s first two kings, Saul and David. The Lord called Samuel to chastise those kings for the sins they committed. The Lord called Samuel to warn the Jews about worshiping Baal and other false gods. The Lord called Samuel to promise sinners that the Savior would come from Israel to deliver all people from hell. Each time Samuel served the Lord in those --and other--ways, it was Samuel’s way to say--and live!, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening” (v. 10).
The Lord has not stood at our bed in some visible form and called us by name. But the Lord truly is at our side and daily calls us to serve His holy name. When He does, we children of His--eternally grateful to Him for the salvation He Himself won for us--say, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening” (v. 10)!
He who called us to trust in Him for daily forgiveness and for forever in heaven, calls us daily to speak to others about His holy laws which we break and about His peace in Christ which covers our sins and gives us life. But to speak His Word accurately, we need to listen like Samuel did. We listen not with preconceived notions about what God should say, but with hearts open to what God has said in His Word. We listen not with red pens ready to cross out what we don’t like to hear and what we don’t want to obey, but with hearts open to what the Lord has said. We listen not as bosses who say, “We’ll see whether that works, God!”, but as servants who say, “I am humbled that You call me to be Your servant who speaks Your Word to others. Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.”
Children, perhaps the Lord is calling you and equipping you to serve Him full time in one of synod’s pulpits or classrooms as a pastor or teacher. Parents, it was no easier for Hannah to give tiny Samuel to the Lord than it might be for you to send your child away to school to study for the ministry, but what more important work is there--if your child has the gifts from God to preach or teach the Word of God? Be like Samuel, children and young people. Encourage your Samuels, moms and dads and grandparents. Say, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.”
But even the overwhelming majority of you who will never be a pastor or teacher are all people of the Lord whom the Lord calls daily by providing opportunities to speak His truth to others. What does the humble, grateful, forgiven heir of heaven say to Him who won forgiveness and heaven but, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening!”?
A seminary professor once said, “The sinful nature wants to shout, ‘Listen, Lord, Your servant is speaking!’” But our new nature in Christ drowns out that pride which gets it completely, brazenly, damningly, turned around! How blessed we are to be reminded again today that we say all day every day, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening as You reveal Yourself and speak to me of Your law and assure me of Your heaven and call me to serve You!” Amen.