During the time when little Samuel was growing up around the House of the Lord, he would have seen the activity of sacrifices and offerings, he would have learned the details of religious ceremonies, and he would have known the rhythm of Sabbaths and feast days. But Samuel would not have been familiar with “the word of the Lord” — what we would call preaching and teaching. There were no prophets confronting sin and calling for revival. There were no rabbis unpacking the life-changing truth of God’s Word. There were no preachers casting a vision of righteous living. “The word of the Lord was rare in those days” (v.1). But that was about to change.
One night as Samuel was lying on his bed near the Ark of the Covenant, he heard his name being called. Thinking it was Eli calling him, Samuel ran to him. Eli had not called the boy, so he sent him back to bed. This happened a second and a third time before it dawned on the old priest that it might be the Lord calling Samuel. He sent him back to bed for the third time with this instruction: “If you hear your name called again, tell the Lord you are listening.”
The Lord did call again (this time He said his name twice for emphasis, v.10), and “stood” near Samuel. Picture little Samuel, sitting wide-eyed in the dark as the Lord begins to speak. The prophecy was simple and it was awful: because of the wickedness of Eli’s sons and the sinful negligence of Eli himself, God was finished with the man, his ministry, and his family. It was over for Eli. The next morning, Samuel was afraid to tell Eli what God had said, but when Eli insisted he told it all. Eli’s reaction is strangely emotionless. He does not weep, he does not repent, and he does not beg the Lord for mercy.
As for Samuel, he had faithfully delivered his first prophecy. It was the first of many occasions he would have to speak on the Lord’s behalf. From that moment on “Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord” (v.20). His words were trustworthy and authoritative. The drumbeat of Scripture is that God was at work in Samuel’s life. Can that be said of you? Is God at work in your life? Is He speaking to you? Are you listening? Try this: after reading this blog and the Scriptures, turn off everything that might distract you, get by yourself, and pray like Samuel: “Speak Lord. Your servant is listening.” Then just wait, taking time to listen to the Lord. Be patient. Wait on the Lord.
[Note: if you are interested in a deeper study of the books of Samuel I recommend Volume 7 of the New American Commentary by Dr. Robert Bergen. Dr. Bergen was my Old Testament and Hebrew professor at Hannibal-LaGrange University, where he still serves. It is my favorite commentary in my library, and the best one I have ever read.]