One of the most-taught stories in children’s Sunday School classes over the last several decades is that of the Lord calling out to little Samuel:
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. 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?”
“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. 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.
10 And the Lord came and called as before, “Samuel! Samuel!”
And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening.”
Now, this all sounds like a sweet and encouraging Bible story. And it is. But, I think that too often, we adults miss the context of what was going on in Israel (specifically, Eli’s family) that caused God to speak to Samuel the way that He did.
Remember, that in the second half of the previous chapter, a prophet came to Eli (Israel’s high priest) and warned him that since he had not started disciplining his sons, the Lord would take away the priesthood from his family.
Then, right after this happens, we read:
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.
So, before God spoke to young Samuel, communication between the Lord and His people was intermittent at best. Eli is old and nearly blind. The Lord hasn’t spoke to the priest as He typically would or should. All this paints a picture of Eli’s spiritual inability to lead God’s people.
So, God speaks to a child to deliver the message that Israel needs to hear. And it’s not a fun message:
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.”
Now, imagine being a kid and receiving this message to deliver to your adoptive father! Now, keep in mind that throughout the Bible, adoption is a noteworthy theme. There are two primary figures in the Bible who were adopted: Moses (raised in Pharaoh’s household), and Jesus (raised by Joseph who was not His natural father). Both Moses and Jesus were mediators of Godly covenants.
And then there’s Samuel.
And in both Samuel and Moses’ messages from God, they prophesy a message of doom for individuals that they love. What an incredibly difficult burden!
And yet, God allowed the tables to turn upon Himself. He allowed His son, Jesus, to come and live in an adoptive family, who would (along with mankind) turn its back on Him.
Sometimes, as in all three cases of Moses, Samuel, and Jesus, the receivers of God’s messages aren’t quick enough to hear God’s words.
Eli had received a warning from the prophet in chapter two, but didn’t respond. Therefore he had to hear it from this boy whom he loved, which made the message that much harder for both Eli and Samuel.
You see, the Lord doesn’t always call us to do easy tasks. He called Samuel to announce a message of judgment against his adoptive father.
Now, we could look at God in this situation and think, “Man, God… that’s awfully malicious! Think about the pain and anguish that’s involved in Samuel and Eli’s situation!”
Actually, I think that it’s merciful.
God wants to get the attention of His people through whatever means that would get them to listen – even if it’s through a little boy whom Eli cherishes. And if Eli wouldn’t receive the message from Samuel (as he didn’t seem to get it from the man in chapter two) then he just wasn’t going to get it.
So, Samuel delivered God’s message:
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.”
Now don’t miss this!! This very sentence that Eli utters is what separates the good from the great and the bad from the good ones all throughout the books that talk about the kings of Israel. There are a lot of different types of kings who make a lot of different choices when God pronounces things.
But this sentence: “It is the Lord’s will. Let him do what he thinks best”, is what kicks him out of the category of greatness. Eli, it appears, still had a chance to repent. He still had time to correct his problems. But instead, he makes this statement of “false piety”; and simply accepts God’s judgment and not His opportunity of redemption.
Now, contrast this to King David – a man who is known for having “God’s own heart” – who every time that he is put face-to-face with his own sin, actively repents and tries to make it right. Each time, David turns from his ways and begins to behave as God wants.
Other kings of Israel – even good ones – think, “It’s the Lord, let Him do what’s best.” And that’s it.
So, getting back to Eli. He had this fatal flaw in his life: He refused to appropriately deal with his sons. Even though God spoke to him more and more intimately, he still refused to actively do anything about it and correct the direction of his household.
If only he had had the repentant heart and courage that David had.
If only we would choose to have David’s repentant heart and courage. Imagine what God could do through our lives and the lives of our families if we make this choice.
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