1 Samuel 3. “The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. . . Now Samuel did not know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. . . .The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli. . . . The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ Then Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’” . . The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.”
Exegesis and Application
This is the story of the calling of the great “prophet of the LORD” (vs. 20) Samuel as a boy. We see the extraordinary spectacle of Yahweh “standing” (Hebrew: “yotsab”) in the same room as Samuel when He calls him for the fourth time (vs. 10). The Hebrew term for “stand” means to “stand firm” or “endure” or to “stand by one.” It is used to indicate the standing of a victor before a defeated enemy. The use of this term may imply that Samuel could finally see God after the fourth calling! But in any case, God will not give up on Samuel. Three times He calls the boy before Samuel finally responds to Him at the urging of Eli, the high priest; and still this is after the LORD “stands” before him! Samuel is a bit thick-headed. All during the calling process Samuel is not a believer (vs. 7) and is not sure who is doing the calling. Yet the LORD was with him in this process, even as “he grew up” (vs. 19). Finally, in vs. 21 we read of Samuel’s firm conversion: “there the LORD revealed himself to Samuel through his word.” Thus finally Samuel becomes the first prophet of Yahweh in 500 years, since Moses.
Several things strike me as noteworthy in Samuel’s call.
First, Samuel was “ministering” (Hebrew: “mesaret”) during the formal worship service in the tent of meeting before he was a believer. He was just a young boy wearing a “little robe” (2:18-19) who “grew up in the presence of the LORD (2:21). The focus of the Hebrew term for “ministering” is to “attend to in an officious way” rather than serving in obedience or devotion. In short, Samuel was an altar boy. In these pre-conversion days, he calls himself the LORD’s “servant” after the fourth calling (vs. 10), yet he was so young that the blind and spiritually weak high priest Eli had to finally tell him what to do: “if he calls you again, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’”
Second, Samuel was around Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, when they practiced their wickedness so the social pressure on Samuel to follow the young sons of the high priest in their debauchery (2:22, etc) was great. However, he “continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and with men (2:26). The LORD’s hand was clearly on Samuel during his youth. Still, most commentators believe it wasn’t until Shiloh (3:21) that Samuel became a genuine child of God with a personal relationship with Yahweh. The time between Samuel as a young boy (2:11) and Samuel growing up to be a prophet (3:19-20) was probably decades.
Third, Eli had little regard for Samuel. Eli thought Samuel was from common stock, at best, because he thought Samuel’s mother, Hannah, was a drunk and wicked woman (1:13-14). On the contrary, Hannah was a praying woman, but Samuel’s father, Elkanah, was apparently somewhat of an absentee dad (“Do what seems best to you” – 1:21) doing little to instruct Samuel.
Fourth, it is one of the few instances in the Bible which records the Triune God coming and “standing” before the person being addressed (3:10). The LORD last “stood” before a human being in Ex. 34:5 – Moses. This is an indication of how important Samuel’s role was to be in the history of the Church. Jesus stood to receive into Glory the martyr Stephen in Acts 7.
Christian journalist, the main point of this story for us seems to be that our Lord will persevere in calling us to a particular task. He will not give up on us and will bring people into our lives to encourage and facilitate our accomplishing His call.
A second point is that even though we may be surrounded by unbelief we are expected to be obedient to God’s call on our lives. Don’t let the actions of others around us deter us from that which God calls us to do.
A third point is that God’s calling may take time to mature in us. Don’t give up too soon. God’s call may take years to nurture and marinate in a given profession.