Can you recognize God's voice when he speaks?
This morning we’ll be continuing in the book of 1 Samuel.
The passage that Miranda read for us is from chapter 2. It’s Hannah’s song, or prayer, to Yahweh after visiting the temple. It’s a really beautiful poem, and we could spend a lot of time just analyzing and meditating on those 10 verses, but I’m not going to focus on that passage today, we’re going to be moving ahead, but I did think it was worth being read, and appreciated as a song, during the music time, as a reminder that passages like that really are a break from narrative It’s like when, in a musical, characters just suddenly break out in song, it’s a shift in literary style, and can be appreciated as a standalone work of art.
So, I won’t be exegeting Hannah’s song today, but I do want to just recommend for those of you who do enjoy poetry, art, music, to take some time this week to read and reflect and appreciate that passage, 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Maybe compare translations, if you have a study bible you can read the notes to help understand some of the more culturally nuanced imagery, and so on.
But moving on, we’re going to see what becomes of Samuel in the temple at Shiloh. So first I just want to recap quickly what has happened so far.
We spent some time in the book of Judges, really seeing how Israel failed again and again, constantly turning away from their God, Yahweh, and allowing the idols of their culture to take his place as their objects of worship and affection and loyalty. It was a very dark period in Israel’s history, a time when everyone did what was right in their own eyes, instead of what was right in God’s eyes.
And we saw people setting up their own places of worship, in places other than Shiloh, which was, at the time, the designated place of worship and for the presence of Yahweh among his people.
But the book of Samuel provides some hope and has a little bit of a change in tone. It introduces this family who does go to the right place, to Shiloh, to worship every year. Elkanah and his two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. And we learn that, much to her dismay Hannah was unable to have children. But she cried out to God in her desperation and promised that if he would allow her to have a child, she would give that child back to God, to serve at the temple.
God did give her a son, named Samuel. At the end of chapter 1 Hannah brings Samuel to Eli the priest. In verse 28 she says:
“I now give the boy to the LORD (to Yahweh). For as long as he lives, he is given to the LORD.” –1 Samuel 1:28 (CSB)
And right after that, the beginning of chapter 2, is where we find Hannah’s song of rejoicing and of praising Yahweh for how powerful and just he is.
And this point in the story is pretty much where we left off last week.
Now, we’re not going to read through all of chapter 2, because I want to spend more time in Chapter 3, so we’re going to skip ahead a little bit. But there are a few key passages in chapter 2 that will help set up chapter 3 and understand its context better.
First of all, if you look at chapter 2 verse 11, it says:
Elkanah went home to Ramah, but the boy served the LORD in the presence of the priest Eli. –1 Samuel 2:11
So, we see that Samuel did indeed stay at the temple, serving under Eli, while his mother and the rest of his family returned home. And we know from chapter 1 that he was very young, just barely weaned from his mother, when he was left there at the temple. Samuel essentially grew up in the temple, and was raised by Eli.
In verse 12 we come to another very important piece of information to the story. It says:
Eli’s sons were wicked men; they did not respect the LORD or the priests’ share of the sacrifices from the people.
And then it goes on to explain exactly what they were doing, how they violated God’s law out of greed and gluttony, and essentially used their position to bully Israelites who came to worship into letting them treat sacred offerings with contempt as it says in verse 17. Eli’s sons were wicked men.
Verses 18-21 Give us a little break from that, a little cutaway, and it just mentions that Samuel served in Yahweh’s presence even as a very little boy, and that his mother continued to visit each year with her husband and making him a new robe each year as he grew. Hannah did get to see Samuel, just once a year, but he remained there and grew up there. And in the meantime, God blessed Hannah with 5 more children, 3 sons and 2 daughters.
Then it goes back Eli and his sons, it says in verse 22 that Eli was very old, and heard about everything his sons were doing, and this time it mentions they were even sleeping with the women who served at the entrance to the tabernacle. Eli does confront his sons about what they’re doing, but they don’t listen to him at all, and Eli doesn’t really do anything more about it.
In verse 26 it says very clearly:
By contrast, the boy Samuel grew in stature and in favor with the LORD and with people. –1 Samuel 2:26 (CSB)
While, on the other hand, God declares that Eli’s family will be struck down, cut off, and displaced.
So that’s all the background, and drama, leading up to chapter 3. In chapter 3 the frame focuses in directly on Samuel. And it starts just by reiterating:
The boy Samuel served the LORD in Eli’s presence.
But then it says:
In those days the word of the LORD was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread.
This is a statement that coincides with what we know about the state of Israel, and even with the state of the temple in Shiloh with Eli’s wicked sons. The word of the LORD, and prophetic visions, were blessings and gifts from God. The presence of those things would indicate God’s presence among and relationship with Israel; whereas the absence of those things indicates God withholding himself from Israel. So, this is a sad statement to have to make.
But things are about to change. Let’s read on:
2 One day Eli, whose eyesight was failing, was lying in his usual place. 3 Before the lamp of God had gone out, [so just before dawn] Samuel was lying down in the temple of Yahweh, where the ark of God was located.
4 Then Yahweh called Samuel, and he answered, “Here I am.” 5 He ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
So, at this point, Samuel has heard Yahweh calling to him, but he thinks it’s Eli calling.
“I didn’t call,” Eli replied. “Go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.
6 Once again Yahweh called, “Samuel!”
Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
“I didn’t call, my son,” he replied. “Go back and lie down.”
7 Now Samuel did not yet know Yahweh, because the word of Yahweh had not yet been revealed to him. 8 Once again, for the third time, Yahweh called Samuel. He got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
Then Eli understood that Yahweh was calling the boy. 9 He told Samuel, “Go and lie down. If he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Yahweh, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10 Yahweh came, stood there, and called as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”
Samuel responded, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
Now, with the preface that we had of the word of God being rare, this is a very exciting moment. This direct interaction with Yahweh is a blessing, and it indicates that God’s favor may be returning through Samuel. But…. the message Samuel gets is a very foreboding one.
11 Yahweh said to Samuel, “I am about to do something in Israel that everyone who hears about it will shudder. 12 On that day I will carry out against Eli everything I said about his family, from beginning to end. 13 I told him that I am going to judge his family forever because of the iniquity he knows about: his sons are cursing God, and he has not stopped them. 14 Therefore, I have sworn to Eli’s family: The iniquity of Eli’s family will never be wiped out by either sacrifice or offering.”
Just try to imagine what that must have been like for Samuel. For the first time ever, he’s hearing the word of the LORD, which would have been terrifying just in itself, but also exciting and humbling! But on top of all that, the message he gets is that God is going to wipe out Eli’s family! Samuel practically IS part of Eli’s family; though he wasn’t corrupted like the rest of Eli’s children, he was raised by Eli so in many ways Eli would have been like a father to Samuel, and now God is giving him this message of judgement against Eli and his family. I think if I were in that position I would just want to run away and hide. That’s just not a fun message to have to deliver. But no, Samuel doesn’t pull a Jonah, let’s see what happens:
15 Samuel lay down until the morning; then he opened the doors of Yahweh’s house. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.”
“Here I am,” answered Samuel.
So yes, understandably, Samuel does not want to give Eli the message, and it doesn’t sound like he would have just brought it up on his own unless Eli asked him to. But now if you can imagine what Eli would have been feeling, I wouldn’t be surprised if the anticipation of waiting to hear what God said kept him up all night!
I know I would be really anxious to hear what God was saying if I knew he was having a secret meeting with someone else in another room. Especially if I already knew that I was in trouble. It would be like knowing you’re in trouble with your teacher, and then your teacher comes and has a meeting with your parents and closes the door so you can’t hear what they’re saying…you just KNOW they’re talking about you and you’re DYING to know what they’re saying…or maybe you’re REALLY hoping they’re NOT talking about you, that your teacher forgot you were in trouble and they’re really planning a surprise party for you.
I don’t know how optimistic Eli was feeling, but I do get the sense that he was in that kind of frame of mind, desperate to know what God had said. Look how Eli demands that Samuel tells him the message, in verse 17:
17 “What was the message he gave you?” Eli asked. “Don’t hide it from me. May God punish you and do so severely if you hide anything from me that he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything and did not hide anything from him. Eli responded, “He is Yahweh. Let him do what he thinks is good.”
So…Eli basically says “TELL ME WHAT GOD SAYS OR GOD WILL PUNISH YOU” and Samuel says…”well…actually God is going to punish you.”
And Eli’s response is actually impressive, in some ways, isn’t it? He doesn’t get mad at Samuel; he doesn’t shoot the messenger. He has the wisdom to accept God’s sovereignty, and the phrase he uses is literally “Let him do what he thinks is good, or right, in his eyes.” So, it’s a recognition of his failure to do right in his own eyes, and of God’s ways, his decisions, being always right.
A little bit later in the book, God’s judgement on Eli’s family comes back into the picture, but for now this chapter ends with a brief summary that introduces Samuel as Israel’s next great prophet and leader for the years to come. It says:
19 Samuel grew, and Yahweh was with him, and he fulfilled everything Samuel prophesied. 20 All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a confirmed prophet of Yahweh. 21 Yahweh continued to appear in Shiloh, because there he revealed himself to Samuel by his word. And Samuel’s words came to all Israel.
God’s word to Samuel didn’t stop at that one event; he continued to speak through Samuel and use him as you’ll see throughout the rest of the book.
For now, let’s go back and think about that idea of God’s word being revealed to Samuel for the first time.
God’s Word, or “The Word of Yahweh” is a phrase that we see all over the Bible, in various contexts. It’s a topic that’s probably worthy of lifetimes of study The Word shows up and is characterized as an attribute of, or something that proceeds from God, but also as an individual, personified character itself, the Word actually appearing and being seen, not just heard. So when we talk about “The Word” it’s more than just language.
For the Old Testament writers, it’s one of the ways God revealed himself. Let’s look at a few things they had to say about the word:
Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105)
How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping your word. (Psalm 119:9)
The word of the LORD is pure. He is a shield to all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 18:30)
The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever. (Isaiah 40:8)
I could go on and on with more verses like this, just extoling the virtues and the value of God’s Word! Those who understood that value, they longed for, clung to, and relied on God’s word. In fact, Deuteronomy 8:3 says that:
…Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
This was something God was teaching the Israelites when they were in the wilderness, that God’s word is as essential to life as food. Just like we need food and water to survive physically, we need God’s word to survive spiritually.
And, you know who made that verse from Deuteronomy famous by quoting it, right? Jesus! He quoted that verse when HE was in the wilderness being tested by the satan! (You can find that in Matthew 4:4, OR Luke 4:4). Throughout his life, Jesus continued to demonstrate a dependency on his Father, much more so than a dependency on physical needs.
But Jesus also made this remarkable statement, in Matthew 24:35, and it shows up in Mark and Luke as well:
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
By making that statement, Jesus was explicitly putting his words at the level of God’s words, and he was spreading his words freely, to anyone who would listen. Jesus marked a decisive de-rarification of God’s word! Because, of course, he is himself God.
I have to read of course one of the most powerful statements of The Word, written in the New Testament, with the hindsight of the revelation of Christ. John 1:1-3:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.
That chapter goes on to talk about The Word bringing light, and life, and then becoming flesh, coming into the world as the Son of God, and in doing so revealing the Glory and the Grace, and the Truth of the Father. This is incredible!
Then, when the Son returned to heaven, he sent the Spirit to dwell in us, giving freely to all who believe that which was once so rare it took even a priest 3 times to recognize it.
But that brings up a good point, doesn’t it? How good are we at recognizing God’s word? John 1:10 says:
He was in the world, and the world was created through him, and yet the world did not recognize him.
And yet, we have this incredible gift of clarity in the gospel, of Christ’s message, his sacrificial death and his resurrection! Especially today, when we have his words printed, in red even!, and readily available, on bookshelves and touchscreens all over the place.
When God’s word came to Samuel, he didn’t recognize it. Why? Because he had never encountered it before. I believe God can and does speak to us today, through the power of the Holy Spirit. However, he has also given us the life of Christ, and the written scriptures, as everything we need to get to know him! As Hebrews 4:12 says:
…the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
And 2 Timothy 3:16
All Scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness.
So, the bottom line as it relates to the story today, as that you can’t expect to recognize when God is speaking to you, unless you have spent time, and continually spend time, getting to know his voice, and the best way, the first step to doing that, is to spend time reading his word.
And trust me, I am preaching as much to myself as I am to any of you.
I know it’s hard to prioritize spending time with God with busy schedules and a demanding culture. But, as we heard a couple weeks ago, when we allow anything in our life to take priority over God, that thing has become an idol.
So those are a couple of the things I think we can learn from the story of Samuel.
First, that the Word of God is precious, valuable, and indicates blessing and favor from God. Knowing that, just think about what a gift it is that the word would become flesh and dwell among us. That Christ gave himself freely to us, for the sake of the whole world, and has sent his spirit to dwell in us, so that we can be tabernacles and go TO people and represent God to them, rather than them having to make a yearly pilgrimage to Shiloh or Jerusalem or some other centralized place of worship. Worship has been decentralized! The presence of God has become decentralized! And that’s a whole other tangent I could go on, but just recognize how cool that is.
And second, realizing that to hear God’s voice, we have to recognize God’s voice, and know his voice. And because he wants us to, not only has he given us Christ, and the gospel, but we have the whole story of God and how he has revealed himself to us, in the Bible.
Hearing from the Bible once a week is great, and it’s important to share with and learn from other believers, but you’re robbing yourself if you don’t devote personal time throughout the week as well.
So, Brothers and Sisters, and myself, let’s not ignore the thirst that your soul has for these words! Our needs go beyond physical nourishment, and we do not live in a time or a place of dry deserts. We have streams of water all around us, and all we need to do is drink. As much as you make food and water a priority, and MORE so, make it a priority to spend time with God in prayer and in reading the Bible.
Let’s pray and thank God for the gift of his Word.