The Word Made Fresh
1Meanwhile, Samuel was serving the LORD under Eli’s direction. In those days the word of the LORD wasn’t heard often at all, and visions were even less common. 2Eli’s sight was fading so that he could barely see. One night he was reclining in his room, 3and Samuel was lying down in the temple where God’s wooden chest was kept, keeping God’s lamp burning.
4Then the LORD called him. “Samuel! Samuel!”
And Samuel answered, “I’m here!” 5He sprang up and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am. I heard you call me.”
But Eli said, “I didn’t call you. Go back to bed,” and Samuel went back.
6The LORD called again, “Samuel!” He got up and went to Eli again and said, “I’m here. You called.”
But Eli said again, “I didn’t call, child. Lie down again.”
7Samuel did not yet know the LORD and had not yet been taught about the LORD’s word. 8Then the LORD called Samuel a third time, and again he got up and went to Eli and said, “I’m here. You did call me.”
Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling Samuel, and he said, “Go and lie down again, and if you hear the call again, say, ‘Speak, LORD. Your servant is listening.'”
So, Samuel went and lay down again, 10and the LORD came and stood by him and called again, “Samuel! Samuel!”
This time Samuel replied, “Speak. Your servant is listening.”
11Then the LORD said, “Samuel, soon I am going to do something in Israel that will make people’s ears tingle. 12On that day I will do everything against Eli that I have spoken concerning his family. All of it. 13I have informed him that I am about to bring on the punishment I warned him of. He knew his sons were engaged in wicked behavior and did nothing about it. 14So, now I have declared that the sins of the family of Eli shall not be wiped away by sacrifices or offerings. Ever.”
15Samuel lay there all night. At daylight he opened the doors of the LORD’s house. He was afraid to tell his vision to Eli. 16But Eli called him. “Samuel, my child.”
“Here I am,” Samuel replied.
17Eli said, “What did the LORD tell you? And don’t hide any of it from me. God will punish you if you hold back from telling me everything.”
18So, Samuel told him everything.
Eli replied. “It is from the LORD. Let the LORD do whatever the LORD will do.”
19The LORD was with Samuel as he grew, and everything the LORD told him came to be. 20And Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, knew that Samuel was a prophet of the LORD who could be trusted. 21The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh and speak to Samuel.
1-9: Eli and Samuel are in bed — Eli in his room, and Samuel in God’s room, where the ark, or wooden chest, containing the covenant, God’s law, is kept. The lamp has not yet run out of oil, and Samuel is apparently assigned the duty of keeping it alive. The text does not say that Samuel is asleep; the voice he hears is an audible voice, not a voice in a dream. Samuel assumes Eli is calling and runs to his room. This happens three times before Eli realizes that the voice may be God speaking to Samuel. The chapter begins with the statement that the word of God is rare in those days, but it seems that Eli has some familiarity with such an occurrence, because he knows what to tell Samuel to do.
10-14: The fourth time God calls Samuel the voice is close enough that it seems to be at Samuel’s bedside, though we shouldn’t assume that God actually physically appeared to him. What Samuel hears is God’s awful judgment on Eli and his two sons. Their sin is so deep that God will not be dissuaded from destroying them.
15-18: Samuel does not sleep but lies there until morning. He opens the doors of the temple, going about his duties as usual. Eli, though, is curious, and calls him. Just as he had done three times the night before, Samuel goes to Eli’s room. The old priest questions him about his nocturnal chat with the Creator of the Universe, and under duress (because Eli tells him God will punish him if he holds anything back), he tells Eli everything God says. Eli seems to shrug it off.
19-21: The prophecy about Eli is not fulfilled quickly. Samuel grows to adulthood. Through the years God is a regular visitor to his room, and the word gets around that Samuel is a prophet, and one to be trusted.
Step by step, God works to provide the leadership needed. That was true for Israel all through the scriptures. It is true for us as well. Never give up on God!