13 December 2014

1 Samuel 3:1-9

“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (v. 9)

Psalm: Psalm 81


The historian Josephus suggests that Samuel was 12 years old at this point of the story. This is the same age as Jesus when he stayed in the temple at Passover (Luke 2:41-52). We are told that in those days prophecy and visions were rare (verse 1) and this probably explains why even Eli took three attempts before he realised what was happening. Perhaps Eli's lack of vision is mentioned in order to symbolise the lack of visions and the general dimness of sight of the nation of Israel. Yet despite this, we are told that the Lamp of God had not yet gone out. This lamp is (according to Leviticus 24:2-4) meant to be maintained by the priests from evening until morning, and it is perhaps mentioned here in direct contrast to the dimness of Eli's vision. These events therefore happen in the middle of the night.

We should notice that the voice calls Samuel's name but does not explain who it is that is calling. This is left for the listener to work out and it requires more than one individual to discern God's voice. For Samuel, it is Eli that is able to help him because he did not yet know the Lord, despite the fact he was ministering in the temple (verse 1), growing in stature (1 Samuel 2:26) and sleeping next to the Ark of the Covenant (verse 3). It is clearly not enough to simply minister before the Lord in order to know the Lord.

Eli is a rather ambivalent figure. In many ways he represents the old order which is about to be overthrown. His sons are corrupt and immoral and we already know they are destined to be killed (1 Samuel 2:31), whilst Eli has failed in his attempts to influence or control them. And yet he also acts as an intermediary between Hannah and God, affirming her prayers and asking that God would bless her (1 Samuel 2:20); and again in this story between Samuel and God. We should notice as well that Samuel's growth takes place as he serves under Eli in the temple. It is perhaps no accident that Eli calls him his son in verse 6.

To Ponder

  • Samuel needs Eli to help him discern God's voice. What does this teach you about discernment?
  • How do you feel about Eli?
  • Samuel did not yet know the Lord even though he ministered. The same was true of John Wesley. What might this say to you?


Bible notes author

The Revd Jonathan Mead

Jonathan is a Methodist minister, who works part time in the London NW Mission circuit and part time as a learning and development officer in the London District. He enjoys keeping fit, reading history and visiting Mediterranean destinations..