3 December 2018

1 Samuel 3:1-14

'See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.' (v 11)

Psalm: Psalm 131


This is one of the most familiar stories of the Old Testament and is often a favourite topic for Sunday School lessons, with Samuel pictured as a model of child-like trust and simple piety. James Drummond Burns’ hymn, ‘Hushed was the evening hymn’ (Hymns and Psalms 523) is a good example of this reading of the passage.

The simple Sunday School reading of the story isn’t wrong, but it can make us forget some of the other important things that are going on. The context is a time of transition for the people of Israel, between the loose federation of tribes led by the heroic figures we meet in the book of Judges and the more settled kingdom that came later. It is a context in which the external threat of Philistine aggression is echoed by the internal corruption of Israel’s religious and social leadership. As the opening verse puts it: "the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread." The picture we are given is of the shrine in Shiloh, the key place of Israel’s worship. Here the Ark of the Covenant was kept and the "lamp of God" was kept burning all night, but in spite of these symbols of God’s presence there is a spiritual emptiness and a failure to recognise God’s voice.

The young Samuel (more likely a young man than a small child) becomes the channel for God’s uncomfortable but transforming message. It is the message that is more important than the messenger, for it signals that God is still active in Israel and is intervening to end the corruption that Eli’s sons now represent.

It’s because of this theme that this is an appropriate reading for the first week in Advent. J. S. Bach’s great cantata, Wachet auf (Sleeper awake) reminds us both of Samuel waking to hear God’s message and the call for us all to become alert to what God is saying and doing in our time and place.


To Ponder:

  • What uncomfortable truths might God be speaking within our society and our personal lives?
  • What needs to happen for us to recognise God’s voice, to listen and to act?


Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck

Richard Clutterbuck is a minister of the Methodist Church in Britain. Between 2004 and 2017 he served the Irish Methodist Church as principal of Edgehill Theological College in Belfast. Previously his ministry has been divided between pastoral appointments in North London and theological education in the South Pacific (Tonga), Britain and Ireland.

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