Samuel, Samuel
Based on Series of Sermons on the Repetition of Name and Titles
preached in PCC Worship Services, Apr 2013 to Feb 2014
Part 1 of 3

The fourth passage in the Bible where a person’s name is repeated is found in 1 Samuel 3, where we find the LORD calling Samuel’s name twice. “And the LORD came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth” (1 Sam 3:10).

In our previous series of articles, we looked at the Lord’s call to Moses in the wilderness from within the burning bush, saying, “Moses, Moses.” And Moses replied saying, “Here am I.” That passage in Exodus 3 represents God’s calling of Moses out of retirement to serve Him as the great prophet and leader of His people out of their bondage in Egypt. Those were very dark and difficult days for God’s people and Moses’ calling was the first step in their deliverance.  

1 Samuel 3 takes place about 400 years after Exodus 3, but the situation is not too different. Again, those were dark and sad days in Israel, and God’s calling of Samuel represents the beginning of a new era of light and deliverance for God’s people. 

We may divide 1 Samuel 3 into three sections. First, from verses 1-10, we find the call of God to Samuel. Second from verses 11-18, we have the message from God to Samuel. Third, from verses 19-21, we see the establishing of Samuel as a prophet of God.

We will consider the first of these three sections in this article.

The Call of God to Samuel
(vv. 1-10)

Verse 1 tells us that Samuel, who was just a child at that time, was ministering to the LORD before Eli. He was serving the LORD in the tabernacle at Shiloh. What was he doing? Well, he was probably doing little things like helping Eli with the maintenance of the tabernacle, keeping things in order, learning from Eli, and serving him.

It is interesting to note, isn’t it, that even little children can be said to minister to the LORD? When done faithfully, these little tasks can be counted as service to the LORD, and the LORD receives such service. And often what happens is that the LORD will entrust those who are faithful in little things with greater things in time to come. And that is exactly what we see in the life and ministry of Samuel for by the time this chapter ends, Samuel’s ministry would have gone beyond Shiloh to the rest of the nation of Israel.

Verse 1 goes on to tell us that the word of the LORD was precious or rare in those days and that there was no open vision. The phrase ‘the word of the LORD’ refers to the word of God as it was announced by the prophets who had received visions from Him. Even though the people still had the Scriptures or the written word of God which Moses and Joshua had passed down to them, yet God, at this point in history, was not coming to speak to His people through His prophets.

There was, if you like, a famine of God’s word, which reminds us of those frightening words in Amos 8:11, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord:” The people were languishing in spiritual darkness and ignorance. There was no prophet like Moses whom they could turn to for counsel and direction. The people could not discern the will of God for them. It’s a terrible thing, isn’t it, to suffer from a famine of God’s word?      

But now the question we may ask is: why was the word of God so rare in those days? When I was young, I once heard a preacher say, “In those days, God could find no one else to talk to except to a little boy.” While I’m not so sure that that was entirely the case, nevertheless, it is true that the spiritual condition of the nation at that time was, in general, very poor and pitiful. Israel was in a state of apostasy and declension, and her unqualified and wicked spiritual leaders only made matters worse. Eli, the high priest, was very weak, and his two sons were very wicked. And so God withdrew His word from them as a token of His displeasure, and the absence of His word was a sign of His judgement.  

But things were about to change for the better. Verse 2 tells us that at that time, Eli was lying down in his place, probably referring to the court next to the tabernacle. His eyes began to wax dim and he was not able to see. Eli, of course, was very old at this time and there is nothing unusual about his physical eyesight failing. But more than just the failure of his physical eyesight was the failure of his spiritual eyesight. Eli’s blindness, in verse 2, probably has reference not only to his physical but also his spiritual sight. Remember that he was the High Priest at that time, and it is a serious matter when the spiritual leader and guide of the nation is spiritually weak and unfit to lead the people.

Verse 3 says, “And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the LORD…” which means the lamp of God had not yet gone out. The lamp of God refers to the golden lampstand that was placed inside the holy place just before the veil separating the holy from the most holy place. The way the statement in Hebrew is phrased is interesting. It suggests that the light was on the verge of going out, but the fact that it was flickering meant that there was still hope. Eli’s sight was gone, but at least the lamp of God was not extinguished. Samuel, who slept not far from Eli, was like the flickering wick that kept the knowledge of God alive during a dark period.

So on the night that God called Samuel, both Eli and Samuel were lying down on their respective beds in the court next to the tabernacle. Then the LORD called out to the young boy, “Samuel” and Samuel responded, “Here am I.” The voice must have been so clear and audible that Samuel was sure it was Eli who called him. And so he got out of his bed as fast as he could, put on his shoes and ran to the place where Eli laid.

What a contrast between these two characters! Eli was very old and practically blind, while Samuel was young and full of youthful energy and enthusiasm. Samuel was all eager and desirous to be of service and help to the old high priest. And so he ran to Eli and said, “Here am I; for thou callest me.” Eli himself must have been sleeping and the voice of Samuel woke him up. He said to the boy, “I called not; lie down again.” Samuel must have thought to himself, “Hmm…that’s strange”, but he did as he was told and went back to his bed and lay down.

Some time later, the LORD called Samuel again with the same words and Samuel responded in a similar way. He arose and went to Eli immediately, but notice in verse 6 that it doesn’t say he ran anymore. Perhaps he was more cautious now, not wanting to wake Eli up for nothing.

Well, Eli wasn’t angry with Samuel for coming to him the second time even though he didn’t call for him. He said, “I called not, my son (a term of affection and fondness); lie down again.” And so Samuel returned to his bed and lay down again.

At this point in the narrative, the author explains to the reader why Samuel couldn’t discern that it was the LORD and not Eli who was calling him these past two times. We read in verse 7, “Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, neither was the word of the LORD yet revealed unto him.”

The phrase “did not yet know the LORD” is not the same as what we find in chapter 2:12, which reads, “Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD.” So while the text says that both Samuel and Eli’s sons did not know the LORD, yet we know that they were poles apart spiritually and morally speaking. Eli’s sons had no experimental or true knowledge of the LORD even though, as priests, they must have had a lot of head knowledge about Him. They had no real fear or love for Jehovah.

In Samuel’s case, he had not yet been given that special prophetic knowledge of God. It was his inexperience and not his lack of love or fear of the LORD that delayed his response to Him. Samuel loved the LORD but he was not yet able to recognise His voice. If you like, Samuel was on uncharted or untraveled territory, so it’s no wonder that he made the same mistake three times.

The second part of verse 7 says, “neither was the word of the LORD yet revealed unto him.” This statement parallels the first part of verse 7 which says that Samuel did not yet know the LORD. What it teaches us is that unless the LORD Himself reveals or makes known His word to us, we will not know that it is His word. Samuel may have been able to physically hear a voice calling out to him but unless and until the LORD revealed His word to him, he could not perceive that it was from the LORD.

The LORD used Eli to help Samuel recognize that it was He who was calling out to him. Unlike Samuel, Eli was more experienced, and he didn’t make the same mistake three times. When the LORD called Samuel for the third time and Samuel went to him again, it says in verse 8 that, “Eli perceived that the LORD had called the child.” It took him three times to recognise that the LORD was calling the boy but at least he perceived it eventually. His advice to Samuel was, “Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, thou shalt say, ‘Speak Lord; for thy servant heareth.” So as an obedient little child, Samuel went back to his bed, but now with the understanding that the LORD might be the one calling him.        

So when the LORD finally called him for the fourth time, Samuel was prepared for it. But notice what it says in verse 10, “And the LORD came, and stood…” It suggests that besides speaking to Samuel in an audible voice as in the previous three times, the LORD also appeared to him in some visible shape or form on this fourth occasion. If this is so, then it must have been the angel of the LORD or the pre-incarnate Christ who spoke and appeared to Samuel.

The way the LORD called Samuel is reminiscent of His call to Abraham on Mount Moriah just moments before he plunged his knife into Isaac, and also of His call to Moses from within the burning bush. On both occasions, God called their names twice, and on both occasions, they replied, “Here am I.” Samuel must have heard of these Bible stories from Eli, but little did he expect that someday, the LORD would call him in the same way.

“Samuel, Samuel.” And Samuel replied, “Speak; for thy servant heareth.” Like Abraham and Moses, Samuel was a precious child of God and God was dealing with him as His son, with all tenderness and affection. But in addition to expressing His affection and love for him, this repeated used of his name was also for the purpose of calling him to pay careful attention to what He was about to say to him at this very crucial point in redemptive history.

This brings us to the second part of this chapter from verses 11-18 on the message from God to Samuel, which we will look at the next time.…


…to be continued next issue

Linus Chua