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God's Initiative

1 Samuel 3:1-20

Now, the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time, Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was.Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So, he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore, Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. 12 On that day, I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever for the iniquity that he knew because his sons were blaspheming God,[b] and he did not restrain them. 14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”

15 Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16 But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” 17 Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.” 19 As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beer-Sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.



O God, surround us with Your Spirit. Translate this lesson into words we can understand. Help us to be people of Your Word. Help us live out your call, which is found in scripture. AMEN.


In 1 Samuel 3:1-20, we see the story of Samuel’s call as a boy. Let me give you some context to this story. Samuel was the son of Hannah, a woman who was unable to conceive a child. Hannah had been in a long-standing feud with Peninnah, who had many children. Both of these women were married to Elkanah. Peninnah would relentlessly provoke Hannah about her inability to have children. Elkanah would try his best to console Hannah but to no avail. One night, after the family had gone to sacrifice and worship at Shiloh with the two sons of Eli (Hophni and Phineas), Hannah cried and prayed to the Lord for a male child. She bargained with God that if He granted her wish, she would dedicate the child as a Nazirite until the day of his death. She prayed so intently that Eli thought that she must be drunk.


After Hannah had struggled with infertility, her prayers were finally answered, and she became pregnant with Samuel. When Samuel was weaned, Hannah knew it was time to present him to Eli, the priest at the house of the Lord.


Hannah carefully prepared a generous offering to present alongside Samuel. She brought a 3-year-old bull, symbolizing strength and vitality, as well as an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, representing the abundance and richness of life. Then, she confidently presented Samuel and the offerings to Eli. The presentation was a significant and solemn event, marking the beginning of Samuel’s life of service to the Lord and fulfilling the promise that Hannah made to God.


The story of being a Nazirite is not uncommon in the Bible. Other well-known Nazarites include Samson, John the Baptist, and Jesus, all of whom were consecrated from birth for God’s work and will. Angels informed the parents of Samson, John, and Jesus while Samuel was offered in prayer. In every case, God chose to accept and use them. As readers of scripture, we are aware from the outset that Samuel will be distinctive and will accomplish something significant in the lives of God’s people. According to 1 Samuel, there was a time when the word of the Lord was rare, and visions were not common. This phrase is similar to the one used in Judges: “The people did what was right in their own eyes.” Eli’s sons, who had taken over as priests at Shiloh, were wicked and corrupt, and Eli had lost his authority. The era of the Judges was unpredictable, so God decided to do something different. Samuel was that something; he played a transitional role in the Old Testament. He was the last of the Judges and the first of the Prophets.


It’s important to remember the emotional weight of the story of Samuel and Eli. Samuel, driven by a sense of duty to God, was tasked with predicting the downfall of Eli, a respected and beloved priest and judge in his own right. The events that led to Eli’s eventual downfall were a difficult and heartbreaking experience for all involved. Eli was Samuel’s father figure and mentor. But Eli struggled with both physical and metaphorical blindness, losing his sight and understanding of the world around him. However, we are only casually told this story as a backdrop to the rise of Samuel as Prophet. It’s a reminder of the challenges we all face in life and the importance of empathy and understanding towards those who may be struggling. More importantly, we may be called by God to do great things, but we also may lose our metaphorical sight. Eli’s apathy toward his son’s behavior was his ultimate downfall.


God’s initiative is seen in our story today. Let’s look at the structure of the lesson. It is essential to recognize the relationship between characters. There are no throw-away lines, vv. 1-3 provides the introduction, giving us a reason and setting for the story, vv. 4-9 are the introductory words for the call. God makes initial contact with Samuel. Remember, Samuel, even though he lived and worked in the temple, did not know God. Vv. 10-15 is the account of God’s revelation to Samuel, vv. 16-20 is a conclusion to the call and sets Samuel up as the opposite of Eli and his sons in the land.


Note the structure of the relationships in the story; we start with the relationship between Samuel and Eli, in which, through the teaching of Eli, Samuel is able to speak to God. The middle part is Samuel and God, not Eli, and God gives Samuel the knowledge of Eli’s downfall. Then we are back to Eli and Samuel, where Samuel tells Eli the Word of God. (Basically, at this point, he is a prophet of God.) Then, in the conclusion, we are told that God never let Samuel’s words fall to the ground.


When God called Samuel, he answered and followed faithfully.


But notice the impact of his beginnings. Eli was a priest of God, the mouthpiece of God for the people of Israel. But he was not a good priest, and his sons, whom he was supposed to train and mentor to lead the people, were downright despicable.


God’s initiative doesn’t always come from a place of 100% good. God can use people even when their circumstances are not ideal. Even the failed priest had one good lesson in him to lead Samuel into the correct headspace to hear God’s call. Was that last lesson worthy of redemption for Eli? No, it wasn’t. We will learn of Eli’s fate in chapter 4, and depending on your perspective of the world, it can seem harsh or fitting. I will leave that up to you to prayerfully decide. Rest assured that Samuel’s revelation did not disappoint.


We should all pay attention to the world around us. God’s call can come from anywhere, from the words of anyone, or from a situation that we may not associate with worship, prayer, or the Word of God.


Another essential thing to remember about today’s lesson is that by the end of this passage, Eli and Samuel’s roles are reversed. Samuel is the authority, and Eli is not. Sadly, by the end of Samuel’s story, we will see a similar portrayal of events.


There are many takeaways from Samuel’s life. That of a hero, judge, priest, and prophet, but one thing is constant: God uses Samuel to bring about God’s will in the world just as God did with Samson, John the Baptist, and Jesus.


God’s initiative does not end with the angels talking to Elizabeth and Mary either. Through Jesus, God called the Disciples. God didn’t call those considered worthy by society, those who lived by the letter of the Law. God called fishermen (and we all know the legendary mouths of sailors), and God called tax collectors. Despite having different professions, all of them had one thing in common: they were Jesus Christ’s apostles. They had a mission to serve others and testify about Jesus.


God’s initiative is manifested in various ways. In my previous Sermon, I mentioned how God shows us love in creation. God’s initiative is still manifesting itself through creation. Wrap your heads around this. God, who is before time, creates with time and institutes the flow of time because creation is still outside of time. God is still speaking the words, “Let there be light” and “Let the waters be separated from the land.” God is still saying, “It is very good.”


In the books of 1 Corinthians and Romans, Paul emphasizes God’s calling. According to Paul, in 1 Corinthians, we should reflect on our calling, as not many of us were considered wise or powerful by human standards, nor were we born into nobility. Despite this, God has chosen those who are foolish and weak in the world to shame the wise and the strong. God has also chosen those who are lowly and despised, and even those who do not exist, to abolish what exists so that no one can boast before God. However, it is through God’s grace that we are in Christ Jesus. Christ has become our wisdom from God and our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Therefore, as the Lord has said in Jeremiah 9:24, let those who boast about understanding and knowing Him, who exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth.


There is nothing you and I can do to initiate God’s love for us. God decides that. I don’t believe that angels visited any of our parents, but I can tell you this: I can bet that someone in your life prayed for you to be an instrument of God’s will in this world. I believe with all my heart that if you think about it for just a short time, you can probably guess who that person was. It may have happened before you were born. Hopefully, that was the case, and your cradle Presbyterians were sprinkled and accepted by the family of God. Or you were non-cradle Presbyterians who were raised in the church, and at the age of accountability, you received your place through baptism. Either way, you were shown the love of Christ, which places you in the same boat as Samuel. Have you heard God’s call for your life?


If you haven’t been so fortunate to grow up in either of those scenarios, you are not out of luck because a faith family prays for you. You have people who raise you up publicly and privately, asking God to use you in new and exciting ways. A faith family is the body of Christ, and if adequately trained spiritually, it will accept and embrace you regardless of your physical, emotional, or spiritual background. Once we get our heads in a suitable space, we can hear the call of God. We can experience God’s initiative in our lives. We can make the most of the gifts that God has given us, and if we listen, if we heed the call, if we dare to follow. God will not let our words fall to the ground, either.


As biblical readers and theologians (and we all are theologians), we can learn from the story of Samuel and Eli that even those who appear to have lost their way can offer valuable lessons and guidance for our spiritual journey. We must remain open to receiving God’s message, even if it comes from unexpected sources. Therefore, let us reflect on our own lives and relationships and strive to cultivate meaningful connections with those around us. Let us also remain open to God’s call and seek to follow Him with faith and dedication, even when the path ahead seems uncertain.


In conclusion, the story of Samuel’s call is a powerful reminder of the importance of empathy, understanding, and faith in our spiritual journey. Let us embrace these values in our lives and seek to follow God’s call with unwavering dedication.


Rev. Rob Jones

January 14, 2024


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