One of the first movies I ever saw was Superman back in 1978. How many of you remember seeing that? Clark Kent grew up knowing he was different. But he did not really know who he was. When he was 18, he leaves home and, led by some irresistible pull, travels to the North Pole. He has with him everything that was left from the ship that brought him to earth. He pulls out one of these items, a green crystal, and throws it out into the ice. The crystal reacts with the ice and water and creates a massive crystal structure. Upon arriving at the structure he finds what seems to be a central panel of crystals and cylinders. He picks one up and places it into one of the cylinders. Things start to happen and suddenly a picture of his father appears and invites him to ask him whatever he wants.
“Who am I?” he asks.
“You are Kal-el, the last survivor of the planet Krypton.” His father replies. That began a 12 year conversation in which Clark is educated, grown and matured in the presence of his father. As the conversation concludes, his father says of the people of earth, “They are a good people if they wish to be. And it is for this reason, their capacity for good, that I have sent them you, my only son.”
When we see Clark again he is no longer the adolescent teen wondering who he was and what his purpose is; he is Superman, and he flies out of the Fortress of Solitude back to the United States.
What does this have to do with anything? It wasn’t until Clark heard from his father that he truly understood who he was and what he was supposed to do. Likewise, it is not until we hear from our Father that we truly know who we are and what we are to do.
That is the message of 1 Samuel 3:1-21.
Chapter 3 opens telling us that Samuel ministered before the LORD. I think it is important to know that three times in the previous chapter we are also told that Samuel lived and served in the presence of the Lord:
- 1 Samuel 2:11 ( NIV ) Then Elkanah went home to Ramah, but the boy ministered before the LORD under Eli the priest.
- 1 Samuel 2:21 ( NIV ) And the LORD was gracious to Hannah; she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the LORD.
- 1 Samuel 2:26 ( NIV ) And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and with men.
In 1 Samuel 3:4, the Lord calls to Samuel. Samuel hears the call and assumes it was Eli, but Eli assures Samuel he did not and tells him to go back to bed. The Lord, never one to give up so easily, calls Samuel again in verse 6, and the same thing happens again.
At this point, the author of 1 Samuel interjects and explains why Samuel kept assuming it was Eli who was calling him. In verse 7 we read, Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD. How is that possible? How can Samuel have been growing up in the presence of the Lord, serving the Lord, and growing in favor with the Lord without knowing the Lord? The second half of the verse gives us the answer, the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.
God calls a third time and again Samuel presents himself to Eli. Why did it take Eli, three times before he realized Samuel was hearing from God? We are told in 3:1, In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. God had stopped giving visions because His people were not interested in them. They were not concerned about the truth. The priests were using their position for their own private gain. As Jesus said, if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? If Eli and his sons could not be trusted with the sacrifices of the people, how could they be trusted with visions? In fact, the only vision we know Eli ever heard was from a man of God who gave a vision of judgment against Eli and his family for failing to respect His offerings.
Eli finally realizes that Samuel is hearing the voice of God, and tells him to go back to bed; and that if he hears a voice calling his name again to say, Speak Lord, for your servant is listening. Sure enough, Samuel is not long in bed before he hears God calling him again, Samuel! Samuel! And he responded just as he was told. And God told him he was going to fulfill his prophecy of judgment against Eli and his sons.
The next morning, Eli could hardly wait to hear what God had told Samuel. But Samuel did not want to say anything about it. He was afraid. Wouldn’t you be? Eli was raising him as a son in his house, he was a father figure to him. But Eli pressed him. So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him.
Eli’s response is very interesting to me. He says, He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes. There is no repentance, so sorrow, no remorse, just resignation to God’s message. God’s prophesies of judgement are meant to bring about repentance, not resignation to continue to sin—in this case to continue to do nothing about his sons. But that is a message for another time.
Chapter 3 opens with the boy Samuel ministering before the Lord, and ends with Samuel being a minister of the Lord (3:19-21),
The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD. The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.
Samuel grew up knowing about God, and even that God was sovereignly watching over him, but it was not until God revealed himself and spoke with him that Samuel knew the Lord. The main point of this passage is to convince the readers that Samuel’s authority as a prophet and a judge did not come from his being a Levite, nor from being a Nazarite, nor from being under the authority of Eli the priest, but was because God had spoken to Samuel and appointed him to be His mouthpiece to Israel.
There is a difference between being in the presence of God and knowing God. You can be in the presence of God, you can minister before God, you can grow in favor with God, you can do all of that and not know God. What makes a person a Christian is not what he does but that that he knows God. This passage has several things to say about this:
This relationship is initiated by God. Samuel is growing up at the tabernacle. He is learning the Torah—the five books of Moses. He was living in the house of the high priest. Discpite all this, God needed to reveal Himself to Samuel before Samuel could know Him. This is really important. It is a central teaching in Scripture.
It is God the Father who reveals who Jesus is to us. Jesus’ public ministry was powerful. He preached and taught with an authority that drew thousands to Him. His integrity was flawless. These were punctuated with signs and wonders, healings and miracles that no one could deny. You would think that it would have been a no-brainer to conclude that He was the promised Messiah and God in the flesh. But this is clearly not the case. At the hieght of His ministry, Jesus has a conversation with His disciples that is recorded for us in Matthew 16:13-17 (NIV),
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.
Our hearts are so dark and mired by sin that we cannot reccognize God when He is right in front of us. If the Father does not reveal Him to us, we are unable to see Him. Jesus says in John 3:3, I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. Not because we are not smart enough, but because our sin has shut our eyes to Him.
Because of this spiritual blindness, God must enable us to come to Christ. Unless something happens to change the inclination of our heart, we will always choose ourselves over God. Paul says in Ephesians 4:18-19 that apart from the power of God, people are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. And he says in 1 Corinthians 2:14, The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Because of this reality, Jesus states emphatically in John 6:44, No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. Later in John 15:16, He even says to His disciples, You did not choose me, but I chose you.
It is the Spirit of God that gives birth to Spiritual life. Jesus says in John 6:63 ( NIV ) The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. And He says in John 3:5-6 ( NIV ) I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
Samuel could be raised by priests, serve daily in the tabernacle, we learning the Bible, and yet not know God. He could not do that himself. God needed to initiate that relationship. He is not unique. Every relationship God has with a human being has been initiated by Him. It is initiated by Him because unless He reveals Himself to us, we not only don’t see Him, we don’t want to see Him. He initiates it because unless He enables us to see Him we will not. He initiates it because it is by the gift of His Spirit that we are able to see, desire, and obey Him.