1 Samuel 3:1 The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. 2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 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. 4 Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, "Here I am." 5 And he ran to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me." But Eli said, "I did not call; go back and lie down." So he went and lay down. 6 Again the LORD called, "Samuel!" And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me." "My son," Eli said, "I did not call; go back and lie down." 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. 8 The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me." Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, "Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, 'Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'" So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" Then Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening."
She had prayed for a son. Oh how she had prayed! She poured out her heart to the Lord. Her lips moved, but no sound came out. So absorbed was she in prayer.
The Lord answered and gave Hannah a son. She named him “Samuel” which means “heard by God.” As she had vowed, when her child was around the age of five, she brought him to the Tabernacle at Shiloh. There he would serve the Lord for the rest of his life. Hannah and her husbandbwould see him once a year at the annual sacrifice. Eli, the priest, now served as a sort of religious foster father.
These were dark days for God’s people. It was towards the end of the time of the Judges, when people did as they saw fit in turning away from the Lord toward greater and greater evil. Enemies oppressed them. The Philistines were a growing threat in the west. Even the spiritual leadership of the people was in decay.
Eli was an honest man, but certainly incompetent as the spiritual leader of the people. Certainly overwhelmed by the wickedness of his sons, Hophni and Phinehas. Though they were priests, they desecrated the sacrifices the people brought to the Lord. They slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tabernacle. And all Eli did was scold them. He did not punish them or remove them from office.
In those days the word of the LORD was rare. The Israelite people had little interest in hearing what God had to say. The five books of Moses were kept in the tabernacle, but even the priests neglected them. Because there was no prophet in Israel, God did not speak to them in visions, either.
Under such dark conditions, is it any wonder that the 11-year-old Samuel did not recognize the Lord calling to him?
Samuel served as an apprentice, aiding Eli in various traditional priestly duties. He assisted with the sacrifices and prayers as well as watched the Ark of the Covenant at night and opened the sanctuary doors at dawn.
Samuel slept in one of the courtyard rooms near the Ark. Before he went to bed, he had filled the seven-branched candlestick in the sanctuary and lit it. It was in the wee hours of the morning before the lamp of the Lord had gone out. Samuel heard a voice. He assumed it was Eli. Because Eli was very old and nearly blind, he would often call Samuel to assist him.
Samuel displayed his humble servant attitude by immediately going to Eli’s side and saying, “Here I am.” However, Eli did not call him … the Lord had. He who was “heard by God” was now hearing God. By the third time, Eli finally figured it out. So when the Lord called a fourth time, Samuel replied, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
No one in Samuel’s time was interested in listening to God speak to them. People were too busy with their own lives, too busy breaking God’s commands. The last thing they had time for was listening to a prophet speak the Word of God to them. So the Word of the Lord was rare among them. That brought dark days upon God’s people.
Is the Word of the Lord rare in your life? Has your life become dark and depressing because without the Lord?
How often do you set aside 15 minutes at home to listen to God speak to you in your daily Bible reading? Have you made it an intentional part of your weekly activities to hear God’s voice speak the refreshing words of forgiveness over you in worship? Have you made it a point to really hear God speak to your heart with a weekly Bible study at church?
I will admit to you that I have grown to dislike attending grade school basketball tournament games on Sunday afternoons. I am deeply saddened to see all the parents in the stands and players on the benches that I did not see in the pews that very morning. The call of the court appears to be more important than the call of God.
I cringe when I learn that another young person that I confirmed at this altar is living in sin. The voice of their sinful flesh is more desirous than the voice of God to remain pure. They have forsaken years of in-depth study in God’s Word for an in-depth study of the ways of the world.
I am saddened when we feel the need to limit our worship to an hour or less – as if all of the blessings of God must be consumed within a tidy 60-minute service.
We are not very good listeners, are we? We are too rushed, too busy, too filled with sin. Besides, we would much rather be the ones doing the talking. Instead of saying to God, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening,” we would rather say, “Listen, God, for your servant is speaking.”
We may have heard God say something once about not letting the sun go down while we are still angry (Ephesians 4:16), but we need anger as much as we need our daily coffee. We remember God talking about the dangers of gossip (Proverbs 20:19), but then what use would we have for social media. We know what God has to say about premarital sex (Hebrews 13:4), but that kind of thinking is so “old-fashioned.”
The voices of the world, the devil and our sinful flesh are so loud. We just have to listen to them! We listen to every other voice except for the voice of the One who became flesh and blood to save us. We can’t hear God’s still, small voice calling over the commotion all round us. We refuse to listen to the One voice that loves us above all else – the voice of our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.
We know God is speaking to us – in church, in school, in our homes, from our Bibles, at the font, at the altar, at the communion rail. Most of the time, we just refuse to hear. Those few times we do hear, we definitely don’t listen. We want God to listen to us.
I have often found that when people are drifting away from God, they will often say to me, “But I pray all the time.” But is praying to God the same as listening to God? No. It is the opposite. Prayer is a good thing, and most people don’t pray enough. But prayer is not how God speaks to you. Prayer is not how God reveals His glory to you. Prayer is not how God tells you about His love or announces His forgiveness or speaks His blessing over you. And when we keep on speaking without listening, then eventually God becomes a stranger to us – like He was to Eli. We’re too busy to listen. Too preoccupied to make God’s Word a priority in our lives. We make excuses – work, sports, sleep, etc. But every one of those excuses is lame. And we know it. We are sinning. And we know it. And God becomes more and more of a stranger to us.
But what happens when we stop and listen to our God? God called to Samuel. Finally Samuel responded, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” From that moment on, God spoke to Samuel on a regular basis, and Samuel listened. He came to know God for who He really was, what He was really all about. He became a prophet that everyone respected in Israel, because everyone knew that God was speaking to Samuel, and Samuel was listening.
Isn’t it amazing, that we can get to know the God of the universe, not by doing something difficult or complicated, but simply by listening? What a blessing it is when we take time out of our busy lives and listen to our God! For example, did you hear the voice of God this morning? Right after the first hymn, you stood up and confessed your sins to God. You told Him that you had disobeyed Him in your thoughts, words, and deeds. You confessed to Him that you weren’t listening to Him as you ought.
Did you hear what God said to you after you confessed your sins? God told you that His Son, Jesus Christ, has taken all of your sins away. God told you that His Son has died as a sacrifice for you, to pay for all the mistakes you have made in your life. God told you that because of Jesus, He completely forgives you for all of your accidental and intentional sins. Were you listening when God spoke to you and said these things to you at the beginning of our service?
Later in the service, God will be speaking to you again, this time through the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. What will Christ say to you there? “Here is my body, given for you. Here is my blood, shed for you, for the forgiveness of all of your sins.” Do you realize that when you hear these things at the Lord’s Supper, you are hearing the voice of Jesus Christ? Will you be listening? Christ is telling you that everything is good and right between you and Him, that there is nothing you have done that stands in the way of Him loving you.
Isn’t it amazing, that we can know these things, not by doing something complicated, but simply by listening to the Word? And what a blessing it is when we listen!
Listening to Jesus brings light into our dark world. His gentle whisper drowns out the cacophony of voices around us. His voice creates new priorities and new behaviors in our lives. He makes us eager to sit still and listen to everything He has to say. There is an urgency and an ecstasy in listening to the voice of the Lord.
So let us be humble servants like young Samuel. Let us be eager to approach the Lord and hear Him speak to us. Let us say to Him: “Speak, Lord, for I need to hear your voice absolving me of all my sins. Speak, Lord, for I need to hear your words comforting me, calming me, loving me, reminding me. Speak, Lord, for I need to hear your call driving away my doubts, dispelling my fears, curbing my sinful nature, advising me. Speak, Lord, for your Gospel takes my unwilling heart and makes me willing. Speak, Lord, for your Sacraments change me, mold me, transform me, sanctify me.”
Then, after we have spoken, we sit still and listen as Jesus speaks to us: “I have spoken. You have the record of it in my written Word. My words do not change for I do not change. I am the same yesterday, today, and forever. My words endure forever, also. This is what you need to know – while you were still a godless sinner, I poured out my blood for you in order to ransom you from the devil. You were bought at price. I loved you enough to die for you. But I did not remain dead. I rose so that through faith in me, you might rise from the dead, too. My words in Baptism, my words in the Lord’s Supper, my words in your Bible – all those words create and strengthen faith in your heart. You need to use those words. You need to hear those words. You need to believe those words. You need to put those words into practice. You need to listen to those words.”
And we eagerly respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Amen.