1 Samuel 3:1-4:1a
Responding Faithfully to God's Call

Copyright © 2016, Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter.  All rights reserved.
www.biblicaltheology.com   Scripture quotes from KJV


There is little controversy over the biblical teaching that Christians have been called by the LORD to serve Him.  The Christian life experience is to be one of love for the LORD and a diligence towards obedience to Him as one is engaged in a ministry of love to others.  Such a ministry is consistent with the interests and gifts that God has given, so that one can express the fruit of faith.  However, there is sometimes a disconnect between the call upon a Christian and his/her willingness to follow upon that call.  Virtually every Christian can look honestly and deeply into their own life and into their own heart and recognize God’s call and their unwillingness to completely follow it.  We come up with a litany of excuses that we use to rationalize away God’s full intentional purpose for us in order to ease the burden of guilt that we carry; a guilt that is literally the consequence of the conviction on our hearts that is placed there by the Holy Spirit.  What are some of the excuses we come up with when we are called upon to act on our faith in a manner that requires us to step outside of our self-imposed “comfort zone,” necessitating some modicum of risk or sacrifice?

·         I forgot.

·         No one told me to go ahead.

·         I didn’t think it was that important.

·         Wait until the boss comes back and ask him.

·         I didn’t know you were in a hurry for it.

·         That’s the way we’ve always done it / we never did it that way before.

·         That’s not in my department.

·         How was I to know this was different?

·         I’m waiting for an O.K.

·         That’s his job, not mine.[1]

The Christian life is a journey from the point of the decision of faith to the point when the LORD brings us home.  During that time our lives are to be one of growing in our relationship with the LORD as we also grow in the knowledge of His word, both in the form of His written word, the Bible, and in the form of our submission to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.  God calls us to grow from spiritual babes to some level of spiritual maturity, a level where God can use us as His voice to share the truth, His feet to take that truth to others, and His hands to share His love with others.  How is it that some choose to immerse themselves in the journey while others choose to make excuses?  Probably most people reside on a spectrum somewhere between these two extremes. 

The second and third chapters of 1 Samuel describe the contrast across this spectrum in the lives of real people, the two sons of Eli who reside at one end of the spectrum, and Samuel who, even a child, resides at the other.  Eli resides somewhere in between.  We are first introduced to the character of Eli’s sons.

1.  REJECTING GOD’S CALL.

1 Samuel 2:12.  Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD.

To understand the nature of Eli’s sin, one must first understand the character of his sons.[2]  By the time of Eli, the position of the temple priest was held by a family dynasty, so many refer to this era as the Elidan priesthood.  It was the accepted, but unlawful, practice for the priest to hand down the position to his son.  However, Eli did not bring his sons up in the “nurture and admonition of the LORD,” resulting in what we find in this verse.  The two sons, Hophni (HOFF-nee) and Phineas (FIN-ee-us) are described as “sons of Belial”, or wicked men who had no regard for the LORD.  The name is a generic term that refers to a son of satan, and is used once in the New Testament.[3]  We might find some astonishment in two primary temple priests who did not know the LORD, but by the time of the Elidan priesthood the nation of Israel had fallen to its lowest spiritual point since its formation as a nation.  Those who served the LORD were rare, and they certainly were not in a position to influence the Temple.  For most, Temple service had become a meaningless tradition and a position of political influence.  This serves to illustrate the significance of the faith of Elkanah and Hanna, the father and mother of Samuel who were described in the first chapter of 1 Samuel as people of sincere faith.  The two sons exploited the priestly office for their own advantage.  We see one example of their behavior in the 17th verse.

1 Samuel 2:17.  Wherefore the sin of the young men was very great before the LORD: for men abhorred the offering of the LORD.

The intervening verses describe how the brothers took the meat of the sacrifice for themselves prior to its preparation, by force if necessary.  This illustrated their complete disregard for the offering and God’s instruction or purpose for it.  A modern parallel might be a priest, pastor, or trusted church official who takes for his own purposes the tithes and offerings given to the church prior to its accounting by those in the church who have the responsibility of administering it. 

At this point there is little hope for the priesthood in Israel without the intervention of the LORD.  God’s plan is for the removal of the Elidan priesthood as the spiritual leaders of Israel, for the indictment against them is great.

1 Samuel 2:25.  If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sin against the LORD, who shall entreat for him? Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the LORD would slay them.

The wickedness of the brothers is described as a “sin against the LORD,” a sin for which there is no sacrifice in the Mosaic Law that will provide atonement for them.  At this point their father, Eli, rebuked them for their ungodliness, but they would not heed his warnings.  With the priesthood in the hands of ungodly men it was time that it no longer serves as the seat of judgment for the nation.  God would remove the brothers from the priesthood by removing his hand of protection from them  as they chose to engage themselves in the intrigue of the local nations, and they would ultimately be killed in battle. 

At the same time we see quite a contrast in the boy, Samuel.

1 Samuel 2:18, 26.  But Samuel ministered before the LORD, being a child, girded with a linen ephod.  26And the child Samuel grew on, and was in favour both with the LORD, and also with men.

Why were the sons of Eli and the son of Elkanah so different?  We might first look at the two fathers.  Eli failed to bring up his sons to be godly men.  Elkanah and his wife, Hannah, dedicated their son to the LORD before he was born.[4]  They then left the child Samuel with Eli with the intent that God would use their son for His own purposes.  From the time that Samuel would be able to understand the context of his surroundings he knew the special nature of his purpose.  Elkanah and Hannah continued to come to the temple annually to bring their sacrifice, and it is likely that they spent much time with Samuel and with Eli as they shared their faith with the young boy, and helped Eli to keep him focused on his unique purpose.  It is likely that they came far more often.

As the sons of Eli chose to rebel against God, Samuel chose to place his faith in God.  God could not use Hophni and Phineas to complete His plan for the temple, but Samuel, who could clearly denote and understand the sinful nature of these two Temple priests, made himself available to the LORD without reservation.  Samuel had no concept of just how significant his unique faith would prove to the history of his nation.

1 Samuel 3:1.  And the child Samuel ministered unto the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision.

As we enter the third chapter of 1 Samuel, he is still described as a na’ar, a boy child.  The word carries with it a connotation of ignorance and innocence that is normal for a child who has not yet capable of understanding the nature of God or His call upon Samuel’s life.[5]  Samuel was immersed in a world where faith in the LORD was extremely rare.  The statement that “there was no open vision” indicates that there was no one in the nation who was advocating for the LORD, an allusion to the prophecy that states, “where there is no vision, the people perish.[6]

Consequently, Samuel would not find the greatest mentor and teacher in Eli, and his contact with Elkanah and Hannah was intermittent at best.  God had a plan for Samuel to take him from the status of a young boy to that of the second named prophet since Moses.  It was now time for the young boy to “grow up” and begin to take on some of the work that the LORD had in store for him. 

1 Samuel 3:2-3.  And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see; 3And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep;

The decline of Eli and the rise of Samuel are illustrated in some of the symbolism that is found in the events of this one special night.  Eli had become near-blind and was at the point where he did little in service to the temple.  He allowed the Lamp of God that illuminated the holy place in the temple to wane, necessitating its tending by Samuel.[7]  We see the light in the temple as a metaphor of the light of the service of Eli doing the same.[8]  However, the setting had one asset that no one would have ever expected, the young son of a Levite, a boy of no noble birth, was sleeping in the Holy Place of the temple.[9]  Just as the ignoble Moses was left by Miriam to the house of the Pharaoh, young Samuel had been left in the temple by Hannah.  Just as Moses heard the voice of the LORD[10], it was time for Samuel to do the same.

2.  READY TO RECEIVE GOD’S CALL.

1 Samuel 3:4.  That the LORD called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I. 5And he ran unto Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me.

As God had called out to Abraham, to Moses, and to Jacob, he also called to Samuel.   Like his faithful predecessors, Samuel had placed himself in a position for God to call to Him.  How does one place him/her self into a position to receive a call from the LORD?

·        Though Samuel did not yet have a personal relationship with God, his belief in God was demonstrated in a sincere and simple faith that was not mixed with personal pride or doctrinal error.

·        Samuel considered himself a servant of the temple, willing to take on the tasks of ministry.

Like the sons of Eli we can be useless to God when we reject Him.  Though we may profess faith in Him, we become of little use to Him when that faith is not followed obedience.  However, it is always encouraging to know that we can also place ourselves in a position to be used by God by submitting ourselves to Him as we see our calling as servants of the gospel.  The only limit on what God can do through us is determined by our own attitude.  We can choose be an Eli,[11] we can choose be a Samuel, or as probably the case for most of us, we can choose to be somewhere in between. 

Assuming that we have, indeed, placed ourselves in submission to the LORD in both faith and obedience, will we recognize God’s voice when he calls?  It is not surprising that the young Samuel would go running to Eli when he heard the call of the LORD.  Certainly, the LORD speaks to us in many ways, as we understand the context and content of His word, as we have an understanding based upon the peace of a choice, etc.  Few have heard the audible voice of the LORD, though there are many today who testify to such an experience, referred to as an auditory message dream theophany.[12]  This is one more example of how God called to an individual in a way that they sensed it as an audible voice.

1 Samuel 3:5-6.  And he said, I called not; lie down again. And he went and lay down. 6And the LORD called yet again, Samuel. And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And he answered, I called not, my son; lie down again.

Samuel came to Eli after hearing the voice a second time, and for the second time Eli simply sent Samuel away.  Perhaps we are witnessing a response by Eli that was similar to his response to Hannah when he scolded her for her apparent drunkenness, not realizing she was praying to the LORD.  Eli does not yet realize that Samuel is, indeed, hearing the call of the LORD.  If Eli were the dedicated and sincere priest that God would have him to be, he would understand the Holy Place to be the “residence” of the LORD, so to hear His voice in that location would be quite consistent with their basic belief.

1 Samuel 3:7.  Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, neither was the word of the LORD yet revealed unto him.

We can see that, in the example of Samuel, one can be deeply involved in the work of religion and be devoid of the workings of the faith.  As faithful as Samuel was to the workings of the temple, he had grown to the point of temple service without coming to know either the person or the Word of the LORD.  Samuel was probably well-schooled in many the points of law that dealt with temple tradition.[13]  He was also probably well aware of the faith of his parents, and perhaps desired to have a faith like they did.  However, he was still young, and had not yet made that personal confession of faith before God.  Consequently, Samuel knew about God, but he did not know God.  Samuel knew about God’s word, but he had not yet appropriated it in his life.

Many today are busying themselves as they are engaged in the works of religion without knowing the power behind them.  Until one turns to God in faith and trust their religion is without power and will bring utter disappointment on the Day of the LORD when God can only say, “I never knew you.”  As sincere as young Samuel was, and as dedicated as he was to the tasks of the temple, this is the judgment that he would hear if he were held responsible for his state of faith at this time.  Samuel still needed to “know the LORD” and have His word revealed to Him in order for God to be able to use him in is plan to bring Israel to a new age.

1 Samuel 3:8-9.  And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And Eli perceived that the LORD had called the child. 9Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, LORD; for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

We see many occurrences in scripture where something is repeated three times for emphasis.  One can only wonder what was going through Samuel’s thoughts as he rushed to Eli the third time.  He heard the voice clearly enough to believe it was again Eli, reinforcing the idea that these two were the only ones in the temple during the night.  There could simply be no other person who could be calling him.

3.  RECOGNIZING GOD’S CALL

However, this time Eli believed that Samuel was hearing a voice, and perceived that it must be the LORD.  

Samuel 3:10.  And the LORD came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth.

One might consider the setting at this point.  There are two individuals in the temple during the night, each living a life dedicated to the LORD.  One is a respected and powerful priest who the nation looks to for spiritual leadership.  The other is a young but sincere child who is at the threshold of adulthood.  Of the two, which would one expect the LORD to reveal Himself?  Surely, the community of Israel would have chosen Eli as the appropriate vehicle for communication with God:  he was the priest, the one who was supposed to intermediate for the people.  Yet, because of Eli’s unfaithfulness, God could not use him, and had a plan for ending the influence that Eli and his family shared.  Instead, God was able to turn to an innocent, but faithful, child. 

This time the LORD mentioned Samuel’s name twice, and is described as coming and standing as He called.  This may be reminiscent of the LORD’s verbal calls on Abraham and Moses, and it serves to initiate the seminal moment in Samuel’s life as it would be at this point that Samuel would surrender his life to God.  As with Abraham and Moses, the LORD would use Samuel in a manner that would bring great changes to the nation of Israel as Samuel would bring the nation out of a time of darkness back to the service of the LORD.

The confident response of Samuel was probably more of a frightened statement that was formed by Eli’s counsel.  One can only speculate on what the thoughts were that Samuel would be experiencing at this time. 

1 Samuel 3:11-15.  And the LORD said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle. 12In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end. 13For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not. 14And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever. 15And Samuel lay until the morning, and opened the doors of the house of the LORD.  And Samuel feared to show Eli the vision. 

It would be reasonable to speculate, based upon the LORD’s choice of Samuel to receive this message that there was a sincere faithfulness in Samuel that had not been a part of the temple service for many years.  Samuel, though young, would have been able to discern the wickedness of the two priestly sons of Eli, and the lack of spiritual acumen in his mentor.  Consequently, this message would have been well understood by this young man.  The prophecy against Eli that the LORD speaks of to Samuel had already been revealed, recorded in 1 Samuel 2:30-36.

Where many of the judgments of God were conditional,[14] and could be avoided by repentance, this judgment was final.  The LORD made it clear that the sin that has been committed by Eli and his sons is not a sin against other people, sins that can be atoned by sacrifice.  This sin was a willful sin against the LORD Himself, a sin for which no sacrifice was provided under Mosaic Law.

What is the “unforgivable sin” or “unpardonable sin” that the LORD is referring to?  Some would state that this sin is that of a “hardened heart.”  The only sin that finds no grace is that sin of dying without ever turning to God in faith, taking a heart that is hardened against the LORD to the grave, and this is the state of the house of Eli.  The two sons of Eli would die shortly after this event without ever turning to the LORD.  No sacrifice could atone for that sin, and the two sons who were living in a lost state now would die in that same state.

It is no surprise that Samuel did not get much sleep after this experience.  The narrative describes Samuel as lying in his bed until morning.  How does such a young man, with little to no experience in spiritual matters, approach his mentor with such an indictment?  No doubt Samuel lay there, imagining in his mind the scenarios that would surround the confession that he would have to make to Eli at some point.

It may be curious that the last statement, “opening the doors,” may be curious since the tent of the tabernacle had no doors.  Some point to this and other scriptures as defending the contention that the House of the Lord of Shiloh was a structure other than the tent of the tabernacle.  The fact that Eli and Samuel slept there also defends that position.  Some contend[15] that with the new dawn Samuel’s opening of the doors ushered in a new age.  The flooding of the house with the rays of the sun served as a metaphor for the light of the LORD as it was about to return to Israel.

1 Samuel 3:16.  Then Eli called Samuel, and said, Samuel, my son. And he answered, Here am I. 17And he said, What is the thing that the LORD hath said unto thee? I pray thee hide it not from me: God do so to thee, and more also, if thou hide any thing from me of all the things that he said unto thee.

At this point it probably comes as no surprise that Eli responded to the evening’s events with a threat.  The impending testimony from Samuel would appear to Eli as a ridiculous and surreal role reversal.  There is little doubt that Eli recognized the faithfulness in this young man, but he was still the head priest.  The LORD’s revelation should be coming to him, not to this young man.  The revelation of the LORD coming to Samuel would have been received by Eli as a threat to his own state, a threat that he already knew was coming.

Pride has a way of clouding one’s judgment when it comes to perceiving works of the Spirit.  Had Eli been a humble man who loved the LORD, he would have loved Samuel with God’s love, and been excited to witness the LORD blessing Samuel in such a special way.  Though he would not have asked the young boy to reveal the words of the LORD as a colleague, he would have done so with love, grace, and a bit of excitement. 

However, we see quite a different Eli as he threatened Samuel with a statement that whatever the judgment was, Samuel would suffer the same if he kept the revelation to himself.  This clearly denotes that Eli knew that the LORD’s revelation to Samuel was of judgment against himself.

4.  RESPONDING TO GOD’S CALL

1 Samuel 3:18.  And Samuel told him every whit, and hid nothing from him. And he said, It is the LORD: let him do what seemeth him good.

Eli’s response to Samuel completes the traditional way in which a prophecy is received from a prophet.  However, the model was completed with Samuel in the role of the prophet.  Eli’s willing surrender to the prophecy indicates his willing and necessary passing of the “mantle” of prophetic responsibility from himself to this young man.  This event clearly ended Eli’s role, and handed the future of the House of the LORD to the capable hands of one who is now a young and faithful man named Samuel.[16]

1 Samuel 3:19.  And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground.

From that fateful night on Samuel was a man of sincere and unwavering faith in the LORD whom he had met.  Having heard the voice of the LORD and witnessed his judgments, there was no doubt in his spirit concerning the veracity of the Word of the LORD.  Samuel came to love the LORD and lived in a faith relationship with Him.  The words “none of his words fall to the ground” is an idiom that refers to words that are spoken with absolute authority.  When Samuel spoke of things of the LORD he spoke with the authority of God’s truth.  A typical Israelite teacher or a priest would speak about God’s word from second-hand intellectual knowledge.  Samuel spoke God’s word with authority.  It was this same authority that Jesus demonstrated as He spoke of the scripture, amazing those who were used to the scribes’ teaching.[17]  

When a faithful and learned Christian shares God’s word today, and their words are anointed with the unction of the Holy Spirit, one also speaks with that same authority.  Like Samuel, a faithful believer shares the Word of God from the heart in the first-person rather than simply repeating in the second-person what is learned from a book. 

1 Samuel 3:20-4:1a.  And all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the LORD. 21And the LORD appeared again in Shiloh: for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the LORD. 4:1aAnd the word of Samuel came to all Israel.

During the period of the Judges, prophets were known within regions of the country.  Samuel was the first national prophet since Moses[18] as the LORD continued to speak to His nation through him. 

During the historical period of ancient Judaism there were few people who had a personal relationship with the LORD.[19]  The ancients formed their religion from law and tradition, with its leaders often demonstrating autocratic and ungodly leadership as they were interested in power rather than godliness.  We find quite a different personality in Samuel.  From his childhood we find an individual who was faithful and confident in the LORD, a trait that allowed God to use him as the “New Moses.”[20]  Many similarities can be found in the lives of Moses and Samuel as each was willing to follow God’s call.  As Moses led the people out of the bondage of Egypt, Samuel led the people out of the darkness of the period of Judges.  Samuel is probably best known for his anointing of the first kings of Israel, including Saul, David, and Solomon, ending the period of Judges and issuing in the period of the kings.

The rarity of Samuel as one in a relationship with the LORD changed with the coming of the LORD, Jesus Christ.  Jesus clearly communicated to mankind God’s plan for salvation from the eternal punishment for sin: separation from Him.  Jesus died on the cross so that all who placed their faith and trust in God would find forgiveness from that sin.  Another important facet of that promise is found in the presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the faithful.  The same voice that spoke to the Old Testament prophets is the voice that speaks to Christians today.  Consequently, there is little difference, if any, between the Old Testament prophets and faithful Christians today.

The only thing that holds back the community of faith today is a willingness to follow God’s call with faithfulness and confidence.  The life of Samuel serves as a reminder to us of what God can do with an individual who is fully submitted to Him.  Let this lesson serve to cause each of us to take a closer look at our own life, and the level of commitment that we have made to the LORD.  God is not asking each of us to take the vow of the Nazirite, but He does call us to obedience to Him.  God gives us His love and His word to share with others.  Let each of us be known, like Samuel, as one who is faithful to share. 


[1] Bits and Pieces, November, 1989, p. 18 

[2] Brett W. Smith, p. 17.

[3] 2 Corinthians 6:15.

[4] 1 Samuel 1

[5] Bergen, pg. 86.

[6] Proverbs 29:11.  Also see Lamentations 2:9.

[7] Numbers 18:23, Leviticus 24:3

[8] 1 Samuel 2:37.

[9] Note that the Holy Place would not be considered a place to sleep.  This may be another indication of how temple worship had degraded under the Elidan priesthood.

[10] Exodus 3:4.

[11] One way many adults today imitate Eli is their failure to pass their faith to their children.  Our churches are filled with adults whose children do not share their faith and are not involved in any way with the enterprise of faith.  Since our sinful nature always causes every person to reject God, the practice of simply letting children find their own way is to spiritually despise them, leading them away from saving faith.

[12] Robert Gneuse, P. 385.

[13] One might note that, according to the Law of Moses, only the high priest could enter the Holy Place, and then only once each year on the Day of Atonement to give a sacrifice for the nation.  The penalty for breaking this law was death.  However, the Temple had lost so much meaning to the people that Samuel is sleeping there, quite safely, in his own ignorance of the import of his action.  However, Samuel is in the right place to hear the voice of the gracious and loving LORD who has a purpose for him.

[14] Bergen, Pg. 87.

[15] J.G. Janzen

[16] The transition of leadership from Eli and his house to Samuel (1 Sam. 3 [and Samuel's house? cf. 8.1-3]) is highlighted because the transition is not simply from one man or family to another, but from one kind of leadership, namely priestly, to another kind, namely prophetic.  Frank Anthony Spina, p. 72.

[17] Matthew 7:29.

[18] Bergen, Pg. 89.

[19] 1 Samuel 14:37, 28:5-7

[20] Van Horn, Pg. 14.