1 Samuel 3:1-20 – Hearing the call of ministry

Updated: Feb 4

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.


Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” [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. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 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, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”


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. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” 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.”


As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.


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This is one of two Old Testament selections from the Episcopal Lectionary for the Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year B 2018.  The lessons of this Sunday are placed in a Proper Ordinary Time grouping, numbered Proper 4.  If chosen, this will next be read aloud by a reader on Sunday, June 3, 2018.  It is important because it tells how a servant of the LORD heard His call and answered, “Here I am.”  This is how all Saints respond to the call of ministry.


To begin this reading, we hear stated, “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.”  This is important information that should not be overlooked.


It first of all states that “the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord.”  Typically, children were not important enough to be named.  Samuel is named because this is a book that bears his name, which says that even as a youth, he “was ministering to the Lord.”


Samuel was a miracle birth, having been granted to his barren mother as the answer to her prayers.  The mother dedicated Samuel to serve God at birth, but kept him until he was weaned.  Then, she turned Samuel over to the high priest Eli.  Therefore, Samuel “was ministering to the LORD under Eli,” meaning Samuel was learning the religion of the Israelites and the One God.


Think of Samuel as an altar boy, in the purest sense.


Second, we are told that “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”  This explains why Eli would not immediately understand why Samuel was coming to him as he slept, saying, “Here I am, for you called me.”  Eli twice told Samuel just to go back to bed, before telling him to reply to any further calls by saying, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”  That says hearing the voice of God speak was rare then, but a priest like Eli (whose “lamp of God had not yet gone out”) would eventually have it dawn on him that young Samuel was having an auditory hallucination (only he could hear the voice), which was not artificially onset (because of his young age he had not been drinking alcohol).  The third time Samuel came to Eli meant he understood this call to Samuel was of divine origin.


To experience “visions” (divine visual revelations), such as Moses seeing the burning bush that was not destroyed by the fire, was even rarer.  Dreams, such as Jacob’s ladder, when he saw angels going up and down, from heaven and earth, and Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams,  as well as Abraham, Isaac and Moses regularly hearing the voice of God guiding them, that ability had seemed lost.  Where it once was written as normal for the Patriarchs to hear the voice of God, that frequency dropped to only the select few.  Still, for those dedicated to ministry to the Lord, hearing the voice of God, seeing angels of the Lord, and having dreams with voices was not deemed a psychiatric disease or mental disability.  It was a sign of righteousness.


Let that sink in, as Christians who are deeply devoted to a church (the building and organization that maintains it) are just as likely to say, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”  The only times the news reports someone saying, “The voice of God told me” is after some gruesome murder or other act of violence.  We are just as trained in our brains to deny voices and visions as ever being divine.  Thus, we are models today of that synopsis set up in verse 1, because we find it most rare to hear a voice that is not human created.  That has been the circumstances for the most part since the Israelites were deposited in the Promised Land, continuing to this day.


It is not insignificant that Samuel heard the voice of God calling him three times, before Eli told him how to respond, should a fourth call occur.  Three is a mystical number, which is symbolic of initial completion.  In the Sacred Tarot, the Three of Cups represents celebration and achievement.


This is the accepted proposal of God’s love, as the celebration of engagement.  This is the promise of the Trinity.  Still, the Three of Wands projects the journey ahead still requires a road be traveled, before one reaches the end destination.  The three of Pentacles represents this is just the first recognition of work done, with more refinement required in the future.  Sadly, the Three of Sword represent the end of the old you, where heartbreaks of the past, over time to come, will no longer be the root cause of doubts and worry.  Samuel knowing to respond to God, not another human being, was such an initial accomplishment in his life.


The number four is symbolic of a foundation.  Following the celebration of engagement, the Four of Wands represent a marriage to be celebrated.  The Four of Cups offers the symbolism of answered prayers, where the world’s attractions have lost their gleam.  The Four of Swords represents the call to step back from ordinary activity, where rest and sleep is the loss of self.  Finally, the Four of Pentacles represents a new sense of values that one holds dearly onto, not ever wanting to lose.


The fourth time God called Samuel, Samuel responded to God’s voice. The two were married in Spirit.  Samuel’s soul had been made pure by God.  As His servant, God told Samuel a prophecy of punishment coming to Eli, should he not correct the evils of his sons.  This was a prophecy Eli knew, from his time in service to the Lord.  Another prophet had sternly warned Eli prior.


When we then read how Samuel laid in bed until morning, when “he opened the doors of the house of the Lord,” this states the ministry Samuel had under Eli.  He was an attendant of a building.  He had been given routine duties and responsibilities, which he accomplished without fail.  Young Samuel did as instructed, probably not seeing the symbolic nature of making “the house of the Lord” be open to those who sought the Lord.  Samuel himself the night before had opened the door of his heart to God, becoming a human house of the Lord.


When we read, “Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli,” this is the apprehension one feels when one has to stop acting as an underling to the Man – the establishment with powers of influence – and begin acting as God’s servant.  When we read, “Eli said [to Samuel], “What was it that [the Lord] told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you,” those were the words of a servant of God who knew he was due punishment.


Eli knew his sins and was ready to be punished, because he loved his sons too much to punish them for blaspheming God.  Eli had become blind to the truth.  Still, Eli was old and tired, but he did not want Samuel to suffer his same mistakes as he.  Eli demanded that Samuel tell the truth about what God had told him.  Samuel then spoke the whole truth, and Eli accepted that fate.


This becomes a parallel to how Christians today read the Holy Bible, hear a reader read Scripture aloud, or listen to a sermon that speaks to their hearts.  They hear the truth be told through prophecy.  They know punishment is theirs to come, if they do not listen, hear the voice of God speaking to them, and act appropriately to prevent that end.  Like Eli, Christians whisper to themselves, “I accept my fate, because I simply cannot make myself change.  I’m in too deep.”


This also becomes a statement about the priest’s role who is preaching the sermons about the readings from Scripture.  They have to be like Samuel and speak the truth, even if that truth hurts the ones listening.  A priest should be able to hear the voice of God speaking the truth about Scripture.  It is the responsibility of a priest to maintain the routine of the house of the Lord.  They do that by preaching the truth, even if the truth hurts someone.  Otherwise, it is as Eli said, “What was it that [God] told you? Do not hide it from [the congregation]. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from [the congregation] of all that [God] told you.”


Sadly, the buildings of the Lord today are finding more and more apologists of sins.  They speak to congregations as Eli would speak to his evil sons.  A priest who appeases sinners, for whatever reason, becomes the embodiment of Eli.  He or she who speaks to sinful congregations and does “not restrain them,” then the Lord will likewise “swear to the house of [that church and/or denomination] that the iniquity of [that church’s priest’s] house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”


In other words, it will be just as God’s messenger had told Eli, “Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained.” (1 Samuel 2:30d)  Any priest who takes a position of piety and uses that for selfish reasons (politically motivated these days) are committing blasphemy.  The call is to not be a wicked priest (like Eli’s sons Hophni and Phinehas), just as the call is not to be a lazy priest to blesses sins because of human blood ties.  The call is to be like Samuel and minister to the Lord under God.


Pope Hophni and Pope Phinehas?


As an Old Testament possible selection in the early stages of Ordinary Time (when we are called to move into ministry, leaving the crib of helplessness), we are to become Samuel.  To be Eli, who was a priest with two evil sons acting as priests, who would be cursed by God for doing nothing to cease the evil-doings of his sons (the dilemma of family blood coming before spiritual blood), we are just as guilty of ignoring the call of our religion.


Too often the challenge to one’s faith comes when one must decide to pick between serving God and serving family.  Too often we choose to offer our souls up to God as sacrifices for protecting the sins of family and friends.  Too often we act priestly, where that pretense does nothing of value, nothing that has one hearing God’s call to serve Him.  Being Eli then reflects how we have to actually accept that God does call his servants, even though we have only read about such things in books.  We have to become Eli before we can become Samuel; but we stand as the evil sons of Eli, if we do nothing, while claiming to be Christian.


At the end of the reading, where we read, “As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground,” and “all … knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord,” this is how we should aspire to be.  Do you realize that this Scripture reading is the word of the Lord?  Do you understand that they fall to the ground when you refuse to understand them AND explain that understanding to others?


Samuel was righteous for all Israel, not just himself and his fellows in the school of priests, the house of the Lord before there was a Temple in Jerusalem.  We too are called to serve others, not serve ourselves.  We are expected to respond, “Here I am.”  We are called to serve God, beyond a dedicated service that tells the leaders of the church buildings that honor God, “Here I am.”


The leaders of the churches today are much like Eli, having lost their ability to see and the inner drive to do more than lay down and sleep on duty.  They seek to be near holy objects, rather than become themselves holy objects – the arks of the Lord’s power; the commitment to learn the words of the Covenant, while enabled to maintain those laws.  At some point in time, our commitment as God’s servants to God’s buildings will be rewarded: either as a call for more money and more time donated to a church; or a call to stand before evil and tell it to stand down in the name of the Lord.


If one is listening through one’s heart, one will hear the voice calling.  The rewards of commitment that comes from one’s heart is a call to be God’s wife.  God wants to marry with your soul, baptizing it with the Holy Spirit.  Once that engagement is celebrated, the marriage makes one a reborn Samuel.  The rewards of having answered God’s proposal are great; but one will have to wait until one reaches the end of one’s time on earth to reap those rewards.


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