First Mennonite Church
November 14, 2021
A Difficult Situation for Eli and Samuel
Text: 1Samuel 3:8-21
I would like for us to go back to the story we considered last Sunday. It was the story of young Samuel hearing his name being called three times, but did not you who was calling him. This story is often called, “The Calling of Samuel.” However, when we compare it with the calling God made to other people in the Bible, we do not see some common elements found in them. For instance, in the calling of Moses, Gideon, Isaiah, and Jeremiah we can find a few common elements there. God appears in some form or there is a voice or an angel appearing, there is a charge or commission, there is an initial refusal to accept the calling, and there is a request for signs that indeed God would be with those he is calling. In the case of Moses, his calling was to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. His excuse was that he could not speak well. He requested for signs that God would be with him. When God called Gideon, an angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon. He was called to deliver Israel from their oppressors, the Midianites. Gideon’s excuse was that he was a “nobody.” Gideon pointed out to the angel that he was the youngest in the family and that his tribe was the smallest among the twelve. He also asked for signs (Judges 6). In the case of Jeremiah, his calling was to become “a prophet for the nations.” His excuse was that he was too young and could not speak well, either (Jeremiah 1:5, 6). The story we find in 1Samuel chapter three is more one in which God comes to reveal himself and to announce what he has in his heart to do. The story is more a one in which God was announcing the start of new phase in his activity with his people. In this case, it was a pivotal moment of transition, from a time when everyone did as they saw fit to a time when religion and government would be centralized with the coming of the monarchy and the establishment of the temple. However, the most pressing change God wanted to announce was the end of Eli and his priestly calling and the rise of a new prophet—Samuel.
Having this in mind, let us read the last part of the story when God spoke to Samuel. So, let us read 1Samuel 3:8-21.
8 A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” 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.”
11 And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’”
15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.”
Samuel answered, “Here I am.”
17 “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”
19 The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.
As I said last Sunday, the story of God speaking to Samuel for the first time is one we heard in Sunday school since we were children (for those of us who grew up attending church). I am certain that Mrs. Blanco, my Sunday school teacher, wished and prayed each of her Sunday school students would indeed respond to God’s calling like Samuel did. Readiness to respond to God’s call has been the emphasis of most preaching from this passage. However, I never have heard a sermon regarding what God actually told Samuel or the difficult task he had once having heard from God. I have not heard a sermon on the difficult word the young boy had to communicate to his elderly mentor. I have not heard of a message on the harshness of God’s judgement on Eli and his house because of the evil his children committed.
When Samuel finally answered to the voice calling him, according to the instruction Eli gave Samuel, God spoke. But God did not command Samuel to do anything about what he told Samuel. When God got Samuel’s attention, what God said, was nothing exciting. It was as if God wanted to speak out something he had been holding in for some time. “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle,” God said. The phrase “to make the ears tingle” when spoken by God does not announce good tidings. It is always the announcement of the foreboding. For instance, in 2 Kings 21:12, we read: “Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle.” And in Jeremiah 19:3, “Hear the word of the LORD, you kings of Judah and people of Jerusalem. This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Listen! I am going to bring a disaster on this place that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle.”
Each of these instances, what would make the ears to tingle of the hearers are the impending disaster and judgement. And that was precisely what God had in mind to bring upon Eli and his household. Termination of Eli’s priesthood and the rejection of his descendants to carry on with it was a complete turnaround of what God had previously said. According to 1Samuel chapter two, verse 30, God had previously promised Eli that his descendants will carry on the priesthood for generations. Did God change his mind?
After God spoke with Samuel, we are told that he only lay in his bed. Imagine how troubled was the mind of young Samuel to know that Eli was going to ask what God had spoken about. Samuel knew it was nothing he would gladly want to tell Samuel.
The idea of God speaking to someone can both exhilarating and scary or risky. At a time when God’s word was scarce and rare, Samuel had the wonderful opportunity to hear God speaking to him. However, after the voice went silent, Samuel could not get to sleep. The words became a heavy burden and difficult to convey. That is the truth in the business of being the mouthpiece of the Lord. The prophet Ezekiel experienced that challenge, when he describes the word given him by the Lord “as sweet as honey in my mouth” (3:3), but the delivery of the word was as “bitterness in the spirit because the Lord’s hand was over me” (3:14).
As a minister of the Lord, there are times when our calling is to bring comfort to the sorrowing, but there are times when we are called to discomfort the comfortable. The risk in ministry is that we might have to give the bad news sometimes.
When morning came, Eli called Samuel. And in his usual way, Samuel responded, “Here I am.” Eli implored Samuel to reveal to him every word God had spoken. Although, the news was nothing good, Samuel delivered the message of judgement to come upon Eli and his household.
There are a few difficult issues found in this story. God said his harsh judgement on Eli and the end of his priestly dynasty was because Eli knew of the sins and blasphemy of his children but that “he failed to restrain them.” However, in chapter two, verses 22-25, Eli gives an earful to his two sons. He even underscores the severity of their sin that it cannot be expiated. However, despite his effort, his two sons continued on their wicked ways. It is troubling that God still held him liable. Are parents liable for the behavior or actions of their adult children? In Eli’s case, the saying: “The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge,” was reversed. (Ezekiel 18:2). Here, it’s the children who ate the sour grapes and the parents’ teeth are set on edge.
There is something quite admirable in this story too, Eli’s humility until the very end. Eli was the mentor of Samuel, yet he humbly recognized the special position Samuel had been given by the Lord. He not only inquired for the word of God through his young apprentice, but he also submitted to the Lord’s will. Eli does not fight back or shifts the blame on his sons.
Sometimes, it is hard to admit our faults, but it is more difficult to accept the blame when we are not at fault. Eli kept his integrity until the very end.
This is one of those examples where parents suffer shame, blame, and disrepute because of their children’s actions. This is especially true about Christian parents.
The other day, Lilian showed me a social media post. It read, “If you are going to give Biblical names to your children, see that you raise them well. It is shame when you hear that ‘Noah is smoking weed with Moses.’”
Parents, let us never get tired of giving advice and guidance to our children. Let’s keep praying for them and to whatever extent we can, let us keep giving them godly counsel. But above all, let us be an example of humility and godliness. Amen!