“The word of the Lord was rare in those days” (1 Samuel 3:1).
I feel like that sometimes.
Lord, where are you? Why don’t you speak? I have so many needs… I need to hear from you!
“The word of the Lord was rare” — that was in the early days of the prophet Samuel, when he was just a boy. It was the time of the judges in Israel, when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6, 21:25). Sounds like today! And we are reaping chaos that matches those times.
But back to the word of the Lord being rare. Samuel marks a change in that situation and I wonder what we can learn from him. I sat this morning with 1 Samuel 3, and this is what I found.
Some observations about God:
1. God hears
It can’t be coincidence that “Samuel” in Hebrew is sh’ma Elohim — “God hears.” God heard the cries of the barren Hannah and gave her this boy. But he also hears the cries of his people, knows they are ill-served by their priests, and listens. And answers them through Samuel. God speaks a word into their troubles, but before he speaks: “God heard.”
God’s word is more than him telling us things. It is rooted in relationship, in conversational give and take; he hears our cries.
2. God doesn’t give up on us
The Lord calls Samuel four times. He persists, but he doesn’t force it. He calls, then waits. He sends help through Eli when Samuel doesn’t recognize his voice. And he waits again. God meets Samuel where he is and keeps on calling. Can you hear him calling you?
3. God comes close to us
When Samuel is finally primed to listen, “the Lord came and stood.” He’s no longer just a voice, he comes near. The message turns out to be a hard one, but God doesn’t hide behind a tweet or send a text. He goes and stands beside Samuel to deliver it. God wants to come close to us and speak to us directly, too.
4. God sticks around and follows up
The Lord doesn’t just speak and run, leaving Samuel to cope. Verse 19 says the Lord was with Samuel. And he “let none of his words fall to the ground.” In other words, what God says to Samuel, that Samuel proclaims in turn, comes true. God’s words are not empty, they have purpose and they take effect. And God stands by Samuel even when asking him to say hard things. He does the same for us.
Some observations about Samuel:
1. Samuel does the right thing
Samuel is ministering to the Lord even though the word is rare (vs. 1), even though he doesn’t yet know the Lord, whose word has not yet been revealed to him (vs. 7). Samuel is faithful to the light which he’s been given. We can be tempted to think God only speaks to other people. Why would he speak to me? Don’t let feelings of your inadequacy (even those that are deserved!) make you doubt God. Do according to the light you’ve been given. Go ahead and minister to the Lord: go to mass. Pray. Be faithful in small things. Be patient. And know that God hears.
2. Samuel is ready
Samuel is in bed when God calls him, he’s lying down in the Temple. But he is alert enough to jump up when he hears his name. His ears are pricked up, ready to hear. Ask yourself: Am I listening? Am I alert, hoping to hear God’s voice? Or is my attention elsewhere? Am I filling my ears with other things, attending to other voices? When the word of God does come: will I be ready to hear it?
3. Samuel doesn’t give up
At first, Samuel doesn’t know God’s voice. He keeps thinking it’s Eli, and he keeps getting up to respond. After being twice sent back to bed, you’d think he’d stay there! But Samuel, always ready, keeps on responding. God is able to use Eli (worthless priest that he is!) to direct Samuel back to himself. God’s persistent pursuit of Samuel is met by the boy’s untiring response.
4. Samuel prepares to listen
Over time, Samuel’s response shifts from “Here I am” (to Eli) to “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.” It may not seem like much of a difference, but his interior posture moves from activity to receptivity. Similarly, our activity must grow out of first receiving God’s word and allowing it to work in us. Sometimes we just want to “do.” Don’t short-circuit the process. Listen first.
5. Samuel ponders and proclaims the word
God’s first word to Samuel is doom to Eli. No wonder he can’t sleep. “Samuel lay until morning, then he opened the doors to the house of the Lord” (vs. 18). The boy is afraid to deliver his message. But he spends the night well: pondering what he heard, allowing the word to take root. And then he passes it on. When Samuel “opened the doors to the house of the Lord” that day, he did so in more than one way. God’s word is once more being heard in his temple and it will be open to all.
A final thought…
1 Samuel 3 ends: “the Lord revealed himself…by the word of the Lord.”
The Lord wants to reveal himself to us by his word, as well. Jesus is calling you! Wake up from the things that keep you from hearing. Put yourself in God’s presence, be faithful to the light that you have. Turn your ear toward him and be patient. Listen. Ponder. Proclaim what you hear.
And may the Lord be with you as you read his Word!
© 2021 Sarah Christmyer
You may also like this post about Samuel’s mother’s experience with answered prayer:
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The Catholic Edition is available here from the Augustine Institute.
Images by Magda Ehlers from Pexels (listening deer); Greg Rakozy on Unsplash (man looking into space); and Carolyn V on Unsplash (open Bible).