From "God's Emergency Man"
The story of the night revelation to the child Samuel has always appealed touchingly to devout readers of Holy Scripture. There are lessons in it of the deepest importance to us all. When the disciples asked the Lord, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' He called a little child unto Him, and set him in the midst of them, saying, 'Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted and become as little children ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven' (Matt. 18:1-3). He said more than this. Following up the thought, He showed that the spirit of the little child is always delightful to God. Perhaps if we were more simple in our attitude, more unquestioning in our faith, and more ready to obey, we would learn the mind of God more rapidly than we do.
In this chapter Eli presents a solemn contrast to the child Samuel. It is not without significance that it is stated that, "his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see;" the physical infirmity was only too sadly a picture of his spiritual condition. We read in 2 Peter 1 of the man who is not "adding' to (or in) his faith, that he is 'blind and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.' Oh, the terribleness of it. There is no standing still in spiritual things; one is either going forward or going backward, continually. Let both reader and writer beware.
It is also suggestive that the lamp of God was going out in the sanctuary. Aaron and his sons were to "order it from evening to morning before Jehovah' (Exod. 27:21). Why the failure in Eli's day? The lamp is the symbol of testimony, and Israel's testimony to the nations was at a low ebb at that time through the sinful condition of the people, and the corruption and weakness of their leaders. Very soon after this a dying saint exclaimed, "The glory is departed from Israel" (1 Sam. 4:2 1), and she was right. Nothing is a testimony for God unless it is pure and holy. This is true both of assemblies and of individuals.
Eli's lack of discernment is also noted. He did not recognize that God was speaking to the child. Yet the call was thrice repeated. Poor Eli blundered quite as seriously in his dealings with Hannah. He supposed her to be drunken, when in reality she was a sorrowful woman pouring out her heart to her God (1 Sam. 1: 1316). Nearness to God was intended to give the priests good judgment concerning holy and unholy, unclean and clean, so that they might instruct the people (Lev. 10: 9-1 1). The divine arraignment of the priesthood in the closing book of the Old Testament might well be studied here with profit: "The priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth; for he is the messenger of Jehovah of hosts. But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law," etc. (Mal. 2:7-8). How is it with us? Grace has put every believer into the priestly place, but are we in the power of it? Are we spiritually discerning?
Doubtless that which happened in Shiloh that night was altogether without precedent. Indeed there had been no divine manifestations of any kind for some time in Israel. So this chapter tells us in its opening verse. But had Eli been spiritually alert, he would have recognized the act of God sooner than he did. The poor old man was sleepy, and could only say repeatedly, 'Lie down again." "Let us not sleep as do others," says the Apostle, 'but let us watch and be sober' (I Thess. v. 6). Nothing is more easy than to develop a drowsy spiritual condition. To all who are in that condition, the voice sounds like a trumpet-call, "Awake thou that steepest, and arise from amongst the dead, and Christ shall shine upon thee" (Eph. v. 14). The Lord in His infinite mercy preserve us from that deplorable state which would lead us drowsily to quiet others who are awake. God forbid that we should ever say to one to whom He is speaking, "Lie down again."
At last the aged priest realized that Jehovah had called the child and so bade him say, if the voice came again, "Speak, Jehovah, for Thy servant heareth." It was an appalling message to which Samuel listened. Jehovah was about to visit Eli and his house in wrath because of the vileness of his sons, and because he restrained them not. It may strike some readers as strange that such a message should have been given to a child. Could not Jehovah find an older person for this service ? John's Second Epistle comes to mind here. It was written to give us the mind of the Lord concerning false teachers and their destructive doctrines. But to whom is it addressed? Not to 'the well beloved Gaius,' but to "the elect lady and her children." These must be instructed to make a stand for the truth. They must close their doors, and refuse even the ordinary civilities of life to those who "abide not in the doctrine of Christ." Natural amiability might suggest that this is men's work, and that women and children might well be spared such stern action, but it is important to understand that when evil is stalking abroad none can be permitted to excuse themselves. Neither age nor sex is a plea for unfaithfulness.
It was a painful shock for the lad Samuel to have to tell Eli next morning what Jehovah had spoken. No further sleep had he that night. It was his first introduction to the solemn realities of service and testimony for God in an evil world. In reply to Eli's inquiry, Samuel told him all; but he simply bowed the head, saying, "It is Jehovah, let Him do what seemeth Him good." There was no rousing up to energetic action; no real sense of the evil and dishonor of the whole sorrowful business.
This was the beginning of many revelations to Samuel. 'Samuel grew, and Jehovah was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground ... And Jehovah appeared again in Shiloh: for Jehovah revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of Jehovah" (I Sam. 3:19-21). Had the circumstances been normal, God would have spoken to the people in and through the High Priest, according to His own appointment. But this being impossible, He spoke to and through the man with the willing ear. This is His way still. Our Lord said when giving utterance to His parables, 'Who hath ears to hear, let him hear' (Matt; 13:9). Seven times in the addresses to the Churches in Asia we meet with the words, 'He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches.' This is clearly an individual thing. The masses in Christendom are more than ever indifferent to the will of the Lord, and the leaders in too many cases feed their followers with lies, for the predicted apostasy comes on apace. But the man who has the willing ear (shall we say, the circumcised ear?) will not fail to make advance in the knowledge of God and His word, to his own deep blessing, and to the spiritual advantage of all who are privileged to listen to his testimony. Each one of us might well pray:-
"O give me Samuel's ear, the open ear,
Alive and quick to hear, each whisper of Thy word;
Like him to answer at Thy call, and to obey Thee first of all."
The young prophet did not fail to get the respect of the people. To every exercised heart it became apparent that, although God in His righteousness was judging the priesthood, He was not abandoning His people. In the sovereignty of His love He had established a new link between Himself and them in the person of Hannah's firstborn. "All Israel from Dan even unto Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of Jehovah."
In his subsequent ministry of intercession, Samuel is remarkably reminiscent of Moses (Jer. 25: 1), and as the forerunner of the King he is equally suggestive of John the Baptist.