A Coming-of-Age Story

From the classroom of Professor Colin Smith

Synthesized in story form by Molly Mayo

Students of The Masters Guild gathered together around the wooden tables of a local café. A wide variety of café delicacies and drinks were strewn across the table and as customers bustled in and out of the glass doors, we opened up our Bibles to I Samuel 3.

“…now the boy Samuel ministered to the Lord before Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation…”

This is the part of the story when a boy must become a man.

In this opening segment we see the boy, Samuel, growing up under the hand of the priest, Eli. Come to find out, Samuel’s name will have a unique and powerful significance throughout this story. As we know, the meaning of the name Samuel comes from a combination of two Hebrew words: Sh’ma (hear) and El (God). Together it means: heard of God.

From the beginning of Samuel’s origin story, we see Hannah crying out to God for a child. When God answers her prayer, she calls the boy Samuel because she was heard of God. In the following coming-of-age story we see a complete reversal of Hannah’s prayer as God is now the one Samuel must listen to, rather than Eli.

“and it came to pass at that time, while Eli was lying down in his place, and when his eyes had begun to grow so dim that he could not see, and before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle of the LORD where the ark of God was, and while Samuel was lying down, that the LORD called Samuel. And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.”

See the phrase lying down? That is going to be contrasted against the idea of standing up. To hear and obey is to stand up and actively do something, while to lie down is to be in a state of inactivity and rest. What’s interesting to note is that in this section God calls out to Samuel when he and Eli are lying down. Samuel hears the voice of God (a rare occurrence) and runs to Eli.

“And he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” And he went and lay down. Then the LORD called yet again, “Samuel!”

Now Eli is telling Samuel to lie down. Clearly someone is missing the point. It is only after Samuel hears his name being called two more times that Eli begins to realize that Samuel is hearing the voice of God.

“Eli perceived that the LORD had called the boy, therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and it shall be, if He calls you, that you must say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.”

Then in a beautiful contrast of themes, we see that the LORD came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel, Samuel!”

Now, Samuel is prepared with a response.

“Speak, for Your servant hears.”

To hear was to sh’ma. But that word carries with it more than just the idea of hearing. It contains action as well. Travel back in time with me for a moment and imagine that your mom tells you your room is dirty. My guess is that she wasn’t making a general observation. She expected you to do something about this new truth that she’s given you – maybe clean your room, for starters. If you don’t, she might say something akin to, “you weren’t listening.” In the same way, when the word of the LORD comes to us, we are now accountable for what we’ve heard. If we don’t do anything with what we’ve heard, then we weren’t listening.

In this case, Samuel hears some incredibly hard news. Destruction to Eli’s home because of the wickedness of his sons. Can you imagine the weight those words had on Samuel’s heart? Eli – his mentor, his friend, his father-figure, was to forever suffer judgment from the LORD because of his poor parenting. What a burden to bear!

So Samuel lay down until morning and opened the doors of the house of the LORD. And Samuel was afraid to tell Eli the vision.

What’s fascinating to note is that the entire history of the world hinges on this relationship between Samuel and Eli. In this awesome and terrible encounter with the LORD, Samuel is given the hardest assignment of his life. To confront his earthly father about his sin. Accordingly, he lies awake in fear. But God wasn’t limited by the boy’s fear. Instead, he opens wide a door of opportunity for Samuel to share the Word of the LORD.

Then Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son!”

He answered. “Here I am.”

And he said, “What is the word that the LORD spoke to you? Please do not hide it from me. God do so to you, and more also, if you hide anything from me of all the things that He said to you.”

Of all the awkward encounters in the history of the world, this has got to be one of the top ten! It was going to take an intense circumstance to shape the character of a boy to become a man, to become a prophet for all of Israel. How did Samuel respond?

And Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And Eli said, “It is the LORD. Let him do what seems good to him.”

Wow! What a response! When Samuel spoke in faith, Eli responded in humility. The result?

Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the LORD. And the LORD appeared again at Shiloh, for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the LORD.

We started with the word of the LORD being rare – and then through the obedience (sh’ma) of a young boy, we see the chapter end with the word of the LORD and the LORD of the word revealed publicly. This was Samuel’s crossing the threshold moment. Because he was willing to do the hard thing and speak God’s truth, God was with him and “let none of his words fall to the ground.” Although he may not have known the historical significance at the time, because of his act of faithfulness Samuel became a conduit for truth and paved the way for the gospel to be made available for future generations. 

In an age where we have ready access to the Word of the Lord, how much more can we hear and obey?

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