Sermon Ideas For 1 Samuel 3:1-10; Part 1
The third chapter of Samuel tells the story of God's first act of revelation to the boy Samuel, who would become a key figure in the history of the chosen people Israel.
Perhaps the central theological motif in this striking text concerns divine self-revelation. Samuel 3 depicts a God who takes the initiative to communicate with human beings. The form of that divine communication varies dramatically—inspired Scripture, dreams, visions, inaudible and audible voices, and so on. In this case, God's self-revelation took the form of a voice calling in the night. But the central truth to ponder is simply that the God of the universe does not seek to be hidden but instead to be self-revelatory. God exists, wants to be known, and is known. Such affirmations, once taken for granted in western culture, are so no longer.
In this case, God's act of self-revelation occurs not through official channels, to the high priest Eli or his sons, but to a twelve-year-old boy. As happens so many times in Scripture, God goes around the "official" and designated channels of divine communication and speaks to someone altogether unexpected. Throughout both Scripture and the history of the church, we can witness the people of God seeking to institutionalize and structure their experience with their Creator and Lord, and God refusing to be boxed in by such institutions and structures. "The wind blows where it chooses," as Jesus said to Nicodemus (Jn 3:8). The lowly, the uneducated, the poor in spirit receive the word of the Lord, while the rest are sent away empty. From this we learn that while God desires to communicate with human beings, the time, manner, and recipients of that communication cannot be predicted. God remains sovereign, and God's conduct toward us always retains an element of mystery.
Yet not everything is mystery. The chapter opens with the poignant statement that "the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread" (1 Sam 3:1). One thing that can be predicted about divine self-revelation is that it is not directed to, or heard by, those whose lives are given over to sin. "The word of the Lord was rare in those days," at least in part, because of the corruption that afflicted the high priest's family. Chapter two reports the gross depravity of Eli's sons Phinehas and Hophni. They cared nothing for their duties in the temple and used their positions to feast on the offerings and participate in a form of temple prostitution (1 Sam 2:12-17, 22). In fact, the revelation to the boy Samuel is an announcement of God's judgment on Eli and his house (1 Sam 3:11-16). It is a simple fact of biblical and church history that holy offices that ought to be occupied by godly persons are occasionally bought, sold, inherited, and in many other ways abused. A holy God must reject and judge such corruptions of what is most holy. Such a God will seek out people of a more godly type, wherever they might be found.
This reminds us of the reality of God's grace as it is revealed through this text. Consider once again the horrendous corruption of the holiest of places; consider the corruption of the holiest of offices. Yet God raises up new prophets and new deliverers to replace those who have failed. Judgment rooted in God's holiness is always mixed with grace rooted in God's love. Despite their numerous and repeated failures, the chosen people are blessed by God with those who can once again lead the people in the way they should go. Thus God carefully prepares and raises up Samuel; and after him, Saul; and after his downfall, David. Obviously, God is not obligated to continue giving the people of God, or the human race for that matter, repeated second chances. Yet sacred Scripture is essentially the story of God's merciful decision to do just that, from Noah to Jesus and beyond.
Finally, let us note that Samuel at first had a difficult time perceiving that the voice in the night was the voice of God. He thought it was Eli. This reminds us that though God does speak to human beings, on this side of the divine-human divide we do in fact "see through a glass darkly" (1 Cor 13:12 KJV). It is not always easy to discern the difference between the voice of God and the voice of a human being or our own vain imaginings. Sometimes we think we hear God when we do not; sometimes we think we hear merely ourselves when in fact God is trying to communicate with us. The ability to tell the difference is called discernment, and it is a spiritual gift not all possess (1 Cor 2:15; 12:10). Human life has been badly marred by those who cannot tell the difference.
God is sovereign, knowable, self-revealing, holy, and gracious. These are some of the theological truths that can be learned from reflection upon this text of Scripture.
David P. Gushee