Order of Service
CMP 179 Go, tell it on the mountain (verses 1&2)
Call to worship
Hymn CH4 448 Lord, the light of your love is shining (verses 1&2)
Old Testament 1 Samuel 3: 1-19
New Testament Romans 10: 14-18
Sermon By word of mouth (scroll down for text of sermon)
Hymn CH4 251 I the Lord of sea and sky (verses 1&2)
CMP 179 Go, tell it on the mountain (verses 4&5)
Speaking is silver, hearing is gold. It certainly is the case in the bible where God speaks and His words are heard by those whom He is speaking to. Throughout the bible, focus is on hearing:
‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one’ (Deuteronomy 6:4), meaning that his words and deeds are one.
‘But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people.’ (Jeremiah 7:23)
And then the response of the young girl Mary, Jesus’s mother, after hearing the words that the angel Gabriel had spoken to her,
‘I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’(Luke 1:38)
We heard the first words that the twelve year old Jesus spoke in the temple:
‘Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ (Luke 2:49)
With these words the boy Jesus says: ‘the relationship with my Father comes first.’
And now, we have heard how the boy Samuel, whose name means, ‘to hear’, learns to hear God’s voice.
It was at a time, that rituals and offerings in Israel continued to happen, while the word of the Lord was rare. Or, could it be that His word was not heard?
Eli, the priest has two sons: Hophni and Phinehas. It is said of them that their sin was great in the eyes of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt. And by doing so, they found themselves, not within God’s blessing, but within the anger of the Lord.
It’s as if there was a layer, a thick crust that prevented God’s word from reaching His people.
The prophet Eli was old and with that, his eyesight had become weak.
But that weakening of his eyesight symbolizes the situation:
the old priest has lost sight of what it is that makes Israel Israel, its connection with God.
Yet, it was at that time, God chose to speak through the young Samuel.
‘Yet’, we hear that word a few times.
The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was (verse 3).
What kind of lamp is this? It’s not just a lamp, but the lamp of which specific instructions can be found in the book of Exodus. It’s the lamp in the tent of meeting, to be tended from evening to morning before the Lord. It was a statute for ever to be observed throughout the generations by the people of Israel. Both the lamp and the ark, were symbols of God’s presence.
Samuel was lying where the ark was. The lamp had not yet gone out.
But the lamp signifies more. It’s symbolic. It refers to the spirit of Eli that is still receptive to God, even though he’s old and his eyesight had become weak. His commitment and service to God is still there. While that is so, the boy Samuel is given a crucial role by God.
In the darkness of the sin of blasphemy of God by Eli’s sons, while the word of God is rare, God makes His way to this young servant Samuel, who is not yet familiar with God’s word.
Just before the lamp runs out of oil, God speaks.
But Samuel does not recognize what he hears as the voice of God. Eli must have been near him, otherwise Samuel would not have assumed that it was Eli who called him.
‘Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.’ (verse 7)
That is how it is with faith. Familiarity with God comes with getting to know Him. Time is needed to let that familiarity grow; ripen.
Faith is not something that can be passed on. We wish, for if that were so, wouldn’t we pass it on to our children and grandchildren, our neighbours, friends? But no, that is not how it works.
God calls Samuel three times. There’s suspension until the moment of Samuel’s actual encounter with God.
That delay stands for the time that we all need to realize that and how God is present in our lives, and where He wants us to be. It is a delay that can be recognized in our faith in Him, now. God’s patience; His timing determines the pace with which He lets things happen.
It is important to realize that we never stop learning who God is; how He works in His mysterious ways.
While Eli’s eyesight has become weak, he still functions as a key in Samuel’s service to God. He puts Samuel on the way to God, by telling him to hear the Lord’s voice.
God was present that night. He is present now, but He can only be present through those who do hear Him. There is an enormous emphasis, for instance in Isaiah, on receiving God’s Word through the ear:
The Lord God has given me
the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
he awakens my ear
to hear as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward. (Isaiah 40:4-5)
Samuel opens his ear, but not without Eli’s help and guidance.
God says to Samuel:
‘I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.’
What a difficult thing to do, for this young servant Samuel, to tell Eli. And Eli? Eli wants to know every word that God has spoken.
And so he shows that he maintains his willingness to guide Samuel in God’s ways. He does not shut his ears for what he doesn’t want to hear, but listens and says:
‘It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good to him’. (verse 18)
Eli continues to hear His Lord; continues to trust God in the darkness of His judgment.
Speaking is silver, hearing is gold. But hearing is only gold when we hear and recognize God’s voice like Eli does. Eli hears and then speaks to Samuel words that for Samuel are words of guidance. And then, Eli hears those difficult words, that God spoke through Samuel.
While Eli’s own strength was failing, his faith in God wasn’t.
Faith doesn’t grow without being tested during times that are dark, difficult, painful. Our strength may be affected, but we can choose; we can insist on holding on to our faith, as Eli does.
In our struggles, we can find encouragement in God’s word as it has come to the world through Jesus Christ, through whom God’s word became flesh.
Let’s not lose sight of the biblical reality that God is and remains present through those who hear Him. God is not loud. So hearing requires concentration and training, so that we learn to recognize his voice like Eli the priest, who guided Samuel.
May hearing God’s word be as gold, triggering words and deeds coloured by His love. Love that He wants to begin within ourselves, so that He can make it greater, like the effect of a stone thrown into water causing bigger circles.
That so God’s word may continue to go out to all the earth, reaching the end of the world.