From Darkness to Light
1 Samuel 3:1–21
1st & 2nd Samuel Lesson #022
August 25, 2015
“Father, we’re grateful that we have You to come to as we look out on the details of life today and see where our culture is headed. We see where our government has been headed. We see so many issues related to our state, our nation, and international affairs. Things just don’t look good. It is easy for people to get their eyes off of You, and onto politics and onto economics, and onto the stock market, and all these various circumstances.
We forget that You are the God Who is in control, that nothing that is happening is a surprise to You—nothing that is taking place has not been provided for, and that You are the God Who sustains us and strengthens us. It is our responsibility to live each day as unto You, to focus upon You each day, not to be consumed with worry and anxiety over what may come, but to live each day as unto itself, and to focus upon the things that we can deal with just today and not worry about what will come— to trust in You.
Father, we are thankful that we have Your Word to guide and direct us, to strengthen our thinking, to give us a framework for understanding the truth, and to be able to properly interact with what goes on around us, and we can keep our mental attitude focused based on faith in You and in Your Word. Father, we pray that we might not fail in terms of our day-to-day consistency in focusing on You and Your Word. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
We are studying in 1 Samuel. We are in 1 Samuel 3. We’re making remarkable progress. We live in a world today where the trends in churches are that nobody should ever preach a series that is more than five or six lessons. They don’t do expositional preaching anymore. It is not popular. That’s rejected.
In fact, I have heard a lot of pastors say that it is hard to find young men who want to learn how to really truly exegete the Word and to teach verse-by-verse, because it is just not popular. It is not popular for a number of reasons, but mostly it is because people just don’t want to know the Word. A lot of Christians don’t want to do the Word. As a result of that we enter into phases of spiritual darkness in any culture.
That’s exactly the kind of circumstance that was going on in Israel at this time. They are at a time of tremendous spiritual darkness and rejection of the truth, and ignorance of the truth. It was much worse than the kind of situation we have today. We covered this a little bit when we first started in 1 Samuel.
But 1 Samuel 1–7 takes place during the time that is called “the period of the Judges.” One verse is repeated twice in the book of Judges. It is the verse that says that “there was no king in Israel in those days”, which is kind of a double entendre, indicating that:
- There is no literal king like Saul or David.
- They also rejected God as their King, and Israel was set up at this time under a theocracy.
So they’ve rejected God as the ultimate authority for life. In God’s place they’ve substituted their own vacillating values.
The next line says that “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” That’s what the book of Judges is about. You have a section that deals with the leadership from Othniel to Samson, talking about how the leaders did what was right in their own eyes. You see this steady deterioration and decline and degeneracy among the leaders from Othniel, about whom nothing negative is said—all the way to Samson, about whom nothing positive is said. Then there are a couple of different situations that occur at the end of the book of Judges.
One of them focuses on the degeneracy of the priesthood, which is really good background for what we learn here in 1 Samuel 1–3 in relation to Eli the high priest and his two sons Hopni and Phinehas.
If you don’t remember the episodes in Judges 17, I’ll just briefly review:
You had this character named Micah, who is living in the hill country. He has sort of an itinerant Levite that’s unnamed. You have to wait until the end of the story in Judges 18 before you get the punch line, which identifies who this guy is.
This Levite comes, and he (Micah) hires the Levite to set up his own little shrine and his own little temple. Basically it is a secondary worship site away from the tabernacle. He is going to invent his own little religious system right there at his house. People can come by, and he is going to support this Levite.
Then what happens is the tribe of Dan, which is so compromised in terms of their spirituality and their obedience to God in terms of conquering the land that God gave them, which was supposed to be down along the coast, that they haven’t conquered the Canaanites. They are homeless drifters, as it were.
As they start looking for a better place to have as their home, they send out a scout team that comes by Micah’s house. They get acquainted with this Levitical priest that is there. Then they headed north to the area of Laish, which is in the far northern part of Israel. It was later known as Dan because the tribe of Dan migrated there. It is about 30 miles or so north of the Sea of Galilee. It’s one of the farther areas.
The Danites went up there, spied out this area, and said the Canaanites have lived there: “we can kill them all and just take their land from them.”
When they did that, they also decided to bribe this Levite to leave Micah and to bring his idol with him, and to set up this alternate worship site up in Laish. They convince him to do that. He abandons Micah and goes with the tribe of Dan. He goes up there, and basically sets up this alternate religion, this idolatrous religion, up in the area of Dan.
When you get to the punch line (and at the very end it identifies this priest and says his name is Gershon), if you look in your English Bibles, this is in Judges 18. It says that this man is Gershon, the son of Manasseh.
But that is not a correct understanding of that.
If you go back into the textual history, it is probably not Manasseh, because they inserted the letter “n” into the name because the rabbis back in the early part of the Church Age didn’t like the name that was there. They thought this would cast aspersions upon this well-respected leader.
In Hebrew you only have a one letter difference between the name מֹשֶׁהMosheh and the name Manasseh. מְנַשֶּׁה Mĕnashsheh is anglicized to Manasseh, and Mosheh is anglicized to Moses. In Hebrew, there weren’t any vowels, so Mosheh is just msh.
In ancient manuscripts they put a little “n”. There are a few ancient manuscripts that have been discovered where they put an “n” in there, kind of a superscript between the “m” and the “sh” to indicate that this should be “Mĕnashsheh, not Mosheh—just that one letter difference, because at that time you didn’t have any vowels in the English text.
The point is that this apostate Levitical priest that is leading the Northern Kingdom into idolatry is no one less than the son or grandson of Moses himself. The whole point of that episode is to show how degenerate Israel has become at this time—that they’ve apostatized. They are idolatrous. They are not living any differently from the Canaanites. They are just an absolute total mess.
That’s roughly the same time frame as we have here with the clan of Levi. Eli is the high priest, and his two sons Hopni and Phinehas.
That’s where we are, and God is getting ready to change things up. That’s the message of hope that’s in Samuel. It is that God is going to change things. He is in the process of doing that.
What we see in this section is there is going to be a shift from darkness to light. There are a lot of interesting word plays in this section, which I pointed out when we studied Judges years ago—a lot of interesting puns and paramnesias in the Hebrew.
The same thing is true in 1 Samuel. There are a lot of things that the writers use to get our attention and make the point. Sometimes, when we just blow our way through this reading in a hurry, we miss these little nuances that are there to get our attention, because they reinforce the point.
I want to go back and just review for us a little bit an outline, so we don’t lose the forest for the trees, and we understand what is happening here:
1A. The first major division in Samuel is 1 Samuel 1–7 where we see Yhwh preparing to deliver Israel by a great change.
This doesn’t take place overnight. It took somewhere between 30–50 years for this transition to take place. It wasn’t simple. The Israelites ended up having their tail end kicked by the Philistines in a battle that we’ll study when we get into 1 Samuel 4 called the Battle of Aphek, when over 30,000 Israelites were slaughtered by the Philistines.
The Ark of the Covenant is captured. The tabernacle is burned to the ground, and it just looks like everything is lost.
So when you look out at a collapsing stock market that’s only dropped about 1,000 points, even though that’s the greatest number of points it has dropped in a single day, percentage wise it doesn’t even come close to what happened in 1987. In 1987 it dropped what would be the equivalent of 4,000 points. Yesterday wasn’t as bad as some people might think. But those kinds of things happen. Getting involved in wars, famines, droughts, and all these other things—God is still in control and He has a plan that is going to be worked out.
Yhwh prepares Israel for a change.
The beginning of that is the birth of Samuel. He is going to provide a new prophet and new priest and new judge, 1 Samuel 1:1–2:10.
Remember, Eli is the priest and a judge. They haven’t had a prophet. The last time anyone is mentioned as a prophet is the prophetess Deborah back in Judges 5–6. There hasn’t been a prophet really since Moses. Samuel is going to be born. He is going to replace Eli as judge and priest, and He will add to that that he will be a prophet of God, which is what 1 Samuel 3 is all about.
Yhwh orchestrates the collapse of the old order in 1 Samuel 2:11–4:22.
We are in the middle of that section right now. We’ve seen this beginning of the collapse, where we see the understanding of how wicked and how pagan and how degenerate the sons of Eli are, even to the point of pressuring the women who are serving at the temple to function as temple prostitutes. They’ve perverted the whole worship of God and desecrated the service at the tabernacle.
God has already sent an unnamed prophet, a man of God that is mentioned from 1 Samuel 2:22–31, who announces judgment on the house of Eli. We are going to see a second confirmation of that with the call of Samuel in 1 Samuel 3, and this comes to pass in 1 Samuel 4.
There is a first announcement to judge the arrogance of the old order in 1 Samuel 2:11–36, which we’ve studied. As we go forward, we see that God is going to call out the first prophet of this new order—this new arrangement that He’s going to bring into existence, because two things have to happen:
- God has to be true to His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That it is going to be through their descendants that He is going to bless the whole world. To be true to His Word He has to bring about a change.
- But also because I think that there were a number of believers, a remnant in Israel at that time, exemplified by Hannah and Elkanah that were trusting the Lord, following the Lord. They were a small remnant, and God is now coming to answer their prayers.
In 1 Samuel 3 we basically see three sections:
- The first is 1 Samuel 3:1–10, where Yhwh is training Samuel through Eli. Interesting point. God is using the pagan degenerate Eli to train Samuel.
Another point is Samuel is submissive. He’s obedient to a pagan, degenerate priesthood as he is being trained by the Lord to serve in that capacity. He is waiting on the Lord. In the meantime he is going to be obedient and submit to their authority.
- In the second section Yhwh calls Samuel to begin his prophetic ministry, 1 Samuel 3:11–18, where we have the prophecy given to Samuel.
- Yhwh is going to validate Samuel’s prophetic ministry.
That is a really important point because a lot of times we hear people get the idea that in the Old Testament period God just spoke willy-nilly to people. That’s the farthest thing form the truth. God did speak, but He spoke at limited times to limited people.
Whenever God spoke in private to anyone, He always confirmed it objectively. There was no point in the Old Testament when a person could just come and say “well God told me to do this.” In fact, the few examples that we have of something like this were wrong. This was where somebody was being deceptive, or somebody was just using God to further their own agenda.
But in Samuel, what we see is when God does something in private that He always confirms it with a second witness in public with some sort of confirmatory objective evidence.
Just to see how things move through the first twelve chapters of Samuel we’ll look at the key people:
- In 1 Samuel 1:1, the first chapter was about Hannah coming to the temple, making a vow to God that if God would give her a son in spite of the fact that she has been barren, that she would give that son back to the service of the Lord.
- In 1 Samuel 2:1–10 she is praising God for how He has given Samuel. She sees how Samuel is somehow connected to the fulfillment of God’s promise of a future Messiah.
- 1 Samuel 2:11 just talks about how Samuel is ministering, serving the Lord. This is highlighted several times from 1 Samuel 2:11 down through the end of 1 Samuel 3.
Four times it is mentioned that Samuel is serving the Lord. That’s in contrast to the fact that Eli isn’t, and that his sons aren’t. God is making a specific point saying, see, Samuel is doing what he is suppose to do. He is serving the Lord, but these guys are abusing the people. They are abusing their position. They are abusing the privileges I’ve given them. They are leading the people into further degeneracy.
- There’s a contrast with Eli’s sons in 1 Samuel 2:12–17.
- Then we shift back to Samuel in 1 Samuel 2:18–21.
- Then there is a shift to a focus on Eli and his sons and the prophecy of God’s harsh judgment on Eli and his sons, and the fact that the priesthood is going to be taken away from them. No one in their line is even going to live to old age. Those who do serve in the temple aren’t even going to be able to support themselves. They are going to have to beg for bread. This harsh judgment is going to come upon Eli and his line because of their disobedience.
- Then in 1 Samuel 3:1–4:1 the focus is on Samuel.
- Then it shifts back to Eli and his sons and the judgment that God brings on them and the consequences of that judgment from 1 Samuel 4:1–7:2.
- Then the focus goes back to Samuel and then to Saul in 1 Samuel 7:3–12:25.
That just gives you a review of how this movement takes place in this particular section.
We looked at this in 1 Samuel—that there are six basic things that happen:
- Yhwh is served by Samuel, 1 Samuel 2:11.
- Yhwh is treated contemptuously by the sons of Eli, 1 Samuel 2:12–17.
- Then it goes back to Hanna and how Yhwh is blessing the family of Hannah and blesses Samuel in 1 Samuel 2:18–21.
- Yhwh determines to judge the house of Eli in 1 Samuel 2:22–25. That is announced.
- Then there is a one verse statement of how Yhwh is blessing Samuel again.
He is continuing to grow in 1 Samuel 2:26, “the child Samuel grew in stature and in favor, both with the Lord and man”—a verse that is almost restated in application to the Lord Jesus Christ in Luke 2:52.
- The last thing that happens is that Yhwh sends a prophet to announce the judgment on the house of Eli in 1 Samuel 2:27–36.
Something interesting happened this afternoon as I was putting my notes together and after I restudied the passage and worked my way through it. I discovered I have a large thick file of my notes when I taught this series on 1 Samuel back in 1988. I don’t have all the notes. I didn’t apparently keep everything, but I did have the notes for this particular section.
I was reading what I said in my introduction. I thought this is almost prescient compared to when we look at where we are today. I just thought I would put this up on the screen.
I said at that time, “Recent studies have shown an increasing trend” this is 1988 remember. There is “an increasing trend among evangelicals that they are moving back to mainline denominations.” By 1988 you could hear the death knell of the Bible church movement. A shift was already taking place.
I said, “This shows how deep the apostasy is penetrating our supposed Bible-teaching churches. Why is this happening? It’s simple. After 50 years of Bible churches, they are in decline: expository preaching is beginning to be less popular, and people prefer something other than Bible teaching.”
They want entertainment. They want to be stimulated and have their emotion stimulated. They want to be motivated. They want to hear a positive message. They just don’t want to hear the Word of God.
I said, “The recent emphasis on application apart from in-depth exposition has left people without the ability to think critically, so they are opting for a new social Christianity.”
I could have said that today. It is amazing how things have deteriorated in the last 30 years.
We are looking at 1 Samuel 3. This is a great chapter. It is a great chapter because God is moving to change things. He changes things through His Word. It is important because there is some good background here in terms of understanding God’s revelation and the importance of His Word.
What we see is three basic divisions, that:
- Yhwh is training Samuel through Eli in 1 Samuel 3:1–10.
- In 1 Samuel 2:11–18 Samuel is going to be called to begin his prophetic ministry.
There are some significant things to say about the role of the prophet. I don’t think we’ll get there tonight, but it is important.
- Yhwh validates Samuel’s prophetic ministry, 1 Samuel 3:19–21.
The second thing we ought to see, after we talk about the basic structure here, is to note that 1 Samuel 3 is connected back to 1 Samuel 2 through a number of common words and phrases. The reason that is important is because you always have liberals come along, and they want to dice up the Scripture and say that this was all cobbled together some time after the Babylonian captivity. You had these editors who came in who just borrowed from here or there.
But what we see is an integrated text where it shows a common and continuous style and vocabulary that shows a unity to the text—that this is what is revealed. That’s important in Samuel because Samuel is often stated to be the ancient manuscript with the least integrity. What that means is that there are more textual problems in Samuel than in any other Old Testament book.
There are places where we are not just real clear on what the original text said. In fact, in the Hebrew text when it says in the English Bible that Saul reigned 40 years, the Hebrew Bible has a blank there. It got lost. The Septuagint says 40 years. That is where we get 40 years and that is probably correct. But it affirms our faith and trust in Scripture when we see these things that indicate that this isn’t something that somebody cobbled together later on, but that there is a continuous flow of thought and continuous vocabulary.
A third thing we ought to note is the opening themes. This is really fascinating when we read through the text. Sometimes when we read through various passages over and over again, and all of a sudden it is like sitting out in a deer blind about 5:30 in the morning, as light gradually begins to dissipate the darkness, you are sitting there, and you are looking at a clump of trees. Then you move your eyes somewhere else, and all of a sudden you move back and a deer is there.
That deer has been there the whole time you were sitting there, but it was so camouflaged by the natural coloring of the hide that you just didn’t see it. Now there is enough light to where you see it.
A lot of times in Bible study it is like that. We just miss some of the things that are there because we’re not taking time to really look.
I want you to look at these initial verses. 1 Samuel 3:1–3, “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. And it came to pass at that time, while Eli was lying down in his place, and when 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.”
What the writer is doing is, he is bringing several things to our attention here that have to do with darkness and light, and with illumination and the lack of illumination. Revelation is illumination. It is God speaking truth to His people that illuminates their minds to the truth. Throughout Scripture we do have these themes of this contrast between light and darkness.
But the writer is using his style, his wording, and the way he is describing the scene to bring to our attention the theme that is going on here; and that is—there is going to be new revelation and illumination.
That is what we see with Eli—that the dimness of his eyes reminds of us the dimness of the eyes spiritually of the people. They are in spiritual darkness, and there is no light because they’ve been in negative volition.
God has not been revealing Himself to them.
There is a style that is called chiaroscuro. If you’ve got a background in art, you’ve heard this. It describes the use of shadow and light and darkness in order to bring out and emphasize certain things within the painting that the artist wants the observer to pay attention to—to look at.
I’ve got a couple of examples here. This is a painting by Peter Paul Rubens called The Elevation of the Cross. You see his tremendous use of light and darkness and shadow in order to bring our attention and our focus upon the body of the Lord Jesus Christ as He is on the cross, and the cross as being elevated.
I think it is interesting that the lightest part of that whole painting is His side, which is the side that is going to receive the spear at the end of the crucifixion. But he is using light to draw our attention to what he wants us to focus on. You’ll see that in a lot of art work.
Another example is Rembrandt’s Nativity. We see the lightest part of the painting is the infant Jesus. That is what he is drawing our attention to.
This same kind of idea—of using words rather than using paint—is used in literature to draw our attention to certain things.
That’s what is going on here. The writer is actually using words that are related to light and darkness and illumination, vision—terminology like that to bring our attention to what he is emphasizing within this chapter.
That is what is important when we study the Bible. It is to try to understand what the writer is focusing our attention on. Even though there may be a number of secondary and tertiary ideas within the passage, the writer, being an excellent writer because he’s inspired by God the Holy Spirit, is drawing our attention to certain things through these different literary devices.
As I said, this is something that is a theme throughout Scripture: that God does not leave His people in darkness. And even though they have been in darkness because of their own negative volition, there are those who are of the remnant that need light.
Because of God’s character backing His promises to make a great nation out of Israel and to bless other nations through Israel, God is going to change things.
What we see here is in this episode is Samuel is going to be the vehicle for this new light, this new revelation, this new illumination of God’s purpose and His plan for Israel. God is using him as a type, or as an example, or pattern, of the Lord Jesus Christ. That ultimately when we think of light and darkness in the Scripture, we ought to be thinking about certain key passages in the New Testament.
If I were to ask you what is one of the most significant books in the New Testament to talk about light and darkness what would you say? John, the Gospel of John. John begins in John 1:4 saying, “In Him was life, and his life was the light of men.”
I’ve often said Samuel ought to be called the Gospel according to Samuel because Samuel uses all these themes. He starts off with Israel in slavery under the dominion of the Philistines just like we are born in slavery to sin. They end in victory and prosperity with the Messianic King on the throne.
It is David who is the foreshadow, the type of the Lord Jesus Christ. They make this transition from darkness and depravity and death to life and light because of the grace of God and by trusting in God. But it doesn’t happen easily or simply. God doesn’t just snap His fingers. It doesn’t just change.
There is a lot in the books of Samuel that focus us toward the Gospel of John. In John 1:9 we read that He “was the true light which gives light to every man coming into the world.” That is an extremely significant verse because it reflects a verse in the Psalms that says it is “in God’s light that we see light” (Psalm 36:9).
In other words, without the illumination of God’s Word, we can’t understand the details of creation. We are left to just guess what everything is all about.
John 3:19–20, “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light.” What a condemnation of the human race. We have the Word, Who is incarnate, living among us, and we’d rather live in darkness and depravity and degeneracy than confront it in terms of the light of God’s Word and the light of the Savior.
In John 8:12 Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” Notice how light and life are joined.
What we see in Israel spiritually, at the beginning of Samuel, is death and degeneracy and destruction, and they are lost. But what happens as a result of Samuel is there is going to be light. There is going to be hope, and there is going to be a reversal of fortune in the nation Israel because of God.
In John 12:46 Jesus said, “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.” Then we think of these great passages in the New Testament, where Paul says we are to put on the “armor of light” in Romans 13:12.
We are to “walk as children of light” in Ephesians 5:8.
Then in Philippians 2:15, which is a verse that I’ve really thought a lot about in the last couple of years, Paul says that we are to be “blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom we are to shine as lights in the world.”
Do we “shine as lights in the world”? That ought to be a question that we often think about as we reflect upon our own lives.
We see at the beginning of 1 Samuel 3 that the emphasis is on the darkness, the lack of revelation, the lack of illumination.
In 1 Samuel 3:1 we read, “Now the boy Samuel ministered to Yahweh before Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation.”
That is the foundational verse for understanding this whole chapter. I want you to, if you’ve got your Bible open, look at 1 Samuel 3:1. The last sentence in the verse says, and keep this in mind, what does this verse say? “The word of the Lord was rare in those days.” The last sentence in this verse, 1 Samuel 3:21, says, “The Lord revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the Word of the Lord.”
1 Samuel 3 is framed by two statements about the Word of the Lord: that it is rare, and that it is confirmatory of Samuel’s role when we get down to 1 Samuel 3:21.
For you who have had any background in artillery, that brackets the section. That tells us where it begins and where it ends. That sets it off.
That tells us also that this whole section is about the Word of the Lord. It is about God’s revelation.
We had this interchange of the literary technique of emphasizing darkness and light, and the lamp and the dimness of Eli’s vision as he is going blind, just as the nation has grown blind. Then we have these two statements at the beginning and the end. It is just a very dynamic and interesting setup for the particular chapter.
What we see as we get into this is an emphasis on God’s grace. What is about to happen, to give away the ending, what is about to happen in 1 Samuel 4, is one of the most significant battles in this period of Israel’s history called the Battle of Aphek takes place down near the coastal plains. Israel meets the Philistines, and the first time they go into battle, they are defeated, and 4,000 are killed.
Then they get this idea: “well, if we just carry the Ark into battle, God’s going to give us victory.” They hustle back to Shiloh and grab the Ark, and they come back like it is a good luck charm.
They go into battle, and the Philistines are scared to death because this is the God that brought them [Israel] out of Egypt, and they know all the stories about what God has done.
But God’s got to clean up Israel before He can start changing things. He’s got to cleanse the nation from the apostasy and the degeneracy of Eli and his sons and the priesthood. God has got to straighten out their thinking that has become so apostatized. God has got to bring them to a further level of defeat and destruction before they are humbled enough to follow Him.
What happens is that God allows the Ark to be captured by the pagan Philistines. This just destroys the whole mental attitude of Israel. That is where this is going to go. But before that happens, God gives grace to the nation.
1 Samuel 4 comes several years, maybe 10–15 years, after the events of 1 Samuel 3. There is a period of grace prior to judgment. God is bringing out this young man Samuel, who God is going to bless before all the nation. He is going to speak to the nation through this young prophet who will be the priest who takes the place of Eli. Samuel will become a judge in Eli’s place and bring integrity back to leadership in Israel.
This is an example of how grace precedes judgment. It is also a training tool, because God is going to give Samuel a vision in this prophecy, and this prophecy is about the destruction of the house of Eli.
Here Eli is sort of functioning as Samuel’s surrogate father. Samuel is going to have to tell Eli that “your number is up, and God is going to blow your house down basically, and you are in serious trouble.”
Samuel doesn’t really want to tell him that. We get the idea that there is a certain amount of affection between Samuel and Eli, even though Eli is pictured as this ineffective, degenerate priest.
In 1 Samuel 3:1 the emphasis is on revelation. That is the theme of this whole section. We read that “the boy Samuel ministered to the Lord” which I stated earlier is the fourth time in this section.
It is mentioned in 1 Samuel 2:11; 1 Samuel 2:18; 1 Samuel 3:1, again emphasizing Samuel is obedient to the Lord.
He is focused on his role and responsibilities, whereas Eli has been too permissive as a parent. His sons are degenerate, and they are abusing the people. There is a contrast between Samuel’s performance of his responsibilities and the rebelliousness of Eli’s two sons of Belial.
Another thing that we should note here is how Samuel is submissive, submitted to the authority of these degenerate priests.
We need to pay attention to that because we live in a world where we have a degenerate leadership. We have degenerate leadership in business. We have degenerate leadership in academia. We have degenerate leadership in the halls of Congress and in the White House.
There are many conservatives and many Bible-believing people who are so frustrated that they cross the line in terms of their opposition and their anger and their hostility to the government.
We don’t see that in Samuel. Samuel is giving us a perfect example, as David will later under Saul, of how the believer who is humble under the authority of God does not go out of bounds when he is dealing with a degenerate leadership that has been put in place by God. This goes against the kind of radical civil disobedience that some people would promote.
But it also tells us here that the importance is revelation, the Word of God. The word that is used here and it is translated “revelation” is the Hebrew word chazon, which means vision or revelation. Not vision in the sense that if you are starting a company and need a good vision statement of what it is that you are trying to accomplish. That’s not how the word vision is used with this word.
It has to do with the fact that God reveals Himself in the Old Testament in a number of different ways. Two of them that are similar are dreams and visions. A dream was how God would speak to you if you were asleep. A vision was similar, but it came when you were wide awake. That’s what happens here. It is a vision, a means by which God communicates His Word and His will to His people.
This is the word that is used over in Proverbs 29:18, which I think is a passage that is both abused and quoted out of context a lot. This proverb says, “Where there is no vision.” What it is saying is where there is no revelation, where the Word of God is not having an impact. That is the point of that statement. Where the Word of God does not have authority, where there is no revelation.
The second line says, “the people perish.” In English that communicates the idea of self-destruction. That may be part of it, but the Hebrew word that is used there is פָּרַע para`, and according to the Theological Word Book of the Old Testament the primary meaning of this word is to “run amuck.”
It is used that way in Exodus 32:25. Remember when Moses is up getting the Law on Mount Sinai, and he is gone for a long time? He is up there for 40 days and nights. The people got bored, and they convinced Aaron to build them an idol. They partied hardy and had an orgy down below while Moses was up on the mountain. They “ran amuck.” They were out of control. They were morally unrestrained. That’s what that word means.
If we paraphrase Proverbs 29:18 according to the Hebrew text it says, “Where there is no revelation.” Where the Word of God has no impact the people are morally unrestrained, “but he who keeps the law is happy.” The implication is that the people who are morally unrestrained are not happy. They are going to become miserable and they are going to self-destruct. But the person who maintains their focus on the Word, they are going to be happy, and they are going to be stable in the midst of uncertainty and in the midst of chaos.
When we look at the next couple of verses in 1 Samuel 3:2–3 we read, “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.” We have the fact that he is in darkness. His eyesight is going. He can’t see what is really going on around him.
Then we have a contrast in 1 Samuel 3:3, “and before the lamp of God.” What is this lamp of God that we are talking about here? It is the lamp of God out in the tabernacle of the Lord where the Ark of God was. What lamp is this? It is the menorah inside the Holy Place.
Where must Samuel be? Samuel must be sleeping either just outside the Holy Place, or he is sleeping in there to make sure the lamp does not go out. He is taking his responsibilities extremely seriously. He is focused on what his job is as a priest.
Where is Eli? Eli is taking a nap. He’s sleeping off on his own. It could be that Eli, who is quite old at this time, may be 80 years old at this point. There are 15 years between 1 Samuel 3 and 1 Samuel 4. Then he is old. He is in poor health. He is corpulent. He can’t get around. He is having Samuel perform his duties for him. That is what is happening.
We see that there is this light. Probably, Eli has never heard the Word of God in his life. He’s never been spoken to or addressed by God. He doesn’t expect that God would speak, although the expectation is that it is in the Holy Place before the Ark of the Covenant that God speaks, as He did to Moses.
What has happened during this intervening period is a period called the silence of God. God has been silent for some time.
I want to just summarize for you the “Doctrine of the Silence of God” because this is important. We live in a time when God is silent. He has spoken through His Word, but He is not speaking audibly and directly to His people anymore. Let’s just review it historically:
- God was silent from the time of Joseph, around Genesis 49, with Jacob’s prophecy over his sons. God is silent for approximately 400 years, maybe a little less. It was 450 years from Abraham to the Exodus, so it is probably a period of 350 years. God was silent. There was no new revelation from the end of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus. God is silent during that time.
- There is another period of silence during the apostasy that we are talking about here, from the time of Samson until the time of Samuel. So this would be a short period of time, maybe 75 years or so.
- God was silent during the period between the end of the Old Testament (the last prophet to be recorded was Malachi) and the time of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ (the announcement to John the Baptist’s father, Zachariah, and then to Mary). There is a silent period there of about 400 years.
- Now we have a period when God is silent. He’s only speaking through His Word.
Why do we have these periods of divine silence? If you listen to some Christians today, they can’t stand the fact that God is silent. They think God needs to be speaking to every Christian today like He did to some believers in the Bible.
But God’s silence is for different reasons. He is silent from the time of Joseph to Moses for much the same reason as He is silent now:
That is to teach people to wait on Him, to rely upon what has been revealed, and to wait for the Delivery of the Lord. They are looking forward to that. They have certain prophecies they can focus on, and they are to wait for that.
At the time of Samson to Samuel, God is silent because of their degeneracy, because they have rejected God, and because He is taking them through a period of divine discipline.
When we talk about the intertestamental period, it is much like the period between the end of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus—that the focus is for God’s people to know His Word, to study it, to understand those prophecies related to the Messiah.
Like Simeon in Luke 2, they can be ready for when the Messiah comes. It is a form of testing. That’s the same thing that is true now. God has given us His Word.
The issue is, are we really willing to pay attention to it and to really learn it and reflect upon it and meditate upon it and to internalize it so that we can come to understand what He is saying so that we can live our lives today on the basis of His Word?
That is the reason for the silence of God. God does not speak to us today through a still small voice, which is a misinterpretation and misapplication of the statement in 1 Kings when Elijah ran off down into the Sinai and God took care of him. There was a big earthquake and a tornado, all these big things, and God comes to him in a still small voice. What God was saying was that God doesn’t deal with things only in the major overt big ways. That God also just speaks directly to the prophet. That was part of it.
But today God speaks through His Word. A lot of people think that somehow God speaks to me. This is called mysticism—that God directs and guides us apart from His Word.
I’ve loved this phrase forever, “It is just an epistemological antinomianism.” That means you are just in rebellion against God for what you want to know.
“I want to know what God wants me to do tomorrow, so I am going to wait for God to tell me what to do tomorrow, and I have some idea that pops into my head, and I say that must be God speaking to me.”
Well if God is speaking to you, then you are pretty special, because in this dispensation God is no longer revealing Himself directly to His people. He reveals Himself through His Word.
I ran across a quote. It is a great quote for today from Jonathan Edwards. Jonathan Edwards was one of the most significant Puritan pastors in the colonies during the period of about 1730s to 1740s.
He said, “As long as a person has a notion that he is guided by the immediate direction from heaven …” In other words, “well, God told me to do this.” How many people use that phrase? “Well, that is what God wants me to do.” That’s just blaming God for your bad decisions… “As long as a person has a notion that he’s guided by the immediate direction from heaven, it makes him incorrigible and impregnable in all of his misconduct.” … In other words, he is just using God to justify all of his bad decisions and to do whatever it is that he wants to do.
This is the issue in revelation. We need to know what God says. The only way you learn that is through your own personal study of the Word. We need to be people of the Book and we need to know it—not just a pastor’s interpretation of the text. But we need to know what the Word says because all sermons are based, or used to be back when things were supposed to be based upon the Scripture, they presupposed that the audience has some vague working knowledge of who the people in the Bible are.
Who was Mahershalalhashbaz? Who was Mephibosheth? Who were Ananias and Sapphira? Who are these people?
If you’ve read through your Bible, the names ought to sound familiar. You’ve just heard me mentioned them so many times they sound familiar. But we ought to know who these people are.
Who are these judges?
Who are these major kings that are mentioned again and again and again in Scripture?
When you look at the Bible, there are certain key events: like the events of Creation, the events of the Flood, the events of the call of Abraham, the events of the Exodus especially, the events of the wilderness wanderings, certain key events in the life of David that are repeated and referred to and alluded to over an over and over again in the New Testament.
If you read through the New Testament and suddenly you read about Moses taking the children of Israel through the wilderness in Hebrews, if you don’t know the Book of Numbers, you are not going to understand what that’s talking about.
The Bible holds together. We need to understand the Scripture because it is through the Scripture that God teaches us. And we need to make sure that we are reading it. That doesn’t mean that you are always going to understand it. I don’t always understand it. I just spend a lot of time sometimes just studying and pulling commentaries off the shelf and looking at the Greek, looking at the Hebrew, thinking it through.
But we have to read it.
One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was by Bob Tolson, who used to be the pastor of Bethel Independent Presbyterian back when I was considering going back to Dallas to work on my doctorate. He said “one of the things you ought to do, Robby, is make sure you are reading the Bible. If you think that the folks in your church should read their Bible once a year, you should be reading your Bible five or six times a year.”
For probably the next 10 or 12 years I would read through my Bible once every six weeks. That meant that I was taking 50 or 60 chapters a day. That takes a while to read that many chapters. That takes two or three hours every morning just to read through all those chapters.
But that’s how you come to understand what is going on in the Bible. That’s how you come to know what the themes are. We need to make reading the Bible a priority in our life—that:
When it is all over with, the only thing that we are going to take to Heaven with us is what is in our soul, the understanding of God’s Word and the doctrine that comes from that that relates to our life.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to study, to be reminded of the importance of Your revelation as we see that here in 1 Samuel 3, and how that makes a difference—that it is that renewal of Your revelation to Your people through Samuel, raising up a prophet, that makes a difference, as Your grace is expounded throughout the nation. It eventually makes that difference transitioning them from a nation of paganism and degeneracy to a nation that was grace oriented under David. And that rose to a great position of prosperity because they were focused upon You during that period of their history. That is true for us individually: that we need to be focused upon You and knowledgeable about Your Word and Your grace. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”