Samuel’s Introduction to the Prophetic


“Thus says who?”

 (1 Samuel 3:1–15a)


Just to accentuate my point that nobody can be sure about the age of Samuel when God revealed Himself to him look at the figure of Samuel in all these works of Art. In this one he is about 3-4 years old.

When does a “child” stop being a “child”?  How old does a “lad” have to be before he stops being a “lad”?  If I had the answer to these abstract questions I would be content with this account we are about to jump into.  Books and commentaries always picture Samuel as a sweet little boy when the awesome events of First Samuel chapter three take place.  I am not sure that they are right.  The Hebrew word, Anglicised, is commonly spelt as “na’ar.”  It is translated as “babe,” “child,” “boy,” and “lad” in various places in the Old Testament.  One would think that would settle the issue.  But there are other times when it is translated, “Youth,” as well as many times being, “Young man.”  To make things even more complex, there are several occasions when it is translated, “Servant.”  Reading through the context of some of these verses of scripture, Jeremiah referred to himself as a, “na’ar,” when full grown.  And Zadok the full grown High Priest was a, “na’ar,” full of valour.  The story already referred to concerning Hophni and Phinehas’s servants who were adult and brutish enough to threaten worshippers with violence has the word, “na’ar,” in its plural state for the “servants.”  So what are we saying?   We conclude that a, “na’ar,” is therefore quite obviously any male youth from birth to late twenties, possibly even early thirties.Translators have had to use their discretion as to how to translate the word that, frankly, has no single English equivalent. Josephus tells us that Samuel was twelve years old when the story of God’s initial revelation took place. We insist that he was quoting mere tradition.

The fact that age is not mentioned means that in God’s economy it is not vital that we know how old Samuel was.  The fact that Samuel could have been, to our mode of definition, a man when this account occurred is not important. The lesson is not whether it is or isn’t, “prophecy to a child.”  The lesson is, “Introduction to prophecy.”  It is a matter of, “first revelation.”  The fact that the biblical word used is vague concerning age, suggests we can all learn and seek God on what is taught whether we be young or not so young.

We have in these pages built a picture of Samuel as faithful to scripture as we know how.  Whoever wrote the First Book of Samuel gives us only a matter of what constituted the upbringing of this character, who is, I suggest,  equal to Moses in Old Testament history. Brief as it is, it leaves  us with no misunderstanding as to the atmosphere and ethos of the lads emotional, and spiritual environment.

“The child (na’ar) Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli.”   Eli must have given of himself to this youthful treasure in an earthen vessel in a way that his two sons never received of him.  Perhaps Eli learned some expensive lessons at the cost of Hophni and Phinehas’s indulgence.  Who knows?  Certainly, Samuel was beautifully trained for his future life of high profile public service.  Was it Samuel’s humble reception, or Eli’s tutored giving?  Probably a bit of both I suspect.

The Infant SamuelSir Joshua Reynolds, 1776

5 or 6 years old in this one.

The difference between the raw profligacy of the priestly homes of Hophni and Phinehas, and the, “holiness seeking”  Eli and Samuel is striking.  Samuel was, more than likely, rarely out of Eli’s presence. Eli needed constant attention.  Hophni and Phinehas, the grown men, prostituted the work of God to their own ends;  “The child ministered before the Lord,” amid the silence and the awful mystery of the Divine protection which seems to have ever surrounded the physical and social environment of wherever the ark was placed.  It was amidst this silent, sacred mystery, apart from the disorders of his priestly sons, that rotund and sightless Eli taught the boy the story of his ancestors, with only the dark curtains of the sanctuary hanging between master, pupil and the mystic golden throne of God on which his visible Shekinah glory was sometimes pleased to rest.

The word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no open vision”.  In this instance we are talking of a Rhema word, i.e. a personal word form a personal God.  It seems that between the days of Deborah and the word spoken by Eli to Hannah, no inspired voice spoke to the chosen people apart from the prophetic visitor referred to at the end of First Samuel chapter two.  This is linked to the account of the dirty oil of awful debauchery that trickled from the priest-head, down to the social hem of Israel’s national adornment.

“No open vision”, seems to suggest that there was a veritable cessation of prophetic theophanies, dreams and visions.  “Open vision” perhaps as opposed to “closed vision” means that God spoke to individuals but did not reveal himself to families or tribes or nations with words similar to what Moses or Deborah delivered. “Open vision” as opposed to –“narrow vision” perhaps. Words applicable to smaller judgements, directives and predictions were possibly still a normal thing, as per Eli to Hannah.

Picture the scene. The day is ended. No traffic passing as there is commonly in this century.  No ghetto blasters to pierce the hush. No TV’s or radio’s turned up to intolerable levels. Just pure, calm, silence and peace.

“Eli was laid down in his place.”  We are not told where “his place” was, but it was obviously in earshot of Samuel. Lights were out with Eli in more ways than one. “He could not see”  Was this darkness of the night, his physical blindness that scripture refers to, or his spiritual ineptitude. “Ere the lamp of God went out”  The lamp of Eli was not quite put out ere the lamp of Samuel was lit.


10-12 years old Samuel in this one.

It was a long night in the sanctuary.  Samuel actually slept in the tabernacle.  In the centre, on the left of the entrance, stood the seven branched candlestick, now mentioned for the last time in the Old Testament, superseded in Solomon’s day by the ten branched candle stick, revived however, after the exile in the smaller Temple.  It was the only light of the first room of the tent, night or day. It was solemnly lit each evening, and, according to rabbinical tradition, it was then extinguished just before morning.  Moses’ words, however, in the Pentateuch, suggest that it was lit in perpetuity. I do not understand.

In the deep silence of that early morning, before the sun had risen, while the sacred lamp was still burning, there came to the ears of an innocent Samuel, the doom of the house of Ithamar. “The Lord called to Samuel.”  The voice came from the visible glory, the Shekinah, which on that solemn night of the calling of the young prophet, no doubt rested on its chosen earthy throne – the mercy seat of God – which formed the top of the ark, and which was overshadowed by the wings of the golden cherubim. But we have reason to believe that Christ Himself stood in the presence of Samuel and called him.

The Lord called. “Samuel!”. God knows everybody’s name.

Note that God’s voice must have sounded fatherly for Samuel’s response to be such as it was. The boy (or youth, or young man) heard in the voice, Eli’s tones. Typical of so many, “He knew not the Lord”.  He was Godly, he was moral, he was upright. Still he did not know God.

The story is told in such a natural manner that the supernatural and the natural do not jar. The common life of the sanctuary is so wonderfully and consciously in view while the Almighty bears his heart. “Will Jehovah do anything with revealing it first to his prophets?”  asked the prophet Amos rhetorically, three hundred years after this nights Divine revelation.  At this stage of Israel’s progress, or rather their lack of it, it seems that there was only one that God perceived as a prophet.

8 14 samuel hears the voice of god

13-15 year old Samuel by this artist.

“Samuel!”  The boy hears.  Would it have been audible to you and I had we been there?  Modern day prophets testify to both audible words as well as strong impressions which seem audible. The sweet humility of the boy that arises so quickly to see what it was that Eli wanted, was one of those characteristics that gave Samuel so much favour in Jehovah’s sight. This willingness to serve; this openness to leave his comfort zone (and what could be more comfortable than a warm bed just prior to sun rise) gave God so much pleasure.  This trait is an insight into the recesses of what made Samuel tick. He shouted, “Here I am!” and then got up and ran.

Eli was awoken by Samuel.  Was his slumber so deep that He could not have heard the call of the Almighty?  The High  Priest was not required on this occasion of revelation. God operates on the basis of heart condition, not external position. God moves towards the open in heart, not necessarily the mature.  Samuel’s heart was clean, and ready to serve.

“I called not!”  Eli insisted in a puzzled tone. “Just a dream!”  “Just a whim or fancy!  “Lie down again my boy!”  He was not interested even in checking, in case there were intruders around the sacred tent.  The lamps creation of long shadows did not put fear in Samuel, with the thought of somebody calling him who was yet unseen. The lad returns to bed.

The call is repeated. The response of Samuel is repeated. The reply of Eli is repeated. Eli is not aware of what is happening. Or is he?  Perhaps he was sharper than what we credit him with being, and thought that if Samuel was slow enough on the uptake, God would refer the word to him.  After all he was the High Priest.  But we think not! God looks on the heart, not the external position.

The narrator then explains to us that, “the Word of the Lord” had not yet been revealed to Samuel. This was, therefore, his first revelation.  Jehovah was reaching out to him.  Samuel was not aware of who or what it was.

The third time the whole thing is repeated, and the proverbial “penny finally drops” with Eli.  I think it remarkable, and yet another token of Samuel’s character that he had, even for a third time gone running to Eli without the fear of being told off.  It is the epitome of the very definition of the servant spirit. He heard his name called and so instinctively ran to him who called him most.

Eli speaks, at last, with a spiritual perception of what is happening. “Go and lie down; and it shall be, if He call you, that you shall say, “Speak Lord , for your servant hears”  Practical instruction on how to hear from God!  We all need it!  I wish I could have sat down with Eli and “asked for more” on this subject.

2 CIRCA 19-20

Young man Samuel, perhaps touching 20 in this dramatic work. There is passion in Samuel’s expression while Eli sleeps. One can almost hear his snoring.

Samuel obeyed to the letter. In the silence, Jehovah had manifested Himself audibly to this youth.

He was about to manifest His presence a fourth time and make known what was to be probably His most significant act since the crossing of the Red Sea. The Shekinah was beaming again after all these years?  God was visiting his people?

Then, before the very eyes of Samuel, as he lay and waited for the voice to call again, came something – Someone – that stood before him.  The scripture starkly states:  “The LORD came, and stood, and called as at other times.” A Question naturally rises.  What form did this manifestation of the Almighty take?  The Bible usually reveals such things.  Abraham received a travelling man.  Moses talked to the burning bush.  Joshua interviewed an armed warrior. Manoah saw an angel. In this way God met with them all.  Was it just the glory of God that came near to Samuel?  Was it the same glory upon which Moses gazed up on Sinai?  Was it indeed the same glory that hovered over the ark of the Covenant in the days of Moses and Aaron?  Was it the bright glory of God that filled Samuel’s sleeping chamber, the chamber that was also an integral part of God’s tabernacle? Or was it Christ in a pre-incarnate Theophany? We are deliberately not told. But we are told that Yahweh came and stood, and called.

God calls Samuel’s name twice this time, as if He took a particular delight in the sound of it. Samuel responds with a, “Speak for your servant hears.”  Some seem to infer that he did not repeat exactly what Eli said, because he was not sure that it was indeed Jehovah speaking to him. One or two translations actually include the name, “Jehovah” in Samuel’s response, suggesting that it depends which of the thousands of pieces of manuscript one receives as the ultimate authority. The scene was set for dialogue with the divine.

Then the revelation!  The prophecy!  The Word!  Whatever descriptive noun one wishes to use, God now imparts to Samuel a message.

1 CIRCA 25

In this graphic Samuel the grown man runs to tell Eli what he has heard.

The very nature of the statement made by Jehovah to Samuel reveals a conversational style that is exhilarating to observe. Amos was correct. It is as if the Almighty, All-sufficient, Omnipotent, Omniscient, everlasting God just wants somebody to unburden his heart on.  Not by shaking universes and moving galaxies and causing the earth to tremble, but by having a quiet chat in somebody’s ear about what He is about to do. God loves fellowship. He will not do anything without revealing Himself to His prophets. But the one He chooses as His prophet has to have a heart that is trained to carry the impartation of the Divine heartbeat. He wants a man to feel as He feels, see as He sees, and speak with the ethos and direction with which He speaks.  That is why He chose Samuel.

God was bearing His heart to Samuel, regardless of his age.  He may have been a young lad, or a mature man, the age is irrelevant.  The academic stature is irrelevant. The state of heart is all.  Young or old is not an issue. Eli was not bypassed because of his age, but because of his heart. It was the whole man – everything that when heaped together comprised the human being that was Samuel ben Elkanah, that made Him God’s delight. God loved what He saw, and chose him as his particular friend on whom He could unburden His heart. God spoke intimately to Samuel.

“Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that hears it shall tingle.”  With our privileged perspective on history we can see that the Almighty refers to the most unspeakable tragedy of the capture of the Ark of the Covenant by the Philistines. The fact that Eli was about to die was not an ear tingler. The news that his two  sons would die together on the same days as their father, was a shocker, but still not an ear tingler. The Divinely foreseen routing of the Israeli troops by the Philistines with the thousands upon thousands of Israel’s precious sons dying simultaneous to all this misfortune, was sickeningly horrid, but still not an ear tingler. The capture of the ark, and that alone would reduce the majority of Israel’s people to a stunned case of chronic tinitus.  If the British NHS was in existence in Israel, there would have been thousands of Israelis pouring in for tablets, counselling with debilities grounded in the shock of the news.  The ark was to be actually out of the hands of Israel, and in the hands of the uncircumcised Philistines. It isn’t totally spelled out to Samuel, for it is doubtful that he or anybody else could have swallowed a prediction of what was shortly to take place.

7 -yeh

My favourite. Although I do not want my readers to think that my favourite picture vouches for the age of the Samuel figure.

“In that day,” God continued, “I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end.” In modern parlance: “Everything I have said to Eli and his family shall occur on the same day“. We know, sadly, that in this instance the day was a literal twenty four hour day.

The predicted occurrence seemed to suggest that God had indeed forsaken Israel.  Samuel however, as the story unfolds, did not perceive it as such.  He saw deeper, and knew better. This judgment was indeed awful. To be comprehended as compatible with the weight of Eli’s crime, it must be understood that the misconduct of his undisciplined offspring, was either emulated by the masses, or caused Jehovah’s offerings to be abhorred. The effect on the faith, spirituality and conscience of Israel was incalculable.  And all for the sake of authoritative paternal discipline in their childhood. Such is the price of a father that reneges on his responsibility. In one day the judgment would be complete.  Awesome! How awful!  How utterly dreadful!

Jehovah does not even hide the shame of the old man from the youthful Samuel.  God is not into cynicism, nor fanciful hero worship that is lacking in honesty. God is not into building legends for their own sake.  God wants truth. The prophet shall hear all He has to say.

“I have told him (Eli) that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity that he knows; because his sons made themselves vile and he did not frown on them.”  Eli’s shame is made plain to the old man’s servant boy, and delight of his heart. “And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering forever”.  

Samuel’s insight is clarified on the limits of the Mosaic sacrificial system.  This particular sin of Eli’s had, literally left Samuel’s own father figure, and his dreadful sons outside the pale of God’s forgiveness. They had gone too far even for the grace of the Almighty. Surely it led Eli to the place of crying for mercy from the source of another altar.  Surely he cried to God with his mind searching for the idea of a sacrifice and atonement that would cover even his sins.

We have here the mind challenging concept of a genuine man of God being judged in the same way as his totally godless sons. A righteous, how be it faulted, old man, with his ungodly, faithless sons being without any revealed redeeming features.

3 CIRCA 12-13


Samuel’s understanding of God’s judgement was honed and sharpened by witnessing such a catastrophe in his own life.  His creed, the tenets of his faith, the doctrine upon which his faith was spread, was erected into a building of such solid material that his grasp of God’s purpose would leave the nation totally obeying and submitting to what he said in years to come.  His revelations were so far ahead of the masses, as to leave them sometimes in a daze as to his words and actions. His clarity of insight into the purposes of God would later lead him to sharp confrontations with all sorts of figures and personalities who struggled to see and understand as he saw and understood.

Salvation is of the Lord! God unburdened Himself on Samuel and we are informed that the young man lay there until the morning. See the character of the down to earth nature of this youth.  At day break he arose to open the doors of the tabernacle. God had spoken. The Almighty had chosen him of all those on planet earth to receive the data of his forthcoming actions in the midst of His covenant people.  And the lad arises as normal to get on with his chores. No delusions of grandeur. No transference into a world of non reality and superiority.  He is still on planet earth, in time and space, and answerable to his elders for the chores that are normally his. Prophet or no prophet, chosen or not, his tasks have to be done. The spirit of Samuel is one that I yearn for. Would that all Christians that experience the supernatural dealing of God had such a frame of heart. Samuel was happy to be a doorkeeper. “It is better to be a doorkeeper in the House of the Lord than to dwell in the tents of the wicked,” said the Psalmist. Perhaps David sensed the heart of Samuel when he wrote those words. Samuel was a prophet and a doorkeeper. Prophets are doorkeepers to God Himself.

Rather than suffer from delusions of grandeur we are told that,“Samuel feared to show Eli the vision.”  Oh how heavy is the prophet’s cross!  He actually wanted to spare the old man any more pain than that which he had obviously seen already on Eli’s creased countenance. Creases that were not simply the results of old age and withering. He wanted to spare Eli, and yet he had to carry the pain himself.  This is the first intimation of the prophet’s affliction on Samuel. The impartation of unwelcome, though divinely urgent truths, to the one he feared, love and respected with honour, was painful to Samuel’s spirit.  Jeremiah, centuries later, felt this particular complaint of prophetic impartations as a peculiarly hard one to bear.

The perception of an intimate, revelatory God that still leaves a human recipient of his word in such a sound and solid sensibility of normal life and all its values is a priceless gem of an observation that the Christian world needs to emulate. Samuel had received a word from God.  A prophetic word.  A word that affected his emotions, the people around him, and the nation of which he was part. The prophetic within him was brought to the threshold. That which was seeded in him was beginning to show itself above the soil of youth.  The embryonic prophetic character was now a birthed voice.  The early years of disciplined humility, were now to bear the fruit of distilled holiness.  The spirit of years of tranquil preparation, was now to exude trustworthy pronouncements.



What an awe inspiring item the mature prophet and man of God is!

Categories: 1 Samuel 3 verses 1 – 15a, Samuel's first prophetic word. | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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