“Speak, LORD, for Your Servant Hears”

(1 Samuel 3:1-10 – Epiphany 2 – January 17, 2021)

1 Samuel 3:1-10 – 1Then 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. 2And 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, 3and 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, 4that the LORD called Samuel. And he answered, “Here I am!” 5So he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” And he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” And he went and lay down. 6Then the LORD called yet again, “Samuel!” So Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” He answered, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7(Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor was the word of the LORD yet revealed to him.) 8And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. Then he arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you did call me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD had called the boy. 9Therefore 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. 10Now the LORD came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel answered, “Speak, for Your servant hears.”

Dear Redeemed in Jesus Christ:

Our text begins by saying: “Then the boy Samuel ministered to the LORD before Eli” (vs. 1). Before this, we read how Samuel’s mother Hannah had prayed for a son when was she barren. She had vowed that if God gave her a son, she would turn him over to the Lord’s service all the days of his life. God granted Hannah’s request. So as soon as the boy Samuel was weaned, he was dedicated to service in the Lord’s sanctuary. There he lived under the high priest, Eli, as an apprentice in the Lord’s service. That is where the Lord comes and speaks to Samuel, and the boy responds: “Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears” (vs. 9).

As the Lord speaks to us today in Holy Scripture, let us respond with that dedicated devotion of Samuel; and let us pray: Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears.” It is 1) A reverent acknowledgement of the Lord’s revelation; and 2) A faithful pledge to willing obedience.

1) A reverent acknowledgement of the Lord’s revelation

Think of what a momentous occasion this was, as Samuel received the Lord’s revelation. It was not every day that the Lord revealed Himself to His people the way He did in our text. But the historical background for this particular revelation makes it momentous, too.

As it says: “The word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation” (vs. 1). Why was the Lord’s revelation rare in those days? Because it was a time in Israel marked by apostasy; many people had left the faith. They had no time for listening to God’s Word, which He spoke to them through His chosen prophets. The Lord had promised their forefathers that He would continue to reveal Himself and His salvation through Israel. But divine revelation requires the reverent response of faith and obedience on the part of those to whom it is given. This was lacking in Israel, both among the spiritual leaders and the people.

Even as Samuel lived in the Lord’s sanctuary, he was not surrounded by the best examples. The high priest, Eli, was an old and weak man. The care of the Lord’s sanctuary was mostly in the hands of his sons. But 1 Samuel 2:12 says: “The sons of Eli were corrupt; they did not know the LORD.” They regarded the things of God’s service only as something to use for their own advantage. They took for themselves from the sacrifices people brought to the Lord’s sanctuary, even before the people could offer them to the Lord. Their lives were openly immoral, and by their example they led others into sin. As high priest, Eli was unwilling to apply God’s Word and spiritual discipline to his sons. He basically shook his finger at them and let it go.

No wonder “the word of the Lord was rare,” when even the spiritual leaders treated His Word irreverently! We are reminded of God’s warning to an apostate Israel later, by His prophet Amos: “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘that I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, but shall not find it” (Amos 8:11-12). There is a judgment from the Lord for those who will not listen to His Word. If they despise His Word they will eventually be deprived of it.

Isn’t it an act of grace that God continues to reveal Himself in His Word today? For we are living in a spiritual environment that is not much different from that of Samuel’s day. Who has time for God, for listening to His revelation in Scripture? Many people are willing to make time for unnecessary work, activities, and entertainment. Many are willing to make time for listening to every word in the news, financial reports, talk shows, and opinions of men. But how many care to listen to the one thing needed, as Jesus put it (Luke 10:42) – to meditate on His words of eternal life? It is rare to find that reverent acknowledgment of the Lord’s revelation Samuel expresses, as he lies still and says: Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears.”

Then too, many may listen to the Lord’s revelation; but only to receive it on their own terms. They give ear service and lip service to the Bible, and pretend to honor it; but they do not accept it all as God’s true and authoritative Word. They find ways to get around what it says, so that true faith and obedience are lacking in response to the Lord’s revelation. Like Eli with his sons, even those who are supposed to be spiritual leaders in God’s house treat openly sinful lifestyles with barely a rebuke, or even excuse and condone what God’s Word calls wicked. So by word and example, they lead others into sin. This is not the kind of reverent acknowledgement of the Lord’s revelation we hear in our text that says: Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears.”

How about us? Do we always receive the Lord’s revelation reverently, as He speaks to us through His chosen prophets and apostles in the Bible? Do we respond with that awe-filled, submissive attitude that lies still and says: Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears”?

There will be times when we are tempted listen to His Word selectively. It is easy to pay attention to favorite passages in Scripture that reaffirm what we want to hear, passages that make us feel comfortable in our way. It is not so easy to hear passages that make us uncomfortable, when God needs to rebuke us for some sin, when He needs to give us a new heart and set us on a new path. Will we say even then: Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears”? Perhaps the greatest temptation is to act too busy for His Word. God wants to reveal His loving plan for us each new day, to fill our hearts with His eternal purpose and joy in Christ. But there is the list of all the things we want to do, people we want to see, and places we want to go. There are so many voices that call for our urgent attention. Will we say even then: Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears”?

Consider the great blessing of being in God’s Word, not only on Sundays, but every day in our personal and family devotions. When we open the Bible, it is God speaking to us clearly and powerfully, revealing to us the things He considers most important for us to hear. The Holy Spirit, who moved the prophets and apostles to record His Word for us, is present to strengthen our faith through that Word. Not only does He impart to us guidance and comfort for daily life; He imparts to us wisdom and assurance for eternal life, through the salvation Christ won for us.

When we face situations in life that seem hopeless, unable to see how God will work things out, we can open His Word and read of an Abraham and Sarah who were childless, and how God worked it out according to his greater plan; and we can join Abraham: who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be” (Romans 4:18). When we experience strife in relationships, we can read of a Joseph whose jealous brothers sold him into slavery, and all the trouble he experienced before God raised him up according to His greater plan; and we can join Joseph in forgiving those who hurt us and saying: “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Genesis 50:20). When we find ourselves burdened by our sin and guilt, feeling unworthy before God, we can read of a Paul who once persecuted the church but was saved by the grace of God; and we can join him in saying: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15). And when we deal with the thorns in the flesh, the pains of the body, the temptations of the soul, we can join Paul in casting our burdens upon the Lord, and hearing those comforting words of promise the Lord gives us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

We could go on recounting all the ways God has worked out His greater plan in the lives of His people through the ages; and how He now includes us in His plan of salvation in Christ – bringing us His forgiveness, delivering us from the formidable enemies of Satan and death, assuring us that He is working all things together for our eternal good. And all this is revealed to us daily in His Word. What great comfort God gives us, as we join Samuel in that reverent acknowledgment of the Lord’s revelation, resting our souls in His grace, praying: Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears”?

Our text says that one night, as Samuel was lying in the tabernacle: “The LORD called Samuel. And he answered, ‘Here I am!’ So he ran to Eli and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ And he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ And he went and lay down” (vs. 4-5). This happened three times.

It is amazing to think of the manner in which the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel. It was not in a thundering voice that made the room tremble. Samuel was not terrified as by a ghost. He heard the personal voice of the Lord in a way that he could mistake for the voice of Eli in the next room! Again and again, Samuel responded to God’s voice as to that of an old friend.

When the Lord called Samuel the third time, Eli realized it was the Lord. So he told Samuel: “Go, lie down; and it shall be, if He calls you, that you must say, ‘Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears'” (vs. 9). Here, Eli gave good advice to Samuel and to believers of every age. How are we to respond to the Lord’s Word? With reverence as those who recognize His voice in His Word; with the humble attitude that is ready to listen to all He says as truth and obey it.

Like Samuel, the Lord does not come to us with a voice like booming thunder, or a threatening presence to incite terror. He comes to us in the gentle voice of His Word, the Holy Scripture. Though He is mighty God, He comes as an old Friend. He approaches us with His eternal love, wanting to tell us again and again His Good News of salvation. He wants to move our hearts to joy as we reflect on His mercy in sending His Son to save us. In His Gospel, God assures us that His Son has taken away all our sins and saved us from all condemnation. Jesus bore the guilt for every time we have irreverently ignored His Word and gone our own way. Jesus bore our guilt away to the cross, and let His Father punish Him for all our sins. Jesus freed us from that spiritual famine and hunger of soul that would have been ours in a life without God. He restored us to a loving relationship with His Father. He put on our head His crown of righteousness and eternal life.

Through the heart-changing power of His Word, God has brought us to faith in His Son. So we can talk to God as to an old, dear Friend! We can pray to Him as our almighty Savior who promises to be near and deliver us from evil. Because He has revealed His love to us in Jesus, we know personally the God who cares for us and always has our best interests in mind. Since the Lord has come to our side to reveal His great love to us, are we not inspired to respond with that child-like faith and reverence of Samuel: “Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears”!

2) A faithful pledge to willing obedience

This reverent response is also a faithful pledge to willing obedience. It is to say: “I am Yours, Lord; I am not my own. You bought me for eternal life at the price of Your Son’s life. You graciously called me out of the spiritual darkness of this world, to live by the light of Your truth. You graciously called me to live as Your own child in Christ. You made my body a temple of Your Holy Spirit, guaranteeing my eternal life in Christ. So I am prepared to listen reverently and obey the teachings of Your Word; for I belong to You, my Lord and Savior.”

Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears.” This pledge of willing obedience in response to the Lord’s revelation became an accurate description of all Samuel would do from that day forth, for the rest of his life. As a prophet of the Lord, Samuel would faithfully proclaim God’s Word to the people; and by that Word, the Lord would draw many hearts back to Him in saving faith.

Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears.” May this be our reverent and obedient response to His Word. May it be an accurate description of our faithful service to the Lord from this day forth. May His salvation in Jesus be revealed through our words and actions; and through our faithful witness, we pray that the Lord would bring others to rejoice with us in His salvation. In this spirit we pray:

Precious Jesus, I beseech Thee, May Thy words take root in me;

May this gift from heav’n enrich me So that I bear fruit for Thee!

Take them never from my heart Till I see Thee as Thou art,

When in heav’nly bliss and glory I shall greet Thee and adore Thee. Amen.

(Hymn: “Speak, O Lord, Thy Servant Heareth”)