Epiphany 2 • 1 Samuel 3: 1–10 (11–20) • January 15, 2012
by William Utech
This text comes from a time in the history of the people of Israel when “the word of the Lord was rare” (v. 1), and on the heels of the time of the Judges when “all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (Jgs 21:25). In fact, in chapter two of 1 Samuel we learn that Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are doing what is right in their own eyes, and the Lord has passed judgment upon them for doing so. This will put young Samuel in a precarious position.
There is a hymn in the Lutheran Hymnal, “Speak, O Lord, Thy Servant Heareth” (TLH 296), that is based on the call of Samuel and focuses the worshipper on how wonderful and powerful the Word of the Lord really is in the life of the Christian.
These hymn verses (1 and 3) portray, quite well, what Samuel is beginning to learn and understand in the first part of the text (1 Sm 3:1–10). Namely, God’s Word is a precious gift that leads and feeds its hearers unto everlasting life. That Word is true. It is powerful. It does what it says. The people of God depend on that Word, and the Spirit of God working through it, for salvation, instruction, direction, and preservation in the one true faith. Thus, should the preacher decide to concentrate on verses 1–10 of 1 Samuel 3, then a very good sermon could be written and delivered regarding the blessing that the Word of the Lord is, especially as that Word is “enfleshed” in the person of Jesus Christ. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… [who is]…the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…” (Heb 1:1–3).
Verses 11–20 of 1 Samuel 3, however, show us the other side of receiving the Word of the Lord. That is, the challenging, difficult, unsettling, upsetting, and potentially dangerous consequences of having and sharing that Word. It is one thing to have and hold the Word of the Lord. It is quite another thing to speak it, share it, and proclaim it in ways that people can actually hear and understand, especially when that Word causes the “the ears of everyone who hears it to tingle.”
“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” It was the right thing for Samuel to say and do, and the message Samuel heard had all the direct force of truth. He knew he had received it directly from God. But it was also a word he might well have wished he had not heard, for it immediately tested his strength of character and resolve. The text tells us that when morning rolled around, Samuel “was afraid to tell Eli the vision.”
This fear is common among the people of God and their preachers as they seek to bear the Word of the Lord to each other and out into the world. God’s Word is not just sweetness and light. It is a fire, the Psalmist says. It melts the earth if it must; it abides forever; it creates weal and woe; it is what will never fail. Against it, who can stand? Today that Word can be very unpopular inside and outside the church, and sometimes, perhaps too often, we do not speak or live its truth in love, as we ought.
“The trouble with deep belief,” author Donald Miller says in his book, Blue Like Jazz, “is that it costs something. And there is something inside of me, some selfish beast of a subtle thing, that doesn’t like the truth at all because it carries responsibility, and if I actually believe these things I have to do something about them . . . I used to say it was important to tell people about Jesus, but I never did. [My friend] Andrew kindly explained that if I do not introduce people to Jesus, then I don’t believe Jesus is an important person. It doesn’t matter what I say.”
Saying and doing the word of truth, then, and saying and doing it in love, is the life and lifestyle into which God called Samuel. It is also the life and lifestyle into which he calls us over and over again. This is who we are, and this is where we stand.
But we do not stand alone. Whenever and wherever the Word of the Lord is spoken and lived out, there the Word made flesh is also present and active.