The Bible continues to fascinate me.
I’ve familiar with the story of Samuel, and I’ve read it many times before, and yet on this particular run-through I paused on 1 Samuel 3, when the young Samuel has his first encounter with the Lord. And the enormity of his experience, and the implications of it, gave me pause.
Samuel had been dedicated to the temple and to the service of the priest Eli by his mother, Hannah, and the Bible says in this chapter that he “ministered before the Lord” (3:1). The priest Eli is essentially his father and his supervisor; Samuel has lived and served at the temple since he was very small, with periodic visits from his mother.
On this particular night, Samuel is going to sleep when something unexpected occurs:
Then the Lord called Samuel.
Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. (4-5)
This happens twice more, until Eli “realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So he instructed Samuel on how to respond to God: “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’” (9).
Samuel obeys, and he receives a doozy of a message for his efforts:
And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them. Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering’” (11-14).
Awkward. I can’t imagine what Samuel must have felt as he stared at the ceiling. That isn’t just a prophetic word – it’s a prophetic condemnation. The promise of judgment and suffering. And Samuel has received it not only about a priest of the Lord, but about a man who is essentially his boss and whom he views as a father. Little wonder the Bible says that “he was afraid to tell Eli the vision” (15).
But – and here’s where the Bible gets fascinating – Eli apparently has some inkling of what is going on. Perhaps Samuel’s fear was written on his face, or perhaps Eli simply understood the import of what it meant for God to speak to the boy underneath his care. Either way, Eli calls him and demands to hear the message; Samuel “told him everything, hiding nothing from him” (18).
It’s Eli’s response then that gets me: “He is the Lord. Let him do what is good in his eyes” (18).
Ever since then, I’ve been thinking of the many ways Eli could have responded. He could have disregarded Samuel’s message on account of Samuel’s youth and inexperience, assuming Samuel must have gotten it wrong. He could have gotten angry at Samuel, punishing him for delivering a message he was obviously not eager to deliver. He could have asked to hear only part of it.
But he didn’t. He accepted Samuel’s words graciously and with belief.
In the church, it strikes me that – although we shouldn’t – we tend to develop hierarchies: hierarchies of age, hierarchies of authority. And in our Christian lives we do, too. The problem is that as we ascend those hierarchies, as we grow in power, in age, or in knowledge, we often tend to entrench ourselves in our positions and ideas. We assume we are almost always right – or, at the very least, righter than those “beneath” us.
It’s not that we’re unwilling to accept correction, exactly. We are – but only when we deem the “corrector” of sufficient worth to correct us! Imagine that your pastor or a Christian you admire or look up to comes to deliver a message of rebuke. Odds are high you’ll at least consider it. But now imagine that rebuke comes from somewhere of little relative authority on the hierarchy: from a child (your child, even!), from an immature Christian, from a new member, from a subordinate, from an employee. How well would you handle that? How seriously would you take the correction?
Samuel was relatively new to the faith – certainly in comparison to Eli. In fact, he was so green that Eli had to teach him to properly respond to the word of the Lord! Yet he is tasked with delivering a holy message, and it is to Eli’s great credit that he accepts that message and responds not with doubt, anger, or disbelief, but with humility and quiet resignation.
In your life, it’s entirely possible that the Lord will see fit to speak to you, or even to correct you, in unexpected ways and through unexpected people. It’s important to us that we not disregard the message on account of the messenger: that we keep our ears open, that we keep our hearts humble, to whatever the Lord is willing to say however he is willing to say it.