If you were to visit Geneva, Switzerland today you’ll see a large stone wall that stretches for 100 meters long in the middle of the city. This wall is a monument to the 16th century Protestant Reformation. On this wall there are many statues depicting the great figures of the Reformation, and in the center of the wall are the statues of four of the most prominent men of the Reformation after Martin Luther – they are William Farel, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, and John Knox. If you look to either side of these four central statues you’ll find a Latin phrase engraved in the stone, ‘Post Tenebras Lux.’ Translated into English this phrase means ‘after darkness light.’ The small phrase was the motto of Geneva while John Calvin was pastor there and it grew from Geneva and eventually became the motto of the entire Protestant Reformation. The meaning of this small phrase the reformers used is one of recovery. The gospel was twisted and distorted by the Roman Catholic Church for ages, and through the Reformers God did a work of recovering the true gospel that had been lost. Thus, after the darkness of the distortion with the Reformation came light. After darkness light……this same motto is true of our passage today, where we see God bringing light to His people in the midst of darkness.
3:1 sets the stage for us and marks this whole chapter out as a transitional chapter in the history of Israel. There has been no prophet since Joshua, the time of the judges had ended, Eli’s household has been rebuked and rejected by God, and in chapter 3 God calls Samuel to be His prophet.
As we’ve seen before Samuel is still right where he should be, learning from Eli and ministering to the Lord in the temple at Shiloh. The author lets us know that during these days the Word of the Lord was rare (precious) and that there was no vision breaking through. This detail, though brief, is of mammoth importance. It is meant to teach us that these days were not good days for God’s people. In the Old Testament when God’s Word is rare and there was no prophet to receive a vision from God for God’s people it was not a sign of blessing, rather it was a sign of the judgment and anger of the Lord. When’s God’s Word is rare God’s people wander aimlessly as if in the dark. This was not something Israel could fix or change themselves either. Bringing in more young boys like Samuel into the temple to learn the ways of God, have them graduate, and send them out to minister in an effort to solve the problem won’t fix this problem. If the Word of God was rare it means that God has stopped speaking, and when God has stopped speaking no man could create or produce a Word from God. Only God could solve their problem by choosing to speak and reveal Himself, but God was being intentionally silent to His people because His priests were wicked. Over and over His priests had chosen to walk in darkness rather than the light of God’s counsel, so in being silent, God was giving His priests what they so often preferred, darkness.
There are many other times in the history of Israel when God was silent to His people, Amos 8 describes one, Psalm 74 describes another, even a few more in 1 Samuel 14 and 28furtherbut more immediate to us in 1 Samuel are the multiple instances when King Saul brings about the silence of God by his own disobedience. Upon facing God’s silence King Saul (in 1 Sam. 14 and 28) will lament and despair, not over his sin, but over the dreadful darkness he finds himself in. This was a dark time for the people of Israel.
As we read on we see hope rise again. God speaks, not to Eli and not through the mysterious ‘man of God’ from 2:27; He speaks to young Samuel. v2-14 describe this scene for us. Eli was old, he had grown almost blind, and he and Samuel were both asleep. We know it was night because v3 says ‘the lamp of God had not gone out yet.’ The lamp being referred to here is the holy lamp near the entrance to the holy of holies that was lit each night and burned until morning. So there the two of them were, Eli sleeping in his own room and Samuel was asleep by the ark of God (perhaps a small contrast is apparent there).
God then calls out to Samuel in v4, v6, v8, and v10 but Samuel doesn’t recognize that it’s God calling to him. Don’t be too impatient with Samuel here, he had learned much about God, His ways, and His worship but v7 lets us know that he didn’t yet know the Lord in a personal manner because God had not revealed Himself to him yet. This is why the first three times God calls to him Samuel wakes up and thinks Eli is calling for him, so he goes to Eli. In each of these instances Eli shows that his spiritual sight is just as blind as his physical sight because he also doesn’t recognize God calling to Samuel either (recall Eli mistaking Hannah’s fervent prayer for drunkenness). Twice, in v5 and v6, Eli tells him ‘I did not call, lie down again.’ The third time Samuel comes back to him Eli perceives that it may be God who is calling to Samuel so he gives him instructions in v9 saying ‘Go lie down, and if He calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’’
God called again in v10 and Samuel answered in the manner he was told to. God then speaks to Samuel saying, ‘Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.’
This is the usual way God speaks to His prophets, telling them what He has done, is doing, or about to do, and how His people should respond to it. The first time young Samuel hears a Word from God he hears a decisive proclamation against Eli and his house for their sin. What was implicit in chapter 1-2 about Eli’s guilt is now made explicit in chapter 3. God will punish Eli’s house forever, why? The reason comes to us in v13, ‘…for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.’ Eli, as the head of his house, will bear the brunt of the judgment on his house. To confirm this judgment God states that no offering, no sacrifice, no ritual will even be enough atone for their sin.
v15 shows us that Samuel lays there until the morning, probably not sleeping well because he knew Eli would want to know what God had said to him, and he wasn’t all to sure if Eli wanted to hear what God said. We can be sure that Eli and Samuel had grown close by the time he was a teen, the language Eli greets Samuel with in v16 is evidence of that. So naturally Samuel would be concerned about telling Eli the Word from God because for Eli it was a word of judgment. This gives us a window into the ministry of God’s Word. As soon as God calls Samuel into the prophetic ministry, Samuel finds out how hard and distressing that work can be. He now has a problem that he didn’t have the day before. God has given him a Word…a Word about his mentor. Will Samuel have to tell Eli? God didn’t tell him to tell Eli, but Samuel knows Eli, he’ll want to know. So, does he give him the whole truth or just part of it? Does Samuel honor the Word of God or the feelings of his mentor?
It’s ironic that Samuel finds himself now in the same position Eli was in with his sons. Eli chose to honor his sons feelings over God’s commands, what will Samuel do? Well, after waking up, Samuel opens the temple, greets Eli (probably wondering how this is going to play out) and Eli abruptly asks the question in v17, ‘What was it that He told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also if you hide anything from me of all that He told you.’ After hearing a somewhat tempered threat from Eli, Samuel didn’t hold anything back and told him everything in v18. Eli responded briefly and humbly before the rebuke of God saying, ‘It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good to Him.’ It surely wasn’t what Eli wanted to hear, but it was what God told Samuel, and Eli for better or worse, now knew the news he asked for.
The passage ends in v19 – 4:1 where we see Samuel’s prophetic ministry rising in its significance. Samuel grew, the Lord was with him, none of his words fell to the ground, God continued to reveal Himself to him in Shiloh by His Word, and all Israel from the north (Dan) to the south (Beersheeba) knew that Samuel had been appointed as a prophet. This ending stands in contrast to the beginning of this passage. In 3:1 the Word of the Lord was rare, now in 4:1 the word of Samuel (which is really the Word of God) came to all Israel. After the darkness of Eli, God brought His people much light through Samuel.
Well, our text is done, but discover here a few lessons.
Samuel felt much tension between the Word He received from God and the feelings of his mentor. This is the tension found in handling the Word of God, and everyone who handles God’s Word knows this tension very well. I feel it weekly when it sit before the text of Scripture with each of you in my view. Do I tell it to you as it is, or to do I smooth over the rough spots that you won’t like to hear? Do I honor your feelings or God’s Word? Discover here how to pray for your leaders, ask that we would never honor your feelings over God’s Word but honor His Word over all, regardless what that means for those who hear it. Discover here the care you need to use in who you allow to teach you. Stay away from the leader who always ends up talking about the grace and mercy of God regardless what passage he’s preaching from, and stay away from the leader who always ends up talking about the judgment and wrath of God regardless what passage he’s preaching from. Stick with the leader who is content to preach the Word as it is, whatever that may bring. Discover here the humility you’re called to. Samuel had talked with God and rather than working himself into a trance like state, rather than spreading his vision all around for everyone to know, and rather than thinking himself too important to perform lowly service in the temple any longer, he was up at dawn doing lowly chores around the temple. Having a rich and deep private communion with God is something we all should have and love, but remember that this private communion with such an extraordinary God should not keep us from ordinary matters.
You cannot pass by 1 Samuel 3:21 too quickly. Do you see why? Let me read it again for you. v21 says, ‘And the Lord appeared again and Shiloh, for the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the Word of the Lord.’ Why is this so important? Because this teaches that God reveals Himself to us through what? His Word! This should catch us off guard or sound a bit strange because we normally see things that appear and see things that are revealed with our eyes, not our ears. Yet God says He reveals Himself to us by the Word of the Lord, and we hear the Word of the Lord. What does this mean? It means we see God with our ears. We see the glory of God from hearing His Word! So, do you want to see God? Do you want to behold Him in His glory? Hear His Word, and you will see Him. For He reveals Himself by His Word.
‘After darkness light’ is the theme of 1 Samuel 3 when Samuel is called to be a prophet. The passage began in darkness in 3:1 where ‘the Word of the Lord was rare’ and the passage ends in light in 4:1 where ‘the Word of Samuel came to all Israel.’ We saw how it’s a sign of judgment when God chooses to remain silent to His people, and now we recognize that it’s a sign of grace when God’s Word is running free among His people.
Some of you may think, well this doesn’t really apply to us today because we now have the final revelation of God in His Word and because we have His Word it can’t be rare any longer. Not so fast. We may have His Word, even many copies of His Word, but it still may be rare in our worship, rare in our hearts, and rare in our pulpits. If we gather together week and in and week out for worship and just sing the latest popular songs, pray a little bit, and hear a trendy message about some social issue or current event, God’s Word will be rare among us and in us. But if we gather together week in and week out for worship where all our singing, all our praying, and all our preaching comes from the Word of God, submits to the Word of God, is led by the Word of God, and makes much of the Word of God, then His Word will be running free among us. Since God reveals Himself to us by His Word, why would we ever put anything else at the center of our lives or our at the center of our churches?
To have His Word, His final and completed revelation of Himself to us, is an immense privilege. We should submit to its authority, learn its commands, obey its precepts, and embrace the gospel it gives us. If we don’t, we’ll remain in darkness and death. If we do, we’ll find that there really is a sacrifice able and sufficient to save us from our sins. We’ll find ourselves responding to God like Samuel saying, ‘Speak Lord, for Your servant hears.’ We’ll find that because of Jesus, after darkness there is light.