The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.
One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 1 Samuel 3:1-3 (NIV)
One day Jesus and his closest followers were along the lake shore. Jesus had just addressed a crowd of people who had come to hear Him speak. His message consisted of a string of parables. Afterward, His followers asked why He told parables. This was His reply:
“Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’
Jesus was clear about the fact that there are different kinds of seeing and hearing. The physical sense of sight is obvious, but Jesus spoke of spiritual sight and hearing, as well. Today’s chapter provides an illustration.
The author of Samuel begins today’s chapter with three subtle statements about vision:
“In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.“
Here he refers to spiritual visions, prophetic words, and dreams. From a historical timeline, we are at end of the time of the Judges. We just went through the book of Judges on this chapter-a-day journey last month. There were some great stories and lessons, but there was little evidence in the text of prophets, dreams, or spiritual visions. Spiritual vision waned after Moses and Joshua’s conquest.
Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see. (Physical)
Next, the author immediately mentions the high priest, Eli’s, waning physical vision. Having just told of God’s judgment on Eli and his sons in yesterday’s chapter, this might also be a not-so-subtle foreshadowing that the light is going out on his time as high priest. It also serves as a contrast to the boy, Samuel, whose spiritual eyes are about to be opened.
The lamp of God had not yet gone out. (Metaphorical)
The final in the author’s trinity of word images is the lampstand that stood in the Holy Place of the Tabernacle. As the night wore on and morning approached the flame would dim, though it was unlawful to let it go out before dawn according to the Law of Moses. The author metaphorically tells me, as the reader, that while spiritual sight may have dimmed, it had not gone out. Samuel is about to have his spiritual eyes opened.
The trinity of images is followed by a trinity of instances in which Samuel’s spiritual ears are opened. He hears God calling his name, but he thinks it’s Eli. Once Eli tells Samuel that it’s God and how to respond to God’s call, God tells Sam that the prophesied doom on Eli and his house is about to come true.
For Eli and his sons, the Light is going out.
For Samuel, his spiritual ears and eyes have been opened. The Light has just dawned.
The author also makes an important observation between the second and third instances of God’s calling to Samuel:
Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
Along my spiritual journey, I have learned that spiritual hearing and spiritual sight require both God and me. There is a “revealing” that comes from God. Samuel had been raised in the Tabernacle. He was there day and night serving God and Eli, yet he “did not yet know the Lord” and God had not yet opened Samuel’s spiritual eyes and ears. In the same way, it is possible to go to church every Sunday, hear the message, and participate in the service without ever knowing the Lord or having spiritual eyes that see or spiritual ears that hear.
But Jesus said there’s also a part I play in this revealing. Jesus told His followers to ask, to seek, and to knock. My spiritual pursuit of God plays a part in the opening of my spiritual senses. When I ask I will receive. When I seek I will find. When I knock doors open to reveal things I hadn’t seen or heard before.
In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of a friend who sat across my desk and asked me about the tinnitus and genetic hearing loss with which I’ve struggled for many years. I have asked for healing in prayer. I have sought the healing prayers of others, and I have had strangers approach me saying that they were led to pray for my ears to be healed. To this point, my prayers have not resulted in the restoration of my physical hearing.
My friend asked me how I felt about that.
I responded by explaining that I’m not certain that there isn’t a relationship between the physical and spiritual. As my physical hearing wanes, I feel that my spiritual hearing has become more acute. If I were to choose between the two, I’ll choose acute spiritual hearing every single time. I’ll continue to seek both and echo Eli’s response in today’s chapter: “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.