Eli & Samuel

Scripture: 1st Samuel 3


Title: Eli & Samuel



  • Introduction – Immersion
  • Learning by immersion (repetition & routine)
  • Spiritual direction
  • God’s ways are not our ways (grace & truth)
  • Conclusion



I have here a sponge and a bucket of water

–         In order for a sponge to work it needs to be wet

–         Now I could get the sponge wet by sprinkling water on it like this

–         But the best way is by immersing it in the bucket like this


Today we continue our sermon series on intergenerational relationships

–         An intergenerational relationship is a relationship between two people from different generations, someone older and someone younger

–         We find a number of intergenerational relationships in the Bible

–         For example: Moses & Joshua, Ruth & Naomi, Elijah & Elisha

–         As well as the apostle Paul and his protégé Timothy


Our focus this morning though is on the relationship between Eli & Samuel

–         For those who may not be familiar with the story, Samuel was dedicated to the Lord’s service by his mother Hannah

–         This meant that once Samuel had been weaned she left him at the temple in Shiloh to serve with Eli the chief priest

–         Hannah didn’t just sprinkle a bit of religion over her son, she immersed him totally in the Lord’s service


The ground of today’s message is 1st Samuel chapter 3

–         At this stage Samuel is still a boy – we are not sure exactly how old but probably no older than 12?

–         By contrast Eli is an old man, most likely old enough to be Samuel’s grandad

–         From 1st Samuel chapter 3 (in the NIV) we read…


3 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. 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.

Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel,

“Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.


10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

11 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. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. 13 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. 14 Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’”


15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.”

Samuel answered, “Here I am.”

17 “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”


May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate God’s word for us


Learning by immersion (routine & repetition)

When it comes to learning we human beings are a little bit like a sponge

–         We tend to learn best by immersion – rather than sprinkling

–         If you think about it a child learns to walk and talk not by attending a lecture, but by being immersed in an environment where other people are walking and talking

–         In the process of listening to adult conversations and seeing other people walk the child naturally picks up what to do and then starts attempting to walk & talk themselves

–         It’s good for young children to be around older children and adults because that’s how they learn

–         If small children only ever hung out with other small children they wouldn’t learn what the next steps were, so to speak


Repetition and routine are an important part of the ‘learning by immersion’ process

–         It’s amazing how small children love to hear the same story over and over again and how they can play ‘peek a boo’ for what seems like hours on end without ever growing tired of it


G.K. Chesterton has a wonderful quote about children and repetition. He says…


“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”


Churches tend to accumulate traditions

–         There are certain rhythms and regularities that we follow

–         We stand for the offering because we aren’t just giving our money – we are offering ourselves to God as living sacrifices

–         We celebrate communion once a month, usually with the same words of institution for the elements

–         We give out chocolate fish each week to celebrate special occasions

–         We light candles during Advent

–         I almost always start the sermon with ‘Good morning everyone’

–         And we have combined services at Easter & Christmas and so on


Having traditions may seem monotonous or boring to us, as adults, but they tend to be quite exciting and full of wonder for small children

–         And they provide a sense of comfort for people in the twilight of life

–         Those traditions that we might prefer to break, in adolescence & mid-life, are actually a great vehicle for teaching our kids

–         While it’s okay to change traditions every now and then we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water

–         Most of our traditions (our repetitions) serve an important purpose


There would have been a lot of repetition in Samuel’s life, immersed as he was in the rhythms of the temple with its daily routines of worship & related chores

–         Opening the temple doors at the start of the day & closing them at the end

–         Filling the lamp with oil

–         Gathering wood to burn the sacrifices & cleaning up the mess afterwards

–         Whatever the details of Samuel’s day, it followed a repeating pattern and that repetition was good for Samuel – there was comfort and security in it

–         What’s more, because Samuel was young and abounding in vitality, he was able to exult in the monotony of tradition (not just endure it)


Now, in pointing out how Samuel was immersed in the rhythms and routines of the temple, I’m not for a minute suggesting that you should drop your children off to the church for me to look after them each day

–         I can’t see that working out very well

–         What you can do, if you have responsibility for young children, is immerse them in good routines

–         Immerse them in the stories of the Bible

–         Immerse them in your prayers

–         And immerse them in service to the Lord with you


You might, for example, have a little bedtime routine where you read a Bible story and then pray the Lord’s Prayer with them

–         It may be the same stories and the same prayer over and over but that doesn’t matter – repetition is an important part of spiritual formation

–         Don’t just limit it to bedtime though – take any opportunity you can find.

–         In Deuteronomy 11, while Moses is giving the people of Israel God’s Law, he instructs them saying…


Teach these things to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up


One of the things we do here at Tawa Baptist to help spiritual conversations at home is we try (as much as possible) to have the Flock Sunday school curriculum follow the sermon series

–         So the sermon you heard last week about Ruth & Boaz is what the kids are learning about in the Flock this morning

–         You may have noticed on the back of the newsletter a couple of sentences letting the congregation know what the Flock kids are learning with an invitation to talk with your kids about it later


Another thing you can do is bring your kids to church regularly

–         If you only come occasionally its harder to feel like you belong

–         I’m not saying this to make you feel bad if you don’t come every week – I understand that it’s not always possible to be here every Sunday

–         But come as often as you are able because by doing that you give yourself and your kids the best chance of feeling at home here


One of the things we do in this church is keep the children in the morning service for a good 20 minutes or so before sending them out to Sunday school

–         This is teaching by immersion

–         Children naturally pick up what to do in a worship service and feel comfortable simply by being in it

–         We still need some separate programming for the kids though because they are at a different developmental stage and have different needs

–         Besides, my sermons are too long and serious to hold a child’s attention


Tawa Baptist has a strong tradition of grandparents bringing their grandkids to church and Sunday school – which is fantastic, keep doing that


Whether they are your kids or your grandkids though the trick is to involve them in those areas of service you are involved in – let them participate

–         So if you are on door duty, get one or two of your kids to do it with you

–         Or if you are collecting the offering, get the child with you to help

–         Sometimes Ang puts instruments out at the front for the kids to use while we are singing – that’s about encouraging participation

–         And when your kids reach College age, there are opportunities for them to serve in crèche and the Flock and the music team and Club Intermed

–         Learning by immersion involves both observation and participation


Shona (who is on piano this morning) told me that her Dad, Frank Duncan (who used to be a minister in this church) got her involved playing piano on Sunday mornings from a young age

–         More than just playing piano though, Frank gave Shona real ownership in the service by asking her to select some of the songs

–         Participation you see


Returning to Samuel & Eli

–         Samuel grew up immersed in the rhythms & routines of the temple and it had a shaping effect on his soul – it formed him spiritually

–         Sort of like a rock being made smooth as it is continually washed in the surf on a beach

–         Or a piece of clay being shaped and moulded as it spins round and round on the potter’s wheel


Eli, for his part, did a good job involving Samuel in the tasks of the temple so that Samuel wasn’t just a spectator or a consumer but an active participant, a contributor


Spiritual Direction:

Samuel quite happily followed the rhythms & routines of temple life until one night God introduced a new routine


While he was sleeping somewhere near the vicinity of the ark (the symbol of God’s presence) Samuel was woken by a voice calling his name

–         Eli was old, overweight and almost blind – he relied on Samuel to help him with things – so Samuel naturally thought Eli was calling him

–         But when he goes to Eli the old priest says, ‘My son, I did not call you. Go back and lie down.’


This little pattern is repeated three times and by the third time Eli realises Samuel is hearing the word of the Lord, so Eli offers Samuel some spiritual direction – he tells the boy what to say if he hears the voice again

–         Say, ‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening’


Eli does well here

–         In the first instance he does well not to get frustrated with Samuel for waking him in the middle of the night

–         More than this though Eli has the presence of mind and the spiritual sensitivity to realise God is calling the boy

–         Eli’s insight is quite remarkable when we think about it


Remember we are told, right at the beginning of chapter 3, that ‘the word of the Lord was rare in those days’

–         Most people wouldn’t have expected God to speak at all, let alone to a servant boy. A child prophet? That was unheard of

–         Nevertheless Eli realises that God is talking to Samuel


Given the unexpected nature of it all, how does Eli discern this?


Well, it seems to me that Eli knew Samuel well

–         It wasn’t like Samuel to wake him in the night 3 times for no reason

–         Samuel wasn’t a naughty kid – he was compliant

–         Samuel wouldn’t have disturbed Eli unless he had heard a voice


I think also that Eli saw a potential in Samuel and he loved the boy

–         So it wasn’t difficult for Eli to imagine that God might speak to Samuel

–         In fact, given the miraculous circumstances of Samuel’s birth and Hannah’s dedication of Samuel to God’s service it logically followed that God had a special purpose for Samuel’s life

–         Eli reminds those of us who are older to see the potential in those who young and not discount their usefulness to God


Eli also knew enough about God’s ways to realise this is often how the Lord operates – through the unexpected and through repetition


When I was in my late teens / early 20’s I said I would never be a pastor

–         Then one day, some years later, four people independently of each other said to me in the space of 24 hours…

–         ‘Will, I think you should consider becoming a pastor’

–         I wasn’t expecting that – and I certainly wasn’t looking for it so I knew it didn’t come from me

–         The unexpected, unsolicited nature of the message and the repetition of it made me think, perhaps God is trying to say something to me here


God speaks to people in different ways

–         He spoke to Samuel directly, so that Samuel saw a vision and heard an audible voice – it was nice and clear

–         That kind of communication from God is extremely rare – it’s not like that for most people

–         We are more likely to hear from God through reading the Bible or through another person or a sermon or an alignment of our circumstances

–         As a general principle though God’s word is often unexpected (from our perspective) and it is confirmed through repetition of the message

–         God’s word is always consistent with the person of Jesus – for Jesus embodies the word of the Lord – he is God’s word in human form


Samuel certainly wasn’t expecting God to speak to him

–         At that point in time it was outside of his experience

–         Fortunately Eli was present to give Samuel the spiritual direction he needed


God’s ways are not our ways:

You know the more I read the Bible the more it occurs to me how different God and I are

–         For one thing, God is a lot younger than I am

–         He appears to be far more trusting than me – more ‘fierce & free’, willing to take incredible risks

–         I imagine God would find roller coasters and sky diving exciting & fun

–         Whereas I’m too anxious for roller coasters and too grown up for fun

–         I prefer to keep my feet on the ground by going for a quiet walk on the beach or reading a book

–         God loves the whole world in all its wildness and diversity – he is present in the world everywhere, even the dark and dangerous places

–         The reach of my love is not so great however

–         God is uncreated, unlimited and eternally young

–         In contrast I am created, very limited and growing older every day

–         God thinks big – I think small

–         He is in no hurry – I’m always busy

–         He does not need anything from anyone and certainly not from me

–         But I depend on him for my very life & breath

–         I like to be organised ahead of time, with my sermon notes written out almost verbatim and my rosters prepared 3 months in advance

–         God, on the other hand, tends to be more last minute, leaving the future open – I don’t think he uses Excel spreadsheets or rosters either


God and I are very different but we do share one thing in common – Jesus


Why am I telling you this?

–         Well, God’s ways are not our ways

–         If it was up to me I wouldn’t have risked giving a young boy like Samuel such a hard task to do – at least not straight away

–         I would have eased the boy into his work – but not God

–         The Lord throws Samuel into the deep end on his first assignment

–         The very first message God gave Samuel was one of the most difficult of Samuel’s career

–         It was a message of judgment against Eli and his family

–         Basically, God wanted Samuel to tell Eli that the sins of Eli’s unrepentant sons were so bad they could never be forgiven or atoned for

–         Not only that but Eli himself was guilty too for not restraining his sons


That’s a heavy message for a young boy to tell the gentle old man he loves & respects


Now in saying that God threw Samuel in the deep end, I’m not suggesting the Lord is reckless or careless

–         God knew what Samuel could & couldn’t handle

–         God would not have asked Samuel to do this if he thought Samuel wasn’t up for it

–         The point is: sometimes we under-estimate what children can cope with

–         We want to protect them from what seem to us to be harsh realities and difficult truths – and, at times, rightly so

–         But as adults we need wisdom to discern when it is right to shield our kids and when it is better to let them hear the truth

–         In this instance God doesn’t protect Samuel – he doesn’t wrap the boy in cotton wool

–         Instead he gives Samuel the grace he needs to cope with a difficult truth

–         Ironically, that grace comes in the form of Eli


Eli notices that Samuel is avoiding him – which indicates Samuel has something to hide

–         So Eli goes to Samuel and puts a little pressure on him, getting him to release the burden he is carrying by saying, ‘May God deal with you severely if you hide anything from me’

–         A good spiritual director knows when & how to squeeze a person to draw out the truth


With permission to speak freely, Samuel relays God’s message in its entirety & Eli accepts it without getting angry with Samuel or censoring him

–         In this way Eli makes it safe for Samuel to be completely honest in the future

–         We need to do for our kids what Eli did for Samuel – release them from the burdens they carry by making it safe for them to be honest with us


It is not always easy to hand over tasks to others

–         Generosity towards those who are called to replace us is a real sign of grace [1]

–         God had clearly rejected Eli’s family and chosen Samuel to be his spokesperson to Israel

–         Samuel demonstrated integrity in speaking the truth of God’s message

–         And Eli demonstrated grace in making room for Samuel



God’s ways are not our ways – which is just as well

–         He uses an inexperienced youth and a tired old priest to work out his purposes – such an unexpected combination



[1] Mary Evans, ‘The Message of Samuel’, page 37.