I Samuel 3:1-9, 19-20; 7:3-5, 10, 12
The text before us records the calling of Samuel (Chapter 3) and the beginning of his ministry (Chapter 7). The two events took place a little over three thousand years ago and are separated by approximately 22 or 23 years. At the time of Samuel’s calling, Israel had dwelt in the land which God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their heirs for three hundred years. During that three hundred years, there was no king in Israel and every man did that which was right in his own eyes (Judg. 21:25). It was a time in which few, very few, lived according to the law given to Moses.
The time is described as one in which the word of the Lord was precious (precious as in scarce) and there was no open vision (men had closed their hearts to the Lord) [v. 1]. During this time, “The child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli.” Eli was very old and his advanced years had resulted in loss of eyesight. He relied upon Samuel for physical and visual assistance.
It was in the early hours of dawn (the lamp of God which burned within the tabernacle was extinguished at daybreak [Ex. 27:21]) that Samuel heard what he thought to be the voice of Eli. Samuel answered and rushed to Eli. Eli had not called him and instructed him to lie down. No sooner had Samuel returned to his bed, he heard again what he perceived to be the voice of Eli. Samuel answered but Eli had not called.
When Samuel responded to the voice a third time, Eli realized that the voice that called out to Samuel was the Lord. Eli told Samuel that he should answer: “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.”
The Lord made it known to Eli through a man of God that his house would come to an end and his two sons would die on the same day (see 2:27-34). When Eli heard Samuel relate the same word (3:11-14) which a man of God spoke, Eli knew with absolute certainty that Samuel was chosen by God to speak to all Israel.
The arm of the Lord is not short. The Lord did not call out three times to Samuel because Samuel needed Eli’s help in understanding. The Lord called out three times because He wanted Eli to broadcast that Samuel had been chosen deliver the word of the Lord all Israel (see v. 19-20).
The promised day of reckoning came and Eli and his sons all died upon the same day (4:17-18). Twenty years passed between 7:1 and 7:3.
In verse 3, Samuel implored Israel to return unto the Lord with all their heart. God intended Israel to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex. 19:6). Samuel’s message was: Do what God says and He will deliver you from Philistine oppression.
God had allowed Israel’s enemy to defeat them because His people were not doing that which He requires. God’s covenant with Israel required the nation to keep His commandments and His statutes.
Samuel is specific in his charges against Israel. He cites worship of Baalim and Ashtaroth. Israel could not be known as a holy nation and a kingdom of priests by embracing false gods.
Samuel called out to Israel to gather at Mizpeh where he would pray to God on their behalf. From a practical standpoint, the men of Israel could have remained in their homes while Samuel prayed. By gathering at Mizpeh, the children of Israel demonstrated an expectation — God would honor Samuel’s petition.
Israel drew water and poured it out before the Lord. Why? It was an outward act that symbolized an inner emotion. They were truly repentant. The outward act of pouring out water was a visible testimony of what they experienced in their hearts. God looks upon men’s hearts and does not require a visible display. Israel poured out the water because they believed God would respond. God honors all who pour their hearts out to Him.
The gathering at Mizpeh was immediately known to the Philistines. The name Mizpeh suggests that it was a high place, not be a place chosen for a secret gathering. The Philistines quickly gathered their forces and made ready to battle Israel. When the children of Israel learned of the Philistinian action, they were afraid and called upon Samuel to continue to pray such that God would save them. They looked to God for deliverance.
Samuel offered up a burnt offering wholly unto God. In a burnt offering, the sacrifice is wholly consumed by fire and ascends to the Lord. Nothing is held back.
God answered Samuel’s petition by thundering with a great thunder upon the Philistines. Israel easily defeated the Philistine army which was in total disarray.
Israel’s purpose in gathering at Mizpeh was to have Samuel pray to God such that He would deliver them from the hand of the Philistines. Samuel and Israel did that which God wanted and God delivered. When God’s people do that which He requires, He responds.
Today, believers are under a better covenant, a covenant that carries the expectation that we serve Him. The Son has said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Let us do as He requires. Let us love one another as He loves us.