A Call to the Light
Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B (2018)
Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday
I Samuel 3.1-10 (11-20)
The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
~ I Samuel 3.8-9 (NRSV)
The Holy Spirit and Dr. Gene M. Tucker inspire today’s lesson.
This section constitutes what might be designated either the infancy narrative about the prophet Samuel or the account of his call into the service of prophecy by God. How Samuel had been conceived by the barren Hannah as a child of promise is told in I Samuel 1. As a response to the gift of a child, the mother presented Samuel to the service of God at the temple in Shiloh, then under the care and service of the old priest Eli and his disappointingly decadent sons (see I Samuel 2.12-17).
Samuel served in the Shiloh temple under Eli’s supervision from the time of his weaning. (Hebrew children were weaned at about the age of three.) His early service was obviously that of a mere functionary during these days, for he “did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him” (I Samuel 3.7).
Several points are made in this narrative about Samuel, his call, and his message.
1. Samuel’s nocturnal call by God was met by an enthusiastic response on the part of the lad. The fact that God calls three times without the source of the call being recognized, that Samuel thinks it is Eli, and that the priest only slowly realizes that it might be God speaking to the lad are all dramatic touches in the story. They are not intended to condemn Eli so much as to illustrate the point made in the opening verse: “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” The fact that religion had reached this point made the old priest, now with eyesight so dim he could not see (another dramatic touch), unexpectant about any word or vision from God. Samuel, even though he does not realize the source of the voice addressing him, responds vigorously offering himself to the priest with a hearty “Here I am” (see Isaiah 6.8). Once the source of the voice is known, in God’s fourth call, Samuel responds with a promise of a faithful hearing: “Speak, for your servant is listening” (v. 10).
2. The call of Samuel is the inauguration of a new state of affairs in Israel and Shiloh. God announces to the youngster that a new thing is about to be done that will startle everyone when they hear it (v. 11). Thus the prophet becomes the confidant of God, the sharer in the divine determination of events, and the spokesperson of what is about to dawn.
3. The word of God about the future is a word of judgment, a word condemning the house of Eli, and it is Samuel who must be the bearer of the word to those under whose service he has labored (vv. 12-18).
4. The inauguration of Samuel’s career was followed by a stage of service in which “the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground” (v. 19). The fidelity of the prophet involved the hearing and the proclamation of the word even when the word was one of judgment on his own people and co-laborers. God supported the work of Samuel by seeing that none of his words fell unfulfilled.
5. Samuel’s activity and proclamation established his reputation as a prophet throughout Israel – “from Dan to Beer-sheba” – so that his work brought a reversal of affairs in Israel (compare v. 20 with v. 1). Where vision and word had been rare they now because frequent.
This text has been selected for the season of Epiphany to illustrate the typological correspondences between Samuel’s call, his response, and his nurture in the Lord, and those of Jesus (see Luke 2.52). Like Samuel, Jesus is called and designated as an eschatological prophet to his own people with a message that will establish his reputation and ultimately strike at the temple itself.
Epiphany’s Call to the Light . . .
Lawrence T. Foster