Eli was a priest who had been entrusted with the raising of young Samuel. The Bible provides some interesting insight into how God sometimes communicates with individuals through Samuel and Eli’s experiences. First, sometimes God speaks at an unexpected time.
And the child Samuel ministered unto the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision. And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see; And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep; (1 Samuel 3:1-3)
This was a time in Israel with the “word of the LORD was precious”, meaning that it was rare to hear from God. This was following the time of the judges when people did what was right in their own eyes. In addition, Eli and his sons were not exactly model priests. The Bible also states that “there was no open vision”. This means that prophets were not receiving messages (or visions) from God. So, it was a time when God’s Word was in short supply. If we get to a point where we say that our world, or country, or state, or city, or church, or family has moved too far away from God, remember that God sometimes does a remarkable work in the midst of times of apostasy.
God also speaks to Samuel at night. Everyone was going to bed. Why did God choose this time? Perhaps it’s because that’s one of the few times when our minds are not directly occupied with the issues of life. Samuel was ready and open for a message because he was not distracted. It is good practice for us to pray and read the Bible before going to bed. That may be a time when God chooses to speak to us. Furthermore, it can provide a time of calming assurance that fosters a good night’s sleep.
Second, sometimes God speaks to an unexpected person.
That the LORD called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I. And he ran unto Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me. And he said, I called not; lie down again. And he went and lay down. And the LORD called yet again, Samuel. And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And he answered, I called not, my son; lie down again. Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, neither was the word of the LORD yet revealed unto him. And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And Eli perceived that the LORD had called the child. (1 Samuel 3:4-8)
Eli and his sons were the priests. One would expect that they would be the ones through whom God’s message would come, not the young apprentice, Samuel. As the text states, he was but a “child” (vs. 8). In this case, however, God chooses the one who is best able to receive His message—one who is holy and pure before Him.
Eli’s family was corrupt, especially his sons. We see later in this passage (1 Samuel 3:11-18) that Eli accepts the Lord’s assessment of his sons and the resulting judgment the Lord pronounces. Samuel was to be God’s prophet and God began by giving him revelation at an early age. Too often, God’s people do not hear from Him because they have corrupted themselves with sin and worldly ways.
Third, sometimes God speaks with an unexpected message.
Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, LORD; for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the LORD came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth. (1 Samuel 3:9-10)
If we read on in this passage, we find that God revealed to Samuel the judgment He would impose upon Eli’s family for their sinfulness. This is likely not a message that Samuel expected. After all, he was young and inexperienced. These were his mentors. However, it was a message that Samuel needed to hear.
There is also the implied message that Samuel would be the one through whom God would work, not Eli. Being Eli’s apprentice, this was surely a surprising disclosure. Through this, God was telling Samuel that the ministry of Eli and his sons was coming to an end. God was choosing to work through another channel, namely Samuel. For a youngster, this could have been a cause for conceit, but Samuel humbly accepted his new ministry and became “a prophet of the LORD” (1 Samuel 3:20). When God uses us, we must remember that it is not because of our innate abilities, but because of His immeasurable grace. He is the one who gives the power to serve.
A pastor I know was asked if God still speaks audibly today. His response was, “Today, God speaks louder than that.” What he meant was that we have something today that the people in the Bible didn’t have. We have God’s complete, infallible Word. Through the Bible, God still speaks loudly today. Are you listening?