By Roy Ciampa, Ph.D.
Armstrong Chair of Religion, Samford University
ELI AND SAMUEL
1 Samuel 2:22–26; 3:7–10, 15–18
It is important not to despair or give up when or if someone we mentor does not turn out to be seriously committed to growing from opportunities provided.
In Eli’s life and work, his own two sons proved to be unresponsive to his attempts at godly mentoring, while young Samuel seems to have caught Eli’s own commitment to honoring the Lord.
Not everyone listens to wise counsel. (2:22–26)
The contrast between Eli’s sons (Hophni and Phinehas) and the son of Elkanah and Hannah (Samuel) could not be any starker. In verses 12–17, the wickedness and contempt Eli’s sons have are summarized, including how they treated the holy sacrifices as their personal food rather than offerings belonging to the Lord. They were also sleeping with women who assisted with the sacrifices.
Samuel is then introduced as an innocent young boy dedicated to serving the Lord, after which Eli reprimands his sons for their wicked behavior and points out the seriousness of sinning not only against the Lord’s people but also directly against the Lord Himself by desecrating God’s holy offerings.
Still, Eli did find a faithful disciple in the person of Samuel, who became like an adopted son to him.
We are expected to notice the contrasting responses to the wise counsel of a godly leader and to see that some will not receive wise counsel when it is given to them, while others will respond well and show their hearts are eager to learn from a wise and godly mentor.
Help others discern when God is speaking to them. (3:7–10)
The amusing story of Samuel not recognizing God’s voice and thinking that Eli must have been calling him reminds us of our own potential to mistake the voice of God for someone else’s voice or to mistake someone else’s voice for the voice of God.
Eli had been serving the Lord for many years, and yet it took him a while to recognize what Samuel was experiencing.
We are supposed to understand that those with prophetic gifts, like young Samuel, came to recognize the voice of God even if it took some experience.
While we should not completely identify the experience of most Christians with that of the prophets of the Old Testament, we also learn to recognize God’s voice as we grow in our knowledge of Scripture and as the Holy Spirit convicts us concerning sin, righteousness and judgment (see John 16:8) and impresses a concern for God’s holiness and Kingdom purposes on our hearts.
Young or spiritually immature believers, and sometimes even more experienced believers, may need help from others who have learned to discern God’s voice over years of walking with the Lord.
God’s Word, however painful it may be to hear, must be shared. (3:15–18)
There are times when God calls us to share truths of God’s Word that might be hard for someone to hear. When we have a relationship with someone and God gives us the words and the opening to share hard truths with them, we need to be prepared to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).
Samuel had a close relationship with Eli, and Eli himself invited Samuel to tell him what God had said. Even when done in love, this can be a very difficult part of faithful discipleship but is one that must not be neglected.