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Instrumental in the formation of the kingdom of Israel by the anointing of Saul and then David to be kings, and overall as a godly influence throughout the land, we are all likely familiar with the story of the birth, life, and ministry of Samuel.
I want to examine the first part of his life and hold him up as an example not only as a faithful prophet, but also as a godly child. Samuel did much for the Lord and I want to focus on when he was born and when he was young. I hope this will encourage us all to have the faith of a child, and also that it will give us an opportunity to teach and encourage our children. No one is ever too young (or too old) to be used by God!
The Book of 1 Samuel tells us that before his birth, Samuel’s mother Hannah was barren. She was very much loved by her husband but could not have children. The Bible is clear that it is the Lord who closes and opens the womb but even in this dark providence Hannah found little encouragement as she was mocked by her “rival,” her husband’s other wife who had many children. People who often have things that others want can be unusually cruel. It does not help Hannah that the Bible is surely true when it states that one of the things in this world that can never be satisfied is the womb of a barren woman (Proverbs 30:15-16).
As the story is recorded for us, Hannah so wanted children that during an annual pilgrimage to worship the Lord and make sacrifices at the Tabernacle she went alone to be before the Lord and pray for a child. As she prayed with hurt in her soul and tears in her eyes, her lips were moving but no sound was coming out of her mouth. Eli, the priest, thought she was drunk. She was not and explained the sadness she faced. Eli pronounced that she would have what she asked for, and she had just asked for a son so that she could dedicate him to the Lord for His purposes and use.
Later, Hannah did conceive and gave birth to Samuel. His name means “heard by God” and of course he was so named because God had heard the prayers of his mother. After he was weaned she took him to the Tabernacle to dedicate him to the service of the Lord. He lived there with Eli, serving in the worship of God, and learning about Him. His mother visited him on her annual pilgrimages always thanking God for His hearing her prayer.
Samuel Ministered before the Lord
1 Samuel 2:18 records for us these amazing words:
Samuel ministered before the LORD, even as a child, wearing a linen ephod.
Samuel is an example to us of the truth that even children can serve the Lord. He did. This was no little service. In his service he wore a linen ephod. This was a seamless garment, a robe made for him by his mother. But more than that, it was specifically a priestly garment. It was an outer garment worn by the priest as he officiated before the altar in the sacrifices and worship to God (Exodus 28:6-14).
Even as a young child Samuel was assisting in the worship of God as a priest. He ministered before the Lord. This reminds us that while those who minister in the church do preach to the congregation, the truth is that the ministry of the church is ultimately and always “to the Lord.” Throughout the Scriptures we see that true service and ministry is service and ministry to God, not for God. Often we think that we go to church so that we can be the recipients of some blessing, but in truth, we should be going to minister to God instead of looking for a ministry from God. How easy is it to flip that focus around and make church about us instead of Him?
Samuel Grew in Stature and Favor with God and Men
The next thing we notice about Samuel is that he grew in stature and favor with God and men (1 Samuel 2:26). This means that he grew up and matured and also that he grew in grace. He ministered effectively to God and to men. Even as a child, he was seen to be maturing and growing into a godly man.
How do we view children and young people? Do we see them as growing and maturing? Do we believe that God can and does use young people and even children to accomplish His purposes? He does. Samuel is all the proof we need. He ministered before the Lord and he matured and grew up in grace, serving God and his fellow men. Who else do we know that the Scripture speaks about in this manner?
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. – Luke 2:53
Interestingly, as we mentioned the linen ephod, the seamless priestly robe, did you know that this was the kind of robe that Jesus wore? In fact, it was the very kind of garment that the soldiers cast lots for while He was dying on the cross.
Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. They said therefore among themselves, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,” that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says: “They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.” Therefore the soldiers did these things. – John 19:23-24
Samuel provides for us a type of Christ in the Old Testament – a picture and a parable as to what the Messiah would be like.
The Lord Called Samuel
In seeing his faith, even from childhood, we know that in 1 Samuel 3 Samuel was called by God at a young age and began to receive prophecies from the Lord. Likely he was a young teenager at this point, as it is the same word used for “boy” that is used of David when he killed Goliath when he was around the age of 14. Josephus puts Samuel’s age here around age 12. The point of course is that God has already proven that He can and will use people of all ages to speak His Word and accomplish His purposes. We should never think our children, or ourselves, are too young to serve the Lord or be an example to the church (1 Timothy 4:12).
One night as Eli and Samuel prepared to go to bed, God called out to Samuel. He thought it was Eli so he went to him, but is was not Eli, so he went back to bed. Then God called again. Again he thought it was Eli and so he went to him. It was still not Eli calling. By the third time Eli caught on to what was happening and he instructed Samuel that the next time the Lord called he was to answer, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” The Lord called again and Samuel replied as instructed. The Lord spoke to Samuel. This was the beginning of his prophetic ministry to Israel.
Here we find the best example of what it means to be a godly child and a man of faith. Whether young or old when God calls we should be ready to listen. When the Spirit speaks to us through the Word read, preached, and meditated upon we should be willing to hear. Samuel responded to God’s call by exclaiming that he was listening. Have we learned how to hear His voice? How to listen to God? Have we taught our children to listen to God? Are we sensitive enough to know when God is calling us or our children?
Samuel shows us what it is to be a godly child of God. Today, do you have the faith of a child? Simple trust, knowing that God is there calling and leading. Listen, do you hear His voice?