It happened at that time as Eli was lying down in his place (now his eyesight had begun to grow dim and he could not see well), and the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord where the ark of God was, that the Lord called Samuel; and he said, “Here I am.” (1 Samuel 3:1-4)
Talk about a concise scene setting! So many details briefly mentioned as though in passing…some as parenthetical footnotes. So, let’s break it down.
…Samuel was ministering to the Lord before Eli…
Although we’re not told, here, exactly what Samuel was doing, the wording tells much about young Samuel’s heart. First that he had a heart for ministering…for serving. Second that he saw himself not as ministering to Eli, but rather as ministering to God. Samuel’s service was unto the Lord.
And word from the Lord was rare in those days, visions were infrequent.
It’s mentioned almost in passing, yet is a crucial detail to the unfolding story of how God used Samuel. Prophetic word from God was rare at that time…God was not making Himself and His will known to Israel with the power and clarity that He had in times past. Although we’re not told what sort of visions were infrequent, context clues later in the account lead me to believe this is likely referring to the cloud of God’s presence no longer being visible over the tabernacle and the glory of the Lord no longer filling the sanctuary.
It happened at that time as Eli was lying down in his place…
Though the time of day is not specifically stated, we readily surmise from the fact that both Eli and Samuel are lying down that this occurs at night. The scene is being set…
(now his eyesight had begun to grow dim and he could not see well)
This seemingly minor detail informs us that Eli’s vision prevented him from doing finely detailed work.
…and the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord where the ark of God was…
Aha! Here is where the unfolding scene comes into focus…where the tightly packed disjointed details come together. When God gave Moses instructions on how to build the tabernacle, He said:
“You shall charge the sons of Israel, that they bring you clear oil of beaten olives for the light, to make a lamp burn continually. In the tent of meeting, outside the veil which is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall keep it in order from evening to morning before the Lord; it shall be a perpetual statute throughout their generations for the sons of Israel.” (Exodus 27:20-21)
The priests were to keep the golden lamp continually burning within the tent of meeting, outside the veil of the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant rested. It was to be a perpetual flame signifying worship to God, and the priests were given special instructions to monitor it all night, so it didn’t go out.
Here, in the story of young Samuel, we are told that at that time “the lamp of God had not yet gone out” and that “Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord where the ark of God was.” There would come a later time when the lamp of God was no longer maintained and was allowed to go out. But at that time, it was still a carefully maintained perpetual flame…with Samuel lying nearby.
As the details come together bringing the scene into focus, we see that Eli’s failing eyesight no longer permits him to attend to the lamp…to check the oil, trim the wicks, and fill the reservoir. So the duty of attending the lamp all night has been handed over to the young acolyte, Samuel.
Now, the oil represents the Holy Spirit and the light represents God’s glory revealed through our lives. So Samuel was spending his nights lying next to the Holy of Holies, ministering to the Lord, making sure the lamp stayed filled with oil and the flame kept burning…as he sought to glorify God through the power of the Holy Spirit.
What was the result?
And the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, because the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord. (1 Samuel 3:21)
The Lord appeared again at Shiloh…the tabernacle at Shiloh was once again covered by the cloud of God’s presence and filled with His glory. God was once again visibly present and clearly communicable among His people…because of one young man’s faithful service.
What might happen if we each spent more time in God’s presence, ministering to Him, and being filled with His Spirit?