And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.
With this kind of setup, you know what’s going to happen next, right? You may have noticed the absence of the word of the LORD throughout Judges and Ruth. In fact, it’s been hundreds of years since the LORD had spoken without an angel or intermediary. And that occasion, in Judges 10, was hardly encouraging for the renegade Israelites. It’s safe to picture a direct line between Joshua and Samuel, with seldom-broken interludes of silence in between.
However, in chapter 3, the LORD does speak, calling out in the night to Samuel, who’s now a young man in the service of the tabernacle. The LORD calls Samuel three times without Samuel recognizing what’s going on; on the fourth, it says the LORD came and stood, calling Samuel… This time Samuel knew to listen, and hears terrifying news about Eli and his family, at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle… Listen as Samuel recounts the news for Eli, and also how, at the end of chapter 3, Samuel is being lifted up before Israel just as Joshua and Moses had been.
Some time passes before Israel again heads out to fight the Philistines in chapter 4. Not only is Israel defeated, and not only are the prophecies of the previous chapter fulfilled, but the Ark of the Covenant is captured – the first time this Ark had ever been out of Israelite hands. Sadness descends as “the glory of the LORD has departed from Israel.”
However, in this foreign land the Ark becomes a central character. It is first placed in the temple of a central Philistine god, Dagon. The first night it is left there, Dagon bows to the Ark; on the second night, Dagon is executed. The citizens of the city of Ashdod fare no better, as the plagues they had heard about from Egypt now afflict them. They farm the Ark out to Gath, who then exile it to Ekron, with each station receiving greater distress than the previous one. The Philistines come to the conclusion that keeping the Ark might not be worth it.
In these three episodes a number of Biblical trends resurface. To hear that the LORD “came and stood” in the Tabernacle to call Samuel is reminiscent of the personal encounters Abraham, Jacob, and Moses had with Him. The LORD again fights fiercely for his honor, both with Eli and with the Philistines. And the foreigner’s respect – or terror – toward the LORD calls even greater attention to the apostasy of the Israelites.
Our verse for this week is Matthew 11:28: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
1 Samuel 3 through 5. Now let’s read it!
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.