God's Effectual Call — 1 Samuel 3

God ends His silence and calls Samuel to be His prophet. God's effectual call to Samuel has parallels to God's call to us today.

God's Effectual Call — 1 Samuel 3
Photo by Trevor Gerzen / Unsplash
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Sermon given during the Sunday Equipping Hour for adults and children at Grace Bible Church of Pleasant Hill on September 24, 2023.


  • Last week, we studied Hannah's prayer of thanksgiving in response to God's personal deliverance in giving her a son, Samuel.
  • Elkanah and Hannah fulfill their vow and dedicated their firstborn son Samuel to lifelong separation and service to God.
  • [Hannah] would make [Samuel] a little robe and bring it to him from year to year. (v.19)
  • And we learn in 1 Sam 2:21 that "Yahweh indeed visited Hannah; and she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters."

In God's story of redemption this far in the Old Testament, we encounter periods of God’s spoken revelation followed by periods of relative silence.

  • After God judged people at the tower of Babel, there was a period of silence before God appeared again to Abraham.
  • After God appeared to Jacob in Genesis 46, there was another period of silence of about 400 years before God appeared to Moses in the burning bush.
  • After Joshua led Israel's conquest of Canaan, there was yet another period of silence of about 300 years.
  • And when it seemed that God would remain distant, God breaks out of His silence here in 1 Samuel 3.

We'll organize 1 Samuel 3 into five sections as we read God's effectual call to Samuel.

  • The scarcity of God's call (v.1–3), the persistence of God's call (v.4–9), the intimacy of God's call (v.10), the demand of God's call (v.11–18), and the marks of God's call (v.19–21)

1. The Scarcity of God's Call (v.1–3)

"And word from Yahweh was rare in those days; visions were infrequent." (v.1b)

  • During this time, the people of Israel had the Torah and the book of Joshua.

  • New revelation from God must come through visions to men identified as "men of God."

    • Then a man of God came to Eli and said to him, "Thus says Yahweh..." (1 Sam 2:27)
  • God generally withholds His word when He is displeased. (1 Sam 28:6,15; Ps 74:9)

    • Saul asked of God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines?…” But [God] did not answer him on that day. (1 Sam 14:37)
    • ”The law is no more. Also, her prophets find no vision from Yahweh.” (Lam 2:9b - Jeremiah laments over God’s anger with Judah)

”Behold, days are coming,” declares Lord Yahweh, “When I will send a famine on the land, not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of Yahweh. People will wander from sea to sea and from the north even to the east; They will go to and fro to seek the word of Yahweh, but they will not find it.“ (Amos 8:11–12)

  • Displeased with Israel during this period of the Judges, God withheld His word, His revelation.
  • So God's initiation here to call Samuel to serve as a prophet is a sign of grace and favor.
  • God's effectual call is not universal. It is rare, and it can only be initiated by God.

Eli was “lying down in his place” (v.2), while Samuel was “lying down in the temple of Yahweh where the ark of God was.” (v.3)

  • Samuel is lying down in the temple where the ark of the covenant (Exod 25:10–22) was located, at the place of revelation and fellowship with God.
  • Eli is lying in his room outside the sanctuary. With no mention of sleeping with his wife, Eli was likely now an elderly widower.
  • Eli’s eyesight had deteriorated due to his age, and according to Leviticus law, Eli’s blindness disqualified him from serving as a priest.
  • “For no one who has a defect shall come near: a blind man or a lame man or he who has a disfigured face or any deformed limb.” (Lev 21:18)

"The lamp of God had not yet gone out" (v.3a)

  • First, the “lamp of God” refers to the sacred lamp that was set up in the tabernacle outside the curtain veiling the entrance to the Most Holy Place. It was to be lit each evening and allowed to burn until morning (Ex 27:20; Lev 24:2)
    • “You shall command the sons of Israel…to make a lamp burn continually in the ten of meeting, outside the veil which is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall keep it in order from evening to morning before Yahweh.” (Ex 27:20–21a)
  • Second, “lamp of God” represents God’s revelation
    • Divine revelation, although rare, had not been completed snuffed out.

2. The Persistence of God's Call (v.4–9)

Notice the persistence of God’s calling to Samuel. The Hebrew verb translated “call” is used 11 times in v.4–10. [Davis]

  1. “Yahweh called Samuel.” (v.4a)
    • Notice that the audible voice of God was a familiar voice, not one of a stranger.
    • Samuel was not startled. He naturally assumed it was Eli that called.
    • "Here I am" (הִנְנִ֥י is similar to Isa 6:8b, "Here am I. Send me!")
  2. Yahweh called yet again, “Samuel!” (v.6a)
    • "Samuel did not yet know Yahweh" because he was a child, and God had not revealed Himself to Samuel.
    • Eli's sons "did not know Yahweh" (2:12) because they were wicked and disregarded God.
  3. ”So Yahweh called Samuel again for a third time.” (v.8)
    • The torch has already passed Eli.
    • God is finally speaking audibly, but Eli cannot hear God’s voice.
    • Notice that Samuel hears the voice of God, but Eli who is nearby does NOT hear it.
    • Yet Eli finally discerns Yahweh is calling Samuel to give him instruction (v.8–9).
  • Notice the patience, kindness, and gentleness of God. God gave Samuel time to respond to Him.

Then [Jesus] poured water into the washbasin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet...So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, are You going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not realize now, but you will understand afterwards.” (Jn 13:5–7)

Peter later understood Jesus' example of humility. "And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE. Therefore ahumble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time." (1 Pet 5:5–6)


  • God shows unfathomable patience and persistence when He calls us.
  • Whether it's His effectual call of salvation or our progressive growth and sanctification, God remains gentle and faithful.

3. The Intimacy of God's Call (v.10)

A. God Appeared

"Then Yahweh came and stood..." (v.10a)

  • God did not simply speak to Samuel. God appeared and God stood.
  • The verb "stood" is used of Yahweh when He appears in a theophany.
  • Then Yahweh appeared to [Abraham] by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing nearby (Gen 18:1–2a - God and two angels)
  • Then [Jacob] had a dream, and behold, a ladder stood on the earth with its top touching heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, Yahweh stood above it and said, “I am Yahweh, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.” (Gen 28:12–13a - scene of Jacob's ladder)

B. God Spoke

"Samuel, Samuel" - God repeating a name twice had only occurs three other times this far in the OT (Gen 22:11; Gen 46:2; Exod 3:4). Repeating a name twice draws attention and expresses emphasis, elevation, and intimacy.

  • And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of Yahweh called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” (Gen 22:10–11)
  • [To clearly instruct Jacob to leave Canaan] God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” (Gen 46:2)
  • And Yahweh saw that he turned aside to look, so God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” (Exod 3:4)


  • But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things." (Lk 10:41)
  • And as [Saul] was traveling, it happened that when he was approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:3–4)

Implication: God’s intimate call to us.

  • God's call to you today, like Samuel, is equally personal.
  • While His invitation for salvation is general proclaimed to all people, God's effectual call to His children is personal, private, and exclusive.
  • Paul, describing his calling to the Galatians, said, "But when God, who had set me apart from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might proclaim Him as good news among the Gentiles." (Gal 1:15)

4. The Demand of God's Call (v.11–18)

“All that I have spoken concerning his house" (v.12)

  • This refer to what God had already revealed to a prophet who was simply called a “man of God” back in 2:27–36.

"I am about to judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knew because his sons have been bringing a curse on themselves, but he did not rebuke them." (v.13)

  • Eli’s sons “were blaspheming God” (ESV), “blasphemed God” (NIV), “are cursing God” (CSB)
    • Follows the LXX (theos) rather than MT.

How bad were Eli’s sons? Look back to 1 Samuel 2.

  • “Now the sons of Eli were vile men; they did not know Yahweh.” (2:12)
    • This Hebrew phrase (lit. “sons of Belial”) connotes vile persons. It is used of those who incite to idolatry (Deut. 13:13) or insurrection (10:27; 2 Sam. 16:7; 20:1); the sexually immoral (Judg. 19:22); and liars (1 Kin. 21:10, 13). The phrase is appropriately applied to Eli’s sons. [RSB]
    • Eli’s sons did not have any personal relationship with God.
  • Read 1 Samuel 2:15–17
    • Since the time of Abel, the fat of the offering, which was the best part of the offering, was to be reserved for God.
    • Eli’s sons prevented the Israelites by force from offering the fat so that the fat could later be eaten by the priests.
  • “[Eli’s sons] lay with the women who served at the doorway of the tent of meeting.” (2:22)
    • Eli would accuse Hannah of being a "vile woman" (1:16) or a daughter of Belial while he tolerated the immorality of his own sons at the place and location of the holy worship of the One Holy God.

"Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli" (v.15b)

  • God’s demand from his prophets was not simply to hear and pay attention to special revelation.
  • The prophet was to be God’s obedient herald.
  • It is not easy to herald God's revelation amidst opposition.
  • Is it no wonder how difficult it can be for you and me to proclaim God's truth in our society.
    • That the One True God created us male and female.
    • That God designed marriage to be the intimate relationship between one man and one woman.
    • That because God has created us in His image and likeness, all human life inside a woman's womb is sacred and must be protected.

"Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him." (v.18a)

  • Samuel accepted God's demand. He told Eli everything.


  • God's call to Samuel and God's call to us as His disciples includes a demand for complete obedience and supreme devotion.

"Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, in Your name did we not prophesy, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name do many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ (Mt 7:21–23)

  • The cost of God's call to salvation is this. To follow Christ costs us nothing, but Christ demand us everything. Complete allegiance and sacrificial obedience.

"I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. (Ga 2:20a)

5. The Marks of God's Call (v.19–21)

A. The Presence of God

"Samuel grew, and Yahweh was with him." (v.19a)

  • From childhood to adulthood, God's presence remained with Samuel.
  • God's presence in David vs. God's absence in Saul was the difference between success and failure.
  • Then one of the young men answered and said, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is a skillful musician, a mighty man of valor, a warrior, one who is understanding in speech, and man of fine form; and Yahweh is with him.” (1 Sam 16:18)
  • And Saul was afraid of David, for Yahweh was with him but had turned away from Saul. (1 Sam 18:12 — it was clear to Saul that God’s Spirit had left him but remained with David.
  • And David was prospering in all his ways, and Yahweh was with him. (1 Sam 18:14)
  • Then Saul saw and knew that Yahweh was with David. (1 Sam 18:28a)

App: Holy Spirit Indwells Believers Forever

  • Unlike King Saul, every follower of Christ today is forever endwelt by God's Spirit.
  • God says, "I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the crushed and lowly of spirit." (Is 57:15a)
  • I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statues. (Ezek 36:27a)
  • And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, that He may be with you forever. (Jn 14:16)
  • And hope does not put to shame, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Ro 5:5)

B. The Words of God

"let none of his words fall to the ground." (v.19c)

  • The narrator’s statement that Yahweh didn’t let any of Samuel’s words “fall to the ground” means that all predictions that he would utter at Yahweh’s instruction would come true. [Hoffner EEC]
  • This is the mark and indication of a true prophet.
  • Behold now, there is a man of God in this city, and the man is held in honor; all that he says surely comes true. (1 Sam 9:6)
  • When a prophet speaks in the name of Yahweh, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which Yahweh has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him. (Deut 18:21–22)

App: Handle God's Word Accurately

  • It's so important that our pastors and Bible teachers handle accurately the word of God.
  • Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. (2Tim 2:15)

C. The Affirmation of God

"All Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of Yahweh." (v.20)

  • "Dan to Beersheba" - colloquial way to refer to all Israel (North to South)
  • Samuel's integrity with communicating God's word and his reputation of adhering to a lifelong vow as a Nazirite confirmed to all Israel that Samuel was a true prophet.
  • Samuel will serve as Israel's final judge (7:15–17). Samuel served three offices: judge, prophet, and priest.
  • No man will take three offices. King Saul will try to take the office of priest, and God condemned him for taking a tri-fold office that was reserved for the Anointed One, the final King.
  • Samuel will foreshadow of the coming Messiah who will come one day as prophet, priest, and king. All three.

Samuel's three marks for God's calling: (1) the presence of God, (2) the Words of God, and (3) the affirmation of God as confirmed by other witnesses.

And we read the end results in 1 Samuel 4:1.

  • In 1 Samuel 3:1 it reads, "And word from Yahweh was rare in those days; visions were infrequent."
  • In 1 Samuel 4:1, God says, "Thus the word of Samuel came to all Israel."

God had selected and called Samuel to be His prophet, and God will use him to speak His word to all Israel.


  • You and I are not called to the office of judge, prophet, and priest like Samuel.
  • It was our Lord Jesus Christ who assumed the role of prophet, priest, and king.
  • But if you are not a Christian, God is issuing a call to you to repent and turn away from your sin. Turn to Christ and acknowledge Him as your Savior and Lord.
  • And if you are a Christian, God tells us in Romans 8:29 that to "those whom He predestined, He also called; and those whom He called, He also justified; and those whom He justified, He also glorified."
    • Marvel God that you received His call, which is scarce.
    • Thank God for His patience and persistence.
    • Savor God, whose call to you is personal and intimate.
    • Obey God as you surrender yourself as He demands.
    • Cherish God for His indwelling presence, His Holy Word, and His everlasting affirmation.