1 Samuel 3:1 “The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.”
When Samuel says that the word of the Lord was rare, he is not noting a lack of Bibles, or even preachers. His Bible consisted of 6 books, not 66 books as it does today. As important as those words were, most people did not expect to have their own copies. Still, it was not difficult for people to have a working knowledge of the contents of those books if they desired. Samuel was learning from Eli. The opportunity was there for those who wanted to know.
But the Lord had much more to tell his people than those 6 books contained. Through Moses he had promised to continue to send them prophets. They would receive his word more or less directly from him and pass it along to the people. This went on for thousands of years. The author of Hebrews notes: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways…” He may operate differently today, but we have his entire message in writing, and almost all his work in fulfillment.
At the time of Samuel, God wasn’t talking much. Why? You know how frustrating and irritating it is to talk to someone who doesn’t listen. Maybe you can tell by the lack of eye-contact. Their eyes wander while you to talk to them. Maybe you can tell by awkward silences, or strange responses to something you have said on the telephone. Maybe it’s because they don’t do what you ask, and are even unaware that you asked. Wives, parents, teachers–you know what I am talking about.
For hundreds of years Israel hadn’t been listening to the Lord. Samuel was the last of the judges to lead Israel. The book of Judges describes the times this way, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Finally, the Lord stopped talking. He stopped sending prophets. If the people were going to do their own thing, he would let them see how that worked out for them. His word became rare. There were not many visions.
Does that sound scary to you? It should. It is hard to imagine a more severe judgment. Calling God’s word “rare” reminds us not only that it became scarce. It is precious, like a rare jewel, or coin, or antique. Faith comes from hearing the message. Without the word there can be no faith, no life, no salvation. The word becoming rare is like water becoming rare, or air becoming rare. Without the word, our souls, our spirits, will surely die.
Are our times so different from Samuel’s? “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Even professed Christians find themselves putting their own ideas ahead of God’s word. Even churches deny, overlook, or criticize what God has to say about sex and marriage, riches, the only way to heaven, men and women, or how he made us. Eighty percent of our American neighbors don’t consider God’s word important enough to attend worship on any given weekend. Should we, then, be surprised if he decided to stop sending us preachers and teachers, if he let the Bible go silent among us, since so few want to take his word seriously anyway?
This is why it is exciting, and comforting, to see God’s word come calling on Samuel. The Lord was ending his silence, not because his people had changed, but because his love remained the same. He still wanted their souls to live. He still wanted their sins to be forgiven. He still wanted to tell them about Jesus and the wonderful things he was going to do for them.
And in this moment, in this place, he is not silent for us, either. His word has come calling on you and me. We have heard its call to repent of our sins. We have believed its promise that his grace knows no bounds and his forgiveness covers every sin. Let’s hear it while we can. Let’s share it so that its sweet voice does not become rare.