1 Samuel 3:1-10
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
2At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3the 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. 4Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ 5and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. 6The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” ’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’
Is the Deus Absconditus, the idea of the hiddenness of God, a description of God’s own aloofness or is it a description of our own spiritual condition?
In the opening verse of 1 Samuel 3, some of our English versions read that the Word was ‘precious’; other versions read ‘rare.’ The word in question—yāqār—is often used in other contexts to speak of gold or jewels: in the case of Solomon’s house, the foundation ‘was of costly stones’ (1 Kings 7:10-11) because of their great size and the labor required to construct them.
With the bright festivities of Christmas behind us, routines back in motion, we may wonder if the presence of the Lord is a ‘rare’ thing in these days. Yet, we enter Ordinary Time assured that God still attends his people in numerous ways. Will his words to us be only ‘rare’ or can they also be ‘precious’?
The contrast between the boy Samuel and the sons of Eli is a stark warning. Eli’s ‘sons were blaspheming God’ (verse 13) and the record reports earlier that ‘they had no regard for the Lord’ (1 Samuel 2:12). They did the unthinkable in the spaces where the worshipers had come, intending to meet with God. Even in his house, God can be hidden. Perhaps he is hidden because we have hidden ourselves from him or because we hide his truth from those around us.
By contrast, depending on how the Hebrew vowels are discerned, the name Samuel could mean ‘the name of God’ or ‘God who hears.’ In either case—if we know God by name or we know he hears us—we are open to his revealed presence and truth that comes with it. This contrast can be a salutary jewel when we are faced with the question, ‘Where is God now?’
The interests of the public life of the Church and its people can at times be a signal of deficiencies in the inner life of the Church. No doubt, we will not all agree on how to do the outward life of the Church and the manner in which we bring our political theology to common places will vary. Regardless, we bring to every public hour our awareness or unawareness of the words of the God who both hears and speaks.
The example of the child’s heart of the boy Samuel invites us to bring a child-like heart into our grown-up ways and our movements in and out of our political settings. Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening’ (verse 10). He did not leave this attentiveness behind with added years. ‘As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground’ (verse 19). Whether by neglect or on purpose he did not lose his words.
In time all the nation, from North to South, would come to regard him as a man whose ear bent toward the mouth of the Almighty. ‘And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord’ (v20). This sort of private life has a purifying effect on the outward-facing facets of a life. Israel came to trust Samuel. ‘A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold’ (Proverbs 22:1).
O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
As we turn to the Psalm portion from our reading we are impressed that, although we may think God hides from us, still nothing is hidden from Him. The infinite knowing of the Almighty is so tangible that it is as though he puts his hand on our shoulders.
Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
His knowing of us precedes us. His knowing is a gift to us that is this life, a gift in the opportunities it brings, a gift in the relationships we form along its edges.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
If we truly attend to this powerful imagery, it can provoke in us wonder, gratitude, and a chaste sense of what is truly ours, of the humbling limits of our knowledge.
45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Whatever restrictions may be upon us in the civil arena, still we cross those thresholds as the people who listen when God speaks his words from his Word. Whether or not we are allowed to bring our faith into the workplace, into the classroom, into the common places, into the halls of government, we do well to be what we may not be permitted to say. We do well to make our public life the overflow of the goodness of the Lord who knows and owns the heart.
Martin Luther spoke about “the hiddenness of God” in his Heidelberg Disputation. He was just as concerned about this question then as we sense it within ourselves now. Luther’s answer was, in part, to contrast theologia gloria, the theology of glory with theological crucis, the theology of the cross. In thesis #20 he wrote, “He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering.”
Philip seeks Nathaniel because this Man of Nazareth sought him out. Yet, the seeking God does not move merely along a horizontal line. He descends and ascends, and in him we see heaven and earth meet. The Son of Man descended to us in flesh. We lifted him to the cross. In death he descended into the tomb. In resurrection he ascended to his throne.
These movements, uniquely Christian, are for us a living pattern to seek those who suffer, to enter in and give ourselves to them. Whatever else may fortify our political theology, what will truly strengthen it is when we learn to suffer with those who suffer. In so doing, we uncloak the goodness of God to the world.
We may feel surrounded by those whose minds are made up that the Deus Absconditus is ever true—that God is ultimately remote, hidden, and seemingly unconcerned. To such persons we declare the life of the suffering Son of God, alive in us, so that they might know he is near and how he has come near.
Nathaniel, after meeting the Christ, confessed him to be the King of Israel, a political thing as much as a theological thing to say. The hour before this he was alone, in the cool shadows and now he stands before the Lord of the Universe.
The imagery of ‘heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man’ echoes the vision of Jacob’s Ladder (Genesis 28:1-22). Notice that the angel’s point of reference is reversed at the coming of Christ. For Jacob the Lord stood above the ladder. Now, in Christ, the Lord stands below it.
For Jacob, for Samuel, and for the psalmist the Lord made his word and Presence known in a limited way. But in this Man of Nazareth the God we thought hidden is now most visible, Deus incognito—Yahweh enfleshed, not aloof, tabernacling with us (John 1:18). What boldness this incites in us, what humility, what graces that we may tell the world we are Christ’s and invite them to ‘come and see’ him too.
“Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For His grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much.
“As the image in the glass
Answers the beholder’s face;
Thus unto my heart appear,
Print Thine own resemblance there.”
John Newton (1779)
Mark Olivero is a ruling elder at Trinity Bible Church of Greer, South Carolina, holds an M. Div from Bob Jones Seminary and is currently writing his first book.