“The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 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.Then the Lord called, “Samuel, Samuel!”’ – 1 Sam 3: 1-4
I feel bad for Eli. He was a priest during one of the darkest times in Israel’s history – the period of judges. If you aren’t familiar, this was a time of chaos and sin. “All the people did what was right in their own eyes” (Jud 21:25). It was a time of evil and sordidness – a time of God’s absence. The word of the Lord was rare in those days.
And if that weren’t enough, Eli wasn’t a good priest. Discernment wasn’t his strong suit. Hannah, for example, uses God’s temple (not the one Solomon built – rather this temple refers to Shiloh, the central Israelite shrine where the Ark of the Covenant was kept) properly to pour out her heart before the Lord. Eli, however, runs her off and accuses her of being drunk. But when Eli’s sons have sex with women right in the doorway to the Tent of Meeting, Eli gives them a limp slap on the wrist. And so Eli is flawed. And old. And going blind. And he’s the one leading Israel through one of the darkest times in their history.
And so the Lord calls Samuel. God is eager to do something new through Samuel. Samuel represents the hope of a new beginning. No matter how dark things seemed, “the lamp of God had not yet gone out.” It still flickered. This lamp was a gold menorah that God instructed Moses to make long ago. It was a symbol of God’s presence with His people. The author of 1 Samuel is clear. This was a time of evil and sordidness – a time of God’s absence. The word of the Lord was rare in those days. But even still, the lamp of God had not yet gone out.
We too live in a world where all seem to do what is right in their own eyes. There seems to be a lot of evil and chaos and confusion in our world. And at times, our church leaders can be just as old and blind as Eli. God may speak, but we ignore God’s voice the first few times and go back to sleep. But, the Christian claim is that no matter how dark things seem, the lamp of God will not go out – the lamp of God cannot go out.
Think about how the Bible ends. The Bible ends with a lone apostle, exiled to Patmos, living through a very dark period of persecution. And yet in the midst of that darkness John (not the disciple whom Jesus loved - let me be clear) had a vision. He lifted up his chin and saw Jesus ruling the cosmos in glory “in the midst of lamp stands” (Rev 1:13). Blazing brightly, John of Patmos saw the Light of the World shining in the midst of darkness. And perhaps John, in that moment, thought of Samuel. And Eli. Perhaps John remembered how even in the darkest period of Israel’s history, “the lamp of God had not yet gone out.”
Things in this world at times seem dark. Everyone, it seems, does what is right in their own eyes. It’s a modern day version of the book of Judges. BUT, the lamp of God has not yet gone out. And with Jesus, we can be confident and sure that it never will.