Sermon for Sunday, October 22nd, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[1 Samuel 3:1-21 ESV] 1 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD in the presence of Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. 2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place. 3 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. 4 Then the LORD called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am!” 5 and 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. 6 And the LORD called again, “Samuel!” and Samuel arose 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.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. 8 And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant hears.'” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” 11 Then the LORD said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. 12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.” 15 Samuel lay until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the LORD. And Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16 But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” And he said, “Here I am.” 17 And Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is the LORD. Let him do what seems good to him.” 19 And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the LORD. 21 And the LORD appeared again at Shiloh, for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the LORD.
New Testament reading:
[Acts 2:1-15 ESV] 1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians–we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.
[Luke 21:25-33 ESV] 25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” 29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
Several months before the opening of the Olympic Games, the Olympic Flame is lit. And it continues to burn for the duration of the games, extinguished only at the closing ceremony. The Flame, in its continuance, is a symbol of continuity; a visible reminder that the games are still ongoing. The few times that the flame has gone out are notable in Olympic history. And in each of those cases it was quickly re-lit, sometimes by a backup torch of the Olympic Committee and a couple times by just whoever nearby had a lighter in their pocket.
In the Old Testament we find a similar “eternal flame” with its own symbolic reminders.
The command in Leviticus is:
[Lev 6:12 ESV] 12 The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not go out. The priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and he shall arrange the burnt offering on it and shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings.
So we find in out text today the statement:
“The lamp of God had not yet gone out.”
Though Eli’s worthless sons had made a real mess of things at the temple, “The lamp of God had not yet gone out.”
That lamp in the temple — its only light — was still burning.
This, by the grace of God, was SOMETHING that was still going well. A symbol of continuance. Continuance, for one, of the priesthood. The priesthood still existed. It still went forward. And a symbol of the continuance of the temple; and of the people still coming to the temple. But, above all else, the continued fire of the lamp was a symbol of the continuance of God’s wood.
The fire is not gone out. Though the word of God was rare, it was not gone for good. The Lord God remained as the God of Israel and He was calling a new priest.
That new priest is Samuel.
I. The Fire Is Not Gone Out as the Priesthood continues
The rise of Samuel makes for a nice alliteration in the Hebrew. And I’ve been teaching my daughter lately the difference between rhyme and alliteration. Rhyme is to have common sounds, usually at the end of a word, whereas alliteration is to have common sounds at the beginning of a word. The alliteration that first comes to my mind is from “When Harry Met Sally” when Billy Crystal’s character says “may I Please Partake of the Pecan Pie.” [REPEAT: “may I Please Partake of the Pecan Pie.”]
Well, anyways, Samuel goes from na’ar (boy) to nabi (prophet). That’s the alliteration: from Na’ar to Nabi. He grows up. And he comes to that role that God has called him to.
So the priesthood isn’t DONE, the first isn’t burned out, but continued in a new line, no longer following the family of Eli.
God’s call of Samuel is persistent. He keeps on calling.
How many times does God call Samuel?
First time: [1Sa 3:4-5 ESV] 4 Then the LORD called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am!” 5 and 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.
Second time: [1Sa 3:6 ESV] 6 And the LORD called again, “Samuel!” and Samuel arose 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.”
And a third time: [1Sa 3:8-9 ESV] 8 And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant hears.'” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
There is a fourth time. But really it is multiple. [1Sa 3:10 ESV] 10 And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”
“Calling at other times.” So it is more than 4 times. God is persistent. And Samuel now hears Him.
God call each time, “Samuel.” That is, He calls him by his personal name. This same pattern of God’s repetition of calling by personal names happened also with Abraham at Mt. Moriah (Gen. 22:1, 11). First God said “Abraham.” And then the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said “Abraham, Abraham.”
Similarly, God repeatedly called Moses by his personal name at the burning bush (Ex. 3:4). God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses.’
Samuel gets the same treatment. He is being shown as called of God equal to Abraham and Moses.
And then, the response of these three men to God’s calling is the same. Abraham, Moses, and Samuel all respond to God saying this: “Here I am.” [REPEAT: “Here I am.”]
We see in this God’s persistent call, and effectual call. The Lord likewise calls us, though perhaps not audibly like Samuel, but definitely with the power of the Holy Spirit. And this call is repetitious. We might not even hear it at first. Or, if we do, we don’t listen. God calls us from an early age, perhaps just planting a seed in us. Then he calls us at a later age, watering us. And he calls us, making faith to grow. I suspect few people embrace the Gospel the first time they hear it. They probably ignore it the first time they hear it, and the second time, and the third, and the 50th time. But one day it gets through, and our response … “I DON”T LIKE IT, THAT’S NOT FAIR.” But finally, with God’s persistent and effectual calling we understand the beauty of the Gospel and we break down and say “Here I am Lord.” [REPEAT: Here I am Lord.]
In the van traveling this week I heard a song on a Christian radio station with the refrain “You called my name.” “You called my name, and I ran out of that grave.”
It is a reminder that we are called of the Lord.
The “effectual calling” is actually one of our catechism questions:
Q. 31. What is effectual calling?
A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.
The work OF God. We ignore the call until God decides to overpower us with the Holy Spirit.
This is what he does to Samuel. Prior to this, somewhat was deficient in Samuel. Verse 7 says “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.”
Now Samuel hears the call and answers it. “Here I am Lord.” “And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan (in the far North) to Beersheba (in the far south) knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord.”
But what of Eli?
His sons were supposed to turn people to God, but their actions turned people away from God.
So what of Eli? What happens to him? Well, in the next chapter he dies, but the question that come to mind is this: is he SAVED? Was he a believer?
Eli is one of a number of Biblical characters who we’re not told explicitly whether they are saved. We’re left wondering. One commentator says that Eli was an unbeliever (as evidenced by the sins and the condemnation from God) and that Eli’s subservience to God at the end is merely that he recognizes that any further opposition is futile. But another commentator (KD) says “Eli’s reply proves that, with all his weakness and criminal indulgence towards his wicked sons, Eli was thoroughly devoted to the Lord in his heart.”
We did see Eli a godly man in his interaction with Hannah. He said to her “God in peace and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” And we see Eli’s response to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”
My own conclusion, matches that of my former pastor, who says this: As you point out, the text doesn’t say explicitly. But, when judgment was foretold by the prophet, he did resolve himself to the sovereignty and wisdom of God. My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that Eli was a believer who had grown apathetic. He knew the Lord well enough to recognize he (the Lord) was speaking to Samuel, and he was acquainted enough with the ways of the Lord to instruct young Samuel how to wait on the Lord, and hopefully Elkanah and Hannah wouldn’t leave the young boy at the temple to be raised by a false professor. Plus, having logged several miles of ministerial experience, I seem to be more ready to give people the benefit of the doubt in their professions of faith than in my younger years. Many Bible characters seem to have sinned as badly as, and worse than, Eli, but we don’t doubt their faith. For example the man after God’s own heart, who was an adulterer, murderer, and (like Eli) a negligent father. Solomon (the wisest man) didn’t do so well either. Not only did he have a whopping harem, but he set up idols to other gods and, apparently, offered some of his own sons as burnt human sacrifices. I would say that, old Eli didn’t do any worse than them, at least from what we are given in Scripture. I think Eli is one of many imperfect, fallible men in the Bible whose sins were forgiven by our merciful God.
So, we can’t always know the details, but we do know that we have a merciful God.
And going with our theme that “the First is not gone out” we should re-read verse 2:
2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out,
Perhaps this idea that “the lamp of God had not yet gone out” implies that Eli yet feared God, and so could be there to hand off the torch, so to speak, to Samuel.
II. The fire is not gone out as he Word of God continues.
But, as I noted before, the continuity that is most important is not so much the priesthood, but the word of God.
The passage, the chapter begins with:
And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.
But it ends with this:
19 And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the LORD. 21 And the LORD appeared again at Shiloh, for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the LORD.
So the Word of God continued. God did not let that fire go out, but continued to guide His people by His word.
III. The fire is not gone out as the Lord always keeps a remnant of believers.
This idea of continuity also should remind and encourage us that God always has and always will keep a remnant of believers on the earth. Throughout the Bible we see that there are always some believers, even if the number is few. It was as few as 8 in the ark of Noah.
A common definition of “remnant” is “What is left of a community after it undergoes a catastrophe.” Well, there are many catastrophe’s in the Scripture, but God keeps alive a remnant of his people even through them, to be a witness to all on the earth and to continue proclaiming the word of God wherever they are.
The idea continues in the New Testament.
[Rom 11:5 ESV] 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.
So we are to understand that the fire is not gone out OF US. There are still believers. WE still believe, by the grace of God.
God STILL calls His people. We still, by the work of the Holy Spirit, answer His call. His Word continues to direct us, and His people still follow him.
Let’s look at some applications. Perhaps these repeat some of what has already been said, but they are still work saying, even if for a second time:
A. This (that the fire is not gone out) gives us hope. God keeps his people going.
In this lowest time of Eli and his worthless sons, God changes the course of Israel, the nation and the people. He brings a faithful priest.
And so in the lowest times of our nation, our churches, or our families, we should trust that God still calls, and effectual calls, His people.
B. The word IS Active today.
There are no prophets today. So is the word of God scarce today?
In Biblical times, the absence of God’s word was a sign of his judgment.
And the word of the God certainly is rare in apostate churches. This is a harsh word, is it not, apostate. But, caring about truth we call a spade a space. And if a church is apostate, we should call it apostate.
Apostate means “to renounce belief.”
The PCUSA was declared apostate in the 1930s by the founders of the Bible Presbyterian Church and also those of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church because the PCUSA failed to even agree that the very fundamentals of the faith are necessary for belief. Then in the 1960s the PCUSA renounces the Westminster Confession of Faith. They renounced their belief, saying it wasn’t necessary to believe. Even John Gerstner, the teacher of R. C. Sproul, who for years remained fighting for the faith within the PCUSA did finally leave it at the end of his life calling it apostate.
This doesn’t mean that every local PCUSA church is apostate. It certainly doesn’t mean that they aren’t believers in that denomination; I know some. But at the top level, and by official policy and teaching, they are apostate. They have renounced the faith, the fire has gone out.
But, again, without prophets is the word of God scarce today? Not at all. The Word of God is not scarce, but complete. It is complete in Christ. The prophets of old prophesied about him. But now He is come, and we know of Jesus Christ through the Gospels and the epistles of the New Testament. The faith is now delivered unto the saints.
But this doesn’t mean God is done or is inactive. Yes, Jesus said “It is finished” on the cross. He was crucified ONCE for our justification. But the Lord works through the Holy Spirit every day. The fire of the Holy Spirit is not burned out. And, on such an idea we find in the Book of Acts that the Holy Spirit came upon them as like “tongues of fire.” The fire is not put out.
The fire of God, in fact, will NEVER burn out.
Any attempt to put it out would look like one of those trick birthday candles. You think it is out, but it keeps burning.
The fire of God NEVER will burn out.
He continues to work.
He calls a new prophet and priest.
He continues to call His people unto Him.
And his word continues to go forth, changing lives.
Let us pray.