"And the child Samuel grew on, and increased in favour both with the Lord, and also with men... And the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli... And (Eli) said, What is the thing that the Lord hath spoken unto thee? I pray thee, hide it not from me... And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan even to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord. And the Lord appeared again in Shiloh; for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord" (1 Sam. 2:26; 3:1,17,19-21).
Discerning the Voice of the Lord
The first event we actually read about Samuel was that of the Lord speaking to him in the night, or the Lord calling him in the night, and that incident is of quite definite importance and has quite a definite meaning. The Lord could have spoken to Eli and made Eli teach Samuel; that is, the Lord could have taken another course than the one which He took on that night. He had a very special purpose, it would seem, in adopting the method that He did, in holding the matter to Samuel, and holding Samuel to Himself, and it seems to me that the object was that Samuel, from the beginning, should learn to know the Lord's voice. It was a day in which there was no voice of the Lord among men, there was no prophet speaking for the Lord. Eli certainly was not in a condition to speak for the Lord. In a day when the Lord purposed to react to the existing poor spiritual condition, a condition marked, as the Word says, by, "no open vision" (1 Sam. 3:1 AV), nothing that was clearly of the Lord, at that time He took pains to teach the instrument that He was going to use to recognise His voice. There may have been voices, but not the definite and clear voice of the Lord. It was a time of confusion in every way and indistinctness, indefiniteness. Eli was fast going blind, signifying the state of Israel without anything clear in relation to the Lord, and in that day the Lord took pains to teach Samuel to discern His voice. He, so to speak, sought to produce in Samuel a faculty of spiritual discernment, and so He called and He called again, and refused to go round any other way than this direct, personal way, and hold it to Samuel so that Samuel came to know when the Lord was speaking. He could, from that time, discern that this was of the Lord.
This is a very important matter in spiritual growth, that there should be in us a faculty of spiritual discernment, and it is there by new birth. Our spiritual faculties are renewed, quickened in new birth, but there are few, even of the Lord's people, who have exercised those faculties. As we have it in Hebrews 5:13 - "those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil". Therefore people are still largely uncertain and indefinite as to the Lord's purpose. I am not now speaking about details of everyday life, but I am speaking about the purpose of God, and it is true that there are comparatively few who are clear as to the purpose of God, because their spiritual senses are not exercised to discern.
If Samuel is a representation of true, genuine, simple, spiritual growth, this is one thing which explains his growth, that he had learned to know the voice of the Lord in a time of confusion and indefiniteness. We shall only learn by dwelling in the secret place. It requires that we have a life with the Lord behind the scenes, and carry out with us into life in general that mark of living before the Lord, having our lives before the Lord, and not, in the first place, before men. It means that what we are outwardly and in public is not all that we are; there is something more than that behind us. And it is in that personal life with the Lord, that quiet and persistent touch with the Lord in the secret place, that we learn to discern what is the voice of the Lord as distinct from other voices, and that there does develop in us that faculty for knowing that this is of the Lord. How we come to it does not matter at the moment, but we do come to it, where somehow, strangely perhaps, inexplicably, we know when the Lord is saying something and when it is not the Lord that is saying it; and that is essential to spiritual growth.
There is a place for fellowship in the matter of the things of the Lord, for counsel, for advice. There is a place where we can get the advantage and value of the spiritual experience of others, but there must be, behind all that, the faculty that is growing for discerning and for corroborating what others say. There are people who live wholly upon asking other people for advice and counsel to tell them what to do. Their whole life is a matter of running about asking other people what they are to do. There is a place for spiritual counsel where there is the experience that will provide it, but that must not be the whole life. We must have that personal touch with the Lord where we have had a beginning in knowing the Lord for ourselves, and where that faculty of discerning His voice is growing. You will find as you go on that people who are without spiritual discernment are people of small spiritual measure. Discernment is a characteristic of spiritual enlargement.
Hearing the Word of the Lord for the Time
Having come to the point where it was perceived that the Lord was speaking and that this was the Lord's voice, then it was possible for the Lord to give Samuel the word for the present time. "I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that hears it shall tingle" (1 Sam. 3:11). The Lord was going to do something, and He gave Samuel the word for the time. And you will agree, I am sure, that the great need even of our time is for the appropriate word of the Lord, the word concerning what the Lord would do and what the Lord would have.
It is an important thing to know what the purpose of God is, and anyone who really apprehends that purpose in their own heart is someone above the average and in a place of spiritual largeness beyond most people. It is not something we have taken up, but by our secret walk with the Lord we know what it is the Lord is after, what He is aiming at, what He would have among His people, what He would do. If we have that, we have spiritual stature. So, having the faculty exercised, the Lord was able to give Samuel the word for the present time.
You notice, firstly, the voice; that is, knowing and being able to distinguish the voice of the Lord; then the word of the Lord, the purpose of God. You will never get the purpose until you know the voice. You may get it mechanically, but it will not be of much spiritual value. Eli said, "What is the thing that the Lord hath spoken unto thee?" (3:17). Cut that down from a question into a statement: 'The Lord hath spoken to thee.' It is a tremendous thing for us to be able to say, 'The Lord has spoken to me.' I think we must beware of those people who are so sure of the Lord's mind on all subjects, and are always telling us the Lord has spoken to them. But on the real purposes of God in relation to His people, in relation to the time, we should be in the good of the Lord having spoken to us. We know what the Lord is after because He has spoken to us in our hearts.
Knowing the Lord Himself
So firstly, the voice, then the word. Then something more than that, the Lord Himself appeared unto Samuel in Shiloh. The voice, the word, the Lord Himself. Samuel came to have a personal knowledge of the Lord, a personal relationship with the Lord. Yes, the word is included in that. "The Lord revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord" (v.21). Yes, the word is included, the voice is included, but underline 'Himself' now. The Lord appeared Himself. It is the Lord Himself who is the real heart of the matter. That sounds very simple as a matter of statement, but it does represent something of primary, supreme consequence, that we are learning to know the Lord Himself.
This is the test of whether it is the voice of the Lord that we are hearing, and whether it is the purpose of the Lord that we think we know. It is possible, and of course it becomes actual in the case of many, that they somehow or other become possessed of a knowledge of the purpose of God. For instance, there is a conference on the eternal purpose, and after the conference you know what the purpose is, and you can say, I know now. You can talk about the eternal purpose; you have all the terms and all the ideas, but when you come up against the many Christians and leaders of Christians who may not have seen that and not be interested in it and are getting on with all sorts of other things for the Lord, and seeming to be blessed, then the whole question arises, "I wonder if this really is so important after all?" If it is a teaching, a doctrine, an interpretation of truth, we say, "These people seem to be getting on all right without it, they really do not seem to miss very much by not having this idea...". You are tested by trial and adversity, and if the thing is a theory, a doctrine, a teaching, it will have no value to you. It will not mean anything to you in the day of adversity. Samuel had to go through things. Oh, what a time was that in which he lived! What things he was going to experience! He might well, later on, question that voice. Did I have a dream, a nightmare? Was I under some strain that night that caused me to imagine and hear things? It is strange how, under tremendous pressure, you can raise questions about things which at a certain time were most real to you. You look back and say, At that time the thing was tremendously real, but I wonder if it was all right? Things have changed!
That is where knowing the Lord is the primary thing. Samuel was saved in the day of trial, of adversity, of conflict and seeming contradiction, because it was a personal matter between him and the Lord. It was not things at all; it was the Lord Himself. I beg of you to make sure that your position is not one founded upon anything less than that you know the Lord Himself personally. You do not just 'know' Him by teaching, by words; you know the Lord Himself. The Lord appeared Himself unto Samuel, and that is the one thing that will ensure that we go on.
This has to do with real spiritual strength and measure. We have learned to know the voice of the Lord, when it is the Lord speaking; we have come to know what the Lord's purpose is concerning Israel His people; and we have come to a knowledge of the Lord Himself which is a personal thing, and not just purposes as such, not teachings as such, not visions as such; but the Lord Himself.