Sunday, January 3, 2021

I Samuel 3.1-10: While You Are Sleeping

I Samuel 3 is an exercise in sleeping and waking. Samuel and Eli are asleep. Samuel is awakened, and he wakes Eli. Eli tells Samuel to go back and lie down. Maybe he goes back to sleep? If so, then Samuel and Eli are back asleep. Samuel is awakened, and he wakes Eli. Eli tells Samuel to go back to sleep. Samuel is awakened, and he wakes Eli. This time Eli gets it, and tells the boy Samuel to go back and lie down and wait. So Samuel does, and he hears something he doesn't want to pass along to Eli. The night passes. Whether or not Samuel is able to sleep after that, we don't know, but eventually he relates the vision to Eli after Eli insists. Insists strongly, as a matter of fact. 

One more time, God has spoken to a messenger at night...when the one who would be God's messenger would have expected to be asleep. Jacob with his vision and his wrestling match. Elijah is awakened from sleep by an angel. Even Jesus is awakened from sleep in the boat when the storm arises. It seems that getting a good night's sleep becomes less possible when God needs you to deliver a message. 

I'm sure no one was more surprised than Eli was to be woken up by Samuel. But this seems to be a pattern with God. God shows up and disrupts what looks like it's going to be a regular night's sleep...or a regular life. And the person whose life is disrupted is often not who you'd expect: a not-particularly-skilled public speaker, the youngest of seven brothers, a bunch of fishermen from the sticks, a young unmarried girl. The person called is unexpected. The call is unexpected. It comes at an unexpected moment. 
Bernard Safran. Sleeping (aka Sleeping It Off). 1986. 
For additional information, and a close-up of the brushwork on this painting, click here. Scroll to the bottom and click on the full painting to see the detail. This is a blog post by the artist's daughter.
I do wonder if Samuel was as eager to answer the third time. When he thought it was Eli calling him for assistance, he was eager to help. What did Eli need? Water? Help standing up? A message delivered? But when you know it's God who will be speaking to you...are you a little more nervous about saying "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening." Who knows what God will ask you to do? 

There is an interesting detail that often doesn't show up in depictions of I Samuel 3:1-10. Go to this week's Art&Faith Matters on Facebook to see what it is. 

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