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Nov 08, 2015

God's Waiting Room

God's Waiting Room

Passage: 1 Samuel 1:1-15:35

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: The Story

Category: Old Testament

Keywords: eli, god's voice, hannah, hearing from god, parenting, presence of god, samuel, waiting


This message looks at the lives of three of the key players in the first half of 1st Samuel--Hannah, Eli and Samuel. Each were in their own waiting rooms of life, waiting for God to speak and act on their behalf. They each have different things to teach us about what to do and not do during those times of life where we seem to be waiting for God to move, speak or act.


God’s Waiting Room

I Samuel

November 8, 2015


Anybody here really enjoy waiting?  (If so, what do you like so much about waiting?)

What’s your least-favorite place to wait? 

            Bus stop?


            Doctor’s office?

            Dept. of Motor Vehicles?

            Line at grocery store?

            On hold on the phone?

Most of us don’t particularly like waiting.  Why is that?  (Seems like a waste of time.  We’re out of control of our schedule.  Changes our schedule.  Keeps us from doing what we would prefer to do.) But waiting is just a part of life.

And when it comes to our relationship with God, all of us here are probably waiting for God to do something at this point in our life? 

Personally, I’m waiting for…and hopefully on God…

  • to change a son’s wayward heart…
  • to open a good option for us to move back into Spokane’s core…
  • to bring a spiritual awakening to our city and revival to His church.

[Take a moment to ask write down a couple of things you are waiting for...or on…God to do in your life.]

We’re in a section of I Samuel today where various people have been called upon to wait for and on God.  Some of them do it with admirable grace.  Some don’t with abominable consequences

That’s a lot like us, right?  Some of us are growing in the grace of waiting for God right now.  And some of us may be feeling the awful effects of not learning to wait for or on God.  Waiting can be hard work…especially for those of us who aren’t very patient. 

Today’s journey in God’s Story takes us into the lives of four different peopleEli a priest, Hannah a mother, Samuel a prophet and Saul a national leader.  Each of them faced experiences that tried their patience and tested their hearts towards God and people.  Two of them came through shining like gold; two ended up like charcoal on the ash heap of history.  What made the difference is what we need to discover today.  Because God is still looking to bless people who are looking to learn what it is to wait on Him

So we start today’s panel of people in I Samuel 1 with a woman named Hannah. Her aching heart and deep faith are about to change the history of a nation

            You see, Hannah was barren.  She was also one of two wives of a God-fearing man named Elkanah.  But her competitor-fellow-wife wasn’t barren and continually goaded her about her childlessness.  So Hannah took her pain to the Lord.  Every year she would go to Shiloh and pour out her grief to God.  Every year, God heard here…but didn’t give a response.  He kept her waiting.

            Then, according to I Samuel 1, there came a year when she was particularly overcome with frustration and grief at her barrenness. I Sam. 1:10 says, “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.  11) And she made a vow, saying, ‘O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.’” 

APPWhere do we go when we’re overcome with sorrow or disappointment, grief or bitterness…or just plain emptiness in our lives? Do we run from God…or go to God?  It’s not only O.K. to cry out to God “in bitterness of soul”; it’s the right thing to do

            And while I think making a vow to God like Hannah did is a very serious thing and should never be entered into lightly, I think that God is looking for people like Hannah who will do radical things for God at times in human history when radical is needed.

Well, Hannah went “radical”.  She told God that if he would simply give her a child, she would give that child back to the service of God for all the days of his life. 

APPParents, how many of us hesitate to pray that God will call our children or grandchildren into His service, be it in some dangerous, far-flung part of the world where the Gospel is hated and the church is persecuted…or right here in America where they will be viewed with growing suspicion and animosity in an increasingly anti-Christian culture?  God longs for…and our world needs…more parents who will dedicate their children to the Lord’s service even before they are born…and every day thereafter. 

Waiting on God involves some deep, radical praying.

At this point in the story, we’re introduced to the second person we’re going to learn from today, an unremarkable priest named Eli.  Not taking the time to understand Hannah’s pain, when she shows up praying her heart out at the Tabernacle, he jumps to the conclusion that she must be drunk. (Real counselor type, no?)  Her sobs and anguish of soul are misinterpreted as inebriation.  And he comes out with an undeserved rebuke against Hannah.

APP:  I don’t think I’ve ever been so caught up in my conversation with God that it’s been misinterpreted as drunkenness.  (I do remember laughing so hard on the way home from a symphony practice as a teenager one evening that the mother who was driving us accused me and my fellow classical musicians of smoking pot! J)

While others may misinterpret us, it’s not a bad thing when the anguish of our souls reaches such a level that our crying out to God eclipses the concern we have about how we look to others.  And frankly, the one place in the world where we should be O.K. with that should be among the people of God.  This should be THE place where passionate crying out to God for physical and spiritual offspring is applauded, not rebuked.   

            Eli, despite his insensitivity to Hannah and indifference to his own son’s rebellion, actually becomes the mouthpiece of God’s blessing to Hannah and the prophetic voice that breaks her barrenness

God hears Hannah’s cries and gives her a son named Samuel.  She births him, cares for him, weans him and then turns him over to God.  By the way, she surrenders Samuel to the same insensitive priest, Eli, whose own parenting skills were a proven failure.  She kept her vow, even when it cost her deeply.

APP: That’s good news for parents who may feel like sending their kids to public, secular school six hours a day…or submitting to a parenting plan the courts have imposed that you don’t like…or giving up a child for adoption…is a scary thing to do.  But, if we’ve truly surrendered and devoted our children to God, and we carry them daily in our hearts and prayers, God will watch over what we cannot.   

Hannah, a barren woman, changed the course of history for the people of God because she wouldn’t let go of a dream and longing God had put in her heart. 

APPWomen, never underestimate the power of your mothering heart.  You may not hold the high offices of government or business…or you may.  But by far the greatest influence you will have on this world is the heart you have for raising up the next generation, whether that’s your own kids or someone else’s. Children we have dedicated to God and determined to raise differently than the world will become the game-changers of their generation, whether we live to see it or not.

So our first panelist on today’s show, Hannah, had to walk through a very painful, very publicwaiting room” of barrenness.  It involved years of her life.  And when God answered, he used an unlikely priest to tell her…and a costly vow to grow her. 

Getting out of God’s waiting room doesn’t guarantee that life will be easier.  For Hannah, I have to think it was, in some ways, harder.  Letting go of toddler Samuel by leaving him at the Tabernacle in Shiloh with Eli the priest must have ripped her heart out.  At first, she had no other children.  She went home to an empty nest long before it should have been empty. And it appears some years went by before God gave her other children (2:19, 20).  Waiting on God is not something we learn about and then move on, never having to relearn what waiting involves.  Waiting on God is something we will be required to do over and over again, at different stages of life, each having their own unique “waiting rooms.”  But crying out to God and then holding loosely what He gives us as answers are a couple of things that waiting on God are designed to do.  Hannah discovered that…and so must we. 

Next, let’s return to this fellow named Eli.  Eli was the lead or high priest at Shiloh at the time at the end of the Judges and just before Israel demanded a king.  Shiloh was where the Tabernacle of God was, the place where ever Israelite was to come and worship Yahweh.  Eli was supposed to be the guardian of the Tabernacle and the keeper of the priestly company responsible for worship there. 

            Problem was, Eli seems to be both an undisciplined man and a man who won’t discipline those under him.  He had two sons named Hophni and Phinehas.  They fit the worst stereotype of P.Ks (in this case, “Priest’s Kids”) that you can think of.  For them, the priesthood was a means to satisfy their personal appetites for wine, women and song/food.  And that they did, to their own demise. 

            But Eli was, in some way, party to it all.  His sons would threaten the worshipers and take whatever meat they wanted rather than letting people offer their meat as a sacrifice. And Eli must have eaten that same meat. In fact, he ate so much that when he died, the text says, “Eli fell backward off his chair by the side of the gate. His neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man, and he was heavy.”

In chapter 2 of 1st Samuel, we see God sending “a man of God” to Eli, the priest of God.  He shouldn’t have needed “a man of God” to hear from God.  But apparently Eli had become accustomed to NOT hearing God’s voice.  In fact, chapter 3, verse 1 tells us that “In those days [when Samuel was ministering before the Lord under Eli] the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.”  God had pretty much stopped speaking because those who needed to hear had stopped listening.   

APP:  Here’s one of the big differences between the Old Testament and our life in Christ under the New Testament.  In the O.T., God mostly spoke to certain individuals, sometimes priests and often prophets or people who God tapped to be his messengers. When they spoke, it was the very word of God and it was binding on all who heard it. 

            Today, for those of us in Jesus Christ, God speaks first and foremost through His written Word.  The Bible is to be where we go first and last to hear God speak and to judge any other message we or someone else may think they got from God. 

            But since every child of God in Christ Jesus has now been made a part of a new priesthood (I Peter 2:9) and been given the Spirit of God which indwells us, guides us and teaches us, every one of us in Christ now has the capacity to hear from God.  We don’t hear infallibly or without error.  But we do have the possibility of hearing personally and frequently.  Between the written word of God we always have and the spoken whisper of God we have at various in us, it should never be said of us that “the word of God is rare” or in short supply.  There are certainly times when God will seem silent, perhaps even long periods of time.  But even when we don’t seem to be able to hear Him speaking personally, we never lack for the full, accurate and written Word of God in the Bible. 

Now back to our story line of God’s Story.  Because Eli had stopped listening to God somewhere along the line didn’t mean that God had stopped speaking.  So God sends this unnamed “man of God” to pronounce these words of judgment over Eli in chapter 2.  He asks Eli,

29 Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling? Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?’

This messenger of God then goes on to predict a personal yet tragic sign for Eli. 

34 “‘And what happens to your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, will be a sign to you—they will both die on the same day. 35 I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his priestly house, and they will minister before my anointed one always.

            True to the prophecy, Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are killed on the same day in a battle which Israel loses to the Philistines.  Treating the Ark of the Covenant like a good luck charm, they carried it into battle, against the plan of God, and not only lose their lives but lose the Ark to the Philistines. 

So what does Eli have to teach us about waiting on God and hearing from Him?  May I suggest 3 things:

  1. Getting used to not hearing from God is a dangerous thing. Eli had, at one time, heard frequently from God.  But as life ground on…and his sons grew up…and he failed to discipline them but instead bought into their wicked lifestyles by default, God went silent.  Eli became so callous and deaf to God that God had to speak specific truth about him and his family to other people who would listen and then pass it along to him. 
  2. Knowing what is right and failing to do it is a dangerous thing. Eli knew that he should have restrained his own sons’ evil behavior.  He knew that he should have banished them from the priesthood and risked whatever fallout that might have brought.  But instead he cared more for his own palate…and what his boys could supply him...and perhaps what they thought of him…than what God had SAID and what his boys apparently THOUGHT of God. 
  3. We risk losing the voice of God when we value hearing the approval of people. For those of us who tend to be people-pleasers, that’s a hard but necessary word to hear.  As Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.”    

Now we come to our third panelist today, the prophet Samuel himself.  His waiting on the Lord begins early but not easily.  Strip away all the varnish of this story and the harsh realities of what it was like for a little boy to be dropped off by his parents in a strange place with strange people become painfully evident. 

The potential for this turning out very badly are enormous. Some of you know the pain of being raised in foster homes.  You know what it felt like to be torn from your parents and family even if it was in your best interests. 

The realities for Samuel were much the same.  No matter what reason you give a little child for why they are being left in the care of someone else, it still hurts.  And Samuel was undoubtedly deeply loved by both parents who were now dropping him off in Shiloh to be cared for by a man whose own sons were a wreck. 

Imagine the interactions Eli’s sons had with Samuel. They were undisciplined and self-absorbed, willing to offend God himself in order to do what they wanted to do and get what they wanted to get in life.  Imagine how they treated Samuel. 

And every year, when his parents came to Shiloh to worship and brought him a simple gift of a piece of clothing, it must have been another painful reminder that he was missing out on what most kids his age took for granted—a loving, two-parent family.  How must it have felt to see the pain in your mother’s eyes at leaving you year after year?  How must it have felt to see, as the years passed, the arrival and growth of other siblings you would never play with, never really bond with, never have a normal family relationship with? 

The more I ponder this story, the more amazing Samuel appears to me. He’s a little boy, for crying out loud!  He’s having to deal with feelings of abandonment, of loneliness, of anxiety, of being an outsider to every family he knows.

But instead of blaming his parents or the God responsible for his birth and his mother’s vow that put him where he is, he continues to cultivate a heart for God in the midst of his personal pain.  Over and over again the Scriptures mention how his heart was pressing into God, whether as a little boy or a young teenager.  Trace his development with me for a moment.

  • I Samuel 1:24-28--24 After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull,an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. 25 When the bull had been sacrificed, they brought the boy to Eli, 26 and she said to him, “Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord.27 I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.28 So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord   Just who is the “he” here?  It’s clearly Samuel as probably a preschool toddler.  Never underestimate the ability of little children to worship God.  Just ask Karen Chipley who teaches 2-year old kids every week at BSF.  Just sit at the dinner table or ride in the car with my little two year old granddaughter, Christiana, and listen to her break out in spontaneous songs of praise to God.  Worship of God can start very young.
  • I Samuel 2:11—After the record of Hannah’s amazing prayer of gratitude to God as she is leaving her little boy in Shiloh with Eli, this is the commentary God makes about Samuel: 11 Then Elkanah went home to Ramah, but the boy ministered before the Lord under Eli the priest.
  • The very next verse in chapter 2 draws a stark contrast between Eli’s sons and Samuel when it says, “12 Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regardfor the Lord.  That chapter goes on to tell us how they would literally steal by force for their own consumption what was being offered to God by the people at the Tabernacle.  Verse 17 tells us, “17 This sin of the young men was very great in the Lord’s sight, for they were treating the Lord’s offering with contempt. 18 But Samuel was ministering before the Lord—a boy wearing a linen ephod.”
  • The text continues (ch. 2): 19 Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual  20 Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, “May the Lord give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the Lord.” Then they would go home. 21 And the Lord was gracious to Hannah; she gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.
  • The next paragraph tells of how Eli tried to rebuke his sons for their terrible disregard for God and immoral behavior with people. But they refused to listen.  And the author of 1st Samuel sets up another contrast between these rebellious sons and God-fearing Samuel when it says in 26, “26 And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with people.”  This is virtually the same statement made of Jesus Christ as a teenager in Luke 2:52.
  • Chapter 3:1ff introduces us to the most famous passage of Samuel as a boy when God begins to speak audibly to him the words and messages He wants Samuel to begin to communicate to His people. Chapter 3 begins with these words:  “The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.” 

Then we have the story of God audibly calling to Samuel in the night and Samuel thinking it is Eli calling to him.  The light finally goes on for Eli after he’s woken up the 3rd time that night by this very obedient, very innocent little boy God has placed under his care.  He realizes that it must be God himself calling to Samuel, so he wisely instructs Samuel to respond with these words if he should hear that voice again.  His response was to be simply, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”  And that is precisely what happened. 

Here’s what I want us to see this morning about waiting on God and listening for the voice of God.  Waiting on God often involves a submission to God in worship, ministry before God and simply being in the presence of God.  Look at the various elements of that statement that were demonstrated by Samuel who was just a boy at the time.

  • Submission to God in worship: As we’ve already seen, there was plenty of evidence that Samuel could have grown up a hurt, troubled and angry-at-God-and-family teenager.  He didn’t.  Somehow he learned to take the pain and loneliness and disappointment of his little heart to God and entrust God with it.  Spiritual waiting rooms are painful, no matter what your age.  But Samuel chose submission rather than anger and frustration with God in his childhood waiting room.  Will we?  We won’t be able to eventually hear the voice of God if we aren’t in the process of cultivating a life of worship of God.  That doesn’t mean we’ll always be feeling like we’re in a great state of worship.  Just ask Job.  Worship is a choice.  It is choosing to honor God even when we don’t understand everything He is doing.  It is choosing to honor and exalt God even though life may be painful right now.  It is putting ourselves in the presence of God and voicing our faith in Him whether we’re felling high or low, whether life is easy or hard. 
  • Ministry before the Lord: for the boy Samuel, this must have meant some pretty menial tasks in many people’s eyes.  He probably swept out the Tabernacle day after day.  Maybe he scrubbed the blood off the place where animals were slaughtered and sacrifices were made.  Maybe he hauled water for the washing  those sacrifices…or scrubbed the pots where the meat was boiled.  Whatever it was he was asked to do by Eli, there is every indication he did it wholeheartedly and without complaining. Because somehow he learned early on in his life that even the most menial of tasks can be ministry to God Almighty.

APP:  Have we really embraced this as God’s children?  What I do here Sunday after Sunday in bringing God’s word…or what the worship team does week after week…is no more spiritual or more of a “ministry before the Lord” than what those of you do who prepare the coffee…or teach the teenagers…or hold the babies… or clean the toilets…or talk with someone who is alone…or give someone a ride to get here.  Something happens to our hearts…and our spiritual ears…when we just embrace “ministering before the Lord” in whatever capacity we can.  If you want to hear from God then jump into ministry in some capacity.  And if you don’t know what that might be, talk with any of your pastors or leaders and we’ll be delighted to show you where to start. 

  • Lastly, handling God’s waiting rooms and hearing His voice involves “growing up in the presence of God.” I Samuel 2:21 simply states that--, “…the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.  Now in ancient Israel, the presence of the Lord was directly tied to the Tabernacle and later the Temple.  So this is the author’s way of saying, “Samuel grew up around God’s presence at the Tabernacle.”  Living near to God was to be seen as a unique privilege, not a duty.  When it became just a duty, you ended up becoming like Eli and his wicked sons.

But when your heart longs for God himself, you end up looking for opportunities to be where the presence of God is.  That may be with God’s people who have the same heart whether “at church” or in a prayer group or together with other followers of Jesus studying the Word of God in your workplace or your apartment or home.  Wherever you are able to connect with the presence of God, being there is one of the best ways to “wait on the Lord” and hear from Him.    

APP:  This is why PRAYER—communicating with God about what is on our hearts—is so powerful.  It actually brings us into the “holy of holies” in the throne room of God in heaven. This is why historic revivals and renewals have always involved fervent prayer by God’s people.  Worship, sacrifice, service, ministry and prayer in the presence of God are powerful tools that enable us to both wait on God and hear from Him. 

Well, this part of God’s Story with His people ends with Israel demanding to be like other nations in having a human king.  That man was Saul.  As with so many human rulers, the power of political office replaced the pull of obedience to God.  After rising from obscurity, Saul fears the loss of public support more than the loss of God’s presence.  Failing to wait on God as Samuel had commanded him, he receives this stern rebuke from God in I Samuel 15:22-23.

 “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
    and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    he has rejected you as king.”

Waiting on God means caring more about obedience to God than support of people.


  • Experiencing God in the waiting rooms of life starts by believing in and receiving Jesus Christ (John 1:12). 
  • Is God inviting you this morning to take another step in experiencing Him, hearing from Him and walking with Him in life's waiting room? What is that? Share that with someone today.

Psalm 130