In my work as a Leadership Consultant I’ve learned that one of the most critical capabilities for effective leadership is inspired vision. Without it, people within organisations fail to coalesce around common goals, struggle to make meaningful progress and can easily lose their sense of purpose. This can breed apathy and eventually degenerate into dysfunction.
Such was the situation with Israel during the time of the Judges. Israel had been in the Promised Land for hundreds of years by the time Eli and his sons became their leaders. Having started out with good intentions, Eli’s forty year rule as High Priest became increasingly characterised by a lack of inspired vision, which bred weakness and moral failure across the nation and especially within his own family. Judges 21:25 and 1 Samuel 2 graphically capture the sad state of affairs:
"In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judg. 21:25)
"Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord. ... Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt. ... Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting. ... they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death.” (1 Sam. 2:12, 17, 22, 25b)
Eli’s sons, the presumed future leaders of Israel, were spiritually blind. They were in no position to lead God’s people. The fish was rotting from the head, as they say.
I don’t think it’s an accident that the Holy Spirit makes a metaphorical connection between Israel’s spiritual blindness and Eli’s physical blindness:
“At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place.” (1 Sam. 3:2)
It’s also no coincidence that Samuel also tells us that:
“the lamp of God had not yet gone out...” (1 Sam. 3:3a)
But all was not lost. It’s against this dark backdrop that we see a brilliant glimmer of hope emerge in the form of a young boy named Samuel. Having been dedicated to the Lord by his godly mother Hannah, Samuel was a miraculous answer to prayer (see 1 Samuel 1). By 1 Samuel 3, we find him serving as a noviciate in the temple under Eli the High Priest. I think Samuel’s story illustrates the cure for spiritual blindness. God led Samuel through a number of steps to facilitate his spiritual awakening, ultimately leading to Israel’s spiritual revival.
By God’s divine providence, Samuel was in the right place – the Lord’s temple, faithfully serving Him.
“Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD in the presence of Eli.” (1 Sam. 3:1a; cf. 1 Sam. 1:21-28; 2:11,18,26).
We too need to be mindful of where we spend our time and energy. Too easily we can lose our direction and find ourselves consumed by the ways of the world, heading down the wrong path. No matter where we might be physically, we can pause and join our spirit to the Lord’s Spirit and enter into God’s heavenly throne room. There, in humble worship, we will gain the perspective we need to navigate through this chaotic world (cf. Heb. 10:19-22).
Samuel was seeking guidance from the right person. Despite his flaws and weaknesses, Eli was God’s anointed High Priest, an instrument of God to be used to mentor Samuel.
“So the LORD called Samuel again for the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, "Here I am, for you called me." Then Eli discerned that the LORD was calling the boy. 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.” (1 Sam. 3:8-9)
Who we choose to associate with will influence how we see and respond to the circumstances around us. United by the indwelling Holy Spirit, God’s people provide a unique and much needed anchor point – a safe harbour from the stormy seas (cf. Heb. 10:23-25).
God waited to speak to Samuel in the quiet of the night.
“Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was.” (1 Sam. 3:3b)
Like He did with the prophet Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 19:11-13), God often waits until we’re free from distractions, focused exclusively on Him, before making His will known to us (cf. Psalm 49:10a; 62:5). Samuel was also humble. He didn’t question Eli’s instructions. He demonstrated faith by willingly submitting and obeying God’s anointed.
“And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant hears." (1 Sam. 3:10)
Samuel’s faithful actions demonstrated that he was aware of his spiritual blindness from which he needed to be cured. He knew that he could not remedy the situation on his own. Up to this point in his young life, Samuel had been a ‘good’ religious boy, doing all the right things. But he did not yet know the Lord’s voice (cf. John 10:25-27).
“Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor had the word of the LORD yet been revealed to him.” (1 Sam. 3:7)
He needed to be brought into a direct and personal relationship with God, based on faith.
The Result: Spiritual Sight Restored
God used Samuel to lead a revival across the nation. He became one of the most faithful and godly leaders in Israel’s history.
“And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the LORD. And the LORD appeared again at Shiloh, for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the LORD.” (1 Sam. 3:19-21)
Spiritual blindness can still plague God’s people today. While the consequences can be devastating, the blessed cure is only a humble prayer away:
“Speak Lord, your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:7f)