The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the LORD, where the ark was. (1 Samuel 3:3, NIV)
They were grim and apparently hopeless days.
Israel, 1070 or so BC. The living God had given His people the land of Canaan and brought them to it. They were to show the world how good it is to have the LORD as God. But what a hash they had made of it! The book of Judges records their spiral descent into paganism, and the anarchy that went with that: everyone did as they saw fit is the last line of that book.
As 1 Samuel picks up the story, things are no better. The sanctuary at Shiloh, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, was in the hands of the aged, weak and nearly-blind priest Eli, and his wicked sons, Hophni and Phineas. If you happened to bring a sacrifice, these two would have ripped you off, taking the best for themselves. If you were one of the women serving at the sanctuary, your experience would have been even worse.
To cap it all – or perhaps also as a cause of it all – the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. (1 Samuel 3:1) The voice of the living, speaking God was not being heard in the land. Had He given up on them? He had every right to!
But then, in the midst of this spiritual darkness, we read this wonderful line: The lamp of God had not yet gone out. In the Tabernacle there was a lamp, that burned from evening to morning. The writer is telling us that the events he’s about to recount took place at night. But there is surely a deeper significance: God had not abandoned His people.
Indeed not! Largely hidden from public view, a boy was growing up under God’s good hand who was to be the prophet Samuel. He would go on to teach the people again, and lead them, and eventually anoint King David, the prototype Messiah. One day He would send, from David’s line, our Lord Jesus Himself, to save His people from their sins. The lamp of God had not yet gone out.
Do you know those trick candles you can put on birthday cakes which, just when you think you’ve blown them out, sputter back into flame? Just so here. Our faithful God does not give up on His people. Into the darkest of situations He can speak new life. He did it in each of our lives. And He can do it for His church, and for the cause of His gospel.
In 1517 things were dark – a church which had lost the gospel. And then Martin Luther and others rediscovered it. In the 1730s things were dark – the same gospel somehow forgotten, and yet, under Whitfield, Wesley and others it came back to the UK and North America. Other examples could be multiplied.
Bible-believing churches in the UK are under much pressure at the moment: there seem to be so many pressures and problems. We don’t deserve God’s mercy. But He is our faithful God, and His lamp has not gone out!
Will you take confidence from this wonderful truth, and continue to pray for gospel workers to the world: mini-Samuels, who will speak for Him and lead well?