I hear you, I’m just not listening.

By Phil Stanley. June 11, 2023

I think I’m finally starting to get used to father’s day. This is my fourth one since Nikolai came into our lives and I’ll be honest, it’s taken this long for it to feel somewhat normal. I love my son and enjoy getting to watch him grow up. But all the parents in the room, both moms and dads, can relate to what I’m about to share. 

This story is unfortunately not a story that’s only happened once. This is an ongoing battle that I hear only grows worse during teenage years.  To those who currently have teenagers, we salute you.  Extra special prayers to you and your families. 

Most of y’all know we live in a two-story house and like any good parent who is busy and trying to knock out a hundred different things, we tend to call out to each other from across the house.  

Yesterday I was upstairs getting ready to leave and so I called Nikolai so he could come get his stuff together.  I hollered out his name a couple of times and finally he responded. It took me all of ten seconds to realize why there was a delay in his response but I asked him anyway.  “Why didn’t you answer me, son?” He was very honest this time, he said he was trying to finish part of his video game.  

See the problem wasn’t that he couldn’t hear me, he was just not listening. 

Some of you parents have an eye twitch after hearing that story.  

Well, as He often does, the Lord spoke through my interactions with my son and today my message is entitled: “I hear you, I’m just not listening.” 

You can have someone or something staring you in the eyeballs practically screaming at you and you can still choose not to listen. 

Sometimes the opposite is true too.  There’s been plenty of times where Nikolai will be talking to me and think I’m not listening. We can be riding in the car and he can be telling me about his video game, transformers, or something he’s learned from a nature documentary, and if I’m quiet long enough he’ll always stop and ask “dad, are you even listening to me?”

There’s something about hearing and listening that brought me to this particular text this morning.  I want us to look at the story of Samuel this morning and I’m hoping you’ll see it a little differently just as I did when I was preparing. 

To set the story up, chapter 1 tells us that a man named Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Penniah.  It tells us that every year that would make the journey to offer sacrifices at the tabernacle.  

We’ll pick up in verse 3 of chapter 1

3 Each year Elkanah would travel to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice to the Lord of Heaven’s Armies at the Tabernacle. The priests of the Lord at that time were the two sons of Eli—Hophni and Phinehas. 4 On the days Elkanah presented his sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to Peninnah and each of her children. 5 And though he loved Hannah, he would give her only one choice portion[b] because the Lord had given her no children. 6 So Peninnah would taunt Hannah and make fun of her because the Lord had kept her from having children. 7 Year after year it was the same—Peninnah would taunt Hannah as they went to the Tabernacle.[c] Each time, Hannah would be reduced to tears and would not even eat.

Take notice that this was an ongoing situation.  Year after year Hannah would be harshly reminded that she couldn’t have children. 

All of us are probably very familiar with what happens next, Hannah cries out to the Lord, says that if He gives her a son that she’ll dedicate him to serving the Lord.  Meaning, she basically vows to leave him to be raised by the priest at the tabernacle.  

The Lord answers her prayer and she gives birth to Samuel.  Hannah makes good on her vow and leaves Samuel with the priests Eli and his two sons Hophni and Phinehas. We’ll get to them in a minute.

As I was reading about Hannah and how long she had to endure the taunting and humiliation of others, it reminded me of how Nikolai asks me: “Dad, are you even listening?” 

How many of you have asked God for something or even just shared your state of brokenness and wondered if He was even listening?  All of us, right?  

This is what I got from it:

Don’t mistake silence for indifference. 

We’ve all had something like that in our lives that makes us question if God’s really actively engaged in our situation.  At some point we have to choose whether we trust God or not.  He’s listening, even if we aren’t getting the feedback we are expecting..

That brings me back to Eli and his sons.  I want us to read in chapter 2 beginning in verse 12

12 Now the sons of Eli were scoundrels who had no respect for the Lord 13 or for their duties as priests. Whenever anyone offered a sacrifice, Eli’s sons would send over a servant with a three-pronged fork. While the meat of the sacrificed animal was still boiling, 14 the servant would stick the fork into the pot and demand that whatever it brought up be given to Eli’s sons. All the Israelites who came to worship at Shiloh were treated this way. 15 Sometimes the servant would come even before the animal’s fat had been burned on the altar. He would demand raw meat before it had been boiled so that it could be used for roasting.

16 The man offering the sacrifice might reply, “Take as much as you want, but the fat must be burned first.” Then the servant would demand, “No, give it to me now, or I’ll take it by force.” 17 So the sin of these young men was very serious in the Lord’s sight, for they treated the Lord’s offerings with contempt.

They were priests of the most high God and they knew His laws and were surrounded by His presence, yet they only served themselves.  In other words, they heard from the Lord, they just weren’t listening. 

Just down from this passage it says in verse 21:

Meanwhile, Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.

If that’s true of Samuel, then it has to be true for Eli and his sons. 

We can be in the presence of the Lord and choose to ignore it. 

They grew up in the presence of the Lord but were completely indifferent.  

Here’s where things go even more sideways:

22 Now Eli was very old, but he was aware of what his sons were doing to the people of Israel. He knew, for instance, that his sons were seducing the young women who assisted at the entrance of the Tabernacle.[f] 23 Eli said to them, “I have been hearing reports from all the people about the wicked things you are doing. Why do you keep sinning? 24 You must stop, my sons! The reports I hear among the Lord’s people are not good. 25 If someone sins against another person, God[g] can mediate for the guilty party. But if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede?” But Eli’s sons wouldn’t listen to their father, for the Lord was already planning to put them to death.

They heard their father, but wouldn’t listen. 

Even worse, Eli knew exactly what they were up to and didn’t put a stop to it.  

He had heard the evil they were doing and chose not to listen.  His indifference made him complicit in the same evil. So God once again tries to get his attention.  Verse 27:

27 One day a man of God came to Eli and gave him this message from the Lord: “I revealed myself[h] to your ancestors when they were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. 28 I chose your ancestor Aaron[i] from among all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to offer sacrifices on my altar, to burn incense, and to wear the priestly vest[j] as he served me. And I assigned the sacrificial offerings to you priests. 29 So why do you scorn my sacrifices and offerings? Why do you give your sons more honor than you give me—for you and they have become fat from the best offerings of my people Israel!

30 “Therefore, the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I promised that your branch of the tribe of Levi[k] would always be my priests. But I will honor those who honor me, and I will despise those who think lightly of me. 31 The time is coming when I will put an end to your family, so it will no longer serve as my priests. All the members of your family will die before their time. None will reach old age. 32 You will watch with envy as I pour out prosperity on the people of Israel. But no members of your family will ever live out their days. 33 The few not cut off from serving at my altar will survive, but only so their eyes can go blind and their hearts break, and their children will die a violent death.[l] 34 And to prove that what I have said will come true, I will cause your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, to die on the same day!

So this next part is where we normally go with this story.  Chapter 3 tells the story of when Samuel first hears from the Lord. 

1 Meanwhile, the boy Samuel served the Lord by assisting Eli. Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon.

2 One night Eli, who was almost blind by now, had gone to bed. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was sleeping in the Tabernacle[a] near the Ark of God. 4 Suddenly the Lord called out, “Samuel!”

“Yes?” Samuel replied. “What is it?” 5 He got up and ran to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”

“I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go back to bed.” So he did.

6 Then the Lord called out again, “Samuel!”

Again Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”

“I didn’t call you, my son,” Eli said. “Go back to bed.”

7 Samuel did not yet know the Lord because he had never had a message from the Lord before. 8 So the Lord called a third time, and once more Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”

Then Eli realized it was the Lord who was calling the boy. 9 So he said to Samuel, “Go and lie down again, and if someone calls again, say, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went back to bed.

Eli knew how to hear from the Lord, he just stopped listening.

10 And the Lord came and called as before, “Samuel! Samuel!”

And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening.”

11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, “I am about to do a shocking thing in Israel. 12 I am going to carry out all my threats against Eli and his family, from beginning to end. 13 I have warned him that judgment is coming upon his family forever, because his sons are blaspheming God[b] and he hasn’t disciplined them. 14 So I have vowed that the sins of Eli and his sons will never be forgiven by sacrifices or offerings.”

15 Samuel stayed in bed until morning, then got up and opened the doors of the Tabernacle[c] as usual. He was afraid to tell Eli what the Lord had said to him. 16 But Eli called out to him, “Samuel, my son.”

“Here I am,” Samuel replied.

17 “What did the Lord say to you? Tell me everything. And may God strike you and even kill you if you hide anything from me!” 18 So Samuel told Eli everything; he didn’t hold anything back. “It is the Lord’s will,” Eli replied. “Let him do what he thinks best.”

Eli doesn’t even attempt to make things right.  He hears the word of the Lord again and instead of crying out to God, or doing something about his sons, he just resigns to his impending doom.  

Maybe he didn’t take the word seriously. 

I think it’s telling that multiple times in this story the Bible tells us that Eli and his sons were fat.  I think it tells us a lot about their character.  

In the next chapter we learn that the Philistines attack Israel, and in a desperate attempt to win the battle Hophni and Phineas take the ark of the covenant to the front line.  See, they had heard the stories, they knew God had miraculously won battle after battle for Israel with the Ark leading the way.  And their pride kept them from realizing that it wasn’t about the Ark, it was about the presence.  

They thought they were safe as long as they were in close proximity to the presence of God but their pride had blinded them from seeing that God had lifted His protection. 

They both die in battle, Eli dies when he hears the news, and the consequences the Lord warned them about all come to pass. 

This whole story isn’t just about Samuel hearing from God, it’s not just about Eli and his sons bringing about their own destruction. 

It’s a warning.  It’s a comparison. 

Samuel wasn’t born into the priestly order like they were yet, He was given the anointing and gifts that they were indifferent to. 

Samuel didn’t just hear from the Lord, he listened.   

If we ever want to see God move in our lives, our giftings, and our church we have to do more than just hear God, we have to listen.  

Some of you have been waiting to hear from the Lord about some things and I’m here to tell you He’s speaking.  You’re just not listening.  

You’re either more interested in what you’re doing or what you’re getting away with than what He’s trying to tell you.  

Some of you are waiting to hear and all the while He’s practically screaming it at you.  

You hear it but you’re doubting if it’s really God.  The message today is start listening.