|Children Should Be Seen And Heard|
“Children should be seen and not heard” is an expression that has been around for years. It is often quoted as if it were a verse in the Bible, even by those who know it’s not Scripture. The point of the expression is well-intentioned, and is spoken as an attempt to subdue unruly children who are noisy and disruptive. But taken to an extreme, and applying the expression as a rule for all children at all times would be a departure from the norm of Scripture. The Bible teaches that God can and does communicate with children and He can and does work through children. In fact, in reference to godly children, the expression “Children should be heard and seen” is far more biblical than the reverse! Let’s consider the well-known narrative of God’s communication with the young child, Samuel in 1 Samuel 3 quoted below.
|1 Samuel 3The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.
One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.
Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.
Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”
Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
The Lord called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family – from beginning to end.
For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them. Therefore, I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’”
Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.” Samuel answered, “Here I am.”
“What was it He said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything He told you.” So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in His eyes.”
The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there He revealed Himself to Samuel through His word.
Samuel is God’s example for us.
In this passage we have the Lord’s call of Samuel to the office and ministry of prophet. A prophet, by definition, is one who speaks for God to the people, in contrast to a priest, who speaks to God for the people. Samuel has often been called “the last Judge and the first Prophet in Israel.” Before Samuel’s time there were many prophets, or men who spoke for God to the people of Israel. For example, God called Abraham a prophet (Gen. 20:17). The office of the prophet, however, had not been established before Samuel’s time.
Samuel was called by God to the prophetic office and began the great tradition of the prophets in Israel. He was a bridge between the time of the judges and the time of the prophets. Two verses in Acts refer to Samuel as a transitional figure. When Paul was relating the history of Israel to the Jews at Antioch of Pisidia, he said, “After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet” (Acts 13:20). And when Peter spoke to the crowds in the Temple area after the healing of the handicapped man he said, “Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days” (Acts 3:24).
So Samuel was the beginning of the great prophetic tradition in Israel, and here in 1 Samuel 3 we have his official call by the Lord to the office of prophet. The chapter begins by saying, “In those days the word of the Lord was rare.” During the times of the judges the moral and spiritual conditions in Israel were so bad that people were not open to listening to the Lord and His Word. Hannah and Ruth were representatives of the godly remnant in Israel, which was small in number in those days.
But in His grace, God raised up Samuel as His spokesman to begin the time of the prophets. By the end of chapter 3 we begin to see a shift away from the dark days of the judges and a turn in the right direction for Israel: “All Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet from the Lord.” And “The Lord revealed Himself to Samuel through His word, and Samuel’s word came to all Israel” (3:20-21).
At an early age Samuel came to live at the tabernacle, and he spent his childhood ministering before the Lord with the high priest Eli as his guide and mentor. Eli had two adult sons, Hophni and Phineas, who served as priests at the tabernacle. In 1 Samuel 2:12-25 we learn that although these men were priests, they “were wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord.”
They stole for themselves the choicest meat from sacrifices brought to the Lord, and they were involved in sexual immorality with the women who came to serve at the entrance of the tabernacle.
However, although Samuel grew up amidst the sordid behavior of these two evil men, “the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men” (2:26).
Samuel was probably no more than 12 when the call of God came to him. He was old enough to “open the doors of the house of the Lord,” or the tabernacle, which was situated at Shiloh at this time (3:15). It is significant that God called Samuel when he was a child, and this fact has some lessons for us.
God can communicate with children.
Samuel was still a young boy, because 1 Samuel 3:7 tells us that “Samuel did not yet know the Lord; the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” At this time Samuel did not yet know the Lord personally. Although he obeyed and served the Lord, he did not yet “know” the Lord through personal communication and communion. But that was about to change, as the Lord was going to speak to Samuel and communicate an important message to him.
Late one night, before the lampstand at the tabernacle had burned out, Samuel heard the Lord calling his name, but he did not recognize that it was the Lord calling, “Samuel, Samuel.” The repetition of his name indicated that it was an important matter. Samuel thought that it was Eli calling for him, and ran to the high priest. But Eli said, “I didn’t call you, Samuel. Go back to bed!”
When this scenario was repeated a third time, Eli perceived that it was God who was calling Samuel, so he counseled Samuel to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” And sure enough, the Lord called again, and Samuel answered as he had been told. The Lord then spoke to Samuel and revealed His plans to remove Eli as the high priest. Was Samuel old enough to handle such news? Yes, God knew that he was!
God can communicate with children – even about unpleasant topics. Some Christians are afraid to speak with children about hell, for example, but children can understand God’s Word about hell. In fact, God can use the doctrine of hell to speak to children and bring them to Jesus Christ for salvation. Some children have insights into the Bible and its truths that even Bible school graduates don’t readily see! Children can be open to the Word of God and listen when God speaks – often more readily than adults. God can communicate with children!
God can work through children.
Some people would say that the job God gave Samuel was not a job for a child. Why would God pick young Samuel to tell the high priest Eli of the judgment that was coming upon his family? Why not? God can work through children.
Samuel must have been aware of the sinful activities of Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phineas, because their sinful behavior was taking place right at the tabernacle where Samuel lived. Although Eli knew of their wicked practices, he did nothing to stop their sin or remove them from their positions at the house of the Lord.
In 1 Samuel 2 we learn that a man of God came with a message to Eli from the Lord. The man of God denounced Eli for honoring his sons more than he honored the Lord by continuing to allow Hophni and Phineas to pollute the house of God with their wickedness. In addition, the man of God pronounced the Lord’s judgment on Eli’s lineage and priesthood because of his family failures (1 Sam. 2:27-36).
Samuel probably knew about the warning from the man of God, and his young soul must have been grieved that Eli still did nothing to correct this terrible situation. Hophni and Phineas were not removed from office, and they continued to publicly practice their wicked deeds!
God chose to work through Samuel to bring the final message of judgment to Eli. This was not an easy or pleasant job for a child. After he received the message from the Lord, “Samuel lay down until morning; he was afraid to tell Eli the vision” (3:15). Under Eli’s authoritative questioning, however, Samuel revealed everything that the Lord had told him. Eli humbly submitted to the message of judgment from the Lord, but sadly he still did nothing to stop his sons’ flagrant and immoral sins.
As God worked through young Samuel in Old Testament days, so God can work through children today. In many families God has used the children to bring an entire family to salvation. Christian parents have been brought closer to the Lord as a result of the zeal of their godly children.
In many classrooms God has worked through children to refute such things as secular philosophy and the theory of evolution. And He is now working through them to refute opposition to the public display of the Ten Commandments, the right to carry and read the Bible in school, praying in schools, and the teaching of Intelligent Design in creation. God can work through children!
“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Eli gave Samuel good advice. He told Samuel to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” He wasn’t to ask the Lord for his heart’s desires or help with his problems. No, Samuel was to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” The Hebrew word for “listening” here means “to hear with a view to obeying.”
Have you ever prayed that prayer? Too often we pray for the Lord to solve our problems or meet our needs, along with our praise and thanksgiving. This is wonderful, but what about our willingness to listen to what God is asking of us – and our willingness to obey – even when what He asks of us is difficult or unpleasant. This is a challenging question, isn’t it? Have you ever prayed, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”?
Encourage children to develop their gifts.
Scripture teaches that most spiritual gifts are given at the time of salvation, but they need to be developed with use (2 Tim. 1:6). Because many people come to faith while they are children, mature believers should recognize the spiritual gifts that God has given these young believers, and encourage their development. This can be done by giving children opportunities to serve the Lord and speak for Him.
Children can be included as part of many ministry teams. Older children can be teachers’ helpers in toddler Sunday school classes, and can be included in music ministry. Even small children can help with hospitality in their homes. Children should be taught creative, Christlike ways to share their faith in secular settings. And when children use their spiritual gifts in positive ways, older believers should take note and thank them for being seen and heard! Thus they will be motivated to further develop their gifts in service to the Lord.
Encourage children to develop their spiritual gifts! The Church will be blessed and the Lord will be pleased.
By David R. Reid
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org