This week we consider “the God who calls” and the story of Samuel, a prophet of the Lord and the last judge of Israel. These are dark times in the nation. Israel had known of the strong leadership of Moses and Joshua, but floundered under a long series of poor leaders through the time of Judges. By the end of the book we read that the people did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25). This is sadly evident in 1 Samuel as we read of Eli’s sons who, though they served as priests, were called “worthless men” for “They did not know the Lord(2:12)” and that “in those days the word of the Lord was rare.” It is noteworthy that 1 Samuel begins not in the house of a great judge or priest, but in the house of a man we only read of in this story. His favourite wife Hannah is barren. This should get our attention, just as it would have the original readers. Barrenness is a repeated theme in the Old Testament and frequently represents a test of the Lord’s promises (as with Sarah or Rachel). Hannah poured her saddened soul out to the Lord and fervently prayed for a son (1:9-18).
The Lord remembered her prayer and honoured her with a son whom she named Samuel (1:19-20). In turn, Hannah honoured her vow to commit her son to the Lord’s service as soon as he was weaned [though weaning typically happened much later than we wean our children, he was nonetheless very young – (see 1:24)]. Thus, the boy remains with Eli at the holy place in Shiloh. Perhaps you are already familiar with the calling of Samuel. He has a bed in the temple where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. Samuel on three occasions hears a voice calling, and each time assumes it is Eli. Though we know it is the Lord, it is not until the third call that Eli realizes what is going on and encourages him to say, “Speak Lord, for Your servant is listening. (3:9)”
Something to See:
The first thing we note regarding God’s call is the ease with which we can miss it, or misattribute it. In those days “the word of the Lord was rare.” Frequently in scripture the Lord’s silence is synonymous with hearts that are far from him. The Lord promises that he will answer those who call upon him (Ps 91, Jeremiah 33). The bible makes an allowance for Samuel for he “did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. (3:7)” Eli had no such excuse. Does the Lord’s voice seem far from you? Paul said to the church in Rome, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart(Rom. 10:8)” We don’t need to wait for a literal, audible, word from God, or even a word from a prophet. As the writer of Hebrews encouraged the early church, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son”. Commit the words of Scripture to your heart and you will never be far from God’s voice!