Listening for the Voice of God
As a child, I can remember being so engrossed in a book time would pass by without a care in the world. Meanwhile my mother would have been calling me to come and help with household chores. By the third or fourth time I would have been snapped back to reality by the use of my full name. When all four names were used I knew I needed to respond immediately, not only with word but with action.
The author begins to weave the narrative for a leadership change due to the disposed nature of Eli’s household. Eli’s sons would take lavishly from the offerings brought to the temple, lay with the women who served at the entrance to the tent, and disregarded their roles as priests. Yet, the author weaves a comparison between Samuel and Eli’s sons throughout chapter two. As Eli’s sons disregarded their roles as priest, Samuel thrived, when Eli’s sons negated their father’s voice, Samuel grew in stature and favor with the Lord and with people, and where Eli’s sons took advantage of the offerings brought to the tent, Samuel continued to flourish as a leader.
As the third chapter of first Samuel opens, a renewed focus on Samuel establishes the basis for the message God has of Israel and the prophet Eli. Samuel had thrived in his service to not only Eli and the people of Israel but also in the eyes of the Lord. The young boy Samuel was ministering under the care and supervision of Eli, the prophet.
Early in the chapter the author points out how Eli’s “eyesight had begun to grow dim, so that he could not see” (v.2). Rare in those days were visions and revelations were not widespread throughout the leaders of Israel, even though a man brought a prophecy to Eli about his household. Highlighting Eli’s blindness in the beginning directs the reader to the spiritual blindness in Eli and his sons. Samuel’s placement near the ark of God signifies his prominent role from the very beginning.
The voice of the Lord calls out to Samuel but not yet knowing the Lord he got up and ran to Eli. Samuel did not have personal experience of the Lord and could not recognize the Lord’s voice. Although, some may believe he knew the historical dealings of the Lord with the Israelites, which could also indicate a failing in leadership by Eli to instruct the boy. A dim-sighted Eli responds with ignorance and tells the boy go back and lay down. Only by the third time did Eli realize the Lord was calling out to Samuel. Eli instructed Samuel to respond with, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (v.9).
When the Lord calls a fourth time, Samuel responds as Eli instructed. The Lord’s prophecy concerning Eli’s family is spoken as a sign of the fulfillment of destruction from beginning to end. “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.” (v.11), declares the Lord against Eli’s family and all of Israel. The Lord is preparing to see Samuel’s leadership given to the people of Israel and the household of Eli removed.
Chapter three is concluded with Samuel’s ministry growing for the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground (v.19). Samuel was faithful and known as a trustworthy person from Dan to Beersheba (v.20).
Individuals in contemporary contexts may not see the correlation between modern society and Old Testament Israel during the time of Samuel and Eli. However, an invaluable reality within the text is our ability to recognize and respond to the Lord’s leading, even when difficult. The prophet Eli, a man chosen to speak on behalf of God, required three times to know and understand the voice of the Lord.
Modern societies may not have traditional prophets but how do we know and respond to the voice of God? Samuel received a difficult message from the Lord but he was needed to deliver the message of God’s judgment of Eli’s household. Several of the prophets throughout the Old Testament were used by God to change human systems and situations, which required each of them to journey down difficult paths. However, each of the prophets chose to respond and were used by God in instrumental ways.
How may God be asking you to respond? How is the voice of the Lord calling out to you? Are you listening? Are you able to respond with a “Here I am, for you called me”?
Individuals are not called in the same way nor asked to accomplish the same task. Each person needs to be continually anticipate the voice of the Lord coming to them in real ways. God’s call comes unexpectedly and often to society’s least likely members. The boy Samuel was a least likely candidate for receiving the Lord’s message concerning the household of Eli, however, the Lord chose to use him in might way to effect the life of Israel.
Each day may we be constantly aware of the way God is at work in the world, may we respond to voice of the Lord when called, and may we have the courage to respond. May we all be aware of the voice of the Lord before we hear the full name.