Summary: God called the child Samuel into service in the Kingdom. So God calls all of us. Do we hear as he heard?
We begin a four-week message series today entitled Called. The reality is we’re all called by God. Each of us is called to salvation and to service. If God has called us to salvation, then God has also called us to service in the Kingdom. This message series will explore God’s calling in three of the early leaders of Israel—Samuel, Saul and David, and hopefully we’ll discover how to hear, answer and not answer God’s call in our own lives. Maybe along the way we’ll learn to live fully into our own call, be it salvation or service. We start this series by taking a look at one of the most distinctive calls in the Bible. It is the calling of the Old Testament prophet Samuel.
Samuel was born to his mother, Hannah, in answer to Eli’s prayer. The priest Eli had seen Hannah weeping at the door of the Tabernacle. She was crying because she had no child. Eli prayed on Hannah’s behalf and God answered her prayer. In response to God’s faithfulness, Hannah dedicated Samuel to life-long service to God, and when he was old enough, she took him to the Tabernacle at Shiloh to serve with Eli, just as she promised she would do. That’s where we picked up the story this morning.
Verse one says, “the word of the Lord was rare in those days.” It’s like Israel was living in a dead spot. You know what I’m talking about, right? It’s like cell phone companies spend millions if not billions of dollars erecting towers all over the country, but when you really need your phone, you can’t get coverage. A dead spot is that place where the signal doesn’t reach. It was into that dead spot that God’s call came to this young man, Samuel. He would become the spokesperson for a new generation. But, Samuel was having a hard time figuring out what this call was all about. He knew someone was calling him, but apparently, there was a lot of interference in the dead spot. What might have been causing that interference?
The first issue may have been sin. Eli, the priest, was a devout and compassionate man, but he had problems at home. Actually, what he had was a couple of problem sons. His sons were in the family business—they were priests just like their father. Now, that’s not the problem. Actually, Eli was of the priestly line of Aaron. Aaron was the first to wear the priestly mantle in the nation of Israel. That mantle had been handed down from generation to generation, so it was a natural progression for Hophni and Phineas to go into the family business. The problem was they soon discovered they could get rich off of the offerings the people were making for sacrifices. They also enjoyed the companionship of the women who served in the Tabernacle. They were in the family business, but it was for all the wrong reasons. Day in and day out, Samuel witnessed this leadership in the Tabernacle, and maybe Samuel didn’t expect God to speak in the middle of all that. Sin may have been creating some interference for Samuel as God came calling.
Another issue may have been weariness. Verses 2 & 3 say that the Lord spoke to Samuel before the Lamp of God had gone out. That simply means it was probably the wee hours of the morning when the Lord came calling. You know how it is when you get suddenly awakened in the middle of the night. It takes a moment or two to get your wits about you. Perhaps Samuel couldn’t hear the Lord because he was just tired.
Yet another issue that causes interference in distinguishing God’s call is anger or abandonment. Think about this: Samuel had been left as a little boy by his mother…literally, right after he was weaned. She would only visit him once a year when it was time for the yearly sacrifices. How do you explain to a little boy year after year that he can’t go home with you after your yearly visit? It must have been confusing to Samuel, and confusion, as it often does can lead to anger. Maybe Samuel was just angry, and that anger was causing his inability to distinguish God’s voice.
Another issue we could explore is simple ignorance. Verse 7 seems to indicate there was a little ignorance involved. Samuel is young and he’s been around the sanctuary for a long time, but he had never experienced God. He knew he could serve God, but he didn’t realize God wanted a personal relationship with him. He didn’t quite understand that God was a personal God who desired to use him in a special way.
Three times God called out to Samuel. Each time, Samuel ran to Eli thinking it was Eli calling him. Finally, Eli said to Samuel, “Next time you hear the voice, say ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening’.” That’s exactly what he did and his life was changed forever. He became the judge over Israel, and had the great privilege of anointing two of Israel’s kings, not the least of which was its most famous, King David. He finally heard God’s call and it made all the difference in the world.