Samuel: When God Calls

In the Old Testament (OT), Samuel marks the end of the judges and the beginning of the prophets, and like Deborah, an earlier judge, Samuel was both a prophet and judge (1 Samuel 3:21; 7:15). Samuel is also the only major OT character with a nearly spotless record. Unfortunately, Samuel will make the same mistake as his mentor Eli by neglecting the spiritual development of his sons (8:1-2).

In contrast, Samuel’s story starts with a godly mother, Hannah, who wanted a child more than anything in the world; she wanted a child so much that she promised God that she would dedicate him fully to the Lord. God granted the desires of her heart. After she weaned her son, she and her husband delivered him to Eli the priest; here Samuel “ministered before the Lord” (2:11) and grew into a man. In this context, Samuel had the opportunity to grow up under the one person who should have been most attuned to God’s way.

One night God came calling. Having fulfilled the duties of the day, but just before the lamp in the temple had gone out, young Samuel was lying down in the temple not far from the Ark of the Covenant.

A voice broke the silence.

Samuel responded with “Here I am” and ran to Eli to see what he wanted. However, Eli had not called him so he sent Samuel back to bed. Three times the voice broke through before Eli realized it must be God calling.

Now Eli instructs Samuel to remain where he is the next time the voice comes and to respond: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

What happens next had to be difficult for someone as young as Samuel. God tells Samuel that because of Eli’s negligence in supervising and raising his sons, that God is going to end their lives. The next morning, though scared, Samuel does what he has to do: he tells Eli all that he has learned from the Lord. In this way, God tests Samuel’s integrity and commitment.

God could have revealed his intention straight to Eli, but instead chose to use this situation to call Samuel. Samuel was to learn—and this would not be the last time he would deliver difficult news—that being on God’s mission is sometimes difficult and at times borders on the impossible.

When surveying the whole of Samuel’s life, it is clear that he accepted the invitation to participate in God’s mission. However, this mission was punctuated with times when Samuel had to choose his comfort over lining up with God’s mission.

Perhaps you are at one of these crossroads, God is calling but the task seems overwhelming or unpleasant or even impossible. When we come to these moments, what we do next is critical since it will be the turning point to whether God can move us to the next level, or whether he will have to call again until we recognize his voice.

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Moses: Called to God’s Mission

To speak of “being called” by God sounds a bit presumptuous in our ears, yet that is precisely the language the New Testament uses to speak of how God draws us into His mission. Even Jesus came to call sinners (Matthew 9:13/Luke 5:32). The apostle Paul framed his own ministry as calling people to “the obedience that comes from faith” (Romans 1:5). Therefore, not only did God call Paul but Paul’s ministry to others is how God called others to follow Jesus. Moreover, the author of Hebrews refers to our “heavenly call” (Hebrews 3:1) and Peter reminds us to make our “calling and election” certain (2 Peter 1:10). So, this calling of God is something God does but also requires our active participation.

Beginning with the story of Moses, the Bible contains several notable “call narratives,” stories where people have an encounter with God that alters forever the course of their lives. Additionally, these call narrative have some consistent patterns that can inform us about how God might be calling us today.

Using Exodus 3 and 4 as a model, we find that Moses experiences a revelation of God (3.1-4). In this revelation, God expresses his motive (3.4-9) for appearing to Moses, which then leads into God’s commission (3.10) of Moses to a special task. Moses will, of course, issue some objections (3.11ff) to the mission God has just assigned him and God will meet these objections with reassurance (3.12) that God will be on the mission with him. Finally, God will offer Moses several signs (3.12; 4.1-5) both to confirm to others that he is on God’s mission but also to assure Moses that he is not on the mission alone.

While God’s call of us may not be as dramatic as Moses’, I do believe that God calls us in a similar way: There comes a time when we “see” God, maybe through a dramatic revelation of God but often it is through preaching, teaching or someone’s quiet faithful life. But when we see God, we come to know his motives. He loves us intensely and wants to be in relationship with us. However, we, like Moses will often object to God’s interference in our lives, but God will again reassure us that he is with us and he will give us signs along the road that he is there and that we have truly been called by Him.