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.