I don’t know about you, but I LOVE the Old Testament. Yeah, there are many things I still don’t understand, but I do know this, what we call the Old Testament takes up 66% of our Bible, so taking the time to understand the storyline is vital for our relationship with Christ. Why? Because the New Testament is a fulfillment (bringing a deeper meaning to) of the Old Testament.
If we look around, our world, and pay attention to the media, we can see one of the biggest questions is “how is God working today?” That is what we will be talking about in this series. Paying attention to how God works and the motives behind that work can help us see and understand how God is inviting us into the work he is doing.
The people of Israel have been in their promised land for a few generations now, when we get to the books of Samuel. Yes. They are free from the land of Egypt, but they have entered into a new kind of servant hood…falling into the trap of, as the book of Judges ends, “doing as they saw fit.” This meant that everyone was looking out for themselves, rather than the benefit of the community. With this kind of attitude, God and God’s laws (and relationship) was put on the back burner. So life was more challenging, and more corrupt than God intended for his people.
The corruption had gone deep into the priesthood. What is sad is our passage today opens with the situation of the word of the Lord being rare. Can you imagine what kind of life the people were living without hearing the word of the Lord? People would go around believing they were doing right without taking the time to inquire of the will and directives of the Lord…even the priests.
I’m sure you can see why and how it would be challenging to hear from God when all of this corruption and chaos is going on. But we always have to remember that, even when we can’t see it, God is always working.
Yes. God is always working and has a plan. When people fail, God will be the One who brings redemption and control from the chaos. That should give us hope.
So, what does God do? He calls his people to step into the life he designed for them (see Ephesians 2:10)
Calling. Have you experienced a calling from God? How do you know? How do you know if you haven’t?
Keep in mind that callings (and prophesies for that matter) have to be confirmed by a community. My calling, as a pastor, is continually put to the test and has to be confirmed by the Church community. The reason this needs to happen is because anyone could say they were called by God to do something and, without the support of the community, end up messing up.
That is what happened with Eli, the priest’s, sons. They ended up up living for their own personal satisfaction and giving in to all sorts of temptation and evil that they corrupted the priesthood. Because of his sons, Eli was told the priesthood would be taken away from him and his family.
God is always working. Just because things may look bleak does not mean we should ever give in to negativity and thinking everything is done for. When things look their darkest, look for the person (or group) God is raising up to lead God’s people to the next phase of the redemptive process. That’s what’s happening here.
Samuel has been part of the story from the beginning of the book. His mom, Hannah (see 1 Samuel 1), prayed for her to have a son and God heard her prayer. See, this is one of the beautiful things about God, even before we seek him, he has already been working on the answer to the issue. God is always working to reshape, redeem, and restore his reign and rule in the world, in our lives.
When we come to a passage in the Bible, like this one, one of the first things we need to do is understand all of this background information, otherwise, we’ll take it to mean something else, we’ll individualize it.
Yes, God called an individual, but his calling was for the sake of the community.
Israel was in pretty bad shape. God had witnesses his people turn away again and again from following him. Pay attention to this point—GOD WAS ALWAYS THERE WORKING. We can see this is the way Hannah’s prayer was answered and Samuel was born. But there is more to the story.
Yes, God calls, but the people have to be able to discern the voice and words of the Living God. Why? Because we can end up following the wrong directives. What does this mean? Unless we take the time to understand 1) that God is calling and 2) it is God who is speaking.
Notice the passage. Samuel heard an audible voice, so he assumed it was Eli. Samuel had been ministering in the Temple, which means he was burning the incense, praying the prayers, and doing the required liturgy, yet he did not know the voice of the Lord. When the voice came, Samuel assumed it was Eli, his mentor, so he went to the older priest, whose eyes were failing (i.e. he was dying).
Samuel went to Eli, and was told to go back to sleep.
My kids will get up in the middle of the night, at random, and say they’re sick, or growing pains are keeping them awake. (My favorite is when my kids come to us and say they can’t sleep so we tell them to lay down because they’re not like horses who can sleep standing up.) But we end up making them go back to bed because that is where they need to be.
Same with Samuel.
And that’s what Eli did. He sent Samuel back to his room. Three times.
What’s interesting is how long it took Eli to realize it was the Lord calling out to Samuel. After the second time, it seems Eli would have thought something was up. But, keep in mind the scripture says the word of the Lord was rare. This means Eli had not heard the Lord’s voice, or it had been so long since he last heard it that he didn’t recognize the call.
How can we know for sure it is the Lord calling us? First of all, we have to have a relationship with God. This is done in several different ways. The biggest way we can have a relationship with God is through reading his word and by seeking to find him wherever we are and in whatever we’re doing. Find the good. Find the “coincidences.” Find the love, the peace. Find the forgiveness and new life. You’ll see God working in and through those around you and even in you.
Another way to have a relationship with God is through prayer and worship. These are some of what John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement calls the means of grace. That is, these are means by which we can experience the grace of God. We also experience this grace through the sacraments of baptism and holy communion.
Knowing the voice and calling of God begins with having and developing a relationship with him.
When Eli recognizes it is the Lord calling Samuel, he teaches Samuel how to listen and obey. Right here we see the value of the community. The community, the people that surround Samuel are all pointing him to the presence and graces of God. Without Eli, Samuel would not have known how to pay attention to the Lord’s leading.
So what does Eli say? He tells Samuel to simply say, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” Now, that’s a powerful statement. When we say that today, there is so much we’re saying. We’re asking God to speak.. We’re calling him our master, by saying we are servants. We are saying we are open to hearing his voice which means we are open to being obedient.
The reality is, God is seeking the obedience of the community. Obedience is the key. If we seek to obey God, then we are placing him above ourselves. Because of obedience, Samuel became one of Israel’s greatest prophets.
I invite you to read through 1 & 2 Samuel and pay attention to how God is calling, responding, leading, guiding. My hope is we all seek the face of God more and more. That we know God more intimately. That we are sit before God when he appears. That we can confidently say, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”
What will you do to be more open to the Lord’s leading in your life? In the life of this community of faith? In the life of this community?