The Call of Samuel

And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” … And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the LORD. (1 Samuel 3:10, 20 ESV)

1 Samuel 3:1-20

Two of the readings (1 Samuel 3:1-20; John 1:43-51) for this Sunday continue a theme that is present through out the Bible: God calls men and women.

In the Old Testament reading, God called the young man Samuel to speak for him. The people of God had no written scriptures in Samuel’s day to guide them; they depended on those gifted by the spirit to speak God’s message. Samuel lived in the house of the Lord in Shiloh, but the word of the Lord was rare. There the priest Eli had two corrupt sons, who were also priests of the Lord. The sons strong-armed worshippers at Shiloh into giving them a better portion of the animals sacrificed to God. In other words, they stole from the offering plate. God condemned their actions and called Samuel to announce God’s irrevocable judgment to their father Eli.

The story of Samuel’s call itself is charming, with Samuel hearing the voice of God, not recognizing it at first and then fully submitting himself to God’s will. How many sermons have focused on that point alone, abstracting it into a general principle? “Make sure you listen for the voice of God! And then respond to it!” Good advice.

The story of Samuel’s call serves a larger purpose, however, in the scheme of things. Samuel didn’t recognize the voice of God because the word of the Lord was rare. Like the first rumblings of a dormant volcano, the call of Samuel marks the beginning of a dramatic shift in the life of Israel. Samuel’s call leads to the anointing of first Saul and then David as king over all Israel. The twelve tribes will become one nation, radically changing Israel’s self-understanding.

Samuel’s calling also marks a shift in the charismatic gift of God, ushering in the age of the prophets. In previous times, the role of political leader, military leader and spiritual leader were all wrapped into one. Moses, Joshua and the judges all fit this pattern. After Samuel, however, the role of spirit-gifted prophet was distinguishable from that of political-military king. The kings ruled according to basic principles of justice and wisdom (well, at least they were supposed to). The prophets spoke God’s word by direct inspiration. This prophetic age has contributed much to our history as the people of faith.

As we tell the story of Samuel’s call, the church certainly says, “Be like Samuel.” It’s time to sing: “Here I Am Lord“. Of course, I’ve never heard the audible voice of God, so it’s also important to remember the larger story of our salvation of which Samuel’s call is a part. The word of God was rare, but God began to speak. Speak, Lord, for your servants are listening … to the word you spoke through the prophets in the age of kings, through the scholars of the age of subjugation … and ultimately through your Son, and through those early Christians who told the story of his life and his church.