Every nation and people group have formative stories that describe the lives and rise to influence of some of their most influential leaders. Some of our greatest leaders, such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, have as part of their narratives stories from their childhoods, such as chopping down a cherry tree or living in a log cabin. They are as much a part of their legacy as their individual achievements.
Such is the case for many of the stories we will look at from 1-2 Samuel during this sermon series looking at the Life of David. They are the collection of the formative stories for Israel that were assembled in its present form around the time of the Exile. The stories of 1-2 Samuel describe how Israel moved from a group of tribes into a nation led by a king. They tell how David, a shepherd from Bethlehem, became the great military, political, and spiritual leader of his people.
These stories begin not with David, but with the prophet Samuel. It is important to begin with Samuel, because of the influence he has throughout 1 Samuel, especially with David, and in this time in Israel’s history. He was the most important leader for Israel since Moses’ death. He was a priest and a prophet who led his people in a time of transition. Through it all, Samuel was the leader who called the people to walk with the Lord, while also anointing Saul and David to be the kings of Israel.
We cannot get to any of this without examining, first, Samuel’s rise to prominence. 1 Samuel 1 tells us that Hannah, his mother, struggled to give birth and desired a child. Her prayers were heard and she gave birth to a son, Samuel, whom she gave to Eli to raise and to train him as a priest. She does so according to the custom of giving the first born back to God in response to God’s protection of Israel’s first born in Egypt.
By the time we get to 1 Samuel 3:1-10, we see that Samuel lives with Eli and is in a position to take over for him. That would seem unlikely, because we would assume that Eli’s sons would be the rightful heir to his role as priest. Eli’s sons, we learn in 1 Samuel 2, are not following God’s desires and Eli does nothing to stop them. As a result, God told them they would no longer lead God’s people.
All of this serves as the background for Samuel’s call story. I wonder how many of us have read this passage and have thought about what it says to us today? What does a passage about Samuel’s call say to us? I think it says this: Just as Samuel was called to do a specific work for the Lord, so are we all called by the Lord to share the message of God’s holy love.
Let’s walk through this passage and see how this plays out. First, we see that this message to Samuel comes in a time when the word of the Lord was rare. This was a time when the people did not expect to hear the Lord speak, because they were not seeing visions or messages from God. It was a time of spiritual despair among the people.
Note what is said of this time. Even though the message of the Lord was rare, “the lamp of God had not yet gone out.” At first glance, this reference speaks to the time of day when this message was given to Samuel. The lamp of God referenced a lamp that burned near the ark throughout the night, so it was likely before dawn when the Lord began to call Samuel. There is also a deeper meaning within the text. Even though a message from God was rare in those times, God was still speaking to his people.
Think about how true this is for us today. I think many of us look out at the world and believe God no longer speaks. Even though we might believe the time has passed for God to speak or to call people, the Lord continues to speak and calls people to share his message of love to others.
With Samuel, though, the Lord calls Samuel by name three times. Three times the Lord says, “Samuel,” and three times Samuel goes to Eli and says, “Here I am.” Samuel thinks Eli is the one calling him. He has mistaken the identity of the caller. Why is that? It is because Samuel does not know the Lord. He does not have an intimate relationship with the Lord. Samuel has a head knowledge of the Lord, but he does not a heart knowledge of God’s love.
It is tempting to believe God only calls those who have an intimate relationship with the Lord. The ones who are in church every time the doors are open. The ones who know all the words of Scripture. We think all of that and believe there is no way God could call someone like me. But, note what we see in the Lord calling Samuel. God calls the outcast, the seeker, and the one on the sidelines to hear the message of hope and to share hope with others. God calls all of us to a specific type of ministry that will enable others to experience the love of God for themselves.
It wasn’t until Eli caught noticed the repetitive nature of the calling of Samuel’s name that he realized it was the Lord and told Samuel to be ready to listen to what the Lord says. He tells him that if the Lord speaks again to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
We shouldn’t be too hard on Samuel for not knowing that it was the Lord. Many of us might think the Lord only speaks in loud pronouncements. It is often in the quiet of the moment, in the normalcy of the day, that God speaks. God speaks through the words of Scripture, through the word of a friend, through a song, through a drive, and through the regular moments of the day to let us know the Lord’s desires for us. Don’t miss the voice of God speaking to you, because we are waiting for a loud pronouncement when God speaks to us in the daily moments of our lives.
Once we see it is the Lord who is speaking, it calls us to have an attentiveness within our soul that hears what God says. We see this in Samuel when the Lord speaks a fourth time. This time, though, the Lord calls his name twice, perhaps indicating God’s deep and personal knowledge of Samuel. Samuel responds with what Eli suggests. He says, “Speak, your servant is listening.”
There is something important to see in the two main statements that Samuel gives. He has said, “Here I am,” and “Speak, your servant is listening.” Both of these lines suggest a heart that is willing to receive and will do what is asked of him. With “Here I am,” we see Samuel’s availability and openness to the calling. With “Speak, your servant is listening,” we see Samuel’s willingness to hear God’s voice and desires.
Those two statements also describe the response God desires of us. God desires a willing heart from us that is able to see his desires for us and how he wants to use us to share the message of hope and in our community. This is true for us as individuals, but it is equally true for us as a community of faith. It is not just individuals who God calls to share the message of hope. God calls communities of faith to be beacons of light and love into the surrounding area.
The response God does not want are the roadblocks we put up that prevent us from hearing God’s voice. Roadblocks are the statements we say that separates us from God and the calling the Lord has. They are all familiar to us. “I do not have the time.” “I don’t have enough knowledge.” “We’re too small.” “I’ve done my time. It is time for someone else.” When God speaks, the response God desires are not roadblocks, but a willing heart that is able to hear what God asks of us. For Samuel, the willing heart allowed him to hear God’s prophetic call, to be a priest, and to lead the people of Israel. For us, having a willing heart invites us to see how the Lord uses the passions of our heart to share hope with others.
When we hear God’s voice calling us, we do not follow the Lord’s calling alone. We are led by God to fulfill the calling he places on our heart. It is a good thing, too, because on our own we do not know what to do. Like Samuel, we become overwhelmed by the task and start to wonder what to do and where to begin. God enables and teaches us how to live out the calling the Lord has for us. God walks with us and gives us the tools to be the people God desires us to be and to serve as God hopes we will.
The good news is, then, that when God calls we do not have to have it all figured out in that moment. Knowing what to do to follow God’s call will come in time. What God desires first and foremost is a willing heart that will, like Samuel, receive the message, hear it, and then act on it.
One of my favorite songs perfectly describes what God seeks of us when he calls. The song, “Here I am, Lord,” was written by Dan Schutte and is a song where God sees the world’s condition and is ready to send someone into the world to provide care, grace, and hope. There is a similar phrase that leads into the chorus that, perhaps, we have heard God say to each of us at some point in our lives. “Whom shall I send?”
Whom shall I send to provide hope to the people of Salvisa and Lawrenceburg? Whom shall I send to teach people what it means to follow God today? Whom shall I send to provide assistance to those in need? Whom shall I send to love the people who are hurting? Whom shall I send to mend the hearts of the brokenhearted? Whom shall I send?
When God calls us to share the message of hope and love, I pray these will be our words of response:
Here I am Lord.
Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.