Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
Bible Background Between last week and this week, we are covering a lot of ground. Last week we talked about the people of Israel being wilderness people. They relied on God for just enough of…..well, what is it? This week we are no longer dealing with the people of Israel as wilderness people led by Moses but we now see how the people have transformed into tribal people with many different leaders in power. Between then and now, Joshua led the people into the Promised Land where they settled. As life got difficult, leaders called judges rose up to lead them (thus the book called Judges). Near the end of the book of Judges, tribal wars threaten to pull the people apart. The Promised Land is not without conflict and difficult times.
We pass right by the book of Ruth although if you want a good story please read it sometime and study about the differences in people. We open this book not in the halls of power but in the home of a man remembered only in this place, Elkanah. The book of 1 Samuel will lead us into a new rising form of leader, the prophet. Elkanah is married to two women and Hannah (his fav by the way) is barren. She goes to the priest Eli to pray for a son. If she has a son, she promises that child to God. Eli tells her that she will have a son. When she does have Samuel, she leaves him with the priest. Samuel grows up with Eli in the temple.
This all seems a bit weird for us as modern day readers. The story about the boy staying with the priest was not weird to readers of scripture before. It was like baptizing or dedicating the baby. This was a way to dedicate a child to the Lord and was an honor for the child to be dedicated. Hannah confirms that her child does not belong to her but is a blessing given by God. What is weird to the people of Israel is that Eli is still around and still in power. In just the last couple of chapters, we learn that Eli’s sons have abused their powers as priests and have disobeyed God and the people. Eli did nothing about it! Eli just let his children slide on some pretty awful stuff.
But maybe this all sets us up for the calling from God. Without Eli around, Samuel would not have been able to interpret his call which turns out to be a call to Eli for his wrongdoings. Eli expects it and supports the boy anyway. While Samuel is sleeping near the Ark of the Covenant (a physical reminder of the presence of God for the people of Israel), God calls Samuel by name. God has to call Samuel three times because Samuel thinks it is the older priest calling him.
This is not a major disruption to life at first but it will be. God calls quietly in the night. This is not a loud trumpet. God calls someone unlikely to be called. Samuel was not of the priestly line. He was the outsider. Over and over again God is calling the unlikely heroes along the way. Gods call to serve can be difficult. Can you imagine telling your mentor he is completely wrong? This will set up his ministry as prophet along the way. Samuel will call out injustice. That is not an easy thing to do. Much like God will do with other prophets, God is calling us to fix broken human systems. AND the call comes when it is least expected. Through it all, God calls us to hear truth and is with us all along. That is something consistent from before, isn’t it? All of these things we learn first from Samuel. Hold on for the bumpy ride.
Quotes of the Week
“I believe there’s a calling for all of us. I know that every human being has value and purpose. The real work of our lives is to become aware. And awakened. To answer the call.” ― Oprah Winfrey
“If God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name wouldn’t you do it?” ― Stephen King
“Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.” ― Parker J. Palmer
“The unexpected action of deep listening can create a space of transformation capable of shattering complacency and despair.” ― Terry Tempest Williams
1 Samuel 3: 1-21 (NRSV) Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”
Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”
As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.
Questions for the Week
Have you been called by God?
How do you recognize when/if you have been called by God?
Who helps us discover and define our calling?