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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hearing and Knowing the Voice of God

1 Samuel 3:1-10
What I notice first in this passage of Scripture is Samuel resting in the temple after he helped Eli to bed. Why was Samuel in the temple? Maybe he was there to make sure the candles on the altar did not go out. Maybe Samuel was in the temple because there was no room elsewhere for him to lay. Maybe God designed it that way so he could be even closer to Eli. I am not sure any one of these is correct nor if all of them are incorrect. God’s ways are mysterious. We do know Samuel was close enough to Eli to be able to hear him should Eli call out for him. If he was close enough to hear Eli, was he close enough to hear God? We are soon to find out.
We see three times Samuel ran to Eli, assuming Eli called him. We see Samuel as a dutiful boy. He took care of the elder priest, even to being willing to wait upon him instead of sleep. Who was Eli that Samuel would live with him and obey him? Eli was not his father. Eli was the priest who prayed over Samuel’s mother, Hannah, when she cried to God regarding not having a child. He prayed for her and told her within the next year, when others came to the temple, she would have a child from her own body. This raised the spirit of Hannah. Hannah did have a child and Samuel was that child. When Hannah weaned Samuel, she did what is very difficult for mothers; she gave her son back to the Lord, in prayer and in action. She took Samuel to the temple one day and gave him into Eli’s care to use for the service of Yahweh in the temple. Hannah experienced the blessing of God and wanted to give the blessing back to Him for His use. What a great thank you to God. She gave back to Him 100% of what He blessed her with, a child, so Samuel began his service to Eli. Samuel helped Eli as he aged with things an old man finds difficult to do. Eli taught Samuel the ways and rituals of the Lord’s temple. He taught him how to read the Torah and to write. Eli was raising Samuel to be a priest.
At the time of this chapter, Samuel was perhaps aware of how God spoke to prophets of old based on his learning from the writings in the Torah and from stories handed down by Eli. Samuel was aware of God’s love and mercy through the stories of His love leading the Israelites out of Egypt. God shows He is a covenant God through the stories of Adam, Abraham, and Noah. I am sure Samuel was told, as well, of Yahweh’s personal interest in the lives of His people by the example of his own conception in Hannah. Samuel was acquainted with God through what he learned and read. Do we share the stories of God’s care, love, and mercy to our children or to the children of God with whom we have contact?  
Eli continued to teach Samuel; he was not finished with his job on earth yet. On this night in chapter 3, we find a voice calling out to Samuel three times and, each time, Samuel ran to his master, Eli. Eli did not scold him for waking him, but sent Samuel back to his bed. On the third time Samuel heard someone calling out to him, Eli discerned Samuel must have heard the voice of the Lord. When was the first time you heard the voice of the Lord and understood it to be God? Samuel was acquainted with Eli’s voice but never before heard Yahweh’s voice. Eli knew God’s voice and discerned God was calling for Samuel, the child given back to God by his mother. Eli instructed Samuel to answer God that he was listening and for Him to speak. Did Samuel follow Eli’s instruction without question or did he query Eli? Scripture does not say Samuel questioned Eli and he had no reason to doubt Eli’s instruction; Eli had been faithful to him these few years of Samuel’s time with him. Samuel trusted Eli. That is why Samuel responded the fourth time to God by saying he was listening. Samuel learned for himself the sound of God’s voice because Eli, his master, taught him. Samuel trusted Eli; long before he knew the sound of God’s voice, he trusted Yahweh because of Eli’s teaching. He trusted His heart. Do we teach others to trust God’s heart? Do we go beyond even that and teach them to take notice of God’s voice? 
Eli may well have been afraid and refused to teach Samuel to discern God’s voice; yet, he was still faithful to Yahweh and to his charge, Samuel. He doubtless understood, though, if Samuel was hearing a voice and he, the priest, was not, the message doubtless had something to do with him and his family. Remember, Eli’s sons were corrupt in their service to the Lord in the temple. Eli ignored this issue and did not reprimand his sons. God took issue with Eli for not disciplining them and with the sons for being unfaithful to Him and corrupting the temple worship. God spoke to Eli in the past and said he, his sons, and his bloodline would no longer be priests in the temple of God. To this date, God’s punishment had not occurred. Eli sensed, by God speaking to Samuel and bypassing him, God would be talking to Samuel regarding him and his sons. Eli was curious the next day and requested Samuel to tell him what God said to Samuel. The message from God was as Eli expected; God had told Samuel of the evil in the house of Eli and His punishment of them. 
There had been prophetic silence in the land of Israel for many years. The Israelite’s hearts were hardened and their ears were deaf to God. God spoke to them in the past, but they did not heed Him and listen. By being closed to the Israelites, God was possibly disciplining them. We do not know for sure, but we do know through Samuel, God began speaking to the Israelites again. Samuel would become a prophet for almighty Yahweh in the midst of a hardened nation. God wanted to speak with Israel. He wanted to be in a relationship with them. The Israelites would not hear Him; they could not hear Him. God had to remove from the Israelites the evil that led them, the priests, and raise up a prophet who would give voice to His words. God determined Israel would hear from Him.
With this story come questions. Are we training our youth to recognize God, to know His heart and to be still and know and heed His voice? If we do not teach them to discern His voice, we are failing them and the Lord who tells us to teach our children to know Him and to love and serve Him. Are we as the Israelites, unable to perceive God anymore, or do we strive each day to keep in tune with Him so we can take notice of and be acquainted with His voice amongst the many others that clamor for our attention? With your consideration of this last question, you may have realized your heart has become hardened. Are you ready to turn around and open yourself for Yahweh God to remold you to be His child, to hear His voice? I challenge you today to ask yourself when the last time was you heard God’s voice. It is not too late today to turn around and look to God, to reacquaint yourself with His ways and His word. He wants to be familiar with you and you to Him.