When I was a child, I learned many Bible stories in Sunday School, summer camp, and from my parents. I knew the Old Testament adventures and characters through and through. As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve realized that I almost inevitably missed the point of nearly every story and have since had to relearn them. The story of Samuel’s calling is just such a story.
For years I thought of this as the heartwarming story of a naïve and innocent little boy learning to obey God. It is that in part, but like most Bible stories, it’s more than a simple lesson about obedience. When Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10), he wasn’t just setting an example for all the little boys and girls. He was committing himself to God’s will and God’s plan, even though he likely didn’t know it. He was offering himself to the service of God wholeheartedly and with his whole life.
The news and command God gave Samuel wasn’t heartwarming. He became God’s messenger to Eli, the priest, about his certain downfall for the way his family had dishonored God. This boy, this little flannel-graph-and-illustrated-Bible boy, was the mouthpiece of God’s judgment, and he would declare God’s promises and judgments over Israel for decades hence.
This is a story about God’s commitment to Israel and the lengths He went to bind Himself to them. When those who were supposed to be leading the people in obedience failed, God raised up a child to be a mouthpiece of righteousness. And God acted in accordance with the prophecy He gave Samuel; Eli’s family was thrown down for their disrespect of God’s house and His ark. They treated the first like a brothel and the second like a talisman of good luck.
This is no cutesy story about a little boy’s obedience; it is the origin story of a man God used to raise up His king and to lead His people in faithfulness. Samuel’s willingness to listen and to obey was more than just a good example for our Sunday School lessons; it set the course for the house of Jesse to be established. From this house came both the king God intended to rule Israel (1 Samuel 16) and the King God intended to save the world (John 3:17-18).
Written by Barnabas Piper