The Way to Listen

Bible Focus: 1 Samuel 1-7

Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, because the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. Once again, for the third time, the LORD called Samuel. He got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the boy. He told Samuel, “Go and lie down. If he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’”

So Samuel went and lay down in his place. The LORD came, stood there, and called as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel responded, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

1 Samuel 3:7-10 CSB

I have never seen God with my physical eyes or heard his voice with my physical ears. But I have experienced moments where I have felt God’s Spirit so powerfully that I had little doubt that he was addressing me, just as if he had physically stood next to me and spoken to me aloud.

The first time that I can remember this happening was when I was seven years old. As I tried to fall asleep one Sunday night, I suddenly remembered a puzzling conversation I had with my brother that day after church. He had mentioned “getting saved.” As I tossed and turned in my bed, I had this growing urge to find out what it meant to get saved.

I had been going to church for a good while. I had learned many Bible stories, including the story of Jesus dying on the cross and coming back to life. But I had no idea what “getting saved” might mean. And I decided that I would not wait until the next day to pursue the answer to that question.

I got up and opened my bedroom door, crossed the hall to my parents’ room, and knocked on their door. When Dad answered, I opened the door and asked him what it meant to get saved. That night, Dad explained the good news to me, and I suddenly understood, and I believed and trusted Jesus for the very first time.

Looking back, I have little doubt that God spoke to me as I was trying to sleep. I know that God spoke to me as I had my flash of understanding at hearing the good news. I’m thankful to God that I heard the good news that night, and received Jesus’s gift of forgiveness, reconciliation, and eternal life.

Since then, I’ve had many more moments of hearing him inaudibly speak to me, especially through the words of the Bible. But I’ve found that it’s not enough for me to simply hear him; I must want to respond to what he says. Otherwise, his words will do me little good.

God’s words will do us little good if we don’t want to respond to them.

As the time of the Israelite judges was nearing its end, there was a certain priest whose name was Eli. He served at the tabernacle, a sacred tent located in Shiloh that functioned as the temple of God. Eli served there along with his two sons, Hopni and Phinehas.

Hopni and Phinehas were corrupt and dishonored God in their service as priests. Instead of taking their assigned portions from the people’s sacrifices as prescribed by God’s law, they instead forced people to give them the portions of meat that they wanted. They also took advantage of the women who served at the tabernacle by sleeping with them.

Eli was aware of his sons’ shameful actions, and he criticized them, but he did not stop them or remove them from serving. In response, God sent a prophet with a message for Eli:

“Therefore, this is the declaration of the LORD, the God of Israel: ‘I did say that your family and your forefather’s family would walk before me forever. But now,’ this is the LORD’s declaration, ‘no longer! For those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disgraced…Any man from your family I do not cut off from my altar will bring grief and sadness to you. All your descendants will die violently. This will be the sign that will come to you concerning your two sons Hophni and Phinehas: both of them will die on the same day. Then I will raise up a faithful priest for myself. He will do whatever is in my heart and mind. I will establish a lasting dynasty for him, and he will walk before my anointed one for all time.’

1 Samuel 2:30,33-35 CSB

The one who would become this faithful priest was already on the scene. His name was Samuel. His mother Hannah had prayed to God for a son, and she had promised she would give that son to God. After Samuel was born and weaned, she brought him to Eli and gave Samuel to the service of the tabernacle. Every year, she would make Samuel a new robe and bring it to him when she and her husband would come offer their annual sacrifice.

One night, God began speaking to young Samuel, but the boy mistook God’s voice for Eli’s. Samuel disturbed Eli three times, insisting that Eli had called him. Eli finally realized that God was speaking to Samuel, and so Eli gave Samuel basic instructions on how to respond when God spoke. Next time God spoke to him, Samuel responded as he had been instructed. God then told Samuel that Eli would indeed be judged for not stopping the wickedness of his sons.

How ironic and sad that Eli was the one who helped Samuel first learn how to listen to God. Samuel responded to God with trust and obedience, but Eli did not. Samuel gained a reputation throughout the land as a true prophet of the Lord. But Eli died a broken man, on the same day he received word that Hopni and Phinehas had been killed.

Here’s the good news: God still wants to speak to us, and he wants us to truly hear him. If there’s one thing that is consistent throughout the Bible, it’s that God keeps reaching out to human beings. Sending his Son Jesus was the most emphatic message of all. But after hearing what God has to say, will we ignore him and walk away? Or will we listen to God and respond?

Featured image from Norbert Braun on Unsplash.

This post is #24 in The Truly Good Book series. Subscribe to more posts below.

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