Samuel played a pivotal role in the transitional period between the Judges and the Kings of Israel. The times of the Judges spanned over 300 years from the death of Joshua to the coronation King Saul. “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jgs. 21:25, NKJV). While that sounds good on the surface, if everyone does their own thing instead of God’s thing, chaos results. That era was defined by this sad cycle:
1. Apostasy: Israel backslid into idolatry.
2. Oppression: God allowed their enemies to invade, occupy and rule over them.
3. Repentance: Israel cried out to God in desperation.
4. Deliverance: God raised up deliverers (judges) to liberate them and lead revival.
This cycle repeated itself several times. Bible commentator Herbert Lockyer wrote, “The Book [of Judges] is a record of 7 apostasies, 7 servitudes, 7 cries to God and 7 deliverances.” Samuel was a priest, the last judge and the first prophet after Moses. He’s listed among the heroes of faith (Heb. 11:32) and was one of Israel’s greatest spiritual leaders (Jer. 15:1). Ponder these ten statements that summarize Samuel’s story:
1. Samuel’s name is significant: Fittingly, his name means “asked of God” or “God hears.” His barren mother, Hannah, prayed so desperately for God to give her a son that Eli, the High Priest, thought she was drunk (1 Sam. 1:9-17). Hannah vowed that if Jehovah granted her a son, she’d give him back for lifelong service. God not only gave her a son, but three sons and two daughters as well (1 Sam. 2:21). If you’ve asked God for something sincerely in faith, He heard your prayer and will answer in His time and way. A delay does not mean a denial.
2. Samuel was dedicated by his parents, but he dedicated himself to God. When Samuel was weaned, Hannah brought him to Eli to serve in the Tabernacle. “I asked the Lord to give me this boy, and he has granted my request. Now I am giving him to the Lord, and he will belong to the Lord his whole life” (1 Sam. 1:27-28, NLT). His devout parents raised him as a strict Nazarite (1 Sam. 1:11), but Samuel had to have his own encounter with God. Having Christian parents doesn’t automatically make us saved. We can’t make it to heaven on anyone’s coattails. We must develop our own relationship with God. God doesn’t have any grandchildren, just children!
3. Samuel served God by serving Eli. Talk about being raised in church, Samuel was trained as an apprentice in the priesthood under Eli. Samuel wore a linen ephod (a priestly vest) and Hannah made special coats and brought them to him when she and Elkanah made their annual pilgrimages to Shiloh to offer sacrifices. He started out as Eli’s helper, a gopher, doing grunt work and small jobs. Ministry doesn’t start in the pulpit or on a platform; it begins by being faithful over little things. Samuel proved himself faithful and God promoted him. There are too many celebrities in the church and too few servants like Samuel. We serve God by serving others.
4. Samuel was spiritually awakened at an early age. Samuel was falling asleep when he literally received a wake-up call from God. Josephus said Samuel was around 12 years old when he first heard God’s voice. Figuratively, a wake-up call is an experience that makes you realize you need to change or an event that changes your priorities. God often uses challenging circumstances to awaken us from our spiritual slumber to pursue His higher purpose.
5. Samuel was never stained by scandal. He is a rare Bible character with no major flaw on his record. Perhaps he benefitted from writing his own book (autobiographies are kinder to the subject than biographies). Still, Samuel was a rose among thorns—proof that we can live clean lives in a corrupt environment. Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were corrupt to the core. They were called “sons of belial” (1 Sam. 2:12, KJV), a title for Satan (2 Cor. 6:15), which means “worthless, wicked, or lawless.” Their sin was twofold: 1. Greed (they took more than their share of the sacrifices). 2. Immorality (they lured women worshippers into sexual sin—1 Sam. 2:12-17). Eli should have banned them from the priesthood, but his apathy invited judgment. There’s a big difference between being religious and righteous. Samuel stayed pure even in a polluted priesthood.
6. Samuel heard God’s voice when others weren’t listening. With a negligent High Priest and his vile sons ignoring His voice, God spoke to a boy with a sincere heart and a sensitive ear (1 Sam. 3:1). Aging Eli’s eyes were dim, and his ears were spiritually dull, so God bypassed him and spoke to the next generation. The question is not if God is speaking, the question is are we listening?
7. God spoke when Samuel was still. “While Samuel was lying down . . .” (1 Sam. 3:3). The key was he wasn’t distracted. We often miss God’s voice because we don’t stay still long enough to hear it. Our lives are so fast-paced and cluttered. Someone said, “Life is a rat race and the rats are winning!” Sometimes it feels that way. We are overrun by the latest technology (and thank God for it). Smart phones control us with constant notifications. Communication has never been better, but is God’s voice drowned out by all the other voices competing for our attention? When Elijah retreated to a cave, God spoke to him in a unique way. First, he heard a strong wind, then he saw a violent earthquake, and then a fierce fire. God wasn’t in any of them. Finally, God spoke in “a still small voice” (1 Kgs. 19:11-12, NLT). Other versions read “a gentle whisper.” To hear a whisper, you must be still and quiet. If we want God’s attention, we must give Him our full attention and “Be still and know that [He is] God” (Ps. 46:10).
8. Samuel didn’t recognize God’s voice initially. “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, nor was the word of the Lord yet revealed to him” (1 Sam. 3:7). Samuel knew plenty about God, but he’d never encountered Him personally. There’s one main way to learn God’s voice—by spending time in His presence. If a friend or relative calls, you immediately recognize their voice even without caller ID. Why? Because you’ve heard it so many times. Even infants can recognize their parent’s voices and often turn or look in the direction of the sound. How? They’ve spent nine months in the womb eavesdropping. The more you hear God’s voice, the more familiar it becomes. Jesus said, “The sheep hear His voice; and He calls His own sheep by name . . . and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice” (Jn. 10:3-4, NKJV).
9. God’s voice sounded like Eli’s voice. The first three times God called Samuel, he thought it was Eli and ran to his room. We make the same mistake. How many times has God spoken to us through our spouse, children, friends, or ministers and we shrugged it off because we thought it was just “them” when it was really God speaking through them?
10. Once God woke Samuel up, He used him to awaken others. Only a person who is awake can awaken others. A spiritually awakened Samuel later anointed and appointed the first two kings of Israel, Saul and David. Because he listened to God, people listened to him. His words had impact! “So Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel . . . knew that Samuel had been established as a prophet of the Lord” (1 Sam. 3:19-20).
It all started when God woke Samuel up and spoke to him. God is waking up an army of spiritual Samuels who know His voice. Have you had your wake-up call from God? If not, this is it!