God invited Samuel to be commissioned prophet. He sent the message through Eli, Samuel’s priest, teacher, and “parent.” However, Eli needed three alerts. He understood the message and delivered it to Samuel after the third alert. He informed Samuel that God was calling him, directed him on how to respond, and thereby granted him parental permission to respond. Samuel, on his part, received the message because he offered his attention to Eli persistently in response to what he believed was Eli calling him. He received the message because he had a habit of being attentive, respectful, and obedient to Eli.
This bible study session begins our new series on parent-child relationships. Our purpose in the series is to study events and personalities described in the bible to gain insight into God’s expectations for parent-child interactions and relationships. We hope to understand information that God expects parents to transmit to their children as they grow up and how children should relate to their parents in order to benefit from the information. Today’s study on the call of Samuel fills a dual role as the third study in the series on Samuel and the introductory study for the series on parent-child relationships. Interactions that occurred at the call of Samuel lead to an understanding that God sends messages to children through their parents and expects children to be attentive, respectful, and obedient to their parents in order to receive the message.
God wanted to speak to Samuel to start him on his career as a prophet. He alerted Samuel but did not reveal himself or provide him any information until Eli became aware of what was happening and directed Samuel on how to respond. Thereafter, God revealed himself to Samuel and spoke to him. We contrast God’s call of Samuel to his call of Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah and note that the call of Samuel differs from the other three because Samuel was under active parental supervision when God called him to prophecy. Therefore, interactions during the call of Samuel provide insight into God’s expectations for parent-child relationships. For example, whereas he called each of the other three directly and revealed himself to them clearly the first time, when he called Samuel, he directed Samuel to Eli and revealed to Eli that he was calling Samuel. Eli provided the message to Samuel, directed him on how to respond, and by so doing granted him parental permission to respond.
Samuel lived and worked under Eli as his priest, teacher, mentor, and parent. Although Eli was not his biological parent, he was effectively “parent” to Samuel because of being his supervising adult in every aspect of his life right from childhood. Therefore, based on the interactions between Samuel and Eli during this event, we can surmise that God used the occasion of calling Samuel to prophecy to also highlight aspects of parent-child relationship, such as respect for parents, sensitivity to parental needs, and the role of parents as a channel for God’s messages to children.
Message for Samuel through Eli
Samuel was still a boy when God called him to begin his career as a prophet. He lived with Eli and worked under him at the house of God in Shiloh. His mother had handed him over to Eli at a young age, in fulfillment of her vow to “…give him to the Lord all the days of his life…” [1 Samuel 1:11]. To alert Samuel, God called him in clear human voice that Samuel thought was coming from Eli. He presented himself to Eli each time he heard the call, but Eli told him he did not call [1 Samuel 3:5]: “So he ran to Eli and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ And he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’”
The interaction happened the same way three times. On the third time, Eli realized that God was calling Samuel to speak to him. He informed Samuel and directed him on how to respond [1 Samuel 3:9]: “Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and it shall be, if He calls you, that you must say, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears.”’” Thereafter, God revealed himself to Samuel and spoke to him.
Let’s break the event into smaller steps to understand it better.
First, Eli realized and informed Samuel that God was calling him. We don’t know how Eli realized? It is possible that God told him to “tell Samuel that I want to speak to him.” Alternatively, God could have placed the information in his consciousness without speaking to him clearly. If the first case, then Eli would clearly recognize the information as a message from God to Samuel. However, if the second, then Eli would handle the matter as normal parent-child interaction without knowing he was delivering a message from God. God may send messages to a child through a parent: either in the first form, whereby the parent knows clearly that he/she has received a message from God for the child; or in the second form, whereby the parent passes the information normally to the child with neither parent nor child knowing that the information is a message from God. Eli’s realization that God was calling Samuel appears to have been of the second form because he delivered the information to Samuel as normal parental instruction.
Second, Eli directed Samuel on how to respond. By directing him on how to respond, he implicitly told Samuel that it was okay to respond. That is, he implicitly granted Samuel parental permission to respond. Did God deliberately provide Samuel an opportunity to seek parental permission from Eli before presenting himself to be commissioned prophet? We don’t know. What we know is Eli granted Samuel permission by directing him on how to respond and God revealed himself to Samuel thereafter [1 Samuel 3:10]: “Now the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel answered, ‘Speak, for Your servant hears.’” We also know that God could have revealed himself to Samuel the first time, just like he did when he called Moses, Isaiah, or Jeremiah, as we discuss briefly presently.
Call of Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah
At the time of his call to prophecy, Moses was an independent adult tending the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law. He was in the vicinity of Horeb, the “mountain of God,” when he saw fire emanating from a bush but the bush was not burning. Moses recognized the sight as miraculous and went for a closer look. Then God called Moses and revealed himself descriptively in a clear voice: “I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” [Exodus 3:6].
In the case of Isaiah, he had previous encounters with God in which he received messages in visions. At the time of his call to prophecy, God revealed a physical manifestation of himself to Isaiah: “…I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple” [Isaiah 6:1]. Then God spoke to him directly and in a clear voice [Isaiah 6:8]: “Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: ‘Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me.’”
Also, at the call of Jeremiah, God spoke to him directly and in a clear voice. He knew it was God talking to him and he responded accordingly [Jeremiah 1:4–5]: “Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.’”
PARENTAL SUPERVISION An important difference between the call of Samuel and the call of any of the other three prophets is Samuel was under active parental supervision when God called him to prophecy. God could have called Samuel in a voice clearly distinguishable from Eli’s. Also, he could have introduced himself to Samuel the first time just as he did to Moses: “I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Instead, he called Samuel in a voice that Samuel believed to be Eli’s and did so repeatedly, calling “Samuel” without saying anything else. It appears that God was directing Samuel to share an interaction with Eli before presenting himself for his first assignment as prophet. After Eli realized and informed Samuel that God was calling him and granted him permission to respond by telling him how to respond, God revealed a physical manifestation of himself to Samuel and spoke to him.
Samuel Receives Message
Samuel received the message from Eli because he had a habit of being respectful and obedient to Eli and attentive to his needs. Let’s remember that all that Samuel heard the first three times was a call he believed was from Eli. He presented himself to Eli each time to satisfy a desire to know what Eli needed so he could attend to the need.
He responded persistently to Eli because he felt a responsibility to listen to him with an intent to understand and implement his information. Therefore, he presented himself to Eli each time he thought that Eli called, notwithstanding that he may have responded in error at one or more previous occasions. His persistence took him to Eli three times. On the third time, Eli realized what was happening, delivered God’s message to Samuel, and granted him parental permission and guidance to respond. Samuel received the message because he was respectful and persistent and listened with an intent to understand and implement Eli’s information.
Summary of What We Learned
Based on our understanding of Samuel’s interactions with Eli on the night that he received his first assignment as prophet, we learn that God may send messages to a child through his/her parents. He may send the message as a clear instruction to the parent or by depositing information in the parent’s consciousness to convey to the child through normal parent-child interaction. Also, we learn the following qualities will enhance a child receiving God’s messages from the parent through normal parent-child interactions.
- Respect for parent
- Attentive to parent
- Obedient to parent
- Listens to parent with intent to understand and implement parent’s information
A child that possesses these qualities will receive God’s messages through his/her parent. Samuel received God’s message from Eli, implemented Eli’s instruction, and as a result presented himself to God to be commissioned prophet.