God’s voice can get tuned out in the busyness of life—even of church life. Why is it important to teach people how to recognize his voice?
I recently came across one of my favorite stories from the Bible. Throughout my years of teaching, it’s not only reminded me of why I teach, but also what to teach. It’s the Old Testament story of Eli and Samuel in I Samuel 3. I’ve heard the story since I was a kid but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I really fell in love with it. I love the story because it shows how learning to do something so simple can be absolutely life changing. I love the fact that it shows good in stark contrast to evil. And I especially love that Eli, a teacher, has to help Samuel, his student, learn how to recognize the voice of God.
Do you know the story? Here it is in a nutshell: Samuel’s mother had dedicated him to the service of the Lord, entrusting him to Eli the priest. Under Eli’s tutelage, Samuel was raised at the house of the Lord in Shiloh, being trained for a life of service. One night when Samuel was still a young boy, he hears a voice while trying to sleep. Assuming it to be Eli, the young squire runs to his teacher and asks what he needs. Eli sends the boy back reassuring Samuel that he hadn’t called. After two more similar attempts, Samuel comes to find out it truly isn’t Eli, but the very voice of God.
“Samuel comes to find out it is the very voice of God.”
The story doesn’t need any help from me and I want to be careful not to assume too much for the sake of a blog post illustration. But as I read over the story again and again, I can’t help but see a small but significant emphasis on Eli’s role as a teacher and a father. To see this emphasis, you need to understand the context from the beginning of the book. In chapters 1 and 2, you get introduced to two other vital characters that become a backdrop for the text. A dark backdrop that makes Samuel’s character stand out in great contrast. Those characters are Hophni and Phinehas, Eli’s two sons.
What Made the Difference?
While you see these two sons serving as priests, the text makes no mention of them actually serving the Lord. Instead, they robbed people of their sacrifices and engaged in sexual sin at the tent of meeting. However, twice in the same chapter, we are told that Samuel is a young boy “ministering before the Lord.” Even from the introduction of the characters, it’s easy to see a distinct difference. This contrast culminates in the Lord passing judgment on Hophni and Phinehas, taking their lives, while using Samuel for a lifelong prophetic ministry.
Here’s where I want to tread lightly.
I don’t want to speak something that isn’t in the story, but when I ask myself what made the difference between Samuel and the sons of Eli, I go to the story of I Samuel 3. I will admit I have to start with some assumptions. For instance, if Eli was a priest, and his sons served at the tent of meeting, I assume that Eli raised his sons to be familiar with the Law of Moses. I assume Eli would have shown them how to perform priestly duties and sacrifices. I think it’s safe to assume that Hophni and Phinehas grew up around religion. But they did not know the voice of the Lord.
“Hophni and Phinehas grew up around religion. But they did not know the voice of the Lord.”
Chapter 3, however, shows Samuel learning the sounds of God’s voice from a young age. Now, I’m sure Eli taught Samuel many of the same things he taught his own sons as well. Perhaps Samuel even learned some tricks of the trade from Hophni and Phinehas themselves. But Eli helped Samuel understand something his sons never did. When I go back to chapter 3, I see Eli’s role in teaching Samuel’s to hear God as important.
The Greatest Teaching Moment of Eli’s Life
While his role was small, it wasn’t passive. Surely God could’ve simply appeared to Samuel the first time and said, “I’m God.” But he didn’t. Instead, Samuel had to come to his teacher three times searching for a voice, and Eli had the greatest teaching moment of his life. All he had to do was help him learn to recognize God’s voice. That’s it. The phrase he told Samuel to say is, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” And at that sentence, Samuel moved from the religion of Hophni and Phinehas to a relationship with the living God.
“Samuel moved from the religion of Hophni and Phinehas to a relationship with the living God.”
In John 10, Jesus says that his sheep will know him and follow him because they recognize his voice. As a teacher, some days I fret over what my students leave my room “knowing.” Did they understand this or that concept? And I hope they do. But when I teach this story, I remember that all Eli had to do was to teach his pupil to listen. To recognize the voice of God.
I want my students to know what the Bible says. I want them to memorize portions of Scripture and take tests on what they’ve learned. But it’s not because I want to give them a grade or play along with the school system.
It’s because someday they will come home having been let go from their job or hearing gut-wrenching news from a doctor. My students will grow up to face addictions and struggle against the darkness of the world. And at that point, knowing the ins and outs of a religion won’t do much. But in that darkness, if they can hear and recognize the voice of God, it will make all the difference in the world.
From discipleeducation.wordpress.com. Used with permission.