And the Lord came and called as before: “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel replied: “Speak, your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3:10
What do we know about the crowd that gathered to hear Jesus speak on the mountain? We know they were “little” people, small in the eyes of the world. We know that despite their status, they had a heart for God. And we know they were keen to hear Jesus. While healing may have been their first motivation for coming (Matthew 4:24), they stayed for Jesus’ sermon and were soon astounded at his words (7:28–29).
To hear the call of God we must want to listen. But without Jesus’ physical presence with us, how do we do that? An Old Testament story may be helpful.
Young Samuel is sleeping in the tabernacle (1 Samuel 3:3). As biblical scholars tell us, the location is significant. In the ancient world one hoped to discover God’s plans by sleeping where God was thought to dwell. Samuel wants to hear from God.
Samuel is woken by a voice calling his name: “Samuel!” Notice that he recognises the words being spoken. The voice isn’t speaking Italian, Swahili, or the language of angels, but Samuel’s own tongue. It is a ‘human’ voice he hears. Samuel even mistakes it as the voice of Eli the priest.
Samuel hears the voice call again: “Samuel!” Again he runs to Eli, and again Eli tells him he’s mistaken and should return to sleep.
Samuel had been dedicated to God as a baby and already serves in the temple (1:11–28; 2:18), but he doesn’t yet know the Lord (3:7). He doesn’t recognise this voice as being God’s voice. Only when the mysterious experience happens a third time does Eli realise it is God who is speaking. He then guides Samuel in how to respond: “If someone calls again, say, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening’.” (3:9).
This story tells us much about hearing God’s voice today:
- God speaks to those who are in a position to hear him.
- God speaks in ways we’ll understand.
- We need mature believers to help us differentiate God’s voice from others.
Along the course of our lives there will be much need for God’s guidance. Should we marry? If so, who? What career path should we choose? God may use a verse of scripture to guide us, or the words of a friend, an uncanny coincidence, or a gentle whisper. Though sometimes cryptic and often costly to obey, His guidance will be intelligible to us and godly mentors will help us understand it.
But our first task in hearing God’s voice is to develop a listening posture, just like Samuel in the tabernacle, Moses in the tent (Exodus 33:7–9), Elijah on the mountaintop (1 Kings 19:11–12), and Mary sitting at her Lord’s feet (Luke 10:38–42).
With Samuel we say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” With the crowd on the mountainside, we listen.