The high priest Eli was already old when Samuel, as a young boy, went to live and serve with him in the temple. Eli’s sons were supposed to take over the priesthood when Eli died, but they had no interest in serving God. They were evil and showed no respect for God’s laws, and Eli did not have the strength or will to punish them for their sins. (1 Samuel 2:12-17.) As a result, God couldn’t speak with Eli in the same way He had with others, like Moses.
When little Samuel came to live at the temple, God watched him closely. Samuel’s mother had made a promise to bring Samuel to the temple so that he could serve God from his childhood. God remembered this and was just waiting for the right moment to speak to Samuel in a way that He couldn’t do with Eli and his sons.
God found a pure heart in Samuel
What made this young boy so special that God wanted to speak to him? It’s written that the Lord didn’t speak very often to the people in those days, and there weren’t many visions. (1 Samuel 3:1.) God had warned Eli that his family would be torn down, saying, “I have chosen someone else to be my priest, someone who will be faithful and obey me. I will always let his family serve as priests and help my chosen king.” 1 Samuel 2:35 (CEV). He was looking for someone with a pure heart and He found this in Samuel.
When God called him one night, Samuel thought it was Eli. He was used to obeying, so he got up right away. This happened three times, and then Eli understood that God was trying to speak to the young boy. So he told Samuel that when he heard the voice again, he must answer, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3.)
I’ve often thought about Samuel and his simple answer. I thought about how important it is to be wide awake and listening when God is trying to speak to me. In Samuel’s time, God spoke to the prophets and priests, and then they went and spoke to the people. But now God can speak to us directly through His Holy Spirit.
God’s laws and wisdom are found in the Bible. For example, it’s written in John 14:21 (NCV) that “those who know my commands and obey them are the ones who love me, and my Father will love those who love me. I will love them and will show myself to them.” So, if I first know God’s Word and then obey it, I will receive the Holy Spirit. Then, if I continue to be faithful, I will learn to hear that voice in my heart more and more and it can guide me in my daily life.
A heart-to-heart relationship with God
When God spoke to Samuel for the first time, He had an important task for Samuel to do - a test to prove his faithfulness. It’s written that Samuel was afraid to tell Eli what God had said. (1 Samuel 3:15.) But Eli wanted to hear it, so Samuel told him: God was ready to carry out his promises against Eli and his sons, and put Samuel in Eli’s place as a prophet for his people.
Samuel had a pure heart, but God needed to test him in this situation. It’s also the same for us. God sends us tasks that prove our faithfulness. They can seem hard – maybe God wants us to tell someone the truth, like Samuel, even if we know the other person might not want to hear it. But if I want to prove that I love God above all else, then I need to obey right away when God speaks in my heart. The quicker I obey, the better the result.
The places in the Bible where the prophet Samuel is mentioned show us that he kept a pure heart throughout his whole life, and as a result he always heard God’s voice. When He prayed for the people, God always listened.
It is sin that separates us from God. It’s written in James 4:6 (NCV) that, “God is against the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.” If we are not willing to humble ourselves under God’s will, to obey Him and destroy the power of sin in our lives, we will experience that we are cut off from God’s grace, just as Eli was. But if we keep our heart pure, we can also have this heart-to-heart relationship with God, where He can speak to us, like he did to Samuel. Then we can also be co-workers with Him, just as the prophet Samuel was in his time!