The child, Samuel, was an answer to the prayers of Hannah, who had been unable to bear children. Hannah promised that if God gave her a son she would set him apart for service to God. Hannah took Samuel to Eli, the priest at Shiloh, who became Samuel’s guardian and teacher. Eli’s own sons stole from those who came to worship at Shiloh. Eli’s sons would not inherit a priestly role. Rather, God would raise up another to be a faithful priest in Samuel.
Three times in the night, God called Samuel and Samuel mistook the voice of God for that of Eli. Eli discerned that it was God who called Samuel. Eli turned Samuel’s attention to God’s calling of him and instructed him how to respond. The fourth time God called, Samuel responded, “Speak, for your servant is listening” (3:10). God told Samuel of God’s plan against Eli’s sons for their sins against God. Samuel lay awake with this knowledge until morning, afraid to tell Eli. But the Lord warned Eli that this would come (2:27-36). When Samuel told Eli everything, Eli responded, “It is the Lord” (3:18) and Eli knew that the Lord would do what was said.
God’s call is not always easy to discern. We hear and recognize it with the help of others who recognize that God has a purpose for us, help us listen, and teach us to respond. God has a purpose for each of us. Once we respond, God’s call is not always easy to follow. We may be called to tasks we never imagined. We may be called to proclaim an unpopular message. We may be called to reform and transform the teachings and institutions that were the basis of our own education in the faith. We can follow, trusting that when God calls us, God also makes provision for us.