Meditations in 1 Samuel 9. Would we know God’s voice?
1 Sam 3:6-9 “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, `Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’ “
We arrive at what must one of the strangest little cameos on the Old Testament where young Samuel starts ‘hearing voices’ in the middle of the night or, to be precise, one voice. He assumes it is old Eli for he’s the only one in the vicinity but Eli denies it and so Samuel goes back to bed. When this happens for the third time Eli realises there is something going on here and it must be God, so he tells Samuel to reply to the Lord when he next hears the voice – which Samuel does do and the Lord speaks on.
Now whether this was a literal audible voice or such a strong impression in Samuel’s mind that he virtually ‘hears’ it, we don’t know. Both are possibilities. The challenge to some of us is, do you believe God still speaks today? This is not God adding to Scripture but God speaking into your life about your life. Do some of us think, “Well Samuel was a special case, he was a prophet,” and there is a certain amount of truth about that but why should we think that a God who speaks throughout the entire Bible should no longer speak to His children today? Isn’t communication likely to be the very main thing that a loving Father will do with His children?
Well, yes, you may say, that’s what the Bible is surely? Indeed it is. It is His general communication. Do you also have the experience where there have been times when a verse seems to leap out to you and be especially meaningful? That is His specific communication. Have you ever had the situation where you have say three options before you but just one of them seems to stand out and feels the right one? That again is His specific communication.
Suppose it is not the audible voice of God you hear (because it seems the audible voice is rare and saved for major crisis or major calling situations) and you are left with the strong voice in your head? How do you feel about that? It takes faith to believe. Can I share some stories with you they are all true and without exaggeration.
The first one occurs when I am still a young Christian and am now a father for the first time. One day my baby daughter was in her crib upstairs and I crept upstairs to gaze in wonder on her. As I looked at her I seemed to ‘hear’ a thought in my mind that seemed to come from nowhere: “What do you think of her?” Perhaps He was giving me help but I thought, “Oh, my goodness, is that God?” and so I ‘thought back’, “She’s wonderful, Lord.” Back came the strange question, “What does she do?” I thought for a moment and thought back, “Well I suppose she cries a lot, she keeps us up in the night, she constantly wants feeding it seems and she needs her nappies changing all the time.” “And what do you feel about her,” came back. “I love her, Lord,” I responded. “Why?” came back the next question and I responded without thought, “Because she’s mine, Lord.” Back came, “And that’s why I love you son. Because you are mine,” and with that I realised that He loved me with all my faults even more than I loved my demanding daughter.
I went through a series of lessons on listening it seemed in those early days. At that time I had to take a fifteen minute bus ride to catch my train to London every day. One day I got on the bus, went upstairs and sat down and immediately I got that same imposing thought in my mind, “You will catch your train.” That’s odd, I thought, of course I’ll catch it, this bus always has at least five minutes to spare before the next train is due, and so pushed the thought away. After a few minutes I assume the bus driver thought he must be ahead of schedule because he remained stationary at the next bus stop. I looked at my watch. Yes, well, we’re just about OK, but it would be helpful if you got a move on. The thought came back with insistence, “You will catch your train!” Hmm. The driver started up and off we went, but he stopped and paused yet again at the next stop. Oh, come on, this is getting silly. Get a move on we are on the edge of me missing my train. “No, you WILL catch your train.” For the remainder of the journey he crawled along and I gave up hope of catching the train when we arrived at the station five minutes after the train time and so I slowly wandered in to the station with a quarter of an hour before the next train was due. Except when I got on the platform there still seemed a lot of people there and a voice came over the loudspeaker, “The 7.48 train for London is running seven minutes late and will be arriving shortly. I caught the train.
Now I could probably tell you literally dozens of similar stories in a variety of contexts that have involved not merely me learning to listen but specific guidance or direction. If this surprises you, that is a shame because it means in your thinking you limit our God. Please, I am not special. I have been a church leader and some of the guidance has been in respect of times of stepping out in faith, but that is what it is all about isn’t it?
If you think it is only prophets in the Bible that God speaks to think again. Consider little Ananias in Acts 9, an ordinary disciple: “In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” (Acts 9:10-15)
There is a beautiful song and mime routine called “Sitting in the window praying”, that is based on that – although we don’t know for a fact that Ananias was praying when he gets this vision. What is fun about it is how he argues with the Lord, and yet he is so convinced by the experience that he goes and ministers to Saul. Just an ordinary disciple! What will it take for you to become a listener (and hearer) of God? In each of the three examples here today – Samuel, me, Ananias – we all responded like little children in faith to what we thought we were hearing. Dare to start being a listener? Ask Him to open your ears to hear.