(Click to listen to an audio recording of this article: Samuel: How to hear God’s voice)
The high priest Eli was already old when the future prophet Samuel went to live and serve with him in the temple. Although his sons were supposed to take over the priesthood when Eli died, they had no interest in serving God. Instead they treated the Jewish laws and rituals with contempt and Eli did not have the strength or will to punish them for their wickedness. (1 Samuel 2:12-17) As a result, God wasn’t able to communicate heart to heart with Eli in the same way he had with others, such as Moses.
When little Samuel arrived at the temple, God was paying close attention. 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 wasn’t able to do with Eli and his sons.
God found a pure heart in the prophet Samuel
What made this young boy so special that God wanted to speak to him? It is written that the word of the Lord was rare in those days, and there was no widespread revelation. (1 Samuel 3:1) God had warned Eli that his house would be torn down, saying, “I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall walk before My anointed forever.” 1 Samuel 2:35. He was searching for someone with a pure heart, and He found this in Samuel.
When God called him in the night, of course Samuel thought it was Eli. He was used to obeying, so he got up right away. This happened three times, and finally Eli understood that God was trying to speak to the young boy. So he told Samuel that when he heard the voice again to answer, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3)
I’ve often thought about Samuel and his simple answer. I realize how important it is to be attentive when God is trying to speak to me. In Samuel’s time, it was the prophets or priests who were mediators between God and man, but now God can speak to us directly by His Holy Spirit. The Bible contains God’s laws and wisdom. For example, it is written in John 14:21 that, “… he who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” So if I first have God’s Word, and then obey it, then I will receive the Holy Spirit. As I am faithful, I can 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 him to carry out; a test to prove his faithfulness. It is 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 to establish Samuel as a prophet for his people.
Samuel had a pure heart, but God needed to test him in this situation. It is also the same for us. God sends us tasks that prove our faithfulness. They can seem hard – perhaps God prompts us to tell someone the truth, like Samuel, even though 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 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 preserved a pure heart throughout his life, and as a result he always heard God’s voice. When He prayed on behalf of the people, God always listened.
It is sin that separates us from God. If we aren’t 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, as Eli was. But if we keep our heart pure, we can also have this heart-to-heart relationship with God, that He can speak to us. Then we can also be coworkers with Him as the prophet Samuel was in his time!
“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6.
Read more about hearing God’s voice and our relationship to God in our topic page “God and me,” or in the recommended articles below: