It is important that in every generation God’s people hear His call in their lives. In 1st Samuel, we read about the young man Samuel hearing God’s call. Usually, when we think or talk about God calling someone, we think about him calling a young person. Although that is the scenario on which this text focuses, it is important to say at the outset that God’s call can come to anyone at any stage in his or her life. It is also important to note that God’s call comes in this text in the context of a transition in generations and a transition in leadership.
Every generation needs to hear God’s call. People in every generation need to hear God’s call and to do the best they can to carry out that call. People in every generation will have mixed success at carrying out God’s call. No doubt the priest Eli had experienced many successes in his ministry at Shiloh, but he had also experienced his share of failures. The Bible tells us that the Lord decided to take the leadership away from the family of Eli because of the sins of his sons and Eli’s inability to correct them. Leadership could not be passed on to Eli’s sons, so it was going to pass to Samuel instead.
Regardless of the reasons and the circumstances, though, the call of God must be passed on to new leadership in every generation. The circumstances of Eli’s generation demanded that a new generation hear the call of God. The text uses light and darkness imagery to drive home the twin points that things were very bad indeed but that there was hope for better things. We are told right off that “The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread”. Then we are told that Eli’s “eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see”.
Eli’s encroaching physical blindness symbolizes the increasing spiritual blindness of him and his generation. But hope is not lost, for where Samuel was lying in the temple, “the lamp of God had not yet gone out”. The physical reality of the still-burning lamp symbolizes the fact that God’s light might still break through the spiritual darkness that seemed to permeate the land. Christians today often forget that God is still on His throne and has all things in His hands. Instead of living in that truth and living victorious joy-filled lives, we have become the “prophets of doom”. Is that the outlook for those of us who have faith?
Along with hearing, every generation needs to be available to hear God’s call. Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord when he heard God’s voice. For Samuel, his life was dedicated to God so spending time in the temple, praying and service were parts of his day-to-day living. Maybe Eli helped to disciple him in the life he was called to? I think it is a reminder to those of the older generation of leadership to encourage our young people to put themselves in a position to hear God’s call in their lives. We can do that (and parents have a special role here) by making sure that our children are in worship and in a small group and on a ministry team so that they will be available to hear God’s voice.
The Church also has a role in providing worship, study, and service opportunities that are geared to our youth so that they might hear the voice of God in their own language – another version of Pentecost if you will. The next generation is responsible to hear for themselves, but the older generation is responsible to help them hear.
But a question arises, “Why did Samuel mistake the voice of God for the voice of Eli?” Maybe Samuel was not mature enough to know the voice of God when he heard it. Regardless, here we get a glimpse of a situation that people, and especially young people, struggle within their efforts to ascertain the call of God. Are they hearing the voice of God? Are they hearing the voice of circumstances? Are they hearing the voice of peers? Are they hearing the voice of family? Are they hearing the voice of church members? Or are all of those voices combining to give voice to the call of God? If our younger generation is put in a position to hear the call of God, they just might hear it.
As well as hearing and availability, every generation needs to accept the challenge of God’s call. The dynamics created when the call of God is heard and responded to by a new generation can be difﬁcult. Both the “old guard” and the “new guard” experience signiﬁcant challenges that must be navigated. The handoff of leadership can be difﬁcult for the old guard.
Eli had to face the fact that the leadership of Israel was being taken away from him and his descendants. He also had to face the hard fact that it was being taken away because of the personal failings of himself and his family. Those in the present generation of leadership are faced with the challenge of facing and owning up to our own sins and shortcomings. Facing our sins and shortcomings does not necessarily mean that we have done a bad job or that God is displeased with us and our leadership, but it means that moving forward, the how and why might be different than what we put in place.
Regardless, we do have to pass the baton to the next generation, and that can be hard. As Eli confessed, “It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him”. We need to have the faith that through what we have done and are doing, God is working His purposes out.
Often the Old Testament prophets were called to proclaim a message that was hard for people to hear and hard for the prophets to speak. And so Samuel was afraid to tell Eli what God had said to him because that message contained negative words about Eli’s family. Those in the new generation need to be open to the call of God on their lives, and that means facing squarely and speaking boldly the words that God gives them to say.
If they have to say things that are hard for the old guard to hear, so be it. If they have to say things that will be difﬁcult for their own generation to hear (and they most certainly will), then so be it. So there are signiﬁcant challenges to all generations in hearing God’s call, but faithfulness requires that we face them. Transitions are difficult… but necessary.