A Hearing Heart
Hophni and Phinehas are prime examples of disobedience. Samuel was different. He did something we all should do.
I have many fond memories of my mother from my childhood, but there is one memory that is far from fond. I still get a knot in the pit of my stomach when I think about it.
When I was around 11 years old, we were all gathered around the dining table when one of my sisters said something that lit my fuse. She knew I was angry, so she jumped up from the table and escaped to the other side. I also jumped up and started looking for something to throw at her.
Since the closest object was a metal spoon, I grabbed it and began swinging my arm around like a big-league pitcher. My parents, seated at either end of the table, saw I was serious. They calmly but firmly told me to put the spoon down. I didn’t listen. I hurled the spoon straight at my target.
But instead of hitting my sister, the spoon sailed left and struck my mother on the right temple. I watched in horror as blood began to trickle down her cheek. The wound wasn’t serious; but I experienced the terrible, awful realization I had just injured my own mother.
As my father treated the cut, I stood in front of my mother, crying and apologizing fervently. She then told me something I’ve never forgotten: “Son,” she said, “you’re bullheaded.” And she was right. I had chosen not to listen.
We live in a plugged-in generation with more media choices than at any other time in history. Every day we pick and choose which voices to allow into our heads. We make playlists for the ones we like and shut off those we don’t like.
Nothing is wrong with having choices, but too often we stop listening to the most important voice of all—God’s.
Such was the case with the nation of Israel during the period of the judges, when the Israelites decided to shut off God’s voice and seek autonomy from Him. The book of Judges recounts this dark, chaotic time in Israel’s history.
For the most part, Israel’s people did not know the Lord (Jud. 2:10). “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (17:6; 21:25). In addition, the Israelites refused to listen to the judges the Lord had set over them. They disobeyed their principal affirmation of faith, known as the Shema, which begins, “Hear, O Israel” (Dt. 6:4). Judges 2:17 tells us, “Yet they would not listen to their judges.” Consequently, they didn’t love the Lord and sought to rule themselves apart from Him.
Over approximately 450 years (Acts 13:20), God had called 16 judges to govern the people of Israel by giving them moral guidance, counsel, and deliverance from their enemies (Jud. 2:18). The final judges included Eli the priest (1 Sam. 4:18), Samuel the prophet (7:15), and Samuel’s two sons (8:1–2).
Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, provide two prime examples of disobedience. They were wicked priests who used their position of authority to abuse people (2:16). They treated the Lord’s offerings with contempt and committed sexual immorality with the women who served at the Tabernacle’s doorway (vv. 17, 22). The Bible describes them as “corrupt” (v. 12), says “they did not know the LORD” (v. 12), and calls their sin “very great before the LORD” (v. 17).
Though Eli, Israel’s judge, knew about his sons’ evil actions, he did not rebuke or restrain them sufficiently. He half-heartedly attempted to reprimand them once (vv. 23–25). “Nevertheless they did not heed the voice of their father” (v. 25). So God rebuked Eli: “For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them” (3:13). Hophni, Phinehas, and Eli all died on the same day (4:11, 18); and later God removed the priesthood from Eli’s line of descent.
God Calls Samuel
Samuel was different from Eli’s sons. Samuel listened to the Lord and became one of Israel’s greatest judges and prophets.
In speaking to the prophet Jeremiah, God ranked Samuel as one of Israel’s foremost intercessors, along with Moses (Jer. 15:1; cf. Ps. 99:6). Samuel brought revival to Israel (1 Sam. 7:3–6). Under his spiritual leadership, Israel defeated the nation’s Philistine oppressors (v. 13). Samuel appointed doorkeepers for the Tabernacle (1 Chr. 9:22) and went on an annual circuit to four towns to judge Israel (1 Sam. 7:15–17).
God confirmed Samuel was indeed His prophet (3:19–20). Unlike Eli’s sons, he was a man of integrity who did not cheat or oppress people (12:3–5).
What made the difference? It probably began with the influence of a godly mother and a willingness to hear God’s voice and obey it at a young age.
Although as a Levite Samuel did not have to serve at the Tabernacle until he was 25, he served much earlier as a ward of Eli (3:1; cf. Num. 8:24; 1 Chr. 6:33–38). As a youngster, Samuel assisted Eli by ensuring the Tabernacle menorah flame did not go out at night and opening the Tabernacle doors in the morning (1 Sam. 3:3, 15).
One evening, after fulfilling his duties, the lad lay down in his bed and heard a voice calling his name. Since Samuel did not know the Lord at that time (v. 7), he naturally thought the voice was Eli’s. Samuel ran to Eli, saying, “Here I am, for you called me” (v. 5).
Eli denied calling him and sent Samuel back to bed. This happened twice more. On the third occasion, Eli discerned that Yahweh was the One calling Samuel. So he told Samuel to respond the next time by saying, “Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears” (v. 9).
When Samuel returned to his bed, God called him for the fourth time. And Samuel—a young boy in the midst of a corrupt culture—decided to listen. Consequently, his life and the lives of the people of Israel were forever changed.
Discerning God’s Voice
The Bible admonishes us to listen as well: “Today, if you will hear His voice: Do not harden your hearts” (Ps. 95:7–8).
We may say, “But we have never heard God’s voice.” Oh, but we have. His voice is heard through His creation (19:1–4); the Bible (2 Tim. 3:14–17); and ultimately, through His Son, the Messiah (Heb. 1:1–2).
Unlike the days of Samuel when “the word of the LORD was rare” (1 Sam. 3:1), we have God’s Word in abundance. God is not silent, but we often refuse to listen to Him. We tend to shut Him off as if He were one of our playlists.
Today, if you hear His voice, don’t harden your heart. Don’t be “bullheaded” like I was at the dinner table that day.
Instead, respond like Samuel: “Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears.” Who knows what wonderful things God may do in your life if only you listen—and obey.