My oldest daughter, Darby, is a voracious reader. Though a healthy percentage of our family income goes to buy books, I can’t keep up with her. As much as she likes to read, however, when she was smaller, she was an even bigger fan of being read to. And, like her father, she tends to be a creature of habit. Even though she owned a mountain of books, it seemed that every night at bedtime between the ages of 1½ and 3, she chose one of two stories. For some reason, she just loved the story of Peter Rabbit. But her other favorite was the story of Samuel and Eli, straight out of The Beginner’s Bible. It did not matter that we had read the same story for months on end. Every night when we got to the part where Samuel hears the voice calling his name, “ ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ ” and trots into Eli’s room, only to hear Eli say, “ ‘I did not call you—go back to bed,’ ” she cracked up. Then, with the end of the story, my darling Darby also went to bed.
Imagine for a moment not just Samuel’s confusion, but his disappointment. I’m sure he looked up to Eli, and would have liked nothing better than to be of service to him. Being called by Eli might have felt something like getting called up from the minor leagues to go help the major-league team.
But Eli wasn’t calling Samuel. His calling was far more profound. He wasn’t about to be given a role in the tabernacle. He wasn’t being called up to the majors. Instead, he was receiving a call from God. He was being called to be God’s prophet, and eventually judge over Israel as the nation transitioned to monarchy.
I don’t think we give Samuel’s role enough credit. We tend to jump right from Samson to Saul without noting the vital contribution to the progress of Israel wrought by Samuel. On the other hand, as so often happens, Samuel eventually thought he heard a call that wasn’t there. And worse still, he missed the call that all the men of Israel had been given. Like every ruler over Israel back to Moses and forward until Jesus, Samuel had feet of clay. He thought God had called him to establish a dynasty. But he missed the call to raise up godly seed, to teach them all of God’s commands, as Deuteronomy 6 calls us to do.
We all have many callings. But no matter how else we might succeed, we have failed if we miss this one, to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.