You may remember the context. Hannah was one of Elkanah’s wives, mocked and harassed for years (1 Samuel 1:6,7). Finally, at Shiloh (1 Samuel 1:10,11), “In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, ‘Lord Almighty, if You will only look on Your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget Your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life.’
To make a long story short, Samuel was born and she gave him to the Lord. Practically speaking, “the boy ministered before the Lord under Eli the priest” (1 Samuel 2:11), while, “Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:12).
Now, “In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions” (1 Samuel 3:1).
The historian Josephus puts Samuel’s age here at 12. And Eli was aging (with adult sons and losing his eyesight; he died at 98 in the next chapter, though it seems like many years later). Samuel was serving ‘under’ Eli, assisting, apprenticing (it was prophesied in 1 Samuel 2:34-36 that he’d replace Eli and his sons), even living with him. We can infer that they spent a long time together most days, and shared trust.
Now, Eli was lying down for the night. Samuel was lying down in the presence of the ark of the Lord. That’s the context for the famous account (1 Samuel 3:4-10) of the Lord calling Samuel several times and Eli finally interpreting it (read that bit again to refresh yourself).
Sure, it took Eli a little while. He was sleepy. It was late. He’s nearly blind. He’s got the burden of his scoundrel sons. He recently received a heavy prophecy about how his whole family line was going to fall. But on the third time Eli recognized what Samuel hadn’t – that this voice was God speaking to Samuel!
Now, that’s a simple little thing. But important. That Eli was able to offer Samuel this spiritual guidance changed the trajectory of Samuel’s life, and of the history of Israel.
As we are in trusted relationships, as we spend a lot of our lives around each other, we position ourselves to offer spiritual guidance to others. To us, the specifics might appear insignificant, as in, ‘that’s God, not me or your dreams or the pizza you ate last night’. But to our mutual apprentice, that insignificant clarification could have significant ramifications, as it did with Eli and Samuel and Israel. Let’s intentionally cultivate these kinds of committed, trusting relationships so that we can be on both the giving and receiving end of such spiritual guidance.