Whose Voice? Reflections on 1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)

Even the young Samuel is given pause by what YHWH has shouted at him in the night, since "he lay there (obviously wide awake!) until morning," and "was afraid to tell the vision to Eli" (1 Sam. 3:15). But Eli, faithful to his God to the last, demands that his apprentice give him the full truth of YHWH's appearance; Samuel finally does so, proclaiming the end of Eli, his sons, and all future for his family.

Something important should be noted about this so-called "call" of Samuel. YHWH does not ask him to do anything at all! YHWH merely sputters the divine pique and apparently leaves it to Samuel to decide what to do with this anger. Samuel decides to tell Eli all, and spends the remainder of his prophetic life shouting the unmitigated anger of YHWH at nearly all whom he encounters. Samuel is the first prophet of doom in the Bible, and he plays the role to the hilt, a role he first learned from YHWH at Shiloh.

I find it tragic that Samuel has long been honored as the first great prophet of YHWH in the Hebrew Bible. The YHWH he represents is too often arbitrary and vindictive, and it is regularly very difficult to determine when YHWH is speaking to Samuel or when Samuel is speaking for himself alone. This is so precisely because as Samuel's life unfolds he himself finds it increasingly difficult to separate what he wants and what he claims YHWH wants. (In my 2014 novel, King Saul, I have attempted to portray him exactly like that.)

I can only conclude from the scene of Samuel's confrontation with YHWH's voice in the night at Shiloh that hearing the voice of God is both exhilarating and very dangerous. Is it really the voice of God that one is hearing, or is it rather one's own voice, urging one to act in ways that are as far from the way of God as can be imagined? Surely, humility is always called for when it comes to proclaiming what "God has said." The voice of YHWH is powerful and it calls for peace, as Psalm 29 has it, and other calls of God may not come up to that high standard. And, as such, calls like that perhaps should be taken with a very large grain of the very finest salt.

1/13/2015 5:00:00 AM