Connections 06.02.2024: Train Up a Child

1 Samuel 3:1-10, 18-20

In the coming unit of Connections we will touch on some key moments in the lives of two of Israel’s most important leaders: the priest and prophet Samuel, and the shepherd and king David. These five lessons will highlight some surprises, challenges, victories, and griefs at the intersection of Samuel’s sacred leadership and David’s divinely ordained kingship.

We begin with the familiar story of Samuel’s boyhood service in the temple. Even before his birth, Samuel’s mother Hannah had committed her long-desired son to God’s service. He lived in the temple to help the elderly priest Eli. In 1 Samuel 3, God personally summons the boy, calling three times in the middle of the night. It takes God a few tries, but finally, with Eli’s guidance, Samuel recognizes who is speaking and responds: “Speak, for your servant is listening” (v. 10).

Samuel’s calling is a seemingly simple story. A young person serves with dedication, learns from his mentor, hears and responds to God’s call—and this sets him on a path of lifelong faithful service. But there’s a hitch. After Samuel responds when God calls him in the pre-dawn hours, he has to relay God’s message to Eli. And it’s not good news; Eli’s sons will be punished for blaspheming God and damaging the priesthood (vv. 11-14). No wonder Samuel “lay there until morning,” sleepless and “afraid to tell the vision to Eli” (v. 15). But when Eli calls on Samuel the next morning, he not only insists Samuel report the Lord’s words accurately, the old priest also humbly submits to what God has declared through the young boy.

If it took faith for Samuel to respond to the divine voice calling his name in the dark, how much more faith did it take for Samuel to be honest with his trusted mentor, reporting God’s promised punishment on Eli’s own family?

Proverbs 22:6 offers another seemingly simple Bible lesson: “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray.” (You might be more familiar with the KJV: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”) Eli’s sons have strayed; Samuel will not. Eli has trained him not only to hear God and to respond, but to be courageous in reporting what God has said. Samuel is already learning to speak truth to power. This training will serve him well, and because of it he will serve Israel—and God—well, for the rest of his life.

Discussion

  • When Samuel grows, he will have to speak God’s messages honestly to two kings of Israel, Saul and David. These messages will be difficult not only for the kings to hear, but for Samuel himself. How do you think Samuel’s childhood training prepares him for this holy work?
  • Do you tend to think of “speaking truth to power” as a positive or negative act? Can you think of a scenario when a child had a better perspective than an authority figure—even a religious leader?
  • This story includes two aspects of Eli’s relationship with Samuel: the priest teaches Samuel to be faithful and recognize God, and the priest trusts and humbles himself to receive God’s word through Samuel. How do we teach faithfulness? Do we then trust young people to teach us, no matter how difficult and painful the lesson?
  • We know that parents and teachers may do their best to “train children in the right way” and yet children will still grow into adults who “stray.” Most likely, we can think of ways we ourselves have strayed, in spite of what we learned as children. How can we practice faithfully guiding the young people in our lives and in our communities? How do we keep the faith even when we know “straying” is a reality of human life and learning?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in St Louis, Missouri. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.com.

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