Baby dedication ceremonies are a familiar tradition in many churches. Typically, a pastor introduces the child, reads relevant Bible verses about children and parenting, and charges the parents to raise their child in the fear and wisdom of the Lord. The congregation promises to be a supportive community in this endeavor.
Hannah’s dedication of her son Samuel went far beyond this simple ceremony. She had promised that if she had a son she would “give him to the Lord for all the days of his life” (1 Sam. 1:11). She was as good as her word and brought Samuel to the tabernacle as soon as he was weaned. There Eli the priest trained him to minister before the Lord in spiritually dry times.
When God called Samuel, the boy didn’t recognize His voice, for “in those days the word of the Lord was rare” (v. 1). Even Eli realized what was going on only after several false starts. Couldn’t God have appeared in a more impressive and unmistakable form, as he did to Isaiah? Yes, but what was most important about this conversation was for Samuel, destined to be a prophet and the last judge of Israel, to become familiar with the voice of God.
God’s message was not a new one—the second half of 1 Samuel 2 is also a prophecy against Eli’s family. Sin, especially sin in spiritual leadership, is serious business, and the Lord would judge it! Eli’s two sons had committed fearful evils while supposedly ministering as priests, and Eli himself was guilty of omission or negligence with regard to his parenting and leadership responsibilities (vv. 11–14). Samuel listened to God pronounce sentence on a man who had likely been a mentor and father figure to him, then heard that man submit to God’s just judgment (v. 18).
Apply the Word
If we understand prayer as an ongoing conversation with God, let us not forget listening as an essential part of that conversation. Praise, petition, and confession are our parts, and that’s fine. But when you go to worship, advised Solomon, “Go near to listen . . . God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few” (Eccl. 5:1–2).