How could Samuel mistake God’s call for that of Eli three times? It is Eli who recognizes the mistake of his protégé and advises Samuel to respond attentively should the Lord call again.

In Samuel’s misunderstanding, Lutheran pastor Johann Arndt (1555–1621) finds the words of God drowned out by the noise of the world and so teaches us, in the same way that Eli taught Samuel, that the revelation of the Lord cannot be heard until these distractions are quieted in our hearts.

Listening Like Samuel

The Lord says, “Hear my voice and open unto me.” In a house in which there is the noise of this world, no sweet music can be heard. In a like manner, God cannot be heard in a worldly heart, for it is not opened toward God and does not let him in. Therefore such an earthly heart cannot taste the heavenly manna. When the tumult of this world is still in the heart, God comes and knocks and allows himself to be heard. Then you can say with the prophet Samuel: “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”

1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, eds. Derek Cooper and Martin Lohrmann, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, OT Vol. V, p. 22.