Examples of “Calling” in the Old Testament

The story of Moses’ call should pose no surprise for readers of the Bible. He has lots of company in Scripture, beginning with the very first book of the Bible and stretching through the very last book.

In Genesis, for instance (chapters 6ff), we learn that humanity had descended into abject wickedness, a wickedness so profound that God decided to act. The world must be destroyed. So God “calls” Noah, commissions him to build and populate the ark, and become the instrument through whom God starts the world over again. Quite a mission!

“Noah did everything just as God commanded him” (Gen 6:22). In response to God’s strange call, Noah was obedient. He accepted God’s will for his life. He did as he was told. Surely, Noah had other plans, more personal ambitions. God never does “call” into a vacuum. But Noah  followed divine direction. And, as a result, God’s business with humanity continued, sin was punished, and a new beginning was inaugurated.

Later in Genesis (chapters 12ff), we find the same “call” pattern in the life of Abraham. God determined to raise up a nation for himself, a people through whom he would work to accomplish his purposes. To “seed” that nation, God called Abram of Ur, commissioning him to leave and “go.” With the call came a promise:

I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.

 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”

Like Noah, Abram responded with obedience … he left and went. It was not a perfect obedience. His response to the call was marked and marred by poor judgment and downright sin. But nonetheless, God used Abram’s flawed obedience to accomplish his purposes and lay the foundations for the nation of Israel. When God’s call met with Abram’s submission, the result was the Patriarchs and the twelve tribes and the start of the Nation of Israel.

The same pattern is repeated in the life of Samuel (1Sam 2ff). Weary of Eli and his casual commitment, God purposed to raise up “a faithful priest” (1Sam 2:35). Deep in the night, God’s voice called to Samuel. In obedience, Samuel heard and responded. And the result led to the kingship of David and, eventually, the birth of Jesus.

You see it again in the life of David himself. God has a problem (Saul!).  God identifies a solution (David!). He calls David to a specific task (to serve as king of his people). David responds with submission and obedience. Once again, his is not a perfect obedience. God never requires perfection of those he calls. He does require them to submit to the call, however, and attend to his business.

Jonah is the Old Testament’s best example of someone who not only resisted the call of God but actively opposed it. “Go to the great city of Ninevah and preach against it” (Jon 1:2). Jonah would hear none of it. He knew God’s business with Ninevah (mercy). He hated Ninevah so vehemently, he did not want God to have his gracious way with those wicked people. So he ran from God and from God’s call. He headed in the opposite direction—towards Tarshish. Only a miracle arrested his escape (the great fish—which raises the interesting question of whether it is really possible to resist the call of God!). Eventually Jonah submitted to God’s call and accomplished God’s will.

The call was never comfortable or convenient.
These are but a few of the cases where God’s call intervened in the lives of the people he’d chosen to accomplish his will. We could examine the patriarchs and the judges and the prophets. All were simply minding their own business, going about their chosen work (arborist, soldier, etc.), when God’s call intruded and turned their lives upside down. The call was never comfortable or convenient. But, when the time was right and the need was urgent, that call rang out—clarion and clear—and continued the pressing business of God’s purposes.