THE LORD DOES NOT CALL all his prophets in the same way, or at the same time of life.
Amos was called when he was a shepherd in Tekoa. Elisha was called by Elijah to serve an apprenticeship. But Samuel was called even from before conception.
Samuel's conscious experience of the call of God (1 Sam. 3) occurred when he was still quite a young lad — not, surely, a tiny tot, as some of our more romantic pictures have portrayed it, for he knew enough to be able to understand what the Lord said to him, to be troubled by it and to hesitate before repeating it to Eli. But he was not very old, still a "boy" (1 Sam. 3:1).
The story is so well known it scarcely needs repeating. But some observations may focus matters a little.
(1) The voice that comes to Samuel is a real voice, speaking Hebrew, a real language. This is not some merely subjective "feel" of being called. Real calls, real visions, real revelations take place in the Bible; but in the days of Samuel they were "rare" (1 Sam. 3:1). Certainly up to this point Samuel had never had such an experience; he "did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him" (1 Sam. 3:7).
(2) Eli is a sad figure. In his own life, he is a person of integrity — even though he is a disaster with his family. His long experience enables him, on the Lord's third calling of Samuel, to guess what is going on, and to guide young Samuel in an appropriate response: "Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening" (1 Sam. 3:9).
(3) The substance of the revelation given to Samuel on this occasion concerns a coming setback so startling that it "will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle" (1 Sam. 3:11). Included in this tragedy will be the destruction of Eli's family, in line with what the Lord had previously told Eli: God would judge Eli's family forever "because of the sin he (Eli) knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain then" (1 Sam. 3:13). Such neglect is always wicked, of course, but it is especially wicked in religious leaders who promote their sons to positions where they use their power to abuse people and treat God himself with contempt (1 Sam. 2:12-25).
(4) When Eli manages to get Samuel to tell him all the Lord said, his own response, while preserving a show of trust, betrays his irresponsibility. "He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes" (1 Sam. 3:18). Why does he not immediately repent, take decisive action against his sons, exercise the discipline that was within his priestly right, and ask the Lord for mercy?
1 Samuel 3; Romans 3; Jeremiah 41; Psalm 17