The Call of Samuel
By: Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee
Early Salvation Army leader and writer, Colonel Mildred Duff, said, “A child is in the twilight; things are yet dim, mysterious; but is the twilight, remember, of dawn, not evening.” A perfect example is the calling of Samuel.
Samuel’s story begins with his mother, Hanna, who despaired because she was unable to have children. This was particularly painful in ancient days for a woman because to not have children was to be a disappointment to her husband and carried with it the stigma of someone cursed by God. Pouring out her prayer to God, she received the good news that she would bear a son. In gratitude, she promised God that he would be dedicated back to God’s service as soon as he was old enough (1 Samuel 1:1-27).
Keeping her promise, Samuel was brought to the High Priest, Eli when he was around two years old. It was a bright spot in an otherwise dark time. Without a king at this time, Israel was a loose confederation of tribes overseen by a judge. Eli fulfilled that role but was ineffective as a leader leaving the nation to sink into a spiritual stupor further complicated by the hounding by the enemies of the Israelites. Making the future even more bleak, Eli’s sons were a disgrace to the priesthood by their public display of corruption and sin. First Samuel sadly records, “In those days the word of the Lord was rare and visions were scarce” (1 Samuel 3:1).
But God was not finished with Israel. And as He had done so many times, God provided an answer in an unexpected way. This time it was going to be through Samuel, who scholars guess was about twelve years old at the time. The Bible records, “Before the lamp of God had gone out, Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was located. Then the Lord called to Samuel, and he answered, ‘Here I am.’ He ran to Eli and said, ‘Here I am, for you have called me.’ ‘I did not call,’ Eli replied. ‘Go back and lie down’” (1 Samuel 3:3-5). The Lord was speaking to Samuel but he did not recognize it. After all, the most likely person to call him in the night was Eli. But the old priest likely thought that Samuel had only dreamed that he was being summoned.
Samuel had experienced an awakening call. He was in a physical sleep but how many are in a spiritual sleep, so deep, so unconnected that even when God speaks to them they cannot understand it is Him? They run here or there, speak to this person or that rather than quieting themselves before the Lord to listen to what He has to say.
We know from the story that twice more Samuel heard his name called. After telling him to go to bed the second time, when it happened the third time Eli began to understand that something else was happening. “’Go lie down,’ he said to Samuel, ‘and if He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’” (1 Samuel 3:9). Samuel did this and God revealed His intentions for him. For the rest of his days, Samuel was the willing and obedient servant of God, rising to a place of leadership and carrying such spiritual authority that his arrival in a town could cause a panic (1 Samuel 16:4).
What can we learn from Samuel’s call?
First, no one is too young to hear the call of God for lifetime vocational service. The Salvation Army, along with other Wesleyan and most evangelical denominations, believe that God can so speak to a child that he or she can seek Him for salvation that can carry them through their lives. If God can save a child, He can certainly speak to a young person about His plan for their lives. And if a young person is obedient when he or she first hears the call, how much easier will it be if they pursue their calling and not become distracted by taking paths that lead in other directions?
Secondly, as God called Samuel several times, when God calls a person to officership He patiently waits for the person to perceive what He is saying. This can be in the initial call but also in times when God affirms that this is how his or her life is to be lived.
I was called to be an officer when I was 14. Before that, I wanted more than anything else to be an astronomer. But when He spoke, the books on astronomy were left to gather dust while I pursued the call God placed in my life. If The Salvation Army had allowed it, I would have gone to training then and there but wisely, I had to wait until I was old enough. From then on, every course I took in high school, every time I picked up my horn, each time I wore my uniform, it was with the idea that this was preparing me for my lifetime of service as a Salvation Army officer. It was a disappointment to my mother who never could understand my attraction to the Army but in time she accepted it. The call received in my youth remained my focus through all the changing seasons of my life.
When a young person says that he or she is called to be an officer, we ought to do all we can to encourage that one to pursue what God has revealed. To be sure, there are some who misunderstand but we have to trust God to make clear to them His will whether or not it is officership. As Commissioner David Jeffrey has said, “We tell them to keep going through the doors until God closes them. If He doesn’t close them, then they are assured they are doing what God intends.”