A key indicator of having a relationship with someone is communication. Moses had a unique relationship with God in that “the LORD spake unto Moses face to face as a man speaketh unto a friend” (Exodus 33:11). The whole congregation of Israel was able to hear the voice of God, but only Moses saw his likeness.
Prior to the Israelites reaching the Promised Land, God told them there would one day be a prophet among them and he said, “I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream” (Num 12:6). Over time, God communicated less and less with his people and became more distant with them because of their sin. The purpose of having a prophet was to keep communication going so that God’s people would not be cut off completely. You could say that a prophet was God’s mouthpiece. The LORD said he would put his words in the prophet’s mouth, “and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him” (Duet 18:18).
Samuel was similar to Moses and Abraham, but he was technically the first person in the Bible to have the specific title and purpose of being God’s prophet. Samuel began to minister unto the LORD when he was just a child, probably around the age of eight. When Samuel began serving in the Tabernacle, he was trained to be a priest by Eli, the chief priest at the time. Communication from God was rare and Eli and his sons were about to be excommunicated because of their corrupt practices. It is unlikely Samuel spent much time learning from Eli, otherwise his character might have become tainted by Eli’s bad influence. Samuel may have been as young as twelve when he was called to be God’s prophet.
Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: And it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, LORD; for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the LORD came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth. (1 Samuel 3:9-10)
Samuel’s election to be God’s prophet at a young age indicates that maturity or experience ministering before the LORD were not requirements for becoming a prophet. The main quality that God may have been looking for was innocence. Samuel may have been naïve about what was going on with Eli and his sons, but he understood that they had been disobedient and were going to be punished. Samuel was afraid to tell Eli all that had been revealed to him, but Eli threatened him by saying, “God do so to thee, and more also, if thou hide anything from me of all the things that he said unto thee” (I Sam 3:17).
Samuel’s induction into being a prophet was a turning point. God’s message for Eli was the beginning of the end of the sacrificial system God had established to cleanse the Israelite’s so that he could have fellowship with them. Samuel was to be an example of a new way of God interacting with his people. Samuel had to listen carefully to God’s message and pass it on to others. There was to be no interpretation or expounding on what God said, just an exact repetition of the words that were spoken to him. “And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground” (1 Samuel 3:19).