1 Samuel 3
Pulpit Commentary
And the child Samuel ministered unto the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision.
Verse 1. - The word of the Lord was precious in those days. Or rather rare; it came but seldom, and there was no proper order of persons from whose ranks the "speakers for God" would naturally step forth. It was this which made the revelation of Jehovah's will to Samuel an event so memorable both for the Jewish nation and for the Church; for he was called by the providence of God to be the founder of prophecy as an established institution, and henceforward, side by side with the king and priest, the prophet took his place as one of the three factors in the preparation for the coming of him who is a king to rule, a Priest to make atonement, and also a Prophet to teach his people and guide them into all the truth. There was no open vision. Literally, "no vision that broke forth" (see 2 Chronicles 31:5, where it is used of the publication of a decree). The meaning is, that though prophecy was an essential condition of the spiritual life of Israel, yet that hitherto it had not been promulgated and established as a fact. The gift had not absolutely been withheld, but neither had it been permanently granted as a settled ordinance. There are in Hebrew two words for vision: the one used here, hazon, refers to such sights as are revealed to the tranced eye of the seer when in a state of ecstasy; while the other, march, is a vision seen by the natural eye. From the days, however, of Isaiah onward, hazon became the generic term for all prophecy.
And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see;
Verse 2. - Eli... could not see. I.e. clearly. His sight was fast failing him, and Samuel, still called a child, na'ar, but probably, as Josephus states ('Antiq.,' 5:10, 4), now fully twelve years old, was in constant attendance upon him because of his increasing infirmities. Both were sleeping in the temple; for literally the words are, And Samuel was sleeeping in the temple of Jehovah, where the ark of God was. Of course neither Eli nor Samuel were in the holy place; but, as in 1 Samuel 1:9, the word temple is used in its proper sense of the whole palace of Israel's spiritual King, in which were chambers provided for the use of the high priest and those in attendance upon him. In ver. 3 the lamp is mentioned as fixing the exact time. Though it is said that the seven-branched candelabrum was "to burn always" (Exodus 27:20), yet this apparently was to be by perpetually relighting it (ibid. 30:7, 8); and as Aaron was commanded to dress and light it every morning and evening, and supply it with oil, the night would be far advanced and morning near before it went out. In the stillness then of the late night Samuel, sunk in heavy sleep, hears a voice calling him, and springing up, naturally hurries to Eli, supposing that he needed his services. Eli had not heard the voice, and concluding that it was a mistake, bids Samuel return to his bed. Again the voice rings upon his ear, and again he hastens to Eli, only to be told to lie down again. In ver. 7 the reason is given why Samuel was thus thrice mistaken. Samuel did not yet know Jehovah, neither was the word of Jehovah yet revealed unto him. Doubtless he knew Jehovah in the way in which the sons of Eli did not know him (1 Samuel 2:12), i.e. in his conscience and spiritual life, but he did not know him as one who reveals his will unto men. Prophecy had long been a rare thing, and though Samuel had often heard God's voice in the recesses of his heart, speaking to him of right and wrong, he knew nothing of God as a living Person, giving commands for men to obey, and bestowing knowledge to guide them in doing his will.
And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep;
That the LORD called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I.
And he ran unto Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me. And he said, I called not; lie down again. And he went and lay down.
And the LORD called yet again, Samuel. And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And he answered, I called not, my son; lie down again.
Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, neither was the word of the LORD yet revealed unto him.
And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And Eli perceived that the LORD had called the child.
Verse 8. - But Eli was neither so inexperienced, nor so lost to all sense of Jehovah being the immediate ruler of Israel, as not to perceive, when Samuel came to him the third time, that the matter was Divine. Possibly he recalled to mind the visit of the man of God, and had some presage of what the message might be. At all events he bade Samuel lie calmly down again, because the best preparation for hearing God's voice is obedience and trustful submission.
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.
Verse 10. - And Jehovah came, and stood, and called as at other times. It is something more than a voice; there was an objective presence; and so in ver. 15 it is called, not hazon, a sight seen when in a state of ecstasy, but march, something seen when wide awake, and in the full, calm possession of every faculty. As at other times simply means as before, as on the two previous occasions. But now, instead of hurrying to Eli, Samuel obediently waits for the revelation of the Divine will, saying, "Speak; for thy servant heareth." THE MESSAGE TO ELI (vers. 11-18).
And the LORD said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle.
Verse 11. - Behold, I will do. Rather, I do, I am now doing. Though the threatened ruin may be delayed for a few years, yet is it already in actual progress, and the fall of Eli's house will be but the consummation of causes already now at work. At which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle. This implies the announcement of some event so frightful and unlooked for that the news shall, as it were, slap both ears at once, and make them smart with pain. And such an event was the capture of the ark, and the barbarous destruction of the priests and sanctuary at Shiloh. The phrase is again used of the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 21:12; Jeremiah 19:3), a calamity which Jeremiah compares to the fall of Shiloh (Jeremiah 7:12, 14; Jeremiah 26:6, 9), inasmuch as both of these events in-valved the ruin of the central seat of the Jewish religion, and were both accompanied by revolting cruelties.
In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end.
Verse 12. - I will perform. Literally, "I will raise up," i.e. I will excite and stir up into active energy all the denunciations of the man of God (1 Samuel 2:27), which hitherto have been as it were asleep and at rest. All things which. Better, quite literally, all that I have spoken. When I begin, I will also make an end. In the Hebrew two infinitives used as gerunds, "beginning and ending," i.e. from beginning to end. The Hebrew language constantly thus uses infinitives with great force; as, for instance, in Jeremiah 7:9: "What! stealing, murdering, committing adultery," etc.
For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.
Verse 13. - For I have told him, etc. These words may be translated, with the Septuagint and Vulgate, "For I have told him that I would judge his house," referring back to the message of the man of God; or, with the Syriac, "And I will show him that I do judge his house." Forever. I.e. finally; his house shall pass away. His sons made themselves vile. The verb used here invariably means to curse; but "they cursed themselves" does not, without straining, give a good sense. The Septuagint for "themselves" reads God, and the Syriac the people. Buxtorf says ('Lex. Rab.,' sub תִּקּוּן) that the right reading is me, and that this is one of eighteen places where the scribes have changed me into themselves or them. But while thus there is much uncertainty about the right text, the evidence is too uncertain to act upon, and it is best to translate, "His sons have brought a curse upon themselves," while acknowledging that the ordinary rendering would be "have cursed themselves." And he restrained them not. The Versions generally take the verb used here as equivalent to one differing only in having a softer medial consonant, כהה = כאה, and translate rebuked; but that really found in the Hebrew text signifies "to weaken, humble, reduce to powerlessness." The A.V. takes neither one verb nor the other in the rendering restrained. Eli ought to have prevented his sons from persisting in bringing disgrace upon God's service by stripping them of their office. Their wickedness was great, and required a stern and decisive remedy.
And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever.
Verse 14. - Sacrifice nor offering. The first of these is zebach, the sacrifice of an animal by the shedding of its blood; the second is the minchah, or unbloody sacrifice. The guilt of Eli's sons could be purged, i.e. expiated, by none of the appointed offerings for sin, because they had hardened themselves in their wrong doing even after the solemn warning in 1 Samuel 2:27-36. Hence the marked repetition of the denunciation of finality in their doom. Again it is said that it is forever. It has, however, been well noticed that though the message of Samuel confirms all that had been threatened by the man of God, yet that no bitter or painful words are put into the mouth of one who was still a child. For this there may also be a further reason. The first message was intended to give Eli and his sons a final opportunity of repentance, and, that it might produce its full effect, the severity of the doom impending upon them was clearly set before their eyes. They did not repent. Eli hardened himself in his weakness, and took no steps to vindicate God's service from the slur cast upon it by an unworthy priesthood. His sons hardened themselves in crime, and made their office a reproach. It was enough, therefore, to repeat and confirm generally the terms of the former prophecy, as no moral object would be gained by calling attention to the severity of the coming judgment.
And Samuel lay until the morning, and opened the doors of the house of the LORD. And Samuel feared to shew Eli the vision.
Verse 15. - Samuel... opened the doors. In Exodus 26:36; Exodus 36:37, the word used, though translated door, really means an opening, protected by a hanging curtain. The word used here means double or folding doors of wood, and we must therefore conclude that solid buildings had grown up round the tabernacle (see on 1 Samuel 1:9), and a wall for its defence in case of invasion, or the assault of predatory tribes. The confiding the keys of these enclosures to Samuel shows that he was no longer a mere child, or he would have been incapable of holding a position of such high trust (on the key as an emblem of authority see Isaiah 22:22). Vision, as noticed above on ver. 10, means something seen by a person awake and in full possession of his senses.
Then Eli called Samuel, and said, Samuel, my son. And he answered, Here am I.
Verses 16, 17, 18. - God do so to thee, etc. This adjuration shows how great had been the agony of Eli's suspense, yet, true to his sluggish nature, he had waited patiently till the morning came. Then he summons Samuel to him, calling him lovingly my son, and everything tends to show that there was a real affection between the two. He next asks, What is the thing that he hath said unto thee? The A.V. greatly weakens this by inserting the words "The Lord." The original is far more suggestive. Put quite indefinitely, it says, "Whoever or whatsoever be thy visitor, yet tell me all." Then, when Eli has heard the message, he says, It is Jehovah. Though he had not had the courage to do what was right, yet his submission to God, and the humility of his resignation, prove that the Holy Ghost had in these years of waiting being doing its work upon the old man's heart. Eli's adjuration, we must further note, was equivalent to putting Samuel upon his oath, so that any concealment on his part would have involved the sin of perjury.
And he said, What is the thing that the LORD hath said unto thee? I pray thee hide it not from me: God do so to thee, and more also, if thou hide any thing from me of all the things that he said unto thee.
And Samuel told him every whit, and hid nothing from him. And he said, It is the LORD: let him do what seemeth him good.
And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground.
Verse 19. - And Samuel grew. His childhood up to this time has been carefully kept before our view; now he passes from youth to manhood. And Jehovah was with him. By special gifts, but especially by establishing his words. Spoken by Divine inspiration, they were all fulfilled. So in Ecclesiastes 12:11 the words of the wise are compared to "nails fastened" securely, and which may therefore be depended upon. But in their case it is experience and sound judgment that makes them foresee what is likely to happen; it was a higher gift which made Samuel's words remain safe and sure, and capable of firmly holding up all enterprises that were hung upon them.
And all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the LORD.
Verse 20. - From Dan, upon the north, to Beersheba, upon the south, means "throughout the whole country." The phrase is interesting, as showing that, in spite of the virtual independence of the tribes, and the general anarchy which prevailed during the time of the judges, there was nevertheless a feeling that they all formed one people. Was established. The same word used in Numbers 12:7 of Moses, and there translated was faithful. It is one of those pregnant words common in Hebrew, containing two cognate meaning. It says, first, that Samuel was faithful in his office; and, secondly, that because he was found trustworthy he was confirmed and strengthened in the possession of it.
And the LORD appeared again in Shiloh: for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the LORD.
Verse 21. - And Jehovah appeared again. Literally, "added to appear," i.e. revealed himself from time to time on all fit occasions. To appear, literally, "to be seen," is the verb used of waking vision (see on ver. 15). By the word of Jehovah. Many of the old commentators refer this to the second person of the Holy Trinity, but he is himself Jehovah, as we affirm in the Te Deum: "We believe thee to be the Lord," i.e. the Jehovah of the Old Testament, usually translated, in deference to a Jewish superstition, "the LORD." As the Word, Christ is "the Word of God." The phrase really means, "by prophetic inspiration" revealing to Samuel the truth (comp. Isaiah 51:16; Jeremiah 1:9).

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