1 Samuel 3
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
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.
Ch. 1 Samuel 3:1-10. The Call of Samuel

1. the child Samuel] According to Josephus, Samuel had just completed his twelfth year when the word of Jehovah came to him. In later times this age was a critical point in the life of a Jewish boy. He then became ‘a son of the Law,’ and was regarded as personally responsible for obedience to it. It was at the age of twelve that “the child Jesus” first went up to Jerusalem along with his parents (Luke 2:42).

ministered] Cp. 1 Samuel 2:11; 1 Samuel 2:18.

was precious] Rather, was rare. In the general decay of religion, prophetic communications from God had almost entirely ceased. Cp. Amos 8:11; Psalm 74:9. We read of two prophets only in the days of the Judges (Jdg 4:4; Jdg 6:8).

there was no open vision] Rather, there was no vision published abroad. The word is used in 2 Chronicles 31:5 of the publication of a decree (E. V. came abroad). There was no publicly acknowledged prophet, whose ‘word came to all Israel.’

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;
2. at that time] This rendering is possible, but the Heb. literally means on that day, the memorable day which left such a deep mark upon Samuel’s life. So the LXX. and Vulg.

The words from ‘when Eli’ to ‘was laid down to sleep’ form a parenthesis, describing the circumstances under which Samuel’s call took place. (1) Eli was lying down in his place. (2) His eyes had begun to grow dim so that he could not see. These clauses serve to explain why Samuel ran to Eli when he heard the Voice. He would naturally suppose that the infirm and half-blind old man required some assistance. (3) The lamp of God was not yet extinguished. This marks the time of night as shortly before daybreak, when the sacred light in the Sanctuary would burn dim or be put out. (4) Samuel was lying down in the temple of Jehovah, where the ark of God was. The order of the Hebrew requires this translation. The term ‘temple’ includes the buildings round the Tabernacle (see note on 1 Samuel 1:9), in some of the chambers of which Eli and Samuel were sleeping, not of course in the Tabernacle itself. The Ark is expressly mentioned because it was the visible symbol of the Presence of Him from whom the Voice proceeded.

to wax] i.e. to grow, from A. S. weaxan, Germ. wachsen. The word has passed out of general use in modern English. Wiclif has ‘Biholde ye the lilies of the feeld hou thei wexen.’

the lamp of God] The seven-branched golden candlestick, now mentioned for the last time, stood on the south side of the Holy Place, opposite the Table of Shewbread (Exodus 25:31-37). It was lighted every evening (Exodus 27:20-21; Exodus 30:7-8), and was extinguished in the morning. In Solomon’s temple it was superseded by ten separate candlesticks, but in the second temple the single candlestick was restored. It was carried to Rome by Titus after the capture of Jerusalem, and figures conspicuously among the trophies sculptured on his triumphal arch, from which the familiar representation of it is derived.

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.
4. Here am I] Heb. Behold me, the regular formula for expressing attention to a call and readiness to obey. Cp. Genesis 22:1; Isaiah 6:8.

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.
5. And he ran] Note Samuel’s alacrity to serve the aged priest, his spiritual father.

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.
6. thou didst call me] Simply, thou calledst, as in 1 Samuel 3:5, and again in 1 Samuel 3:8. There is no additional emphasis in the original.

Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, neither was the word of the LORD yet revealed unto him.
7. Now Samuel, &c.] This verse explains why Samuel failed to recognise the Voice. ‘Knowing the Lord’ here denotes not the general religious knowledge of a pious Israelite, but the special knowledge communicated by a personal revelation. The phrase is used in a different sense in 1 Samuel 2:12.

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.
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.
10. And the Lord came, and stood] The Heb. is emphatic: presented himself. The Voice became a Vision (1 Samuel 3:15). Cp. Genesis 15:1; Numbers 12:6-8. The visible manifestations of Jehovah or the Angel of Jehovah in the O. T. were foreshadowings of the Incarnation.

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.
11–14. Announcement of the Doom of Eli’s House

11. I will do] I am doing. The catastrophe is certain. With God the future is as the present.

at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle] This expression is found again in 2 Kings 21:12, and Jeremiah 19:3. In the latter passage there may be a tacit reference to this passage, suggesting a comparison between the destruction of Shiloh and the destruction of Jerusalem, such as is found elsewhere in Jeremiah (1 Samuel 7:12-14, 1 Samuel 26:6).

The appalling catastrophe thus predicted was the impending defeat of Israel by the Philistines, the death of Eli’s sons and Eli himself, the capture of the Ark, and the desolation of the national Sanctuary.

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.
12. all things which I have spoken] See ch. 1 Samuel 2:27-36.

when I begin, I will also make an end] Literally, ‘beginning and ending,’ i.e. from beginning to end, fully and completely.

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.
13. For I have told him] The Hebrew may be translated either (a) And I have shewed him that I do judge his house for ever: or (b) And I will shew him that I to judge his house for ever. If the first rendering is adopted, the words refer to the doom already pronounced by the prophet: if the second, the words are to be taken in connexion with the previous verse, to signify that the impending catastrophe would be a sign to Eli that the judgment upon his house was permanent and irreversible. Cp. 1 Samuel 2:34.

judge] i.e. punish, as in Ezekiel 7:3, &c.

for the iniquity which he knoweth] The Vulgate, followed by Luther, renders ‘for his iniquity because he knew that his sons dealt shamefully:’ describing the judgment as inflicted upon Eli for his own sin in neglecting his duty as father (Deuteronomy 21:18), high-priest (Deuteronomy 17:12), and judge, and failing to restrain the misconduct of his sons. But the rendering of the E. V. which makes the iniquity of Eli’s sons the ground of judgment, is possible, and agrees better with 1 Samuel 3:14.

made themselves vile] Elsewhere the Heb. word always means to curse, or to blaspheme, and is here best rendered made themselves accursed. There is a Jewish tradition that the original reading was ‘cursed me,’ which was altered by the scribes from motives of reverence. The rendering of the LXX. ‘because his sons were blaspheming God,’ gives the same sense, corresponding to a slight alteration of the present Hebrew text. Eli’s sons had blasphemed God and made light of him by their infamous conduct in His very presence.

he restrained them not] But contented himself with gentle expostulation (1 Samuel 2:23), instead of thrusting them out of the sacred office they had so grossly abused. By this weak indulgence he became partaker of their sins.

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.
14. shall not be purged] Lit., shall not cover itself; shall not make atonement for itself. The sons of Eli had sinned, ‘with a high hand,’ against light and warnings, and for such unrepentant presumptuous offenders the Law had no atonement. See Numbers 15:27-31. The doom of their house is pronounced, and ratified by the oath of God. Clearly however it is only to the temporal punishment of Eli’s family that the words refer in the first instance. Cp. Isaiah 22:14.

sacrifice nor offering] See note on 1 Samuel 2:29.

And Samuel lay until the morning, and opened the doors of the house of the LORD. And Samuel feared to shew Eli the vision.
15–18. The Message delivered to Eli

15. the doors of the house of the Lord.] As the tabernacle was closed by a curtain only, we must suppose that the doors of the enclosure in which it stood are meant. See note on 1 Samuel 1:9. We here learn incidentally the nature of the service which Samuel performed at Shiloh. He acted as a subordinate Levite. Cp. 1 Chronicles 15:23; Psalm 84:10.

Samuel feared to shew Eli the vision] He naturally shrank from delivering the fatal message to one whom he loved and revered.

Then Eli called Samuel, and said, Samuel, my son. And he answered, Here am I.
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.
17. What is the thing that the Lord hath said unto thee?] The word Lord is not in the Hebrew. As in 1 Samuel 3:9 it is tacitly assumed that the speaker was Jehovah.

Observe how Eli first simply asks for an account of what had passed, then demands a complete statement, and finally adjures Samuel to conceal nothing from him.

God do so to thee, and more also] Literally, “so shall God do to thee and so shall He add.” This form of adjuration is characteristic of the books of Samuel and Kings, in which it occurs eleven times. elsewhere it is found in Ruth 1:17 only.

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.
18. every whit] Heb. ‘all the words,’ = every thing. Whit is derived from A.-S. wiht, thing.

It is the Lord] He is Jehovah. For the depth of meaning involved in this confession, see Exodus 34:5-7. Eli, with all his faults, was still at heart faithful to God. He submits without a murmur to the divine sentence, leaving himself and his house in the hands of God. Compare the resignation of Aaron (Leviticus 10:3), Job (Job 1:21; Job 2:10), and Hezekiah (Isaiah 39:8). But it is the passive resignation of a weak character. Though he submits himself patiently to the will of God, he would not rouse himself to do it.

And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground.
1 Samuel 3:19 to 1 Samuel 4:1. Samuel established as a Prophet in Israel

19. The Lord was with him] This was the one source of strength for all the “heroes of Hebrew history;” for Abraham, Genesis 21:22; Jacob, Genesis 28:15; Joseph, Genesis 39:2; Moses, Exodus 3:12; Joshua, Joshua 1:5; Gideon, Jdg 6:16; David, 1 Samuel 16:18; 1 Samuel 18:14.

did let none of his words fall to the ground] The fulfilment of his prophetic utterances was the attestation of his divine mission. Cp. Deuteronomy 18:21-22. ‘Falling’ is a natural metaphor in all languages for ‘failing.’ Comp. Gk. πίπτειν, Lat. cadere. The word rendered ‘perform’ in 1 Samuel 3:12 is the exact opposite, literally meaning ‘to raise up.’

And all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the LORD.
20. from Dan even to Beer-sheba] The regular formula to denote the whole extent of the land of Israel. It is first found in Jdg 20:1, and is common in the books of Samuel, but naturally disappears after the Division of the Kingdoms, occurring only once again, and that after the fall of the northern kingdom (2 Chronicles 30:5).

Dan—originally Leshem or Laish, a Sidonian colony—was captured, colonized, and re-named by a band of Danites (Joshua 19:47; Judges 18). It was the northernmost town of the Holy Land, and stood upon a hill from the base of which springs one of the main sources of the Jordan, to flow through a rich and fertile plain towards the Lake of Merom. Here Jeroboam set up one of the golden calves (1 Kings 12:29-30), but shortly afterwards it was sacked by Benhadad (1 Kings 15:20), and we hear no more of it. Its name, however, probably survives to this day. Dan = judge, and the hill is still called Teil-el-Kady = “mound of the judge,” while the stream bears the name el-Leddân, which may possibly be a corruption of Dan. See Robinson’s Biblical Researches in Palestine, III. 390 ff.

Beer-sheba = “well of the oath,” so named from the covenant which Abraham and Abimelech made there (Genesis 21:31; cp. Genesis 26:31-33): or possibly = “well of seven,” in allusion to the seven ewe lambs with which die covenant was ratified (Genesis 21:29-30). It was situated at the southernmost extremity of the land, on the confines of the desert. It was a notable place in the history of the patriarchs.

(1) Here Abraham, Isaac and Jacob often dwelt (Genesis 22:19; Genesis 28:10; Genesis 46:1). (2) Here Samuel’s sons were established as judges (1 Samuel 8:2). (3) Hither came Elijah when he fled from Jezebel (1 Kings 19:3). (4) It was apparently the seat of an idolatrous worship in the days of Amos (Amos 5:5; Amos 8:14). (5) It is mentioned for the last time as one of the towns reoccupied by the Jews on their return from the Captivity (Nehemiah 11:27).

The site of Beer-sheba is beyond question, for the name still survives in the Arabic Bîr es-Sebâ = “well of seven,” or “well of the lion.” There are two principal, and five lesser wells. “The water in both [the principal wells] is pure and sweet and in great abundance: the finest indeed we had found since leaving Sinai. Both wells are surrounded with drinking-troughs of stone for camels and flocks; such as were doubtless used of old for the flocks which then fed on the adjacent hills. The curbstones were deeply worn by the friction of the ropes in drawing up water by hand.” Robinson, Bib. Res. I. 204. But Lieutenant Conder made the disappointing discovery that the masonry is not very ancient. There is a stone in the large well with an Arabic inscription bearing a date in the twelfth century a.d. Tent Work, II. 96.

was established] or, “found faithful,” “approved.” The Heb. word is the same as that which, in ch. 1 Samuel 2:35, is rendered ‘a faithful priest,’ ‘a sure house;’ and the use of it here seems to indicate that Samuel’s call was the beginning of the fulfilment of that prophecy.

And the LORD appeared again in Shiloh: for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the LORD.
21. appeared again] Manifested himself in visions. Cp. 1 Samuel 3:10; 1 Samuel 3:15; and the ancient prophetic title of Seer (1 Samuel 9:9).

by the word of the Lord] By the communication of prophetic messages to Samuel. The state of things described in 1 Samuel 3:1 was now reversed. The “word of Jehovah” was no longer “rare,” there were visions “published abroad.”

Ch. 1 Samuel 4:1. And the word of Samuel came to all Israel] Samuel communicated to all Israel the divine revelation which he had received. This clause should form the conclusion of ch. 3, not the commencement of ch. 4. In the latter position it would naturally mean that it was Samuel who summoned all Israel to the disastrous war against the Philistines. But he is never once mentioned in connexion with the war, and does not reappear on the scene for twenty years at least (1 Samuel 7:2-3), though in all probability his prophetic activity here recorded was in part contemporaneous with the Philistine oppression, during which his growing influence was marking him out as the future national deliverer.

The Sept. here differs considerably from the present Hebrew text. Omitting obvious repetitions, 1 Samuel 3:21 stands as follows: “And the Lord appeared again in Selom, for the Lord was revealed to Samuel. And Eli was very old, and his sons walked perversely, and their way was evil in the sight of the Lord.”

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