1 Sam 3:1 The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.
‘For everyone who has received the call of God and struggled with the authenticity of that calling, this passage has personal significance.’ (Arnold)
The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli – ‘The child Samuel, though but a child, ministered unto the Lord before Eli. It was an aggravation of the wickedness of Eli’s sons that the child Samuel shamed them. They rebelled against the Lord, but Samuel ministered to him; they slighted their father’s admonitions, but Samuel was observant of them; he ministered before Eli, under his eye and direction. It was the praise of Samuel that he was so far from being influenced by their bad example that he did not in the least fall off, but improved and went on. And it was a preparative for the honours God intended him; he that was thus faithful in a little was soon after entrusted with much more. Let those that are young be humble and diligent, which they will find the surest way to preferment. Those are fittest to rule who have learnt to obey.’ (MHC)
The word of the Lord was rare – indeed, there is no mention of a prophet of the Lord from Moses to Samuel, with the exception of Jud 6:8. Cf. Am 8:11.
‘There are two reasons for telling us that both were rare (lit. ‘precious’) at that time. First, the statement draws attention to Israel’s serious need for prophetic guidance. Secondly, it explains in advance why Samuel and Eli were both taken by surprise when the LORD CALLED aloud to Samuel (4).’ (NBC)
‘Perhaps the impiety and impurity that prevailed in the tabernacle, and no doubt corrupted the whole nation, had provoked God, as a token of his displeasure, to withdraw the Spirit of prophecy, till the decree had gone forth for the raising up of a more faithful priest, and then, as an earnest of that, this faithful prophet was raised up.’ (MHC)
Without the direction of God’s word, people will fall into aimless and self-destructive behaviour.
This passage is framed by two references to the prophetic word: here, and vv19-21.
1 Sam 3:2 one night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place.
He could barely see – Hence the arrangement for Samuel to be near him, to attend to his needs.
1 Sam 3:3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was.
The lamp of God had not yet gone out – Indicating that the call came in the early hours of the morning, Ex 27:21.
Lying down in the temple of the Lord – Not necessarily in the Most Holy Place itself, but in the priests’ quarters.
1 Sam 3:4 Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.”
Although there is something endearing about the way the call came to Samuel, and his ready response, there is nothing enduring about the prophetic message he is given, vv11-14.
1 Sam 3:5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.
The picture of Samuel is of one who is ready and quick to serve.
“Here I am” – a single word in the original, used elsewhere of hearing and obeying God’s call, Gen 22:1,11 Ex 3:4 Isa 6:8.
1 Sam 3:6 Again the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”
1 Sam 3:7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.
In a day when the prophetic word was rare, this was the first time that Samuel had received such a word: hence his uncertainty. However, ‘his willingness to serve, together with his holy parentage and his childlike acceptance of religious instruction, prepares Samuel to experience Yahweh in a new way.’
1 Sam 3:8 The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy.
1 Sam 3:9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
‘God communicates with those willing to listen. One would naturally expect an audible message from God to be given to the priest Eli and not to the child Samuel. Eli was older and more experienced, and he held the proper position. But God’s chain of command is based on faith, not on age or position. In finding faithful followers, God may use unexpected channels. Be prepared for the Lord to work at any place, at any time, and through anyone he chooses.’ (Life Application)
1 Sam 3:10 The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
The Lord came and stood there – Samuel is now given not just a word, but a vision, cf. v1.
1 Sam 3:11 And the LORD said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle.”
Whereas Samuel’s experience of the Lord has been somewhat idyllic, the message he is now given is anything but idyllic.
‘The message given to Samuel is virtually the same as that pronounced by the man of God in chapter 2. The repetition of the message indicates its importance and verifies its truth. It also serves to provide affirmation of Samuel’s prophetic calling.’ (OT Background Cmt’y)
“Ears…tingle” – cf. 2 Kings 21:12 Jer 19:3.
1 Sam 3:12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family-from beginning to end.
“I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family” – Referring back to what is recorded in 2:27-36.
‘Eli had not been a vicious or contemptible priest like his sons, but he was after all the man in charge of the shrine, and he failed to restrain them.’ (NBC)
1 Sam 3:13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them.
1 Sam 3:14 Therefore, I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.'”
1 Sam 3:15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the LORD. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision,
1 Sam 3:16 but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.” Samuel answered, “Here I am.”
1 Sam 3:17 “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.”
1 Sam 3:18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes.”
1 Sam 3:19 The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground.
1 Sam 3:20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD.
1 Sam 3:21 The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.