1 Samuel 3:1
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.
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(1) The child Samuel ministered unto the Lord.—The writer of this history, although well aware of the great revolution accomplished in Israel by the prophet whose life and work the Holy Spirit bade him record, gives us but the simplest and shortest possible account of the child-days of him who was only second to Moses in his influence on the eventful story of the chosen people. But short and devoid of detail though the record be, it is enough to show us that the atmosphere in which the child lived was a pure and holy one; the boy was evidently kept apart from Hophni, Phinehas, and their impious self-seeking party. The high priestly guardian was evidently fully conscious of the importance of his charge, and he watched over his pupil with a tender watchful care. Perhaps his sad experiences with his evil headstrong sons had taught the old man wisdom; certainly the training he gave to Samuel was one that educated the boy well for his after-life of stirring public work. The notices of the childhood and boyhood are indeed brief. The first contrasts sharply the lawless profligacy of the priestly houses with the pure holy childhood passed in the sanctuary courts, probably always in the company of the old man. Hophni and Phinehas, the grown men prostituted the holy work to their own vile worldly ends: the child ministered before the Lord in his little white robe; and while in the home life of his own mother and father in Ramah, his brothers and sisters were growing up with the sorrows and joys of other Hebrew children, “the child Samuel grew before the Lord” amid the stillness and silence and the awful mystery of the Divine protection, which seems ever, even in the darkest days of the history of Israel, to have surrounded the home of the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord. It was amidst this silent, sacred mystery, apart from the disorders of his priestly sons, that Eli taught the boy the story of his ancestors, with only the dark curtains of the sanctuary hanging between master and pupil and the mystic golden throne of God, on which His glory was sometimes pleased to rest.

The writer wrote his gloomy recital of the wild unbridled life of the wicked priests, wrote down the weak, sorrowful remonstrances of the father and high priest, foreshadowing, however, their certain doom; and then, again, with their life of shame sharply contrasts the pure child-life of the little pupil of the old sorrow-stricken high priest—the boy whom all men loved. “And the boy Samuel grew on, and was in favour both with the Lord, and also with men.”

Once more Eli, now weak with age, is warned of the sure consequences which would follow the evil licence and the irreligion of his priestly sons; and again the boy Samuel and his life, guided by Eli, his guardian and teacher, is contrasted with the wild, unchecked lawlessness of the priestly sons of Eli perpetually dishonouring religion and the sanctuary—a lawlessness which had just been denounced by the nameless prophet (1Samuel 2:27-36).

Josephus tells us that Samuel, when the Lord first called him, was twelve years old. This was the age of the child Jesus when He disputed with the doctors in the Temple.

Was precious in those days.—Precious, that is, rare. “The word of the Lord” is the will of the Lord announced by a prophet, seer, or man of God. Between the days of Deborah and the nameless man of God who came with the awful message to Eli, no inspired voice seems to have spoken to the chosen people.

The “open visionrefers to such manifestations of the Divinity as were vouchsafed to Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and Manoah, and in this chapter to Samuel. There may possibly be some reference to the appearance of Divine glory which was connected with the Urim and Thummim which were worn by the high priest. This significant silence on the part of the invisible King the writer dwells on as a result of the deep corruption into which the priests and, through their evil example, a large proportion of the nation, had fallen.

1 Samuel


1 Samuel 3:1 - 1 Samuel 3:14

The opening words of this passage are substantially repeated from 1 Samuel 2:11, 1 Samuel 2:18. They come as a kind of refrain, contrasting the quiet, continuous growth and holy service of the child Samuel with the black narrative of Eli’s riotous sons. While the hereditary priests were plunging into debauchery, and making men turn away from the Tabernacle services, Hannah’s son was ministering unto the Lord, and, though no priest, was ‘girt with an ephod.’ This white flower blossomed on a dunghill. The continuous growth of a character, from a child serving God, and to old age walking in the same path, is the great lesson which the story of Samuel teaches us. ‘The child is father of the man,’ and all his long days are ‘bound each to each’ by true religion. There are two types of experience among God’s greatest servants. Paul, made an Apostle from a persecutor, heads the one class. Timothy in the New Testament and Samuel in the Old, represent the other. An Augustine or a Bunyan is made the more earnest, humble, and whole-hearted by the remembrance of a wasted youth and of God’s arresting mercy. But there are a serenity and continuity about a life which has grown up in the fear of God that have their own charm and blessing. It is well to have ‘much transgression’ forgiven, but it may be better to have always been ‘innocent’ and ignorant of it. Pardon cleanses sin, and even turns the memory of it into an ally of holiness; but traces are left on character, and, at the best, years have been squandered which do not return. Samuel is the pattern of child religion and service, to which teachers should aim that their children may be conformed. How beautifully his double obedience is expressed in the simple words! His service was ‘unto the Lord,’ and it was ‘before Eli’; that is to say, he learned his work from the old man, and in obeying him he served God. The child’s religion is largely obedience to human guides, and he serves God best by doing what he is bid,-a lesson needed in our days by both parents and children.

Samuel’s peaceful service is contrasted, in the second half of the first verse, with the sad cessation of divine revelations in that dreary time of national laxity. A demoralised priesthood, an alienated people, a silent God,-these are the outstanding features of the period when this fair life of continuous worship unfolded itself. This flower grew in a desert. The voice of God had become a tradition of the past, not an experience of the present. ‘Rare’ conveys the idea better than ‘precious.’ The intention is not to tell the estimate in which the word was held, but the infrequency of its utterance, as appears from the following parallel clause. The fact is mentioned in order to complete the picture of Samuel’s ‘environment’ to fling into relief against that background his service, and to prepare the way for the narrative of the beginning of an epoch of divine speech. When priests are faithless and people careless, God’s voice will often sound from lowly childlike lips. The man who is to be His instrument in carrying on His work will often come from the very centre of the old order, into which he is to breathe new life, and on which he is to impress a new stamp.

The artless description of the night in the Tabernacle is broken by the more general notice of Eli’s dim sight, which the Revised Version rightly throws into a parenthesis. It is somewhat marred, too, by the transposition which the Authorised Version, following some more ancient ones, has made, in order to avoid saying, as the Hebrew plainly does, that Samuel slept in the ‘Temple of the Lord, where the ark was.’ The picture is much more vivid and tender, if we conceive of the dim-eyed old man, lying somewhat apart; of the glimmering light, nearly extinct but still faintly burning; and of the child laid to sleep in the Tabernacle. Surely the picturesque contrast between the sanctity of the ark and the innocent sleep of childhood is meant to strike us, and to serve as connecting the place with the subsequent revelation. Childlike hearts, which thus quietly rest in the ‘secret place of the Most High,’ and day and night are near His ark, will not fail of hearing His voice. He sleeps secure who sleeps ‘beneath the shadow of the Almighty.’ May not these particulars, too, be meant to have some symbolic significance? Night hung over the nation. The spiritual eye of the priest was dim, and the order seemed growing old and decrepit, but the lamp of God had not altogether gone out; and if Eli was growing blind, Samuel was full of fresh young life. The darkest hour is that before the dawn; and that silent sanctuary, with the slumbering old half-blind priest and the expiring lamp, may stand for an emblem of the state of Israel.

The thrice-repeated and misunderstood call may yield lessons of value. We note the familiar form of the call. There is no vision, no symbol of the divine glory, such as other prophets had, but an articulate voice, so human-like that it is thought to be Eli’s. Such a kind of call fitted the child’s stature best. We note the swift, cheery obedience to what he supposes to be Eli’s voice. He sprang up at once, and ‘ran to Eli,’-a pretty picture of cheerful service, grudging not his broken sleep, which, no doubt, had often been similarly broken by similar calls. Perhaps it was in order to wait on Eli, quite as much as to tend the lamp or open the gates, that the singular arrangement was made of his sleeping in the Temple; and the reason for the previous parenthesis about Eli’s blindness may have been to explain why Samuel slept near him. Where were Eli’s sons? They should have been their father’s attendants, and the watchers ‘by night . . . in the house of the Lord’; but they were away rioting, and the care of both Temple and priest was left to a child.

The old man’s heart evidently went out to the boy. How tenderly he bids him lie down again! How affectionately he calls him ‘my son,’ as if he was already beginning to feel that this was his true successor, and not the blackguards that were breaking his heart! The two were a pair of friends: on the one side were sedulous care and swift obedience by night and by day; on the other were affection and a discernment of coming greatness, made the clearer by the bitter contrast with his own children’s lives. The old and the young are good companions for one another, and often understand each other better and help each other more than either does his contemporaries.

Samuel mistook God’s voice for Eli’s, as we all often do. And not less often we make the converse blunder, and mistake Eli’s voice for God’s. It needs a very attentive ear, and a heart purged from selfishness and self-will, and ready for obedience, to know when God speaks, though men may be His mouthpieces, and when men speak, though they may call themselves His messengers. The child’s mistake was venial. It is less pardonable and more dangerous when repeated by us. If we would be guarded against it, we must be continually where Samuel was, and we must not sleep in the Temple, but ‘watch and be sober.’

Eli’s perception that it was God who spoke must have had a pang in it. It is not easy for the old to recognise that the young hear God’s voice more clearly than they, nor for the superior to be glad when he is passed over and new truth dawns on the inferior. But, if there were any such feeling, it is silenced with beautiful self-abnegation, and he tells the wondering child the meaning of the voice and the answer he must make. What higher service can any man do to his fellows, old or young, than to help them to discern God’s call and to obey it? What nobler conception of a teacher’s work is there than that? Eli heard no voice, from which we may probably conclude that, however real the voice, it was not audible to sense; but he taught Samuel to interpret and answer the voice which he heard, and thus won some share of a prophet’s reward.

With what expectation in his young heart Samuel lay down again in his place! This time there is an advance in the form of the call, for only now do we read that the Lord ‘came, and stood, and called’ as before. A manifestation, addressed to the inward eye, accompanied that to the ear. There is no attempt at describing, nor at softening down, the frank ‘anthropomorphism’ of the representation, which is the less likely to mislead the more complete it is. Samuel had heard Him before; he sees Him now, and mistake is impossible. But there is no terror nor recoil from the presence. The child’s simplicity saves from that, and the child’s purity; for his little life had been a growing in service and ‘in favour with God and man.’

The answer that came from the child’s lips meant far more than the child knew. It is the answer which we are all bound to make. Let us see how deep and wide its scope is. It expresses the entire surrender of the will to the will of God. That is the secret of all peace and nobleness. There is nothing happy or great for man in this world but to love and do God’s will. All else is nought. This is solid. ‘The world passeth away, . . . but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.’ Everything besides is show and delusion, and a life directed to it is fleeting as the cloud-wrack that sweeps across the sky, and, whether it is shone on or is black, is equally melting away. Happy the child who begins with such surrender of self to be God’s instrument, and who, like Samuel, can stand up at the end and challenge men’s judgment on his course!

The answer vows prompt obedience to yet undisclosed duty. God ever calls His servants to tasks which only by degrees are made known. So Paul in his conversion was bid to go into Damascus, and there learn what more he was to do. We must first put ourselves in God’s hands, and then He will lead us round the turn in the road, and show us our work. We get it set for us bit by bit, but the surrender must be entire. The details of His will are revealed as we need them for the moment’s guidance. Let us accept them in bulk, and stand to the acceptance in each single case! That is no obedience at all which says, ‘Tell me first what you are going to bid me do, and then I will see whether I will do it.’ The true spirit of filial submission says, ‘I delight to do Thy will; now show me what it is.’ It was a strange, long road on which Samuel put his foot when he answered this call, and he little knew where it was to lead him. But the blessing of submission is that we do not need to know. It is enough to see where to put our lifted foot. What comes next we can let God settle.

The answer supplicated further light because of present obedience. ‘Speak! for Thy servant heareth,’ is a plea never urged in vain. The servant’s open ear is a reason for the Lord’s open lips. We may be quite sure that, if we are willing to hear, He is more than willing to speak; and anything is possible rather than that His children shall be left, like ill-commanded soldiers on a battlefield, waiting for orders which never come. ‘If any man willeth to do His will, he shall know.’

The sad prophecy which is committed to such apparently incongruous lips reiterates a former message by ‘a man of God.’ Eli was a kindly, and, in his way, good man, but wanting in firmness, and acquiescent in evil, partly, perhaps, from lack of moral courage and partly from lack of fervent religion. He is not charged with faults in his own administration of his office, but with not curbing his disreputable sons. The threatenings are directed, not against himself, but against his ‘house,’ who are to be removed from the high priestly office. Nothing less than a revolution is foretold. The deposition of Eli’s family would shake the whole framework of society. It is to be utterly destroyed, and no sacrifice nor offering can purge it. The ulcer must have eaten deep which required such stern measures for its excision. The sin was mainly the sons’; but the guilt was largely the father’s. We may learn how cruel paternal laxity is, and how fatal mischief may be done, by neglect of the plain duty of restraining children. He who tolerates evil which it is his province to suppress, is an accomplice, and the blood of the doers is red on his hands.

It was a terrible message to give to a child; but Samuel’s calling was to be the guide of Israel in a period of transition, and he had to be broken early into the work, which needed severity as well as tenderness. Perhaps, too, the stern message was somewhat softened, for the poor old man, by the lips through which it came to him. All that reverent love could do, we may be sure, the young prophet would do, to lighten the heavy tidings. Secrecy would be secured, too; for Samuel, who was so unwilling to tell even Eli what the Lord had said, would tell none besides.

God calls each child in our homes as truly as He did Samuel. From each the same obedience is asked. Each may, like the boy in the Tabernacle, grow up ‘in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,’ and so escape the many scars and sorrows of a life wrongly begun. Let parents see to it that they think rightly of their work, and do not content themselves with conveying information, but aim at nothing short of helping all their children to hear and lovingly to yield to the gentle call of the incarnate God!

1 Samuel 3:1. The child Samuel ministered before Eli — That is, under his inspection and direction. The word of the Lord was precious — That is, the word of prophecy, or the revelation of God’s will to and by the prophets, was rare or scarce, such things being most precious in men’s esteem, whereas common things are generally despised. In other words, God did very rarely in those days reveal his mind to any person. There was no open vision — Here vision includes all the ways whereby God revealed himself to men. And the declaration implies that though God might privately reveal himself and his will, to some pious persons for their particular direction, he did not impart his mind by way of revelation openly, or to any public person, to whom others might resort for satisfaction. In the whole book of Judges, we find only two prophets mentioned. This is premised as a reason why Samuel understood not when God called him once or twice.

3:1-10 The call which Divine grace designs shall be made effectual; will be repeated till it is so, till we come to the call. Eli, perceiving that it was the voice of God that Samuel heard, instructed him what to say. Though it was a disgrace to Eli, for God's call to be directed to Samuel, yet he told him how to meet it. Thus the elder should do their utmost to assist and improve the younger that are rising up. Let us never fail to teach those who are coming after us, even such as will soon be preferred before us, Joh 1:30. Good words should be put into children's mouths betimes, by which they may be prepared to learn Divine things, and be trained up to regard them.See the margin reference note. Josephus says that Samuel's call to the prophetic office happened when he had just completed his twelfth year (compare Luke 2:42).

Was precious - (or rare) The song of Hannah, and the prophecy of the "man of God" (1 Samuel 2:27 note), are the only instances of prophecy since Deborah. Samuel is mentioned as the first of the series of prophets Acts 3:24.

No open vision - Better rendered, "There was no vision promulgated or published." (Compare 2 Chronicles 31:5.)


1Sa 3:1-10. The Lord Appears to Samuel in a Vision.

1. the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli—His ministry consisted, of course, of such duties in or about the sanctuary as were suited to his age, which is supposed now to have been about twelve years. Whether the office had been specially assigned him, or it arose from the interest inspired by the story of his birth, Eli kept him as his immediate attendant; and he resided not in the sanctuary, but in one of the tents or apartments around it, assigned for the accommodation of the priests and Levites, his being near to that of the high priest.

the word of the Lord was precious in those days—It was very rarely known to the Israelites; and in point of fact only two prophets are mentioned as having appeared during the whole administration of the judges (Jud 4:4; 6:8).

there was no open vision—no publicly recognized prophet whom the people could consult, and from whom they might learn the will of God. There must have been certain indubitable evidences by which a communication from heaven could be distinguished. Eli knew them, for he may have received them, though not so frequently as is implied in the idea of an "open vision."The Lord calleth Samuel three times; he knows not God’s voice, but thinks it to be Eli who calls him; runs to him, who instructs him, 1 Samuel 3:1-9. At the fourth call he answers, 1 Samuel 3:10. God acquainteth Samuel with the destruction of Eli’s house, 1 Samuel 1:11-14. Samuel in the morning discovers it to Eli, at his request: Eli’s submission, 1 Samuel 1:15-18. All Israel acknowledgeth Samuel for a prophet, 1 Samuel 1:19-21.

Before Eli, i.e. under his inspection and direction, which, being so young, he needed.

The word of the Lord, to wit, the word of prophecy, or the revelation of God’s will to and by the prophets.

Was precious, i, e. rare or scarce, such things being most precious in men’s esteem, whereas common things are generally despised.

There was no open vision; God did not impart his mind by way of vision or revelation openly, or to any public person. to whom others might resort for satisfaction, though he might or did privately reveal himself to some pious persons for their particular direction. This is here premised as a reason why Samuel understood not, when God called him once or twice.

And the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli,.... Under his direction and instruction; the Targum is, in the life of Eli, and in such parts of service, relating to the tabernacle of the Lord, as he was capable of, such as opening and shutting the doors of it, lighting the lamps, singing the praises of God, &c. according to Josephus (n), and others, he was now about twelve years of age:

and the word of the Lord was precious in those days; that is, a word from the Lord in a dream or vision, directing, informing, instructing, or reproving, this was very rarely had; of late there had been but very few instances; and which accounts for it why not only the child Samuel knew not that it was the voice of the Lord that called to him, but Eli himself thought nothing of it until he had called a third time, so rare and scarce was any instance of this kind; for which reason these words are premised in the following narration: and as everything that is scarce and rare is generally precious, so the word of God in this way also was; and so it is as considered in every view of it; as the written word of God; when there was but little of it penned, as at this time, and few or none to teach and instruct in it, Eli being old, and his sons so vile; or when it is forbidden to be read, and the copies of it destroyed, and become scarce, as in the times of Dioclesian; or when there are but very few faithful evangelical ministers of the word; which, though it is always precious to them that have precious faith in it, the promises of it being exceeding great and precious, and the truths of it more precious than fine gold, and the grand subject of it a precious Saviour, who is so in his person, offices, blood, righteousness, and sacrifice; yet is generally more precious when there is a scarcity of it, when God makes a man, a Gospel minister, more precious than fine gold, even than the golden wedge of Ophir, see Isaiah 13:12 where the word is used in the same sense as here:

there was no open vision; or prophecy, as the Targum; no publicly known prophet raised up, to whom the people could apply for counsel, direction, and instruction in divine things; in all the times of the judges we read only of Deborah the prophetess, and one prophet more, Judges 4:14, excepting the man of God lately sent to Eli, 1 Samuel 2:27, and this want of prophecy served to set off with greater foil the glory of Samuel as a prophet of the Lord, when he was an established one; there having been none of that character in the memory of man, and therefore he is spoken of as at the head of the prophets, Acts 3:24, for though there might be some private visions to particular persons, or God might appear in vision to private persons for their own special use and instruction; yet there was no public vision, or what was for public good and general use: some render it, "no broken up vision" (o); it lay hid, concealed out of sight, as if it was immured and shut up within walls, or like water pent up, that cannot break through its fences, and spread itself; or "not multiplied", as R. Isaiah, not frequent and repeated, the instances of it few and rare; the sense of this clause is much the same as the former.

(n) Antiqu. l. 5. c. 10. sect. 4. (o) "perrupta", Piscator; "fracta vel rupta", Drusius.

And the child Samuel ministered unto the LORD {a} before Eli. And the word of the LORD was {b} precious in those days; there was no open vision.

(a) The Chaldee text reads while Eli lived.

(b) Because there were very few prophets to declare it.

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.’

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. 1 Samuel 3:1At the time when Samuel served the Lord before Eli, both as a boy and as a young man (1 Samuel 2:11, 1 Samuel 2:21, 1 Samuel 2:26), the word of the Lord had become dear, i.e., rare, in Israel, and "Prophecy was not spread." נפרץ, from פּרץ, to spread out strongly, to break through copiously (cf. Proverbs 3:10). The "word of the Lord" is the word of God announced by prophets: the "vision," "visio prophetica." It is true that Jehovah had promised His people, that He would send prophets, who should make known His will and purpose at all times (Deuteronomy 18:15.; cf. Numbers 23:23); but as a revelation from God presupposed susceptibility on the part of men, the unbelief and disobedience of the people might restrain the fulfilment of this and all similar promises, and God might even withdraw His word to punish the idolatrous nation. Such a time as this, when revelations from God were universally rare, and had now arisen under Eli, in whose days, as the conduct of his sons sufficiently proves, the priesthood had fallen into very deep corruption.
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