1 Samuel 4:15
Now Eli was ninety and eight years old; and his eyes were dim, that he could not see.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(15) Ninety and eight years old.—The LXX. here reads “ninety” years, the Syriac Version “seventy eight.” In the sacred text, where numbers are concerned we usually find these varieties of translation and interpretation. The present system of numerals was invented by the Arabs. The Hebrews use the letters of the alphabet to express numbers. Such a system was naturally fruitful in errors of transcription, and thus numbers, and dates especially, in the earlier books of the Old Testament are frequently confused and uncertain. Many of the difficulties which have given so much trouble to commentators have arisen out of the confusion of copyists substituting, through inadvertence, in Hebrew one letter for another. Instead of “his eyes were dim,” the more accurate rendering would be his eyes were set—were stiff, so that he could no longer see. This, as Keil observes, is a description of the so-called black cataract (amaurosis), which not unfrequently occurs at a very great age from paralysis of the optic nerves.

4:12-18 The defeat of the army was very grievous to Eli as a judge; the tidings of the death of his two sons, to whom he had been so indulgent, and who, as he had reason to fear, died impenitent, touched him as a father; yet there was a greater concern on his spirit. And when the messenger concluded his story with, The ark of God is taken, he is struck to the heart, and died immediately. A man may die miserably, yet not die eternally; may come to an untimely end, yet the end be peace.Dim - Rather, "set." The word is quite different from that so rendered in 1 Samuel 3:2. The phrase seems to express the "fixed" state of the blind eye, which is not affected by the light. Eli's blindness, while it made him alive to sounds, prevented his seeing the ripped garments and dust-besprinkled head of the messenger of bad news. 13-18. Eli sat upon a seat by the wayside—The aged priest, as a public magistrate, used, in dispensing justice, to seat himself daily in a spacious recess at the entrance gate of the city. In his intense anxiety to learn the issue of the battle, he took up his usual place as the most convenient for meeting with passers-by. His seat was an official chair, similar to those of the ancient Egyptian judges, richly carved, superbly ornamented, high, and without a back. The calamities announced to Samuel as about to fall upon the family of Eli [1Sa 2:34] were now inflicted in the death of his two sons, and after his death, by that of his daughter-in-law, whose infant son received a name that perpetuated the fallen glory of the church and nation [1Sa 4:19-22]. The public disaster was completed by the capture of the ark. Poor Eli! He was a good man, in spite of his unhappy weaknesses. So strongly were his sensibilities enlisted on the side of religion, that the news of the capture of the ark proved to him a knell of death; and yet his overindulgence, or sad neglect of his family—the main cause of all the evils that led to its fall—has been recorded, as a beacon to warn all heads of Christian families against making shipwreck on the same rock. No text from Poole on this verse. Now Eli was ninety eight years old,.... Which is very properly observed, he being now come to the end of his days, and which also accounts for his blindness after mentioned:

and his eyes were dim, that he could not see; could not see the messenger, and read in his countenance, and perceive by his clothes rent, and earth on his head, that he was a bringer of bad tidings; or his eyes each of them "stood" (h); were fixed and immovable, as the eyes of blind men be. In 1 Samuel 3:2 it is said, "his eyes began to wax dim"; but here that they "were" become dim; and there might be some years between that time and this, for Samuel then was very young, but now more grown up: though Procopius Gazaeus thinks that Eli was then ninety eight years of age, and that the affair there related was just before his death; but it rather appears to be some time before.

(h) "stetit", Montanus; "stabant", Tigurine version.

Now Eli was ninety and eight years old; and his eyes were dim, that he could not see.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
15. his eyes were dim] Were set, a different word from that of ch. 1 Samuel 3:2, found again in this sense only in 1 Kings 14:4. Eli was now totally blind.Verse 15. - Eli was ninety and eight years old. Until the invention by the Arabs of the present system of numerals, all ancient nations had a most cumbrous system of expressing numbers. The Hebrew method was to attach a value to each of the letters of the alphabet, and then add them together, and thus the eighth and nineteenth letters would between them make up ninety-eight. Such a system led to constant mistakes in copying, and thus the numerals in the earlier parts of the Old Testament are beset with uncertainty. Here the Septuagint has ninety, and the Syriac seventy-eight. But as Eli was described already as "very old" in 1 Samuel 2:22, the Hebrew text is the most probable. Instead of dim the Hebrew has set, i.e. Eli was now absolutely blind, as the word expresses the motionless state of the eye when obscured by cataract. In 1 Samuel 3:2 a different word is used, rightly there translated "dim," as the disease is one which comes on gradually. In 1 Kings 14:4 we read that Ahijah was blind from the same cause, and the word is there correctly rendered "set." But instead of despairing, they encouraged one another, saying, "Show yourselves strong, and be men, O Philistines, that we may not be obliged to serve the Hebrews, as they have served you; be men, and fight!"
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