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.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.
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;1 Samuel 3:2-4. At that time — After the man of God, mentioned in the foregoing chapter, (1 Samuel 2:27,) had been with Eli; perhaps the very night after he had delivered his message: when Eli was laid down in his place — In the court of the tabernacle, where there were divers rooms for several uses of the priests, as there were afterward at the temple. That he could not see — Clearly to do his duty, after it became duskish. This, it is likely, made him go to bed betimes, and leave directions with Samuel what to do, till it was time for him also to repose himself. Ere the lamp of God went out — Before the lights of the gold en candlestick were put out in the morning. It has been inferred by some, from Exodus 27:20-21, that the lamp in the great shaft of this candlestick, which bent toward the most holy place, never went out. Some others of them, however, did go out, or were put out when it was morning. The meaning, therefore, here is, that ere it was day the Lord called Samuel, which, it appears, he did, out of the most holy place. So the Targum, A voice was heard out of the temple of the Lord. He answered, Here am I — It is likely Eli lay nearer the tabernacle than Samuel did. It appears, however, he heard nothing, the voice passing by him to Samuel, to whom it was directed, and who alone heard it.
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.1 Samuel 3:7. Samuel did not yet know the Lord — How God was wont to teach and instruct men in his will. Neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed to him — He was not acquainted with the way wherein God made himself and his mind known unto the prophets, because he had never spoken to him before. So that he did not know how to distinguish between the voice of God and that of men. And this ignorance of Samuel served God’s design, as it gave Eli the fuller assurance of the truth of God’s call and message to Samuel.
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.1 Samuel 3:10. The Lord came and stood, &c. — Before, the Lord spake to him at a distance, even from the holy oracle between the cherubim: but now, to prevent all further mistake, the voice came near to him, as if the person speaking had been standing near him. And Rabbi Kimchi thinks the expression denotes some glorious appearance of God to him, because it is the same which is used Numbers 22:22-31, where the angel is said to stand to oppose Balaam’s proceedings. And so the Targum, The Lord was revealed, and stood and called, &c.
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.1 Samuel 3:11. Both the ears of every one shall tingle — Or, as we would express it, It shall stun all that hear it. This was awfully fulfilled, when the doleful news came that the ark was taken, and both Eli’s sons were slain, and when Eli himself fell down and broke his neck.
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.1 Samuel 3:12. In that day I will perform against Eli, &c. — In that time which I have appointed for this work, which was about twenty or thirty years after this threatening. So long space of repentance God allows to this wicked generation. When I begin, &c. — Though this vengeance shall be delayed for a season, to manifest my patience, and incite them to repentance; yet when once I begin to inflict, I shall not desist till I have made a full end; or, have fully accomplished all my threatenings, which was done in the death of Eli and his sons; and the slaughter of eighty-five priests of this family by Doeg, and the thrusting Abiathar, who escaped that slaughter, out of his office, and so depriving that family of its dignity and honour.
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.1 Samuel 3:13. For the iniquity which he knoweth — Here we see the crime of Eli, and cause of all the awful judgments executed on his house. He knew the wickedness of his sons: the man of God told him of it: he heard of it from all the people, 1 Samuel 2:23. And he knew he ought to punish it, and that he was guilty of great iniquity in not doing so. Because his sons made themselves vile — Hebrews מקללים להם mekallelim lahem, literally, rendered themselves execrable, or accursed. And he restrained them not — ולא כהה בם velo chehah bam, non fuit corrugatus in eos, he did not frown upon and knit his brows at them in righteous anger, as the word means. It does not signify that he showed no sign of displeasure against their wickedness, for he did chide them, though too gently, for it; but he did not severely reprove them; and, when that would not restrain them, turn them out of their office, or suspend them till they were reformed. For which cause God passed this severe sentence upon the whole family; that they should lose the dignity of the high-priesthood, and be made as contemptible as they had rendered God’s service. “Unhappy those superiors,” says Dr. Dodd, “and more particularly those parents, who, by a blind indulgence, omit to chastise their inferiors and children for their crimes! They provide for themselves the most chagrining evils and afflictive punishments.” And what shall we say of those ministers of religion, who, like Eli’s sons, instead of doing honour to, and recommending the service of God by an exemplary conduct, bring it into disgrace, and expose it to contempt, through their impieties and immoralities? Or, what shall we think of their superiors in the church, who know of this their wickedness, and use no means to restrain or check it?
Surely, in every department of society, and especially in the sacred office of the ministry, they who can, and do not, restrain others from sin, make themselves, like Eli, partakers of their guilt. And even civil magistrates will have a great deal to answer for, if the sword they bear be not a terror to evil-doers.
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.1 Samuel 3:14. I have sworn — Or, I do swear; the past tense being commonly put for the present in the Hebrew tongue. Unto the house of Eli — Or, concerning it. Shall not be purged — That is, the punishment threatened against Eli and his family shall not be prevented by all their sacrifices, but shall infallibly be executed.
And Samuel lay until the morning, and opened the doors of the house of the LORD. And Samuel feared to shew Eli the vision.1 Samuel 3:15. Opened the doors — Although the tabernacle, while it was to be removed from place to place in the wilderness, had no doors, but consisted only of curtains, and had hangings before the entrance, instead of doors; yet when it was settled in one place, as now it was in Shiloh, it was enclosed within some solid building which had doors and posts, and other parts, belonging to it. Feared to show Eli the vision — The matter of the vision or revelation, partly from the reverence he bore to his person, to whom he was loath to be a messenger of such sad tidings; partly lest, if he had been hasty to utter it, Eli should think him guilty of arrogancy or secret complacency in his calamity.
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.1 Samuel 3:17. God do so, &c. — God inflict the same evils upon thee which I suspect he hath pronounced against me, and greater evils too.
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.1 Samuel 3:18. It is the Lord — This severe sentence is from the sovereign Lord of the world, who hath an absolute right to dispose of me and all his creatures; who is in a special manner the ruler of the people of Israel, to whom it properly belongs to punish all mine offences; whose chastisement I therefore accept. This was a pious and noble answer, and shows what a deep sense Eli had of the divine sovereignty over him, and the entire, implicit, and willing submission he owed to all God’s decrees, however hard they bore upon him. This ought to be our language; this ought to be the feeling of our hearts, under all the dispensations of the divine providence toward us, whether prosperous or adverse, whether pleasing or painful to flesh and blood. Under all, our will should be resigned, and all that is within us should say, 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.1 Samuel 3:19. The Lord was with him — There were manifest tokens of God’s presence with him, and favour toward him. See Genesis 31:2. Or, he revealed his mind more and more to him: so that Israel knew God intended him for the prophetic office. Let none of his words fall to the ground — That is, want their proper effect: God made good all his predictions. It is a metaphor taken from precious liquors, which, when they are spilt upon the ground, are altogether useless. Or rather, it is taken from arrows shot out of a bow; which, when directed by a good archer, fail not to arrive at their intended mark.
And all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the LORD.1 Samuel 3:20-21. All Israel, from Dan, &c. — That is, through the whole land, from the northern bound, Dan, to the southern, Beer-sheba: which was the whole length of the land. That Samuel was established, &c. — That is, settled to be a constant prophet. The Lord appeared again, &c. — Having begun to appear to him in Shiloh, he continued this great favour, and revealed himself, not by dreams and visions, but by speaking to him with an audible voice, as he had done at first. And indeed he seems to have been the first eminent prophet that was raised up, after Moses, to be a public instructer and governor of God’s people. Others there had been before him; but not with so high an authority and public approbation. And therefore St. Peter says, Acts 3:24, All the prophets from Samuel spake of these days; intimating, that he was the first eminent prophet whom the Lord raised up after Moses.
And the LORD appeared again in Shiloh: for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the LORD.