1 Samuel 2:11
And Elkanah went to Ramah to his house. And the child did minister to the LORD before Eli the priest.
And the child did minister unto the Lord before Eli the priest. "And the child Samuel grew on, and was in favour both with the Lord, and also with men" (ver. 26). (1 Samuel 1:24; 1 Samuel 2:18, 19, 21; 1 Samuel 3:1.) "Great is the reverence due to children." It is said of an eccentric schoolmaster in Germany, who lived about 300 years ago, John Trebonius, that he never appeared before his boys without taking off his hat and bowing very humbly before them. "Who can tell," said he, "what may not rise up amid these youths? There may be among them those who shall be learned doctors, sage legislators, nay, princes of the empire." Even then there was among them "the solitary monk that shook the world." But a much greater than Luther (with whom he has been compared - Ewald) was the little Nazarite, who with unshorn locks ministered in the tabernacle at Shiloh; and at a very early age he gave signs of his future eminence. "Even a child is known by his doings" (Proverbs 20:11). "The child is father to the man." But what he will be depends greatly on his early training; for "the new vessel takes a lasting tincture from the liquor which is first poured in" (Horace); "the soft clay is easily fashioned into what form you please" (Persius); and "the young plant may be bent with a gentle hand, and the characters engraved on the tender bark grow deeper with the advancing tree" (Quinctilian). Consider -
I. HIS EDUCATION, or the influences to which he was subject, consisting of -
1. Impressions under the parental roof. He did not leave his home at an age too early to prevent his receiving deep and permanent impressions from the example, prayers, and instructions of his parents. His destination would be explained to him by his mother, and made attractive and desirable; so that when the time came for the fulfilment of her vow he might readily make it his own. The memory of those early days must have been always pleasant to him; and the sacred bond of filial affection would be renewed and strengthened by the annual visit of his parents, and by the yearly present which his mother brought to him (ver. 19). The making of the "little coat" was a work of love, and served to keep her absent boy in mind, whilst the possession of it was to him a constant memorial of her pure affection. The first impressions which he thus received were a powerful means of preserving him from evil, and inciting him to good. "Every first thing continues forever with the child; the first colour, the first music, the first flower paint the foreground of life; every new educator affects less than its predecessor, until at last, if we regard all life as an educational institution, the circumnavigator of the world is less influenced by all nations he has seen than by his nurse" (Locke).
2. Association with holy things. Everything in the tabernacle was to his childish view beautiful and repressive, and overshadowed by the mysterious presence of the Lord of hosts. "Heaven lies about us in our infancy." And the veil which separates the invisible from the visible is then very attenuated. When he afterwards saw how much beneath the outward form was hollow and corrupt, he was strong enough to endure the shock, and distinguished between "the precious and the vile." Association with sacred things either makes men better than others, or else very much worse.
3. Occupation in lowly services. Even when very young he could perform many little services in such a place as the tabernacle, and in personal attendance on Eli, who was very old and partially blind. A part of his occupation we know was to open the doors (1 Samuel 3:15). By means of such things he was trained for a higher ministry.
4. Instruction in sacred truth, given by his kind hearted guardian in explanation of the various objects and services in the tabernacle, and, still more, gained by the perusal of the religious records stored up therein (1 Samuel 10:25).
5. Familiarity with public life. "There at the centre of government, he must early have become conversant with the weightiest concerns of the people."
6. Observation of the odious practices of many, especially Hophni and Phinehas. For this also must be mentioned among the influences that went to form his character. It as impossible to keep a child altogether from the sight of vice. External safeguards are no protection without internal purity. On the other hand, outward circumstances which are naturally perilous have often no effect on internal purity, except to make it more decided and robust. "The jarring contrast which he had before his eyes in the evil example of Eli's children could but force more strongly upon his mind the conviction of the great necessity of the age, and impel to still more unflinching rigour to act up to this conviction" (Ewald). But this could only take place by -
7. The power of Divine grace, which is the greatest and only effectual teacher (Titus 2:11, 12). The atmosphere of prayer which he breathed from earliest life was the atmosphere of grace. The Holy Spirit rested upon him in an eminent degree, and he grew up under his influence, "like a tree planted by the rivers of water," gradually and surely to perfection.
II. HIS CHARACTER, or the dispositions which he developed under these influences. He "grew on" not only physically and intellectually, but also morally and spiritually, manifesting the dispositions which properly belong to a child, and make him a pattern to men (Matthew 18:3).
1. Humble submission.
2. Great docility, or readiness to learn what he was taught.
3. Ready obedience to what he was told to do. How promptly did he respond to the voice of Eli, who, as he thought, called him from his slumber (1 Samuel 3:5). The watchword of childhood and youth should be "Obey." And it is only those that learn to obey who will be fit to command.
4. Profound reverence. For "he ministered before the Lord," as if under his eye, and with a growing sense of his presence. "He was to receive his training at the sanctuary, that at the very earliest waking up of his spiritual susceptibilities he might receive the impression of the sacred presence of God" (Keil).
5. Transparent truthfulness and guilelessness.
6. Purity and self-control (1 Timothy 4:12; 2 Timothy 2:22).
7. Sincere devotion to the purpose of his dedication to the Lord. In this manner he gradually grew into the possession of a holy character, and needed not, like many others, any sudden or conscious "conversion" from the ways of sin to the ways of God. Like John the Baptist, "he grew and waxed strong in spirit" (Luke 1:80); and his childhood is described in the very words employed to describe the childhood of our Lord:. "And Jesus increased in favour with God and man" (Luke 2:40, 51, 52).
III. HIS ACCEPTANCE, or the favour he obtained (Proverbs 3:4).
1. With God, who looked down upon him with delight, beholding in him the effect of his grace, and a reflection of his light and love. For "the Lord taketh pleasure in his people" (Psalm 149:4).
2. With men. The gratification which Eli felt in his presence and service appears in the benediction he uttered on his parents when they visited the tabernacle, and in accordance with which they were compensated with three sons and two daughters for "the gift which they gave unto the Lord" (1 Samuel 2:20, 21). Even Hophni and Phinehas must have regarded the young Nazarite with respect. And the people who brought their offerings to the tabernacle looked upon him with admiration and hope. So he was prepared for the work that lay before him. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: And Elkanah went to Ramah to his house. And the child did minister unto the LORD before Eli the priest.