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Deeper Commentary

1Sa 3:1 The child Samuel ministered to Yahweh before Eli-
The phrase "minister before Yahweh" is only used of the priests ministering in the holy place, where incense was offered (2 Chron. 29:11). We wonder how a child, who was not of the tribe of Levi, could do this, and wear a linen ephod whilst doing so. The remarkable truth seems to be that because Eli's family didn't do even the most basic work at the sanctuary, the young Samuel did it. The connection between the ephod and the robe made for him each year would suggest that his mother had the spiritual vision to realize this and try to make the appropriate priestly clothing for him. Truly this was a family who saw beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of it. See on 1 Sam. 2:18,19.

The word of Yahweh was precious in those days; there was no frequent vision-
This would mean that the visit of the man of God to condemn Eli in 1 Sam. 2:27 was the more remarkable because there "was no frequent vision" at that time (1 Sam. 3:1). God was making a special effort to appeal to Eli. This also sets the scene for God appearing to the young Samuel in a vision. The lamps had gone out in the Holy Place, matched by Eli's declining sight, and yet we see Samuel's growth contrasted with the decline of Eli and his dynasty. A new light is set to dawn in Israel, through Samuel. Who was born and grew spiritually against all odds.

1Sa 3:2 At that time, when Eli was laid down in his place (now his eyes had begun to grow dim, so that he could not see)-
Blindness is repeatedly used in the Old Testament as a sign of Divine judgment. The impression is that his declining eyesight was connected with the waning of the lamp of God in the tabernacle that night (:3). We get the impression that the message he is about to receive is yet another appeal to him, as was the prophetic word of 1 Sam. 2:27.

Eli is presented always as either laying down or sitting down [by the tabernacle 1 Sam. 1:9, or by the road side at the entrance to Shiloh, 1 Sam. 4:13]. His passivity is highlighted. Samuel's father Elkanah likewise presents as passive, and so Samuel's zeal for God is the more commenable given this background and these role models.

1Sa 3:3 and the lamp of God hadn’t yet gone out, and Samuel had laid down in Yahweh’s sanctuary where the ark of God was-
The lamp was intended never to go out. We have here the impression of the oil lamps now waning and about to go out, connecting with the impression we have of Eli's declining light as his eyesight slowly failed in :2. God's presence in the tabernacle was in decline, but this was because Eli had not made the effort to keep that light burning, passing the job to young Samuel, who lit the lamps at evening and then went to sleep. We could reason that it was when the lamp had gone out that then the prophetic word of condemnation came to Samuel. The "lamp of God" going out was representative of the end of God's relationship with His people (2 Chron. 29:7), and is the term used of the faithful line having a lamp of God burning in Jerusalem (1 Kings 15:4). But in Eli's time, the lamp was allowed to burn out, because the priests couldn't be bothered to keep it burning. And this therefore came to represent the extinguishing of the light of Eli's household.

1Sa 3:4 Yahweh called Samuel, and he said Here I am-
Notice the fascinating repetition within 1 Sam. 3:4-6,10,16: the Angel calls Samuel’s name, and he replies “Here am I”. Then Eli calls his name for the first time [:16 Eli called Samuel and said, Samuel, my son! He said, Here I am], and Samuel likewise responds “Here am I”- insisting that Eli has already been calling him, when in fact it had been the Angel. Clearly the Angel spoke to Samuel with the voice of Eli! Could this imply that that Angel was Eli’s guardian? At very least it reflects how closely sensitive and understanding the Angels are to their charges on earth- they can imitate the exact intonation of their voices! By all means compare this with how the early believers were sure that what appeared to be Peter standing at the door was his Angel- they imagined that his guardian Angel looked exactly like him.

"Samuel" means 'the one who hears God', and he runs to Eli, 'my God'. He was being taught by these three episodes that hearing God was not the same as hearing Eli. Eli was not in fact 'Eli', 'my God', to Samuel. A child's perception of God is always taught by their father figure, and Eli was Samuel's father figure. But at this young age he was being taught otherwise, and to his credit he responded, not going the way of Eli and those around him.

1Sa 3:5 He ran to Eli, and said, Here I am, for you called me. He said, I didn’t call; lie down again. He went and lay down-
We note Samuel's running in response to God's word, in line with the idiom of 'running' as meaning response to God's message (Dan. 12:4; Ps. 119:32,60; 147:15; Am. 8:11,12; Hab. 2:2; Jn. 8:37 RV; 2 Thess. 3:1 Gk.).  

1Sa 3:6 Yahweh called again, Samuel! Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, Here I am; for you called me. He answered, I didn’t call my son; lie down again-
See on :4. "My son" reflects how in Elkanah's absence from maybe the age of three (1 Sam. 1:24), Eli was effectively Samuel's father. He is the more commendable for being spiritually strong for Yahweh when his adoptive family were so far from Him.

"Here am I" was the logical answer if the Divine voice came from between the cherubim, as it did in Num. 7:89. So Samuel was sleeping next to the ark. Yet when Uzzah touched the ark he was slain. Boundaries of holiness were so flexible. There seems little point in mentioning the ark unless to make the point that Samuel slept next to it: "Samuel had laid down in Yahweh’s sanctuary where the ark of God was" (:3). The lamps that went out therefore refer to those in the candlestick in the Holy place. A child was maintaining the whole tabernacle and moving freely in and out of holy space. Eli's attitude to God's holiness was terrible.  

1Sa 3:7 Now Samuel didn’t yet know Yahweh, neither was the word of Yahweh yet revealed to him-
Despite this, he was still ministering to Yahweh, even though he had no personal relationship with Him and was aware of this in that he omitted using the term Yahweh (see on :10). For that is the usual sense of "knowing" in a Hebraic sense. This is mentioned to explain why Samuel was so slow in realizing that this was a Divine prophetic call and not Eli calling him. "Revealed" in 1 Sam. 3:7,21; 9:15 is the word used of how Yahweh had revealed Himself to the tribe of Levi and called them to be His priests (1 Sam. 2:27), and Eli as it were was in the loins of his father Levi, according to the principle of Heb. 7:10. But the line of Levi and Eli had potentially been rejected because of Eli's apostasy. The Divine intention was to replace them with Samuel as a prophet-priest and perhaps king (1 Sam. 2:10). But this potential was only partially fulfilled by Samuel, and despite possibilities in David and Solomon, it only came to full term in the person and work of the Lord Jesus.

1Sa 3:8 Yahweh called Samuel again the third time. He arose and went to Eli and said, Here I am; for you called me. Eli perceived that Yahweh had called the child-
This perception would have been mixed with a premonition that this child was his replacement, seeing he had earlier been warned that he was as it were not hearing his own calling as high priest (see on 1 Sam. 2:27).  "Child" is the same word used in 1 Sam. 2:13 for how the priest's servant or "boy" defrauded worshippers of their sacrifices. Samuel even as a child was doing priestly service.

1Sa 3:9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, Go, lie down, and if He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Yahweh, for Your servant hears’. So Samuel went and lay down in his place-
Eli is to be commended for being prepared to accept that Yahweh was having a relationship with Samuel because he had failed. Many jealous people, such as Saul, would have ten wanted to destroy Samuel. But Eli wasn't like that. He comes over as completely passive, although happy to get fat on the abuses performed by his sons. But the condemnation of him is severe. He is a parade example of the significance of sins of omission.  

Eli's command to Samuel to "listen" may allude to the way in which his own sons "didn’t listen to their father, because Yahweh intended to kill them" (1 Sam. 2:25). Eli presents as a man who knows what's right (he tells Samuel to say the right thing to God)- but is just too weak willed to do it personally. His condemnation, in such heavy terms, is a true warning and challenge to us all.

We naturally wonder why these three attempted callings of Samuel. The impression may simply be created that Eli was not spiritually perceptive; he ought to have perceived Samuel's calling at the first time. But Samuel was also being taught to perceive the difference between the voice of Eli, and that of God. Until this point he had conflated the two. Now he is being led further out of religion into personal spirituality and response to God's word direct to him.

1Sa 3:10 Yahweh came and stood and called as at other times, Samuel! Samuel! Then Samuel said, Speak; for Your servant hears-
This coming and standing of Yahweh was presumably in the form of an Angel. We note Samuel omits to use the term "Yahweh", contrary to how Eli had instructed him (:9 'Speak, Yahweh, for Your servant hears’). It is noted on :7 that Samuel didn't yet know Yahweh.

1Sa 3:11 Yahweh said to Samuel, Behold, I will do something in Israel which will make both the ears of everyone who hears it tingle-
Samuel as a child had to tell Eli of God's rejection of him, a message he also heard at night, and His replacement of him with someone else. This prepared Samuel for doing this very same thing years later, with Saul (1 Sam. 15:16); and to some extent, he too failed in ways similar to Eli, and was in a sense replaced. Whilst it's impossible to attach meaning to events at the time they happen, they potentially prepare us for later use by God if we are willing to be used.

Eli and his sons were surely unpopular, because the people complained to Eli about all the abuses going on (1 Sam. 2:22). The result was that they gave up offering sacrifices (1 Sam. 2:17). And yet Yahweh foresaw that the people would be shocked at the judgment to come upon the family. We see here how people need religion, to the point of accepting awful abuses and being deeply upset when the abusers are judged; even though they notice and complain about the abuses. This kind of thing, especially in the areas of sexual and financial abuse, is too often seen in religion gone wrong today.

1Sa 3:12 In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end-
And yet I noted in 1 Sam. 2 that there were various potential judgments upon Eli's house. But the essence of God's judgment was to be performed even if not the letter of it.

In the gap between beginning and ending, there would be no repentance. Because God can begin judgment and not complete it. But in their case, He would begin and take it through to the end. Possibly the beginning was in the death of Hophni and Phinehas, continuing in the death of Abimelech and the eighty five priests at Nob at the hands of Saul; and then came to "an end" when Solomon cast Abiathar from the priesthood.

1Sa 3:13 For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knew-
The judgment was eternal not in the sense that they would experience eternal conscious punishment; but the consequences of rejection would be eternal in that they were missing out on eternity. And losing a potentially possible eternity is therefore in that sense an eternal judgment.

Because his sons brought a curse on themselves and he didn’t rebuke them-
Eli did rebuke his sons; but in God’s eyes he didn’t (1 Sam. 2:24 cp. 3:13). He said words for the sake of saying words, but in his heart he didn’t frown upon them. Eli appeared to discipline his sons. But he couldn’t have really done this from his heart, or he wouldn’t have been condemned for not controlling them. He honoured his sons above God, to make himself “fat with the chiefest of all the offerings”. We too can go through the motions of spirituality without believing it. Even external acts of apparent righteousness can be sin.

Eli ought to have noticed his sons' behaviour for himself. He only said something to them because people were gossiping about it (1 Sam. 2:23). Image was clearly all important to him, and he himself colluded with his sons and is condemned for it.

We note again that all condemnation is self inflicted; they brought this curse upon themselves.

1Sa 3:14 Therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli, that the guilt of Eli’s house shall not be removed with sacrifice nor offering forever-
We compare this with the observation that the blood of bulls and goats could never remove sin or guilt of itself (Heb. 10:4). The guilt could only anyway be removed by faith in the future Messianic sacrifice, better than any animal offering. Again we see that the judgment upon persons was a reflection of what the position which the person themselves had arrived at. They had no desire for forgiveness nor any vision towards the future Messianic sacrifice; and so they were judged with the curse of sacrifice never removing their guilt. David surely looked back to this when he confessed that sacrifice and offering could not remove his sin, only God's grace (Ps. 40:6).  

We could infer from this statement that there was a hint that Eli even at this stage could find forgiveness- if he threw himself upon God's grace, as David likewise did when in a situation when sacrifice and offering couldn't save him. Indeed David may have been inspired by Eli's refusal of this offer to himself accept it. Possibly the situation with Eli is in mind in Hos. 6:6: "For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings".  But instead Eli's response is passive, just accepting his judgment because of the clogging nature of religion and his lack of personal spirituality, reflected in how he failed to perceive Hannah was praying in her heart.

1Sa 3:15 Samuel lay until the morning, and opened the doors of the house of Yahweh. Samuel feared to show Eli the vision-
This is a common theme, of men fearing to tell others the prophetic vision. We think of Daniel dumb with fear before telling the vision to Nebuchadnezzar. It is our own narrative almost daily, as we fear to tell others God's word as it really is, fearing their rejection. 

1Sa 3:16 Then Eli called Samuel and said, Samuel, my son! He said, Here I am-
"Here" translates hinneh, a word with the same consonants as the name of his mother Hannah. It was almost as if he were saying "I am Hannah". In that moment he felt unity with his mother, in obedience to God's word. 

1Sa 3:17 He said, What was it that He said to you? Please don’t hide it from me-
Surely Eli knew that this was another message of condemnation for him. But he wanted to know it, just as Zedekiah urged Jeremiah not to hide from him the message of his own damnation (s.w. Jer. 38:14).

May God deal with you severely if you hide anything from me of all the things that He said to you-
This was no mere threat from Eli. We are not to hide God's word from those for whom it was intended at our hands. One theme of the history here is the critical significance of sins of omission. Omitting to discipline sons, omitting to declare God's word... all merited severe judgment.

1Sa 3:18 Samuel told him everything-
Literally, "every word". Samuel is presented as a new Moses, for this phrase is used repeatedly about him and his mediation for Israel.

And hid nothing from him. He said, It is Yahweh-
By Eli commenting “It is the Lord”, he meant ‘It is the word of the Lord’; but he saw God as effectively His word. “The word”, the “word of the Kingdom”, “the Gospel”, “the word of God” are all parallel expressions throughout the Gospels. Our attitude to God’s word is our attitude to Him. "The word was God". David "despised the commandment (word) of the Lord... you despised me" (2 Sam. 12:9,10). David learnt that his attitude to God's word was his attitude to God- for the word of God, in that sense, was and is God. By our words we personally will be condemned or justified- because we too ‘are’ our words.

Let Him do what seems good to Him-
This kind of fatalism isn't right. It seems a similarly faithfulness Hezekiah alludes to it in Is. 39:8: "Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, Yahweh’s word which you have spoken is good. He said moreover, For there will be peace and truth in my days".

1Sa 3:19 Samuel grew, and Yahweh was with him, and he let none of His words fall to the ground-
The words in view are presumably the intention to raise up the non-Levite Samuel as a replacement priest and mediator for Israel. But as noted on 1 Sam. 2, God's purposes and intentions for Samuel went as far as establishing him as a Messianic king, prophet and priest who would rebuke Yahweh's enemies (1 Sam. 2:10). But Samuel let the ball drop to some extent and this was not finally achieved in him. But from God's side, His words did not fail. Prophecy therefore doesn't fail or "fall to the ground" but the potential fulfillments may not come about.

1Sa 3:20 All Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of Yahweh-
Samuel was apparently required to speak forth his words of judgment upon Eli to all Israel, otherwise the ears of Israel could not have tingled at hearing the message (:11). This would have resulted in a difficult life for Samuel at Shiloh, with Eli and his sons aware of what he was saying about them. Perhaps the subsequent account of the death of the family in 1 Sam. 4 is now included to show how this verse came to be true. When the prophecy of Samuel about them was suddenly fulfilled, all Israel would have known that Samuel was indeed a prophet. For short term fulfillments were required in order to legitimize a prophet (Dt. 18:22).

1Sa 3:21 Yahweh appeared again in Shiloh, for Yahweh revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of Yahweh
"Revealed" in 1 Sam. 3:7,21; 9:15 is the word used of how Yahweh had revealed Himself to the tribe of Levi and called them to be His priests (1 Sam. 2:27), and Eli as it were was in the loins of his father Levi, according to the principle of Heb. 7:10. But the line of Levi and Eli had potentially been rejected because of Eli's apostasy. The Divine intention was to replace them with Samuel as a prophet-priest and perhaps king (1 Sam. 2:10). But this potential was only partially fulfilled by Samuel, and despite possibilities in David and Solomon, it only came to full term in the person and work of the Lord Jesus.