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This chapter gives an account of the Lord’s calling to Samuel in the night season, which he first took for the voice of Eli, but being instructed by him, made answer to the voice, ( 1 Samuel 3:1-10), and of a message sent from him by Samuel to Eli, foretelling the destruction of his family, ( Samuel 3:11-14) and of the delivery of it to him, which Samuel was first fearful of doing, but, encouraged by Eli, he delivered it to him, to which he patiently submitted, ( 1 Samuel 3:15-18) and the chapter is closed with the establishment of Samuel as a prophet of the Lord, who continued to appear and reveal himself to him, ( 1 Samuel 3:19-21).
Ver. 1 . And the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli , etc.] 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, etc. according to Josephus f66 , 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 6:8), 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” f67 ; 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.
Ver. 2 . And it came to pass at that time , etc.] When the word of the Lord was scarce and precious, and there was no open vision; or, as Ben Gersom, the same day the man of God came to Eli at night, the following affair happened: when Eli was laid down in his place ; on his bed to sleep, in one of the chambers or apartments of the tabernacle; for as there were such in the temple for the priests, so in that: and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see ; to help himself to anything he might want when in bed; which seems to be the reason Samuel lay near him, and why, when he heard his voice, he immediately ran to him, supposing he needed his assistance. Some, as Kimchi and others, understand this not of the eyes of his body, but of his mind; and that the Holy Spirit, as a spirit of prophecy, was departing from him, because of his connivance at the sins of his sons; and so the following prophecy came not to him, but to Samuel.
Ver. 3 . And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord , etc.] The tabernacle so called; lamp is put for the lamps in the candlestick in the tabernacle, which were lighted every evening, and burnt till morning; by which time some of them at least usually went out, only it is said the western lamp never went out. Now the reason why this is observed is to show that it was in the night, before morning, that the following transaction was: some by this lamp understand the lamp of prophecy, that before that was quite extinct in Eli, only began to depart, as his eyes are said to begin to wax dim, the spirit of prophecy came to Samuel; so that, as the Jews express it, before one sun was set another arose; thus before the sun of Moses set, the sun of Joshua arose; and before the sun of Eli set, the sun of Samuel arose: where the ark of God was ; that is, in the temple or tabernacle; not in that part of it where the lamps were burning in the candlestick, that was in the holy place; but the ark was in the holy of holies, where the Lord dwelt, and was the symbol of his presence; and which is observed to point out the place from whence the voice came, after mentioned; and which the Targum expresses here, “and a voice was heard out of the temple of the Lord, where the ark of the Lord was:” and Samuel was laid down to sleep; after Eli was in bed, and Samuel had done all his business, he laid himself down to sleep in his place; in the court of the Levites, as the Targum, with which the Jewish commentators in general agree: it must be somewhere near to Eli, so that he could quickly come at him, when he needed his assistance; though, according to the Misnah f68 , the priests shut the doors of the court within, and the Levites slept without. It is highly probable that Samuel’s apartment was near to Eli, or he could not have so readily come to him, as it is plain he did. This circumstance is also observed, to show that it was in the night, and before morning, that the following vision was; and, as Kimchi thinks, about cock crowing; and it may be from hence Strabo had the notion, that Moses ordered such to sleep (in the temple) for themselves, and others, who were fit to receive good dreams, and who might expect from God a good gift, who lived soberly and righteously; and because the tabernacle was covered with skins, hence might spring the notion of others to sleep in temples, for the above reason, under the skins of the sacrifices, (see Gill on “ Amos 2:8”), though they seem rather to have slept upon them, for the above purposes, namely, to converse with their deities, and get knowledge from them f70 .
Ver. 4 . That the Lord called Samuel , etc.] By a voice which came forth from the most holy place, from between the cherubim, the seat of the divine Majesty: and he answered, here am I ; which was not intended to declare the place where he was, but to express his readiness and cheerfulness to do any thing that was required of him.
Ver. 5 . And he ran unto Eli, and said here [am] I , etc.] He got out of his bed as fast as he could, and put on his clothes, and ran with all haste to the apartment where Eli lay, supposing he wanted some immediate assistance, which he was there ready to give him to the utmost of his ability; and he made the more haste, as knowing his age and infirmities, and being desirous, out of affection to him, to help him as soon as possible: for thou calledst me ; he took it to be the voice of Eli, partly because there was no other man in the tabernacle, it being in the middle of the night, or early in the morning, before the doors were opened, or any of the priests were come in to minister, and partly because the voice might be very much like Eli’s, and which was done to direct him to him: and he said, I called not, lie down again ; he signified he wanted nothing, and so had no occasion to call him, nor had he, but bid him go to bed again, and sleep quietly: and he went and lay down ; and very probably fell asleep again.
Ver. 6 . And the Lord called yet again , Samuel, etc.] Called him a second time by his name, with a like audible voice as before: and Samuel arose, and went to Eli ; did not run as before, being perhaps more thoughtful of this affair, that he should be called a second time, and careful not to awake Eli, should he be mistaken again, and find him asleep: and said, here am I, for thou didst call me ; perceiving that he was awake, he desired to know what he wanted, and he was ready to help him; for he was now certain of it that he did call him: and he answered, I called not, my son, lie down again ; by this appellation, my son, he expresses his affection to him, and signifies he took it kindly that he should show such readiness to do anything for him and would not have him be discouraged and abashed, because he was mistaken, but return to his bed and rest again.
Ver. 7 . Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord , etc.] He knew that Jehovah, the God of Israel, was the true God; he had spiritual knowledge of him, and knew somewhat of his word and worship, ways and ordinances, in which he had been instructed by Eli; wherefore, though the Targum is, “Samuel had not yet learned to know doctrine from the Lord;” it can only be understood, that he had not learnt it perfectly; somewhat he knew of it, but in an imperfect manner, being a child: but the sense of the word is, that as yet he was ignorant that God had used to speak with ordinary and familiar voice to men, as Maimonides says f71 ; he perhaps had never heard of any such thing, and much less was experimentally acquainted with it, that God ever did speak after such a manner to men, and could not distinguish between the voice of God and the voice of Eli: neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him ; what of the written word that was in being he had, and read, as the law of Moses; but the meaning is, that no word of prophecy of the Lord was revealed unto him, as the Targum; he never had prophesied as yet, and knew not the form and manner of prophecy, as the above writer observes, or what methods God took to reveal himself, his mind and will, to men, at least not this by an audible voice.
Ver. 8 . And the Lord called Samuel again the third time , etc.] In the same manner he had done before, expressing his name no doubt: and he arose and went to Eli, and said, here am I, for thou didst call me ; as if he should say, it must certainly be so, I cannot be mistaken a third time: and Eli perceived that the Lord had called the child ; he was satisfied now that Samuel must have heard a voice, and he knew there was no man in the tabernacle but himself, and therefore it must be the voice of the Lord out of the most holy place; and he had formerly been acquainted with such voices, and used to them, and now called them to mind; and besides, as Aben Ezra observes, he was the rather confirmed in this, that the Lord called Samuel, because Samuel heard the voice, and not Eli, though Eli lay nearer the most holy place than Samuel did; which showed that this must be the voice of prophecy the Lord makes whom he pleases to hear; and that Eli might be fully persuaded of this, before the matter of the prophecy was delivered to him, Samuel was so often directed to him.
Ver. 9 . Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, go, lie down , etc.] Once more; and it shall be, if he call thee ; the voice, or the Lord by it: that thou shalt say, speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth ; his meaning is, that he should not rise and come to him, as he had done, but continue on his bed, on hearing the voice again, but desire the Lord to speak to him what he had to say, to which he was ready to attend: so Samuel went and lay down in his place ; which, as commonly understood, was in the court of the Levites, (see Gill on “ 1 Samuel 3:3”).
Ver. 10 . And the Lord came, and stood , etc.] At the place where Samuel lay; either there was, as Kimchi, a form before his eyes in the vision of prophecy, some visible corporeal shape assumed; or a bright splendour an illustrious appearance of the glory of God; or it may be rather the voice, which before seemed to be at some distance whereabout Eli lay; it now seemed nearer, and was as the voice of one just by him, that sounded in his ears: and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel : repeating his name, in order the more to excite his attention: then Samuel answered, speak, for thy servant heareth ; he leaves out the word Lord, which Eli bid him use; for he might be afraid as yet to make mention of the name of the Lord in the vision of prophecy, as Kimchi speaks; or lest it should be the voice of another, as Jarchi; as yet he might not be quite certain whether it was the voice of the Lord, or the voice of a man; for that he should have any mistrust of its being the voice of a demon or spectre, there is no reason to believe.
Ver. 11 . And the Lord said to Samuel , etc.] The voice of the Lord continued speaking to him: behold, I will do a thing in Israel ; which may be particularly interpreted of the taking of the ark, and the slaying of the two sons of Eli; and which is elsewhere represented as the Lord’s doing, for the sins of Eli’s family, ( Psalm 78:61,62) at which both the ears of everyone that heareth it shall tingle ; be struck with horror and amazement, and quite stunned, and know not what to think or say, like persons surprised with a violent clap of thunder, which strikes their ears so strongly, that the noise of it is not soon gone from them; this was verified in Eli, and in his daughter-in-law particularly, who, at the news of the above things, the one fell backwards and broke his neck, and the other fell into labour and died; and all Israel were struck with astonishment at these things.
Ver. 12 . In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house , etc.] Or family, that is, by the man of God, ( 1 Samuel 2:27) as that he would cut off the strength of it, that there should not be an old man in it; and such as remained should be reduced to the utmost poverty and meanness; this shows that that prophecy was antecedent to this, contrary to the sense of some: when I begin, I will also make an end ; not immediately, and at once, but by degrees; he began in the death of Hophni and Phinehas, and went on in the slaughter of Abimelech, and the eighty five priests at Nob, in the times of Saul, and finished in the thrusting out of Abiathar from the priesthood, in the times of Solomon, whereby that family was brought to disgrace and poverty.
Ver. 13 . For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever , etc.] That is, bring his judgments upon them, which should continue on them to their utter destruction; this, as to the substance, he said before by the man of God: for the iniquity which he knoweth ; for the iniquity of his sons, which he thoroughly informed of, and fully acquainted with by others; and somewhat of which he must have been sensible of, and seen with his own eyes, and therefore was inexcusable: because his sons made themselves vile ; mean and contemptible in the sight of men, abhorred and accursed in the sight of God, by taking the flesh of the sacrifices of the people, which did not belong to them, who came to sacrifice, and by debauching the women that came to the door of the tabernacle for religious service. It is said this clause was originally written, “because his sons made light of me”; or cursed the Lord, and is one of the eighteen places called the correction of the Scribes, who corrected it as we have it; and it may be observed, the Septuagint version is, “because his sons spake ill of God”; or cursed him; however, this they did, they preferred their lusts, and the indulging of them, to the honour and glory of God: this Eli knew, and he restrained them not ; from their evil practices; he did not make use of his authority, neither as a father, and especially not as high priest, and the judge of Israel, who ought not only to have sharply reproved them, which he did not, but to have censured or punished them, and turned them out of their office: “or did not frown upon them” f72 , as in the margin of our Bibles; he did not knit his brows, or wrinkle up his face, and by his countenance show his displeasure at their proceedings, but in an easy, smooth, gentle manner, expostulated with them about them.
Ver. 14 . And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli , etc.] Either had done this before, which was signified to him by the man of God, or did swear now for the confirmation of his threatenings, and to assure the certain performance of them: that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever : not even typically, which was all that legal sacrifice could do; and not so that the priesthood should ever return to the family again, as the office of high priesthood never did; or, as Abarbinel interprets it, because of sacrifice and offering, that the iniquity Eli’s sons were guilty of in taking the flesh of the sacrifices and offerings, which did not belong to them, and before the Lord had his part, should never be expiated.
Ver. 15 . And Samuel lay until the morning , etc.] It is not said he slept; it can hardly be thought he should, when it is considered what a new, strange, and uncommon thing had befallen him; what honour had been conferred on him a child, that the Lord should vouchsafe to speak and communicate his mind to him, and what dreadful things were said of Eli’s family; all which must greatly affect his mind, and keep him waking: however, he lay musing thereon until morning, and then arose, and opened the doors of the house of the Lord ; as he had used to do, and which was the business of the Levites; though he had been so highly honoured, he was not elated with it, nor thought himself above so low and mean an employment in the house of God; nor did he run to Eli or others, boasting of what he had met with that night, but modestly and carefully attended to what was his common and constant employment every morning: and Samuel feared to show Eli the vision ; the vision of prophecy, as the Targum; what God had foretold should befall him and his family, lest he should be grieved on more accounts than one; partly because he, an old man, an high priest, and judge of Israel, was overlooked and neglected, and the prophecy was delivered to a child, and not to him; and partly because of the sad things that should come upon his family.
Ver. 16 . Then Eli called Samuel , etc.] Perceiving he was risen by the opening of the doors of the tabernacle, which he might hear; and observing he did not come to him as usual, to know whether he wanted anything, and being impatient to hear what was said to him of the Lord: and he said, Samuel, my son ; called him by his name, and in a very tender and affectionate manner, the more to engage him to hasten to him, and thereby also putting him in mind of his filial duty to obey him: and he answered, here am I ; ready to attend and perform any service enjoined him.
Ver. 17 . And he said, what is the thing that the [Lord] hath said unto thee ? etc.] The word “Lord” is not in the text, but it is “that it hath said”; the voice that had so often called him in the night, and which yet Eli knew was the voice of the Lord; and as it was, he was sensible there was something of importance said, and he had great reason to believe it respected him and his family; and the rather he might conclude this, by what the man of God had lately said to him, whose words perhaps he had too much slighted, questioning his authority; and therefore the Lord took this way and method to assure him that what was said came from him; for hereby Eli was fully convinced that this voice Samuel heard was of the Lord, and so what was said must be from him, and this he was impatient to know: I pray thee, hide it not from me ; and he not only beseeched and entreated him, but adjured him, as in the next clause: God do so to thee, and more also, if thou hide anything from me of all the things that said unto thee ; it is the form of an oath or curse, wishing that God would do some great evil to him, and more than he chose to express, if he concealed anything from him that had been told him. So Kimchi and Abarbinel take it to be an oath; and Josephus, and Procopius Gazaeus on the place say, that Eli obliged Samuel by oaths and curses to declare what had been said to him.
Ver. 18 . And Samuel told him every whit, and hid nothing from him , etc.] And so approved himself to be a faithful prophet of God, and man of God, as he is afterwards called; the whole counsel of God is to be declared by his servants the prophets, and the ministers of his word; nothing is to be concealed, which it is the will of God should be made known, whether it be pleasing or displeasing to man: and he said, it is the Lord ; that has said it, and there is nothing to be said against it, and that will do it; and there is no resisting him: or “the Lord is he” f74 ; who has a sovereign right to all his creatures, and may dispose of them as he pleases; he is all wise, and does all things well; he is holy and righteous in all his ways and works, and there is no unrighteousness in him; he is faithful to his word, whether in a way of promise or threatening; and all he does to his people is in love, mercy, and kindness: let him do what seemeth him good ; not what seems good to men, or is so in their esteem, but what seems good to the Lord, who knows what is best for his people, and can do nothing but what is good; all is good he does; there is nothing but goodness in him, and nothing but goodness comes from him; he does good, and nothing else, and even when he afflicts his people; all he does is well done in creation, providence, and grace: and Eli’s desire is, that he would fulfil the good pleasure of his will; he appears to be in an excellent temper, not surly and morose, taking it ill that such a message should be sent him by a child; nor was he unaffected with the case of his family, but humbly submitted to the will of God, and acquiesces in it as good, and neither arraigns his justice, nor murmurs at his providences.
Ver. 19 . And Samuel grew , etc.] Not only in years and stature, but in grace and goodness, in wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, both with respect to things natural and spiritual, and in esteem, credit, and reputation among men: and the Lord was with him ; he was not only in favour with men, but with God; and had fresh and repeated tokens of the grace and good will of God towards him; he indulged him with his presence, and assisted him in his service, and prospered and succeeded him in all things in which he was engaged. The Targum is, “the Word of the Lord was his help;” the essential Word of God, the Messiah: and did let none of his words fall to the ground f75 ; in allusion either to water that falls to the ground, and becomes useless, or to an arrow falling out of the bow, and to the ground, before it reaches the mark, and so unsuccessful f76 ; or to any weapon of war, sword or spear, falling out of the hand of the soldier, whereby he is disarmed and rendered unserviceable: and these words, according to Kimchi, and in which he is followed by Abarbinel, are to be understood, not only of the words which he spake by the Holy Ghost under a spirit of prophecy, and had their exact accomplishment; but his common words, which were spoken by weight and measure, as the last expresses it, and which were delivered out according to the rules of justice, probity, and truth; and so he failed not of performing that which he had said, or of doing what was right, whereby Israel knew he was fit, prepared, and designed to be a prophet of the Lord, as in the following verse; but it seems rather to have respect to the things predicted by him under a spirit of prophecy concerning Eli and his house, which soon began to be fulfilled.
Ver. 20 . And all Israel, from Dan even unto Beersheba , etc.] That is, from the most northern border of the land of Israel, on which Dan lay, to the utmost border of it southward, where Beersheba was, the fame of Samuel for his piety, prudence, and prophecy, was spread abroad; so that all knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord ; or that he was faithful to God and man, to be credited in what he said; and so a fit man to be a prophet of the Lord, being eminently qualified with gifts by him for that office; the Targum is, “that Samuel was faithful in the words of the prophecy of the Lord,” in relating them.
Ver. 21 . And the Lord appeared again in Shiloh , etc.] In the tabernacle there; he had appeared before to Samuel, when he called him, and declared to him what he designed and resolved to do to Eli and his family, and now appeared again to him in the same place before the battle of the Israelites with the Philistines, of which there is an account in the following chapter.
Such appearances had not been usual in Shiloh for a long time, but were now renewed and repeated: for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel by the Word of the Lord ; by Christ, the Word of the Lord, who appeared to him, it is probable, in an human form, as he was wont to do to the patriarchs and prophets, and by whom the Lord revealed his mind and will unto them, being the Angel of his presence, and the messenger of his covenant; or by giving him a word of command to be delivered by him to the children of Israel, and which is expressed and delivered, in the next chapter.