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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
1 Samuel 3

 

 


Introduction

THE CALL OF SAMUEL TO THE PROPHETIC OFFICE

"Samuel was called by the providence of God to be the founder of prophecy as an established institution,"[1] and subsequently during the period of the monarchy the prophet of God, side by side with the king of Israel, was responsible for the religious, moral, and ethical guidance of the Chosen People.

The only critical complaints against this chapter question its unity and what some have called the "reworking" of the prophecy regarding Eli's priesthood in the preceding chapter. Regarding the unity of this chapter, H. P. Smith declared that, "The chapter seems to be a unit,"[2] admitting that objections to its unity are "not well founded."[3]

The other objection regarding the alleged "two accounts" of the prophecy regarding Eli is also of no significance. G. B. Caird admitted that if 1 Samuel 3:12 refers to 1 Samuel 2:27-36 (to which it most certainly does refer) then "Both passages would be vindicated against the charge of lateness."[4] Of course, he denied that any such thing should be admitted, declaring that, "Here Eli is warned of a disaster immediately impending ... and in the other passage (1 Samuel 2:27ff) he is warned of a disaster spread over centuries."[5]

The extreme weakness of such a comment lies in the fact that nothing whatever is said of "centuries" in the first prophecy, and nothing whatever is said in the prophecy here that could be construed as a denial that the prophecy was any different from the previous one. It is specifically stated that the punishment would last "forever," and also, the sign given to Eli that both his evil sons would die by the sword on the same day (in the first prophecy) indicates the same immediacy and impending nature of God's punishment that exists in the prophecy here. There is absolutely no discrepancy whatever in these two prophecies. Thus, 1 Samuel 3:12, as a reference to the previous one, is an established fact.


Verse 1

"Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision."

"The boy Samuel." "The term `boy' as used here is applied to an infant (1 Samuel 4:21) or to a man forty years old (2 Chronicles 13:7)."[6] Samuel was probably about twelve years of age at the time of this episode, as was stated by Josephus.[7] That was traditionally among the Jews the age at which bar-mitsvah services were held for boys entering their thirteenth year, indicating that the boy, like all Jewish males, was a "son of the law," that he was personally responsible for his behavior, and that morally and ethically he was considered an adult. That service is still conducted for Jewish boys. And in it, the lad carries a copy of the Torah as he marches around the synagogue, followed by distinguished members of the Jewish priestly community. Many believe that it was upon just such an occasion that Jesus Christ at that age was unintentionally left by his parents in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-51).

"And the word of the Lord was rare in those days." The Hebrew text here reads "precious" instead of "rare." "The word of the Lord was precious is the correct translation, and it is not clear why the RSV should have altered it."[8] This is another instance in which the KJV is superior to the RSV. This is an example of translators substituting what they CONCEIVE to be the meaning for what the sacred text says. It is a fact, of course, that the word of the Lord was indeed rare at that time, but this truth is actually a deduction. The word of the Lord was precious because it was rare!

The point made here is important. Up until this time in Israel a prophet had not always been available to instruct the people in matters divine. "The prophecy of Hannah, and that of the man of God (1 Samuel 2:27ff, above), are the only instances of prophecy since Deborah."[9] Samuel is mentioned in Acts 3:24 as the first of the prophets after Moses. The importance of this lies in the fact that God's promise to raise up a prophet like unto Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15) should not be understood as a promise to raise up "a continual line or succession of prophets," as some have vainly supposed, but it is a direct and specific prophecy of the Messiah.

"This verse is both an introduction to the narrative that follows and a statement of Israel's sorry plight. We are probably to assume that the faults of Eli's family had occasioned the rarity of the divine voice."[10]


Verses 2-9

THE LORD APPEARS TO SAMUEL

"At that time Eli whose eyesight had begun to grow dim, so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down within the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, "Samuel! Samuel!" and he said, "Here I am!" and he ran to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he said, "I did not call; lie down again." So he went and lay down. And the Lord called again, "Samuel!" And Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he said, "I did not call, my son; lie down again." Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant hears." So Samuel went and lay down in his place."

"Eli was lying down in his own place ... Samuel lay down in his place" (1 Samuel 3:2,9). The phrase within the temple of the Lord (1 Samuel 3:3) does not mean within the Holy of Holies but is a reference to the entire temple area at Shiloh. Sleeping quarters for Eli and Samuel were in some unspecified area and quite near each other.

"Where the ark of God was" (1 Samuel 3:3). This clause modifies "temple of the Lord" and NOT the place where Eli and Samuel were sleeping. This phrase identifies the location of this episode as Shiloh. The KJV is superior to the RSV in this passage, because the RSV arranges the clauses in such a manner as to suggest that Samuel was sleeping in the Holy of Holies, which was definitely not true.

The opinions of scholars such as W. H. Bennett who thought that Samuel slept in the Holy of Holies in order to protect the ark of the covenant[11] and G. B. Caird who wrote that, "Samuel slept in the chamber where the ark was kept,"[12] should be rejected, because only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies and not even he could enter it except on the Day of Atonement once a year. Opinions such as these just cited are grossly in error due to commentators' acceptance of the fairy tale about a LATE DATE for the Pentateuch!

"The lamp of God had not yet gone out." The purpose of this clause is to fix the time of day, which was very early in the morning before the light of the seven golden candlesticks (lampstands) had gone out. Some deny that this was the candlestick, pointing out that it was to "burn always" (Exodus 27:20), but there are two excellent reasons, either one of which, nullifies such an objection: (1) In the first place, "The instructions for the seven-branched candlestick to "burn always" apparently meant it would be perpetually relighted."[13] (2) The second reason is that the reprobate sons of Eli who were in charge of things would have done it "their way" instead of the way God commanded it, if such had pleased them.

Dummelow agreed that the lamp here was the "seven-branched candlestick,"[14] and Keil also so identified it, adding the explanation that, "The seven lamps of the candlestick were put up and lighted every evening and burned through the night until all the oil was consumed."[15] Young, writing in the Wycliffe Bible Commentary, also supported this explanation, basing it upon the text in Leviticus 24:2,3.[16] This mention of the lamp of God therefore fixes the time of day as early in the morning just before the light went out of the seven-branched candlestick (lampstand).

"Samuel, Samuel!" (1 Samuel 3:4). "There are only three other double vocatives in the O.T. (Genesis 22:11; 46:2; and Exodus 3:4)."[17]

It is important to note that Eli and Samuel were sleeping quite near each other, because Samuel was apparently accustomed to being called by Eli during the night time. This absolutely forbids the false notion that Samuel was in the Holy of Holies.

"Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord" (1 Samuel 3:7). This means that Samuel was not yet acquainted with the manner in which the Lord communicated with mortals. On account of this, he supposed that Eli was calling him to perform some kind of service.

Eli, on the third time of Samuel's responding, finally caught on to the fact that it was the LORD who was calling Samuel, whereupon he instructed Samuel exactly what to do.


Verses 10-14

THE LORD SPEAKS TO SAMUEL

"And the Lord came and stood forth, calling as at other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel said, "Speak, for thy servant hears." Then the Lord said to Samuel, "Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel, at which the two ears of every one that hears it will tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. And I tell him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever."

This is the full equivalent of the prophecy recorded in 1 Samuel 2:27ff. As D. F. Payne stated it, "1 Samuel 3:10-14 rehearses, but in different words, the prophecy received by Eli in 1 Samuel 2:27-36."[18]

This passage reveals an appearance of the Lord to Samuel in an objective sense. This was NOT a dream, because, "Samuel rises and runs to Eli after each of the first three calls."[19] The appearance of the Lord here, was something more than a voice; "There was an objective presence; because in 1 Samuel 3:15 it is called not [~chazown] (a sight seen when in a state of ecstasy), but [~mar'ah] (something seen when wide awake, and in full, calm possession of every faculty)."[20] The mention of "vision" (1 Samuel 3:15) does not nullify this.

This appearance of the Lord to Samuel had nothing whatever to do with Samuel's sleeping where the ark of the covenant was kept in the Holy of Holies, for it is NOT true that Samuel slept there. God was, in no sense restricted to the ark of the covenant as a place where he would speak to men. Like other great Christophanies of the O.T., the location of the person visited by the Lord had nothing to do with it. Furthermore, the fact of any particular name of God being used in this passage is likewise of no significance whatever. Literally, dozens of names of God appear in the O.T., and they are often used interchangeably, sometimes as many as five different names of God being used in a single passage (Genesis 49:23). It would appear from this that the appearance of the Lord here was similar to that of his appearance to Joshua (Joshua 5:13-15).

"And I tell him" (1 Samuel 3:13). As Willis pointed out, "The best translation here is that of the King James Version, `I (have) told him.'"[21] The same scholar also wrote that it is "most likely" that, "Yahweh is referring back to his previous announcement to Eli through the `man of God' (1 Samuel 2:31-32,36)."[22] The purpose of this, apparently, was to inform Samuel that Eli already knew about the punishment that God would bring upon him.

"The two ears of everyone that hears it will tingle" (1 Samuel 3:11). "`Ears ... will tingle.' This expression occurs two other times in 2 Kings 21:12 and in Jeremiah 9:3, in which passages the reference is to the destruction of Jerusalem."[23]

"The iniquity of Eli's house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever" (1 Samuel 3:14). This seems to imply that Hophni and Phinehas, Eli's evil sons, fully expected that their sins could be removed by offerings and sacrifices. However, no external act of worship is of any value unless it reflects a condition of repentance and sincerity on the part of the worshipper. The arrogant, deliberate, and unrepentant attitude of Eli's sons meant that their punishment could not be averted.


Verses 15-18

SAMUEL REVEALS THE BAD NEWS TO ELI

"Samuel lay until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. And Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, `Samuel, my son.' And he said, `Here I am.' And Eli said, `What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you." So Samuel told him everything, and hid nothing from him. And he said, `It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.'"

In this passage, we learn that Samuel passed the severest test that any proclaimer of God's Word must confront, that is, the necessity to convey unwelcome words of the Lord to those who need to hear them, and the task is especially difficult if the words must be spoken to those whom we love, respect and honor, as was the case in this instance with Samuel.

"He opened the doors of the house of the Lord" (1 Samuel 3:15). The mention of doors here is not, "Another evidence that the House of Yahweh was not a tent."[24] It only means that, "Solid buildings had been constructed around the tabernacle for purposes of defense."[25] The fact of Samuel's opening these doors gives us a glimpse of the nature of services the young man was providing.

"God do so to you and more" (1 Samuel 3:17). "This type of imprecation is found in the Books of Samuel, Kings and Ruth, but nowhere else in the Bible."[26] It is of interest that almost the exact words of this oath are found in the threat of Jezebel against Elijah (1 Kings 19:2). How strange it is that Jezebel and Eli should both have been familiar with this type of threat.

Regarding the guilt of Eli, it was very extensive, despite the fact that his evil sons took the lead in their offensive and immoral conduct. The indulgent Eli allowed all of the abuses and even profited by them, but did absolutely nothing to correct them.


Verses 19-21

THE ESTABLISHMENT OF SAMUEL AS GOD'S PROPHET

"And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord. And the Lord again appeared at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord."

"The Lord ... let none of his words fall to the ground" (1 Samuel 3:19). The undeniable proof of the validity of God's inspiration of his prophets lay in the fact that what they prophesied came to pass, exactly as foretold. The reality of the countless "predictive prophecies" of the O.T. is the mountain truth which all the unbelievers of the ages have never been able to remove.

"All Israel from Dan to Beersheba" (1 Samuel 3:20). These places were the northern and southern extremities of Israel and their usage to indicate the whole country of Israel was equivalent to what an American might mean if he said, "from Lubec to San Francisco." "Dan is the modern Tel el-Qadi, located on the southern slope of Mount Hermon."[27] See our comment on Judges 18:27-29 for the manner in which the tribe of Dan came to possess this place. "Beersheba is the modern Tel es-Saba, located about four miles east of the modern town of Beersheba."[28] Except for the extent of Israel's territory in the times of Solomon and of Jeroboam, these two places identified the northern and southern extremities of the territory that was controlled by Israel.

"All Israel knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord" (1 Samuel 3:20). This is a statement of what eventually came to pass and does not mean that this widespread recognition of Samuel as a prophet of the Lord was an instantaneous result. In this book, somewhat later, Saul was apparently ignorant of the fact that Samuel was a prophet of the Lord (1 Samuel 9:5,6).

"The Lord appeared again at Shiloh" (1 Samuel 3:21). The Septuagint (LXX) is different here, and, apparently influenced by the LXX, G. B. Caird rendered this place: "And Israel again appeared in Shiloh, because Yahweh revealed himself to Samuel."[29] However, Keil warned that, "The Septuagint (LXX) in this passage in a critical aspect is utterly worthless."[30] Here again we have an example of translators who write what they believe to be true, or the way it happened, and then substitute their opinions for what the Sacred Text says. It is true that in many instances the changes do not contain error, as such, but are nevertheless a departure from what the Lord has said, and we hold such departures to be totally untrustworthy.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 3:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/1-samuel-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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