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C. God’s First Revelation to Samuel 3:1-4:1a
This chapter records how God’s blessing of and through Samuel continued and grew as a result of his faithful commitment to God. This is a revelation of another call to ministry that God extended to His servants the prophets (cf. Exodus 3; Isaiah 6; Jeremiah 1; Ezekiel 1; et al.). [Note: See John E. Johnson, "The Old Testament Offices as Paradigm for Pastoral Identity," Bibliotheca Sacra 152:606 (April-June 1995):182-200.] It is also another instance in which God revealed Himself to someone audibly in a dream. [Note: See Robert K. Gnuse, The Dream Theophany of Samuel: Its Structure in Relation to Ancient Near Eastern Dreams and Its Theological Significance.]
1. Samuel’s call 3:1-18
The Hebrew word used to describe Samuel in 1 Samuel 3:1 (naar) elsewhere refers to a young teenager (cf. 1 Samuel 17:33). Consequently we should probably think of Samuel as a boy in his early teens as we read this section. Josephus wrote that Samuel was 12 years old. [Note: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 5:10:4.] At this time in Israel’s history (i.e., the late Judges Period), special revelations from God were rare. These normally came to prophets in visions or dreams (cf. Numbers 12:6; 1 Samuel 28:6). Samuel, who saw clearly, both physically and spiritually, contrasts with Eli, who could not see well either way (1 Samuel 3:2, cf. 1 Samuel 3:5-6; 1 Samuel 4:15).
The lamp of God (1 Samuel 3:3) is an expression that refers to the lamps on the sanctuary lampstand that continued to give light through the night (cf. Exodus 27:20-21; Exodus 30:8; Leviticus 24:2-4; 2 Chronicles 13:11). Samuel was probably sleeping in the courtyard of the sanctuary. [Note: See Leon J. Wood, The Prophets of Israel, p. 157, n. 9.] Eli evidently slept nearby (1 Samuel 3:5). Samuel’s self-discipline in getting up three times in response to what he thought was Eli’s call was commendable. His selfless, willing obedience qualified him to receive the ministry that God entrusted to him (cf. Genesis 22:1; Genesis 22:11; Exodus 3:4; Isaiah 6:8; 1 Timothy 1:12).
1 Samuel 3:7 does not necessarily mean that Samuel did not then know the Lord at all personally, that he was an unbeliever. One writer took terms such as "knew the Lord" and "did not know the Lord" as evidence of salvation or lack of it (cf. Jeremiah 31:34; John 17:3). [Note: Zane C. Hodges, "The Salvation of Samuel," Grace Evangelical Society News 9:3 (May-June 1994):1, 3-4.] However this may be reading too much into the text. Rather, it means that the boy had not yet come to know Yahweh as he was about to know Him, having heard His voice speaking directly to him. Even though Samuel knew God and His will, God had not previously communicated with him directly. Finally, God not only called to Samuel but also stood by him (1 Samuel 3:10, cf. Genesis 18:22) suggesting the possibility that Samuel could see Him (i.e., a theophany). The Lord’s repetition of Samuel’s name added a note of urgency (cf. Genesis 22:11; Exodus 3:4; Acts 9:4).
In 1 Samuel 3:11-14, God restated for Samuel what the prophet had told Eli concerning the fate of Eli’s house in the near and far future (1 Samuel 2:27-36). The reference to people’s ears tingling occurs only here at the beginning of the monarchy and at its end in the Old Testament (2 Kings 21:12; Jeremiah 19:3). Under the Mosaic Law the penalty for showing contempt for the priesthood, for disobeying parents, and for blasphemy, was death (Deuteronomy 17:12; Deuteronomy 21:18-21; Leviticus 24:11-16; Leviticus 24:23). This was what Hophni and Phinehas would experience (cf. 1 Samuel 4:11). The cutting off of Eli’s line happened about 130 years later (cf. 1 Kings 2:27; 1 Kings 2:35).
The writer may have intended to mark the beginning of Samuel’s ministry with his statement that the lad opened the doors (i.e., the curtained openings into the courtyard) of the Lord’s house (1 Samuel 3:15; cf. 1 Samuel 1:28 b). [Note: See J. Gerald Janzen, "’Samuel Opened the Doors of the House of Yahweh’ (1 Samuel 3:15)," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 26 (June 1983):89-96.] Evidently the curtained openings were closed at night.
Eli realized that God’s words to Samuel would have been very significant. He therefore insisted that the lad tell him what God had said. Samuel faithfully reported to Eli all that God had revealed to him (1 Samuel 3:18). He was a faithful prophet from the start. This was the second time Eli had received a prophecy of his family’s future (cf. 1 Samuel 2:27-36). Thus he knew that the prediction would surely come to pass (cf. Genesis 41:32). He accepted God’s will submissively (1 Samuel 3:18).
2. Samuel’s ministry 3:19-4:1a
These verses summarize Samuel’s continuing ministry as a prophet (Heb. nabbi’) in Israel. Though the Hebrew word nabbi’ describes Samuel only here (1 Samuel 3:20) and in 2 Chronicles 35:18, the Hebrew word ro’eh ("seer") describes the same office and refers to Samuel in 1 Samuel 9:11; 1 Samuel 9:18-19; 1 Chronicles 9:22; 1 Chronicles 26:28; and 1 Chronicles 29:29. When the word "prophet" appears it usually emphasizes the proclamation aspect of the individual’s ministry, and when "seer" occurs the emphasis is usually on his or her ability to perceive messages from the Lord.
Samuel qualified for this privilege by his faithful obedience to God’s will, as he knew it. God sovereignly chose Samuel for this ministry, but his disobedience could have disqualified him, as the disobedience of Eli and his sons disqualified them and as King Saul’s disobedience disqualified him.
The phrase "let none of his words fail [lit. fall to the ground]" is a metaphor taken from archery (cf. Joshua 21:45; Joshua 23:14; 1 Kings 8:56). The arrow that falls to the ground fails to reach its target. In contrast, all of Samuel’s words hit their mark. They were effective because God found him to be a reliable "bow" that delivered His words. [Note: For further study of this verse, see W. T. Claassen, "1 Samuel 3:19 - A Case of Context and Semantics," Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages 8 (1980):1-9.]
The phrase "from Dan to Beersheba" became proverbial during the united monarchy and described all the land of Israel (cf. Judges 20:1; 2 Samuel 3:10; 2 Samuel 17:11; 2 Samuel 24:2; 2 Samuel 24:15; 1 Kings 4:25). Dan stood on the northern border about 150 miles from Israel’s southernmost major town, Beersheba.
The Lord’s word (1 Samuel 3:21) is what Samuel communicated to the people as His prophet. He did this so consistently that Samuel’s word amounted to the Lord’s word (1 Samuel 4:1 a; cf. Jeremiah 1:2; Jeremiah 1:4; Jeremiah 1:11; Jeremiah 1:13; Hosea 1:1; Micah 1:1).
Moses called Abraham (Genesis 20:7), Aaron (Exodus 7:1), and himself (Deuteronomy 34:10) prophets. Samuel became a prophet in a new sense. He was the first of those "servants of the Lord" who became primarily, not secondarily, as the former prophets had become, God’s mouthpieces. Samuel also established a company or school of prophets that he trained to serve God in this capacity. He did not, of course, train these men to get revelations from God. God gave new revelations sovereignly. He probably did, however, train his students in the general functions of the prophets that included studying God’s Word, communicating it effectively, and leading God’s people in worship. Schools of the prophets continued through the tenth century B.C. (cf. 2 Kings 2:3). After that time we have no record of their existence. Individual prophets ministered throughout the history of Israel, though some generations saw none, others some, and others more prophets. The great writing prophets who have given us the prophetic books of the Old Testament began their ministry in the ninth century. Moses and the other writers of the historical books of the Old Testament were also prophets. There were no prophets who gave new revelation from God in Israel between Malachi and our Lord’s days, a period of about 400 years.
"It seems plausible . . . to attribute to Samuel the development of the prophetic movement in a formal sense. Certainly it was always God who raised up the true prophet, but the structure itself had its inception with Samuel and was developed further by Elijah." [Note: Heater, pp. 129-30. Cf. Acts 3:24.]
The literary structure of chapter 3 focuses on the Lord’s sentence of destruction on Eli’s house. This was very significant for the whole nation of Israel.
"A. Absence of divine oracles (1 Samuel 3:1)
B. Eli’s fading powers (1 Samuel 3:2)
C. Three divine calls to Samuel (1 Samuel 3:3-9)
D. A divine oracle to Samuel (1 Samuel 3:10-15)
C’. Eli’s request for Samuel’s report (1 Samuel 3:16-18)
B’. Samuel’s growing stature (1 Samuel 3:19 a)
A’. Return of divine oracles (1 Samuel 3:19 to 1 Samuel 4:1 a)" [Note: Youngblood, p. 592.]
Another writer believed that the chiastic structure of chapter 3 focuses emphasis on Yahweh.
"A1 Samuel’s career in the shadow of Eli (1 Samuel 3:1)
B1 Eli and Samuel in darkness (1 Samuel 3:2-3)
C1 Yahweh breaks through (1 Samuel 3:4-10)
C2 . . . and speaks (1 Samuel 3:11-14)
B2 Samuel and Eli in light (1 Samuel 3:15-18)
A2 Samuel’s career as a prophet (1 Samuel 3:19-21)" [Note: Donald Wiebe, "The Structure of 1 Samuel 3 : Another View," Biblische Zeitschrift 30:12 (1986):256.]
This chapter also shows that God rewards faithful obedience to His word with further ministry opportunities (cf. 1 Timothy 1:12). Samuel became the source of God’s revelations to Israel. He continued to receive revelations from God and to represent God on earth because he remained faithful. He became the most powerful man in Israel-even anointing the nation’s first two kings. Like Moses, Samuel became an excellent leader of the Israelites (cf. Jeremiah 15:1). He functioned as judge, priest, and prophet. Yet he glorified the kings he appointed, who were the Lord’s anointed, above himself. In many respects he foreshadowed the Lord Jesus Christ.
Chapters 1 through 3 prepare us for the rest of 1 and 2 Samuel historically and theologically. They teach us that God responds to the faith of people, even insignificant people. A barren and therefore despised woman became the mother of Israel’s most powerful man because she trusted and obeyed God. This was a complete reversal of what one would naturally expect. These chapters also show that God blesses with fertility those who commit to His revealed will contained in His Law, but He cuts off those who do not.
"The birth of Samuel was God’s means of dealing with His chosen people. The rest of the narrative deals with a similar theme. The righteous ones who are chosen by God will prosper while the ones who are chosen by the people and oppose God’s rule will be cut off. This is true even if those who oppose God’s rule (i.e., Eli and his sons) are a part of the covenant community." [Note: John A. Martin, "Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel," Bibliotheca Sacra 141:561 (January-March 1984):32.]
There are four conflicts and reversals of fortune in these chapters: Peninnah and Hannah (ch. 1), the arrogant and the innocent (1 Samuel 2:1-10), Eli’s sons and Samuel (1 Samuel 2:11-36), and Eli’s line of priests and Samuel’s line of prophets (1 Samuel 3:1 to 1 Samuel 4:1 a). God decides who will prosper and who will perish. The basis of His judgment is His faithfulness to what He has said He will do when people respond to His will (Deuteronomy 28).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 3". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19