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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

1 Samuel 3

Verses 1-21

The Word of the Lord

1 Samuel 3:1

Is there not a message for us from this story of Samuel listening to the word of God? Is the word of God, the revelation which He gives to men, precious in these days? There is, as there was in those days, no open vision, but we have the written word of God. It carries our minds on does it not? not only to the revelation which God gave of the word of the Lord in the Old Testament, but to that greater Word of the Lord Who was with the Father from all eternity, God the Son, the second person in the Blessed Trinity, the Word of God Who was God. That revelation is given to you and to me, it is spoken to us in these later days the revelation of Jesus Christ. God speaks to us in various ways by the circumstances of our lives, through our consciences, through Holy Scripture; and we know not God, we do not recognize His voice, and so we do not hear the message which He has for each soul. Let us consider how that message comes to each one.

I. God's Voice in the Circumstances of Our Lives. First of all in the circumstances of our lives, as it was in the circumstances of the life of Samuel. We were placed in the same position near to God when we were brought to Him in our baptism. The circumstances of our lives are very much those of Samuel, hedged around, guarded from evil, from temptation, being taught from earliest infancy the will of God, even as he was. We can see all through our lives that God is continually near us, speaking to us, calling to us in the circumstances of those lives. What does He require us to do? If He sends us temptation, He calls us to face that temptation. If He saves us from temptation, He calls us to higher things still that we may advance in holiness. Each one of us can look into our lives and see how God speaks to us in the circumstances of those lives.

II. God's Voice in Conscience. Then further, God speaks in our conscience if we do not pay attention to that voice as it speaks to us, if we do not listen for it, then that voice will grow dimmer and dimmer. If we do not act on what that voice tells us, we shall not hear any voice at all in the end. A hardened sinner or a confirmed criminal will commit a sin which you and I would call a deadly and awful sin. Why? His conscience is dead, he cannot hear through it the voice of the Holy Spirit. Let us take care that as the word of the Lord comes to us through the voice of conscience, that we listen to that voice and act upon it.

III. God's Voice in the Bible. Then there is taking the more literal meaning of the word of the Lord God's voice speaking to us through the Bible. As we listen to the lessons in church, as we read our chapter day by day, does it bring to us a message from God? Or do we hear or read the words just as a story, interesting, nothing more.

As we listen for the voice of God, either through the circumstances of our life, or our conscience, or the Bible, let us be ready with Samuel to say, 'Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth'. Speak, Lord, into our innermost being, not only to our outward ears but to our very soul. Speak, Lord, that we may hear, and do Thy will, that we may go on assured that what we do is done under Thy guidance, that we are trying to carry out Thy will, and are in the end bound to come to that everlasting home which Thou, even now, art preparing for us in the heaven above.

The Divine Call

1 Samuel 3:1-10

Nothing is more certain in matter of fact, than that some men do feel themselves called to high duties and works to which others are not called. Why this is we do not know; whether it be that those who are not called forfeit the call from having failed in former trials, or have been called and have not followed; or that though God gives baptismal grace to all, yet He really does call some men by His free grace to higher things than others; but so it is; this man sees sights which that man does not see, has a larger faith, a more ardent love, and a more spiritual understanding.... The more men aim at high things, the more sensitive perception they have of their own shortcomings; and this again is adapted to humble them specially. We need not fear spiritual pride, then, on following Christ's call, if we follow it as men in earnest. Earnestness has no time to compare itself with the state of other men; earnestness has too vivid a feeling of its own infirmities to be elated at itself.

J. H. Newman.

1 Samuel 3:10

One of the most delightful and fascinating personalities of the Old Testament is the child Samuel. The charm, among other things, consists in this: we find in him what we long to see in all our boys and what is beautiful when we do see it. What is that? Why, this: there is nothing so gracious or so graceful in all creation as real religion in a young boy's heart. The fresh, simple, unaffected goodness of a pure-minded boy who fears God and loves his mother is charming and delightful.

I. The Personality and Circumstances of Samuel. He had many advantages which are not given to every boy.

( a ) He was blessed in his start in life. He was blessed with good parents, the greatest blessing that a boy or a girl can possibly have. Unfortunately you cannot arrange this before you come into the world, but God arranges it for you, so the greater is the gift if when you come you find that you are the child of godly people.

( b ) He was associated with religious people and religions work. That is the greatest possible point. Get your boys interested in the attractiveness of religious worship and work as soon as you possibly can. Throw them as soon as it is possible into a happy, busy, religious atmosphere. You knew how to do that most effectively. Throw yourselves into it and they will follow, for your boys are like sheep without their stupidity. They have a great capacity for following where you lead. Throw yourselves into it, be keenly and deeply and increasingly interested in the work of God and in the work of the parish church to which you belong. Samuel's people were, and the consequence was that the little fellow when he grew up was as much at home in the Church of God as in his own sitting-room with his parents.

II. But He Knew Not the Lord. He worshipped, he prayed, he heard the Word of God such as there was in those days, he loved the service of the Tabernacle, he mixed with the people of God, but as yet anything like conscious spiritual communion with the living God was a thing altogether unknown to him. There may be great religious privilege and much religious instruction, but no real personal saving knowledge of Christ. There may be in a boy or a girl, or a man or a woman, a sweet and pure and holy goodness, but he may not yet consciously know the Lord Jesus Christ. Do not be disheartened if you feel that is your case, that you are loving the service of God and enjoying it and looking forward to it and delighting in God's work, and yet somehow you are conscious that you have not spiritual fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. I say, do not be disheartened. Samuel did not yet know the Lord, but the Lord knew him. That was better; and He knows you. And as in Samuel's case, so in yours, there will one day be an awakening to what was there all the time, but you did not know it. Your eyes will be opened perhaps in a moment, perhaps only by degrees, to a conscious spiritual fellowship with the living God.

III. The Divine Call. When the Lord called him he did not recognize His voice. How like he was to ourselves who are older and better taught! We do not always recognize God's voice when we hear it. He speaks, but there is none to answer. Some go farther than this, and will not recognize it. We refuse to, we do not want to. God calls us by His Word, as perhaps He is calling some now; God calls us by His providence, and we say, 'How strange that it should happen so, what a remarkable occurrence, what a remarkable coincidence!' It was not an occurrence or a coincidence, it was God breaking the silence of your life. So often there is One standing among us Whom we know not. Samuel did not recognize God's voice when he did hear it. It was so human. God talks so humanly, so intelligently, so sympathetically, just as we can bear it, almost in our own language, so that we think it is our own. Sometimes something occurs in our life which forces us to stop and take steps either for or against Christ. At first we thought it was a mere nothing, till it dawned upon us it is the Lord wanting to speak to our heart. Or God has thrown you into the company of somebody who has been a blessing to your life and completely altered it. It was the Lord. Or you have been in the habit of reading your daily portion of Holy Scripture, often only just running over the syllables and shutting the Book, till one day somehow all these syllables burst into beauty and life. It was there before, but you did not see it. All became clear, and we said, 'How strange, I never read it before'. It was not strange, it was the Lord speaking to us in His Word. Keep yours ears open from this time forth. Be listeners, be receivers, be where the Voice is likely to be sounding, be where the blessing is. I do not know what you will hear if you wait long enough. Samuel's entire course was probably determined by his immediate response to God's first call. Yours and mine may be. Neglect that call when it comes, and the Voice may never speak again. Respond to it, and the music of God will follow you to the end.

1 Samuel 3:10

This passage is quoted by Père Gratry in his Life of Henri Perreyve, who consecrated himself at the age of twelve to the service of Christ. Père Gratry points out that many teachers are disposed to turn children aside from early consecration, saying, as Eli said to Samuel: 'It is nothing, child; sleep on!' (' Enfant, ce n'est rien; dormez toujours !'), or as our version gives the words: 'I called not; lie down again'.

The Call of Samuel

1 Samuel 3:10

Is it not a great thought that God knows the name of every child? I have read that the shepherds of Helvellyn know the face of every sheep, and can recognize the lambs by their likeness to their mothers. 'Every shepherd kens his ain.' This is the confidence of every endeavourer. God knows his name, and has therefore some particular work for him to do. Whom God calls, God appoints to service.

In the spring, with the earliest green of the fields and the coming of the first flowers, larks fill the air with song, as though the freshness of life beneath must be accompanied by the freshness of praise above. And so should the dreams and joys and playtime of childhood have its song of piety, its morning hymns of praise to Jesus Christ. The mind's early flowering is all the surer for the heart's early praying and obedience.

Vision and Duty

1 Samuel 3:15

I. Our duties are in strange contrast to our missions. Yesterday Samuel was a child, and lived in a childish world. But his little world had grown during the night. It had widened out to embrace the eternal God. And in that vaster universe and under that exaltation of the soul that every widening of outlook brings, it was almost incongruous to be opening doors. So marked indeed is this contrast between task and vision that the sweet illusions which we never realize seem almost to be a ministry of God. When Abraham went out, not knowing whither he went, turning his back upon his father's country, what made him strong? It was the vision of Canaan that his God had promised him. When I see him fighting the kings there, and herding his flocks and haggling for a tomb, I feel what a gulf there was between his vision and the actual duties laid to his hand to do. Yet the little he did he never could have done but for the light that cheered him on.

II. Our visions must never keep us from our duties. I always honour Samuel as I read this verse. I find here something of that faithfulness, and something of that self-restraint that were to make Samuel a king of men. In the morning after the greatest moment in his life Samuel is at his post. Vision or no vision, voice or no voice, his duty must be done, and he will do it.

III. Vision and duty are true Christianity. The man who has only vision is a visionary. He builds his castle in the air, he dreams and dies. But the poor world goes staggering on in darkness, and the mere vision is powerless to save. The man who has only duties is a moralist. And if nineteen centuries have demonstrated anything it is the powerlessness of mere morality to save. But in between these two, embracing both, there stands the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ

G. H. Morrison, Flood Tide, p. 53.

The League of Christians

1 Samuel 3:21 ; 1 Samuel 4:1

The call of Samuel is inseparably connected with what Mrs. Browning called our 'childhood's faith'.

I. It is not too much to say that the book presents to us two distinct Samuels according to the authorities which the inspired writer happened to be following. One Samuel is the quiet, unobtrusive wiseacre of a small town, where he conducts the worship of Jehovah at a local shrine and dispenses advice all round the district, but is no leader of the nation, no statesman, no prophet of the Lord to an entire people; the other Samuel is at once ruler and judge and prophet so obviously moved by the Word of the Lord that he puts down one and sets up another, so splendid in his governance of Israel that they feared him as they feared Moses all the days of his long life and were saved in that they feared.

II. But the Lord did not reveal Himself to Samuel in Shiloh, and the word of Samuel did not come to all Israel, merely because his ministry was honest, incorruptible, self-denying; and the apostolic devotion of the modern episcopate will not by itself avail to command the doctrine of Christ our Saviour in all things, even when it is splendidly backed by the labours of the 'inferior clergy, the priest and deacons,' and responded to by a willing and obedient laity. For the call of Samuel was a summons to Eli to realize that a family connexion with the priesthood, and a more or less direct ecclesiastical descent are no magical preservatives against a terrible 'example of life' and an appalling 'instruction of manners'. The correlative of the call of Samuel and of the rejection of the House of Eli is the discovery that in other lines of descent and in other systems of ministry there is scope for the worship of God and for the pastorate of sinful souls, and it was Eli himself who perceived that the Lord had called the child.

III. It is impossible for us who name the Name of Christ to quench our desire that all who do so in our land may be joined together in unity of spirit and in the bond of peace as well as in righteousness of life. That is only another way of saying that we long for the day when the word of the Samuels of our Church may really come to all Israel, not merely to a few men and women in every hundred. True, we should think lightly of a Church and more lightly of leaders that were ready to purchase unity at the price of truth or at the peril of faith. But truth is not compromised and faith is not wrecked, and purity is not smirched if at this time our fathers in God make a courageous effort to see the historic episcopate in its historical aspect as a slow development into the system which God has put it into the heart of man to conceive for shepherding the sheep that are scattered abroad, not a ready-made ring fence enclosing the sheep and dividing the goats.

E. H. Pearce, Church Family Newspaper, September 25, 1908, p. 816.

References. III. 21. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv. No; 186. IV. 3-5. J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Blessed Sacrament, p. 76. IV. 7. H. L. Paget, Sermons for the People, vol. i. p. 160. V. 2-4. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiii. No. 1342.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 3". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/1-samuel-3.html. 1910.