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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 3

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-21

Samuel’s Call

1 Samuel 3:1 to 1 Samuel 4:1 a

1And the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord [Jehovah] before Eli. And the word of the Lord [Jehovah] was precious1 in those days; there was no open 2vision [vision spread abroad2]. And it came to pass at that time, when [that3]. Eli was laid down [lying down4] in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim that he could 3not see. And ere [om. ere5] the lamp of God went out [was not yet gone out] in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was [om. in the temple……was6] and Samuel was laid down [lying down4] to sleep [om. to sleep, ins. in 4the temple of Jehovah where the ark of God7 was], That [And] the Lord [Jehovah] 5called [ins. to] Samuel, and he answered [said], Here am I. And he ran unto Eli, and said, Here am I, for thou calledst me. And he said, I called not; 6[ins. go back and] lie down again [om. again]. And he went and lay down. And the Lord [Jehovah] called yet again, Samuel. And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I, for thou didst call [calledst] me. And he answered [said], I 7called not, my son, [ins. go back and] lie down again [om. again]. Now Samuel did not yet know8 the Lord [Jehovah], neither was the word of the Lord yet [and 8the word of Jehovah was not yet] revealed unto him. And the Lord [Jehovah] called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I, for thou didst9 call [calledst] me. And Eli perceived that the Lord [Jehovah] 9had called [was calling] the child. Therefore, [And] Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down, and it shall be, if he [one10] call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Lord [Jehovah], for thy servant heareth. So [And] Samuel went and lay down 10in his place. And the Lord [Jehovah] came, and stood,11 and called as at other times [as before], Samuel, Samuel. Then [And] Samuel answered [said], Speak, 11for thy servant heareth. And the Lord [Jehovah] said to Samuel, Behold, I will [om, will] do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it 12shall tingle [the which whosoever heareth, both his ears shall tingle]. In that day I will perform against Eli all things [om. things] which [that] I have spoken concerning his house, when I begin, I will also make an end [from beginning to end]. 13For [And] I have told [I announced to] him that I will [would] judge his house for ever for the iniquity12 [sin] which he knoweth, because [that he knew that] his sons made themselves vile [brought a curse on themselves13], and he restrained them 14not. And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be purged [expiated] with sacrifice [ins. of blood] nor [ins. unbloody14] 15offering forever. And Samuel lay until the morning,15 and opened the doors of the house of the Lord [Jehovah]. And Samuel feared to show Eli the 16vision. Then [And] Eli called Samuel, and said, Samuel, my son. And he answered 17[said], Here am I. And he said, What is the thing that the Lord [om. the Lord, ins. he] hath [om. hath] said unto thee? I pray thee [om. I pray thee16] hide it not from me. God do so to thee and more also, if thou hide anything from 18me of all the things [om. the things] that he said unto thee. And Samuel told him every whit, and hid nothing from him. And he said, It is the Lord [He is Jehovah]; let him do what seemeth him good.

19And Samuel grew; And the Lord [Jehovah] was with him, and did let none of 20his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew 21that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord [Jehovah]. And the Lord [Jehovah] appeared again [continued to appear] in Shiloh; for the Lord [Jehovah] revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by [in] the word of the Lord [Jehovah].17

1 Samuel 4:1 a And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.


1 Samuel 3:1. The history of Samuel’s call to be prophet is introduced (1 Samuel 3:1) by a brief statement of what it presupposed, and what led to it in Samuel himself and in the condition of the Israelitish theocratic life. As to the first point, the connection shows that the “boy” Samuel had grown to be a youth, and was therefore intellectually capable of receiving the revelation of the Lord; his character as servant of the Lord in the Sanctuary is again stated (comp. 1 Samuel 2:11; 1 Samuel 2:18), and his relation to Eli as his guardian and guide is anew affirmed by the words “before Eli.” (1 Samuel 2:11). The call which Samuel receives supposes the fact that he belongs to the Lord as a gift from his parents, and, as servant in the Sanctuary, is, in this priestly life under the guidance of the High-priest, prepared to be a special instrument of God’s for His people.—As to the second point, the condition of the theocratical life, the religious character of the times is marked by a twofold expression: 1) the word of the Lord was “precious” (יָקָר), that is, the word was rare that came directly from the Lord by prophetic announcement to the people; the proper organs were lacking, persons who were filled with the Spirit of the Lord, that they might be witnesses of His word; there was lacking also in the people the living desire for the direct revelations of God in His word, and receptivity in religious feeling for the living declaration,—and this was true even in the highest planes of theocratical life; 2) “There was no vision spread abroad.” פָרַץ “break through,” thence “spread out from within,” “become known outwards, become public,” Ps. 3:10; 2 Chronicles 31:5.—Hazon (חזוֹן) [vision] is the feeling or perception which corresponds to a direct real divine revelation made to the imagination of the prophet.18 This “vision” is the means of the reception of the word to be announced. Little was heard of such revelations of the Lord by visions, they were not spread abroad. Therefore the word of the Lord was precious. The second fact had its ground in the first. In the theocratical life there was lacking both a truly God-fearing, living priesthood, and a proclamation of God’s word that should extricate the people from their religious-moral depravation, the vitalizing power of the divine Spirit through prophetic organs.

1 Samuel 3:2-10. The circumstances and individual elements of the calling. In 1 Samuel 3:2 the “and it came to pass” and the statement of time are so connected with 1 Samuel 3:4 that all the intermediate from “and Eli” to the end of 1 Samuel 3:3 is explanatory parenthesis.19

Samuel might have supposed, when he was awaked by hearing his name called, that he had to render some service to the half-blind Eli; and so it is expressly mentioned at the beginning of these descriptive sentences that Eli was growing blind. The word “began” shows that the statement afterwards made, “he could not see,” is by no means to be understood as meaning complete blindness.20—To the chronological datum in the beginning of 1 Samuel 3:2 is added in 1 Samuel 3:3 an exacter and more definite statement in the words: And the lamp of God was not yet gone out;—no doubt this indicates night-time, near the morning, since the seven-lamped candelabrum in the Sanctuary before the curtain, which (Exodus 27:20-21; Exodus 30:7-8) was furnished with oil every morning and evening, after having burnt throughout the night and consumed its oil, usually, no doubt, got feebler or went out towards morning (comp. Leviticus 24:2-3). The words “and S. was sleeping” are not to be regarded, as the Athnach under the last requires, as a parenthesis separated from “in the temple” (as is usually done), if the latter expression is understood to mean sanctuary in distinction from the most holy place; for we cannot suppose that Samuel slept in this Sanctuary. But hekal (חֵיבָל) is here, as in 1 Samuel 1:9; Psalms 11:4, the whole sanctuary, the entire space of the tabernacle, as the palace of God, the King of His people, who has His throne there. This throne is the “ark of God,” for above the ark was the symbol of the presence, yea, of the royal dwelling and enthronement of God in the midst of His people (1 Samuel 4:4). Samuel’s sleeping-place was in one of the rooms, which were built in the court for the priests and Levites on service (Keil). The name Jehovah stands after “temple,” because it is the Covenant-God, who descends to His people and dwells with them, that is brought before us. On the other hand, in connection with the lamp and the ark “Elohim” is used “in the sense of the divine in general,” (Then.), that is, God is viewed in His loftiness and power over the whole world, as He who is to be feared and venerated, as lofty majesty (which conception is made clear by the plural).

In 1 Samuel 3:2-3, is described the situation in which Samuel received the call of the Lord,—it is night, the High-priest lies in his place in the sanctuary, the lamps of the candelabrum are still burning,21 the morning is near, it is the time when dream-life rises to its height; near Samuel was the ark of God, whence the revelations of God came.

1 Samuel 3:4-10 give the whole history of the call, with the attendant circumstances, in its individual elements.—Samuel hears the call of a voice, which has awakened him from sleep, but takes it to be not the call of a divine voice, as it was, but a call from Eli. Eli, to whom he hastens, sends him back to his couch with the answer: “I did not call thee.” This is repeated in 1 Samuel 3:6.

1 Samuel 3:7 gives the reason why Samuel thought he heard not God’s voice, but Eli’s.22 Knowing God means here not the general knowledge of God which every Israelite of necessity had, but the special knowledge of God, which was given by extraordinary revelation of God. The experience which now comes to Samuel is marked as the first of the sort. The word of God had not yet been revealed to him. He had not yet received such a special revelation of God through His word; therefore he did not yet know the God who revealed Himself in this way.—“It was a gloomy time, poor in revelation, as in exemplary religious life. For Eli, the High-priest, was weak, his sons defiled the sanctuary, the people served idols (1 Samuel 7:3 sq.), and the Philistines ruled oppressively. Hence it came that Samuel did not yet know how the Lord was used to reveal Himself to the prophets, the announcer of His word to men (1 Samuel 3:1; 1 Samuel 3:7)” (Nägelsbach, Herz. R.-E. XIII. 395 sq.). After the third repetition of the call (1 Samuel 3:8), Eli observed the divine origin of the call, and showed Samuel (1 Samuel 3:9) how he should deport himself towards the divine voice. His answer was to be: “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.”—Up to this point the medium of the divine revelation was the thrice repeated call of a voice, which so strongly impressed Samuel’s hearing, that he was awakened out of sleep. This is the meaning of the narrative; it does not mean a voice, which he thought he heard in a dream merely. In 1 Samuel 3:10 a new factor is introduced: the divine revelation by means of a voice becomes a vision: Jehovah came and stood, that is, before Samuel. That an objective real appearance is here meant is clear from 1 Samuel 3:15, “the vision” (מַרְאָה). Three factors are to be combined: the dream-state of Samuel’s soul (the internal sense), the hearing a voice on awakening, the seeing an appearance.

1 Samuel 3:11-14. Here follows the divine announcement of the judgment on Israel and the house of Eli. The Pres. (עשֶֹׁה partcp.) brings the act, though still in the future, before us as near, immediately and surely impending.23 The tingling of both ears is the mark of dread and horror, which comes suddenly on a man, so that he well nigh loses his senses. Clericus’ reference to the Lat. attonitus is excellent, comp. Jeremiah 19:3. The unheard of horror which was to make both ears tingle was (chap. 4) the frightful defeat of Israel in battle with the Philistines, and the loss of the ark to this heathen people.—As in 1 Samuel 3:11 the horror, which is to come upon Israel, is announced, so in 1 Samuel 3:12-14 is declared the judgment of the house of Eli. In 1 Samuel 3:12 the Infs. Abs. (הָחֵל וְכַלֵּה) serve to explain and define the verb fin., “beginning and ending,” that is, from beginning to end, fully, entirely. Not one word of the minatory prophecy (1 Samuel 2:27 sq.) is to remain unfulfilled. (See Ew. § 280, 3 a).—In 1 Samuel 3:13 this announcement is recapitulated. The declaration was a threat, no longer a warning. Judging is in sense (comp. Genesis 15:14) identical with punishing. This punishment will be inflicted on Eli’s house “for ever;” the judgment will never again be removed from it. In what did Eli’s sin consist? In the neglect of the duty which he ought to have performed to his sons as father, high-priest and judge, by the employment of severe chastisement and punishment.He knew their crimes, but let them go unpunished. מְקַלְלִים לָהֶם “cursed themselves” is very hard to explain, unless with Sept. and Then., we read אֱלֹהִים for לָהֶם, and translate “they brought God into contempt,” the Pi. being taken as causative, and Qal=“to come into contempt.” Certainly this rendering would agree with 1 Samuel 2:17; but—aside from the untrustworthiness of the Sept. in relation to the Heb. text, which also may here have been arbitrarily treated on account of this difficulty—against this reading is the fact that God Himself here speaks. The conjecture adduced by Grotius, לִי (“the Hebrews wrote that for לָהֶם ‘themselves’ formerly stood לִי ‘me,’ ”) must be rejected on account of the difference in the letters. There remains no other course than to translate “cursing, bringing a curse on, themselves,” according to the usual explanation.24 Luther gives the correct sense: “that his sons behaved shamefully.” [So Eng. A. V. “made themselves vile,” but this is not exactly correct. See translation and textual note.—Tr.]

1 Samuel 3:14. The announcement that the punishment is imposed for ever (1 Samuel 3:13) is here marked by the divine oath as irrevocable. (אִם, in view of the ellipsis, with negative force, Ges. § 155, 2 sq.). The transgression of Eli’s house is here spoken of because not only did Eli’s sins of omission and his sons’ sins of commission prove them personally worthy of punishment before God, but the religious depravation that issued from them affected the whole family, even their posterity. (יִתְכַפֵּר Pass. for the usual כֻּפַּר). Because the guilt can never be expiated, therefore the sentence will never be recalled, but, agreeably to the Lord’s true word, will be carried out on Eli’s house. The double “for ever” at the end of the two declarations (1 Samuel 3:13-14) expresses the terrible earnestness of the divine justice. [As to the relation between this announcement (1 Samuel 3:11-14) and the other (1 Samuel 2:27-36), the latter is founded on and supposes the earlier, but does not exactly repeat it. The first message seems (strangely enough) not to have produced the desired effect, namely to rouse Eli and save his house; for, though it is expressed absolutely, we have to suppose that the doom might be averted by repentance and obedience, as in the case of Nineveh. But the old man was too weak, and his sons (who must have heard of the prophet’s threatened punishment) too far gone in sin. No moral change occurs to remove the implied moral condition of the doom, and the sentence is to be executed. Still God will not leave His old servant without another appeal; He sends another message by Samuel. The first prophecy (chap. 2) reviewed, the history of the sacerdotal house of Eli, exposed its unfaithfulness, announced its deposition, and looked beyond to the glory of a new and faithful priestly house. The second prophecy, given through Samuel, reaffirms the punishment, emphasizes Eli’s personal guilt, and declares the sentence on the priestly house to be irrevocable. Its object, then, would seem to be two-fold: 1) to rouse Eli and his sons to repentance and quickening into spiritual life, (see Eli’s response in verse 18, whereas no answer of his to the first threat is recorded); 2) to accredit Samuel as a prophet by making him the bearer of a message that the whole nation would hear of, and to develop his spiritual-prophetic earnestness and faithfulness by bringing him into personal contact with the most serious events. It is hardly to be supposed that the conduct of Eli and his sons had been unobserved by Samuel. Rather they must have occasioned him (in connection with the man of God’s announcement) much serious thought, so that his message to Eli was not something apart from his own intellectual and spiritual life. We must notice, also, the difference in breadth and maturity between the declaration committed to the (doubtless) full-grown man of God, and that delivered through the youth Samuel.—Tr.].

1 Samuel 3:15-18. Samuel before Eli as called prophet of the Lord in his first prophetic function. Although Eli had already received from the “man of God” (1 Samuel 2:27) the prediction of punishment, yet his conduct gives occasion to the repetition (through Samuel who had a direct call from the Lord) of the prophetic announcement of judgment on his house as a word of immediate revelation from the Lord.

1 Samuel 3:15 sq. describe with such psychological and historical minuteness, such clearness and truth to life Samuel’s external situation and tone of mind after the revelation and appearance, and the conduct of Eli who was roused to earnest interest25 by the thrice-occurring call to Samuel, that neither here nor in the preceding description (1 Samuel 3:1-14) is there any ground for Ewald’s opinion that this is not an original tradition. After this revelation Samuel sleeps in his bed till morning. Opening “the doors of God’s house” was a part of his duty in the sanctuary. By the doors we are not to understand the curtains, but real doors, which belonged, however, not to the cells which were perhaps built around, but “to the house of God” itself. Originally, indeed, the Tabernacle, being a tent, had no doors, but, after it was fixed in Shiloh with a solid enclosure, it might somehow have been provided with them. “Perhaps it stood within a larger frame, or a solid temple-space of stone built for its protection" (Leyrer in Herzog’s R.-E. XV. 116.)—Samuel is afraid to tell Eli the vision, the appearance (מַרְאָה) which had presented itself to his internal sense, in which God’s revelation concerning the house of Eli had been set forth before him—partly from awe at the divine word which formed the content of the revelation, partly on account of the dreadful significance it had for Eli, partly by reason of the sorrow of which, in his reverence and filial piety towards Eli, he could not rid himself. But Eli compels him to tell what he had so wondrously learned.—On “my son,” 1 Samuel 3:16, Thenius admirably remarks: “How much is expressed by this one word!” In 1 Samuel 3:17 observe the climax in the words with which, in three sentences, Eli demands information from Samuel; it expresses the excitement of Eli’s soul. He asks for the word of the Lord; he demands an exact and complete statement; he adjures Samuel to conceal nothing from him. God do so to thee and more also, if, etc., is a frequent form of adjuration,26 which threatens punishment from God, if the request is not complied with, comp. 1Sa 14:44; 1 Samuel 20:18.

1 Samuel 3:18. And Samuel told him every whit. His fear was overpowered by Eli’s demand. In obeying Eli he was at the same time obeying the Lord, whose command to enter on his prophetic calling before Eli he must have recognized in the latter’s demand. And he (Eli) said. Two things Eli says: It is the Lord! This is the utterance of submission to the Lord. He sees confirmed what the man of God announced to him, and recognizes the indubitable revelation of the Lord. Let Him do what seemeth Him good. This is the expression of resignation to the unchangeable will of the Lord. To the overwhelming declaration of God Eli shows a complete resignation, giving himself and his house into God’s hands, without trying to excuse or justify himself, but also, it is true, without exhibiting thorough penitence.

1 Samuel 3:19-21. The result of Samuel’s call to the prophetic office, and, at the same time, transition to the description of his prophetical work in Israel. 1) In 1 Samuel 3:19 a the divine principle in his development into a man of God in his prophetic office is expressly emphasized, his growth from youth to manhood (וַיִּגְדַּל) being set forth under the highest theocratic point of view, which is marked by the words: And the Lord was with him.—To him were imparted God’s revelations for Israel, because he was a man after God’s heart, who, amid the temptations to evil that surrounded him in Shiloh, was now as a youth mature and tried in true fear of God and sincere fellowship with God; and his growth rested on a childhood consecrated to the Lord. “The Lord was with him.” This refers not merely to the general proofs of God’s goodness and mercy, to the blessing which he received from the Lord throughout his life, but also to the special revelations and gifts of the Spirit which the Lord imparted to him as His chosen instrument. For 2) in 1 Samuel 3:19 b in the words And he let none of his words fall to the ground is emphasized the divine demonstration of Samuel’s prophetic character by God’s fulfilment of what he prophetically announced as the word revealed to him. The expression “did not let fall” indicates that the word was not spoken in vain, but was fulfilled,27 comp. Joshua 21:45; Joshua 23:14; 1 Kings 8:56; 2 Kings 10:10. 2 Kings 10:3) 1 Samuel 3:20 exhibits his general recognition in Israel as a tried instrument for the Lord in the prophetic office. The geographical indication of the extent of this recognition supposes that Samuel was made known to the whole people from Dan on the north to Beersheba on the south (Judges 20:1) as a prophet of the Lord by his declaration of the word of God. (נֶאֱמָן, “found trustworthy,” “tried,” Numbers 12:7). From this it is evident that the people of Israel, in spite of their disruption, yet formed religiously a unit. In spite of the general lack of the declaration of God’s word, there was still altogether a receptivity for it; notwithstanding the decline of the religious-moral life there was not lacking a sense for the self-revelation of the living God through His chosen instrument, the prophet Samuel. It is no doubt intimated in 1 Samuel 3:20 “that Samuel, in contrast with the hitherto isolated appearances of prophets, was known as a man called to a permanent prophetic work” (Nägelsbach, Herz. R.-E. XIII. 26). For the factual ground of 1 Samuel 3:20 is given in the closely connected v. 21, where 4) are stated the continued direct revelations of God to Samuel in Shiloh. “Jehovah continued to appear in Shiloh.” This points to visions as the form of revelation for the internal sense, and as the continuation of the mode of appearance which is set forth in 1 Samuel 3:10; 1 Samuel 3:15 as “vision.” The words “for the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord” leave no doubt that that revelation in visions also was made to Samuel, and that the word was the heart and the guiding star of these revelations of the Lord made to him that they might be imparted to the people. As the people had hitherto had its centre in Shiloh in the Tabernacle with the ark as the symbol of God’s indwelling and presence, so now it found in the same place a new centre in the continued revelations of the Lord to Samuel through His word. From now on God made known His will to the people by the revelation of His word to Samuel, the first representative of the permanent prophetic order.28 Thus, then, the beginning of the fourth chapter: And the word of Samuel came to all Israel—is closely connected with the preceding. The word of Samuel is in content, “the word of the Lord,” which was directly revealed to him, he being from now on favored with this revelation (1 Samuel 3:21) in the form of the vision (מַרְאָה); thus the declaration “God revealed Himself to Samuel” is by no means superfluous (Then.); for it is not “the revelation mentioned above" which is here meant, but that which was constantly repeated in vision, by virtue of which Samuel was the Roeh (רֹאֶה), seer. In form the word of Samuel was prophetic announcement, as organ of which he was Nabi (נָבִיא), God’s spokesman, interpreter.29 His word came “to all Israel.” In these words is comprised 5) his prophetic work in all Israel, and the permanent effect of his call to the prophetic office (made by the first revelation) is indicated. The word which came to him from God went by him to the whole people. This close connection of these words with the preceding context, and their closing and comprehensive character shows plainly how incorrect is the ordinary view which connects them with the following, and regards them as a call by Samuel to battle with the Philistines. They are the summary description of his prophetic work, on which his judicial labors rested, the transition to these latter being made in the following narration of Israel’s public national calamity.


1. Samuel’s person and labors as prophet. “So the Lord’s training had borne its fruits. Samuel had been preserved amid the temptations of Shiloh. He had grown up to be a consecrated man and faithful prophet of the Lord—a man of God in the midst of an apostate race—a light in the darkness, and much was gained when God’s word was once more to be found in the land.” (Schlier, Die Könige in Isr., 1865, 2 ed., p. 5.)

“The vigorous and connected ministry of the prophets begins with Samuel, who is therefore to be regarded as the true founder of the Old Testament prophetic order (comp. Acts 3:24). It was that extraordinary time when, with the removal of the ark, the Tabernacle had lost its significance as centre, the high-priest’s functions were suspended, and now the mediatorship between God and the people rested altogether in the inspired prophet. While the limits of the old ordinances of worship are broken through, Israel learns that Jehovah has not restricted His saving presence to the ancient symbol of His indwelling among the people, rather is to be found everywhere, where He is earnestly sought, as God of salvation.” Oehler in Herz. R.-E. s. v. Prophet-enthum des A. T. XII. 214.

2. The time of Samuel’s appearance in Israel as prophet was the time of an internal judgment of God, which consisted in the preciousness of God’s word, that is, in the lack of intercourse of God with His people by revelation. It was a theocratic interdict30 incurred by the continued apostasy of the people from their God, and inflicted by God’s justice. It had the disciplinary aim to lead their hearts back to the Lord, who had long kept silence, had long suspended His revelations. Such a judgment of the cessation of all revelation-intercourse of God with man came upon Saul, 1 Samuel 28:6; 1 Samuel 28:15; comp. the complaint in Psalms 74:9, “there is no longer any prophet,” and the wail in Amos 7:11 sq. over the famine of God’s word. The same law presents itself in all periods of the kingdom of God; men lose the source of life, God’s revealed word, by a divine judgment, when they withdraw from intercourse with the living God, and will not accept His holy word as the truth which controls their whole life.

3. The form of God’s revelation in prophecy is, as we see in Samuel, internal sight, the vision, to which the original appellation Roeh (רֹאֶה or חֹזֶה)31 (according to 1 Samuel 9:9, the earlier usual designation of the prophet) points. “Vision and word of God are in 1 Samuel 3:1 parallel expressions for prophecy.” “The vision is nothing but the inner incorporation, and therefore also symbolizatioii of what is felt in the mind—whether it be in visible shape for the inner eye, or vocally for the inner ear.” (Tholuck, Die Propheten und ihre Weissa-gungen, 1861, p. 54.) The internal sight, by means of which the prophet knows that the content of the prophecy, the matter of the announcement to be made, has been imparted to him by God directly, altogether independently of his own activity, is the vision in the wider sense. For this reason Samuel, like all other prophets, is called a Seer. After his soul, detached from the outer world of sense through the medium of the dream, has thus been brought into a state of more concentrated receptivity for the revelation of God, he sees with the internal sense the matter of the prophetic declaration directly imparted to him by God. “But when the revelation presents its content in visible shape before the prophet’s soul, there results the vision in the stricter sense.” (Oehler, Herz. R.-E. XVII. 637.)

4. In the history of Samuel’s call to the prophetic office are united prototypically all essential momenta32 of theocratic prophecy: 1) the ethical condition of the absolute consecration of the person and the whole life to God’s service on the basis of sincere life-communion with Him, and of mutual intercourse between God and the prophet—(“Speak, Lord, thy servant heareth;” comp. Jeremiah 33:2 sq.: “call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not”); 2) the definite, direct, clearly recognized and irresistible call of God to be the instrument of His revelation, the declarer of His word which is to be imparted to him, connected with the gift of inspiration and capacity therefor by the controlling power of the Spirit of God; 3) the reception of God’s special revelation by word independently of human teaching and instruction and his own investigation and meditation, together with the consciousness of having been favored with a disclosure of God’s objective thoughts; 4) the internal sight as the subjective medium of the reception of the revelation of God, the psychical form of prophecy; 5) the declaration of the revelation received, with the certainty and confidence (produced by the Spirit) that the announced word will be confirmed by the corresponding divine deed. Comp. Oehler, Weissagung, Herz. R.-E. XVII. 627 sqq.33

5. The triple repetition of the divine call to Samuel betokens God’s holy arrangement for preparing His inner life, that he might become an exclusive organ of divine revelation (comp. 1 Samuel 3:7-8), freed from human authority, his soul open only to the utterances of the living God, as is shown by Samuel’s answer to the divine voice: “Speak, Lord, thy servant heareth” (1 Samuel 3:9-10); for by this answer Samuel assumes the position of one who has direct converse with the Lord, that he may, as his servant, hear what the Lord will say to him by His revelations, and thereby the end of the threefold preparative call is fulfilled.

6. That the light of the divine word may illuminate the inner life, the latter must be open to this light, as it is given by divine revelation. The humble readiness to hear and accept God’s counsels with the ear of faith is called forth by the awakening call of God’s voice, and leads to the clear knowledge of His word. The way to fellowship with the living God and service in His kingdom is opened and prepared only by God’s act of grace in calling men by the voice of His word; and so living and abiding continually in fellowship with the Lord is conditioned on the word of revelation, in which the Lord speaks to the soul that stands fast in the obedience of faith. Thus the individual elements of this history of Samuel’s call present a picture of the grace of God that calls us, as all they learn or experience, who, like Samuel, occupy such a position towards God’s word, that to God’s call they answer with him: “Speak, Lord, thy servant heareth.”

7. Pardoning grace34 (1 Samuel 3:14) is open to every sinner, and is denied by God for no sin, if there be, on the man’s part, honest, hearty repentance for sin as enmity against God and violation of His holy will, and confident trust in His grace and mercy, that is, if there be a thorough conversion to the Lord. In Eli’s house, in spite of the preceding divine warnings and threatenings, there was continued, persistent sin, and Eli did not summon the resolution to make an energetic cleansing of his house and thoroughly to remove his sons’ wickedness, which he ought to have felt especially bound to do as high-priest; such sin makes it impossible that God’s grace should be shown in the forgiveness of sin, puts a limit to God’s patience and long-suffering, and draws down on itself His punitive judgments as necessary proofs of His holiness and justice. [The Mosaic Law had no offering for presumptuous sins; but underneath the Law (which was civil-political in its outward form) lay the fundamental principle of the forgiveness of the penitent sinner, developed, for example, in Psalms 51:0 and others. This principle, however, though doubtless part of the spiritual thought of ancient Israel, did not find full expression till it was announced that the blood of Christ cleanses from all sin. But in the New Testament, as in the Old Testament, there is no pardon without repentance.—Tr.]

8. The true permanent unity of Israel, dismembered, as the nation was, during the Period of the Judges, was established by Samuel by means of the word of God which, in his prophetic proclamation, embraced all Israel. Even in times when the national, political and religious-ecclesiastical life is most sadly shattered and disrupted, the divine word, if it is only preached lovingly by preachers that live in it, shows its purifying and unifying power, the receptivity for it being present, and only needing to be called forth.


1 Samuel 3:1. Cramer: That is the greatest and most perilous scarcity, when God causes a dearth, not of bread but of His word.—Wuert. Bible: God does not give His holy word to every one and at every time in great abundance, but causes at certain times also a scarcity therein to be suffered, Ezekiel 3:26; Amos 8:11-12.

[1 Samuel 3:3-14. Stanley: The stillness of the night—the sudden voice—the childlike misconception—the venerable Eli—the contrast between the terrible doom and the gentle creature who has to announce it—give to this portion of the narrative a universal interest. It is this side of Samuel’s career that has been so well caught in the well-known pictures by Sir Joshua Reynolds.—Tr.]

1 Samuel 3:3-10. Steinmeyer (Testimonies to the glory of Christ, Berlin, 1847): The call of Samuel the Prophet, as an image of our entering into communion with the Lord; 1) How the occasion for this communion is given on the part of God, 2) How the condition of it is fulfilled on the part of Samuel, and 3) How this communion itself was begun.—Awaking from sleep! What a striking designation of the turning point between the old and the new in our life also. We were like them that sleep, them that dream, before we entered into communion with God. It is, however, certainly no arbitrary pre-supposition, that this pure, simple, upright nature had definite presentiments that he must be in what was his God’s, and that he was moved by a longing, even though not understood, after the hour which now struck; and even this position of heart appears to find in the image of sleep its beautiful, exactly-corresponding expression. More or less, however, the comparison will also be applicable to us all. If the grace of the Lord caused us to grow up in the temple of His church, as Samuel in the sanctuary at Shiloh, if we were, like him, from childhood nourished with the sincere milk of the word, then there will always in our awaking be a definite recollection that already long before we found ourselves unawares in this sphere, only that hitherto our eyes were holden, while now we are allowed to look freely and without hindrance into the riches of His grace and His truth.

[How far this sort of analogical preaching may be carried, is a question of opinion. There are many who will think it has been carried quite too far in this paragraph.—Tr.]

1 Samuel 3:8-9. The fact that Samuel, notwithstanding the old man’s assurance that he had not called him, appeared again, and came the third time, without consulting with flesh and blood, was a proof of his simplicity and uprightness. This is indeed the same uprightness which the Redeemer commends in Nathaniel, and here we have certainly a striking example of the Scripture saying: The Lord makes the upright prosper.—That the youth was ready without fretting to present himself three times for the service of his fatherly teacher—what else is it than his obedience towards him to whose discipline and service he had now devoted himself, so firmly grounded in obedience that he did not allow himself to be turned away from his simple, quiet path, not even by the most wonderful testimonies, by perfectly incomprehensible directions. And so with us too, if in any relation whatever we have only learned true obedience, if the position and state of our heart has become that of full and humble subjection, then we are no longer far from the Kingdom of God, which demands blind, unshakable obedience, within which one cannot maintain himself without giving himself up unconditionally to the one authority of Christ in faith as well as in life, and which utterly excludes all selfishness, in whatever form it may come up, all self-will, all entering upon a self-chosen path. [The analogy here and in what follows is extremely remote, and such a use of the passage would seem injudicious.—Tr.]—If we too have only first reached in general the point of being able to believe without seeing—for faith too must be learned—able to believe in the first place the human teaching, rebuking, consoling word,—well, then we are on the way, since the voice of the divine word is believingly received by us.

[Henry: There was a special Providence in it, that Samuel should go thus often to Eli; for hereby, at length, Eli perceived that the Lord had called the child, 1 Samuel 3:8. (1) This would be a mortification to him, and he would apprehend it to be a step toward his family’s being degraded, that when God had something to say he should choose to say it to the child Samuel, his servant that waited on him, and not to him. (2) This would put him upon inquiring what it was that God said to Samuel, and would abundantly satisfy him of the truth and certainty of what should be delivered, and no room would be left for him to suggest that it was but a fancy of Samuel’s.—Tr.]

1 Samuel 3:10. So then for the first time Samuel stands with consciousness in the presence of the majesty of God—and immediately all the riddles of life begin to be solved for him, and the meaning of his own life to become clear. What he says bears the clearest stamp of a really begun communion with the Lord. Is it not the resolve to say and to do all that the Lord might show him of his lofty thoughts and ways—is it not this, and nothing but this, that is expressed in Samuel’s words: Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth? Has he not thereby once for all renounced self-knowing and self-will? That was the faithfulness as a prophet, which all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba recognized in him (1 Samuel 3:20). And that which thus first established a true communion with the Lord could also alone be the power that maintained it. The constant prayer, “Speak, Lord,” and the constant vow, “Thy servant heareth,”—that is the hand which takes hold of God’s right hand, to be held fast by it with everlasting life.

1 Samuel 3:10. “Speak, Lord, thy servant heareth,” a testimony of unconditional devotion to the Lord: 1) How such a testimony is reached, (a) through the Lord’s awakening call, (b) through receptivity of heart for God’s word, and (c) through the deed of self-denial in the renunciation of all self-knowing and self-will; 2) What is therein testified and praised before the Lord: (a) humble subjection (Speak, Lord), (b) steadfast dependence on the Lord in free love (thy servant), (c) unconditional, joyful obedience to His will (thy servant heareth.)—Conditions of a blessed fulfillment of one’s calling for the Kingdom of God: 1) The experience of the power of the divine word: I have called thee by thy name; 2) The repeated call in prayer, “Speak, Lord!” and 3) The fulfillment of the vow: “thy servant heareth.

1 Samuel 3:11. Lange: It is God’s design that when He causes great judgments to occur, men shall with holy terror accept them as a warning. God begins in good time to bring into holy fear the hearts of those whom he wishes to make special and great instruments of advancing His honor. 1 Samuel 3:12. Starke : The Lord’s word is true; Psalms 33:4 [in German; Eng. Ver. correctly: right.—Tr.] Let men therefore not mock at God’s word and threatenings.—Calvin: The guilt becomes so much the greater, when God warns sinners of their transgressions, and they notwithstanding persevere in them. 1 Samuel 3:13. Eli’s guilt becomes so much the greater from the fact that it was known to him how shamefully his sons behaved, and he did nothing to remove this abomination from his house and from the sanctuary. Calvin: Those who are set for the purpose of chastising the wicked make themselves partakers of a like guilt with them, and go quite over to their side, when at most they express censure with words, and so give themselves the appearance of strictness and earnestness, but do not use the power conferred on them to interfere with the godlessness by deeds.

1 Samuel 3:14. If the sons of Eli had earnestly repented, they would have obtained grace. But as they were given up to their godless disposition, they must of necessity be hardened in their sins, and in spite of the offerings they presented, which were an abomination in the sight of the Lord, must suffer judgment.

[1 Samuel 3:11-14. Compare this warning with that previously sent to Eli (1 Samuel 2:27-36). 1) It is simpler, as was appropriate when given through a youth. 2) It is mainly a repetition of what he had been told before, as are so many of God’s messages to men;—the sin mentioned is ‘the iniquity which he knoweth’ (1 Samuel 3:13), and the punishment is ‘all, that I have spoken’ (1 Samuel 3:12). 3) It contains a still more severe threatening, as the former had not led to repentance; (a) an unknown horror is predicted, (b) a punishment of his family that shall never cease. 4) It arouses Eli to enough of spiritual life for submission (1 Samuel 3:18), but not enough for amendment. (Comp. addition by Tr. to Exegetical on 1 Samuel 3:14).—Tr.]

1 Samuel 3:18. We should never venture to dispute with God nor wish to speak against and oppose His purpose, but must, even when we do not recognize the ground of His judgments, yea, when we think we are suffering unjustly, adore the righteousness and holiness of His judgments. Eli bowed himself, it is true, in humility and reverence before the Divine Majesty, but we do not see that he stirred himself up to fulfil his duty towards his godless sons, whereby he would have made known by action the earnestness of his own conversion from the slackness and yielding compliance, which made him the sharer of his sons’ guilt. We should therefore lay it earnestly to heart, not merely with the mouth to give God the honor for His wisdom and righteousness, but upon His call to repentance to subject our own life to an earnest self-examination, in order that then we may beseech God to forgive our sins, and may with our whole heart avoid and flee from evil.

1 Samuel 3:19. The word of God does not return void, whether it promises or threatens, and preachers of the word of God learn with Samuel that none of their words fall to the ground, and this just in proportion as they are diligent to preach nothing else than God’s word.

[1 Samuel 3:15-18. Evil Tidings. 1) Samuel shrinks from telling them, as a painful duty. 2) Eli is anxious to be told, (a) He apprehends ill news for himself—accusing conscience—reminded of the warning given through the prophet (1 Samuel 2:27 sqq.) (b) But he desires to know the worst—earnestly conjures Samuel to tell him all. 3) Eli hears evil tidings with submission, (a) ‘He is Jehovah’—the sovereign God—the covenant God—‘too wise to err, too good to be unkind.’ (b) ‘Let him do,’ etc. He submits humbly, trustfully, lovingly. Hall: If Eli have been an ill father to his sons, yet he is a good son to God, and is ready to kiss the very rod he shall smart withal.)—Tr.]

1 Samuel 3:20. Samuel a true prophet of the Lord; 1) Whereby he was such. 2) How he proved himself such before the whole people. 3) How he was recognized as such by them. 4) How he is an example for the faithful in the ministry of God’s word.

Cramer: Not only of the whole church in general, but of every Christian hearer in particular is it demanded, that with reference to the doctrine taught he shall perceive whether it is right and true or not, and stand his ground. In the case of Samuel the word did not hold good: The prophet has no honor in his own country. He comes before us here as a prophet who has much honor in his own country, 1) Because he was a faithful prophet of God, 2) Because he was counted worthy by God of continual revelations through his word, and 3) God confirmed his proclamations by the publicly manifested fulfillment of them as a fulfillment of his word.

[1 Samuel 3:19-21. Henry: The honor done Samuel as a prophet: 1) God did him honor (a) By further manifestations of Himself to him. (b) By fulfilling what He spake by him. 2) Israel did him honor. (a) He grew famous. (b) He grew useful and very serviceable to his generation. He that began betimes to be good, soon came to do good.—Tr.]


[1][1 Samuel 3:1. = “ rare,” see Isaiah 13:12; Chald. renders “hidden.”—Tr.]

[2][1 Samuel 3:1. This word (נפרץ) is variously rendered: Sept. διαστέλλουσα, “distinguishing,” “explaining,” whence some would (without ground) change the text to פֹּרֵץ (which perhaps the Alex. translator read, the Nun omitted from preceding Nun); Chald. “revealed” = “broken open;” Syr. as Heb.; Arab., “the Lord had deprived the children of Israel of revelation in those days, and there was no revelation, to any one of them, and nothing appeared to him;” Vulg. “manifesta;” others, “broken,” “diffused,” “multiplied;” the Jewish interpreters (Rashi, Kimchi, Ralbag) follow the Targ.: Luther, wenig weissagung, “little prophecy;” Erdmann, verbreitet, “spread abroad;” Cahen, “repandu.” This last is probably the correct sense, see 1 Chronicles 13:2; 2 Chronicles 31:5.—Tr.]

[3][1 Samuel 3:2. Erdmann renders “when” (as Eng. A. V.) in order to show that the description from this point is introductory to 1 Samuel 3:4; but the literal translation, given above, clearly indicates the connection of thought, and avoids the interpretation of a construction into the text.—Tr.]

[4][1 Samuel 3:2 and 1 Samuel 3:4, Or, “was sleeping.”—Tr.]

[5][1 Samuel 3:3. טֶרֶם with Impf. following the subject = “not yet.”—Tr.]

[6][1 Samuel 3:3. The Eng. A. V. in making this unwarranted inversion of clauses, was probably controlled by the same motive which led the Masorites to separate שֹׁכֵב (“was lying”) from בְּהֵיבַל (“in the temple”) by the Athnach, namely, to avoid the seeming assertion that Samuel was sleeping in the sacred building. The Targum accordingly renders “was sleeping in the Court of the Levites,” borrowing this term apparently from Herod’s temple. For explanation see Exeg. Notes, in loco.—Tr.]

[7][1 Samuel 3:3. This is the only place where אל׳ (“God”) in the phrase ארוֹן אל׳ (“the ark of God”) occurs without the Art.; אל׳ often occurs with the force of a proper name, but no reason is apparent why the Art. is omitted here in this standing phrase. For discussion of the difference between אל׳ and האל׳ see Quarry’s “Genesis and its authorship,” pp. 270 sqq.—Tr.]

[8][1 Samuel 3:7. Erdmann: “had not yet learned to know,” which is substantially the same as Eng. A. V. On pointing of ידע see Exeg Notes, in loco.—Tr.]

[9][1 Samuel 3:8. The “didst” might now suggest an emphasis not given by the Heb.—Tr.]

[10][1 Samuel 3:9. The impersonal subject is proper, as Samuel did not know who the caller was.—Tr.]

[11][1 Samuel 3:10. Chald. softens this anthropomorphism into “revealed himself,” and the Rabbis add, by a voice from the Holy of Holies.—Tr.]

[12][1 Samuel 3:13. בַּעֲוֹן is difficult. It can be understood here only as in stat. const. with the following clause: Eli’s sin was “that he knew, etc.” So the Vulg. The Targ. and Syr. render as Eng. A. V.; Sept. gives “the iniquities of his sons,” and omits “that he knew;” Wellhausen omits בעין.—Tr.]

[13][1 Samuel 3:13. להם is here taken as reflexive. The true reading here is not clear; the old translators and critics treated it variously. Sept. has θεὸν as if it read אלהים, which Geiger (Urschrift, p. 271) and others adopt. See Erdmann’s remark on this in Exeg. Notes, in loco. Chald. reads as the Heb. (Targ. renders קלל by רגז here and elsewhere); Syr. has “his sons brought ignominy on the people,” reading apparently לעם. This is one of the eighteen cases of the “correction of the Scribes” (see Buxtorf’s Lex. s. v. תִּקוּן), who are said to have changed the original reading לִי “me” to להם “themselves,” to avoid the blasphemy, for which reason also Geiger holds that א׳ “God” was changed. Others suggest that the לי stood for ליהוה “Jehovah.” But it is hard to say how much reliance is to be put on these alleged corrections of the old Jewish critics, and here (as Wellhausen remarks) we expect the Acc. אוֹתִי not לִי after קלל. The external critical evidence is in favor of the reading אלהים “God,” but, the objection to this urged by Erdmann being strong, we can only, with him, retain the present text.—Tr.]

[14][1 Samuel 3:14. It seems desirable to express in an Eng. translation the difference between זבח and מנחה.—Tr.]

[15][1 Samuel 3:15. Sept. here adds “and rose in the morning,” which Thenius and Wellhausen think stood originally in the text, and fell out by similar ending. On the other hand, it is a natural filling out of a terse account, quite in the manner of the Sept.—Tr.]

[16][1 Samuel 3:17. The Eng. “I pray thee” is too strong for the Heb. נָא, for which we have no good equivalent.—Tr.]

[17][1 Samuel 3:21. On the addition of the Sept. here see Thenius and Wellhausen.—Tr.]

[18][Hazon, which is used chiefly in the later books of O. T., Isaiah 1:0) the picture presented to the mind in the ecstatic prophetic state; 2) the body of truth thus given to the prophet. It is the technical word for divine revelation (so contrasted with מַרְאֶה).—Tr.]

[19][See the remark of Tr. under “Textual and Grammatical.”—Tr.]

[20] כּחות is either verbal adj. כֵהוֹת, which forms a single conception with the preceding fin. verb (“they began dim,” i.e., “began to become dim”)—as in Genesis 9:20 the same verb is connected with a subst., Ges., § 142, 4, Rem.—or Inf. Qal בְּהוֹת (comp., Isaiah 3:7; Genesis 27:1; Deuteronomy 34:7 : Job 16:8; Zechariah 11:17), “which the punctuators avoided only because they had not elsewhere met with it” (Böttch.). [This whole note, quoted by Erdmann and Thenius from Böttcher, is somewhat unclear. The passages cited for the Inf. hardly bear on the question. Wellhausen declares the Inf. here without לְ impossible; but see Deuteronomy 2:25; Deuteronomy 2:31. Winer makes it Piel. Inf.—Tr.]

[21][The Sept. has “before the lamp was prepared,” which may point to the custom of keeping one light burning during the day, and thus indicate the late night or early morning.—Tr.].

[22] טֶרֶם is seldom used, as here, with the Perf. of past time; comp. Psalms 90:2; Ew. § 337, 3, c. We might however point also יִדִעַ with Böttcher, and thus read, “in accordance with the following יִגָּלֶה, a Fiens [Impf.] with טֶרֶם, as is usual.”

[23]On the intrans. תְּצִלֶּינָה see Ew. §196 d [comp. Green’s Heb. Gr. §141, 2.—Tr.].

[24] כִהָה Pi. here trans. “to make faint, weak, frighten” by threatening, terrifying conduct, as elsewhere גָּעַר with בּ, increpare aliquem.

[25][The words “Eli who was roused to earnest interest” have been supplied by the translator, something amounting to this having fallen out of the text, probably by typographical error.—Tr.]

[26][This means not, “may God do to you as you do to me,” but “may God visit your refusal with appropriate punishment.”—Tr.]

[27][The origin of the figure has been sought for in various occurrences, as the spilling of water, the fall of an arrow, or any weapon of war, or of a house, but it is better understood in a general way as signifying “failures,” in contrast with a firm, upright position.—Tr.]

[28][It is an old opinion that there is here a reference to the personal Word, the second Person of the Trinity. The Targ. has “the word of Jehovah was his help,” and so some modern commentators, as Gill. But plainly there is no ground for this.—Tr.]

[29][On Roeh and Nabi see on 1 Samuel 9:9.—Tr.]

[30][The Papal Interdict forbids the celebration of divine service, the administration of the sacraments, ecclesiastical burial and marriage (by Romish ministers), and enjoins fasting and prayer.—Tr.]

[31][On the relation between ראה and חזה see below, 1 Samuel 9:9.—Tr.]

[32][Momentum, translation of Germ. “moment,” “essential or important element.”—Tr.]

[33][See also Fairbairn on Prophecy, Chap. 1, and Lee on Inspiration.—Tr.]

[34][In the Germ. versöhnungs-gnade—“grace of expiation.”—Tr.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 3". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/1-samuel-3.html. 1857-84.
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