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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 3

Sermon Bible CommentarySermon Bible Commentary

Verses 1-10

1 Samuel 3:1-10

Of Bible boys Samuel is a chief favourite. The reason is that nothing under the sun is more beautiful than piety in childhood. Nothing like grace for making the young graceful. Martin Luther in his gentler moments dwelt with great tenderness on the boyhood of Samuel. He found in him what he longed to see in his own boys and in all boys. When God called "Samuel, Samuel," he answered at once, "Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth." There we have, as in a nutshell, the history of a child of God.

I. The Lord speaking. God speaks to us: (1) in His Providence; (2) in His Word; (3) by His Spirit.

II. The child hearing. The ear is one of the main gateways of the soul. But far more wonderful is the inner ear of the heart, or the conscience, by which you hear the noiseless voice of God. You may mistake the voice at first; Samuel did so. But if you mistake God's voice, He will speak to you again and again till you know both the Speaker and His message; and then you will be like this delighted child when he lay listening to his name pronounced by Jehovah's lips.

III. The child serving. Samuel was one of the ministering children of the Bible, for in his childhood he ministered before the Lord. His obedience was: (1) prompt; (2) hearty; (3) lifelong. His motto all through life was, "Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth."

J. Wells, Bible Children, p. 133.

In this passage four thoughts are suggested:

I. The sleep. That night God was present in a special manner. He was near to Samuel. But Samuel was unconscious of His presence, for he was asleep. That sleeping boy was a picture of what many boys and girls amongst ourselves are, in a different sense spiritually asleep. There is (1) the sleep of carelessness; (2) the sleep of sin; (3) the sleep of security.

II. God's awakening call. God has many ways of awakening sleepers: (1) There is God's call in the Word; (2) there is God's call in Providence.

III. The lying down again. In Samuel's case this was all right and good. He was an unusually dutiful child. Whenever he was called up he sprang, and that again and again. In the case of most, the lying down again is fatal. It is never safe to count upon more than one call; it is never safe to neglect the first. That was what Lot's wife did, and she never got another chance.

IV. God's call recognised and answered. Let us go to God as Samuel went to Eli, saying, "Here am I, for thou calledst me."

J. H. Wilson, The Gospel and its Fruits, p. 3.

References: 1 Samuel 3:1-19 . F. Langbridge, The Sunday Magazine, 1885, p. 671. 1 Samuel 3:7 . Outline Sermons to Children, p. 32; Parker, vol. vii., p. 59.

Verses 1-21

1 Samuel 1-4

(with Judges 21:16-25 )

I. With all his virtues and natural advantages Eli had one great fault. He was a good man of the easy type; the kind of man who makes an admirable servant, who does his duty to perfection so long as his duty merely troubles himself, but who has not force of character to interfere with others; to command, to regulate the conduct of others, to incur the ill-will of others. An amiable indolence overspread his whole nature. He was one of the men who have great faith in the power of things to right themselves, in the virtue of leaving things alone, of letting nature take its course. Accordingly he let his own life and fortunes drift and become entangled with the wreck of other men's misdeeds, and so came to the end he did.

The character of Eli is far from uncommon, and a far larger amount of disaster is produced in the world by such softness than by deliberate wickedness. There are times in most lives when the current of circumstances sets strongly towards sin, and when a man will certainly sin if his rule of life has been to avoid all that is painful and to choose what will for the time give him security and ease.

II. The vices which Eli suffered in his sons did not terminate in themselves, but had the effect of making the worship of God abhorrent and despicable in the country. This may be done not only by the sensuality and greed of the clergy, but in other ways as well. The carelessness about truth, which merely preaches traditionary opinions, brings God's service into contempt; the indolent formality which accepts stereotyped phrases of devotion or of sentiment and puts no meaning into them; the wrangling and hastiness in discussion which show that love of party is stronger than love of truth; the preaching of doctrine which lowers men's ideas of God and righteousness; these and many such things make the worship of God contemptible.

III. While God punishes the existing priesthood, He adds a promise of raising Himself up a faithful priest. This promise was fulfilled, first of all, in Samuel, who, though not of the priestly line, did serve in the house of God, and offered sacrifice by an exceptional and special consecration. In Samuel, the asked of God, there is a type of the readiness with which God can provide men for His service; men different from and unaffected by the times in. which they live; men who can grow up pure amidst corruption, who can shake off the ignorance of their teachers and rise above all their contemporaries, who are as truly sent by God as if they were sons of a Virgin or of a Hannah.

M. Dods, Israel's Iron Age, p. 149.

References: 1Sam 1-3. S. K. Hocking, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. v., p. 26; E. Conder, Drops, and Rocks, p. 103. 1 Samuel 1:3 . Sermons for the Christian Seasons, 2nd series, vol. ii., p. 669. 1 Samuel 1:5 . Expositor, 3rd series, vol. v., p. 55. 1 Samuel 1:9-28 . F. Langbridge, Sunday Magazine, 1885, p. 670. 1 Samuel 1:15 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi., No. 1515. 1 Samuel 1:20 . Parker, vol. vi., p. 218; Expositor, 3rd series, vol. v., p. 57; I.Williams, Characters of the Old Testament, p. 160. 1 Samuel 1:27 . J. Van Oosterzee, The Year of Salvation, vol. ii., p. 417; Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 265. 1 Samuel 1:27 , 1 Samuel 1:28 . J. Vaughan, Sermons to Children, 4th series, p. 331. 1Sam 1-4. R. S. Candlish, Scripture Characters, p. 299. 1 Samuel 2:1 . H. Thompson, Concionalia: Outlines of Sermons for Parochial use, vol. i., p. 216. 1 Samuel 2:1-27 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 283. 1 Samuel 2:2 . Parker, vol. vii., p. 56.

Verse 8

1 Samuel 3:8

I. We may define a call, as usually understood, to be an inward conviction of the soul that such and such is the will of God concerning it, accompanied with an irresistible desire to obey the conviction. In such cases a test is required. There is perhaps no extent of self-deception to which an individual may not be led who concentrates the whole of his thoughts and meditations upon the internal emotions of which he is sensible. Hence the necessity of erecting a tribunal without, to which may be referred the judgment of the inward conviction, and by which we may see whether the voice which is abroad in our hearts, stirring and moving, harmonises with the voice of parents and brethren and priest, that so we may, with Eli, perceive of a surety whether the Lord hath called His child.

II. There is another criterion by which men might go far to ascertain the nature of those internal sensations of which they speak, namely the criterion of outward circumstances. In order to test feeling, we want something removed as far as possible from what is exciting. In the majority of cases it may be fairly assumed that what we are is what God would have us be; the station of life in which we find ourselves is that which He would have us fill. When, therefore, we seem to be Divinely led to an extraordinary course of conduct, it is no vain prudence which bids us inquire whether outward circumstances tend to encourage or dissuade us. Calls to abandon our present position should be rigidly examined, if we would not be beguiled like unstable souls, and be proved in the end to have forsaken our own mercies.

Bishop Woodford, Sermons Preached in Various Churches, p. 193.

Verse 9

1 Samuel 3:9

Samuel was called to be a prophet of God in a great crisis of Jewish history. His appearance was quieter and less dramatic than those of Moses and Elijah, but it was almost as momentous. The epoch was one of those which determine the character and destiny of nations. One great act in the drama of Jewish history was closing, another was opening. Two great revolutions were effected: the one political, the other religious.

Samuel was clearly one of those men of manifold gifts and functions whom God raises up in great crises and for great services. His entire course and character were probably determined by the spirit in which he responded to God's first call, and discharged the arduous service to which he was called.


I. Life is full of voices of God, only we lack the spiritual faculty which discerns them. (1) When we think of God's voice we probably think first and most spontaneously of God's revelation of His will in the Bible. (2) There are again voices of God's providence, which, if we have docile hearts, we shall not fail to recognise. (3) The instincts and yearnings of our own spiritual nature are an unmistakeable voice of God. (4) And to this religious nature God speaks by the motions and monitions of His Holy Spirit; awakening solicitudes, exciting desires, touching impulses. (5) In moments of intellectual perplexity, amid the tempest and earthquake of intellectual strife, the still small voice of the religious soul is heard God's voice within us. (6) In quieter and more thoughtful moods of life we hear the voice of God. (7) God has voices that reach us in crowds; distinct, perhaps loud, above every din of business or clamour of strife or song of revelry. (8) In moments of temptation, even, God's voice finds a tongue in some lingering power of conscience, in some sensitive remnants of virtue, in some angel memories of a pious home and an innocent heart. (9) In times of sorrow God's voice comes to us; summoning us to faith in His will, His purpose, and His presence, and to patience and acquiescence in the sacrifice demanded of us. (10) Most terrible of all is it when the first voice of God that we seriously listen to is a sentence of doom. (11) Again, at what unlikely times and in what unlikely places God may speak to us. (12) To what unlikely persons God's call comes.

II. How then do we respond to God's call? Is not Samuel's answer, "Speak, Lord; Thy servant heareth," in its childlike simplicity, faith and submissiveness, a most beautiful and perfect type of what our answer should be? Even the maturest and most saintly cannot transcend this response of the temple-child.

III. One more lesson we may learn, viz. the religious importance of the passive or receptive side of our spiritual life. This is the conclusion of the whole matter that in the activities of our zeal we do not forget its inspirations in God. The more entire our spirit of dependence, the more effective the work we do.

H. Allon, The Vision of God, p. 257.

The life of Samuel was great, regarding him as the instrument which God chose for changing the civil polity of His chosen people. To Samuel was intrusted the inauguration of the kingdom of Israel. He also stands at the head of the great succession of prophets whom God sent to His people.

I. Notice, first, that this great character comes before us in connection with the dedication of the child by his parents. If great men avail themselves of the tendencies of their day, and do raise their own and help forward the generation that follows; if God is educating humanity, leading it, bringing it to Himself; may we not be keeping back the true progress of our race by accepting these immortal instruments from Him, but failing to give them back to Him, to work His will as long as He may require them?

II. His call to God's service. The Bible is full of the history of the calls of God. The mode of the call has been various, and the manner in which the call has been received has been various also. We are all taught to expect to be called by God. None are too poor, too humble, too little gifted; all are to be fellow-workers with Him.

III. Notice the message which Samuel was called upon to deliver. It required him to announce to the aged Eli, the friend and protector of his youth, the destruction of his family before God. The delivery of this message clearly implied courage. There is an element of reproof contained in all messages of the truth, in whatever line of life they are delivered. In all great lives there is an element of reproof, and also of singularity and loneliness, from which men naturally shrink, and which they require real courage to maintain. Each man has a work to do which is his own and not another's. From One only he need never feel alone; from Him who called him to the work he has to do, and with whom and in whom the life's work should be done.

Bishop King, Oxford and Cambridge Undergraduates' Journal, Oct. 23rd, 1879.

God speaks to us in many different ways and in many different tones. (1) He speaks to us by the works of nature. (2) He speaks to us by the dispensations of His providence. (3) He speaks to us by the voice of conscience. (4) He speaks to us by the words of the Bible and the teaching of His holy Church. (5) He speaks to us at the hour of death.

J. Wilmot-Buxton, Literary Churchman Sermons, p. 89.

I. Samuel was happy in his start in life. He was blessed with pious parents, who, even from his birth, devoted him to God's service.

II. Samuel had early learned to obey: his habits of obedience won him the favour of Eli; yea, more, they won him the favour of the Lord Himself.

III. In Samuel's answer to God's call we see: (1) obedience; (2) perseverance; (3) patience.

IV. God speaks to children: (1) by His works; (2) by means of His holy word. If we wish to learn we must present to the Lord a teachable spirit.

G. Litting, Thirty Sermons for Children, p. 127.

References: 1 Samuel 3:9 . F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. vi., p. 163; Bishop Walsham How, Plain Words to Children, p. 96; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x., No. 586; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xx., p. 335.

Verse 10

1 Samuel 3:10

The call of Samuel is very different in its circumstances from the call of St. Paul; yet it resembles it in this particular, that the circumstance of his obedience to it is brought out prominently even in the words put into his mouth by Eli in the text. The characteristic of all Divine calls in Scripture is: (1) to require instant obedience, and (2) to call us we know not to what; to call us on in the darkness. Faith alone can obey them.

I. Those who are living religiously have from time to time truths they did not know before, or had no need to consider, brought before them forcibly; truths which involve duties, which are in fact precepts 'and claim obedience. In this and similar ways Christ calls us now. He works through our natural faculties and circumstances in life.

II. These Divine calls are commonly sudden and as indefinite and obscure in their consequences as in former times. The call may come to us: (1) through the death of a friend or relative; (2) through some act of sacrifice, suddenly resolved on and executed, which opens as it were a gate into the second or third heaven an entrance into a higher state of holiness. (3) The call may come through the hearing or reading of Scripture, or through an unusual gift of Divine grace poured into our hearts.

III. Nothing is more certain than that some men do feel themselves called to high duties and works to which others are not called. No one has any leave to take another's lower standard of holiness for his own. We need not fear spiritual pride if we follow Christ's call 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. It simply says, "Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth." "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?"

J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. viii., p. 17 (see also Selection from the same, p. 11).

I. No doubt the prophets of God were exceptional men. But in God's world the exceptional is always the evangelistic. God never makes any man for himself, least of all a prophet. The prophet Samuel illustrates the universal freedom of prophetic activity in the Hebrew community, freshly embodies the law expressed by Moses that inspiration is without limits or impediments from above, and is never exclusive in its intended range, or exhausted in its available supply.

II. Christ asserts over and over again the doctrine of the continuity of inspiration. His consolation, amid opposition and defeat, is that His Father reveals the truths of His kingdom to the open and trustful hearts of "babes" like young Samuel, and He solaced His followers by telling them that the Holy Spirit would tell them "all things, and bring all things to their remembrance" that He has said to them in His familiar ministry. The last word of God has not been spoken. The last counsel for a perplexed humanity has not been given.

We are but at the dawn of Revelation, and there is not and cannot be any "finis" with the Eternal.

III. The results of Samuel's inspiration are also possible to us. These results were four: (1) an enlarged and purified conception of God; (2) a strong and governing sway for ethical ideas of God and of life; (3) a contagious impulsion of others towards God and righteousness; (4) a fine susceptibility of advance in religious, social and national activity.

J. CLIFFORD, Daily Strength for Daily Living, p. 139.

I. God called a child, not the old prophet Eli.

II. God called Samuel four times, because he did not understand at first.

III. When God calls us to service, He calls us to honour.

T. Champness, Little Foxes, p. 119.

References: 1 Samuel 3:10 . R. D. B. Rawnsley, A Course of Sermons for the Christian Year, p. 273; F. W. Farrar, Silence and the Voices of God, p. 3; J. Van Oosterzee, Year of Salvation, vol. ii., p. 419; J. Vaughan, Sermons, 1869, p. 213 (see also Old Testament Outlines, p. 61); Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 338; E. Garbett, The Soul's Life, p. 52. 1 Samuel 3:11-13 . R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons, 1st series, p. 196. 1 Samuel 3:11-14 . Parker, vol. vi., p. 248.

Verse 13

1 Samuel 3:13

It was at Shiloh that Eli spent his years. Tranquil and busy, and in the main, honourable years they were. Shiloh was well-fitted to be the seat of ecclesiastical rule, lying as it did well off the main highroad which ran through the country from north to south, lying among hills which fairly shut it in on all sides but one, their sides terraced with vines and olives and fig trees, while in the plain below stood the tabernacle, containing the most precious things in Israel. During the greater part of the year Shiloh was as quiet as any small country cathedral town in England. Only when at the great yearly festival devout Israelites crowded from every tribe to their central national sanctuary, was its solitude invaded. Well might it have seemed an ideal house of prayer and study, of mild authority and ripe wisdom, where piety and purity and philanthropy might be trained to high perfection for the common good. Yet Shiloh was the scene of the base avarice, the high-handed violence, the vulgar profligacy of the sons of Eli; and Shiloh was the scene of Eli's weakness, so culpable in itself, so fraught with ruin to his family and his home.

I. Eli, let us observe, was otherwise, personally, a good man.

He was resigned, humble, and in a true sense, devout. He submits to be rebuked and sentenced by his inferiors without a word of remonstrance. His personal piety is especially noticeable at the moment of his death. He might have survived the national disgrace; but that the Ark of the Sacred Presence should be taken, that he could not survive it touched the Divine honour, and Eli's devotion is to be measured by the fact that the shock of such a disgrace killed him on the spot.

II. Eli's personal excellence was accompanied by a want of moral resolution and enterprise which explains the ruin of his house. He should have removed his sons from the office which they dishonoured. Instead of that, he only talked to them. His sin was one of which only an amiable man could be guilty, but in its consequences it was fatal.

III. Two observations suggest themselves in conclusion: (1) No relationship can be more charged with responsibility than that between a parent and his children. (2) No outward circumstances can of themselves protect us against the insidious assaults of evil, or against the enfeeblement of a truant will.

H. P. Liddon, The Family Churchman, July 14th, 1886 (see also Fenny Pulpit, No. 1160).

Verse 14

1 Samuel 3:14

I. There must have been in Eli a real sense of the sacredness of his function. Whatever reverence a man can inspire by showing that his heart is personally engaged in his work, that it caused him inward delight, he will have inspired. But there is a limit to this kind of respect, and moreover a mischief in it. Eli was a pious or devout man; he was evidently a kind-hearted, amiable man, but he was not, strictly speaking, a righteous man. He did not care that God's order should be established, that wrong-doers should be punished. So long as he could keep his internal quietness all was well. He was the specimen of a departing age; he was sincere, no doubt, but his sincerity would die with him.

II. What then has become of that order of which we have heard so much? The order is just where it always was; not shattered or shaken in the smallest degree; confirmed and established by the unbelief of the people, the crimes of Hophni and Phinehas, and the imbecility of their father. If it was not of God, it was false from the first; if it was of God, He could prove it to be His, and prove that He was not dependent upon the order, but the order upon Him. Man breaks the course of his obedience; he will not believe that God is with him of a truth. Then God shows him that He is. He does not allow him to remain in his delusion, to shut his eyes and fancy that he is unseen.

III. There are two methods in which this revelation of the reality of things was made to Israel at this time: (1) by the call of Samuel; (2) by retribution. The righteous Judge of the world shows that the world cannot go on without Him; that priests who try to establish their rule as if they had one of their own and were not merely His servants, must of all men pay the penalty of their sin and unbelief. The people whom they have perverted into godlessness must taste the fruit of their godlessness. The Philistines came against Israel the ark was taken. But God was the same wherever the ark might be. He still spoke out His judgments and His prophecies by Samuel's voice. In due time, having proved that the nation lived only in Him and by Him, He gave it health and restoration.

F. D. Maurice, Patriarchs and Lawgivers of the Old Testament, p. 336.

Verse 18

1 Samuel 3:18

I. Notice first the history and fate of Eli. (1) Observe his amiability and kindness, shown in his readily retracting his opinion of Hannah and changing the language of uncharitable-ness into that of benediction. (2) Observe the piety of Eli. What meek submission is discernible in his exclamation when, through the instrumentality of Samuel, the destruction of himself and of his father's house was predicted! "It is the Lord; let Him do what seemeth Him good." (3) Eli was a good man, a pious man, but he was weak and indolent, and in consequence he did not discharge with vigour the duties of an office which he might have declined, and the emoluments of which he enjoyed, the further consequence being a great detriment to the public affairs of the Church and nation over which he presided. (4) For this Eli met with the punishment he deserved; he sacrificed his duty for the sake of peace, and notwithstanding his sacrifice he found trouble; his grey hairs were brought in sorrow to the grave.

II. Consider the early years of Samuel. (1) Samuel, young as he was, seems alone in Eli's house to have been conscientiously doing his duty, and among the revealed dealings of God with man we find this to have been a general rule, that God selected as His immediate agents persons who had been previously prepared by moral discipline for the work for which He designed them. (2) In this preparation of Samuel, although something depended on himself, yet in some things he was also dependent on others. It was Hannah who brought him to the house of the Lord when he was yet young. His piety, though an acquisition, was also an inheritance. He was supported by her prayers as well as his own; her precept and example had influence over him; he was indebted to Eli also. By our actions we help one another; by our prayers we are to help one another. No man liveth unto himself. Man, from his very birth, is linked to man.

W. F. Hook, Parish Sermons, p. 21.

References: 1 Samuel 3:19 . J. Harrison, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 49; R. M. McCheyne, Additional Remains, p. 81. 1 Samuel 3:19-21 . G. B. Ryley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 185.

Verse 20

1 Samuel 3:20

An Italy once, an India twice, have succumbed to a boyish resolve. In the higher sphere, that of conquest in the intellectual world, it is mere matter of necessity that to be a great poet, scholar, or orator, must have been the boy's resolve before it was the man's reward. Careers like these must be chosen by the open eyes of boyhood, must be pursued with all its vivid forces. Again, in the higher spiritual world how young have been most of our chieftains, the saints of heaven, at the time when their choice was made and proclaimed. It has often been noticed how young the great leaders of European Christendom have ever been.

I. Notice first that in the text we have a resolution, and a young resolution.

II. The second point is what Samuel resolved to do, and at what time. To be a prophet of the Lord seems to imply such grace from heaven, such free-will on the part of God God everything, man nothing. And perhaps we may be liable to forget that the man may be prepared and fitted for his work or otherwise, and that by the line which he has himself taken. Samuel gave himself up to be what God would have him to be, to be that in the best way and in the most perfect degree.

III. The history is not the history of countries or of Churches only. It is the history of the cause of God, and there is no place, no society, in which the cause of God does not go through the self-same phases, maintained and counteracted; and when should boyish resolve more affect the Church of God than as it works in our society?

IV. It is inconsistency on our part which weakens the cause of our Master in any place. We must be established, we must be faithful, to be servants of the Lord. (1) No one can serve God without prayer. Prayer is the means of obtaining that strength which is our chief want. (2) A second point is friendship. Mere ordinary friendships do good on the whole, but how much more would they do if there were a little resolve, a little more holding yourselves and your friends true to principles which you respect, and if you established yourselves to be true friends to each other.

Archbishop Benson, Boy Life: Sundays in Wellington College, p. 11.

References: 1 Samuel 3:21 . Parker, vol. vii., p. 60. 1 Samuel 4:3 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv., No. 186; Parker, vol. vi.. p. 259; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. x., p. 278; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 255. 1 Samuel 4:7 . Parker, vol. vii., p. 60.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 3". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/1-samuel-3.html.
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