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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 3

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-21


THE CALL OF SAMUEL (1 Samuel 3:1-10).

1 Samuel 3:1

The word of the Lord was precious in those days. Or rather rare; it came but seldom, and there was no proper order of persons from whose ranks the "speakers for God" would naturally step forth. It was this which made the revelation of Jehovah's will to Samuel an event so memorable both for the Jewish nation and for the Church; for he was called by the providence of God to be the founder of prophecy as an established institution, and henceforward, side by side with the king and priest, the prophet took his place as one of the three factors in the preparation for the coming of him who is a king to rule, a Priest to make atonement, and also a Prophet to teach his people and guide them into all the truth. There was no open vision. Literally, "no vision that broke forth". The meaning is, that though prophecy was an essential condition of the spiritual life of Israel, yet that hitherto it had not been promulgated and established as a fact. The gift had not absolutely been withheld, but neither had it been permanently granted as a settled ordinance. There are in Hebrew two words for vision: the one used here, hazon, refers to such sights as are revealed to the tranced eye of the seer when in a state of ecstasy; while the other, march, is a vision seen by the natural eye. From the days, however, of Isaiah onward, hazon became the generic term for all prophecy.

1 Samuel 3:2

Eli … could not see. I.e. clearly. His sight was fast failing him, and Samuel, still called a child, na'ar, but probably, as Josephus states ('Antiq.,' 1 Samuel 5:10, 1 Samuel 5:4), now fully twelve years old, was in constant attendance upon him because of his increasing infirmities. Both were sleeping in the temple; for literally the words are, And Samuel was sleeeping in the temple of Jehovah, where the ark of God was. Of course neither Eli nor Samuel were in the holy place; but, as in 1 Samuel 1:9, the word temple is used in its proper sense of the whole palace of Israel's spiritual King, in which were chambers provided for the use of the high priest and those in attendance upon him.

In 1 Samuel 1:3 the lamp is mentioned as fixing the exact time. Though it is said that the seven-branched candelabrum was "to burn always" (Exodus 27:20), yet this apparently was to be by perpetually relighting it (ibid. 1 Samuel 30:7, 1 Samuel 30:8); and as Aaron was commanded to dress and light it every morning and evening, and supply it with oil, the night would be far advanced and morning near before it went out. In the stillness then of the late night Samuel, sunk in heavy sleep, hears a voice calling him, and springing up, naturally hurries to Eli, supposing that he needed his services. Eli had not heard the voice, and concluding that it was a mistake, bids Samuel return to his bed. Again the voice rings upon his ear, and again he hastens to Eli, only to be told to lie down again.

In 1 Samuel 1:7 the reason is given why Samuel was thus thrice mistaken. Samuel did not yet know Jehovah, neither was the word of Jehovah yet revealed unto him. Doubtless he knew Jehovah in the way in which the sons of Eli did not know him (1 Samuel 2:12), i.e. in his conscience and spiritual life, but he did not know him as one who reveals his will unto men. Prophecy had long been a rare thing, and though Samuel had often heard God's voice in the recesses of his heart, speaking to him of right and wrong, he knew nothing of God as a living Person, giving commands for men to obey, and bestowing knowledge to guide them in doing his will.

1 Samuel 3:8

But Eli was neither so inexperienced, nor so lost to all sense of Jehovah being the immediate ruler of Israel, as not to perceive, when Samuel came to him the third time, that the matter was Divine. Possibly he recalled to mind the visit of the man of God, and had some presage of what the message might be. At all events he bade Samuel lie calmly down again, because the best preparation for hearing God's voice is obedience and trustful submission.

1 Samuel 3:10

And Jehovah came, and stood, and called as at other times. It is something more than a voice; there was an objective presence; and so in 1 Samuel 3:15 it is called, not hazon, a sight seen when in a state of ecstasy, but march, something seen when wide awake, and in the full, calm possession of every faculty. As at other times simply means as before, as on the two previous occasions. But now, instead of hurrying to Eli, Samuel obediently waits for the revelation of the Divine will, saying, "Speak; for thy servant heareth."

THE MESSAGE TO ELI (1 Samuel 3:11-18).

1 Samuel 3:11

Behold, I will do. Rather, I do, I am now doing. Though the threatened ruin may be delayed for a few years, yet is it already in actual progress, and the fall of Eli's house will be but the consummation of causes already now at work. At which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle. This implies the announcement of some event so frightful and unlooked for that the news shall, as it were, slap both ears at once, and make them smart with pain. And such an event was the capture of the ark, and the barbarous destruction of the priests and sanctuary at Shiloh. The phrase is again used of the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 21:12; Jeremiah 19:3), a calamity which Jeremiah compares to the fall of Shiloh (Jeremiah 7:12, Jeremiah 7:14; Jeremiah 26:6, Jeremiah 26:9), inasmuch as both of these events in-valved the ruin of the central seat of the Jewish religion, and were both accompanied by revolting cruelties.

1 Samuel 3:12

I will perform. Literally, "I will raise up," i.e. I will excite and stir up into active energy all the denunciations of the man of God (1 Samuel 2:27), which hitherto have been as it were asleep and at rest. All things which. Better, quite literally, all that I have spoken. When I begin, I will also make an end. In the Hebrew two infinitives used as gerunds, "beginning and ending," i.e. from beginning to end. The Hebrew language constantly thus uses infinitives with great force; as, for instance, in Jeremiah 7:9 : "What! stealing, murdering, committing adultery," etc.

1 Samuel 3:13

For I have told him, etc. These words may be translated, with the Septuagint and Vulgate, "For I have told him that I would judge his house," referring back to the message of the man of God; or, with the Syriac, "And I will show him that I do judge his house." Forever. I.e. finally; his house shall pass away. His sons made themselves vile. The verb used here invariably means to curse; but "they cursed themselves" does not, without straining, give a good sense. The Septuagint for "themselves" reads God, and the Syriac the people. Buxtorf says ('Lex. Rab.,' sub תִּקּוֹן) that the right reading is me, and that this is one of eighteen places where the scribes have changed me into themselves or them. But while thus there is much uncertainty about the right text, the evidence is too uncertain to act upon, and it is best to translate, "His sons have brought a curse upon themselves," while acknowledging that the ordinary rendering would be "have cursed themselves." And he restrained them not. The Versions generally take the verb used here as equivalent to one differing only in having a softer medial consonant, כהה = כאה, and translate rebuked; but that really found in the Hebrew text signifies "to weaken, humble, reduce to powerlessness." The A.V. takes neither one verb nor the other in the rendering restrained. Eli ought to have prevented his sons from persisting in bringing disgrace upon God's service by stripping them of their office. Their wickedness was great, and required a stern and decisive remedy.

1 Samuel 3:14

Sacrifice nor offering. The first of these is zebach, the sacrifice of an animal by the shedding of its blood; the second is the minchah, or unbloody sacrifice. The guilt of Eli's sons could be purged, i.e. expiated, by none of the appointed offerings for sin, because they had hardened themselves in their wrong doing even after the solemn warning in 1 Samuel 2:27-36. Hence the marked repetition of the denunciation of finality in their doom. Again it is said that it is forever. It has, however, been well noticed that though the message of Samuel confirms all that had been threatened by the man of God, yet that no bitter or painful words are put into the mouth of one who was still a child. For this there may also be a further reason. The first message was intended to give Eli and his sons a final opportunity of repentance, and, that it might produce its full effect, the severity of the doom impending upon them was clearly set before their eyes. They did not repent. Eli hardened himself in his weakness, and took no steps to vindicate God's service from the slur cast upon it by an unworthy priesthood. His sons hardened themselves in crime, and made their office a reproach. It was enough, therefore, to repeat and confirm generally the terms of the former prophecy, as no moral object would be gained by calling attention to the severity of the coming judgment.

1 Samuel 3:15

Samuel … opened the doors. In Exodus 26:36 : Exodus 36:37, the word used, though translated door, really means an opening, protected by a hanging curtain. The word used here means double or folding doors of wood, and we must therefore conclude that solid buildings had grown up round the tabernacle (see on 1 Samuel 1:9), and a wall for its defence in case of invasion, or the assault of predatory tribes. The confiding the keys of these enclosures to Samuel shows that he was no longer a mere child, or he would have been incapable of holding a position of such high trust (on the key as an emblem of authority see Isaiah 22:22). Vision, as noticed above on Exodus 36:10, means something seen by a person awake and in full possession of his senses.

1 Samuel 3:16, 1 Samuel 3:17, 1 Samuel 3:18

God do so to thee, etc. This adjuration shows how great had been the agony of Eli's suspense, yet, true to his sluggish nature, he had waited patiently till the morning came. Then he summons Samuel to him, calling him lovingly my son, and everything tends to show that there was a real affection between the two. He next asks, What is the thing that he hath said unto thee? The A.V. greatly weakens this by inserting the words "The Lord." The original is far more suggestive. Put quite indefinitely, it says, "Whoever or whatsoever be thy visitor, yet tell me all." Then, when Eli has heard the message, he says, It is Jehovah. Though he had not had the courage to do what was right, yet his submission to God, and the humility of his resignation, prove that the Holy Ghost had in these years of waiting being doing its work upon the old man's heart. Eli's adjuration, we must further note, was equivalent to putting Samuel upon his oath, so that any concealment on his part would have involved the sin of perjury.


1 Samuel 3:19

And Samuel grew. His childhood up to this time has been carefully kept before our view; now he passes from youth to manhood. And Jehovah was with him. By special gifts, but especially by establishing his words. Spoken by Divine inspiration, they were all fulfilled. So in Ecclesiastes 12:11 the words of the wise are compared to "nails fastened" securely, and which may therefore be depended upon. But in their case it is experience and sound judgment that makes them foresee what is likely to happen; it was a higher gift which made Samuel's words remain safe and sure, and capable of firmly holding up all enterprises that were hung upon them.

1 Samuel 3:20

From Dan, upon the north, to Beersheba, upon the south, means "throughout the whole country." The phrase is interesting, as showing that, in spite of the virtual independence of the tribes, and the general anarchy which prevailed during the time of the judges, there was nevertheless a feeling that they all formed one people. Was established. The same word used in Numbers 12:7 of Moses, and there translated was faithful. It is one of those pregnant words common in Hebrew, containing two cognate meaning. It says, first, that Samuel was faithful in his office; and, secondly, that because he was found trustworthy he was confirmed and strengthened in the possession of it.

1 Samuel 3:21

And Jehovah appeared again. Literally, "added to appear," i.e. revealed himself from time to time on all fit occasions. To appear, literally, "to be seen," is the verb used of waking vision (see on 1 Samuel 3:15). By the word of Jehovah. Many of the old commentators refer this to the second person of the Holy Trinity, but he is himself Jehovah, as we affirm in the Te Deum: "We believe thee to be the Lord," i.e. the Jehovah of the Old Testament, usually translated, in deference to a Jewish superstition, "the LORD." As the Word, Christ is "the Word of God." The phrase really means, "by prophetic inspiration" revealing to Samuel the truth (comp. Isaiah 51:16; Jeremiah 1:9).


1 Samuel 3:1-10

Light withheld.

The facts given are—

1. A lack of the manifest revelations of the Divine will to which Israel had been accustomed.

2. A consciousness of this want on the part of the few pious in Israel.

3. The continued service of Samuel in the ordinary routine of the sanctuary.

4. The resumption of the manifest revelation by the call of Samuel to receive it.

5. Samuel experiences difficulty in recognising the call of God.

6. Eli renders to him the assistance by which he becomes recipient of the Divine communication. The statement concerning Samuel's continued service in the sanctuary is evidently to prepare the way for the new prophet's summons to important duties. The historian's mind rests primarily on a dreary period during which a valued privilege was not enjoyed.

I. A PROGRESSION OF LIGHT IS NEEDED IN THE CHURCH OF GOD. The ancient Jewish Church was very dependent for its growth in knowledge, in direction for present duty, and in advancing joy in life, upon well ascertained communications from God. The fragmentary history from patriarchal times onwards acquaints us with many specific instances in which "open vision," as distinguished from individual enlightenment for private uses, was vouchsafed. It is probable that much other light was given than we have record of, as truly as that the apostles received more from Christ than is explicitly contained in the Gospels. The clear light of God was necessary in successive years to enable Israel to do the work required in paving the way for Messiah. Therefore men looked for "vision" through some chosen instrument, and felt that the normal course of Providence was interrupted when, through long and weary years, none was granted. Substantially the light has now been given to the modern Church. No one is to "add to or take away from the words of the book" which God has given for the instruction and guidance of his people. But relatively, to the perception of the Church and of the individual, there is still a progression in what is made known to us. All the truth was in Christ before it gradually came forth "in divers manners to the fathers;" and all the truth requisite for salvation is in the word of God. But as occasional manifestations in ancient times brought successive beams of light from the original Source to supply the need of men, so now out of the word of God much light has to break forth for the instruction, guidance, and comfort of the Church. There is all the difference imaginable between adding to the sum of truth by traditions of men or superior "light of reason," and having the things of Christ revealed to us by the Spirit. Our growth in knowledge is consequent on clearer "visions" from God's word.

II. SPIRITUAL RECEPTIVITY IS A CONDITION OF RECEIVING FURTHER LIGHT FROM GOD. The absence of "open visions" in the days of Eli is implicitly accounted for by the circumstance that the official persons through whom the communications usually came were not in a state of mind to be so honoured by God. There seems to be a beautiful adaptation between the fitness of the instrument and the fulness of the truth conveyed. Isaiah's intense spirituality of mind made him a fit instrument for conveying to men the more advanced truth revealed to him. The tone of the Apostle John's nature qualified him for the special quality and degree of truth characteristic of his writings. There seem to be high regulative laws by which God sends forth his light to the spiritual man corresponding to those in the lower sphere of intellect and moral perception. The application of this principle is seen in the history of the Church and of the individual. When the leaders of the Church have been intent on earthly things, no advance has been made in the understanding of the Scriptures. As protoplastic life must pre-exist in order to the assimilation of protoplasm, so a certain spiritual light and love must dwell in man in order to the absorption into self of light from God's word. No wonder if irreligious men cannot know the mysteries of the kingdom. The highest spiritual truth is not intellectually, but "spiritually discerned." Christ may have many things to say to us, but we, through deficient receptivity, "cannot bear them now." Hence the wisdom of God is often foolishness to men, or the darkness is real because the eye that should see is dim.

III. It is a GREAT CALAMITY FOR ANY PEOPLE TO BE DEPRIVED OF THE LIGHT which ordinarily comes from God for human use. The historian indicates the sad loss from which the people were suffering in this withholding of "open vision." All light is good, only good. It is the chief means of life. It means cheer, safety, development. To be without it in any measure is, in that degree, to be practically blind, and to suffer all the evils of blindness. We mourn over those who cannot see the sweet, beautiful light of day. Agony enters us when we gaze on men devoid of the light of reason. The wisest grope as in perpetual fear when the pillar of fire and Divine silence show not the way to take. Worst of all when the Church has no guidance suited to its need. There have been periods when the written word has been almost lost to the mass of Christians. There are souls dark, sad, hopeless because no "vision" points to the Refuge from sin and the rest to come. If one could speak out the secret miseries of some who, dazed by exclusive gaze on the light of reason, feel that life is hopeless, the world would scarcely credit the story.

IV. The LACK OF RECEPTIVITY BY WHICH this calamity is experienced is often THE RESULT OF A DEGENERATE, CORRUPT STATE OF MIND SELF-INDUCED AND LOVED. The spiritual unfitness of people and leaders in Eli's day to receive more and frequent "visions" was the creation of their own wicked wills. The calamity of being left for a while was the fruit of their doings. Sin is a blinding power, as also a creator of positive aversion. The natural effect of religious declension is to render men indifferent to the value of God's truth for its own sake and for its elevating influence; incapable of appreciating and even discerning it in its purity; prone to set a wrong interpretation upon it when in any degree it is given; and even, in many instances, disposed go refer that which professes to be from God to any other than the true source. It is a fair question how much of the professed rejection of Christianity on reasonable grounds is really traceable to the pure exercise of the reason under the guidance of an undefiled love of truth. Is not zeal to be free from such holy restraints as Christ imposes often an important element in the case? The finer and most convincing evidences of the truth of Christianity lie in the spiritual beauty and glory of the Christ, and this is a factor which mere intellectual processes cannot assess. How is it that the unholy always welcome objections to Christianity? It is ever true, "sin lieth at the door." "Ye will not come unto me." "Out of the heart are the issues of life."

V. The CAUSE OF THE DEGENERACY which issues in a calamitous loss of spiritual light LIES IN A NEGLECT OF SUCH LIGHT AS IS ALREADY GIVEN. The inaptitude of Eli to receive "visions," and of the people to profit by them, was the fruit of a religious decay brought on by inattention to the instructions given by Moses, and a heedless performance of acts of worship. Thus calamity came of abuse or neglect of existing privileges. The principle holds good over a wide sphere. Unfaithfulness in some Churches of Asia led to the dire calamity of a removal of the "candlestick." Apostles sometimes turned from cities that failed to use the opportunities they afforded them. Those who, seeing the "Eternal Power and Godhead "in the "things that are made," glorified not God, had their "foolish heart darkened." An exclusive fondness for one side of intellectual nature, to the habitual neglect of the secret and subtle moral elements in conscience, often results in the folly and wickedness of finding not even a trace of God in the universe. Of many it may still be true, "Hadst thou known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace I but now they are hid from thine eyes.'"

VI. The CORRUPTION OF AN AGE and consequent WITHHOLDMENT OF DIVINE LIGHT is NO PERMANENT BAR TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF TRUTH. Israel's degeneracy brought its chastisement; yet God had a holy servant in reserve both to remove the impeding corruption and to continue the declarations of God's will. Waters held back by a barrier retain and multiply their force, and in course of time will first sweep away the opposition and then flow peacefully on. God's purposes are an eternal force pressing on into the future. In ancient times a measure of truth was given to the world to make ready a fit time and condition for the Christ to come; and this was done, if not by one unwilling instrument, yet by another when that was swept away. Likewise the Church is to get more truth from the Bible for the "perfecting of the saints;" and in spite of dark seasons it will rise to a clearer vision of the truth in Christ by the providential removal of obstructions and the introduction of a more holy and teachable order of men. Man lives and toils, and opposes and dies. God ever lives in full resistless energy.

Practical considerations:

1. It is a question how far errors and theological conflicts are to be associated with a defective spirituality arising from either over-absorption in purely philosophical pursuits, external Church order, or political and party arrangements.

2. To what extent is it possible to remedy the absence of Divine truth in much of the literature of modern times.

3. By what means the Church and the individual may secure more of that holy, teachable spirit by which alone a fuller vision of truth shall be enjoyed.

4. How far the conduct of controversies of the day respecting Divine truth is defective by not sufficiently taking into account the spiritual condition of men opposed to religion, and whether there is a proper dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit to give eyes to the blind.

5. To what extent, in personal seasons of darkness, the cause lies in our personal indulgence in secret or open sin.

Lowly instruments.

The transition from the employment of Eli, as the messenger of God to the people, to Samuel, brings into view important truths concerning the instrumentality by which God effects his purposes concerning man.

I. God always has IN RESERVE AND TRAINING SUITABLE INSTRUMENTS for promoting the ends to be sought in connection with Christ's kingdom. Judged from the outward aspect of things, all around appeared dark and hopeless. There was no one able to cope with the difficulties of the position. A similar condition of things has been found in certain countries during the history of the Christian Church. Some desponding minds would find a correspondence in the prevailing unbelief and daring atheism of modern times. There are also conditions of the individual spiritual life when decay has apparently gone on to utter hopelessness. Missionaries have now and then felt almost the horror of despair in view of nameless barbarities. But two or three saw a little beneath the surface. Hannah was sure of coming deliverance. Elkanah in some degree shared her confidence, and Eli surmised a purpose of the Lord in the presence of the holy child of the sanctuary. And, answering to these better spirits of a corrupt age, there are always a few—"a remnant"—who know and are comforted in the assurance that God has instruments in reserve. As in the case of Samuel, they are chosen, in training, and biding their time. There are instances of this general truth—

1. In the preparation of the earth for man. From remote times there were already chosen, and qualified, and retained in other forms till fit season, the agencies by which, in spite of catastrophes of fire and convulsion and deluge, the beautiful earth would come forth in material realisation of the thought and purpose of God.

2. In the infant Christian Church. The end of Christ's earthly life seemed most disastrous to his kingdom. The corruption and craft of the wicked were dominant, and the removal of the Saviour seemed to human judgment to be the climax of disaster. Yet God had chosen, was training and holding in reserve, the men by whom the evils of the age were to be overcome, and truth and righteousness and love asserted as never before.

3. In definite periods of the Church's history. The scholastic subtleties of the middle ages on the one side, the deplorable decay of morals and the prostitution of Church ordinances to gain on the other, caused the earth to mourn. Nevertheless, in the seraphic devotion of here and there a devout monk, in the inquiring spirit of Erasmus, the clear intelligence of Melancthon, and the courage and firm grip of truth by Luther, God had his chosen instruments for producing a wonderful advance in all that pertains to freedom, purity, and Christian knowledge.

4. In the midst of the evils indicated by modern antagonism to Christianity. Doubtless the principles advocated, logically wrought out, as they are sure to be when the mass embrace them, contain the seeds of immorality, anarchy, and decay of noblest sentiments; and often there is an eagerness in adopting them which may well cause some to tremble. But God is alive, not dead. He has his agencies, fitted, and, so to speak, under restraint. They will be found to consist in the practical futility of all endeavour to get substitutes for a holy religion; the hopeless miseries into which individuals will be plunged; the horror created by the very violence of vice; the natural, never-to-be-quenched instinct which compels man to "cry out for the living God;" the calling forth of wise men of saintly life who are masters in secular knowledge; the silent force of Christian lives in health, sickness, and sorrow; and the aroused prayerfulness of the Church. Men like Samuel are in existence—

5. In the conflict of the individual Christian life. The dire evils of latent sin, weak resolutions, from stains of early years, seem to be a "body of sin and death from which there is no escape. But God has in reserve the truth, the afflictions, the tenderness, the quickening power of the Holy Spirit, by which all these shall pass away, and a restored life shall result.

II. The CHARACTERISTICS OF THE MOST EFFECTIVE INSTRUMENTS in working out God's will are, SO FAR AS PERSONS ARE CONCERNED, WELL ASCERTAINED. There is great advantage in having the child life of Samuel sketched in contrast with the habits and principles of those no longer worthy to be the instruments for doing the highest work in the world. The qualities in Samuel that fitted him for his work were purity of life, deep love for God and his sanctuary, personal consecration to any service in which it might please God to employ him, and the humility that disdains not even menial work if God would thus have it. These qualities are really embraced in the one supreme quality—conformity of will to the Divine will. In this respect all human instruments are alike when thoroughly effective. In so far as it is our "meat and drink" to do the Father's will, our nature becomes a fit channel for the Divine energy to work through for spiritual ends. The failure of moral agents lies in the condition of the will. The power of Christian life in prayer, in work, in silent influence, is in proportion as the consecration takes the form of, "Not my will, but thine be done."

III. The EFFECTIVENESS OF THE INSTRUMENTS used lies essentially in THE POWER WHICH WORKS THROUGH THEM. The excellent qualities of Samuel no doubt exercised a power appropriate to their own nature; but the real work he did was more than the mere natural influence of what he was. It was God who worked, not only within him to will and to do, but also with and by him. Everywhere in Scripture stress is laid on the unseen energy of God acting on the visible and invisible elements of things, and at last bringing all into subjection. The reality of the Divine power in the human instrument is often conspicuous. The child Samuel did not secure of himself the submission of the people or the deference of Eli. God wrought on their spirits and made them willing to take him as prophet. Saul was the stronger map, but God used David to slay Goliath. God, in the case of apostles, had chosen the "weak things of the world to confound the mighty." His grace was sufficient for them. "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit."

General lessons:

1. There is the most perfect ground for confidence that agencies will be found for doing any work really essential to the salvation of men.

2. It is important for all so to live and labour that they may be available for any service requisite in seasons of trial.

3. The fitness of each Christian for doing greatest possible good in the world rests with his own diligent self culture and entireness of consecration.

4. It is essentially necessary that in all effort God be recognised as the Author of all good.

Call to higher service.

The service of God is very wide and varied. Every true heart may find some employment therein. "They serve who wait," as also those who simply exhibit a holy life. The weary Christian invalid conveys many an impressive lesson to the strong and vigorous. The patient endurance of adversity may do more good than the enjoyment of prosperity. In making distinctions in the value of service rendered, we are not always in a position to pass perfect judgment. In one respect a lowly Christian may be "greater than John the Baptist." In reference to public functions there are gradations, and in this respect Samuel was called to a higher form of service.

I. There ARE CALLS TO A SERVICE RELATIVELY HIGHER. In the estimation of Hannah and Eli, the early occupation of Samuel in the tabernacle was the initiatory stage of a life work. Except so far as a pure, simple life in contrast with vileness can teach, Samuel's service was confined to attendance on the venerable high priest. The position for which he was finally called was more conspicuous, of wider influence, and involving the display of superior qualities. The narrative relating the call to this higher service is a record in spirit of what has often transpired in the course of history, and is being realised every day. Abraham, Moses, and David served God, each in his own restricted sphere, when they obeyed the Divine call. As Christ once summoned fishermen to leave their occupation to be fishers of men, so now others hear his voice urging them to leave the ship, the desk, the farm, to do his will in preaching the gospel. To the attentive ear of the devout there are frequent calls to rise to more arduous positions in the Church, or to enter on some line of private Christian endeavour that shall more truly bless mankind. Let devout men not forget that the Divine call to higher work is not confined to public functionaries. All kinds of workers are engaged on the spiritual temple.

II. There is A SPECIAL FITNESS REQUIRED FOR HIGHER SERVICE. Obviously, only a Samuel trained by a devout mother, accustomed to the hallowed associations of the sanctuary, was suited for the work that had henceforth to be done. The chief elements that qualify for entrance on higher service are—

1. Deep piety; for as piety is a requisite to all useful spiritual work, so deep piety is required for the more trying forms of usefulness.

2. Fidelity in lower forms. He that is faithful in that which is least becomes fitted for superior responsibilities. "Come up higher" is the voice which crowns earthly toil.

3. Natural aptitude for new emergencies. God never puts a man in a position for which natural powers when sanctified are unsuited. The wondrous adaptations in the material world find their analogies in the spiritual.

4. Readiness to endure what is unknown. God's servants have to enter an untraversed ground, and their qualification for a call to this must embrace a spirit that says, "Here am I." "Speak, Lord." "What wouldst thou have me to do?" The representation given of Samuel, and of others in the Bible, shows that they were endowed with these qualifications. This, also, may be a test by which good men may now judge of themselves. No one ought to think of departing from any useful sphere of labour without severe scrutiny as to capabilities for heavier duties.

III. The FITNESS FOR HIGHER SERVICE IS, IN SOME INSTANCES, UNCONSCIOUSLY ACQUIRED. Growth is not felt while in process, and only when attention is called to it is the fact recognised. Samuel became month by month more pious and true; his aptitudes enlarged, and his courage rose with every discharge of inconvenient duty. He became spiritually wealthy without being aware of it—sure evidence of vital godliness. The disposition sometimes found to complain of one's lot, to hanker after some more showy occupation in God's service, and to watch and plan for personal advancement, is not a good sign. The humble deeds of opening the door, lighting the lamps of the house of God, when done out of pure love for the Lord of the sanctuary, are means of raising the tone of the entire life. To do the smallest deed for Christ is blessed, and years of such fond service is an education, the results of which are only brought out to view when a perhaps sudden demand is made for some difficult duty. By his bitter repentance, and the all-absorbing love for Christ consequent on full restoration, Peter little knew that he was becoming the man to lead the Church on to great triumphs.

IV. The MEANS OF CALLING TO HIGHER SERVICE ARE WONDERFULLY SUITED TO THE CIRCUMSTANCE. The miraculous manifestation of the Divine Being was in harmony with the method by which, as Samuel knew from history of the past, God conveyed his will to men. No terror would arise in his spirit, for he was accustomed to reverence the house of God, and to feel that God was nigh. A pure, loving heart does not dread God. The more childlike the piety, the more welcome the thought and presence of the eternal Friend. If Samuel was to become a prophet, and the emergency required that a prophet should speak at that juncture; and if, for authentication, Eli must be used, it is difficult to conceive how these ends could be more naturally secured than by the manner in which the call was made. The objections men raise to what they call the anthropomorphism of such a portion of Scripture as this are utterly baseless. Does not God reveal himself in the material world by the visible things which are the outward expressions of his mind? Does it make any real difference to him whether he form them by a slow or by a more swift process? Was the first expression, in an act of creation, slow? Who, then, shall say that in expressing his moral purposes for men he must not and cannot adopt an ontward visible form, by which the mind to be taught shall be surely arrested? Given a revelation to be made, will men prescribe a priori and infallibly how God is to act in making it. If so, do they not draw on their human views, and create a God of their own? And what is this but anthropomorphism of deepest dye? All God's acts are perfect. The call of his servants is by means suited to time, purpose, and condition. Abraham and others after him each heard the Divine voice differently, but naturally, so far as special conditions determine events. There are "diversities of operations," but "one Spirit." So now it may be by "still small voice," or by suggestion of the wise, or by pressure of circumstances, that his servants receive the assurance that God would have them enter on enlarged responsibilities.

V. It is POSSIBLE THAT A CALL MAY NOT BE CLEARLY DISTINGUISHED AT FIRST. It was not wonderful that Samuel mistook the voice of God for the voice of man. It was Divine tenderness gradually to prepare his mind, through the suggestion of Eli, for a great event. God accommodates his voice of majesty to mortal ears. A spirit like Samuel's, satisfied with the honour of doing anything in the house of God, would scarcely suppose that the greatest of honours was at hand. We are not sure that calls to higher service are in any case immediately clear. Scripture tells of the fact in many instances without reference to the mental history of the individuals. Abraham's strong faith implies special difficulties, and possibly conflicts. Isaiah could scarcely believe that God would use him. Though the disciples knew that Jesus of Nazareth called them to be his servants, doubts subsequently came over them, for they "trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel." Good men become so habituated to lines of action, ruling of impulses, and guidance of common events, that at first they cannot recognise a superior will in new openings, new gentle longings, and pressure from without. It is by the use of ordinary faculties and means that the call to duty is ascertained. Samuel inquired of Eli, and followed the suggestions of the experienced. The great lines of duty are close to all who will take the trouble to know them. Wise men, passing events, openness of spirit, willingness to be led, these are the means by which every perplexed Samuel will be sure to solve his doubts. To know the possibility that God has some unknown duty to indicate, to be saying in heart, when attention is aroused, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth"—this is often the first step to a new career of usefulness.

1 Samuel 3:11-14

Privileges and cares.

The one great fact here set forth is that God reveals to Samuel—

1. The judgment impending over the house of Eli, and its reasons.

2. That Eli had been already informed of its nature.

3. That the judgment when it comes will cause the most intense consternation in Israel.

I. An ENTRANCE ON SUPERIOR PRIVILEGES. Hitherto Samuel had waited on man. Now he is honoured to hear the voice of God, and wait directly on the Divine presence. His acquaintance with the history of his race—acquired from his mother, and the conversation of Eli, and possibly records in the tabernacle—must have caused him to know that, in being thus called to listen to the voice of God, he was about to take rank among the distinguished in Israel. The honour would be esteemed in proportion to the purity of his nature and sense of unworthiness in the sight of God. The question as to why God should raise a mere child to a position of such importance may admit of partial answer in this instance, though there is always in the Divine choice an element of wisdom which we cannot unfold. If the regular officials of Israel are unfaithful, God may teach men by using the feeblest of instruments, and out of the ordinary course. And it might be important for the new prophet to be properly installed and authenticated before the aged judge passed away, and the ark of God fell into the hand of the foe. It is always a season of solemn importance when a servant of God enters on higher privileges, and becomes a special medium for reaching the world with Divine truth. It may be, as in this case, in quietude, without the knowledge of the restless world. In any instance is it a marked era in a personal life.

II. An UNWELCOME DISCOVERY. Throughout the ten or twelve years of Samuel's service in the sanctuary he had been to Eli as a loving, dutiful, reverent son. To his awakening piety and simple nature the aged high priest would be the most august personage in the world, the representative of the Most High. The quiet good nature of Eli in relation to himself would impress the youthful mind very favourably. There would be in Samuel's deportment a tenderness and deference suited to age. It would therefore be a terrible discovery to learn from the mouth of God that this revered man was so guilty as to deserve chastisement most severe. The surface of life was removed, and the object of love and reverence stood condemned. The shock to a child's sensibilities could not but be great at first. When honoured character is found to be blasted, the first impulse of the heart is to give up faith in men and things. But well balanced holy minds, as was Samuel's, soon recover themselves. He felt that God must do right. His horror of sin was in proportion to his purity of life. Therefore, with all the awe, silent and loving, of a true child of God, he would grieve, yet feel that God was wise and good. In more ordinary forms the same discovery is sometimes made. Children have to learn now and then all at once that the father is discovered to have lived a life of secret sin. The Church is occasionally astounded by discoveries of character not suspected. Even the disciples were unaware of the presence of a thief and traitor as their friend and companion. How many characters have yet to be unveiled

III. A PREMONITION OF COMING CARES. If we search further for reasons why so terrible a revelation was made to the child prophet, one might be found in the preparation it gave him for future anxieties. It is well for youth and men to go forth to their career remembering that troubles will come. Samuel's knowledge that disasters of most painful character were close at hand would be morally good and useful. For when cares gather around the soul flees more earnestly to God. The same thing occurred in the instance of the apostles. The honour conferred on them in receiving the truth was weighted with the knowledge that "in the world" they would "have tribulation." Every one who enters on a new course of service must look for cares as part of the lot assigned; and the prospect will not daunt the true heart, but bring it more into contact with the Source of strength.

IV. A REVELATION OF DIVINE PROCEDURE. Samuel, if at all reflective, must have been struck with the exceeding deliberateness of the Divine judgments. Here was a case of vile conduct long manifested, and wicked irresolution to put it down; yet, instead of sudden and swift punishment coming on father and sons, there is first a declaration to the father that the judgment is coming, and that all is in train for it; then a lapse of some little time, and a declaration to Samuel that the judgment is fixed and sure; and after that a succession of events that must have occupied a considerable time before the execution of the judgment (1 Samuel 4:1-11). This calm deliberateness of God is an awful thing for the guilty, and may inspire the patience and hope of the righteous. It is to be seen in the predictions and preparations for the destruction of Jerusalem; in the steady wave of desolation and woe he in due time causes to sweep over apostate nations; in the slow and sure approach of disaster on all who make wealth by fraud, or barter his truth for gain; as, also, in the calm, orderly arrangement of laws by which all who have despised the only Saviour reap the fruit of their ways.

1 Samuel 3:15-21

Diverse experiences.

The principal facts are—

1. Samuel, on entering upon his daily duties, fears to relate to Eli what had been told him.

2. Eli, under the action of conscience, and convinced that something important has been communicated, employs strong pressure to obtain it from Samuel.

3. Eli, hearing the account, recognises the righteousness of the judgment.

4. Samuel's position as prophet is established through the land. Samuel rose a new youth. During one night events had transpired which gave him a new position, wrought a change in his views and feelings, and tinged his life with a great sorrow. Weary with nervous exhaustion, and haunted by the thought of a sad discovery, it was no wonder if he moved more languidly than usual. The brief narrative sets before us a group of facts resulting from the communications made to him during the night.

I. The TRIUMPH OF DUTY OVER FEELING. Samuel had an onerous duty to discharge. The old man, weak with weight of years and sorrowful in heart, has to be informed of the seal put on his doom. "No prophecy is of private interpretation" applies hero in the sense that Samuel's increased knowledge was not intended as a mere secret for himself. Duties are real though not imposed in form of words, and the sensitive spirit quickly recognises them. The eagerness of Eli to learn all that had been communicated left Samuel no option. Thus duties spring up as soon as increased knowledge is a fact; and when God puts honour on us we must be prepared to face fresh obligations. But duty arising naturally out of new relations is sometimes counter to legitimate feelings. "Samuel feared to show Eli the vision." His quick sense saw, as soon as he awoke that day, that he would have to relate a painful story. The natural shrinking of a kindly heart from the infliction of a wound would become more marked as an eager request was made for information. He knew that Eli would be filled with anguish, both because of the coming doom and the present virtual substitution of another in his place as medium of Divine communication. It .is human to dread the infliction of humiliation and pain. There is a lawful sympathy with suffering and pity for disgrace. The judge may weep in passing sentence of death, and yet be a perfect judge. A parent's heart may righteously bleed at the thought of administering severe chastisement. Duty is not confronted by feeling as a foe. Even Christ shrank from taking the cup which a Father's will ordained. But disagreeable duty is met fully by the supremacy of sense of right. Feeling is suppressed, regard for truth is strung, and immediate and future consequences are left to God. Samuel kept nothing back. Herein lies the triumph of duty. The moral victories of life may be won by the young and inexperienced; for the secret lies not in vast knowledge and critical skill, but in a sound heart, swayed by supreme regard for God.

II. The BODINGS OF A RESTLESS CONSCIENCE. It was more than curiosity that induced the inquiry of Eli. His strong language, almost amounting to a threat, revealed an internal conflict. Conscience is quick in arousing suspicions. Did the aged man half hope that some relaxation of the sentence already passed would come? Did the alternate feeling arise that the specific hour of punishment had been announced? The presence of an uneasy conscience is a fearful bane in life. No age, no past reputation, no external honours, no orificial dignity, no formal employment in religious duties, can give exemption from it where sin has been deliberately indulged. It is as an enemy in the home, a spoiler in a city, a ghost along one's pathway. What a power for misery lies in some men! How easily it is aroused by passing events! How it makes men quiver even in the presence of children! How possible it is for even good men to embitter old age by pangs which God will not assuage on this side the grave! How unspeakably blessed they who keep a clean conscience, or have found cleansing and rest in Christ!

III. SUBMISSION TO THE INEVITABLE. If Eli had now and then cherished a faint hope that the execution of the sentence against him, already deferred, would be either set aside or modified, all hope vanished as he listened to the simple narrative of Samuel. The terrible tension of his spirit was at once relaxed, and with a reverence and awe which revealed that the religious life, though sadly injured, was true, he could only say, "It is the Lord: let him do what seemeth him good." Poor old man! A study for others in responsible positions in the Church of God. It was well for him that he could thus speak, and give to the saints of all time a form of words exactly suited to them when adversity falls and the heart sinks within. God is merciful even in the chastisement of his erring people, giving them grace to bow submissively to his righteous will. Well is it when men can kiss the rod that smites them! There are, at least, four characteristics in a true submission to the inevitable.

1. A distinct recognition of God's acts. "It is the Lord." No mere blind working of laws, though forces do sweep on bringing desolation to the soul. The true spirit sees God in all the trouble.

2. An absence of all complaint. "It is the Lord." That is enough. "The Lord" known in Israel, who made all things, who is the same in all ages, who visited Lot for his covetousness, who kept Moses out of the promised land for his rashness; "the Lord" who raises to honour and crowns life with good, and has only been known as faithful, holy, just, and good. Not a murmur, not a bitter word or resentful feeling, finds place in true submission.

3. Conformity to the stroke. "Let him do." The back is bared to the rod. It is duty and privilege to wish none other than the execution of his purpose.

4. Belief that all is for good. "Let him do what seemeth him good." "Though he slay me, yet will I trust him." Chastisement of the good, and also direct punishment of the wicked, are in the judgment of God good. True submission acquiesces in that judgment. Such has been the submission of the saints in ancient and modern times; and pre-eminently, and with reference to special sorrows, of him who, when bearing a burden which others deserved: said, "Father, not my will, but thine be done."

IV. A GROWING REPUTATION. Samuel's fidelity in discharging a painful duty was a good beginning of an official life. He was furnished with the special knowledge requisite to the emergency of the time. The repeated secret vision in Shiloh, and the outward confirmation of his words before the people, gave him courage, and secured his recognition in the place of Eli. Thus three elements enter into the gradual acquisition of a reputation.

1. Fidelity in discharge of known duty. This gives power to the soul for any further duty, however unpleasant. Temptations overcome in one instance lose force afterwards. Sense of right gains energy in action by each exercise. The basis of substantial character is laid in acts of righteousness.

2. Continuous help from God. We cannot go on to new conquests by the mere force of what we have become by previous deeds. As Samuel needed and enjoyed aid from God for his position in life, so every one can only acquire a solid reputation by looking for and using such aid as God may see fit to bestow day by day.

3. Continued verification of profession by deeds corresponding thereto. A character attained to by faithful deeds in the past, aided by Divine grace, becomes practically a profession. It is the exponent of principles supposed to be dominant in the life, and men give a certain value to it. But if reputation is to grow and become broader in its base and wider in its influence, the profession of principles of conduct must be verified constantly by actions appropriate to them.

Practical lessons:

1. It is of extreme importance for young and old to cultivate a rigid regard for truth, combined with a tender consideration of human feeling.

2. The discharge of disagreeable duties is greatly helped by the remembrance that they arise out of the circumstances in which God himself has placed us.

3. We should distinguish between wise submission to what God lays on us for discipline, and indolent acquiescence in circumstances self-created, and largely removable by our efforts.


1 Samuel 3:1-18

The old priest and the child prophet.

Every imagination must be struck by the contrast between the old man and the child. The more so, that the natural order of things is reversed. Instead of admonition to the child coming through the lips of age, admonition to the aged came through the lips of childhood.


1. His good points. The Lord had ceased to speak to or by Eli; but when the old priest perceived that the Lord had spoken to the child, he showed no personal or official jealousy. On the contrary, he kindly encouraged Samuel, and directed him how to receive the heavenly message. He did not attempt to interpose on the ground that he, as the chief priest, was the official organ of Divine communications, but bade the child lie still and hearken to the voice. Nor did he claim any preference on the ground of his venerable age. It is not easy to look with complacency on one much younger than ourselves who is evidently on the way to excel us in our own special province. But Eli did so, and threw no hindrance whatever in the way of the young child. Let God use as his seer or prophet whom he would. Eli was anxious to know the truth, and the whole truth, from the mouth of the child. He had been previously warned by a man of God of the disaster which his own weakness and his sons' wickedness would bring on the priestly line (1 Samuel 2:27-36). But the evil of the time was too strong for him; and having effected no reform in consequence of that previous warning, the old man must have foreboded some message of reproof and judgment when the voice in the night came not to himself, but to the child. Yet he was not false to God, and would not shrink from hearing truth, however painful. "I pray thee hide it not from me." He meekly acquiesced in the condemnation of his house. Eli had no sufficient force of character or vigour of purpose to put away the evil which had grown to such enormity under his indulgent rule, but he was ready with a sort of plaintive surrender to Divine justice. It was not a high style of character, but at all events it was vastly better than a self-justifying, God-resisting mood of mind.

2. His faults. No meek language, no pious acquiescence in his sentence, can extenuate the grievous injury which, through indecision and infirmity, Eli had brought on Israel at large, and on the priestly order in particular. His virtues may almost be said to have sprung out of his faults. He was benevolent, submissive, and free from jealousy because he had no force, no intensity. He could lament and suffer well because he had no energy. So he commanded little respect because, instead of checking evil, he had connived at it for a quiet life. "There are persons who go through life sinning and sorrowing, sorrowing and sinning. No experience teaches them. Torrents of tears flow from their eyes. They are full of eloquent regrets. But all in vain. When they have done wrong once they do wrong again. What are such persons to be in the next life? Where will the Elis of this world be? God only knows "(Robertson).

II. THE CHILD CALLED TO BE A PROPHET. We may discern even in "little Samuel" the beginnings of a great character, prognostics of an illustrious career. The child was courageous, not afraid to sleep in one of the priest's chambers alone, no father or mother near. And he was dutiful to the aged Eli, hastening to him when he thought that he had called in the night; and considerate to his feelings, reluctant to tell him in the morning the heavy judgments of which God had spoken. From that night he began to be a prophet. Very soon were the hopes of Hannah for her son fulfilled, nay, surpassed. "Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground." The nature of the first communication made through Samuel gave some indication of the future strain of his prophetic life and testimony. He was not to be one of those, like Isaiah, Daniel, and Zechariah, whose prophecies and visions reached far forward into future times. His function was more like that of Moses, Elijah, or Jeremiah, as a teacher of private and public righteousness. He was destined to maintain the law and authority of God, to rebuke iniquity, to check and even sentence transgressors in high places, to withstand the current of national degeneracy, and insist on the separation of Israel from the heathen nations and their customs. The pith of his life ministry lay in his urgency for moral obedience.

III. LIGHT THROWN ON THE EARLY TRAINING OF GOD'S PUBLIC SERVANTS. It is acknowledged that some who have been eminently useful in Christian times have been converted in manhood, and their earlier life may seem to have been lost. Paul was so converted. So was Augustine. But these really form no exception to the rule that God directs the training of his servants from childhood. Paul had a good Jewish Rabbinical education, and, besides this, an acquaintance with Greek literature and forms of thought. Having been brought up a Pharisee, he was the more fitted after his conversion to estimate at its full force that Jewish resistance to Christianity on the ground of law righteousness which he above all men combatted. At the same time, knowing the world, and being from his youth up cultivated and intelligent according to the Greek standard, he was prepared to be, after his conversion, a most suitable apostle of Christ to the Gentiles. A similar process of preparation may be traced in Augustine. His early studies in logic and rhetoric prepared him, though he knew it not, to become a great Christian dialectician; and even the years in which he served his own youthful passions were not without yielding some profit, inasmuch as they intensified his knowledge of the power of sin, and ultimately of the sin vanquishing power of grace. By far the greater number of those who have served the Lord as prophets, preachers, or pastors of his flock, have been nourished up for such service from early years, though they knew it not. Some of them went first to other callings. John Chrysostom was at the bar; Ambrose in the civil service, rising to be prefect of Liguria; Cyprian was a teacher of rhetoric; Melancthon, a professor of Greek. Moses himself grew up a scholar and a soldier, and no one who saw him in the court of Egypt could have guessed his future career. But in such cases God guided his servants in youth through paths of knowledge and experience which were of utmost value to them when they found at last their real life work for his name. There is danger, however, in sudden transitions from one walk of life to another, and from one mould of character to another. It is the danger of extravagance. There is a proverb about the excessive zeal of sudden converts; and there is this measure of truth in it, that persons who rapidly change their views or their position need some lapse of time, and some inward discipline, before they learn calmness, religious self-possession, and meekness of wisdom. It is therefore worthy of our notice that God gave Moses a long pause in the land of Midian, and Paul also in Arabia. We return to the fact that the great majority of God's servants in the gospel have grown up with religious sentiments and desires from their very childhood. So it was with John the Baptist, with Timothy, with Basil, with Jerome, with Bernard of Clairvaux, with Columba, with Usher, with Zinzendorf, with Bengel, and many more. So it was with Samuel. His first lessons were from the devout and gifted Hannah in the quiet home at Ramah. From his earliest consciousness he knew that he was to be the Lord's, and a specially consecrated servant or Nazarite. Then he was taken to Shiloh, and his special training for a grand and difficult career began. Early in his life he had to see evil among those who ought to have shown the best example. He had to see what mischief is wrought by relaxation of morals among the rulers of what we should call Church and State, so that an abhorrence of such misconduct might be deeply engraved on his untainted soul. But at the same time Samuel grew up in daily contact with holy things. The sacred ritual, which was no more than a form to the wicked priests, had an elevating and purifying influence on the serious spirit of this child. And so it was that Samuel, conversant day by day with holy names and symbols, took a mould of character in harmony with these—took it gradually, firmly, unalterably. It gave steadiness to his future ministry; for he was to retrieve losses, assuage excitements, re-establish justice, reprove, rebuke, and exhort the people and their first king. Such a ministry needed a character of steady growth, and the personal influence which attends a consistent life. So the Lord called Samuel when a child, and he answered, "Speak; for thy servant heareth." May God raise up young children among us to quit themselves hereafter as men—to redress wrongs, establish truth and right, heal divisions, reform the Church, and pave the way for the coming King and the kingdom!—F.


1 Samuel 3:1-18. (SHILOH.)

Samuel's call to the prophetic office.

"The Lord called Samuel" (1 Samuel 3:4).

"In Israel's fane, by silent night,
The lamp of God was burning bright;
And there, by viewless angels kept,
Samuel, the child, securely slept.
A voice unknown the stillness broke,
'Samuel!' it called, and thrice it spoke.
He rose—he asked whence came the word.
From Eli? No; it was the Lord.
Thus early called to serve his God,
In paths of righteousness he trod;
Prophetic visions fired his breast,
And all the chosen tribes were blessed"



1. This call to the prophetic office took place at a time of great moral and spiritual darkness. "The word of the Lord" (the revelation of his mind and will to men) "was rare in those days; for" (therefore, as the effect; or because, as the evidence of the absence of such revelation) "there was no vision" (prophetic communication) "spread abroad" among the people (1 Samuel 3:1; 2 Chronicles 31:5).

(1) The word of God is needed by man because of his ignorance of the highest truths, and his inability to attain the knowledge of them by his own efforts.

(2) Its possession is hindered by prevailing indifference and corruption.

(3) Its absence is worse than a famine of bread (Psalms 74:9; Amos 8:11), and most destructive (Proverbs 29:18).

2. It was the commencement of a fresh series of Divine communications, which culminated in the teaching of the great Prophet, "who spake as never man spake" (Acts 3:24; Hebrews 1:1). This is the chief general significance of the event. "The call of Samuel to be the prophet and judge of Israel formed a turning point in the history of the Old Testament kingdom of God."

3. It was given to one who was very young (twelve years old, according to Josephus, when childhood merges into youth; Luke 2:42), and who held the lowest place in the tabernacle, where Eli held the highest, but who was specially prepared for the work to which he was called. "Shadows of impenitent guilt were the dark background of the picture from which the beams of Divine love which guided that child of grace shone forth in brighter relief" (Anderson).

4. It came in a manner most adapted to convince Eli and Samuel that it was indeed from the Lord (1 Samuel 3:8), and to answer its immediate purpose in regard to both. Notice—

I. THE VOICE of the Lord.

1. It was heard in the temple (1 Samuel 3:2, 1 Samuel 3:3), or palace of the invisible King of Israel, proceeding from his throne in the innermost sanctuary (Exodus 25:22; 1 Samuel 4:4; Hebrews 9:5); not now, however, addressing the high priest, but a child, as a more loyal subject, and more susceptible to Divine teaching (Matthew 11:25, Matthew 11:26).

2. It broke suddenly on the silence and slumbers of the night; "ere the lamp of God went out," i.e. toward the morning—a season suitable todeep and solemn impression. "Untroubled night, they say, gives counsel best." The light of Israel before God, represented by the golden candelabrum, with its "seven lamps of fire," was burning dimly, and the dawn of a new day was at hand.

3. It called Samuel by name, not merely as a means of arousing him, but as indicating the Lord's intimate knowledge of his history and character (John 10:3), and his claims upon his special service. The All-seeing has a perfect knowledge of each individual soul, and deals with it accordingly.

4. It was often relocated, with ever increasing impressiveness. Natural dulness in the discernment of spiritual things renders necessary the repetition of God's call to men, and his patience is wonderfully shown in such repetition.

5. It was in the last instance accompanied by an appearance. "Jehovah came, and stood, and called" (1 Samuel 3:10). Probably in glorious human form, as in former days. "Allied to our nature by engagement and anticipation, the eternal Word occasionally assumed its prophetic semblance before he dwelt on earth in actual incarnate life." There could now be no doubt whence the voice proceeded; and even the delay which had occurred must have served to waken up all the faculties of the child into greater activity, and prepare him for the main communication he was about to receive.


1. He did not at first recognise the voice as God's, but thought it was Eli's (1 Samuel 3:4-6). For "he did not yet know the Lord" by direct and conscious revelation, "neither was the Word of the Lord revealed to him" (literally, made bare, disclosed; as a secret told in the ear, which has been uncovered by turning back the hair—Genesis 25:7; 1 Samuel 9:15; Job 33:16) as it was afterwards (1 Samuel 3:21). "We must not think that Samuel was then ignorant of the true God, but that he knew not the manner of that voice by which the prophetical spirit was wont to awaken the attention of the prophets". "God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not" (Job 33:14). How often is his voice deemed to be only the voice of man!

2. He acted up to the light he had (1 Samuel 3:7, 1 Samuel 3:8). Three times his rest was broken by what he thought was the voice of Eli; three times he ran to him obediently, uncomplainingly, promptly; and three times he "went and lay down in his place" as he was bidden. The spirit which he thus displayed prepared him for higher instruction.

3. He obeyed the direction given him by the high priest (1 Samuel 3:9). Although Eli could not himself hear the voice, yet he perceived that it was heard by another, showed no indignation or envy at the preference shown toward him, and taught him to listen to the Lord for himself, and what be should say in response. "He showed himself a better tutor than he was a parent" (Hall).

4. He responded in a spirit of reverence, humility, and obedience to the voice that now uttered his name twice (1 Samuel 3:10). "Speak; for thy servant heareth." His omission of the name "Jehovah" was perhaps due to his overwhelming astonishment and reverence But be confessed himself to be his servant, virtually ratifying of his own accord his dedication to his service, and testified his readiness to "hear and obey." Oh, what an hour is that in which the presence of the Lord is first manifested in living force to the soul! and what a change does it produce in all the prospects and purposes of life! (Genesis 28:16, Genesis 28:17). "We were like them that sleep, them that dream, before we entered into communion with God."


1. It differed from the message of the "man of God," which had come some time previously, in that it was more brief, simple, and severe; and was given to Samuel alone, without any express direction to make it known to Eli, who seems to have paid no regard to the warning he previously received.

2. It was an announcement of judgment on the house of Eli which would be—

(1) Very startling and horrifying to men (1 Samuel 3:11).

(2) The fulfilment of the word which had been already spoken (1 Samuel 3:12).

(3) Complete. "When I begin, I will also make an end."

(4) Righteously deserved, inasmuch as his sons had grievously sinned, and he knew it as well as the approaching judgment, and restrained them not (1 Samuel 3:13; James 4:17). "Sinners make themselves vile (literally, curse themselves), and those who do not reprove them make themselves accessaries" (M. Henry).

(5) Permanent and irrevocable. "Forever." "I have sworn," etc. (1 Samuel 3:14).

3. It was very painful to Samuel because it was directed "against Eli" (1 Samuel 3:12—as well as his house), for whom he entertained a deep and tender affection. The "burden of the Lord" was heavy for a child to bear. It was his first experience of the prophet's cross, but it prepared him for his future work. "Woe to the man who receives a message from the gods."

4. It put his character to a severe test, by leaving to his discretion the use which he should make of so terrible a communication. Wisdom and grace are as much needed in using God's communications as in receiving and responding to his voice.

IV. THE DISCLOSURE by Samuel to Eli.

1. It was not made hastily or rashly (1 Samuel 3:15). "He lay down till the morning," pondering the communication; he suffered it not to interfere with the duty that lay immediately before him, but rose and "opened the doors of the house" as usual, though with a heavy heart; and exhibited great calmness, self-control, discretion, and considerate reserve. He "feared to show Eli the vision" lest he should be grieved, or take it in a wrong manner.

2. It was only made under strong pressure (1 Samuel 3:16, 1 Samuel 3:17). "Samuel, my son" (B'ni), said Eli; and "how much is expressed by this one word!" (Thenius). He asked, he demanded, he adjured.

3. It was made truthfully, faithfully, and without any reserve (1 Samuel 3:18).

4. It was followed by a beneficial effect. Not, indeed, in rousing the high priest to strenuous efforts for the reformation of his house, which he probably deemed impossible, but in leading him to acknowledge that it was the Lord who had spoken, and to resign himself to his will. No such effect followed the warning previously addressed to him. A similar spirit was shown by Aaron (Le 1 Samuel 10:3), by Job 1:21, by David (2 Samuel 18:14, 2 Samuel 18:15, 2 Samuel 18:32, 2 Samuel 18:33), by Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:19), and, above all, by the great High Priest himself (Matthew 26:42). No other Divine message came apparently to Eli or his house. Henceforth there was only the silence that precedes the thunderstorm and the earthquake.—D.

1 Samuel 3:10

The faithful servant.

"Speak; for thy servant heareth." The wellknown picture by Sir Joshua Reynolds, representing the child Samuel in the attitude of prayer, aptly expresses the spirit of his whole life. His own language in response to the call of God does this still more perfectly, and "contains the secret of his strength." It also teaches us how we should respond to the Divine call which is addressed to us, and what is the spirit which we ought ever to possess. For God speaks to us as truly as he spoke to Samuel, though in a somewhat different manner. He speaks to us often, and calls each of us to special service for him; and there cannot be a nobler aim than that of possessing the mind, disposition, and character of a "faithful servant" (Matthew 25:21) here portrayed. This implies—


1. Peculiar; not merely a general belief in his omnipresence, such as most persons have, but a realisation of his presence here; not as in a dream, but in full waking thought; not as if he were at a distance from us, but "face to face." "Thou God seest me."

2. Intense; filling the soul with the light of his glory and with profound reverence (Job 42:6).

3. Habitual; abiding with us at all times, carried with us into every place, and pervading and influencing all our thoughts, words, and actions.

II. ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF THE MASTER'S CLAIMS. "Thy servant." His claims are—

1. Just; because of—

(1) What he has done for us. He has given us our being, and all that makes it a blessing (1 Samuel 1:11). He has purchased us at a great price (1 Peter 1:18). "Ye are not your own" (1 Corinthians 6:19, 1 Corinthians 6:20).

(2) Our consecration, to him (1 Samuel 1:28). "I am the Lord's" (Isaiah 44:5).

(3) Our acceptance by him.

2. Supreme. All other claims are inferior to his, and must be regarded as subordinate to them.

3. Universal; extending to all our faculties, possessions, etc.

"My gracious Lord, I own thy right
To every service I can pay,
And call it my supreme delight
To hear thy dictates and obey.
What is my being but for thee,
Its sure support, its noblest end;
Thy ever-smiling face to see,
And serve the cause of such a Friend?"


III. LISTENING TO THE MASTER'S DIRECTIONS. "Speak." "I am waiting to hear thy commands, and desire to know thy will." "What saith my Lord unto his servant?" (Joshua 5:14). "What wilt thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:6). His directions are given by—

1. His word, in the law and the gospel.

2. His providence, in the various events of life, affording fresh opportunities, bringing new responsibilities, indicating special methods of service. "New occasions teach new duties." "There are so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification" (1 Corinthians 14:10).

3. His Spirit; teaching the meaning and application of the word, suggesting thoughts and activities in accordance with his revealed will, filling the heart with holy and benevolent impulses. "It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God" (John 6:45). "Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters" (watching with the utmost attention forevery indication of their will), "so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God" (Psalms 85:8; Psalms 123:2; Habakkuk 2:1).

IV. READINESS FOR THE MASTER'S WORK. "Thy servant heareth;" stands ready to obey—

1. Whatever thou mayest direct.

2. With my utmost strength.

3. Promptly; without delay.

"When it pleased God to reveal his Son in me, immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood, but went" (Galatians 1:15-17). When Ledyard (whose life was the first of many sacrificed to African discovery) closed with the proposal of the Association for Promoting the Discovery of the Inland Parts of Africa to undertake a journey in that region, and was asked how soon he would be ready to set out, he replied, "Tomorrow morning." The like promptitude should be exhibited by every "good and faithful servant."—D.

1 Samuel 3:13

Parental restraint.

"And he restrained them not." The parental relation was universally regarded in ancient times as one which involved a closer identity between parents and children, and a more absolute authority on the part of the former over the latter, than would now be deemed just. This fact explains many occurrences in the sacred history. It also makes more apparent the inexcusable conduct of Eli in omitting to restrain his sons from their evil way. To every head of a family, however, belongs a certain measure of authority, and he is responsible for its exercise in "commanding his children and his household" (Genesis 18:19) to do what is right, and restraining them from doing what is wrong. Concerning PARENTAL RESTRAINT, observe that—


1. Because of the strong tendency to evil which exists in children. However it may be accounted for or explained, there can be no doubt of the fact. If it be simply, as some say, a desire of self-gratification, and dislike of everything that hinders it—self-will, it is necessary that it should be checked; for those who are trained to deny themselves in very early life, and submit to the will of their parents, are far more likely than others to accept and submit to the will of God when they become conscious of it. "In order to form the minds of children, the first thing to be done is to conquer their will and bring them to an obedient temper. This is the only strong and rational foundation of a religious education, without which both precept and example will be ineffectual. As self-will is the root of all sin and misery, so whatever cherishes this in children insures their after wretc.hedness and irreligion; whatever checks and mortifies it promotes their future happiness and piety" (The mother of the Wesleys).

2. Because of the evil examples by which they are surrounded, and which act so powerfully on their susceptibility to impression and their propensity to imitation.

3. Because of the manifold temptations to which they are exposed. However guarded, they cannot be altogether kept from their influence.


1. It is obviously a part of parental duty.

2. It is often enjoined in the word of God (Deuteronomy 21:15-21; Proverbs 19:18; Proverbs 23:13, Proverbs 23:14; Proverbs 29:15, Proverbs 29:17).

3. It is clearly adapted to accomplish beneficial results (Proverbs 22:6). It is thus a duty which parents owe not only to their children, but also to the great Parent of all, who, by the manner in which he deals with his earthly children, has himself set them an example.


1. Timely; commenced at an early age (Proverbs 13:24).

2. Firm and just.

3. With consideration, kindness, and patience (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21).

"O'er wayward childhood wouldst thou hold firm rule,

And sun thee in the light of happy faces,
Love, hope, and patience, these must be thy graces,

And in thine own heart let them first keep school;

For as old Atlas on his broad neck places

Heaven's starry globe, and there sustains it; so
Do these bear up the little world below

Of education—patience, love, and hope"


1. To children (1 Samuel 4:11).

2. To parents (1 Samuel 4:18).

3. To the nation (1 Samuel 4:22).

"Indulgent parents are cruel to themselves and their posterity" (Hall). How numerous are the facts which justify these statements! "As in inviduals, so in nations, unbridled indulgence of the passions must produce, and does produce, frivolity, effeminacy, slavery to the appetite of the moment; a brutalised and reckless temper, before which prudence, energy, national feeling, any and every feeling which is not centred in self, perishes utterly. The old French noblesse gave a proof of this law which will last as a warning beacon to the end of time. The Spanish population of America, I am told, gives now a fearful proof of this same terrible penalty. Has not Italy proved it likewise for centuries past? It must be so. For national life is grounded on, is the development of, the life of the family. And where the root is corrupt the tree must be corrupt likewise" (Kingsley, 'The Roman and the Teuton,' Lect. 2). Therefore

(1) let parents exercise due restraint over their children; and

(2) let children submit to the restraint of their parents (Exodus 20:12; Le Exodus 19:3; Proverbs 30:17; Jeremiah 35:18, Jeremiah 35:19).—D.

1 Samuel 3:18


"It is the Lord: let him do what seemeth him good." The sentence which was pronounced on Eli and his house was almost as severe as can be conceived. But the manner in which it was received by him shows that, notwithstanding the defects of his character, he possessed the "spirit of faith," which shone like a spark of fire amidst the ashes and gloom of his closing days. He did not refuse to admit its Divine Author, did not question its justice, did not rebel against it and seek to reverse it, did not fret and murmur and give himself up to despair. His language expresses a spirit the exact opposite of all this. "When Samuel had told him every whit, Eli replied, It is the Lord. The highest religion could say no more. What more can there be than surrender to the will of God? In that one brave sentence you forget all Eli's vacillation. Free from envy, free from priestcraft, earnest, humbly submissive; that is the bright side of Eli's character, and the side least known or thought of" (F.W. Robertson).

I. HE RECOGNISES THE APPOINTMENT OF GOD. "It is the Lord," or "he is the Lord," who has spoken. He believed that the voice was really his, notwithstanding

(1) it came to him indirectly—through the agency of another;

(2) it came in an unexpected manner; and

(3) it announced what he naturally disliked to hear, and what was most grievous. These things sometimes dispose men to doubt "the word of the Lord," and are made excuses for rejecting it. It is not, in its mode of communication or in its contents, "according to their mind." But the spirit of faith ventures not to dictate to God how or what he shall say, and it perceives the Divine voice when those who are destitute of it perceive only what is purely natural and human.

II. HE JUSTIFIES THE RECTITUDE OF GOD. Such justification (Psalms 51:4)—

1. Is implied in the acknowledgment that it comes from Jehovah, who alone is holy (1 Samuel 2:2). "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25).

2. Proceeds from the conviction that it is deserved on account of the iniquity of his sons, and his own sins of omission (Lamentations 3:39; Micah 7:9). They who have a due sense of the evil of sin are not disposed to complain of the severity of the sentence pronounced against it.

3. Is not the less real because not fully expressed, for silence itself is often the most genuine testimony to the perfect equity of the Divine procedure. "Aaron held his peace" (Le 1 Samuel 10:3; Psalms 39:9, Psalms 39:11).

III. HE SUBMITS TO THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD. "Let him do what seemeth him good."

1. Very reverently and humbly (1 Peter 5:6). It is vain to contend against him.

2. Freely and cheerfully; not because he cannot be effectually resisted, but because what he does is right and good; the spontaneous surrender and sacrifice of the will.

3. Entirely. "The will of the Lord be done" (Acts 21:14).

IV. HE CONFIDES IN THE GOODNESS OF GOD. "Good." "Good is the word of the Lord" (2 Kings 20:19). Eli could not have spoken as he did unless he believed that—

(1) God is merciful and gracious;

(2) in wrath remembers mercy, mitigating the force of the storm to all who seek shelter in his bosom; and

(3) "out of evil still educes good" (Romans 8:28). Let us be thankful for the surpassing motives and influences afforded to us under the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:17; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 12:10, Hebrews 12:11; Revelation 21:4; Revelation 22:3).—D.

Verse 19-4:1. (SHILOH)

Samuel the prophet.

"A prophet of the Lord" (1 Samuel 4:20). "A prophet was a man who drew aside the curtain from the secret counsels of Heaven. He declared or made public the previously hidden truths of God; and, because future events might chance to involve Divine truth, therefore a revealer of future events might happen to be a prophet. Yet, still, small was the part of a prophet's functions which contained the foreshadowing of events, and not necessarily any part of it". The greatest of prophets, and more than a prophet, was Moses (Numbers 12:6-8; Deuteronomy 18:15; Deuteronomy 34:9). After him a prophet arose at rare intervals. With Samuel, who was second only to Moses, a new prophetic era began. He was called to a permanent prophetic work; a type of the future line of the prophets which he virtually founded, and "set for all time the great example of the office of a prophet of the Lord." "In Samuel—Levite, Nazarite, at the sanctuary of Shiloh, prophet, and destined founder of a mightier prophetic power—were united from the first all spiritual gifts most potent for the welfare of the people, and under his powerful control stood the wheels on which the age revolved He was truly the father of all the great prophets who worked such wonders in the ensuing centuries" (Ewald. See 'Davison on Prophecy;' 'Fairbairn on Prophecy;' 'Prophecy a Preparation for Christ,' by the Dean of Canterbury). The summary of his prophetic activity here given leads us to consider—

I. HIS QUALIFICATION. "And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him" (1 Samuel 4:19). "And the Lord appeared again in Shiloh (1 Samuel 4:10): for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord (1 Samuel 4:21).

1. The possession of a holy character, which was the general condition of prophetic endowment. At the time of his call Samuel entered into a higher knowledge of God, and a closer fellowship with him than he had before; he gradually advanced therein, and his character became more and more perfect. "Equable progression from the beginning to the end was the special characteristic of his life." "The qualifications which the Jewish doctors suppose necessarily antecedent to render any one habilem ad prophetandum are truly probity and piety; and this was the constant sense and opinion of them all universally, not excluding the vulgar themselves".

2. The revelation to him of the Divine word—by voices, visions, insight, intuition, inspiration (1 Samuel 4:7). "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved (borne along as a ship by the wind) by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:21). The communications of God to men have been made in many ways (by dreams, by Urim, by prophecy), and one communication faithfully received and used has prepared the way for another. How long after the Lord first appeared to Samuel he "apeared again" to him is not stated.

3. The conviction of its Divine origin, amounting to absolute certainty, and impelling him to speak and act in accordance with the revelation he received.

II. HIS VOCATION. "And the word of Samuel came to all Israel" (1 Samuel 4:1). He had not only to receive the word from God, but also to utter it to men. He was a spokesman for God, a messenger or interpreter of the Divine will.

1. The nature and purpose of his vocation were—

(1) The communication of doctrine; the teaching of moral and spiritual truth; the declaration of the mind and will of the invisible and eternal King, with special reference to the requirements of the time in which he lived. He was a witness of the presence and government of Jehovah, his nature and character, his hatred of sin and love of righteousness, his dissatisfaction with merely formal and ceremonial services, his opposition to idolatry, his gifts, claims, and purposes with respect to his people. "The prophetic order in its highest signification was nothing else than a living witness for those eternal principles of righteous ness which previous revelation had implanted in the Hebrew race, and through them in the life of humanity" (Tulloch).

(2) The enforcement of practice, by urgent appeals to the conscience, and presenting powerful motives of gratitude for past benefits, hope of future good, and fear of future evil. "The prophets, beside their communication of doctrine, had another and a direct office to discharge as pastors and ministerial monitors of the people of God. Their work was to admonish and reprove, to arraign forevery ruling sin, to blow the trumpet of repentance, and shake the terrors of the Divine judgment over a guilty land. Often they bore the message of consolation or pardon; rarely, if ever, of public approbation or praise" (Davison).

(3) The prediction of things to come; not simply general results of good or evil con duct, but specific events that could not have been known except by Divine inspiration (1 Samuel 7:4; 1Sa 10:2; 1 Samuel 12:17; 1 Samuel 13:14); an element which became more prominent in subsequent times—the things to come having relation to the setting up of a kingdom of heaven on earth. We need not here dwell upon other matters connected with and growing out of the prophetic vocation of Samuel, viz.,

(4) his offering sacrifice;

(5) his civil magistracy;

(6) his presiding over the "school of the prophets;"

(7) his recording the events of his time (1 Chronicles 29:29).

2. The persons whom his vocation immediately concerned.

(1) The people and the elders of Israel—directing them what to do, exhorting them to forsake their sins, sometimes opposing and condemning their wishes. "His business was to keep all Israel true to the Divine purpose for which they had been made a nation".

(2) The priesthood, as in the case of Eli and his sons.

(3) The king—teaching him that he was a servant of Jehovah, appointed by him, and bound to obey his laws, and when he departed from them denouncing his disobedience. "Under the protection generally, though not always effectual, of their sacred character the prophets were a power in the nation often more than a match for kings and priests, and kept up in that little corner in the earth the antagonism of influences which is the only real security for continued progress The remark of a distinguished Hebrew, that the prophets were in Church and State equivalent to the modern liberty of the press, gives a just but not an inadequate conception of the part fulfilled in national and universal history by this great element of Jewish life".

3. The manner in which it was fulfilled: diligently (Jeremiah 23:28; Jeremiah 48:10 = negligently): faithfully (not according to his own natural wishes, but God's will); fearlessly; established = found trustworthy—Numbers 12:7; 1 Samuel 2:35), fully.

III. HIS CONFIRMATION. "The Lord was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground". He attested, sealed him as his messenger—

1. By bringing to pass the good or evil foretold by him (Numbers 22:6).

2. By providential and even miraculous occurrences, indicating his approval (1 Samuel 7:10; 1 Samuel 12:18).

3. By clothing his word with power, so that it was felt by those to whom it was addressed to be the word of the Lord; for there is something Divine within which responds to the Divine without, and every one who is truthful perceives and obeys the voice of eternal truth (John 18:37).

IV. HIS RECOGNITION. "And all Israel from Dan even to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord" (1 Samuel 2:20). The Divine word was no more rare (1 Samuel 3:1).

1. His authority was universally admitted. It was familiarly known throughout the land that he had been appointed as a regular medium of communication between Jehovah and his people.

2. His utterances were widely disseminated, and regarded with reverence. "The word of Samuel came to all Israel."

3. His work thereby became highly effective. Its full effect appeared long afterwards. But even before the blow of judgment, which he predicted, fell (some ten years after his call), he doubtless laboured not in vain; and during the succeeding twenty years (1 Samuel 7:2) he "spent his time in a slow but resolute work of kindling the almost extinguished flame of a higher life in Israel."—D.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 3". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/1-samuel-3.html. 1897.
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