1. Now the boy Samuel ministered to the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation.
Contrasting once more to the wickedness of Eli’s family is the boy Samuel, who is serving the LORD before Eli. Eli and his family were serving poorly, but Samuel was serving wholeheartedly and honestly, and the LORD did not fail to notice this.
Now we are informed that the word of the LORD was rare in those days. This word “rare” means precious, costly, special, or unusual. It is used for precious, rare, and costly stones. The word of the LORD is always a precious thing, but it being a rare thing was not always the case in Israel. Prophets, visions, and revelations were not unusual among God’s people, and He was often communicating with them. Yet at this time, the LORD was speaking only rarely, for whatever reason.
We live in a day when widespread revelation is not just rare, but in a time when it does not happen at all. We only have the written Word, and are tied down to that. Yet the Bible that we have is indeed a precious and rare thing, for it is the only book that God has given us. No book has been written to be added to it in over 1900 years. Therefore, we should view this book as precious, and treat it so. Yet few in our day view it as valuable enough to even take the time to read it!
2. And it came to pass at that time, while Eli was lying down in his place, and when his eyes had begun to grow so dim that he could not see,
When this story begins, it is night time, and Eli is lying down sleeping. At this time he is so old his eyes are failing, and he cannot see very well. By I Samuel 4:15, we will see that he is completely blind, but at this point he still has some vision, but it is fading.
3. and before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle of the LORD where the ark of God was, and while Samuel was lying down,
This refers to the seven-branched lampstand of God that was in the tabernacle of Jehovah. According to Exodus 27:20-21:
20. “And you shall command the children of Israel that they bring you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to cause the lamp to burn continually. 21. In the tabernacle of meeting, outside the veil which is before the Testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening until morning before the LORD. It shall be a statute forever to their generations on behalf of the children of Israel.
So this lamp would burn from morning until evening. Therefore, if the lamp of God had not yet gone out in the tabernacle, that means that it was not yet morning. Samuel is also lying down to sleep, for it is night.
4. that the LORD called Samuel. And he answered, “Here I am!”
At this time, Yahweh calls out to Samuel. He has chosen the faithful boy servant of the man who failed Him. Samuel obediently answers when he is called.
5. So he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.”
And he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” And he went and lay down.
Samuel did not recognize the voice of the LORD. He probably was woken out of sleep, and automatically thought the voice calling to him must be Eli. Therefore he runs obediently to Eli, telling him that he called for him. Eli denies it and sends him back to bed, probably assuming he had dreamed that he had been called and mistaken his dream for reality.
6. Then the LORD called yet again, “Samuel!”
So Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” He answered, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.”
Jehovah is persistent, and calls Samuel yet again, but Samuel makes the same mistake again, running back to Eli. Eli sends him back to bed like the first time, perhaps still too sleepy to really think about what is happening.
7. (Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor was the word of the LORD yet revealed to him.)
Of course, this does not mean that Samuel did not know that there is a God, or that Yahweh is God, for he was serving in Yahweh’s tabernacle, and of course knew of Him. What we are being told is that Samuel does not yet have a relationship with Yahweh, nor has he yet had any personal dealings with Him. He is about to start!
Moreover, the word of Yahweh was not yet revealed to Him. What does this mean, and what would be revealed to him when he knew the word of Yahweh? I believe this is answered for us in John 1:1.
1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The word of Yahweh that had not yet been revealed to Samuel was the personal, visible form of God, the Divine Expression of God that John calls the Logos. As we know, this Word is none other than Jesus Christ, and He is the One Who is about to be revealed to Samuel.
8. And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. So he arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you did call me.”
Then Eli perceived that the LORD had called the boy.
The LORD does not give up, and calls Samuel again a third time. Dutifully Samuel returns to Eli, still not imagining that the voice calling him could be anyone but his master the high priest. Eli, however, has had a relationship with the LORD before this time, though he has neglected it lately. So he is the one who at last puts things together and realizes that the one calling the boy must be the LORD.
9. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and it shall be, if He calls you, that you must say, ‘Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
Knowing now that it is Jehovah calling the boy, Eli instructs Samuel what to do when He comes again. He is to lie back down, and when he hears Jehovah call him, he is to say these words. The young boy Samuel must have returned to his bed with a great deal of anticipation, as well as fear, this time, knowing now Who had been calling him, and Whom he was about to speak with.
10. Now the LORD came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
And Samuel answered, “Speak, for Your servant hears.”
Once more we read that Yahweh came and stood. In what form did the great God of creation come and stand by the bed of this young Israelite boy? There could be no other form He took than that of the Lord Jesus Christ! This is what we would call a pre-incarnate appearance of the Lord Jesus, before He took on human form and was born of a woman in Bethlehem. Yet there can be no doubt but that this was that same One. The Yahweh of the Old Testament is the Lord Jesus Christ of the New.
Samuel now knows Who is speaking, and responds as Eli told him to respond. Yet notice that he does not say what Eli told him to say word-for-word, for he leaves out the Name. Perhaps, though he knew what it was, in his fear he did not quite dare to say the Name of the One Who was now speaking with him.
I remember first learning this story of Samuel in a Sunday school lesson when I was just a boy. Yet I remember the story as the Sunday school curriculum told it ended right here, and that bothered me. It seemed to me that the point of the story was that the LORD had something to say to Samuel, and it hardly seemed right to me to end the story without telling what it was He said. Now, of course, I understand that the curriculum writers did this because it was no pleasant message God had for Samuel to deliver to his master Eli. Yet what the LORD had to say next is important, and even in a Sunday school lesson I think it best that we do not ignore it.
11. Then the LORD said to Samuel: “Behold, I will do something in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.
Now the LORD speaks His message to Samuel. He is about to do a work of such a dramatic character that those who hear of it will experience tingling in both their ears. This need not literally be true (though it could have been,) for this expression is figurative for the strong impression the story of this deed would make on people.
12. In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end.
In the day when He does this work, Jehovah reveals, He will also perform against Eli all the calamities He had spoken against his house. Perhaps Jehovah had been waiting to see if Eli would respond to His warning through the man of God in chapter 2. Since Eli did not respond or make any effort to change his ways based on this rebuke, Jehovah will wait no longer, but now will bring the calamity He warned about upon him. Jehovah is always gracious, and if Eli had mended his ways at the first warning, he may have spared himself and his family much of the grief that had been predicted. He did not, however, and now the punishment is sure.
“From beginning to end” does not mean that Jehovah will perform everything He said against Eli’s house on one day, for the very nature of His prophecy against Eli is such that it must be carried out over a number of years. What He means is that once He has begun to carry out this curse against Eli’s house, He will not stop until He has carried it on to its end. Eli might have averted much of the disaster if he had submitted immediately, but once Jehovah starts to carry out this punishment, there will be no stopping it.
13. For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them.
Whether or not Samuel knew about the punishment coming on his master before Yahweh told him this, we do not know. But Yahweh informs him now of His word against Eli, that He is going to change the status of Eli’s house before Him forever because of the iniquity he knew of and did nothing about. Again it was because of what Eli did, not his sons, that Yahweh curses his house! His sons made themselves vile, but he knew about it and did not restrain them. He had the ability and the authority to restrain them, and but ultimately he chose them over Yahweh. Though his sons did not know Yahweh, he did, and so was without excuse. For this, the punishment of God would fall upon him and his family.
14. And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”
Now it is too late for sacrifice or offering to pardon Eli’s house of their wickedness. It could have been, if Eli had heard the LORD’s rebuke through the prophet in chapter 2 and had removed his sons from their office as priests, that the LORD might have accepted sacrifice and offering from Eli to atone for their sin, and therefore have turned away from His fierce anger against Eli’s family. However, Eli did not respond to what the LORD said, and did nothing whatsoever to submit to the LORD’s rebuke. So now it is too late. Now, the punishment will come upon Eli’s family no matter what, and there will be no atonement.
15. So Samuel lay down until morning, and opened the doors of the house of the LORD. And Samuel was afraid to tell Eli the vision.
Samuel lies in bed until the morning. We might imagine, considering the harsh words he has heard against his guardian and master, that he got no more sleep that night, and this aside from the fact that he had just talked with Jehovah! Yet he goes about his duties next morning, opening the doors of Jehovah’s house, as if nothing different had occurred. We read that the reason for this is he is afraid to face Eli with the news he has received in the vision.
16. Then Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son!”
He answered, “Here I am.”
Eli has not forgotten what happened the night before, however. He calls Samuel, and he comes to him. Samuel is an obedient servant. If only Eli could have been satisfied with him, and been willing to accept him in the place of his wicked and doomed sons!
17. And he said, “What is the word that the LORD spoke to you? Please do not hide it from me. God do so to you, and more also, if you hide anything from me of all the things that He said to you.”
Eli wants to know what it is that Yahweh said to Samuel the night before. He suspects a blow from the word of Yahweh, and so makes Samuel swear to tell him all. This phrase “God do so to you, and more also,” was a common adjuration. The implication is clear, though the exact meaning of the phrase is not. It may have been accompanied by some kind of gesture, like when we draw a line across our throats to indicate death.
18. Then Samuel told him everything, and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is the LORD. Let Him do what seems good to Him.”
Backed into a corner and unable to do anything else, Samuel gives Eli the LORD’s message. Eli’s response seems like he is submitting, but if we consider what he is saying carefully, we will see that it is only a feigned yielding. It seems fairly clear from the record that Eli was the high priest. We learn from I Samuel 4:18 that, at his death, Eli had judged Israel for forty years. Though he did not have the title of a king and therefore we cannot call him a “priest-king,” yet in many ways Eli combined the governmental powers and the religious powers in himself, being both high priest and judge. As such, he had great power, and easily could have done something about the wicked actions of his two sons. In I Samuel 2:23-25, we saw that Eli knew what his sons were doing, and rebuked them. However, it must have quickly become apparent to all that his sons had not listened to his rebuke, and were continuing right on in their wicked ways. At this point, Eli should have used his power and done something about it. However, it was just at this point that Eli did nothing.
Now it was the sacrifices of the LORD and His offering that Eli’s sons were desecrating, and so the LORD sent a prophet to Eli to tell him of God’s punishment coming upon him for this. If he had been unwilling to move against his sons before, he definitely should have now. He knew that God was greatly angered at the actions of his sons, as well as at his own actions. He should have submitted at this point and had his sons removed from office, if not otherwise punished or even executed. Yet again, Eli did nothing. Now, through his own young servant, the LORD has condemned Eli once again. At this point, at least, he should have admitted his sin, and finally done to his sons what he should have done in the first place. Perhaps he should have resigned from the priesthood himself, knowing how he had allowed it to be desecrated. Who knows, perhaps even now the LORD would have found some way to have grace on him and his family. Instead, however, he still does nothing.
Eli’s words remind me very much of what is called a “passive-aggressive” person. For those who have never had the unfortunate experience of dealing with such a person, a passive-aggressive person is a person who will never confront another to his face. A passive-aggressive person may smile at you and agree to every word you say, and then go off and do the opposite of what you said just to spite you. If you get angry afterwards, a passive-aggressive person considers himself innocent, and you guilty. He thinks that getting angry or being confrontational is the ultimate evil, and he has avoided that and been nice. Though his actions might have thrown his defiance in your face, he does not consider this to be wrong, as he never raised his voice or got angry (but you did!) A passive-aggressive person is maddening to work with, for he will never tell you he thinks your idea is wrong. He will act like he agrees, then will go off and do what he wants to do anyway. Therefore, he did what he wanted, and you never even got to be part of the discussion. If you understandably get angry at this, he considers himself the wounded party, for you are the one who got angry at him, and in his mind, getting angry is the ultimate sin.
So we see that Eli’s response to the LORD here is very passive-aggressive. He acts very meek and submissive. Whatever the LORD wants, he will humbly go along with. After all, HE is not the one speaking destructive and hurtful things against someone’s family. HE is not the one getting angry and hurling imprecations against someone else. It is the LORD doing that. Eli is just the innocent party, standing by and taking all this from the LORD he has served with hard labor all these years. Never mind that Eli has defied the LORD’s orders. Never mind that he has allowed the LORD’s sacrifices to be desecrated and His worship to be stained with sexual immorality. Never mind that he has stubbornly refused to respect the LORD’s orders and restrain his sons. In his mind, it is all the LORD’s doing, and he is the obedient servant calmly taking such inexplicable abuse. How inadequate and insulting Eli’s response is compared to what he should have done! Yet Eli had made his decision long before, and chosen his sons over the LORD. Nothing the LORD says now, through Samuel or anyone else, can change his mind.
19. So Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.
So time continues to pass, and Samuel continues to grow. Moreover, Jehovah is with him, and He Himself backs up Samuel’s words. These were no doubt by inspiration. It could be that one could speak a word, even by inspiration, and the one spoken to could just brush it aside, so that it was as if the word just “fell to the ground.” However, Jehovah does not allow this with Samuel’s words. When one hears them, they stick fast, and the person cannot help but remember them. That is what Jehovah is doing for Samuel’s words here.
20. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel had been established as a prophet of the LORD.
For the first time in Samuel, we come upon this phrase “from Dan to Beersheba.” Dan was the northernmost city in Israel, and Beersheba was the southernmost. Therefore, “all Israel from Dan to Beersheba” means all Israel from the extreme north to the extreme south. It is just a way of emphasizing that this means the whole thing.
So all Israel knows that Samuel has been established as a prophet of Yahweh. Remember, all the Israelites came to the tabernacle yearly to worship. As such, they would learn what the state of things was there. As they had all learned of the wickedness of Eli’s sons in the past, they now also learn of Samuel being established as a prophet of Yahweh.
Notice that Samuel is established as a prophet. He does not just receive one prophetic word and then that is it. Moreover, he is not promoted to this office by men. Yahweh has chosen him, and He has established him. Therefore, he is a prophet, and no one can question that fact.
21. Then the LORD appeared again in Shiloh. For the LORD revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the LORD.
After Samuel is established as a prophet in the eyes of all Israel, the LORD comes and reveals Himself to Samuel once again in Shiloh. Remember that Shiloh is where the tabernacle was pitched at this time, and where the priests lived.
When the LORD appears to Samuel, how does He reveal Himself? By the word of the LORD! What is this? Remember what we read earlier in John 1:1. The word is Jesus Christ! When the LORD revealed Himself to Samuel, it was through a pre-incarnate appearance of our Lord and Savior. Samuel met with the LORD by meeting with Him.
Here we have a bad chapter break. The first phrase of the next chapter should appear here.
1. And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.
The result of the LORD appearing to him again is that he continues to receive revelations from Him, and to speak His words. Now, through Samuel, that word goes out to all Israel. So the LORD starts to counteract the wicked influence of Eli and his sons with Samuel’s righteous influence upon His people. Praise God that He is able to work in spite of the sinfulness and disobedience of some who ought to be His servants! That is what Samuel did here.