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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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1 SAMUEL 3

THE CALL OF SAMUEL TO THE PROPHETIC OFFICE

"Samuel was called by the providence of God to be the founder of prophecy as an established institution,"F1 and subsequently during the period of the monarchy the prophet of God, side by side with the king of Israel, was responsible for the religious, moral, and ethical guidance of the Chosen People.

The only critical complaints against this chapter question its unity and what some have called the "reworking" of the prophecy regarding Eli's priesthood in the preceding chapter. Regarding the unity of this chapter, H. P. Smith declared that, "The chapter seems to be a unit,"F2 admitting that objections to its unity are "not well founded."F3

The other objection regarding the alleged "two accounts" of the prophecy regarding Eli is also of no significance. G. B. Caird admitted that if 1 Sam. 3:12 refers to 1 Sam. 2:27-36 (to which it most certainly does refer) then "Both passages would be vindicated against the charge of lateness."F4 Of course, he denied that any such thing should be admitted, declaring that, "Here Eli is warned of a disaster immediately impending ... and in the other passage (1 Sam. 2:27ff) he is warned of a disaster spread over centuries."F5

The extreme weakness of such a comment lies in the fact that nothing whatever is said of "centuries" in the first prophecy, and nothing whatever is said in the prophecy here that could be construed as a denial that the prophecy was any different from the previous one. It is specifically stated that the punishment would last "forever," and also, the sign given to Eli that both his evil sons would die by the sword on the same day (in the first prophecy) indicates the same immediacy and impending nature of God's punishment that exists in the prophecy here. There is absolutely no discrepancy whatever in these two prophecies. Thus, 1 Sam. 3:12, as a reference to the previous one, is an established fact.


 
Verse 1
And the child Samuel ministered unto Jehovah before Eli. And the word of Jehovah was precious in those days; there was no frequent vision.

The boy Samuel…
The term `boy' as used here is applied to an infant (1 Samuel 4:21) or to a man forty years old (2 Chronicles 13:7).F6 Samuel was probably about twelve years of age at the time of this episode, as was stated by Josephus.F7 That was traditionally among the Jews the age at which bar-mitsvah services were held for boys entering their thirteenth year, indicating that the boy, like all Jewish males, was a son of the law, that he was personally responsible for his behavior, and that morally and ethically he was considered an adult. That service is still conducted for Jewish boys. And in it, the lad carries a copy of the Torah as he marches around the synagogue, followed by distinguished members of the Jewish priestly community. Many believe that it was upon just such an occasion that Jesus Christ at that age was unintentionally left by his parents in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-51).

And the word of the Lord was rare in those days…
The Hebrew text here reads precious instead of rare. The word of the Lord was precious is the correct translation, and it is not clear why the RSV should have altered it.F8 This is another instance in which the KJV is superior to the RSV. This is an example of translators substituting what they CONCEIVE to be the meaning for what the sacred text says. It is a fact, of course, that the word of the Lord was indeed rare at that time, but this truth is actually a deduction. The word of the Lord was precious because it was rare!

The point made here is important. Up until this time in Israel a prophet had not always been available to instruct the people in matters divine. "The prophecy of Hannah, and that of the man of God (1 Sam. 2:27ff, above), are the only instances of prophecy since Deborah."F9 Samuel is mentioned in Acts 3:24 as the first of the prophets after Moses. The importance of this lies in the fact that God's promise to raise up a prophet like unto Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15) should not be understood as a promise to raise up "a continual line or succession of prophets," as some have vainly supposed, but it is a direct and specific prophecy of the Messiah.

"This verse is both an introduction to the narrative that follows and a statement of Israel's sorry plight. We are probably to assume that the faults of Eli's family had occasioned the rarity of the divine voice."F10

THE LORD APPEARS TO SAMUEL


 
Verses 2-9
And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place (now his eyes had begun to wax dim, so that he could not see), and the lamp of God was not yet gone out, and Samuel was laid down [to sleep], in the temple of Jehovah, where the ark of God was; that Jehovah called Samuel; and he said, Here am I. And he ran unto Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me. And he said, I called not; lie down again. And he went and lay down. And Jehovah called yet again, Samuel. And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me. And he answered, I called not, my son; lie down again. Now Samuel did not yet know Jehovah, neither was the word of Jehovah yet revealed unto him. And Jehovah called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me. And Eli perceived that Jehovah had called the child. Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Jehovah; for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Eli was lying down in his own place. Samuel lay down in his place
(1 Samuel 3:2,9). The phrase within the temple of the Lord (1 Samuel 3:3) does not mean within the Holy of Holies but is a reference to the entire temple area at Shiloh. Sleeping quarters for Eli and Samuel were in some unspecified area and quite near each other.

Where the ark of God was
(1 Samuel 3:3). This clause modifies temple of the Lord and NOT the place where Eli and Samuel were sleeping. This phrase identifies the location of this episode as Shiloh. The KJV is superior to the RSV in this passage, because the RSV arranges the clauses in such a manner as to suggest that Samuel was sleeping in the Holy of Holies, which was definitely not true.

The opinions of scholars such as W. H. Bennett who thought that Samuel slept in the Holy of Holies in order to protect the ark of the covenantF11 and G. B. Caird who wrote that, "Samuel slept in the chamber where the ark was kept,"F12 should be rejected, because only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies and not even he could enter it except on the Day of Atonement once a year. Opinions such as these just cited are grossly in error due to commentators' acceptance of the fairy tale about a LATE DATE for the Pentateuch!

The lamp of God had not yet gone out…
The purpose of this clause is to fix the time of day, which was very early in the morning before the light of the seven golden candlesticks (lampstands) had gone out. Some deny that this was the candlestick, pointing out that it was to burn always (Exodus 27:20), but there are two excellent reasons, either one of which, nullifies such an objection: (1) In the first place, The instructions for the seven-branched candlestick to burn always apparently meant it would be perpetually relighted.F13 (2) The second reason is that the reprobate sons of Eli who were in charge of things would have done it their way instead of the way God commanded it, if such had pleased them.

Dummelow agreed that the lamp here was the "seven-branched candlestick,"F14 and Keil also so identified it, adding the explanation that, "The seven lamps of the candlestick were put up and lighted every evening and burned through the night until all the oil was consumed."F15 Young, writing in the Wycliffe Bible Commentary, also supported this explanation, basing it upon the text in Lev. 24:2,3.F16 This mention of the lamp of God therefore fixes the time of day as early in the morning just before the light went out of the seven-branched candlestick (lampstand).

Samuel, Samuel!
(1 Samuel 3:4). There are only three other double vocatives in the O.T. (Gen. 22:11; 46:2; and Exo. 3:4).F17

It is important to note that Eli and Samuel were sleeping quite near each other, because Samuel was apparently accustomed to being called by Eli during the night time. This absolutely forbids the false notion that Samuel was in the Holy of Holies.

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord
(1 Samuel 3:7). This means that Samuel was not yet acquainted with the manner in which the Lord communicated with mortals. On account of this, he supposed that Eli was calling him to perform some kind of service.

Eli, on the third time of Samuel's responding, finally caught on to the fact that it was the LORD who was calling Samuel, whereupon he instructed Samuel exactly what to do.

THE LORD SPEAKS TO SAMUEL


 
Verses 10-14
And Jehovah came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel said, Speak; for thy servant heareth. And Jehovah said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle. In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from the beginning even unto the end. For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever, for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons did bring a curse upon themselves, and he restrained them not. And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be expiated with sacrifice nor offering for ever.

This is the full equivalent of the prophecy recorded in 1 Sam. 2:27ff. As D. F. Payne stated it, "1 Sam. 3:10-14 rehearses, but in different words, the prophecy received by Eli in 1 Sam. 2:27-36."F18

This passage reveals an appearance of the Lord to Samuel in an objective sense. This was NOT a dream, because, "Samuel rises and runs to Eli after each of the first three calls."F19 The appearance of the Lord here, was something more than a voice; "There was an objective presence; because in 1 Sam. 3:15 it is called not [~chazown] (a sight seen when in a state of ecstasy), but [~mar'ah] (something seen when wide awake, and in full, calm possession of every faculty)."F20 The mention of "vision" (1 Samuel 3:15) does not nullify this.

This appearance of the Lord to Samuel had nothing whatever to do with Samuel's sleeping where the ark of the covenant was kept in the Holy of Holies, for it is NOT true that Samuel slept there. God was, in no sense restricted to the ark of the covenant as a place where he would speak to men. Like other great Christophanies of the O.T., the location of the person visited by the Lord had nothing to do with it. Furthermore, the fact of any particular name of God being used in this passage is likewise of no significance whatever. Literally, dozens of names of God appear in the O.T., and they are often used interchangeably, sometimes as many as five different names of God being used in a single passage (Genesis 49:23). It would appear from this that the appearance of the Lord here was similar to that of his appearance to Joshua (Joshua 5:13-15).

And I tell him
(1 Samuel 3:13). As Willis pointed out, The best translation here is that of the King James Version, `I (have) told him.'F21 The same scholar also wrote that it is most likely that, Yahweh is referring back to his previous announcement to Eli through the `man of God' (1 Samuel 2:31-32,36).F22 The purpose of this, apparently, was to inform Samuel that Eli already knew about the punishment that God would bring upon him.

The two ears of everyone that hears it will tingle
(1 Samuel 3:11). `Ears. will tingle.' This expression occurs two other times in 2 Kings 21:12 and in Jer. 9:3, in which passages the reference is to the destruction of Jerusalem.F23

The iniquity of Eli's house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever
(1 Samuel 3:14). This seems to imply that Hophni and Phinehas, Eli's evil sons, fully expected that their sins could be removed by offerings and sacrifices. However, no external act of worship is of any value unless it reflects a condition of repentance and sincerity on the part of the worshipper. The arrogant, deliberate, and unrepentant attitude of Eli's sons meant that their punishment could not be averted.

SAMUEL REVEALS THE BAD NEWS TO ELI


 
Verses 15-18
And Samuel lay until the morning, and opened the doors of the house of Jehovah. And Samuel feared to show Eli the vision. Then Eli called Samuel, and said, Samuel, my son. And he said, Here am I. And he said, What is the thing that [Jehovah] hath spoken unto thee? I pray thee, hide it not from me: God do so to thee, and more also, if thou hide anything from me of all the things that he spake unto thee. And Samuel told him every whit, and hid nothing from him. And he said, It is Jehovah: let him do what seemeth him good.

In this passage, we learn that Samuel passed the severest test that any proclaimer of God's Word must confront, that is, the necessity to convey unwelcome words of the Lord to those who need to hear them, and the task is especially difficult if the words must be spoken to those whom we love, respect and honor, as was the case in this instance with Samuel.

He opened the doors of the house of the Lord
(1 Samuel 3:15). The mention of doors here is not, Another evidence that the House of Yahweh was not a tent.F24 It only means that, Solid buildings had been constructed around the tabernacle for purposes of defense.F25 The fact of Samuel's opening these doors gives us a glimpse of the nature of services the young man was providing.

God do so to you and more
(1 Samuel 3:17). This type of imprecation is found in the Books of Samuel, Kings and Ruth, but nowhere else in the Bible.F26 It is of interest that almost the exact words of this oath are found in the threat of Jezebel against Elijah (1 Kings 19:2). How strange it is that Jezebel and Eli should both have been familiar with this type of threat.

Regarding the guilt of Eli, it was very extensive, despite the fact that his evil sons took the lead in their offensive and immoral conduct. The indulgent Eli allowed all of the abuses and even profited by them, but did absolutely nothing to correct them.

THE ESTABLISHMENT OF SAMUEL AS GOD'S PROPHET


 
Verses 19-21
And Samuel grew, and Jehovah was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan even to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of Jehovah. And Jehovah appeared again in Shiloh; for Jehovah revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of Jehovah.

The Lord. let none of his words fall to the ground
(1 Samuel 3:19). The undeniable proof of the validity of God's inspiration of his prophets lay in the fact that what they prophesied came to pass, exactly as foretold. The reality of the countless predictive prophecies of the O.T. is the mountain truth which all the unbelievers of the ages have never been able to remove.

All Israel from Dan to Beersheba
(1 Samuel 3:20). These places were the northern and southern extremities of Israel and their usage to indicate the whole country of Israel was equivalent to what an American might mean if he said, from Lubec to San Francisco. Dan is the modern Tel el-Qadi, located on the southern slope of Mount Hermon.F27 See our comment on Judg. 18:27-29 for the manner in which the tribe of Dan came to possess this place. Beersheba is the modern Tel es-Saba, located about four miles east of the modern town of Beersheba.F28 Except for the extent of Israel's territory in the times of Solomon and of Jeroboam, these two places identified the northern and southern extremities of the territory that was controlled by Israel.

All Israel knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord
(1 Samuel 3:20). This is a statement of what eventually came to pass and does not mean that this widespread recognition of Samuel as a prophet of the Lord was an instantaneous result. In this book, somewhat later, Saul was apparently ignorant of the fact that Samuel was a prophet of the Lord (1 Samuel 9:5,6).

The Lord appeared again at Shiloh
(1 Samuel 3:21). The Septuagint (LXX) is different here, and, apparently influenced by the LXX, G. B. Caird rendered this place: And Israel again appeared in Shiloh, because Yahweh revealed himself to Samuel.F29 However, Keil warned that, The Septuagint (LXX) in this passage in a critical aspect is utterly worthless.F30 Here again we have an example of translators who write what they believe to be true, or the way it happened, and then substitute their opinions for what the Sacred Text says. It is true that in many instances the changes do not contain error, as such, but are nevertheless a departure from what the Lord has said, and we hold such departures to be totally untrustworthy.


Footnotes for 1 Samuel 3
2: International Critical Commentary, Samuel, p. 25.
3: Ibid.
4: The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 4, p. 894.
5: Ibid.
6: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 384.
7: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, p. 169.
8: The Interpreter's Bible, op. cit., p. 892.
9: Albert Barnes, Samuel, p. 12.
10: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 288.
11: Arthur S. Peake, p. 276.
12: The Interpreter's Bible, op. cit., p. 893.
13: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 65.
14: J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 184.
15: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 2-b, p. 49.
16: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 277.
17: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 384.
18: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 288.
19: International Critical Commentary, p. 27.
20: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 66.
21: John T. Willis, p. 59.
22: Ibid.
23: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, O.T., Samuel, p. 278.
24: International Critical Commentary, p. 29.
25: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 67.
26: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 385.
27: John T. Willis, p. 61.
28: Ibid.
29: The Interpreter's Bible, op. cit., p. 896.
30: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, op. cit., p. 51.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 3". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=1sa&chapter=003>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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