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Again the contrast in the child Samuel to what goes before is emphasized: he ministered to the Lord before Eli. Eli witnessed his simple faithfulness to the Lord; but while he no doubt appreciated it it had no effect of stirring Eli to more wholehearted obedience. At this time the Word of the Lord was rare: conditions were such that the Lord did not reveal Himself as He had done to Moses, Joshua and some of the Judges. Verse 21 shows however, that Samuel became the one exception.
Samuel's first revelation from God comes at a time when Eli had laid down to sleep and his eyes had begun to wax dim. No doubt this is intended that we should apply it spiritually too. Formalism always becomes dim-sighted, while faith becomes wide awake. While the lamp of God in the temple was virtually ready to go out God had His own way of causing revival. Samuel had laid down, but was not asleep when God called him. The alacrity of the little boy's response indicates a beautifully obedient spirit. He ran to Eli, for there was no one else there, so far as Samuel knew. Eli could only tell him he had not called. At the second call, Eli ought to have been alerted by this unusual experience, but tells Samuel again to lie down. Not until the third time did he begin to realize that the Lord was calling Samuel. Samuel was so young that he did not yet know the Lord, and Eli then instructs him to wait for another call, and respond, "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth."
All this was intended by God to stir the exercise of both Samuel and Eli. Certainly Samuel would remain wide awake for the fourth call, to which he responds, "Speak; for thy servant heareth." He omits the word "Lord," no doubt because he had not before been instructed as to the Lord Himself, which is all too possible even when surrounded by the formal acknowledgment of His things: in fact such things often tend to obscure the real knowledge of Himself.
The Lord's message to Samuel is dreadful. It may seem to us too terrifying for the ears of a little boy; but God is wiser than we in fact, it is the "little children" who are warned against anti-christ in 1 John 2:18. Samuel knew of the wickedness of Eli's sons, and it was necessary that he should also know God's thoughts about this. God's patience as to this would come to an abrupt end in His doing in Israel what would make every ear tingle. He confirms to Samuel what He had said before to Eli, that He would perform against him all that He had spoken as to his house: when once this began there would be no delay in its accomplishment.
Of course Eli would not have told this prophecy to Samuel, but God tells Samuel that He had told Eli that He would judge his house forever because of the iniquity that he himself was acquainted with and had not corrected. His sons made themselves vile and he did not restrain them. His mild protests were no restraint whatever. In contrast, God's words to him were confirmed by a solemn oath that this iniquity would never be purged with sacrifice or offering. For this willful sin there was no offering: God must act in judgment.
Samuel remained in bed till morning, but it is not said he slept. This first message of God to him would surely burn itself into his inmost soul, so that he would never forget it; but rather have impressed upon his heart the utmost respect for the holiness of the God with whom he had to do. We can easily understand his fearing to tell Eli what God had said. Similarly, any true prophet of God will have some measure of fear as to declaring the whole counsel of God, for he knows that it will not be always welcomed by men. But he must not give in to his fear, for when God speaks He will allow us no excuse for concealing His word.
Eli, calling Samuel, adjured him to tell him all that God had spoken. He surely realized that it would be no light matter of which God spoke to Samuel, and likely relating to the corrupt condition of the priesthood. Samuel responded by telling him everything, hiding nothing from him. Thus, at a young age, he acted as a true prophet of God. Eli could not but recognize this was God's solemn message to him, and speaks submissively, though he seems to have gotten beyond any thought of exercise to change matters himself. His was a pathetic state of passivity without exercise.
How different was the stirring exercise of Samuel's soul from his youth! The Lord was with him as he grew, and allowed none of his words to fall to the ground. How few indeed have a reputation of this kind! For if we are not given to harmful words, at least too often we allow useless words to fall from our lips, rather than always true and right words. But a character of this kind in a public place like the temple could not remain hidden: all Israel soon knew that he was established to be a prophet of the Lord. Shiloh was blessed by the appearance of the Lord, but it was only to Samuel, and this "by the word of the Lord." Today the word of the Lord to us has been completed in scripture, and only by this written word does He communicate His mind to His prophets now.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 3". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany