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CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES.—
1 Samuel 3:1. “The child Samuel.” According to Josephus, Samuel was now twelve years old. “Precious,” i.e., rare. “The word was rare that came directly from the Lord by prophetic announcement to the people; the proper organs were lacking, persons who were filled with the Spirit of the Lord, that they might be witnesses of His word; there was lacking also in the people the living desire for the direct revelations of God in His word” (Lange’s Commentary). “No open vision,” lit. “no vision spread abroad.” “Here vision includes all the ways whereby God revealed Himself to men. Which He did then so seldom that, whatsoever revelation there might be privately to some pious persons, there was none then publicly acknowledged to be a prophet” (Patrick).
1 Samuel 3:2. “His eyes began to wax dim.” This mention of Eli’s dimness of sight is introduced parenthetically. It explains Samuel’s supposition that he had been called by Eli: the imperfect vision of the aged priest would make him dependent upon the services of an attendant, and these services Samuel was probably appointed to render” (Hobson). “The lamp of God,” i.e., the seven-branched candlestick. “This stood in the centre, on the left of the entrance, and is now mentioned for the last time. It was superseded in the reign of Solomon by the ten separate candlesticks, but revived after the captivity by the copy of the one candlestick with the seven branches, as is still seen on the arch of Titus. It was the only light of the Tabernacle during the night” (Dean Stanley). “Went out.” This indicates that the time was near morning. “Temple.” See on 1 Samuel 1:9. “The sanctuary was so encased with buildings as to give it the name and appearance of a house or temple” (Dean Stanley). “Samuel slept in the court, where cells were built for the priests and Levites to live in when serving in the sanctuary. See 1 Samuel 3:15. (Keil). “The high-priest was not in domestic residence at the temple, much less, therefore, at the tabernacle.… But Eli, who was now an aged man, with all his family grown up and settled in their own households, might, both from feeling and convenience, incline to reside constantly at his humble official lodge, under the shadow of the tabernacle. The proper place of Samuel would have been among the attendant Levites, but on account of his personal services to the high-priest, he rested not far from him” (Kitto). “The Lord.” Jehovah. “This name stands after the temple because it is the Covenant God who descends to His people, and dwells with them, that is brought before us. On the other hand, in connection with the lamp and the ark, Elohim is used in the sense of the Divine in general” (Lange’s Commentary).
1 Samuel 3:4. “The Lord called Samuel.” “Probably by a voice from the ark in the Holy of Holies” (Wordsworth).
1 Samuel 3:5. “He ran,” etc. “Which shows the great readiness and promptness of his obedience, which made him come, yea, run at his first call” (Patrick).
1 Samuel 3:7. “Did not yet know,” etc. “He had not the special knowledge of God which was given by extraordinary revelation” (Lange’s Commentary). “Revealed,” literally uncovered. “The metaphor is transferred in a certain way in 1 Samuel 9:15, where it is said (Hebrew) that the Lord uncovered the ear of Samuel. Our word revelation may be taken as including both these ideas” (Hobson). (See comments on 1 Samuel 3:21.)
1 Samuel 3:10. “Stood.” The voice becomes a vision. “A personal presence, not a mere voice, or impression upon Samuel’s mind is here indicated “(Bishop Hervey).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Samuel 3:1-10
THE VOICE OF THE UNSEEN
I. Special preparation qualifies for special revelation. “Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli.” In any branch of service, whether rendered to men or more directly to God, training is needed before a man is fit to fulfil its duties. Men to whom the voice of nature has spoken in any special manner are generally men who have been her students from their early years, and their long waiting upon her in her temple has made them capable of receiving special revelations from her. Newton and Faraday were made partakers of some of her secrets only after years of training in her school, and the same may be said of the poets and artists whose ears have been opened, or whose vision has been enlightened in an especial manner to hear her voice, or to see her beauties. David’s early days were spent in meditating upon the heavens that declared the glory of God and the firmament that showed the Divine handiwork. Doubtless this early training had much to do with his susceptibility to impressions from the works of God in nature in his after-life, and made him able to see God in all the things that He has made. God, by early training, fitted him to be not only a king and a soldier, but a poet. So Samuel was prepared, by early and special training, to receive special revelations from God.
II. Early religious training fits men for great and important work in after life. From his very early days Samuel dwelt in the sanctuary of the Lord, and was in daily attendance upon the services of His house. Corrupt as were some of those who ministered in holy things, there were doubtless some good and elevating influences around him which would accustom him to the thought of the God of his fathers, and tend to prepare him for the special work to which he was destined. The comparatively easy and pleasant ministry unto the Lord within His house prepared him for the sterner service he was to be called to render without the courts in a more public capacity. The sailor’s child is first taught to handle an oar in the sheltered cove before his father’s cottage, in sight of home and within reach of his mother’s eye. But this easy exercise is to fit him in after years to move out into the wide ocean and face the perils of the storm, and with a skilful hand pilot his vessel safely over a dangerous sea. The home-life of every well-trained child is a calm and peaceful bay, in which, encircled by loving laws and gentle words, he is being fitted to fight the difficulties and temptations of life outside the charmed circle. In due time he moves out into the vast sea of life, and finds himself in a world altogether different from his childhood’s home; but the holy influences that were around him there have fitted him for taking his place and doing his work in the world, so as to glorify God and bless himself and others. So it ought to be with every member of a godly household, so it was with Samuel. The “gentleness of God” (2 Samuel 22:36) as he experienced it in the comparatively calm and peaceful atmosphere of his early days, made him fit to fulfil the arduous mission to which he was afterwards called, and strengthened him to fulfil all the Divine commands even to the terrific one of “hewing Agag in pieces before the Lord” (1 Samuel 15:33). What a contrast was the last-mentioned stern service to the gentle ministry of his early days, but obedience to the will of God was doubtless the motive power in both. This habit of obedience is the one which above all others, perhaps, fits men bravely and faithfully to fulfil their duties to God and men. If a child has been accustomed from a sense of duty to render obedience to his human father or guardian he will come more readily to subject his will to his Divine Father. Submission to the lesser and imperfect being prepares the way for submission to the Almighty and Perfect One. We see from Samuel’s ready response to what he supposed was the call of Eli, how accustomed he was to render implicit obedience to him who stood to him in the place of his earthly father, and this submission to a human will and authority was one of the most important elements in his early training to fit him in after life to render unhesitating obedience to the word of the Lord, and to shrink from no service which He called upon him to perform.
III. God speaks when His speech is most needed. Rain is never so precious as when famine has set in from lack of it. When the clouds have for long ceased to yield refreshment to the earth, then every drop is as precious as gold. When there is lack of the rain of heaven, then there is dearth, and disease, and death. So is it in the spiritual world when there is a lack of spiritual teaching. From this soul-famine there springs apace all kinds of spiritual diseases, and souls perish for lack of bread. In Israel, at this period of its history, there was such a soul-famine, and with few exceptions its whole “head was sick, and its heart was faint” in consequence, and “wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores” broke out in the lives of those who ought to have been fit mediums for the descent of that spiritual rain which makes glad the wilderness and the solitary place, and causes the spiritual desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose. In this time of great need God broke the long silence, and in this word coming to Samuel there was “a sound of” that “abundance of rain” which was to be poured down upon this highly-favoured people almost unceasingly until the time of Malachi. This voice of God, coming to the youthful Samuel in the night watches, was to be the beginning of a long series of “open visions,” and of an abundant revelation of the mind and will of God. But the first drops of the shower fell in a time of spiritual drought, and famine, and disease.
IV. God speaks through spiritually qualified instruments. A coloured glass is not a fit medium to transmit the pure white light of the sun. A blackened glass almost entirely shuts out his rays; light can hardly find any entrance through such a medium. God’s silence had been of so long continuance because those who ought to have been fit mediums to transmit His word were utterly incapable even of receiving it. Neither Eli nor his sons were qualified instruments by which God could reveal His will to the people. Even the high-priest himself was not one whose spiritual nature was sufficiently awake to render him capable of receiving visions of God. And he who would reveal to others the word of the Lord must be able first to see and hear for himself. But Samuel was of an entirely different nature. His ear had been rendered susceptible to spiritual voices, his eyes were fitted to discern spiritual realities, and his will was so far in harmony with the will of God—his desire to serve the Lord was so far single and unbiassed,—as to render him a fit medium through which the light of the Divine word could be transmitted.
V. The unseen world is as real as that which is seen. The personality of Eli in the tabernacle was one that could be seen—it was within the reach of Samuel’s bodily senses. But he came to be conscious of a Person, quite as real, though ordinarily beyond the reach of his vision. He who spoke to Samuel in his sleep was as real an existence as was the priest to whom he at first attributed the voice. That Samuel at first mistook the voice of the invisible God for the voice of the visible Eli shows how strongly he was assured of the reality of the person who spoke to him—how certain he felt that the voice belonged to a real and actual existence. That which is unseen by our mortal eye is as real, and is as near to us, as that which our bodily vision can apprehend, and it only needs God to awaken our spiritual senses to make us conscious of this. Many a man can testify from his own experience that communion with God is quite as much a reality as any communion with man. Samuel, during his minority, had many a conversation with the aged Eli, and had doubtless received some good impressions from his intercourse with the old priest. But the intercourse which he held from this time forth with a person who spoke to him from the invisible world was as real and far more impressive than any he had ever had with the person before whom he had so long ministered to the Lord. So real was it, and so strong an impression did it make upon him that he could afterwards reproduce the words that had been spoken to him, and felt that communion with Him whose dwelling is not with flesh, was a more influential fact of his life than any intercourse with men. He had been conversant with many facts concerning Jehovah before this time, but he now awoke to such a personal consciousness of His existence, and such an abiding sense of His nearness, that up to this crisis in his history it is said of him that he “knew not the Lord.”
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
1 Samuel 3:1. Since the extraordinary gifts stand in close connection with the ordinary, we must conclude that the latter also were sparingly dealt out, that among the masses there was a great deal of lukewarmness, and even open apostasy. The want of a reformation was urgent. That the extraordinary gifts, however, had not quite disappeared, we learn from the example of the man of God who comes to Eli to upbraid him with his sins and also to announce the Divine judgment. And with respect to the ordinary gifts, we are led to the conclusion that there was at that time a not inconsiderable ekloge, not only by the institution of holy women (see Critical Notes on 1 Samuel 2:21), but also by the custom of the Nazarite, of which we have two contemporaneous examples in Samson and Samuel, and must therefore have been pretty widely spread. Hence we infer that the spirit of piety was by no means dead, especially since an institution such as that of the Nazarites stands in close connection with the whole national tendency, and can only flourish when more or less supported by it.—Hengstenberg.
Faithful in little, and therefore entrusted with more, being the next famous prophet to Moses, and called the first (Acts 3:24; 2 Chronicles 35:18).—Trapp.
The time of Samuel’s appearance in Israel as prophet was a time of an internal judgment of God, which consisted in the lack of intercourse of God with His people by revelation. It was a theocratic interdict incurred by the continual apostasy of the people from their God … Such a judgment came upon Saul (1 Samuel 28:6; 1 Samuel 28:15).… The same law presents itself in all periods of the kingdom of God; men lose the source of life, God’s revealed word, by a Divine judgment, when they withdraw from intercourse with the living God, and will not accept His holy word as the truth which controls their whole life.—Lange’s Commentary.
1 Samuel 3:2. God lets old Eli sleep, who slept in his sin; and awakes Samuel to tell him what He would do with his master. He, who was wont to be the mouth of God to the people, must now receive the message of God from the mouth of another; as great persons will not speak to those with whom they are highly offended, but send them their checks by others.—Bishop Hall.
1 Samuel 3:4. He answered “Here am I.” A hearing ear is a sweet mercy; and a heavy ear, a grievous judgment (Isaiah 6:9).—Trapp.
1 Samuel 3:5-6. He would not have lain down to sleep had he thought that the Lord had spoken unto him. So, if men did but consider that God speaketh unto them by His ministers, they would hear and heed much better. How oft do we either turn a deaf ear to God’s call, or else mistake, and run another way, till He please to speak home to our hearts, and cause us to hear Him.—Trapp.
1 Samuel 3:10. For the first time Samuel stands with consciousness in the presence of the majesty of God—and immediately all the riddles of life begin to be solved for him, and the meaning of his own life to become clear. What he says bears the clearest stamp of a really begun communion with the Lord. Is it not the resolve to say and to do all that the Lord might show him of His lofty thoughts and ways—is it not this, and nothing but this, that is expressed in “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth?” Has he not thereby once for all renounced self-knowing and self-will? That was the faithfulness as a prophet, which all Israel, from Dan even to Beersheba, recognised in him (1 Samuel 3:20). And that which thus first established a true communion with the Lord could also alone be the power that maintained it. The constant prayer, “Speak, Lord,” and the constant vow, “Thy servant heareth”—that is the hand which takes hold of God’s right hand, to be held fast by it with everlasting life. “Speak, Lord,” etc., a testimony of unconditional devotion to the Lord.
1. How such a testimony is reached (a), through the Lord’s awakening call; (b), through receptivity of heart for God’s word; (c) through the deed of self-denial in the renunciation of all self-knowledge and self-will.
2. What is therein testified and praised before the Lord—(a) humble subjection [speak, Lord]; (b) steadfast dependence on the Lord in free love [Thy servant]; (c) unconditional, joyful obedience to His will [Thy servant heareth]. Conditions of a blessed fulfilment of one’s calling for the kingdom of God—
1. The experience of the power of the Divine word: I have called thee by name.
2. The repeated call in prayer, “Speak, Lord.”
3. The fulfilment of the vow: “Thy servant heareth.”—Lange’s Commentary.
CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES.—
1 Samuel 3:11. “The ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle.” A mark of dread and horror. (See 2 Kings 21:12 and Jeremiah 19:3.) “As a sharp, discordant noise pains one’s ears, so the news of this harsh punishment shall give pain to all who hear of it” (Lange’s Commentary on Kings).
1 Samuel 3:12. “I will also make an end.” “He does not mean that He would begin and make an end at once; but that He would persevere in His punishments, and not desist when He began, till all His threatenings were fulfilled, viz., in the death of Eli, and of his sons, and the slaughter of eighty-five priests of this family by Doeg, and the thrusting Abiathar out of his office, and so depriving that family of its dignity and honour “(Patrick).
1 Samuel 3:13. “Judge.” “To judge on account of a crime is the same as to punish it.” (Keil.) “Restrained.” “He contented himself with mere remonstrance when, as High Priest and Judge in Israel, he had severer measures at his command, which he ought to have employed, setting aside his personal feelings of parental tenderness.” (Hobson.)
1 Samuel 3:14. “Sacrifice nor offering.” “Neither the bloody nor unbloody offerings.” (See Leviticus 16:6.) “The sin of Eli’s sons was so heinous as not to be purged by this appointed sacrifice.” (Hobson.)
1 Samuel 3:15. “Opened the doors.” “This appears to have been a part of Samuel’s duty. We have not to think of doors opening into the Holy Place, however, but of doors leading into the court.” (Keil.)
1 Samuel 3:16. “My Son.” “How much is expressed in this one word.” (Thenius.)
1 Samuel 3:17. Observe the climax in the words with which, in three sentences, Eli demands information from Samuel; it expresses the excitement of his soul. He asks for the word of the Lord; he demands an exact and complete statement, he adjures Samuel to conceal nothing from him.” (Lange’s Commentary.)
1 Samuel 3:19. “None of his words fall to the ground.” “A metaphor from arrows shot out of a bow, which hit the mark.” (Patrick.)
1 Samuel 3:20. “From Dan to Beersheba,” i.e., from the northern to the southern extremity of the land. Dan (anciently called Laish) was a northern frontier town, and Beersheba was situated on its southern border. “That Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord.” “A very important statement.” What Samuel did in offering sacrifices, etc. (see 1 Samuel 7:9) was not, as some seem to imagine, an irregular intrusion into the priestly office. But in a time of great degeneracy and confusion, when the exercise of the ordinary functions of the Levitical priesthood was in abeyance, Samuel was specially raised up by God, and received an extraordinary commission from Him to do what He did in maintaining the worship of God, and all Israel “knew,” by visible tokens, that he was established to be an expounder and interpreter of God’s will (Wordsworth).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH—1 Samuel 3:10-21
THE SIN OF OMISSION AND THE GRACE OF SUBMISSION
I. The mere omission of one man may be the calamity of many. Many and terrible disasters have often been brought upon many people by one man’s omission in the performance of his duty. If the man who stands at the wheel of the vessel omits to look at the compass, he may bring death or ruin to hundreds of his fellow-creatures, as well as loss of reputation to himself if he should survive the wreck. If one miner neglects properly to secure his light, the death of all his fellow-workmen may as truly lie at his door as if he had slain each one separately with his own hand. Omissions permit the play of forces which are destructive to human life, and therefore are sometimes as guilty as commissions. Eli’s great sin was a sin of omission: “His sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.” His omission of parental restraint permitted the unchecked play of the evil passions of his children, and brought as sure and as terrible a destruction upon them as if he had taken their lives with his own hand. And the evil consequences of his neglect of restraint did not end with them; the mischief which was thus left to work spread into every household in the land, and soon the whole nation had cause to mourn over their high-priest’s omission of his duty. If Eli had restrained his sons, he would certainly have delivered his own soul from blood-guiltiness, and might have delivered them from such a public execution, and the nation from overwhelming disgrace. Mere protestation against sin will do something to stem the tide, or if it is powerless to do that it is a witness against it. A godly man can sometimes do no more than can a pillar in the midst of an eddying river. He can but offer the resistance of his own life and words to the prevailing current of iniquity. He cannot check its onward course. Less than this will not deliver him from guilt, but this will do it. “If thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it, if he do not turn from his way he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.” (Ezekiel 33:8-9.) This is all that God requires when men can do no more. Eli had hardly done this and his power to do more—to hinder his sons from continuing their public profanation of God’s house and services—constituted him a partaker in their sins, and to some extent in their punishment when he “restrained them not.” This great omission of his life made him the instrument of bringing the wrath of God, not only upon his house but upon his nation.
II. A noble nature has no pleasure in the downfall of a rival. A generous soul is grieved at the afflictions that come upon men even through their own sin. He not only “rejoiceth not in iniquity” but rejoiceth not in the punishment that iniquity brings even when the downfall of the evil-doer is the occasion of his own promotion. If a young man sorrows over the just disgrace of those whose fall is his own stepping-stone to promotion, he shows that he is possessed of a truly noble disposition. Samuel was not gladdened by being thus honoured by God, seeing that the message he received was charged with heavy tidings concerning those whom he honoured to some extent. Some consciousness of his own advancement must have been borne in upon him by this revelation—he must have had some presentiment that the setting of Eli’s sun would be the rise of his own, yet he shrinks from showing the vision evidently not only from unwillingness to grieve his aged friend, but from a sense of sorrow at the terrible retribution which awaited him and his.
III. The highest wisdom under Divine chastisement is the submission which justifies God. There are children who will justify their human parents even when they are under correction, because they have such confidence in the character of those parents, and because their own consciences convict them of deserving that which they are now suffering. God’s children should always be able to do this. They ought to be so assured of His unimpeachable justice and wisdom, as well as of His love, as to be able at all times to echo the words of Eli, and thus to “justify the ways of God to men.” Eli here proves himself a true son of Abraham in the full assent he gives to Abraham’s assurance, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25) Being fully convicted of his own negative sins, and of the positive crimes of his children, he takes the course of true wisdom, and yields himself and his family into the hands of that King who he knows can do no wrong.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
1 Samuel 3:11. When God executes judgment upon anyone, all should tremble at these examples of severity upon others, and say with Paul, “Because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear” (Romans 11:20).—De Sacy.
1 Samuel 3:12. Execution of justice is God’s work, though His strange work (Isaiah 28:21), and when once He beginneth, He will go thorough-stitch with it; He will neither dally nor desist till it be done.—Trapp.
1 Samuel 3:13. The judgment that was to fall on Ithamar is the likeness of the judgment which has followed the corruption and the nepotism of the clergy everywhere. It was to begin with the alienation of the people from the worship of the sanctuary; it was to end in a violent revolution, which should overthrow with bloodshed, confiscation, and long humiliation the ancient hereditary succession and the whole existing hierachy of Israel.—Stanley.
Parents cannot do God’s work, and God will not do theirs; but if they use the means, God will not withhold His blessing.—A. Clarke.
Oh, it is dangerous to do the work of God negligently. Eli was a magistrate, and should have put forth his authority and punished those ungodly children.… That you (who are magistrates) be terrors to evil-doers is expressed as one of your chief duties (Romans 13:3).… If you are not, look to yourself, for God hath iron hands for justices that have leaden heels, and will one day strike them home for forswearing themselves to spare others. He will be a terror to thee and make thee a terror to thyself, who will not at His command be a terror to evil-doers. Thou sinnest in others whilst thou sufferest them to sin, and thou shalt one day suffer with them (Revelation 18:4).… Cowards are more fit to be slaves than rulers. A magistrate should be like Moses: in his own cause as meek as a lamb, in God’s cause as stiff as an oak, as bold as a lion.… He that spareth the bad hurteth the good. The chirurgeon must cut off incurable members, and the physician of the State must purge out the peccant humours of the body politic, lest they infect and injure the whole.—Swinnock.
“For the iniquity which he knoweth.” Both by that prophet (1 Samuel 2:29), and by that domestical chaplain, his conscience.—Trapp.
1 Samuel 3:13-14. The guilt and consequences of parental unfaithfulness.
I. The sin here mentioned. It is not said that Eli set his sons a bad example. It is evident, on the contrary, that his example was good. Nor is he accused of neglecting to admonish them; for we are told that he reproved them in a very solemn and affectionate manner.… But though Eli admonished he did not restrain. He did not employ the authority with which he was clothed, as a parent, to prevent them from indulging their depraved inclinations.… Every parent who is not as careful of the morals as he is of the health of his children; everyone who takes more care of the literary than of the moral and religious education of his children, is guilty of this sin.
II. The punishments denounced. They are here denounced generally; but are described at large in the preceding chapter.
1. That most of his posterity shall die early. The sin of which Eli was guilty naturally tends to produce the consequence here threatened.… If parents wish their sons to die before they reach half the common age of man, they cannot adopt measures better calculated to produce this effect than to cast loose the reins of parental authority.
2. That such of his children as were spared should prove a grief and vexation, rather than a comfort to him.… This was not less terribly fulfilled in the family of David.… We are told respecting one of his children, that his father had not displeased him at any time, saying, Wherefore hast thou done so? We may then conclude that he was equally culpable in his treatment of his other children. And what was the consequence?.… This part of the threatened punishment, like the former, is the natural and almost inevitable consequence of the sin against which it is denounced.… Especially will such parents usually meet with unkindness and neglect from their children if they live to be dependent on them in their old age.
3. That his posterity should be poor and contemptible.… Children who are not restrained by their parents will almost inevitably contract habits of idleness, instability, and extravagance, which naturally lead to poverty and contempt. Here again we see the natural consequences of Eli’s sin in its punishment. Lastly, God declares that none of the methods thus appointed to obtain the pardon of sin, should avail to procure pardon for the iniquity of his house. This awful threat conveyed a plain intimation that they should die in their sins, and this too, was the natural consequence of his conduct. He had suffered them to follow without restraint those courses which rendered them unfit for heaven until their day of grace was past.… They were given up to a hard heart and a reprobate mind. They could not now be brought to repentance, and of course, no sacrifice nor offering could purge away their sins.… Thousands now in the region of despair, and thousands more on their way to join them will for ever curse their parents as the authors of their misery. The terrible punishments denounced against this sin show how exceedingly displeasing it is to God.
1. Because it proceeds from wicked and hateful principles … Sometimes it proceeds from the love and practice of vice … In religious parents, it almost invariably proceeds from indolence and selfishness … There is also much unbelief, much contempt of God, and much positive disobedience in this sin.
2. Because it entirely frustrates His design in establishing the family state.
3. On account of the good which it prevents, and the infinite evil which it produces.… No sin tends to produce more or greater evil and misery.
4. Because those who are guilty of it act a most unnatural part. God knew that it would not be safe to trust us with the education of immortal souls, unless we had powerful inducements to be faithful to the trust. He, therefore, implanted in the heart of parents a strong affection for their offspring, that they might be thus induced to educate them as they ought. But those who neglect to restrain their children do violence to this powerful operative principle, and may be said to be like the heathen, without natural affection.—Payson.
1 Samuel 3:15. As the child Samuel was not elated by this vision and revelation vouchsafed to him in the temple, but went humbly to Eli, and when it was morning did the daily work prescribed to him,—so the child Jesus, after the honour paid to him in the temple, “went down to Nazareth, and was subject” to Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:51).—Wordsworth.
As this is the first circumstance which throws light upon the character of one who was destined to become a great man in Israel, it behoves us to regard it well. Most lads of his age evince much eagerness in communicating anything surprising, without much regard to the pain it may be calculated to inflict. Samuel knew that he had been highly honoured by a special communication from God. The burden of a great doom had been imparted to him, and such secrets of high import it is hard for youth to bear undisclosed. But with Samuel there was one consideration that overruled every other. The secret concerned his venerable lord, who had been as a father to him, and could not fail to afflict his spirit.—Kitto.
1 Samuel 3:18. Though we must groan and feel God’s hand, yet we must not grumble and fret at His dealings. Patience is thy duty under the sharpest providence. He is too just to be questioned, too good to be suspected, and too great to be quarrelled with. Eli doth not fall in His face in a passion, but falls down at His feet in humble submission.—Swinnock.
“Told him every whit.” Bitter truths must be spoken, however they be taken, and if ministers be mannerly in the form, yet in the matter of their message let them be resolute.—Trapp.
If Eli have been an ill father to his sons, yet he is a good son to God, and is ready to kiss the very rod he shall smart withal: “It is the Lord,” whom I have ever found holy and just, and gracious, and He cannot but be Himself; “let Him do what seemeth Him good,” for whatsoever seemeth to be good to Him, cannot but be good, howsoever it seems to me. Every man can open his hand to God while He blesses; but to expose ourselves willingly to the afflicting hand of our Maker, and to kneel to Him while He scourges us, is peculiar only to the faithful.—Bishop Hall.
I. A judicious discovery from whence all evils come. “It is the Lord.” He is omnipotent, and who hath withstood His power. He is just, and will bring no evil without good cause. He is wise, and whatsoever evil He bringeth He can draw it to a good end.… He remaineth the same God in the fire and in the earthquake which He was in the still voice; the same when He slew the Israelites as when His light shone upon their tabernacle. His glorious attributes cross not one another. His justice taketh not from His mercy, nor His mercy from the equity of His justice; but He is just when He bindeth up, and merciful when He woundeth us.… The same God that overthrew Pharaoh in the Red Sea, that “slew great and mighty kings” (Psalms 136:15; Psalms 136:17-18) did deliver up His own people, did deliver up the ark to Dagon: for His justice, His wisdom, and His mercy “did endure for ever.”
II. A well-grounded resolution. Let us learn with Eli to “kiss the Son, lest He be angry” (Psalms 2:12), nay, to kiss Him, and bow before Him when He is angry; to offer Him up a peace-offering, our wills, of more power than a hecatomb, than all our numerous fasts and sermons, to appease His wrath.… This is the truest surrendry we can make.… “I do not only obey God, and do what He would have me, but I am of His mind,” saith the heathen Seneca.” … The stubbornest knee may be made to bow, and obedience may be constrained. But the true Israelite doeth it with joy and readiness, and though he receive a blow he counteth it as a favour, for He that gave it hath taught him an art to make it so.—Anthony Faringdon.
1 Samuel 3:20. Not only of the whole Church in general, but of every Christian hearer in particular, it is demanded that, with reference to the doctrine taught, he shall perceive whether it is right and true or not, and stand his ground. In the case of Samuel the word did not hold good—“the prophet has no honour in his own country.” He comes before us here as a prophet who has much honour in his own country—
(1) Because he was a faithful prophet of God;
(2) because he was counted worthy by God of continual revelations through His word;
(3) and God confirmed his proclamations by the publicly manifested fulfilment of them as a fulfilment of his word.—Cramer.
When Samuel had entered into an immediate relation to God, a relation between him and the nation also began. He receives through them the dignity of a prophet, of a mediator between God and the nation. With him prophecy mounted a new step. While the prophets had previously entered powerfully into the history only in solitary decisive instances, his prophetic activity was a continuous one.—Hengstenberg.
1 Samuel 3:21. God breaks through the silence of many years, and reveals Himself to Samuel. Wherefore was this? Samuel had a childlike faith; therefore he was very dear to God. The words are remarkable, “the child was a child” (see notes on 1 Samuel 1:24), and “he grew before the Lord.” He was a child in innocence, humility, simplicity, holiness. He was holy amid scenes of unholiness. In spite of the pernicious example of Eli’s sons, the priests of God, the child stood firm; he was true to God in the most trying circumstances, therefore God revealed Himself to him. The child Samuel was preferred to the aged Eli, the high priest and judge; and thus, as Theodoret remarks, God showed that holy childhood is better than hoar hairs. He was “wiser than the aged,” and had “more understanding than his teachers,” because he “kept God’s commandments” (Psalms 119:99-100).—Wordsworth.
The Lord revealed Himself to Samuel. It is with, perhaps, one exception the earliest instance of the use of the word which has since become the name for all Divine communication. “The Lord uncovered the ear,” such is the literal expression; a touching and significant figure taken from the manner in which the possessor of a secret moves back the long hair of his friend, and whispers into the ear thus laid bare the word that no one else may hear. It is a figure which precisely expresses the most universal and philosophical idea conveyed by the term “Revelation,” thence appropriated in the theological language of both East and West. “The Father of Truth,” says Professor Muller—indicating his own use of this phrase to describe the mission of the Semitic races—“chooses His own prophets, and He speaks to them in a voice stronger than the voice of thunder. It is the same inner voice through which God speaks to all of us. That voice may dwindle away and become hardly audible; it may lose its Divine accent, and sink into the language of worldly prudence; but it may also from time to time assume its real nature with the children of God, and sound into their ears as a voice from heaven. A “Divine instinct” would neither be an appropriate name for what is a gift or grace accorded but to few, nor would it be a more intelligible word than “special” revelation.—Stanley.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF 1 Samuel 3:1-2
THE FIRST DEFEAT AT EBENEZER
On the connection of the first clause of this verse with the following paragraph see Critical and Expository Notes on the chapter. Adopting the view of Kiel and others, we remark—
I. That there may be an obedience which will bring punishment. Upon the people and upon the priests of Israel at this time there rested the curse of unpardoned sin. Eli’s sons had neither confessed their guilt nor amended their lives, and the religion of the entire nation was very much like that depicted by Isaiah at a later period, when, delivering the word of the Lord, he tells both rulers and people that their “incense is an abomination,” and their feasts a “trouble and a weariness” unto the Most High because they had forsaken Him in their hearts. (See Isaiah 1:1-15.) Therefore punishment came to them while in the act of obeying the word of the Lord by Samuel. As there had been no obedience unto life, there was now an obedience unto death. This act of obedience was doubtless in conformity to the national desire, and the desire to free themselves from the yoke of the Philistines was both natural and right in itself, but it was unaccompanied by a willingness to submit to the righteous law of Jehovah and to obey His word, and therefore it brought judgment instead of blessing. There are many parallel cases in individual history. Many men make plans and try to gratify desires which may in themselves be lawful, but they cannot have the Divine blessing because they set aside the indispensable Divine condition of having in the first place a right relation to God by pardon of sin and righteousness of life; and therefore their efforts to free themselves from difficulties or to gain a more desirable condition often end in placing them in a worse position than they were in at first. But in the case before us it was not the mere effort to gratify a lawful desire that brought the judgment, but an undertaking engaged in in obedience to a Divine command. As in the case of Balaam, obedience was made a means of punishment. That false prophet at last set out on his journey in obedience to the word of the Lord, but “God’s anger was kindled because he went” (Numbers 22:22), and punishment came to him even in his obedience. Israel at this time desired a national victory without national repentance—they desired freedom from the yoke of the Philistines without submission to the yoke of Jehovah, and thought that this would be true freedom. Their numbers were great, and they imagined that numbers would avail them in conflict with their ancient enemy, even although they lacked cleanness of hands and purity of heart before God. They ignored the conditions of success laid down for them by the mouth of Moses—“If thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all His commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth … and the Lord shall cause thine enemies that rise up against thee to be smitten before thy face; they shall come out against thee one way and shall flee seven ways.” But they again found from bitter experience that the Divine threatening was no idle word. “But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and His statutes which 1 command thee this day.… the Lord shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies; thou shalt go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them” (Deuteronomy 28:1; Deuteronomy 28:7; Deuteronomy 28:15; Deuteronomy 28:25).
II. Where the moral condition for victory is wanting, it is better to have defeat. The word which came to Israel and led them out to defeat was a blessing, because defeat was just what they needed at the time. The defeat in circumstance that leads to an improvement in character is a victory in reality. If national or individual loss in material things leads to moral gain, it is better than the most splendid worldly success. How terrible seemed the defeat of all the purposes and plans of the mighty monarch of Babylon when he was “driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen;” but it was a great moral victory, for it brought him to a higher moral standing, and taught him to “praise and honour Him that liveth for ever and ever” (Daniel 4:34). Many a man in humbler walks of life has learned to know himself and his God in the day which has seemed to bring him nothing but defeat and ruin. The defeat of Israel at this time was the first of a series of steps by which, under the rule of Samuel, they rose to a more healthy state of national life; and, therefore, what was in the first instance a judgment was in the end a blessing. A victory over the Philistines, when they were in a state of opposition to God, would have been a far greater national calamity in the end than the two crushing defeats recorded in this chapter. Freedom from chastisement, either in the nation or in the individual, is the most terrible curse which God can inflct. Far better is it to suffer the severest punishment for sin.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
1 Samuel 3:1. Not only were the people to learn that the Lord had departed from them, but Samuel also was to make the discovery that the deliverance of Israel from the oppression and dominion of its foes was absolutely impossible without its inward conversion to God.—Keil.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 3". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany