First Samuel is a book that bridges the time of Israel’s judges and the reign of the theocratic monarchs.
In chapter 2, we were introduced to Eli. He was both a judge and a high priest. His “ministry” was marked by ineptitude and spiritual lethargy. Most damning was that Israel was led astray and brought to sin against God by his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas. Eli refused to confront them and remove them from their roles, because he more than likely was benefiting from their sinful mishandling of the sacrifices.
Contrasted to Samuel, the Scripture says in 2:26 that he grew in stature and favor with the LORD and men.
Coming to chapter 3, the author establishes Samuel’s uniqueness as Israel’s national prophet.
The writer of Samuel book-ends this section with a play on two Hebrew words:
In 3:1, Samuel is described as a na’ar, or “boy.”
In 3:20, he is described as a na’ bi, or “prophet.”
He moves from being a juvenile, waiting on the high priest at the tabernacle, to becoming an impeccable and revered spokesman for God.
The LORD establishes Samuel’s prophethood by revealing to him firsthand and allowing him to be the messenger of judgment upon Eli and his family.
Four main sections I wish to consider.
I. The Prophecy Withheld (3:1-3)
Chapter three opens with Samuel shown as a youthful Levite who is providing service to the Lord under Eli’s tutelage.
The opening verse says that the “Word of the LORD was rare in those days.” In other words, God was not communicating with His people. There was no revelation. The idea, as some translations relate, is that God’s Word was “precious.”
Eli had grown old and could barely see physically. He had poor eye-sight, but his bad eye-sight pictures his spiritual eye-sight. He was not seeing God at all.
Contrasted to Eli, Samuel is said to be sleeping before the Ark of the LORD where the lamp of God burned. It was perhaps his duty to keep watch on the tabernacle furniture and not let the lamp burn out, but it was Samuel who was closest to the presence of the LORD.
II. The Prophecy Given (3:4-14)
We then read a humorous scene where the LORD calls Samuel, but the inexperienced lad believes it is Eli calling him. Verse 7 says he did not yet know the LORD. I don’t think that speaks to his salvation as much as it speaks to the fact he had yet become God’s anointed prophet to Israel.
The LORD calls Samuel three times, and after each time he hurries to Eli who tells him he had not called him. After the third time, Eli recognized that it was the LORD calling Samuel and tells him to respond to the LORD the next time.
On the fourth time, Samuel does just that. The text says the LORD came and stood when he called Samuel. This can mean either the presence of the LORD on the ark or perhaps it was a Christophany. Whatever the case, the LORD then reveals His judgment against Eli.
– Confirms the judgment He passed against Eli in chapter 2 by the words of a “man of God.”
– His sons were to be judged for their sin and Eli for his sin in not restraining them.
– Nothing Eli does can change God’s verdict and it will effect Eli’s house forever.
These words precursor the major events in chapters 4 and 5.
III. The Prophecy Proclaimed (3:15-18)
The next morning, Samuel opened the doors to the house of the Lord. Quite possibly emphasized by the writer to show how God is now once again communicating with His people.
Reluctantly, Samuel tells Eli what the LORD revealed, and Eli, to his credit, accepted the pronouncement of the LORD.
IV. The Prophet Established (3:19-4:1)
Samuel then becomes God’s official mouthpiece to Israel. Four things are important to note and mark his office:
– Samuel had a special relationship with God.
– Everything he said for God came to pass, “let none of his words fall to the ground.”
– Everyone in Israel knew of Samuel being a prophet, “from Dan to Beersheba.”
– God once again communicated to Israel through Samuel.