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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

1 Samuel 3

 

 

Introduction

III.

(1 Samuel 3:1-21) The Lord appears to the Boy Samuel.


Verse 1

(1) The child Samuel ministered unto the Lord.—The writer of this history, although well aware of the great revolution accomplished in Israel by the prophet whose life and work the Holy Spirit bade him record, gives us but the simplest and shortest possible account of the child-days of him who was only second to Moses in his influence on the eventful story of the chosen people. But short and devoid of detail though the record be, it is enough to show us that the atmosphere in which the child lived was a pure and holy one; the boy was evidently kept apart from Hophni, Phinehas, and their impious self-seeking party. The high priestly guardian was evidently fully conscious of the importance of his charge, and he watched over his pupil with a tender watchful care. Perhaps his sad experiences with his evil headstrong sons had taught the old man wisdom; certainly the training he gave to Samuel was one that educated the boy well for his after-life of stirring public work. The notices of the childhood and boyhood are indeed brief. The first contrasts sharply the lawless profligacy of the priestly houses with the pure holy childhood passed in the sanctuary courts, probably always in the company of the old man. Hophni and Phinehas, the grown men prostituted the holy work to their own vile worldly ends: the child ministered before the Lord in his little white robe; and while in the home life of his own mother and father in Ramah, his brothers and sisters were growing up with the sorrows and joys of other Hebrew children, “the child Samuel grew before the Lord” amid the stillness and silence and the awful mystery of the Divine protection, which seems ever, even in the darkest days of the history of Israel, to have surrounded the home of the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord. It was amidst this silent, sacred mystery, apart from the disorders of his priestly sons, that Eli taught the boy the story of his ancestors, with only the dark curtains of the sanctuary hanging between master and pupil and the mystic golden throne of God, on which His glory was sometimes pleased to rest.

The writer wrote his gloomy recital of the wild unbridled life of the wicked priests, wrote down the weak, sorrowful remonstrances of the father and high priest, foreshadowing, however, their certain doom; and then, again, with their life of shame sharply contrasts the pure child-life of the little pupil of the old sorrow-stricken high priest—the boy whom all men loved. “And the boy Samuel grew on, and was in favour both with the Lord, and also with men.”

Once more Eli, now weak with age, is warned of the sure consequences which would follow the evil licence and the irreligion of his priestly sons; and again the boy Samuel and his life, guided by Eli, his guardian and teacher, is contrasted with the wild, unchecked lawlessness of the priestly sons of Eli perpetually dishonouring religion and the sanctuary—a lawlessness which had just been denounced by the nameless prophet (1 Samuel 2:27-36).

Josephus tells us that Samuel, when the Lord first called him, was twelve years old. This was the age of the child Jesus when He disputed with the doctors in the Temple.

Was precious in those days.—Precious, that is, rare. “The word of the Lord” is the will of the Lord announced by a prophet, seer, or man of God. Between the days of Deborah and the nameless man of God who came with the awful message to Eli, no inspired voice seems to have spoken to the chosen people.

The “open vision” refers to such manifestations of the Divinity as were vouchsafed to Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and Manoah, and in this chapter to Samuel. There may possibly be some reference to the appearance of Divine glory which was connected with the Urim and Thummim which were worn by the high priest. This significant silence on the part of the invisible King the writer dwells on as a result of the deep corruption into which the priests and, through their evil example, a large proportion of the nation, had fallen.


Verse 3-4

(3, 4) Ere the lamp of God went out.—There is a Talmud comment here of singular interest and beauty: “On the day that Rabbi Akiva died, Rabbi (compiler of the Mishnah) was born; on the day when Rabbi died, Rav Yehudah was born; on the day when Rav Yehudah died, Rava was born; on the day when Rava died, Rav Ashi (one of the editors of Guemara) was born. It teaches thee, that no righteous man departs this life before another equally righteous is born; as it is said (Ecclesiastes 1:5): ‘The sun riser, and the sun goes down.’ The sun of Eli had not set before that of Samuel rose; as it is said (1 Samuel 3:3): ‘Ere the lamp of God was out . . . and Samuel laid down.’”—Tract Kiddushin, fol. 72, Colossians 2.

“It was night in the sanctuary. The high priest slept in one of the adjacent chambers, and the attendant ministers in another. In the centre, on the left of the entrance, stood the seven-branched candlestick, now mentioned for the last time; superseded in the reign of Solomon by the ten separate candlesticks, but revived after the Captivity by the copy of the one candlestick with seven branches, as it is still seen on the Arch of Titus. It was the only light of the Tabernacle during the night, was solemnly lighted every evening, as in the devotions of the Eastern world, both Mussulman and Christian, and extinguished just before morning, when the doors were opened.

“ In the deep silence of that early morning, before the sun had risen, when the sacred light was still burning, came through the mouth of the innocent child the doom of the house of Ithamar.”—Stanley, Lectures on the Jewish Church, Part I.

The Lord called Samuel.—It seems probable that the voice came from out of the “visible glory,” the Shekinah, which on that solemn night of the calling of the child-prophet no doubt rested on its chosen earthly throne—the mercy-seat of God—which formed the top of the Ark, and which was overshadowed by the outspread wings of the golden Cherubim.


Verse 8

(8) And Eli perceived that the Lord had called the child.—The whole story of the eventful night is told so naturally, the supernatural wonderfully interwoven with the common life of the sanctuary, that we forget, as we read, the strangeness of the events recorded. The sleeping child is awakened by a voice uttering his name. He naturally supposes it is his half-blind old master summoning him. The same thing occurs a second and a third time. Then it flashed upon Eli the boy had had no dream. We can well fancy the old man, when Samuel again came in, asking, “Where did the voice you thought was mine come from?” and the boy would reply, “From your chamber, master.” And the old high priest would remember that in the same direction, only at the extremity of the sanctuary, behind the veil, was the Ark and the seat of God. Was, then, the glory of the Lord shining there? and did the voice as in old days proceed from that sacred golden throne? Se he bade his pupil go to his chamber again, and if the voice spoke to him again, to answer, not Eli, but the invisible King—“Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.”


Verse 9-10

(9, 10) And the Lord came, and stood.—Then before the boy, as he lay and waited for the voice, came something, and it stood before him. The question naturally occurs to us, What came and stood before the boy’s couch? As a rule, we find that generally, when the Lord was pleased to take some form, the form is specified. Now, as in Abraham’s case at Mamre, it was a traveller; now, as in Joshua’s, an armed warrior; very frequently, as to Manoah, the form was that of an angel; here nothing is specially described. Was it not that simply “the glory” on which Moses gazed when he met the Holy One on Sinai—“the glory” which seemed to rest at times in the lightless Holy of Holies on the golden mercy-seat of the Ark of the Covenant? Was it not this “visible glory”—Shekinah. as the Hebrews termed it—which filled the chamber of the child, and from out of this came the voice of the Eternal, and spoke to Samuel? “See how God loves holiness in children. The child Samuel was preferred by Him to Eli, the aged high priest and judge.”—Theodoret, quoted by Bishop Wordsworth.


Verse 10

The Call of Samuel

And the Lord came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel said, Speak: for thy servant heareth.—1 Samuel 3:10.

1. For Samuel a great change was necessary and imminent. Up to this moment he had lived largely in the energy and motive-power of his mother’s intense religious life. It was needful that he should exchange the traditional for the experimental. His faith must rest, not on the assertions of another’s testimony, but on the fact that for himself he had seen, and tasted, and handled the Word of life. Not at second-hand, but at first, the Word of the Lord must come to him, and be passed on to all Israel.

2. It was the call of Samuel to his life’s work. Circumstances, as we say, but circumstances of which a mother’s prayer was part, determined the sphere in which that work was to be done. “The child ministered unto the Lord before Eli.” Then came the Divine voice calling him by name; calling him, out of the many possibilities of an office which he shared with such men as Eli’s sons, to his own special and high prophetic destiny. The true nature of that call, misunderstood by him at first, was interpreted by the experienced insight of the aged Eli. “Eli perceived that the Lord had called the child.” In obedience he accepted the call—“Speak: for thy servant heareth.” And by that acceptance his character is sealed evermore. “Samuel grew, and the Lord 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 the Lord.” We are not all called to be prophets, but we are called, in our varying ways, to minister to the Lord; and we may learn from this typical history how to recognize and answer our call.

The subject is the Call of a Man to the Work of his Life.

I. The Persons who are Called.

II. The Time of the Call.

III. Its Manner.

IV. Its Purpose.

V. The Responsibility.

I

The Persons who are Called

1. The call of Samuel is an extreme and vivid instance of a truth of which the Bible is full—the truth that we are all called of God to our several places and occasions of action or of passion, of working or of waiting in the world; in a word, that we all have a vocation. We hardly need the Bible to tell us this, for it is one of the simplest truths of natural religion. The evidences of providential purpose in the world have been criticized in every age, and never more so than in our own. But they have proved too strong to be upset by criticism, and still remain, as they have ever been, among our most necessary forms of thought. And as man is the crown and climax of the visible creation, we naturally expect the purpose which is so abundantly visible elsewhere, to obtain also in the life of man. He too must have a purpose; and to be created for a purpose is, in the case of a free being, to be called to its fulfilment. Thus the vocation of man is a corollary from the design in the world, and may fairly, therefore, be called a part of our natural religion. The New Testament takes up and intensifies this thought, addressing Christians as “the called of Jesus Christ,” “called to be saints,” “called according to God’s purpose,” “called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord,” “called out of the darkness,” “called to liberty,” “called to eternal life,” “called to inherit a blessing,” “called to glory and virtue,” and bidding us “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called.”

What is the course of the life

Of mortal men on the earth?—

Most men eddy about

Here and there—eat and drink,

Chatter and love and hate,

Gather and squander, are raised

Aloft, are hurled in the dust,

Striving blindly, achieving

Nothing; and then they die—

Perish, and no one asks

Who or what they have been,

More than he asks what waves,

In the moonlit solitudes mild

Of the midmost Ocean, have swelled,

Foam’d for a moment, and gone.

That is no untrue picture of the spectacle of life: and yet these men, whose career the poet likens to “an eddy of purposeless dust,” have none the less been called one by one to glory and to virtue, and shall be called again from the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof, that God may judge His people.1 [Note: J. R. Illingworth.]

No one can understand any work aright unless he is called to it. Vocation is of two kinds: either it is Divine, comes from above, or from those who have a right to command, and then it is a vocation of faith; or it is a vocation of love, and comes from our equals.2 [Note: Luther.]

—I hear from all-wards, all-wise understand,

The great bird Purpose bears me ’twixt her wings,

And I am one with all the kinsmen things

That e’er my Father fathered. Oh, to me

All questions solve in this tranquillity.3 [Note: Sidney Lanier.]

2. There have been times when thoughts like these involved men in serious perplexity as to the compatibility of Divine election with the freedom of the human will. And great caution was then needed in their treatment. But our age, as a whole, has reacted from all such tendencies; and our danger lies in the very opposite direction, that of doubting, or at least ignoring, a particular providence in human affairs. We tend to forget that not a sparrow falls to the ground without our Father; and that the very hairs of our head are numbered. We can hardly, therefore, in the present day insist too much upon the thought that our choice and pursuance of a profession in life means our acceptance or rejection of a Divine vocation.

Master Joachim Mörlein has pleased me well to-day with his sermon, for he spoke of the office and vocation of a wife, and a maid-servant—namely, that a wife should think she lives in a Holy Order, and that a servant also may know that her works are good and holy works. This the people can carry home.1 [Note: Luther.]

3. The call may need interpretation. Here again the case of Samuel comes before us. The voice which called him was interpreted by Eli. “Eli perceived that the Lord had called the child.” And all our secret inspirations need a similar process of testing, in the light of our own experience or that of others. Their congruity with our character and circumstances, their relation to our own past prayers, the aspect which they present to unbiased advisers of spiritual mind, their correspondence with what we know of the ways in which others have been led, the degree of their persistence under adverse conditions, are among the points to be considered as throwing light upon our vocation. And when such considerations coincide with and confirm the outward guidance of our circumstances and the inward attraction which we believe to be Divine, we may go forward in the hope that the Lord is with us, and will “let none of our words fall to the ground.”

And then, Mary, you (I think rightly, in the general) speak much of the intention of God in earthly events by which He deals with us: what then would you say about my case? Do these two years and more waiting not show that I am seeking my work in the wrong direction, or why do they not show this, or how long would show this? Possibly you may say, “Wait till some evident call to some other work arises”; but then, of course, evident calls enough would soon arise were I to put myself in the way of them, e.g., were I to go along to Clark the publisher and ask him for some work, or go out to Harvey of Merchiston and ask him for some; whereas, so long as I keep myself back from such openings they are not a tenth part so likely to arise. But apart from growlery, let me give you a problem. I will give it you in the concrete, as being easier stated and easier apprehended. Is it right of me to wait and see whether I get a call or no, and let this decide whether I ought or ought not to take a charge? To me it seems not (though it’s just what I’m doing), and on this ground, because in fact we find that God has often suffered men to enter the Church who were not worthy—because, that is, the call of the people does not always represent the call of God.2 [Note: M. Dods, in Early Letters of Marcus Dods, 198.]

4. But while the call sometimes needs interpretation, the responsibility for hearing it is always our own; and we must not be withdrawn from the path of duty by the wishes or fears of others, still less by considerations of how our course of conduct may appear in their eyes. There is, as usual, deep truth in Shakespeare’s words, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

As I look from the isle, o’er its billows of green

To the billows of foam-crested blue,

Yon bark that afar in the distance is seen,

Half dreaming, my eyes will pursue:

Now dark in the shadow, she scatters the spray

As the chaff in the stroke of the flail;

Now white as the sea-gull, she flies on her way,

The sun gleaming bright on her sail.


Yet her pilot is thinking of dangers to shun,—

Of breakers that whiten and roar;

How little he cares, if in shadow or sun

They see him that gaze from the shore!

He looks to the beacon that looms from the reef,

To the rock that is under his lee,

As he drifts on the blast, like a wind-wafted leaf,

O’er the gulfs of the desolate sea.


Thus drifting afar to the dim-vaulted caves

Where life and its ventures are laid,

The dreamers who gaze while we battle the waves

May see us in sunshine or shade;

Yet true to our course, though our shadow grow dark,

We’ll trim our broad sail as before,

And stand by the rudder that governs the bark,

Nor ask how we look from the shore!1 [Note: Oliver Wendell Holmes.]

II

The Time of the Call

1. “Samuel was laid down to sleep, and the Lord called Samuel.” God calls men at unlikely times. The child is gone to rest, to forget in sleep the weariness of the day, and when he goes into the quietness of his own retreat, thinking that the day’s work is all over, God calls him. There is no night with God; He shines through the everlasting day. He has no set times, and formal periods, and prescribed seasons in which to speak to men. When we may say, “Let us be quiet now, the child has gone to rest; let nothing disturb the young slumberer,” God comes along the pathway of the darkness, and speaks to the child.

If we had an ear to hear we should not be slow to perceive that God speaks to us at unlikely times. You say, now this is a likely morning in which God will speak to us. We are gathered from many quarters into His house of prayer, and we are here waiting to know what God the Lord will say; and yet it is quite possible we may go away from this chosen place without hearing anything. And sometimes, when we think God a long way off, and we have our own little circle of thought and speculation—when we are apparently given up to ourselves—God will come unexpectedly to us, and call us and talk to us, and strike through our souls mysteries and counsels that make us tremble, and wonder, and pray.1 [Note: Joseph Parker.]

Here is a man who is saying to himself, fit auditor, indeed—“This will I do; I will pull down my barns, and build greater, and I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry’”; and just as he has concluded his monologue, a voice, terrible as the hand that Belshazzar saw, says to him from a hidden place, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee”—an unlikely time.

2. The call came when the Tabernacle was hushed, when the lamp went out, and Samuel was laid down to sleep. In solitude and silence, when the voices of the day’s disturbance are at rest, God is heard speaking in the heart. So it has ever been. The soul opens its doors to listen when the sounds which attack the senses are not heard. The Invisible One is felt in our consciousness in the lonely places of the earth. There are strange whispers which beset us when the heart is wearied of the world, when work seems vanity, when pleasure is removed, when life passes before us like a dream. We seem to know then what we really are, and wait for a revelation. Then the everlasting Father calls His son, and calls him by his name: “Samuel, Samuel, know me; remember me, love me. I stretch out my hands to thee. I am thy Father, hear my voice; come, my child, learn of me righteousness and love, duty and the power of redeeming.” It is a personal cry. He who calls, we know then, is akin to us, a living One who lives for us, with love to answer our love.

Not every soul may hear,

Yet to the listening ear

God’s lips are ever near.

III

The Manner of the Call

1. When God speaks He does not always accompany the message with such visible signs as would make acceptance an outward necessity rather than an act of willing obedience. God spoke to Samuel, and there was no outward glory seen. No vision of light accompanied the voice; no form was revealed to assist the ear in the recognition of the Speaker. Neither was the voice audible to any but the child; so that there was no correlative testimony of others to assist him in distinguishing from whom it came, as its solemn accents thrilled upon the silence of the night. Nor does it appear that there was anything in the nature of the voice itself which would prove it to be Divine, or else why did Samuel twice run to Eli, thinking that the old man had called him? It needed the experience of the aged priest to instruct the boy as to the Divinity of the Speaker. “Eli perceived that the Lord had called the child.”

They who are living religiously have from time to time truths they did not know before, or had no need to consider, brought before them forcibly; truths which involve duties, which are in fact percepts, and claim obedience. In this and such-like ways Christ calls us now. There is nothing miraculous or extraordinary in His dealings with us. He works through our natural faculties and circumstances of life. Still, what happens to us in providence is in all essential respects what His voice was to those whom He addressed when on earth. Whether He commands by a visible presence, or by a voice, or by our conscience, it matters not, so that we feel it to be a command.1 [Note: J. H. Newman.]

2. Let us think of some of the ways in which the call of God may come to us.

(1) In nature.—Are there not days when the mountains and the hills break forth before us into singing, and the trees of the field clap their hands, because God is speaking to them? Do you not lift up your eyes to the heavens at night, and watch the stars, and seem to hear God speaking to you in the solemn silence?

I can imagine at once how impatiently the cynic will sneer at what he will regard as a poetic fancy which has been worn threadbare into a deceptive platitude. It was so in the days of the Preacher. “He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh.” And so they cannot even learn that lesson which to us comes intuitively and at once, that Nature is but visible spirit; that God is, and that He is a God of Love. Not to the base, not to the sensual, not to the cold cynic, not to the insolent scorner, but

Every bird that sings,

And every flower that stars the elastic sod,

And every breath the radiant summer brings,

To the pure spirit is a Word of God.

I will quote here the language of one who is dubious about many Christian truths, and I will quote him to show why it is that, standing with uncovered head and awful reverence in the mighty Temple of the Universe, a believer holds that God loves him, and wills his happiness. “The earth,” he says, “is sown with pleasures, as the heaven is studded with stars; and when a man has not been happy in life, we do not hesitate to declare that he has missed one of the aims of his existence. The path of the years is paved and planted with enjoyments. Flowers the noblest and the loveliest—colours the most gorgeous and the most delicate—odours the sweetest and the subtlest—harmonies the most soothing and the most stirring—the sunny glories of the day—the pale Elysian graces of the moonlight—‘silent pinnacles of aged snow’ in one hemisphere—the marvels of tropical luxuriance in another—the serenity of sunsets, the sublimity of storms—everything is bestowed in boundless profusion; we can conceive or desire nothing more exquisite or perfect than that which is around us every hour.” That, then, is one revelation, but it is not all; for I add that Nature, which is but the visible translucence of a Divine agency working upon material things, reveals to us also that this happiness is attainable only in the path of obedience—that this “not ourselves” (if any feel happier by the use of such pantheistic abstractions) is a not-ourselves which makes for righteousness. Winds blow this lesson to us, and waters roll it, and every leaf is inscribed with it, as those on which the Sibyl wrote out her prophecies of old.1 [Note: F. W. Farrar.]

Thou need’st not rest: the shining spheres are Thine

That roll perpetual on their silent way,

And Thou dost breathe in me a voice divine,

That tells more sure of Thine eternal sway;

Thine the first starting of the early leaf,

The gathering green, the changing autumn hue;

To Thee the world’s long years are but as brief

As the fresh tints that Spring will soon renew.

Thou needest not man’s little life of years,

Save that he gather wisdom from them all;

That in Thy fear he lose all other fears,

And in Thy calling heed no other call.

Then shall he be Thy child to know Thy care,

And in Thy glorious Self the eternal Sabbath share.2 [Note: Jones Very.]

(2) In Providence.—The accidents and events of life are, as is obvious, one special way in which the calls of God come to us; and they, as we all know, are, in their very nature, and as the word accident implies, sudden and unexpected. A man is going on as usual; he comes home one day, and finds a letter, or a message, or a person, bringing a sudden trial on him, which, if met religiously, will be the means of advancing him to a higher state of religious excellence, but which at present he as little comprehends as the unspeakable words heard by St. Paul in Paradise.

Perhaps it may be the loss of some dear friend or relative through which the call comes to us; showing us the vanity of things below, and prompting us to make God our sole stay. We through grace do so in a way we never did before; and in the course of years, when we look back on our life, we find that that sad event has brought us into a new state of faith and judgment, and that we are now other men than we were. We thought, before it took place, that we were serving God, and so we were in a measure; but we find that, whatever our present infirmities may be, and however far we may still be from the highest state of illumination, then at least we were serving the world under the show and the belief of serving God.

A great sorrow—like any other possession—is a great trust. The very magnitude of a great calamity or grief confers in itself the privilege of exception, and, in the measure in which it brings “detachment,” it brings that true mastery of self without which—no matter how much else we may attain—our lives must be incomplete. With some such catastrophe, involving the apparent ruin of his life, and bringing with it his betrayal by those in whom he trusted, Jacques Rutebeuf seems to have been face to face when he wrote—

Que sont mi ami devenu

Que j’avoie si près tenu

Et tant amé?

Je cuit li vens les a osté;

L’amor est morte.

Ce sont ami que venz emporte

Et il ventoit devant ma porte.

This, however, is not the language of him who has won freedom in the loss of things earthly, and to whom—though the favourable answer sought with prayer and bitter tears has been denied—the gates of heaven itself have been unlocked. It is the complaint of one who dreads the unkindness of the blast and the sharp sting of trust and love betrayed.1 [Note: Lady Dilke, The Book of the Spiritual Life, 168.]

(3) In the Moral Law.—The God who reveals Himself to us in Nature and in Providence, reveals Himself also in the Moral Law. It needed no voice from the rolling darkness, it needed no articulate thunder leaping among the fiery hills, to persuade mankind that “God spake these words, and said.” For that law was written on their hearts, their conscience also bearing them witness. The Jews believe that the souls of all Jews, for generations yet unborn, were summoned from their antenatal home to hear the Deliverance of the Fiery Law; and when a Jew is charged with wrong by another, he says, “My soul too has been on Sinai.” But it is the souls not of Jews only, but of all mankind, that have been there.

The great philosopher of Germany might well doubt of all things, till he had found that their certitude rested on the indestructible basis of duty. If all else were shattered under our feet, that would still remain. False miracles themselves could not rob us of it. As in that grand legend of the Talmud, the tree might at the words of the doubter be transplanted from its roots; the rivulet might flow backward to its source; the walls and pillars of the conclave might crack; yea, a voice from heaven itself might preach another Law; yet neither rushing trees, nor backward-flowing waters, nor bending roofs, nor miracles, nor mysterious voices should prevail against our solid and indestructible conviction, and the Eternal Himself should approve our constancy and exclaim from the mid glory of His Throne, “My sons have triumphed.”1 [Note: F. W. Farrar.]

We must date our full manhood from the hour in which we know that God is speaking to us. This is the third epoch in life. When the conscience becomes king the man is born; and conscience means the knowledge that one has of one’s self in the presence of God. Until the moral nature burns and smokes, and rolls forth its thunders and flashes its terrible lightnings; until the soul becomes a Mount Sinai, receiving, reading, recording, and delivering the eternal law of God, the man is not born. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the early songs of Tennyson. There is little in them because the moral nature of the poet is yet to come, because the full man is yet to come. In all those early years there is much loveliness, wonderful sensitiveness to the beauty of nature and art, the power to revel in the charming fields of fancy. But the voice that afterwards shook the nation is not in them. “The Vision of Sin” breaks the silence. “The Two Voices” tells of the mistake and the brave endeavour to escape from it, the terrible sorrow in which doubt struggles into faith, and out of which “In Memoriam” comes, and reveals a new man. The poet is fully here when the man is here, and the man is here when the conscience is here.2 [Note: G. A. Gordon.]

Whenever my heart is heavy,

And life seems sad as death,

A subtle and marvellous mockery

Of all who draw their breath,


And I weary of the throned injustice,

The rumour of outrage and wrong,

And I doubt if God rules above us,

And I cry, O Lord, how long,

How long shall sorrow and evil

Their forces around them draw!

Is there no power in Thy right hand?

Is there no life in Thy law?


Then at last the blazing brightness

Of day forsakes its height,

Slips like a splendid curtain

From the awful and infinite night;

And out of the depths of distance,

The gulfs of purple space,

The stars steal, slow and silent,

Each in its ancient place,—

Each in its armour shining,

The hosts of heaven arrayed,

And wheeling through the midnight,

As they did when the world was made.


And I lean out among the shadows

Cast by that far white gleam,

And I tremble at the murmur

Of one mote in the mighty beam,

As the everlasting squadrons

Their fated influence shed,

While the vast meridians sparkle

With the glory of their tread.

That constellated glory

The primal morning saw,

And I know God moves to His purpose,

And still there is life in His law.1 [Note: H. P. Spofford.]

(4) In Scripture.—The Lord speaks to us chiefly through His Word. What converse God has with His people when they are quietly reading their Bibles! In the quiet of our room, as we have been reading a chapter, have we not felt as if God spoke those words straight to our heart there and then? Has not Christ Himself said to us, while we have been reading His Word, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me”? The text does not seem to be like an old letter in a book; rather is it like a fresh speech newly spoken from the mouth of the Lord to us.

It is well to notice that the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the Word of the Lord. Let us not seek for revelations through dreams or visions, but by the Word of God. Nothing is more harmful than to contract the habit of listening for voices, and sleeping to dream. All manner of vagaries come in by that door. It is best to take in hand and read the Scriptures reverently, carefully, thoughtfully, crying, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” And in response there will come one clear, defined, and repeated message, asseverated and accentuated with growing distinctness from every part of the inspired volume, “This is the way—walk in it; this is My will—do it; this is My word—speak it.” Let us hear what God the Lord shall speak.1 [Note: F. B. Meyer.]

(5) In the Spirit.—God has a way sometimes of speaking to the heart by His Spirit—not usually apart from His Word—but yet there are certain feelings and emotions, tendernesses and tremblings, joys and delights, which we cannot quite link with any special portion of Scripture laid home to the heart, but which seem to steal upon us unawares by the direct operation of the Spirit of God upon the heart.

I think we are not half as mindful as we ought to be of the secret working of the Holy Spirit upon the mind. This is a very different thing from being guided by the Spirit of God in all the actions of life so as to obey the will of the Lord, sometimes in cases where we might not have known it to be His will, or might have omitted it. Whenever you feel moved to do anything that is good, do it. Do it even without being moved, because it is your duty, for “to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” But, above all, when there comes a gracious influence on the conscience, a gentle reminder to the heart, quickly and speedily do as the Spirit prompts, taking note within your heart that the Lord has laid this particular burden upon you, and you must not cast it from you.2 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]

When Hort decided to enter the ministry he wrote to his parents giving his reasons for the decision. The letter proceeds in this way: “I have hitherto studiously confined myself to considerations and arguments. But if these were my only inducements I could not think myself justified in entering on so awful a responsibility; how, then, could I answer the question, “Do you trust that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon you this office and ministration?” Here, then deliberately, yet with reverence I say, that I trust and believe that I am moved by the Holy Ghost. Nothing less should satisfy me. I believe that the strong and permanent inclination that I feel is of God. I know how miserably and imperfectly I serve Him. I fall into sin, more especially into coldness, indifference, and forgetfulness of Him through the day, yet in the midst of this repeatedly it seems as if He clutched hard at me, and I would not come; and I cannot believe but that He is thus drawing me perseveringly towards His service.”1 [Note: Life and Letters of F. J. A. Hort, i. 35.]

We need not hear an articulate voice, such as bade Augustine “take and read.” Yet kindred experiences even to this are commoner by far than most men dream. Augustine’s intellectual friends might easily have explained that voice away; but it was the crisis of his history, and through that history it has echoed, and still echoes, with incalculable power in the world to-day. Doubtless, too, it might have been called an irrational and foolish impulse which led St. Francis to stake his all upon the chance occurrence of a passage in the Gospel at a particular moment of his life; still, it was an impulse fraught with untold blessing for subsequent ages of men. In a word, these things are not accidents. They are ways in which God, the Holy Ghost, chooses the weak things of the world to confound the wise; flashing on the mind in an instant, through some chance thought, or sight, or sound, the conviction of His nearness, and the message of His will.

Blessed be Thou for all the joy

My soul has felt to-day!

Oh, let its memory stay with me,

And never pass away!


I was alone, for those I loved

Were far away from me;

The sun shone on the withered grass,

The wind blew fresh and free.


Was it the smile of early spring

That made my bosom glow?

’Twas sweet; but neither sun nor wind

Could cheer my spirit so.

Was it some feeling of delight

All vague and undefined?

No; ’twas a rapture deep and strong,

Expanding in the mind.


Was it a sanguine view of life,

And all its transient bliss,

A hope of bright prosperity?

Oh, no! it was not this.


It was a glimpse of truth divine

Unto my spirit given,

Illumined by a ray of light

That shone direct from heaven.


I felt there was a God on high,

By whom all things were made;

I saw His wisdom and His power

In all His works displayed.


But most throughout the moral world,

I saw His glory shine;

I saw His wisdom infinite,

His mercy all divine.


Deep secrets of His providence

In darkness long concealed,

Unto the vision of my soul

Were graciously revealed.


But while I wondered and adored

His majesty divine,

I did not tremble at His power:

I felt that God was mine.


I knew that my Redeemer lived;

I did not fear to die;

Full sure that I should rise again

To immortality.


I longed to view that bliss divine,

Which eye hath never seen;

Like Moses, I would see His face

Without the veil between.1 [Note: Anne Brontë.]

IV

The Purpose of the Call

Its purpose is twofold. It is to call us from the world (in its evil sense), and to God. It is a detachment from the one and an attachment to the other.

1. Detachment.—When the rich young man was bidden to sell all that he had and give to the poor, the involved sacrifice was obvious. But though less obvious, the sacrifice need not be less real in the case of those whose undoubted vocation is to accept the responsibility of a great inheritance. To be called to assume early in life the serious attitude towards property which most men acquire only after years; to be daily accustomed to riches, and yet to be detached from them in heart; to forgo luxuries which are in our power; to maintain the warfare with temptation, when temptation is fortified and aided by one of its most invincible allies—this is, indeed, to live a life of sacrifice. Or again, to be called to public life, and amid its manifold distractions remain free from party bias or personal ambition, pure in purpose, high in aim, setting the affections upon things above, not on things on the earth—this, too, is a life of sacrifice, not less intense than when we long for fame and are called to obscurity, or for action and are called to passivity of pain. And it is the same at whatever career we look. We may drift into life aimlessly or selfishly, without much disturbing our ease; but no sooner do we view it as a Divine vocation than we are at once involved in sacrifice; for we are at necessary issue with the evil in ourselves and in the world. “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”

He was a wise father who firmly severed the rope by which one son was precipitated into the abyss for ever, in order that he might secure the other the half of his happiness. And if one-half of man’s being can never fulfil its end in this life, it is but wise to give to it the eternal farewell resolutely and decisively, if the unexpected prospect present itself of enabling the other, which is, after all, the nobler half, to rise out of the caverned gloom into the light of day. Yet it is a desolate sensation and a sharp one—that act of drawing the knife across the strands of the cord, and saying, quietly, “For ever.” Not a pleasant one when the sullen plunge of that which was once so cherished is heard below in the dark waters of a sea which never gives up her dead.… The other half is destined to ascend like the brother saved by the sacrifice of the other Song of Solomon 1 [Note: F. W. Robertson, Life and Letters, 184.]

Another man heard Berry preach his first sermon in Wolverhampton. From that day his place in the church was seldom empty morning or evening. He walked ten miles, in all weathers, every Sunday. He was a publican, holding a seven days’ licence, and one day he came to his pastor and made himself known, and said: “Mr. Berry, I hear you preach every Sunday morning and then I go home and my house is open for the sale of drink from half-past twelve to half-past two. Your preaching has convinced me that this is not right. What must I do?” “Give it up,” said Berry. He did so, and for seven years his house was never open on a Sunday. At the end of that time he came again to Berry and told him that he had scruples about continuing in his business at all. “Then come out of it,” said Berry, and, although the house had been occupied by his father and himself for forty-five years, he rose to the sacrifice, and gave it up under the influence of the preaching of the man he had learnt to love and trust.2 [Note: J. A. Drummond, Charles A. Berry, 252.]

2. Attachment.—It is a call to our life’s work, a call to labour; but first it is a call to God. It is a common mistake to regard our work as leading us to God, rather than God as leading us to our work. But the latter is the true order of vocation. God calls us to Himself, and then sends us to labour in His vineyard, bids us reap where we have not sown, makes us fishers of men. This distinction, though it may seem subtle, is of great practical importance, for it involves the whole question of the right relation between character and conduct, the spiritual and the moral life. If we sever our moral life from its spiritual root—its root in the Father of Spirits—and confine our thoughts to any kind of merely moral practice, however noble, we are liable by degrees to be too absorbed in our work, to over-estimate its importance and our own importance as its agents, to be unduly discouraged by failure or sudden avocation, and finally to lapse into the favourite fallacy of a busy but irreligious age—the fallacy that excess of action can atone for defect of character. Meanwhile, our work itself will lack the note of perfectness which spirituality alone can give, and be either outwardly ungracious or inwardly unreal. Whereas if we regard morality as a function of the spiritual life, and conduct as the consequence and not the cause of character, the natural and necessary outcome and expression of the inner man, all things will fall into their proper place.

What, indeed, is the life spiritual, but that detached life of thought that brings with it increasing comprehension of the

One life within us and abroad

Which meets all motion and becomes its soul.

In its highest sense, it is the one means whereby we may come at some revelation of the true significance and mystery of the Christian dogma of the Incarnation and behold the triumph of the spirit over the flesh: that sovereign triumph not to be won without pain and sorrow and much labour, yet surely to be won by all those who will obey the commandment which Chaucer sums for us in the words—

Hold the hye wey, and let thy ghost thee lede.1 [Note: Lady Dilke, The Book of the Spiritual Life, 148.]

V

The Responsibility

1. God’s call may be obeyed or it may be disobeyed. There lies our responsibility. Samuel answered by prompt obedience. Very different in its circumstances was St. Paul’s call, but it resembled Samuel’s in this respect, that, when God called, he, too, promptly obeyed. When St. Paul heard the voice from heaven, he said at once, trembling and astonished, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” This same obedient temper of his is stated or implied in the two accounts which he himself gives of his miraculous conversion. In the 22nd chapter of Acts he says, “And I said, What shall I do, Lord?” And in the 26th, after telling king Agrippa what the Divine speaker said to him, he adds what comes to the same thing, “Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.” Similarly, we read of the Apostles, that “Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.” Again, when He saw James and John with their father Zebedee, “he called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.” And so of St. Matthew at the receipt of custom, “he said unto him, Follow me. And he left all, rose up, and followed him.”

The biographer of the lives of François and Christina Coillard (“Coillard of the Zambesi”), in describing the departure of Christina Mackintosh to join her intended husband in South Africa, says: “A few weeks’ visit to Asnières followed that she might know his mother, and Christina sailed for South Africa in the John Williams (November 23, 1860). ‘Such grief I never saw and can hardly bear to think of now,’ said her sister, writing of it forty-five years later. Those who have passed through such experiences know that the sense of vocation in no way lessens the pain of parting, and indeed often makes it sharper. The heart which accepts that mysterious thing—the Call of God—suffers in advance the anguish of all experiences to come, and at the moment there seems no joy, no element of compensation, only the conviction that it must be obeyed on peril of the soul. Indeed, the crisis of obedience is like death itself, for it is the step by which the soul passes from one sphere of being to another, and learns for the first time ‘to walk by faith and not by sight.’ Such is the moment to many when the grating of the gangway pulled ashore sounds the knell of the old life, and the voyage just beginning forms the true parable of the life to come.”1 [Note: Coillard of the Zambesi, 98.]

Though the shore we hope to land on

Only by report is known,

Yet we freely all abandon,

Led by that report alone;

And with Jesus

Through the trackless deep move on.

2. If we have heard Him speak in this way, how have we received His Word? Perhaps with joy at first, with hope, excitement, eager faith? Yes, perhaps so. But the question for us all is: How long has the eagerness lasted; has the faith grown cold; have the ideals become worn out by length of time; has the hope been chilled by trial; has the perseverance grown craven; have we, who placed ourselves in the front of the battle, fled from it to take our pleasure, or deserted to the army of selfish wealth and engrossing sin and the transient world? Alas, this is an experience we have all known, save a happy few. But in the silences of life we are troubled by echoes of the ancient cry; nor do we ever quite forget what we have once listened to in youth, what once we have thrilled to hear. And if we have not obeyed, or have fallen from obedience, God, at least, does not forget. If we have no perseverance, He has. Our leaving of Him, our neglect of righteousness, love, and justice, of our duties to men; our selfish, vain, or idle life, bring with them their necessary fruits. We must eat them, and we are poisoned by them. Bitterness, loneliness, sorrow, misery of heart, are ours by law. And then He speaks again: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” So we hear Him in the words of Jesus. And, tired with long ploughing under the yoke of our own will, which weighed heavier and heavier as the years went by; tired out by sowing and never reaping; worn with the trouble of loving ourselves only, and with the loneliness it brings; sick at last of the lie of accusing others as the cause of our troubles, when their cause is in ourselves; contrite and broken-hearted, but desiring to love God and to take all the consequences of loving Him; eager to be loved by Him, for we are too much alone; longing to try righteousness and to rest in its peace, to forgive others and to forgive ourselves—we answer, at last, in the darkness of life’s tabernacle: “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.”

Professor Elmslie has said, “Eli is one of the most unfortunate men in the Bible. We constantly hear him described as a weak, worthless father, a mere worldling, with no heart or soul in him. I think if he could bring an action for libel against preachers and commentators, he would get generous damages. Was his tuition so bad and defective that his sons turned out ill? Who was it that trained the child Samuel—the strong, powerful Samuel, who crushed abuses and corruptions, drove out idolaters, and won battles for Israel?” The Gospel is a savour from death unto death to those who are perishing, and a savour of life unto life in them that are being saved. The model ministry of Jesus produced different results in John from those in Judas. The influence of Eli was effective in moulding the character of Samuel, and yet it was impotent in the case of his own two sons.1 [Note: E. Morgan.]

Still, as of old, Thy precious word

Is by the nations dimly heard;

The hearts its holiness hath stirred

Are weak and few.

Wise men the secret dare not tell;

Still in Thy temple slumbers well

Good Eli: O, like Samuel,

Lord, here am I!

Few years, no wisdom, no renown,

Only my life can I lay down;

Only my heart, Lord, to Thy throne

I bring; and pray

A child of Thine I may go forth,

And spread glad tidings through the earth,

And teach sad hearts to know Thy worth!

Lord, here am I!

Young lips may teach the wise, Christ said;

Weak feet sad wanderers home have led;

Small hands have cheered the sick one’s bed

With freshest flowers:

O, teach me, Father! heed their sighs,

While many a soul in darkness lies

And waits Thy message; make me wise!

Lord, here am I!

And make me strong; that, staff and stay,

And guide and guardian of the way,

To Thee-ward I may bear, each day,

Some fainting soul.

Speak, for I hear; make pure in heart,

Thy face to see; Thy truth impart,

In hut and hall, in church and mart!

Lord, here am I!

I ask no heaven till earth be Thine,

Nor glory-crown, while work of mine

Remaineth here; when earth shall shine

Among the stars,

Her sins wiped out, her captives free,

Her voice a music unto Thee,

For crown, new work give Thou to me!

Lord, here am I!

Literature

Brooke (S. A.), The Old Testament and Modern Life, 195.

Farrar (F. W.), The Silence and the Voices of God, 3.

Garbett (E.), The Soul’s Life, 52.

Huntington (F. D.), Christian Believing and Living, 16.

Illingworth (J. R.), University and Cathedral Sermons, 120.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Deuteronomy–1 Samuel, 267.

Meyer (F. B.), Samuel the Prophet, 27.

Morgan (E.), The Calls of God, 113.

Newman (J. H.), Parochial and Plain Sermons, viii. 17.

Parker (J.), The City Temple (1870), 40.

Simpson (P. C.), in Men of the Old Testament (Cain-David), 245.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xliii. (1897), No. 2526.

Tyndall (C. H.), Object Lessons for Children, 140.

Vaughan (J.), Sermons preached in Brighton, 1st Ser., 213.

Wilson (J. H.), The Gospel and its Fruits, 3.

Christian Age, xxxvi. 146, xliii. 402 (Abbott).

Christian World Pulpit, lii. 24 (Potter).

Church of England Pulpit, xl. 181 (Pegg).

Churchman’s Pulpit: Third Sunday after Trinity, x. 101 (Park); Sermons to the Young, xvi. 299 (Neale).

Homiletic Review, xxxiv. 313 (Potter); li. 369 (Gordon).

Treasury (New York), xix. 47 (Hallock).


Verse 11

(11) The ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle.—The calamity which is here referred to was the capture of the Ark of the Covenant. Neither the death of the warrior priests, Hophni and Phinehas, nor the crushing defeat of the Hebrew army, would have so powerfully affected the people; but that the sacred symbol of the presence and protection of the invisible King should be allowed to fall into the hands of the uncircumcised Philistines, the hereditary foes of the chosen race, was a calamity unparalleled in their annals.

It seemed to say that God had indeed forsaken them.

The expression is a very singular one, and re-occurs in 2 Kings 21:12, and Jeremiah 19:3, on the occasion of the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar.


Verse 13

(13) Because his sons made themselves vile.—The enormity of the sin of Eli and his house, which was to be so fearfully punished, must be measured by the extent of the mischief it worked; well-nigh all Israel were involved in it. The fatal example the priests had set at Shiloh filtrated through the entire people; the result was, that unbelief in the Eternal was becoming general throughout the land. The old pure religion was rapidly dying out of the hearts of the men, and the profligacy and covetousness of Shiloh would soon have been copied only too faithfully in all the homes of Israel. This fearful state of things was known to the high priest and judge, and still the weak and indulgent father refrained from removing his sons from their high office.


Verse 14

(14) Shall not be purged with sacrifice.—No earthly sacrifice, bloody or unbloody, should ever purge on earth the sin of the doomed high priestly house. A great theological truth is contained in these few words. in the sacrificial theory of the Mosaic Law we see there was a limit to the efficacy of sacrifice after a certain point in sin and evil example had been reached: a scar was printed on the life which no blood of bullock or of goat could wash away; but the quiet, though sorrowful, resignation with which the old man received the intimation of the certain earthly doom seems to indicate that Eli, sure of the love of the All-Pitiful, looked on to some other means of deliverance, devised in the counsels of the Eternal Friend of Israel, by which his deathless soul, after the earthly penalty, would be reconciled to the invisible King. Did not men like Eli look on in sure and certain trust to the one hope? Did not these holy, though often erring, patriarchs and priests see in those far-back days, “as in a glass darkly,” the blood of another Victim, which should cleanse the repentant and sorrowing sinner from all sin?


Verse 15

(15) And opened the doors.—This is another notice which indicates that the sanctuary of Shiloh was enclosed in a house or temple. We have no record of the building of the first house of the Lord, but from the references contained in the record of Samuel’s childhood it is clear that the sacred Tabernacle had been for some time enclosed by, and perhaps covered in with, permanent buildings.

Feared.—“Here was Samuel’s first experience of the prophet’s cross: the having unwelcome truth to divulge to those he loved, honoured, and feared. Jeremiah felt this cross to be an exceedingly heavy one” (Jeremiah 15:10; Jeremiah 17:15-18; Jeremiah 20:7-18).—Speaker’s Commentary.


Verse 18

(18) It is the Lord.—Such a reply, and such a reception of the news of the terrible doom twice communicated to him by a direct message from the Eternal, indicates that Eli, in spite of his weakness and foolish partiality for his sons, was thoroughly devoted to the Lord in his heart. He saw how deeply he had failed in his high office, how he had allowed worldly considerations to influence his conduct, how he had been tried and found wanting; and now, without a murmur, he submits to the righteous judgment of his God, he leaves himself in God’s hands, and never tries to justify himself and his past conduct. Now it was probably too late to attempt any reformation in the priestly life. The influence and power of Hophni and Phinehas were too strong for his enfeebled will to set aside. Eli was probably in his last days little more than a puppet in their hands. He had sown the wind, and now must reap the whirlwind.


Verse 19

(19) And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him.—Again in a brief sentence the life of Samuel was contrasted with another: this time with that of his predecessor in the judgeship. As the boy grew up to manhood, we hear that while, on the one hand, as, no doubt, in earlier days with Eli, so now with Samuel, the Lord was with His servant, giving him strength and wisdom, guiding him and guarding him; and, on the other, different from Eli, we hear how the young prophet let none of the Divine words fall to the ground. In those dark days of sin and shame at Shiloh, in the midst of scenes of temptation, the boy stood firm; his early life was a perpetual protest against covetousness and iniquity.


Verse 20

(20) A prophet of the Lord.—Then from the northern to the southern cities of the land the fame of the boy-friend of the Eternal was established. The minds of all the people were thus gradually prepared when the right moment came to acknowledge Samuel as a God-sent chieftain. On this rapid and universal acknowledgment of the young prophet it has been observed, “that the people, in spite of their disruption, yet formed religiously an unit.”

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 3:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/1-samuel-3.html. 1905.

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