1 Samuel 3 – “God Visits Samuel”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
God appears to Samuel and portends the fall of Eli’s house. Although he is apprehensive, Samuel relates the bad news to Eli who accepts the prophecy as the will of God.

II. Photo
God appears to Samuel: “The LORD said to Samuel: ‘I am going to do in Israel such a thing that both ears of anyone who hears about it will tremble.’” (v. 11)

III. Important Verses
1: Young Samuel was in the service of the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; prophecy was not widespread.
4-5: The LORD called out to Samuel, and he answered, “I’m coming.” He ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But he replied, “I didn’t call you; go back to sleep.” So he went back and lay down.
8: The LORD called Samuel again, a third time, and he rose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the boy.
11-12: The LORD said to Samuel: “I am going to do in Israel such a thing that both ears of anyone who hears about it will tingle. In that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I spoke concerning his house, from beginning to end.
17-18:  And [Eli] asked, “What did He say to you? Keep nothing from me. Thus and more may God do to you if you keep from me a single word of all that He said to you!” Samuel then told him everything, withholding nothing from him. And [Eli] said, “He is the LORD; He will do what He deems right.”

IV. Outline
1a. Samuel’s piety
1b. Introductory statement about prophecy
2-9. Eli informs Samuel that an angel is speaking with him
10-14. The angel tells Samuel that the house of Eli will be punished
15-18. Samuel hesitantly informs
19-21. Samuel’s piety and rise

V. Comment
Chapter 3 is the final chapter about Samuel’s youth – the next time he appears he will be a grown man who helps the Israelites defeat the Philistines. The chapter solidifies Samuel role as a prophet when “the word of the LORD was rare; prophecy was not widespread” (v. 1). By the end of the chapter Samuel’s prophetic abilities are well known: “All Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, knew that Samuel was trustworthy as a prophet of the LORD” (v. 20) Scholars such as Collins focus on the different types of prophecy. He writes: “The call of the prophets takes either of two forms: it can be a vision, as in the calls of Isaiah and Ezekiel, or it can be an auditory experience, where a voice is heard but no form is described. The paradigm example of the auditory call is the story of Moses at the burning bush Jeremiah is another example. Samuel’s call experience is of the auditory type. Unlike Moses or Jeremiah, however, Samuel is not given a mission. Rather, he is given a prophecy of the destruction of the house of Eli. Revelations of coming judgment are very much the stock in trade of the later prophets. Samuel does not function as a medium of such prophecies in the books of Samuel after 1 Sam 4:1.” (220)

One might ask, what was required to become a “prophet”? In his article on prophecy in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, Schmitt writes: “There seems to have been no standard prerequisite for a person to become a prophet in Israel. Divine inspiration was what made a person a prophet, and what caused the prophet to speak out, and what made others listen to the prophet as a legitimate spokesperson for the divine. For the early period, a favored conception is that “the spirit of the Lord” speaks through the individual (e.g., 1 Sam 10:10; 1 Kgs 22:24). Later terminology preferred “the word of the Lord came to” the person (e.g., Jer 1:2, 4; Ezek 1:3). The general idea remains: the prophet is the one who can speak in the name of God.

“Prophets came from all walks of life. Indeed, some seem to have had a wide variety of experience and a deep acquaintance with various aspects of life and work in Israel. They claim or are given backgrounds as varied as sheepherder, priest, agriculturalist, scribe. They spoke where and when they thought they would be effective. They spoke frequently, no doubt, in places where people most readily gathered—the marketplace, the temple, the city gates (cf. Jer 7:2). They may have spoken less formally in other places as well.

“A distinction has sometimes been made that, for some interpreters, marks a dramatic development in the history of Israelite prophecy. Many of the early prophets speak only to individuals, especially kings or other officials, while other, later prophets address large groups of people—rhetorically, the whole nation or an entire city. No doubt this variation depends on who the prophet thinks is the appropriate recipient of a particular utterance, whether that message is a threat or something else.” (Schmitt, John J. “Prophecy: Preexilic Hebrew Prophecy” in Anchor Bible Dictionary vol. 5 pp. 482-489)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 15 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
McCarter, P. Kyle, Jr. “1 Samuel,” Anchor Bible vol. 8 (New York: Doubleday, 1980)
Photo taken from http://www.medvedev.ru/f/data/pp1.jpg