(1 Sam. 3)
WE have here, at the commencement of our present chapter, another lovely note on Samuel's childhood - a fleck of gold in the dark picture - the lovely conduct of Hannah's child set over against the evil of the sons of Levi.
"And the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli."
While others lose their place, and their functions cease, this little candle of the Lord's own kindling brightens and shines in the otherwise gloomy night of Israel's condition. God never has, and never will, leave Himself without a witness in the world. He who could even of the very stones raise up children to Abraham, never fails to keep a lamp of testimony to His faithfulness and truth.
"And the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision."
A spiritual famine prevailed; not a famine of bread, as in the days of the Ephrathite Elimelech, but of the word of God." Man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live;" so spake Jehovah to His people in the days of His servant Moses, and again to us in a latter day through His Son, the "Teacher come from God." And in the days that came between He spake in a similar strain by His holy prophet: "Behold the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: and they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it" (Amos 8:11, 12).
"No open vision" means there was no public revelation of God's will concerning His people; no open manifestation of His mind, either by dreams or prophet, or by Urim and Thummim. To quote the sober words of Matthew Henry: "There were none that were publicly known to have visions. Perhaps the impiety and impurity that prevailed in the Tabernacle, and no doubt corrupted the whole nation, so provoked God that as a token of His displeasure He withdrew the Spirit of prophecy, till the decree had gone forth for the raising up of a more faithful priest; and then, as an earnest of that, this faithful prophet was raised up."
Yes, the raising up of the faithful prophet was the pledge of the "faithful priest," even of Him who was to combine in Himself the office of Prophet, Priest and King - the "Anointed One," the "Faithful and the True."
"And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wag dim, that he could not see; and ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep, that the Lord called Samuel."
In this night-scene we have a picture of the moral condition of the nation at the time of the calling of Samuel. Eli the priest was "laid down in his place" - a symbol of spiritual sloth; and his eyes, that should have watched vigilantly for the interests of his God and the welfare of His people Israel, were "waxed dim, that he could not see." His dimness of vision was but a figure of that lack of moral discernment that characterized him at the time. The lamp of God still burned, but its light was waning, as if about to go out and leave the place in darkness, as the wording of the passage would imply. "All in dead supineness slept" - sad picture of the times in Samuel's early days.
The Tabernacle is called Temple here, or house of the Lord, in token of the coming establishment in truth, with "better promises," and under a "better covenant," of "the sure mercies of David," made good in Christ, in whom all the promises of God are "yea and amen!" The Tabernacle was intended chiefly for the wilderness, while the temple was a permanent structure, designed for the nation when settled and at rest in the land of promise.*
*The Tabernacle answers especially to the Church's present circumstances as pilgrims and strangers in the world; the Temple answers to Israel established upon earth with glory under the reign of Christ, as son of David - the true Solomon. [ED].
It was full two hundred years since the last scripture reference to the ark was made. It was on the sad and humiliating occasion of Israel's civil war, when all Israel went against offending Benjamin, because of the horrible crime of the men of Gibeah against the Levite's concubine (Judges 20). It was a time memorable in the annals of the nation - a "black-letter day," recalled for its lesson of man's deep moral depravity by the prophet Hosea 6oo years after: - They have deeply corrupted themselves, as in the days of Gibeah! " (Hos. 9:9; 10:9). From that dark day of lust, and terrible vengeance and slaughter, to the time of Samuel here, the "ark of God's testimony" is not once mentioned. It is as if God hid Himself after that deed of darkness done by the people called after His name, until His people might return to Himself. Now, under Samuel, it comes once more into prominence, for the light of God's testimony was about to revive, and His presence once more acknowledged in their midst.
"And Samuel was laid down;" to sleep is supplied, and would perhaps better be left out. Is it that, instead of sleeping as a healthy boy naturally would, he may have been in prayer, or watching lest the sacred lamp, which should never cease to burn, should go out, and leave all in darkness?
It was a night long to be remembered by young Samuel. If, as we read in Esther 6:1," On that night the king could not sleep " (because the watchful God of Israel withheld slumber from the monarch in order that His people might be preserved), it is likely that, in the interests in His people's welfare, the Holy Spirit acting in the child's heart kept him awake and ready to hear and respond to that call which he was so faithfully to fulfil in the coming years. May we too watch unto prayer, standing as it were on our watchtower, to hear what God the Lord will say to us (see Heb. 2:1).
Three times the Lord calls Samuel. If he did not at first recognize the Voice, he was at least prompt in answering, and ran to Eli, whom he supposed had summoned him. Willing child! He was faithful in that which was least, and God would entrust him with greater things - a needed lesson for us all, especially to those newly come to the faith of Christ. Be content, dear young Christian, to serve in little things; then, if He sees fit, and needs require, thy God can promote thee to more important ministry.
Though three times mistaken, Jehovah did not lose patience with His little servant. Oh that we might learn of Him in this, as in all things else, and "have patience one with another," and especially with those whom we may consider slow of apprehension.
At Samuel's third coming, Eli "perceived that the Lord had called the child." What an indirect, yet forceful rebuke to the privileged high priest through whom God had promised to reveal Himself in behalf of His people. What thoughts would fill his mind, in that God had passed him by, the ancient, the elder (to whom years should have "taught wisdom, and length of days knowledge"), and address Himself to a mere child. " Go, lie down," he says;" "and it shall be, if He call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth." "If He call thee;" was it that the rejected priest almost hoped that it was not really the voice of God? or that He might not call again? for Eli, no doubt, feared the worst. Obediently Samuel lays himself down once more, to listen, doubtless with beating heart, to hear the Voice yet once again.
"So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the Lord came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth."
Again the Lord speaks to His chosen messenger, and the fourth time calls, "Samuel, Samuel!" This time repeating the name twice.
For some reason Samuel does not answer exactly according to Eli's instructions; he omits the name "Jehovah." He may have felt unfit to take upon his lips that sacred, awful Name. Whatever the cause, we may be sure it was not disobedience to Eli.
Reverence is a trait lamentably lacking in this day of shallow smartness. There is plenty of polish and politeness, such as it is, but the ancient and estimable quality of veneration is sadly lacking.
It is in keeping with the times, the "last days," spoken of in 2 Tim. 3:1-7.
Reverence is everywhere enjoined in Scriptrue. Children are commanded to honor, their parents (Eph. 6:1-3). Wives are charged that they reverence their husbands (Eph. 5:33); and as to old age, it is commanded, "Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am Jehovah" (Lev. 19:32). Reverence to rulers is also required, as it is written, "Render therefore to all their dues... fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor" (Rom. 13:7).
Reverence towards God and the holy things connected with His name is especially to be observed. " God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of His saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about Him" (Ps. 89:7). "Holy and reverend is His name," it is written again (Ps. 111:9). "Thou shalt reverence my sanctuary" is twice commanded in His Holy Word (Lev. 19:30; 26:2). The growing disregard of reverence for things sacred is lamentable, and is an indication of the last days in which our lot is cast. Even professing Christians speak of God as if He were such an one as themselves (Ps. 50:21). It is a common occurrence in the big modern evangelistic campaigns to hear God addressed in prayer as if the person praying were on very intimate terms with God, the Most High, and could approach Him as familiarly as if He were little more than themselves - in a way they would not presume to address the chief magistrate of their land. This is a very grave symptom indeed, and instead of conveying to our minds the impression that they are very intimately acquainted with God, it causes us to fear that they may not know Him at all, or that they are praying to a god of their own imagination sort of mental deity. It is noticeable that such persons almost invariably speak of, and address, the Son of God as "Jesus "His personal name. His title, "Christ," is little used, and " Lord Jesus Christ " still less.
But, some one may say, is He not called Jesus in the Bible, and is not this His proper name? True, but it no more warrants us to speak to Him thus than to address the king of England as "George," or our president as "Woodrow," though intimate friends may thus address them in private. What we contend for is reverence toward our adorable Lord - not to lay down a rule, but exhort to due reverence. We are not aware of a single instance in Scripture where His disciples, or any one else, ever addressed the Lord as "Jesus." He is spoken of as "Jesus," but that is quite another thing. "The high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity" has ordained that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow... and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:10, 11). This is the lesson we would draw from the omission of Jehovah's sacred name in the response of Samuel at His midnight call - the most important lesson of reverence toward God and His holy name.
But let us go on to the message received by him on that memorable night:
"And the Lord said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel at which both the ears of every One that heareth it shall tingle. In that day I will perform against Eli all things that I have spoken concerning his house when I begin, I will also make an end. For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and lie restrained them not. And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity Of Eli's house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever" (ver. 11-14).
The Lord had probably a twofold purpose in speaking to Samuel here. One was to reveal Himself to the chosen instrument of His communications to His people in future - an introductory lesson as a prophet of Jehovah. The time had come for God to break silence with the nation. How long that silence had continued we know not; for how many years there had been "no open vision," we cannot tell; it had been long; perhaps for a generation, or more. But God now will visit His people in mercy, and His voice is once more heard. His "miracles and His signs" are about to be seen again in the land, and His mighty acts of power put forth in their behalf as in the days of old.
It is the dawn of brighter and better days for the nation of His choice, the "people of His pasture," through whom "the Seed of the woman," the promised Redeemer was destined to come.
The second reason in communicating His word to Samuel was that God might confirm His word to Eli, in reference to his guilt concerning his sons, as it had been told him through the man of God. "In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established," it was written in the law; and Jehovah would establish His word with the delinquent priest, and assure him that what He had before spoken should surely come to pass. Eli might wish to think as little of it as possible, but God would thus remind him of His word. God makes us to reap the fruit of our doings by the smitings of conscience, as well as by the afflictions brought upon the body. God knows when and how to "visit for these things," done against His name or people.
Reader, let us lay well to heart this solemn lesson, and fear before Him - fear to sin, fear to dishonour His name, or bring reproach on His cause. Let us not trifle with His grace, for it is written, "The Lord shall judge His people" (Heb. 10:30). As children of God, "we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world" (1 Cor. 1:30-35).
And now as to the message. God spoke of the judgment of Eli's house for the iniquity of which he was not ignorant - the villainy of his sons, and his own failure to restrain them: "the iniquity which he knoweth," and which caused the people to "abhor the offering of the Lord;" his sons had "made themselves vile, and he restrained them not!"
It was for devotedness to the Lord's honor, and their faithfulness in avenging it, even upon their brethren, that the priesthood was confirmed to the house of Levi, as recorded in Ex. 35:25-29 and Deut. 33:8-10, and Eli surely must have known this well. Alas, are there not many Elis among the people of God today? - failing to command their households, indulgent and weak toward offending children, to their sorrow and loss in the end.
The message closes with one of the most solemn sentences against a man or his posterity: "I have therefore sworn unto the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be purged with sacrifice or offering for ever." For there were offences which could not be purged with sacrifice. "He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses," says Heb. 10:28; and these priests did in a way despise God's holy ordinances, which they knew.
It is to be noted that God does not command Samuel to make known to Eli what had been told him. Ever thoughtful of our limitations, our God does not lay upon us greater burdens than are necessary. It would have been a heavy burden if the sensitive child had been compelled to communicate to the aged priest the "heavy tidings" told him during the night. An easier way is open to him; Eli himself asks him under oath to tell him all. "And Samuel told him every whit, and hid nothing from him. And he said, It is the Lord; let Him do what seemeth Him good." Poor Eli! We cannot but feel deeply for the aged man under such a stroke; yet how much better it would have been to fall on his face in repentance, crying day and night with prayer to God, or at once take measures to have his sons put from the priesthood, than say, almost as a fatalist, "Let Him do what seemeth Him good."
The remaining portion of the chapter tells of Samuel being recognized as a prophet raised up of the Lord, by all Israel, from Dan to Beersheba. God caused His voice of prophecy again to be heard, and He "appeared again in Shiloh." He allowed none of Samuel's words "to fall to the ground," which would be another testimony to Eli that what God had spoken through him concerning the coming judgment of his house was sure, though for reasons of His own He might for a few years delay the stroke. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil " (Eccl. 8:11); and this was doubtless true of the sons of Eli.