OT Encounters: 1 Samuel 3:1-10 – The Humble Servant

By Jeff Pulse

Our text for the second Sunday of the Epiphany is from the first book of Samuel the prophet. The text is I Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20), which lays out the Call of Samuel as a prophet of the LORD. It is one of the most detailed of the various Call accounts in the Old Testament. In the Gospel reading for Epiphany 2, John 1:43-51, we have the Call narrative of Philip and Nathaniel. Both the Old Testament and Gospel lessons have a strong “epiphany” flavor as the Word of the LORD is revealed to Samuel and Philip and Nathaniel recognize Jesus as Messiah—The Word Incarnate.

Before we look at the various nuances of the text itself, it may be helpful to remember who Samuel was and what role he played in the biblical narrative. It is not insignificant that Samuel is born from the “barren womb” of Hannah after the LORD God remembers her and opens her womb. Although Hannah and her husband Elkanah are not from the tribe of Judah, and therefore Samuel is not in the Messianic line, Samuel plays a very important role in preserving the Messianic line of Judah by anointing and instructing the first kings of the United Monarchy—especially King David. Barren wombs among the faithful people in Scripture are either in the messianic line (Sara, Rebbekah, etc) or the children that God eventually grants are instrumental in preserving that line so that the Messiah will come (Rachel, Hannah, the wife of Manoah, etc.). All these barren wombs find their fulfillment in the ultimate barren womb, the Virgin whose womb is opened by God and the Messiah is delivered unto us.

Samuel also serves as a bridge figure between the era of the Judges and the beginning of the United Monarchy. Samuel is generally considered to have three main roles in Scripture: judge, prophet, and priest.

Contextually, the Call of Samuel lies after his birth narrative and a strong description and condemnation of the unfaithfulness of the sons of Eli. Our text sets up a contrast and comparison between the unfaithfulness of Eli’s sons and the faithfulness and dedication of Samuel himself. It may even give us some insight into the level of faithfulness of Eli. Following our text, we have the account of the capture of the Ark of the Covenant by the Philistines. It subsequently returns to Israel and the demands of the people to have a king “like the other nations.” A lot of important history and times of transition take place in a few short chapters. Generally, we date these occurrences from @1075 BC and following.

Our study today has benefitted from the I Samuel Commentary by Andrew Steinmann in the Concordia Commentary Series. Now, the text:

3:1 wehanaar—“and the boy/young man”

In this context, I would lean toward the alternate use of naar meaning “apprentice.” Another example would be Gen. 37:2, where Joseph is serving as an apprentice with his brothers learning how to shepherd.

     meshareth—root: sharat—piel “serve, minister”

     wudevar-yahweh—“the word of the LORD/Yahweh”

     yaqar—“valuable; rare; scarce”

     chazon—“vision” As in a divine revelation by means of a prophetic vision (Steinmann)

     niphrats—root: parats–niphal “to spread; spread abroad”

3:2 The Qere and Kethib (what is said and what is written) differ in number.

      Qere: “his eyes”

      Kethib: “his eye”

      keheh—“dim”

      yukal—root: yacol “to be able” with the infinitive construct “to see” (lireoth)

Steinmann makes an interesting observation at this point. Generally, this dimming of eyes, etc. is in regards to physical sight. However, perhaps Eli may have been dull to perceive divine revelation. This could be supported by the “rareness” of the Word of the LORD and Eli’s slow response to Samuel’s visits.

3:3 hecal—“temple”

Obviously, this cannot be the Jerusalem Temple, as it has not yet been constructed. Therefore, we should understand this as a reference to the Tabernacle. Samuel does this three times (I Sam. 1:9; II Sam. 22:7). Samuel is apparently helping Eli by keeping the lamp burning. Eli’s health does not allow him to carry out this duty. However, Samuel is NOT in the Holy of Holies. Rather he is in the Holy Place where the eternal lamp is located.

3:4 “Then the LORD called Samuel, and he said, ‘Here am I’”

3:6 wayoseph—root: yasap—hiphil “to add; repeat; do again; increase”

      qero—root: qara “to call” Infinitive construct

3:7 terem—“not yet” 2x

It should not be thought that Samuel was still an unbeliever or was ignorant. Rather, the text indicates that the LORD had not yet revealed His Word to Samuel—he was not yet called into the prophetic office.

3:10  wayithyatsav—root: yatsab—hithpael “to take one’s stand; station oneself; stand”

Samuel, with his words, “speak for your servant hears/is listening” Indicates an attitude and posture of humility.