Friday, December 24, 2004

1 Samuel 3

This chapter tells us about prophecy and prophets, about how God impales those who do wrong, and also presents an very human tale about the relationship of Eli and his young student.

Although the previous chapter featured a prophet admonishing Eli, we're told that the word (Heb. dabar) of the Lord was rare and that visions (Heb. chazown) were few. The implication is that the two are connected. Later, the Lord speaks to Samuel, and at the end we are told that this is Samuel's vision. The word of the Lord is also presented as a kind of manna, which Samuel does not allow to "fall to the ground."

The word dabar is enormously complex, translated in Genesis as "all of these things", "because of" and "my errand". In 1 Sam 2:23, it is translated as "such things." In 1 Sam. 3:11, it is translated "a thing." So, when we speak of "the word of the Lord," and imagine it to be a spoken word, this is a drastically circumscribed interpretation of dabar.

Vision appears on a second level, since Eli's physical vision was almost gone, making him all but totally blind both spiritually and optically.

Samuel's first conversation with the Lord is peculiar. God does not introduce Himself, does not discuss His Law or give Samuel guidance. Instead, he tells Samuel how He will destroy Samuel's mentor and protector. This places Samuel in the awkward position of being the one to convey this news to Eli. Eli uses his position as mentor to force an answer from Samuel. Indeed, he uses the name of God to threaten to curse Samuel and Samuel, fearing the Lord but probably not Eli, tells him his vision. Eli thereby has the prophecy of the previous chapter confirmed: he and his family are to be expunged.

So, God's manner of delivering the message through Samuel has the effect of having Eli humiliate and shock himself. Yet Eli's only response is to accept God's will as inevitable. He does not repent or express remorse or call on his sons to change their ways. This may be the defining characteristic of the spiritually blind: they cannot believe that God will forgive sin. Eli is impaled on his own weakness.

Some final points. The phrase that all Israel "from Dan to Beersheba" defines the effective north-south extent of the Kingdom under Saul, so this phrase is used to mean that literally all of Israel learned that Samuel was a prophet. Matthew Henry also points out that Samuel was the one who opened the door to the house of the Lord, meaning that he was up earlier than anyone else in the household (


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