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1 Samuel chapter 3

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What does 1 Samuel chapter 3 mean?

This chapter tells the story of Samuel's first experience as a prophet of the Lord. Still just a boy, Samuel continued to carry out his duties in service to the Lord under the care and leadership of Eli, the priest of the tabernacle at Shiloh.

God had been mostly silent in Israel for a time, not giving many visions or prophecies to His people. His word was rare and infrequent (1 Samuel 3:1), but that is about to change as God begins to deliver messages to the people through this boy Samuel.

Eli the priest had grown very old (1 Samuel 2:22), and his eyesight was failing. One night, he was lying down in his bed, not far from the temple. Young Samuel was sleeping in the temple, not far from the ark of the covenant behind its veil, where God allowed His presence to rest on earth (1 Samuel 3:2–3).

Suddenly, Samuel hears someone call his name. He does not know it is the Lord and runs to Eli's bed to announce that he has come because Eli called him. Eli says he did not call Samuel and tells him to go back to bed. Samuel does so, but soon hears the Lord call his name again. Again, he runs to present himself to Eli, and again Eli insists to Samuel, "my son," that he did not call (1 Samuel 3:4–6).

The teller of the story pauses to remind his readers that Samuel did not yet know the Lord personally and had not received any messages from God before this. That's why the boy didn't understand who was calling him (1 Samuel 3:7).

When it happens a third time, Eli realizes the boy standing by his bed is hearing the voice of the Lord. He tells Samuel what to do if it happens again. The boy should say, "Speak, LORD, for your servant hears" (1 Samuel 3:9). This time, the Lord comes and stands before Samuel and says his name twice: "Samuel! Samuel!" Samuel responds, "Speak, for your servant hears" (1 Samuel 3:10), and the Lord begins to speak (1 Samuel 3:8–10).

The Lord's message is not easy one. God tells young Samuel that He's about to do something that will shock people, using an expression that evokes ringing ears, or shaking in terror. He is going to bring about everything He had previously said He would do against Eli and his house, including his descendants (1 Samuel 2:27–36). Eli's sons have blasphemed God by abusing their power as priests to unlawfully take parts of the offerings for themselves (1 Samuel 2:12–17). Eli is guilty of not restraining them, either as their father or as the high priest, and the Lord will punish Eli's house forever. The Lord swears to never allow the sins of Eli and his sons to be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever (1 Samuel 3:11–14).

Samuel stays in bed until morning and then gets up to carry out his duty of opening the doors to the house of the Lord. Eli calls Samuel, "my son," to come to him. When Samuel arrives, Eli explains to Samuel that it his duty to deliver the message the Lord gave to him and not to leave anything out. Samuel describes the Lord's message of judgment against Eli, and the old prophet responds almost with a shrug: let the Lord do what seems good to Him (1 Samuel 3:15–18).

Samuel continues to grow up and continues to receive messages from the Lord for His people. The Lord does not allow any of Samuel's prophetic words to "fall to the ground:" they are never untrue or unfulfilled. Everyone in Israel comes to know that Samuel is a true prophet of the Lord (1 Samuel 3:19–21).
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