Word from Adonai was rare, not because Adonai was reluctant to speak but because Israel was reluctant to listen.
An examination of 1 Sh’muel/Samuel 3:1-21
3:1 Now the boy--Hebrew indicates a youth between birth and early adolescence--Sh’muel—Samuel was ministering to Adonai—YHVH--before Eli--my G-d. Word from Adonai was rare in those days, visions were not breaking out.
Given the Hebrew text and the level of cognition, Sh’muel could not have been younger than 5 years and no older than 13 at the time. Notice that as we begin this passage Sh’muel is ministering to Adonai as a student of Eli.
Word from Adonai was rare, not because Adonai was reluctant to speak but because Israel was reluctant to listen. This can also mean that knowledge of the Word was rare in those days. Initially this is also true of Sh’muel who doesn’t know who is speaking to him.
2 It happened at that time as Eli was lying down in his place (now his eyesight had begun to grow dim and he could not see well), 3 and the nir—light—of Elohim had not yet gone out, and Sh’muel--hears G-d--was lying down in the Sanctuary of Adonai where the ark of Elohim was,
Eli is well on in years as indicated by his failing sight. Failing sight may also be a metaphor for failing spiritual sight. This is the first of two allusions to failing light, thus utilizing a poetic tool to convey an allegorical meaning.
Nir, or light, is the same Hebrew word prayed each Sabbath in the candle lighting bracha—blessing.
The statement, “the light of Elohim had not yet gone out” could be interpreted to mean that at that time the Priests—lead by Eli—were allowing the Menorah to go out. This would be in contradiction to the Torah which clearly commands that it be tended to from evening to morning perpetually, so that it’s light never ceases to burn in the Mishkan—tent of meeting (Exodus 27:21; Leviticus 24:3).
The statement, “the light of Elohim had not yet gone out” could also be referring to this being the time prior to Israel’s loss of the ark (When Eli and his sons were killed, leaving Israel temporarily without priests). Saul did not inquire of the L-rd using the Ark during his kingship (1 Chronicles 13:3)—thus the other practices of proper worship may well have gone by the wayside, leaving Israel’s light to go out: this being a metaphorical representation of Israel’s sin and neglect of the true worship of HaShem according to the Torah—which David later returned to Israel.
Spiritual darkness was coming upon Israel: in keeping with this idea, we might interpret Israel as having become a fading flame spiritually speaking, thus, through Sh’muel G-d was present to rekindle the light amongst His people. Thus we can read the text as meaning, “the light had not yet gone out, there’s still time to rekindle it.” This positive approach gives us hope, it is as if G-d were saying, “A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice.” – Yeshiyahu/Isaiah 42:3
It is important to remember that the Menorah is a symbol of the seven-fold Spirit of G-d (Revelation 3:1), His Shekinah Glory—manifest cloud-encompassed presence and the present power and work of the Holy Spirit—as represented in the oil which feeds the seven branches—and among the people of Israel, both individually and corporately.
The Sanctuary here is not the Temple of Jerusalem—which will be built at a later date, several kilometers to the north of Shiloh. The Hebrew text indicates a large hall or meeting place, it is interesting to note that the Hebrew word Mishkan—Tent of meeting—is not used here, this may suggest that the structure in question is semi-permanent as opposed to the transportable Tent of Meeting of the desert wanderings: however it may also be another way of referring to the Mishkan, in 2 Samuel 7:6 G-d explains that He has only dwelt in the Mishkan from the day Israel was first commanded to set it up until the date of David’s request to build the Temple in Jerusalem.
This leaves one of two possibilities, the place of worship referred to here is the Mishkan or alternatively that G-d did not dwell in this semi-permanent structure due to the adulterated worship practices at the time. This would add great significance to Sh’muel’s calling. It is important to understand that Israel had not yet had a king build a Temple for the L-rd. Shiloh, while tranquil, was not the mountain of ADONAI.
If the text is to be understood to indicate that Sh’muel was literally beside the Ark of HaShem—YHVH—then he was lying in the Holy of Holies. It is also possible—and more likely—given the clear instruction of the Torah regarding the Holy of Holies, that he was outside the Holy of Holies but near to the curtain which shielded the Ark, alongside the Menorah.
4 Adonai called Sh’muel; and he said, “Here I am.”5 Then he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call, lie down again.” So he went and lay down.
Sh’muel is far enough away from Eli to require him to run to him. Sh’muel mistakes Adonai’s voice for Eli’s, this tells us that Adonai spoke in a masculine humanoid voice of some kind, this makes sense as the story progresses and we find Ha-D’var—the Word--standing as Adonai Himself with Sh’muel, whose name means, “he hears Elohim.”
6 Adonai called yet again, “Sh’muel!” So Sh’muel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he answered, “I did not call, my son, lie down again.”7 Now Sh’muel did not yet know Adonai, nor had Ha-D’var--the Word--of Adonai yet been revealed to him.
From a human perspective repetition is often a part of the journey to hearing G-d’s voice. Sh’muel is still hearing, what to him is a male voice, he presumes this is Eli and again goes to find him. Sh’muel is sure it was Eli’s voice, emphasizing the point by saying, “you called me.”
Eli’s response is gentle, “my son.” Perhaps given the immoral behavior of his own sons, Eli delights in Sh’muel’s integrity of purpose. Next, the writer clarifies what the narrative is already inferring, that Sh’muel does not yet know Adonai. This is an indication of an ancient Hebrew understanding of personal, relational spirituality. Sh’muel obviously knew the protocols of Adonai’s Sanctuary and studied Torah, however the writer of 1 Sh’muel/Samuel is careful to show that knowledge devoid of The Spirit leaves a veil between humanity and HaShem, much like the veil between the Holy place and the Holy of Holies. This teaching is alluded to by Yeshua when He says, “You are in error because you do not understand the Tanakh or the power of G-d.” (Matthew 22:29) But there is so much more to this brief and powerful sentence; the text says, “Ha-D’var—the Word—of Adonai had not been revealed to Sh’muel.” This is explained by the Gospel writer Yochanan—John—when he says, “In the beginning was Ha-D’var—the Word—and the Word was with G-d and the Word was G-d.” (John 1:1) Yeshua is Ha-D’var. We are able to hear G-d’s voice only by His Word, subsequently we are only able to know G-d when the Word is revealed to us. Anyone can hear G-d but only those to whom He reveals His Son can know Him.
8 So Adonai called Sh’muel for the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli discerned that Adonai was calling the youth. 9 And Eli said to Sh’muel, “Go lie down, and it shall be if He calls you, that you shall say, ‘Speak, Adonai, for Your servant is listening.’” So Sh’muel went and lay down in his place.
Three is a sacred number in Judaism, representing confirmation, unity of the whole and divine guidance. I suspect that pre-teen Sh’muel was nothing if not incredulous at this point as he ambled back to Eli for the third time. Eli exhibits the wisdom of age and relational experience with Adonai, despite what must have been a series of annoying night time interruptions for him, Eli gives some of the soundest advice one believer can ever give to another, “if He speaks to you again say, ‘speak Adonai, for Your servant is listening.’” Sh’muel obeys Eli’s instruction and it is then that something spectacular happens:
10 Then Adonai came and stood and called as at other times, “Sh’muel! Sh’muel!” And Sh’muel said, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”
G-d Himself comes and stands in the room with Sh’muel and calls him for a fourth time. He calls out Sh’muel’s name twice, this is an indication that whatever Adonai is about to say to Sh’muel is firmly decided—in much the same way that the double dreams of Joseph concerning famine in Egypt were an indication that G-d had firmly decided the matter, there would be no recourse.
Notice that Sh’muel doesn’t repeat Eli’s instruction verbatim, he says, “Speak, for your servant is listening,” thus leaving out the Holy name Adonai—YHVH. Sh’muel is still yet to fully enter into personal relationship with Adonai, this is all new for him.
11 Adonai said to Sh’muel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.
This is a Hebrew idiom meaning, “everyone in Israel will feel like someone just walked over their graves,” or “this is going to freak the hell out of everyone in Israel.” Why is it important that everyone in Israel should tremble at what the L-rd is about to do? It is an opportunity for Israel to see that G-d takes Holiness seriously and return to HaShem: understanding that His priests who represent Him, are required to be pure as an example of those who bear His name. Adonai knows that Israel will soon ask for a king like the other nations have, thus rejecting HaShem as King. Sh’muel’s prophetic ministry must be born of a cleansed Sanctuary system because he will bear witness against Israel when they ask for a human king. The King—G-d—Himself has just visited Sh’muel in person so as to seal his position as witness against Israel.
12 In that day I will carry out against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 For I have told him that I am about to judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons brought a curse on themselves and he did not rebuke them.14 Therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”15 So Sh’muel lay down until morning.
G-d is about to punish Eli’s family line because although Eli knew of the evil actions of his sons he did nothing to continually rebuke them or discipline them. In later life Sh’muel’s sons also fall into error, however Sh’muel has clearly disciplined them and attempted to guide them in the way they should go, therefore Sh’muel is not punished as Eli was because he acted righteously, thus the sins of his sons are theirs to account for.
When it is said that the house of Eli “cannot be atoned for by sacrifice or offering” it is referring to the temporary sacrificial system of Israel’s priesthood. The sacrificial offering of Yeshua is able to atone for all error, His offers a superior Priesthood.
Then he opened the doors of the house of Adonai. But Sh’muel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli.
Here the writer calls Sh’muel’s experience a vision. The Hebrew word marah can also mean mirror/reflection. Adonai both stood with Sh’muel and showed him a mirror image of the future events planned for Eli’s family line. In some respects Sh’muel is being warned concerning his own future.
16 Then Eli called Sh’muel and said, “Sh’muel, my son.” And he said, “Here I am.” 17 He said, “What is the word that He spoke to you? Please do not hide it from me. May Elohim do so to you, and more also, if you hide anything from me of all the words that He spoke to you.”
Again Eli addresses Sh’muel as son, perhaps he wishes his sons had been as honorable and G-dly as this young man, whatever the case he clearly has deep affection for the youth.
It is a common Hebrew phraseology here that gives the threat of a curse at the withholding of information. Other similar phrases are, “May the L-rd deal with me be it ever so severely” and “May the L-rd judge between you and I.” Here it is not meant so much as a threat as it is a means of releasing Sh’muel from the fearful responsibility of passing on such a grave message from Adonai. Again Eli is being very gracious toward Sh’muel.
18 So Sh’muel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is Adonai; let Him do what seems good to Him.”
Eli speaks the words of one who has given up, rather than putting on sack cloth and repenting he becomes disillusioned and allows apathy to govern his response.
19 Thus Sh’muel grew and Adonai was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20 All Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Sh’muel was confirmed as a prophet of Adonai.
Sh’muel was being guided by the L-rd, who was with Him. This means that G-d did not just pop in and out of Sh’muel’s life with prophetic messages, on the contrary, He was always with him.
From Dan to Beersheba indicates the whole of Israel from top to bottom, this is a poetic repetition confirming the fact that All Israel has recognized Sh’muels status as a prophet and leader of Adonai even before the death of Eli and his sons.
21 And Adonai appeared again at Shiloh, because Adonai revealed Himself to Sh’muel at Shiloh--tranquil—by Ha-D’var—the Word—of Adonai.
Finally we learn that Sh’muel has come to know Adonai because Adonai revealed Himself to him at Shiloh by Ha-D’var—the Word, that is Yeshua. Notice that we were formerly told (v.7) that Sh’muel lacked intimate knowledge of Adonai because ha-D’var—the Word, Yeshua—had not been revealed to him, now we are told that Adonai revealed Himself by the Word: this is what many evangelicals might call a salvation experience. Whatever we call it, from Sh’muel’s perspective it is the beginning of his personal relationship with G-d. G-d already knew Sh’muel, now He has made Himself known to him through Mashiyach. Shiloh means tranquility, an accurate description of the place where we understand the grace of G-d through Yeshua our Messiah.
Faith comes from hearing—Shema—and hearing by the Word—ha-D’var—of Messiah/G-d with us—Elohim. – Romans 10:17
He hears G-d—Shema + El = Sh’muel.
© 2014 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.