Poole on 1 Samuel 3:1: Famine of the Word

Verse 1:[1] And (1 Sam. 2:11) the child Samuel ministered unto the LORD before Eli. And (Ps. 74:9; Amos 8:11; see 1 Sam. 3:21) the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision.


[Now, the child Samuel] Josephus, Suidas, Zonaras,[2] Torniellus, and Salian[3] say that he was now in his twelfth year (Lapide, thus Tostatus, Serarius, Mendoza).



[He was ministering unto the Lord before Eli (thus the Septuagint, Arabic, Pagnine, Tigurinus), לִפְנֵ֣י עֵלִ֑י] To the face of Eli (Montanus); in the sight of Eli (Syriac); in the life of Eli (Jonathan). With Eli directing and instructing him (Vatablus, similarly Junius, Piscator, Malvenda, Lapide). He was performing his function, just as he was instructed by Eli the Priest (Osiander). But why is it added, before Eli? was he ministering with Eli always present, and never absent? Response: It is added, so that it might signify he served no more sluggishly with him absent, than with him present (Mendoza).


Before Eli, that is, under his inspection and direction, which, being so young, he needed.


[And the word of the Lord was precious[4] (thus Munster, Pagnine, Vatablus, Drusius, Syriac, Montanus)] That is, rare (Drusius, Munster, Junius and Tremellius, Piscator, Mendoza). Thus elsewhere precious is put in the place of rare, as in Psalm 116:15;[5] Isaiah 13:12[6] (Mendoza). Or, dear; that is to say, rare were the prophets proclaiming the word of God to the people: rarely was the Lord revealing His secret things[7] (Vatablus). He says this, either, 1. so that Samuel might be exalted to some extent, and this by parenthesis (Drusius). Or, 2. so that a reason might be given why Samuel, having been called thrice by the Lord, thinks himself to have been called, not by the Lord, but by Eli (Menodza out of Tostatus). It was rare, that the Lord was revealing Himself to anyone. See verse 21 (Grotius). In the time of the Judges, I find only two prophets, Judges 4:4; 6:8 (Sanchez). Before that time, Prophets were nowhere appearing. Whence Divine Peter begins to number the Prophets from Samuel:[8] because after him they were more common (Mendoza).


The word of the Lord, to wit, the word of prophecy, or the revelation of God's will to and by the prophets. Was precious, that is, rare or scarce, such things being most precious in men’s esteem, whereas common things are generally despised.



[There was no manifest vision, אֵ֥ין חָז֖וֹן נִפְרָֽץ׃] There was no open vision (Syriac, Munster, Piscator, Montanus, Junius and Tremellius). Vision here is taken for whatever revelation (Grotius, thus Munster). No distinguishing vision (Septuagint); the פָּרַץ signifies to divide, to open (Mendoza). No vision broken through (Piscator, Malvenda, Lapide), that is, widely diffused, or scattered (Lapide). But just like an enclosure within a wall (Munster). No common vision (Tigurinus): Others: multiplied, from the verb פָּרַץ, to erupt; that is, to produce copiously. Or, pulled down, there is no one that pulls it down and violates it, from that פּוֹרֵץ גֶּדֶר, pulling down the hedge.[9] Others: broken, or broken up, that is, open. For, what is closed, if it be broken up, is opened (Drusius). There was no manifest prophecy (Vatablus). Or, that should be known publicly (Jonathan in Vatablus); that is to say, there were indeed singular and private visions communicated to the pious; but the whole office of the Prophets was publicly lying prostrate (Junius, Piscator). There were not those that were considered Prophets everywhere and by all, like Isaiah, etc. (Menochius). That is to say, in the midst of the darkness of sin and ignorance Samuel arose, like a new sun in Israel (Lapide).


There was no open vision; God did not impart his mind by way of vision or revelation openly, or to any public person, to whom others might resort for satisfaction, though he might or did privately reveal himself to some pious persons for their particular direction. This is here premised as a reason why Samuel understood not, when God called him once or twice.

[1] Hebrew: וְהַנַּ֧עַר שְׁמוּאֵ֛ל מְשָׁרֵ֥ת אֶת־יְהוָ֖ה לִפְנֵ֣י עֵלִ֑י וּדְבַר־יְהוָ֗ה הָיָ֤ה יָקָר֙ בַּיָּמִ֣ים הָהֵ֔ם אֵ֥ין חָז֖וֹן נִפְרָֽץ׃ [2] John Zonaras (twelfth century), native of Constantinople, was a historian and theologian. [3] Jacques Salian (1557-1640) was a French Jesuit. He wrote Annales Ecclesiastici Veteris Testamenti, quibus Connexi Sunt Annales Imperii Assyriorum, Babyloniorum, Persarum, Græcorum, atque Romanorum. [4] Hebrew: וּדְבַר־יְהוָ֗ה הָיָ֤ה יָקָר֙. [5] Psalm 116:15: “Precious (יָקָר) in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” [6] Isaiah 13:12: “I will make a man more precious than fine gold (אוֹקִ֥יר אֱנ֖וֹשׁ מִפָּ֑ז); even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.” [7] See Deuteronomy 29:29. [8] See Acts 3:24. [9] See, for example, Isaiah 5:5: “And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof (פָּרֹ֥ץ גְּדֵר֖וֹ), and it shall be trodden down…”

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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