Summary: The end of one priesthood, and the promise of another.
A FAILING PRIESTHOOD
What an initiation into the ministry of God’s Word! The boy Samuel was now informed of the judgment which the LORD had already given against the house of Eli (1 Samuel 3:12-14; cf. 1 Samuel 2:30-31). No wonder the LORD warned Samuel that it would cause both his ears to tingle (1 Samuel 3:11)!
This prophecy came at such a time as when ‘the Word of the LORD was rare’ (1 Samuel 3:1), there being ‘no widespread revelation.’ Days when there was a dearth in the land: but ‘not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD’ (cf. Amos 8:11). Days like our own.
Samuel, too, ‘did not yet know the LORD’ (1 Samuel 3:7) - but that was about to change. Mercifully, the LORD called young Samuel ‘before the lamp of God went out’ (1 Samuel 3:3). This is both a temporal reference, and a spiritual one.
The priest Eli was blind in two senses. The old man’s eyes were dim of sight (1 Samuel 3:2); and, metaphorically speaking, he was turning a blind eye to the sins of his sons (1 Samuel 2:29). Yet he had been warned that the LORD would take both his sons in one day (1 Samuel 2:34)!
Now young Samuel, through fear, chose not to reveal the vision to Eli (1 Samuel 3:15). After all, the boy was not told by the LORD to tell the old priest what he already knew. But Eli (whose name means ‘my God’) called Samuel (whose name means ‘God hears’), and he answered as before: “Here I am” (1 Samuel 3:16).
Eli asked Samuel, and threatened him: and Samuel told him everything (1 Samuel 3:17-18). And Eli recognised that it was the word of the LORD, and could only concede: “Let Him do what seems good to Him.” And so, it came to pass.
But, to his credit (perhaps), Eli was more upset at the capture of the Ark of the Covenant than at the death of his two wayward sons (1 Samuel 4:17-18). Eli died that day, too.
It is a sad situation when those who are meant to be lights in the church fall so sadly astray. But there is hope. God was going to raise up a new priesthood. One that would be according to His own heart (1 Samuel 2:35).
Now, after this experience, the child Samuel continued to ‘grow up before the LORD’ (cf. 1 Samuel 2:21); and “the LORD was with him and did not let any of his words fall to the ground” (1 Samuel 3:19).
The dearth of the word of the LORD was over. “And all Israel knew that Samuel had been established as a prophet of the LORD” (1 Samuel 3:20).
If we did not know better, we might wonder whether this new priesthood would come from the Ephraimite boy who was already serving so well in the tabernacle. But this new priesthood would not come from the family of Samuel. On any account, Samuel’s sons would be just as bad as those of Eli (1 Samuel 8:3) - which is what led the people to demand a king (1 Samuel 8:4-5).
Yet Saul failed in his kingship, and was wrong to arrogate the initiative of the priesthood to himself (1 Samuel 13:8-9; 1 Samuel 13:13-14). ‘The man after God’s own heart’ turned out to be David (cf. Acts 13:22). And the promised perfect priesthood is ultimately fulfilled in ‘great David’s greater Son’: our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus appeared in the Temple as a baby, without being noticed by many more than two people (Luke 2:22). Then Jesus appeared in the Temple as a boy of twelve, and astonished all who heard His wisdom (Luke 2:47). Jesus came to establish a new covenant, and to make the once for all, final, and satisfactory sacrifice for the sins of His people (cf. Hebrews 9:28).
Now the Lord creates a new worship and a new people, and establishes a priesthood of all believers.