There were not many visions

1 Samuel 3 is a carefully constructed narrative. It started with an acknowledgement that Samuel, who was still a boy at that time, served YHWH under Eli (3.1). At that time, the author added, the word of YHWH was rare; there were not many visions (3.2). One night, when the lamp had not yet gone out (3.4), Eli was lying down in his usual place. The author noted, at that time, Eli’s eyes were so weak that he could barely see (3.3). There were not many visions, because the prophet’s eyes were so weak that he could barely see. The multi-layered use of vision-related symbols (visions, eyes, see, lamp) is sublime.

Therefore, the task of seeing fell to Samuel. Nevertheless, if Eli could barely see, Samuel could barely listen, since he didn’t know YHWH yet (3.7). So three times YHWH called him, thrice as well he thought that it was from Eli, which prompted Eli to told Samuel that it was YHWH who called him. YHWH called again and finally Samuel would respond, nay, listen, properly: “Speak, for your servant is listening.” (3.10) What did YHWH tell him, then? Well, he started by saying that he was “about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle.” (3.11) Samuel has learnt to listen to YHWH, and now it’s the people’s turn to hear him. The word of YHWH would be rare no more (note how the ruling metaphor has changed from seeing to hearing).

Samuel then reported the vision/hearing to Eli, which included a prophecy that Eli’s house would be judged by YHWH. Eli responded by saying that YHWH would do whatever was good in his eyes. Who would be justified, then? Samuel or Eli? Well, first, “YHWH was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground.” (3.19) Second, “all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of YHWH.” (3.20) And, finally, “YHWH continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.” (3.21) In the beginning, the word was rare and there were not many visions. In the end, YHWH continued to appear and he revealed himself through his word (i.e., forming a chiastic structure: word-vision/vision-word).

The lamp is indeed a sign of things to come. It has not gone out yet. There is still hope; Samuel sees and hears YHWH. A new prophet has been coronated in the land of Israel.


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