Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 3:1
At the time when Samuel served the Lord before Eli, both as a boy and as a young man (Sa1 2:11, Sa1 2:21, Sa1 2:26), the word of the Lord had become dear, i.e., rare, in Israel, and "Prophecy was not spread." נפרץ, from פּרץ, to spread out strongly, to break through copiously (cf. Pro 3:10). The "word of the Lord" is the word of God announced by prophets: the "vision," "visio prophetica." It is true that Jehovah had promised His people, that He would send prophets, who should make known His will and purpose at all times (Deu 18:15.; cf. Num 23:23); but as a revelation from God presupposed susceptibility on the part of men, the unbelief and disobedience of the people might restrain the fulfilment of this and all similar promises, and God might even withdraw His word to punish the idolatrous nation. Such a time as this, when revelations from God were universally rare, and had now arisen under Eli, in whose days, as the conduct of his sons sufficiently proves, the priesthood had fallen into very deep corruption.
The word of the Lord was then issued for the first time to Samuel. Sa1 3:2-4 form one period. The clause, "it came to pass at that time" (Sa1 3:2), is continued in Sa1 3:4, "that the Lord called," etc. The intervening clauses from ועלי to אלהים ארון are circumstantial clauses, intended to throw light upon the situation. The clause, "Eli was laid down in his place," etc., may be connected logically with "at that time" by the insertion of "when" (as in the English version: Tr.). The dimness of Eli's eyes is mentioned, to explain Samuel's behaviour, as afterwards described. Under these circumstances, for example, when Samuel heard his own name called out in sleep, he might easily suppose that Eli was calling him to render some assistance. The "lamp of God" is the light of the candlestick in the tabernacle, the seven lamps of which were put up and lighted every evening, and burned through the night till all the oil was consumed (see Exo 30:8; Lev 24:2; Ch2 13:11, and the explanation given at Exo 27:21). The statement that this light was not yet extinguished, is equivalent to "before the morning dawn." "And Samuel was lying (sleeping) in the temple of Jehovah, where the ark of God was." היכל does not mean the holy place, as distinguished from the "most holy," as in Kg1 6:5; Kg1 7:50,
(Note: The Masoretes have taken היכל in this sense, and therefore have placed the Athnach under שׁכב rednu, to separate שׁכב וּשׁמוּאל from יי בּהיכל, and thus to guard against the conclusion, which might be drawn from this view of היכל that Samuel slept in the holy place.)
but the whole tabernacle, the tent with its court, as the palace of the God-king, as in Sa1 1:9; Psa 11:4. Samuel neither slept in the holy place by the side of the candlestick and table of shew-bread, nor in the most holy place in front of the ark of the covenant, but in the court, where cells were built for the priests and Levites to live in when serving at the sanctuary (see at Sa1 3:15). "The ark of God, i.e., the ark of the covenant, is mentioned as the throne of the divine presence, from which the call to Samuel proceeded.
As soon as Samuel heard his name called out, he hastened to Eli to receive his commands. But Eli bade him lie down again, as he had not called him. At first, no doubt, he thought the call which Samuel had heard was nothing more than a false impression of the youth, who had been fast asleep. But the same thing was repeated a second and a third time; for, as the historian explains in Sa1 3:6, "Samuel had not yet known Jehovah, and (for) the word of Jehovah was not yet revealed to him." (The perfect ידע after טרם, though very rare, is fully supported by Psa 90:2 and Pro 8:25, and therefore is not to be altered into ידע, as Dietrich and Bttcher propose.) He therefore imagined again that Eli had called him. But when he came to Eli after the third call, Eli perceived that the Lord was calling, and directed Samuel, if the call were repeated, to answer, "Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth."
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 3:10
When Samuel had lain down again, "Jehovah came and stood," sc., before Samuel. These words show that the revelation of God was an objectively real affair, and not a mere dream of Samuel's. "And he called to him as at other times" (see Num 24:1; Jdg 16:20), etc.). When Samuel replied in accordance with Eli's instructions, the Lord announced to him that He would carry out the judgment that had been threatened against the house of Eli (Sa1 3:11-14). "Behold, I do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle," sc., with horror (see Kg2 21:12; Jer 19:3; Hab 1:5).
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 3:12
On that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house (see Sa1 2:30.), beginning and finishing it," i.e., completely. דּבּר את־אשׁר הקים, to set up the word spoken, i.e., to carry it out, or accomplish it. In Sa1 3:13 this word is communicated to Samuel, so far as its essential contents are concerned. God would judge "the house of Eli for ever because of the iniquity, that he knew his sons were preparing a curse for themselves and did not prevent them." To judge on account of a crime, is the same as to punish it. עד־עולם, i.e., without the punishment being ever stopped or removed. להם מקללים, cursing themselves, i.e., bringing a curse upon themselves. "Therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli, that the iniquity of the house of Eli shall not (אם, a particle used in an oath, equivalent to assuredly not) be expiated by slain-offerings and meat-offerings (through any kind of sacrifice) for ever." The oath makes the sentence irrevocable. (On the facts themselves, see the commentary on Sa1 2:27-36.)
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 3:15
Samuel then slept till the morning; and when he opened the doors of the house of Jehovah, he was afraid to tell Eli of the revelation which he had received. Opening the doors of the house of God appears to have been part of Samuel's duty. We have not to think of doors opening into the holy place, however, but of doors leading into the court. Originally, when the tabernacle was simply a tent, travelling with the people from place to place, it had only curtains at the entrance to the holy place and court. But when Israel had become possessed of fixed houses in the land of Canaan, and the dwelling-place of God was permanently erected at Shiloh, instead of the tents that were pitched for the priests and Levites, who encamped round about during the journey through the desert, there were erected fixed houses, which were built against or inside the court, and not only served as dwelling-places for the priests and Levites who were officiating, but were also used for the reception and custody of the gifts that were brought as offerings to the sanctuary. These buildings in all probability supplanted entirely the original tent-like enclosure around the court; so that instead of the curtains at the entrance, there were folding doors, which were shut in the evening and opened again in the morning. It is true that nothing is said about the erection of these buildings in our historical books, but the fact itself is not to be denied on that account. In the case of Solomon's temple, notwithstanding the elaborate description that has been given of it, there is nothing said about the arrangement or erection of the buildings in the court; and yet here and there, principally in Jeremiah, the existence of such buildings is evidently assumed. מראה, visio, a sign or vision. This expression is applied to the word of God which came to Samuel, because it was revealed to him through the medium of an inward sight or intuition.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 3:16
When Samuel was called by Eli and asked concerning the divine revelation that he had received, he told him all the words, without concealing anything; whereupon Eli bowed in quiet resignation to the purpose of God: "It is the Lord; let Him do what seemeth Him good." Samuel's communication, however, simply confirmed to the aged Eli what God had already made known to him through a prophet, But his reply proves that, with all his weakness and criminal indulgence towards his wicked sons, Eli was thoroughly devoted to the Lord in his heart. And Samuel, on the other hand, through his unreserved and candid communication of the terribly solemn word of God with regard to the man, whom he certainly venerated with filial affection, not only as high priest, but also as his own parental guardian, proved himself to be a man possessing the courage and the power to proclaim the word of the Lord without fear to the people of Israel.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 3:19
Thus Samuel grew, and Jehovah was with him, and let none of his words fall to the ground, i.e., left no word unfulfilled which He spoke through Samuel. (On הפּיל, see Jos 21:45; Jos 23:14; Kg1 8:56.) By this all Israel from Dan to Beersheba (see at Jdg 20:1) perceived that Samuel was found trustworthy, or approved (see Num 12:7) as a prophet of Jehovah. And the Lord continued to appear at Shiloh; for He revealed himself there to Samuel "in the word of Jehovah," i.e., through a prophetic announcement of His word. These three verses form the transition from the call of Samuel to the following account of his prophetic labours in Israel. At the close of Sa1 3:21, the lxx have appended a general remark concerning Eli and his sons, which, regarded as a deduction from the context, answers no doubt to the paraphrastic treatment of our book in that version, but in a critical aspect is utterly worthless.