And the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli,
&c.] Under his direction and instruction; the Targum is, in the life of Eli, and in such parts of service, relating to the tabernacle of the Lord, as he was capable of, such as opening and shutting the doors of it, lighting the lamps, singing the praises of God according to Josephus F14, and others, he was now about twelve years of age:
and the word of the Lord was precious in those days;
that is, a word from the Lord in a dream or vision, directing, informing, instructing, or reproving, this was very rarely had; of late there had been but very few instances; and which accounts for it why not only the child Samuel knew not that it was the voice of the Lord that called to him, but Eli himself thought nothing of it until he had called a third time, so rare and scarce was any instance of this kind; for which reason these words are premised in the following narration: and as everything that is scarce and rare is generally precious, so the word of God in this way also was; and so it is as considered in every view of it; as the written word of God; when there was but little of it penned, as at this time, and few or none to teach and instruct in it, Eli being old, and his sons so vile; or when it is forbidden to be read, and the copies of it destroyed, and become scarce, as in the times of Dioclesian; or when there are but very few faithful evangelical ministers of the word; which, though it is always precious to them that have precious faith in it, the promises of it being exceeding great and precious, and the truths of it more precious than fine gold, and the grand subject of it a precious Saviour, who is so in his person, offices, blood, righteousness, and sacrifice; yet is generally more precious when there is a scarcity of it, when God makes a man, a Gospel minister, more precious than fine gold, even than the golden wedge of Ophir, see ( Isaiah 13:12 ) where the word is used in the same sense as here:
there was no open vision;
or prophecy, as the Targum; no publicly known prophet raised up, to whom the people could apply for counsel, direction, and instruction in divine things; in all the times of the judges we read only of Deborah the prophetess, and one prophet more, ( Judges 4:14 ) ( 6:8 ) , excepting the man of God lately sent to Eli, ( 1 Samuel 2:27 ) , and this want of prophecy served to set off with greater foil the glory of Samuel as a prophet of the Lord, when he was an established one; there having been none of that character in the memory of man, and therefore he is spoken of as at the head of the prophets, ( Acts 3:24 ) , for though there might be some private visions to particular persons, or God might appear in vision to private persons for their own special use and instruction; yet there was no public vision, or what was for public good and general use: some render it, "no broken up vision" F15; it lay hid, concealed out of sight, as if it was immured and shut up within walls, or like water pent up, that cannot break through its fences, and spread itself; or "not multiplied", as R. Isaiah, not frequent and repeated, the instances of it few and rare; the sense of this clause is much the same as the former.