Samuel, though raised as a priest, is here called to be a prophet charged with announcing God’s word to Israel. Ironically, his first prophetic act will be to announce the destruction of Eli and his house.
The charming story of God’s call of a young boy into service ends with that young boy announcing judgment upon the A priest is a person who has the authority to perform religious rites. In New Testament times priests were responsible for daily offerings and sacrifices in the temple. More who has raised him. The symmetrical arrangement of the text is obvious:
A Introduction: God’s word rare in Israel (vv. 1-3)
B Dialogue between The judge who anointed the first two kings of Israel More and Priest at Shiloh who cared for young Samuel. More (vv. 4-9)
X Vision and announcement of doom to Eli’s house (vv. 10-14)
B′ Dialogue between Samuel and Eli (vv. 15-18)
A′ Conclusion: God speaks through Samuel (vv. 19-4:1a)
Eli’s age, blindness, location in his own room, and sleep contrast sharply with Samuel’s youth, visions, location at the ark, and wakefulness. The lack of God’s word in verse 1 similarly contrasts with Samuel as the designated spokesperson for God at Shiloh in 3:19-4:1a. In fact, this transition is the main point of the text. The transition is accomplished through God’s use of the elderly priest’s unwitting preparation of the youthful Samuel for the reception of God’s vision. Eli was unaware of Hannah’s predicament when Samuel’s mother needed his advice, too; though there, as here, when the priest finally discerned the situation, he functioned appropriately. The vision found at the heart of the passage is a dire announcement of doom to Eli’s house. Samuel’s reluctance to share this message with his mentor is touching.