Now the boy Samuel ministered to the Lord before Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation. (1 Samuel 3:1, N.K.J.V.)
The Hebrew word translated as “widespread revelation” in this verse is hazon. It’s a word that refers to divine revelation. Most typically in the Old Testament it is used in reference to a prophetic vision such as the ones God’s prophets received from Him.
Therefore, our text verse is describing a time in ancient Israel in which God wasn’t doing much talking. A fresh word from Him was rare and God-sent visions were scarce. The nation was forced to operate from old revelation, the revelation that God had given them through Moses by way of the law centuries earlier.
And what was the cause of Israel’s sad spiritual state? The main problem was that Israel’s priesthood had turned corrupt. The High Priest, Eli, was old, and he was allowing his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, to handle most of the priestly duties. Unfortunately, Hophni and Phinehas were wicked men.
For example, even though the Mosaic law allowed for Israel’s priests to receive designated portions of the Israelites’ animal sacrifices (Deuteronomy 18:3), Hophni and Phinehas always greedily took more than the share the law allowed (1 Samuel 2:13-17). Also, they commonly had sexual relations with the women who served at the Tabernacle, Israel’s God-ordained place of worship (1 Samuel 2:22). The elderly Eli did make some attempt to rebuke his sons, but they ignored the old man’s words (1 Samuel 2:23-25). How bad were Hophni and Phinehas? The Bible actually says that they did not even know the Lord (1 Samuel 2:12) and that God wanted to kill them (1 Samuel 2:25), which He did by means of an Israelite battle with the Philistines (1 Samuel 4:1-11).
Is it any wonder, then, that a word from the Lord was rare in the days of Eli, Hophni, and Phinehas? Is it any wonder that there was no widespread revelation during that time? Why would God bother to share new revelation when Israel’s priests weren’t even living up to the old revelation?
Interestingly, our word hazon is also used in Proverbs 29:18, which famously says in the King James Version: “Where there is no vision, the people perish…” The teaching of the verse is that a fresh word from God (a revelation) is the difference between perishing and thriving. A situation is lying stagnant, and then all of a sudden God speaks a fresh word into it. He says, “Here’s how things are and here’s what I’m going to do about it.” Without that fresh word (that God-sanctioned vision, that divine revelation) the situation will continue to trudge along in its pitiable condition.
It is also worth noting that the Hebrew word translated as “perish” in Proverbs 29:18 of the King James Version is para. It’s a word that means to run wild and unrestrained. And so what the original Hebrew of Proverbs 29:18 tells us is that where there is no fresh word from God, people run wild. As the New International Version renders the verse: “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint…” The New Living Translation gets even more blunt, saying: “When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild…”
You say, “Okay, but what does all this mean to me?” First, it means that if your life is marked by unrepentant sin, you needn’t expect a fresh word of guidance from God. Why should He impart new guidance to you when you aren’t even living up to the guidance He has previously shared? Second, it means that without that divine guidance you are running unrestrained and wild. You aren’t in God’s will. You aren’t living the kind of a life that He can ideally bless. You aren’t in a place where He can share with you all the wonderful insight that He has for you. Only when you repent of your sins and start living up to the spiritual light that God has already given you will He be able to impart to you a fresh word of guidance that will allow you to move to a higher level in your living.