I have two different translations of 1 Samuel 3:19. The 2011 NIV renders the sentence:

The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground.

However, I recently came across another phrasing (not from a published source) that renders it like this:

And he let none of the Lord's words drop to the ground.

I assume that neither the name of Samuel nor a name of God appears in the second half of the sentence. The grammar in the 1984 NIV is at least somewhat ambiguous. Is there any warrant at all for the second translation above? Whose words are being kept from falling to the ground?

  • NLT says "Samuel's words" also.
    – Daisy
    Apr 20 '16 at 13:48

You are correct in that the latter clause does not name either Yahveh or Samuel.

Hebrew text:

וַיִּגְדַּל שְׁמוּאֵל וַיהוָה הָיָה עִמּוֹ וְלֹא הִפִּיל מִכָּל דְּבָרָיו אָרְצָה

English translation:

And Samuel grew up, and Yahveh was with him, and he did not let any of his words fall to the ground.


And Samuel grew up, and Yahveh was with him, and he did not cause any of his words to fall to the ground.

In his entry on the verb נָפָל, binyan Hifʿil, Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius wrote,1

Gesenius, נָפָל, p. 557

Hence the expression הִפִּיל + דְּבָרִים + אָרְצָה means for a promise to be broken. Preceding the phrase with a negative particle expresses the idea of keeping one’s promise (i.e., not allowing one’s promise to be broken).2

In the case of Samuel, it was Yahveh who made promises to Samuel.3

In 1 Sam. 3:12,4 Yahveh says,

In that day, I shall cause to stand (אָקִים) unto5 Eli, everything that I spoke unto5 his house. When I begin, I shall also make an end.

בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא אָקִים אֶל עֵלִי אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתִּי אֶל בֵּיתוֹ הָחֵל וְכַלֵּה

Causing words to stand (expressed by the binyin Hifʿil conjugation of the verb קוּם) is the antithesis of causing words to fall (expressed by the Hifʿil conjugation of the verb נָפָל).

words stand        = promise fulfilled :: words fall        = promise broken
words do not stand = promise broken    :: words do not fall = promise fulfilled

Since Yahveh said He would cause the words He spoke to stand, then it is Yahveh who did not cause those same words to fall (and be broken). Hence, the phrase וְלֹא הִפִּיל מִכָּל דְּבָרָיו אָרְצָה refers to the fact that Yahveh did not break His promises to Samuel and everything occurred which Yahveh promised to and/or by Samuel the prophet concerning Eli and his house.6


Gesenius, Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm. Gesenius’s Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures. Trans. Tregelles, Samuel Prideaux. London: Bagster, 1860.


1 p. 557
2 cp. Jos. 21:45, 23:14; 1 Kings 8:56
3 cp. 1 Sam. 3:11–14
4 cp. 1 Sam. 1:23 and Gesenius, p. 728, קוּם, Hiphil, (2), (c)
5 or “concerning”
6 cp. 1 Kings 2:27


Just a small postscript to the accepted answer: the only other passage in the Hebrew Bible where the full idiom of 1 Sam 3:19 (נפל + דְּבָרִים + אָרְצָה) is found, is in 2 Kings 10:10:

[NASB] Know then that there shall fall to the earth nothing of the word of the Lord, which the Lord spoke concerning the house of Ahab, for the Lord has done what He spoke through His servant Elijah.

Noting this potentially adds some nuance to the conclusion that in 1 Sam 3:19 it is the LORD who "does not let fall" Samuel's words:

  • the parallel passage is slightly different in having the verb in the Qal rather than the Hiphil, although there appears to be no discernible shift in meaning (as recognized in the larger lexica which cross-reference these texts);
  • the "word" in 2 Kgs 10:10 which is "not to fall" is the LORD's, although that word is wholly identified with its delivery through the prophet (Elijah in 2 Kings 10); this is analogous to the partial parallel in 1 Kings 8:56 (cited in the accepted answer) in which the LORD's words were spoken through Moses (so that in this instance, the LORD's words are to be identified with Moses's words);
  • for 1 Sam 3:19 there is the further grammatical consideration, that one would expect the subject of הִפִּיל, "let fall", to be the same as the preceding verb, הָיָה, "[he] was", where it is explicitly יהוה, the LORD.

To my mind, these observations simply reinforce the conclusion drawn in the accepted answer.


From reading of the Hebrew (besides for every translation I've ever seen), it sounds very much like the phrase is referring to the Lord's not letting Samuel's words 'fall'.

Referring to the Lord's word in such a way seems rather strange; His words wouldn't 'fall'- they would still be just as true, even if they aren't being followed. Samuel's words were allowed not to fall in the sense that whatever he said ended up being true (as the next verse goes on to state that the people recognized him as such, and as proven by Saul's request for the whereabouts of his father's sheep).

  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Thank you for taking the time to share your insights. Due to the nature of this site, a reference may be required to support your conclusions. May 23 '14 at 19:16

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