He was such a pretty little fellow with dancing black eyes and curly head, and he was going on a journey with his parents, Elkanah and Hannah. It was his first journey, and he could hardly wait for them to start. A few hours is a long time to a boy only three years old. His mother, Hannah, stopped suddenly in her packing and, running out to him, hugged and kissed him until he struggled to be free. Then Elkanah, his father, took him in his arms and acted as if he never wanted to put him down again.
The servants were busy yoking the oxen and saddling the donkeys. There was no express in those days. When people traveled, donkeys or camels had to carry great bags filled with whatever they needed. The family rode in the ox-cart or walked. I think sometimes they walked in order to rest, for the carts had no springs and must have jounced and jolted them terribly. But as they knew no better way of traveling, they were content and probably thought they were very fortunate to have such a fine ox-cart to ride in.
Our little black-eyed boy danced about, clapping his hands and shouting to the oxen or stopping a moment to pat the sleek sides of the gentle donkeys. His mother was hugging a little frock she had made him, and her lips moved as she carefully folded it away in the big bundle which served these people as a trunk. And his father said, ” Jehovah bless him!” as the bundle was tied together and hoisted on a donkey’s back. Our little lad was going with his parents, but he would not come back with them. He was to stay in the temple with the priests and wear the tiny dress his mother had packed so carefully.
These people were Israelites, and they lived so long ago that if it were not for our Bible, and the stones or bricks that people have found buried in the ground and covered with curious writing, we should never have known anything about them. They lived in Ramah, among the hills of Ephraim, and they were going to Shiloh, where the temple of God was, to offer the yearly sacrifice. The baby was not to be left behind because his parents were too poor to care for him, for they had many cattle, and sheep, and everything which in that time made people rich. They were going to leave him because his mother had promised Jehovah before he was born that she would give the child to the Lord and that he should serve in the temple of Jehovah all the days of his life.
“Why did she do that?” you ask. “Didn’t she love children?”
Yes, she loved children very much, but she had never had any of her own. Elkanah’s other wifefor in those days a man had more than one wifehad several children. This disturbed Hannah and made her very unhappy when they all, big people and little people, went once a year to Shiloh to worship and to sacrifice in the temple. Her husband loved her more than he loved his other wife, Peninnah, but this did not satisfy Hannah, for what she wanted more than anything else she did not have. We all know how it feels, don’t we, to want some-thing very, very much and not get it? We even forget at these times the good things we already have.
At one time when she was in Shiloh she had grieved so much that she could not eat, and Elkanah tried to comfort her by saying, “Am not I better to thee than ten sons?” But Hannah would not be comforted. She deter-mined to go to the temple alone while Peninnah and her children were enjoying the gifts which Elkanah always gave them at the time of the yearly sacrifices. Hannah had her share of gifts also, but when one’s heart is as sad as hers presents don’t make one happy.
Hannah had learned that God was the real helper of His people and that He was always ready to give good things to them that asked Him. She remembered the stories her mother had told her of Jehovah’s feeding and caring for her people during their forty years in the wilderness and how many times He had delivered them from their enemies. She was in trouble. Jehovah had promised to help. She had been taught that she should always keep her promises, and why shouldn’t she expect God to keep His ?
She would try, anyway. One other thing she intended to do: she would not be selfish in her prayer, but was willing to give all she had, if it was necessary, to win from God the blessing she craved. As she stood praying at the temple door she did not see Eli, the high priest, watching her and wondering why her lips moved when she did not speak. But when he said to her, ” How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee,” Hannah answered:
” I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit : I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before Jehovah.”
Would you like to know what it was that Hannah prayed with her heart when her lips were silent? She did not waste any words but asked at once for what she wanted. If Jehovah knew her need and would give to her the gift that she asked, why trouble Him with words?
Hannah’s prayer and vow were, ” O Jehovah of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thy handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thy handmaid, but wilt give unto thy handmaid a man-child, then I will give him unto Jehovah all the days of his life.”
She would not ask to keep him with her as other mothers did. She would be glad to give back to the Lord the child that He gave to her, and all his life he should serve in God’s temple.
When she left the temple after her prayer, Eli gave her his blessing, saying, “Go in peace; and the God of Israel grant thy petition that thou hast asked of Him,” Hannah had come in sorrowful and she went out glad. Her prayer, she knew, had been heard and Jehovah would answer. She “went her way, and did eat; and her countenance was no more sad.” In other words, her face was changed.
Do you remember the different persons in the Bible whose faces changed? Moses, when he came down from the mount with the law, put a veil over his face because it shone so. The face of Jesus was changed on the mount of Trans-figuration. And Stephen the martyr had such a radiant expression when She was being stoned that even his enemies said he had the face of an angel.
What made them shine? The next time you see anyone whose face looks as though it had a light behind it, ask him, for such a person is the only one who will be able to tell you.
Another year passed, and again all the family went to Shiloh except Hannah. The answer to her prayerher little son Samuelhad come, and he was too small a baby to take on so long a journey. She would not go up to Shiloh again until he was weaned; that is, until he was about three years old.
Now you know that the little black-eyed fellow in such a hurry to start on his first journey was Samuel and that the time had come for his mother to fulfill her vow. All the family went up together to Shiloh, the one wife with her many children, who would all return with her, and Hannah with her only child, who would be left behind.
Hannah’s face, I am sure, was still shining. God kept His promises; why should she be sad? Also on her journey to the temple she must have been thinking of the great man she wanted her son to be. And had she not made him a tiny dress that was now carefully folded away in that big bundle, a dress exactly like the robe of the high priest, which none but he ever wore ?
And every year when she should visit him she would bring him another, just like the first, but larger.
Three years and more had passed since Hannah had stood praying at the temple door. Eli might not remember her, so she said to him, ” My lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto Jehovah. For this child I prayed; and Jehovah hath given me my petition which I asked of Him; therefore also I have granted him to Jehovah.”
Then the tiny lad said his prayer, or, as the Bible says, “worshipped Jehovah there.” His mother had taught him to pray and told him that prayers were answered, therefore he must be careful for what he prayed. She remembered how her people, the Israelites, had asked a favor of God, something they were better off without, and “He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul.”
Hannah had more faith in good than she had fear of evil, for the three priests with whom she left the child were bad men. Eli was so weak that his two wicked sons did just as they pleased. He meant well and preferred to live right, but when he allowed himself to be ruled by his sons, things went just as wrong as though he was wicked himself. He found out later that it is not good intentions but good acts that please God, and also please people. He often told his sons that they were wicked and should do better, but as he never did anything but find fault with them they only laughed and kept growing worse.
He was like a boy who was asked to help some of the younger children with their lessons. When a child misspelled a word or put down a wrong figure, he would say, ” That is wrong. You should not do that,” but let the mistake go without correcting it.
These conditions did not disturb Hannah. If God had given her the child, God was certainly able to care for him. And she, like David, had faith in an invisible Power, and knew that three priests disobeying God’s laws were not as powerful as one person obeying those laws, even if that one were only a little child. Samuel had been taught to obey and always obeyed, as we know from the words he spoke years afterward to the rebellious King Saul: “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” You have heard many times that ” he who would command must first learn to obey.” So Hannah, desiring her son to be a great man with power, began in the right way to have it so.
Our little boy was given a cot in the temple near where Eli slept. At first he was too small to be very useful, but as he grew older he opened the doors of the temple at sunrise and closed them again as the sun set. Also at night he kept bright the lights that burned in the great seven-branched candlestick that was almost as tall as his father, and was careful that the center light burned until morning. Eli loved the little fellow for he gave him an ephod to wear. An ephod was worn only by the high priest. If you take a long linen towel and fold it in the middle, then cut it in two along this fold, fasten it together on the shoulders with jeweled clasps, letting one piece cover the back, the other hang down in front, you will have something like an ephod. For the high priest these ephods were of finer linen than the ephods that other people sometimes were allowed to wear. Its colors were gold, blue, purple, and scarlet, with a girdle of the same material embroidered in the same pattern. Two onyx stones were engraved with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, six names for each shoulder.
Whenever the high priest stood before Jehovah he carried all Israel on his shoulders. His prayers must not be selfish; he must remember his people when he prayed. Praying, you see, was made a responsibility. The little boy who had been taught to listen, and to obey when he heard, must have known all about these shoulder stones which fastened his ephod, and have realized that in order to please Jehovah he must ask blessings for others as well as for himself. That he did so we know, for the Bible says of him, “And the child Samuel grew on, and increased in favor both with Jehovah, and also with men.”
Samuel was about twelve years old when a prophet came to the temple and warned Eli that, because of his weakness and his sons’ wickedness, Jehovah would take the priesthood from them and give it to, some one who was worthy. Eli was disturbed only a little. Members of his family had held the priesthood for so long that he thought they would always have it, but he had to learn that the only way to keep anything is to deserve it. Poor, kind-hearted Eli, wanting to do right but without the strength to do it, got himself, his sons, and his people into much trouble. The people had noticed the difference between the high priest’s family and the boy Samuel. What power was it, they thought, that kept this child from evil ways? Could it be that Jehovah was with him? They began to believe so. Though only twelve years old, the boy was able to show them all what real faith in Jehovah did for one.
Our little lad, without knowing it, had taught the people a lesson, and soon he was to teach one to Eli. If the priests had forgotten Jehovah, is it a wonder that most of the people had? “The word of Jehovah was precious (not often heard) in those days; there was no frequent, well-known vision.”
At last the night came when the boy Samuel heard and obeyed the voice of God. He had closed the temple doors that evening and had seen that the seven lights of the golden candle-stick were burning. Like the boys of his day, he loved the stars. The traveler at night had no other guide, and Samuel loved to watch the stars and wonder if they were eyes through which Jehovah looked in the darkness to see that no harm came to the earth while the sun was gone. He knew that the color of the ephod he wore was like that of the sky which held the stars, and that the twinkling stars themselves shone as brightly as the ephod’s gold. Perhaps he felt what David said later: “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Having such thoughts as these, do you wonder that he heard, God’s voice? Such thinking is really listening to God, but he did not know it.
Are you surprised that God did not speak to Eli or to his sons, the priests of the temple, instead of to this young lad? Do you like to talk to people who are not listening to you? If one is not listening he cannot hear, can he? Samuel was listening; Eli and his sons were not. The sons had forgotten all about Jehovah’s laws, while Eli knew that he had disobeyed them and deserved punishment.
How still and peaceful the night was as Eli and Samuel lay asleep ! Eli perhaps had uneasy dreams about his sons ; Samuel lay in the sound sleep of a healthy boy. Then suddenly the child heard his name called, ” Samuel, Samuel,” and thinking that Eli needed him, he jumped from his bed and ran to Eli, saying, “Here am I; for thou calledst me.” Eli did not like having his sleep disturbed so soon, so he said shortly, ” I called not; lie down again.”
“Samuel, Samuel,” called the voice again, and the boy once more went to Eli with the same cheery greeting, “Here am I.” This time Eli was awake and answered more pleasantly, for he called Samuel “my son,” but again he told the child to lie down as he had not spoken. Perhaps by this time he was wondering what the boy had heard. He did not have long to wait, for soon the lad returned, insisting that Eli had called him. Eli knew now that Jehovah had spoken to Samuel. He knew the place for God to speak was in His own temple, and the lad was the only one in that temple who had ears to hear. So he said, ” Go, lie down; and it shall be, if He call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Jehovah; for Thy servant heareth.”
Poor Eli, telling a little child to do what he knew how to do but had not done ! Eli meant to do right, but did wrong. At that hour did he grieve because he had lost the power to hear God’s voice, and did he see in the call of this little child that the priesthood had indeed passed from himself and his sons?
There was nothing unusual in God’s calling Samuel. Everyone in Israel had been taught that Jehovah was always calling to His people. Had not Moses told them, “The word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart?” The unusual thing was listening and obeying when one heard.
When Samuel heard his name spoken again, he answered bravely, “Speak; for thy servant heareth.”
Have any of you boys or girls noticed the different ways that people answer when their names are called? Some drawl, others mumble, while often you hear a cheery, quick response like Samuel’s. I say he answered bravely, because when one replies as he did it means that he is not afraid of anything he may be asked to do. To the waiting, listening lad came the warning to Eli’s housethat same warning which only a short time before the strange prophet had spoken to the high priest : ” Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle. In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from the beginning even unto the end. For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever, for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons did bring a curse upon themselves, and he restrained them not. And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated with sacrifice nor offering for ever.”
All night the boy lay quietly thinking, sorry for Eli, whom he loved, and who was kind if he was weak. He knew he must tell the high priest what God’s law does to the disobedient, but he was unhappy that he must take such a message to his friend. Soon the stars began to grow dim and rosy streaks shot across the sky. Samuel knew them well, for he had watched for them every morning for many years and knew when they came it was time to open the temple doors. The scarlet in his ephod was like these crimson tongues of cloud, and the blue of the morning sky was like the ephod’s blue.
Samuel did not rush to Eli the first thing in the morning and deliver his message. He had it to do and would not flinch, but his love for Eli made him wait until the high priest spoke.
“Samuel, my son,” said Eli, and the cheery, honest voice of the little lad rang out, “Here am I.”
“What is the thing that Jehovah hath spoken unto thee? I pray thee, hide it not from me: God do so to thee, and more also, if thou hide anything from me of all the things that He spake unto thee.”
Samuel answered. He loved the truth and he obeyed, so he gave to Eli the messageall of it. The spirit he gave it in must have been kinder than that of the strange prophet, for Eli listened to the boy; he had not listened to the prophet. The words were bitter but the spirit was kind, and Eli knew the judgment against himself and his sons was just, so he accepted it, saying, “It is Jehovah; let Him do what seemeth Him good.”
By the boy at his side Eli had been taught a lesson in fearless obedience to the truth. He had never corrected his sons, but this child, obeying what he knew to be right, had corrected Eli, although it must have been as hard for the boy to rebuke the teacher he loved as it was for Eli to correct his sons.
What became of Samuel? He “grew, and Jehovah was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan even to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of Jehovah.”
All his mother’s prayers for him were answered, and he became the last and the greatest judge of Israel and the first of the great prophets. She must have taught her other sons and daughters she had several children after Samuelthat same lesson, that “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.”