It was some years after Ruth's son had been born in Bethlehem that another mother was made glad by the precious gift of a little son. This mother's name was Hannah, and her baby was a special joy to her because she had so longed to have a son and had prayed so earnestly to God for this great gift.
There was no doubt about the baby's name. He was called |Samuel,| which means |God has heard.|
[Illustration: |Samuel answered, Speak; for Thy servant heareth.| 1 Sam. iii.10.]
For had not God listened to his mother's prayers and given her her heart's desire?
[Illustration: The time came that she should take him to Eli.]
Hannah held her baby close in her arms. He was her very own, and yet he belonged also to God. She had promised, if her prayer was heard, that she would lend him to God, to serve Him in His Holy Temple.
Only for a little while could she keep the baby all to herself. The months passed and then the years, and Samuel grew old enough to run about and take care of himself, needing no longer to be carried in his mother's arms. Then the time came that she should take him to Eli, the priest of God, and leave him to be brought up in the Temple and taught to be a servant of God.
Perhaps at first Samuel cried for his mother, for he was only a very little boy, and must have felt strange and lonely without her; but he very soon grew happy again, and learnt to love the old priest and the new life. It was his mother who suffered most. She missed him so sorely, and mothers do not forget as quickly as children do. But although she had lent him to God, he was still hers too; and every year she went back to see him, and through the long months in between, her fingers were busy making him a little coat of a beautiful blue stuff, sewed with a border of exquisite embroidery, blue and purple and scarlet, that was like a wreath of pomegranates. Just as certain as his birthday came round his mother came and brought with her his little coat, and as he grew bigger every year the coat was bigger too.
Now, as soon as Samuel was old enough he went with Eli, the old priest, into God's house to learn how to help in God's service. Just as we sometimes see now a very little boy helping the priest at God's altar, so Samuel was like a little server as he helped Eli, and he too wore a linen surplice, or ephod as it was called.
Although he was such a little boy, Samuel already showed that he was straightforward, brave, and obedient, a boy who could be trusted. He did his work faithfully, and when Eli began to grow feeble and his sight became dim, the little server was ready with his clear sight and eager footsteps to be both eyes and feet to the old priest.
But besides growing old and feeble, Eli was also growing more and more unhappy day by day. His two sons were wicked and disobedient, and, what was worse, they were teaching God's people to be wicked too. Eli would not punish them as they deserved, so at last the time came when God took the punishment into His own hands. Only He would warn Eli before-hand, for the old priest was His servant.
So one night God's message came, spoken by God's own voice -- spoken not to the great priest, but to the humble little server.
It was evening time. All the work of the day was over, and Eli had gone to rest. The lamp in the temple was burning dimly, sometimes flickering as if it would go out altogether, and leave the holy place in darkness. Samuel, tired with his day's service, was fast asleep, when suddenly he woke up, startled and attentive. Some one had called his name: |Samuel, Samuel.|
|Here am I,| answered the boy at once. Perhaps the old priest was ill, and wanted him. Hastily Samuel slipped out of bed, and ran to Eli. But the old man was lying there quite calmly, and when Samuel asked why he had called, he answered quietly, |I called not; lie down again.|
It was very strange; but perhaps he had been dreaming, so Samuel went back and crept into bed, and very soon was once more fast asleep. Then again the voice came: |Samuel.| This time Samuel was sure it was no dream, and he ran to Eli and cried to him, |Here am I, for thou didst call me.|
|I called not, my son,| said Eli. |Lie down again.|
But when it happened a third time, and the little white figure stood by the priest's bed, declaring positively, |Thou didst call me,| Eli suddenly realized that perhaps it was God whose voice the boy had heard.
|Go, lie down,| he said gently to the bewildered child, |and it shall be if He call thee that thou shalt say, 'Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.'|
One great lesson Samuel had learnt, and that was to do exactly what he was told, never questioning. So now he went back to bed without another word.
Did Eli mean that it was the Lord who had called him? The great God who was so wonderful, whose Ark was in the Holy Place behind the veil of blue and purple and scarlet, guarded by cherubim? He had only seemed like a far-off name to Samuel. Could it really be God's own voice that had called Samuel? If that was so, then the great unknown God must all the time have known the little servant in His house.
Then again the voice sounded: |Samuel, Samuel.|
This time Samuel was listening with all his might, and obediently his answer rang out fearlessly and clearly --
|Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.|
[Illustration: |I called not, my son.|]
God knew that His little servant was fit to be trusted with a message, although it was a terrible one; and He told Samuel that a dreadful punishment was to fall upon the old priest Eli and his wicked sons, and so awful would it be that even the ears of the people who heard about it should tingle.
There was no more sleep for Samuel that night. God's voice rang in his ears; his heart was filled with the thought that Eli would ask him what God had said, and he would have to tell him that dreadful message.
At last the morning light began to steal in, and it was time to open the doors of God's house. The little server in his linen ephod was at his post as usual, but to-day his shining morning face was clouded and troubled, and there must have been a look of awe in his clear eyes.
The call he dreaded came all too soon, and for the first time the sound of Eli's voice was unwelcome in his ears.
|Samuel, my son,| called the old man.
Immediately Samuel went and stood at his side, |Here am I,| he said.
|What is it that the Lord hath said unto thee?| asked Eli. His eyes were very dim, but he felt sure that the boy had a troubled and fearful look. |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 said unto thee.|
The very worst must be told, and Samuel knew he must hide nothing now. He repeated God's message word for word, and Eli bowed his head as he listened. The poor old priest had been a weak father, but he was a faithful servant, and knew that God was just.
|It is the Lord,| he said: |let Him do what seemeth Him good.|
From that day all things were different to Samuel, and year by year as he grew older he learned more and more to love and serve the God who had spoken to him and trusted him. So also as the years went by the people who worshipped at the Temple began to know that the little child who had been such a faithful server was chosen for a post of great honour -- that he had been called, indeed, to be a prophet of the Lord.
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