The Childhood of Samuel

In the days when the temple or tabernacle was at Shiloh—a little town on a rounded rocky hill encircled by hills yet steeper, and by deep valleys on all sides but the south—Eli and his two sons were priests of the Lord. And there lived then in Ramah a man whose name was Elkanah. He had two wives, one of them named Hannah and the other named Peninnah. Now Peninnah had children; they were her pride, her love and delight. But Hannah had no children.

The village of Ramah, with its low white-walled houses, lay in a wild region, also among hills, the hills of Samaria, green with woods that fringed the swift waters of streams never dry. And year by year Elkanah with his whole household used to journey from Ramah to Shiloh, which lay about twelve miles distant, to worship at the temple, bringing with him his offering for the sacrifice, as did all the faithful in Israel.

At the feast that followed the sacrifice, he divided the good things among his household, his children and his servants. He gave to each one of them according to his share; but to Hannah he gave more than to the others, for he loved her very dearly. When Peninnah saw this she was filled with jealousy. She hated Hannah for her gentleness and beauty, and because Elkanah loved her. And she never ceased to fret and pester her, and to taunt her because she had no children. She made her life a burden and Hannah knew not where to go to hide her grief and to be out of hearing of Peninnah’s bitter tongue; for, of all things in the world, the one secret desire of her heart was that she might have a son.

Now one day, at the usual season of the year, when Elkanah and his household were gone down to the temple at Shiloh and were together at the feast, Hannah sat weeping apart from them. Her heart was forlorn within her, and she could neither eat nor drink, for sorrow. Peninnah’s smiling face was dark with scorn; but her husband who could not bear to see Hannah unhappy, drew her apart to comfort her.

‘Tell me, Hannah,’ he said, ‘why are thou weeping? And why dost thou not eat and rejoice with us? Come now, dry thy tears and grieve no more. Am I not better to thee even than ten sons!’

Hannah tried in vain to smile at her husband, but his love and gentleness seemed only to make her burden more difficult to bear. She rose up and left him in haste and fled away to the temple to pray.

There she found herself alone, except only that Eli the High Priest was seated not far distant in his chair, and near the pillar that stood before the entering-in of the temple. And as Hannah prayed, she wept bitterly and she poured out all her troubles; and in her longing she vowed a vow to the Lord.

‘O Lord of Hosts,’ she said, ‘I beseech thee to look in pity upon me. To remember me and not forget me. Thou knowest all things, and in what trouble I am. If only, O Lord God, thou wouldst of thy compassion give me a son, then I myself would give him back to thee, and would devote him to thy service his whole life long. I entreat thee to take pity on me, for my sorrow is almost greater than I can bear.’

She continued to pray, and Eli, the High Priest, being seated at but a little distance from her, could see the changing expressions on her face. Her lips moved, but he could hear no words, only the sound of her weeping, for she prayed silently in her heart. And she looked so wretched and so woebegone that he thought she was drunken with wine. At last in his anger he rebuked her, accusing her, and bidding her go away and hide her shame.

Hannah stayed her tears and drew near. ‘Indeed and indeed, my lord, it is not so,’ she said. ‘I entreat thee not to think such shame of me. I have not tasted wine to-day, but being in great trouble I came here alone to pray. It is because my spirit is cast down with sorrow that I have been weeping; but I have poured out my soul before the Lord and he has comforted me.’

When Eli heard this and looked into her face, he knew that what she had said was the truth, and he reproached himself for having spoken harshly to her. He smiled at her tenderly and lifted up his hands in blessing. ‘Go in peace,’ he said, ‘and may the Lord God of Israel have compassion upon thee and grant thee thy petition.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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