An Israelite man named Elkanah lived in Ramah, a town in the hill country of Ephraim, for that was the tribe he was born to. Elkanah had a wife named Hannah, who was unable to have children. This brought Hannah great sorrow. Once a year Elkanah traveled from his hometown to Shiloh, where he worshiped Yah the All-Powerful Creator and offered sacrifices. Eli was Yah’s priest there, and his two sons Hophni and Phinehas served with him as priests as well.
One day, Elkanah was in Shiloh offering a sacrifice when Hannah began crying and refused to eat. So Elkanah asked, “Hannah, why are you crying? Why won’t you eat? Why do you feel so bad? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”
But Hannah was still sorrowful. When the sacrifice had been offered, and they had eaten the meal, Hannah got up and went to pray. Eli was sitting in his chair near the door to the place of worship.
Hannah was brokenhearted and was crying as she prayed, “Yah my strength, I am your servant, but I am so miserable! Please let me have a son. I will give him to you for as long as he lives, and his hair will never be cut.” She said this in fulfillment of a special law found in the Torah that spoke of men and woman not cutting their hair as a sign that they were set apart to Yah. That law was called the Nazirite Vow.
So Hannah prayed silently to Yah in the place of worship for a long time. But though her words were not heard, her lips were moving.
Because of this, Eli thought she may have had a lot of wine. “How long are you going to stay drunk?” he asked. “Sober up!”
“Sir, please don’t think I’m no good!” Hannah answered. “I’m not drunk, and I haven’t been drinking. But I do feel miserable and terribly upset. I’ve been praying all this time, telling Yah about my problems.”
Eli replied, “You may go home now and stop worrying. I’m sure the Elohim of Israel will answer your prayer.”
“Sir, thank you for being so kind to me,” Hannah said. Then she left, and after eating something, she felt much better.
Elkanah and his family got up early the next morning and worshiped Yah. Then they went back home to Ramah. Not long after this, Yah blessed Elkanah and Hannah with a son. Hannah named him Samuel, because Samuel sounds like the Hebrew term for “asked of Elohim,” or “heard by Elohim.”
The next time Elkanah and his family went to offer their yearly sacrifice, he took along a gift that he had promised to give to Yah. But Hannah stayed home, because she had told Elkanah, “Samuel and I won’t go until he’s old enough for me to stop nursing him. Then I’ll give him to Yah, and he can stay there at Shiloh for the rest of his life.”
“You know what’s best,” Elkanah said. “Stay here until it’s time to stop nursing him. I’m sure Yah will help you do what you have promised.” Hannah did not go to Shiloh until she stopped nursing Samuel.
When it was the time of year to go to Shiloh again, Hannah and Elkanah took Samuel to Yah’s place of worship. They brought along a three-year-old bull, a twenty-pound sack of flour, and a clay jar full of wine. Hannah and Elkanah offered the bull as a sacrifice, then they brought little Samuel to Eli.
“Sir,” Hannah said, “a few years ago I stood here beside you and asked Yah to give me a child. Here he is! Yah gave me just what I asked for. Now I am giving him to Yah, and he will be Yah’s servant for as long as he lives.”
After they worshipped Yah, Elkanah and Hannah went back home to Ramah, but the boy Samuel stayed to help Eli serve Yah.
Now, Eli’s own sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests, but they were dishonest and refused to obey Yah. They did not show any respect for the sacrifices that the people offered. This was a terrible sin, and it made Yah very angry.
But the boy, Samuel, served Yah and wore a special linen garment and the priestly clothes his mother made for him. She would bring new clothes every year, when she and her husband came to offer sacrifices at Shiloh.
Eli would always bless Elkanah and his wife and say, “Samuel was born in answer to your prayers. Now you have given him to Yah. I pray that Yah will bless you with more children to take his place.”
After Eli had blessed them, Elkanah and Hannah would return home. Yah was kind to Hannah, and she had three more sons and two daughters. But Samuel grew up at Yah’s place of worship in Shiloh.
Much later, when Eli became very old, he heard what his sons were doing to the people of Israel.
“Why are you doing these awful things?” he asked them. “I’ve been hearing nothing but complaints about you from all of Yah’s people. If you harm another person, Elohim can help make things right between the two of you. But if you commit a crime against Yah, no one can help you!” But Yah had already decided to kill Eli’s two sons for their many sins. So he hardened their hearts and kept them from listening to their father.
Meanwhile, Yah and his people liked Samuel more and more each day.
One day a prophet came to Eli and gave him this message from Yah:
“When your ancestors were slaves of the king of Egypt, I came and showed them who I am. Out of all the tribes of Israel, I chose your family to be my priests. I commanded everyone to bring their sacrifices here where I live, and I allowed you and your family to keep those that were not offered to me on the altar.
“But you honor your sons instead of me! You don’t respect the sacrifices and offerings that are brought to me, and you’ve all gotten fat from eating the best parts. I am Yah, the Elohim of Israel. I promised to always let your family serve me as priests, but now I tell you that I cannot do this any longer! I honor anyone who honors me, but I put a curse on anyone who hates me. The time will come when I will kill you and everyone else in your family. Not one of you will live to an old age.
“In fact, your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, will die on the same day. I have chosen someone else to be my priest, someone who will be faithful and obey me. I will always let his family serve as priests and help my chosen king. But if anyone is left from your family, he will come to my priest and beg for money or a little bread.”
Following this, Samuel continued to serve Yah by helping Eli the priest, who was by that time almost blind. In those days, Yah hardly ever spoke directly to people, and he did not appear to them in dreams very often. But one night, Eli was asleep in his room, and Samuel was sleeping on a mat near the sacred chest in Yah’s place of worship. They had not been asleep very long when Yah called out Samuel’s name.
“Here I am!” Samuel answered. Then he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am. What do you want?”
“I didn’t call you,” Eli answered. “Go back to bed.”
Samuel went back, but the same thing happened again. Since Yah had not spoken to Samuel before, Samuel did not recognize his voice. When Yah called out his name for the third time, Samuel went to Eli again, but Eli finally realized that it was in fact Yah who was speaking to Samuel.
So Eli said, “Go back and lie down! If someone speaks to you again, answer, ‘I’m listening, Yah. What do you want me to do?’ ”
Once again Samuel went back and lay down.
Yah then stood beside Samuel and called out as he had done before, “Samuel! Samuel!”
“I’m listening,” Samuel answered. “What do you want me to do?”
Yah said, “Samuel, I am going to do something in Israel that will shock everyone who hears about it! I will punish Eli and his family, just as I promised. He knew that his sons refused to respect me, and he let them get away with it, even though I said I would punish his family forever.”
The next morning, Samuel got up and opened the doors to Yah’s place of worship. He was afraid to tell Eli what Yah had said.
But Eli told him, “Samuel, my boy, come here! What did Elohim say to you? Tell me everything. I pray that Elohim will punish you terribly if you don’t tell me every word he said!”
After Samuel told Eli everything, Eli said, “He is Yah, and he will do what’s right.”
As Samuel grew up, Yah helped him and made everything Samuel said come true. From the town of Dan in the north to the town of Beersheba in the south, everyone in the country knew that Samuel was truly Yah’s prophet. Yah often appeared to Samuel at Shiloh and told him what to say when he would speak to the whole nation of Israel.
Yah would like to speak to you as well. But will you hear his voice, and listen to his instructions?
Read this story in: 1 Samuel chapters 1 to 3 | (Also see Numbers 6:1-21)