Once upon a time, a long while ago, when wonderful things used to happen, there was a man named Elkanah, and his wife, Hannah, who lived in the hill-country of Ephraim.
Hannah loved children very much indeed. But she had no little children of her own, although she wanted one very much.
Those were the days when people were beginning to learn that all good things are given by the Heavenly Father. Hannah knew this, too, and while she worked she prayed that God would give her a little child. After she had made this prayer many times, God answered it. A little boy was born to Elkanah and Hannah. They named him Samuel, which means "name of God," because he had come in answer to his mother's prayer.
As Samuel grew from a baby to a little boy, good and strong, and a comfort to his father and mother, Hannah thought a great deal about what he should do, and be, when he grew up. Every year Elkanah and Hannah made a journey to the temple, where the old priest Eli was, to make an offering to the Lord. When Samuel was grown, and it drew near time to go again to the temple, Hannah said to herself:
"For this child I prayed, and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him. I will bring him that he may appear before the Lord forever."
So Hannah took Samuel, who was still only a little boy, to the temple, and gave him to the old priest, Eli, to be his helper in the house of the Lord. Although Hannah loved little Samuel so much, she knew that the best thing that he could do would be to serve Eli there in the temple.
It was a very great, still place, this temple. It was different from the white house in the hills with vines and flowering trees about it that had been Samuel's home. His father and mother left him, after they had made their offering of three bullocks and some meal and the juice of the grape. Samuel never saw his mother, Hannah, again, except once a year when she came to bring him a new little robe to wear. The linen of this she had spun and woven with her own hands. And there was no other child there with Samuel.
The priest Eli became very old. His own sons had left him; and Samuel found a great deal to do to help him. At last there came a time when Eli's eyes grew so dim, that he was not able to see whether the lamp that was always kept lighted in the temple, night and day, was burning or not. So Samuel kept watch of the lamp, and slept, every night, in the great, dim temple where the ark of God was.
It was a very lonely, cold place for a little boy to stay alone at night. The tall stone pillars cast long shadows on the floor that trembled, and moved, and seemed almost alive. Samuel could be very brave and not miss his mother too much in the daytime, when the sun shone, and everything was bright. But at night he was like any other little boy. Samuel was afraid of the dark, and it seemed to him that, he could not stay, all by himself, there in the temple.
One night as Samuel lay in the dark of the temple, but not sleeping, because he was afraid, he was suddenly startled to hear a voice calling to him.
"Samuel, Samuel," called the voice.
"Here am I!" Samuel answered. He jumped up, ran in to Eli, and said, "Here am I, for you called me."
But Eli said, "I did not call you, Samuel. Lie down again."
So Samuel went and lay down; but soon he heard the voice again, calling to him.
So Samuel ran again to Eli and awoke him, and said, "Here am I. You called me."
But Eli said, "I called you not, my son. Lie down again."
Now Samuel did not yet know the voice of the Lord, or he might not have been so afraid. He went back into the dark temple and lay down, and tried to go to sleep for the third time. But a third time he, heard the voice calling to him, "Samuel, Samuel!"
"Eli, Eli, here I am. You did call me!" he cried, as he ran again into the old priest's room. And now Eli understood that it had been the voice of God speaking to Samuel. So he said to the little boy:
"Go, lie down: and it shall be, if He
call thee, that thou shalt say, 'Speak, Lord,
for Thy servant
And the Lord came, and stood, and called as at other times, "Samuel, Samuel." Then Samuel answered, bravely, as Eli had told him to, "Speak, for Thy servant heareth." And the Lord talked to Samuel a long time in the temple, telling him true and wonderful things.
Samuel listened, and understood. After the voice had stopped speaking, he felt comforted, and no longer afraid, or lonely. He knew then that he was never alone, for his Heavenly Father was with him, even in the dark. So he slept without any fear until it was morning, and time to open the doors of the house of the Lord.
And Samuel grew, and the Lord always spoke with him, and all Israel knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of their God.
Like as a father pitieth his children,
So the Lord pitieth them that fear him.
—Psalms ciii. 13.