When Eli the high-priest was judge in Israel, there was a man named Elkanah, who went every year from the city of Ramath, where he lived, to offer up a sacrifice at the tabernacle at Shiloh. He had a wife named Hannah, whom he loved very much, but she was not happy, because God had not given her any children. In her sorrow she came to the tabernacle and prayed, and made a vow that if God would give her a son she would consecrate him to the service of God all his life, and he should assist the high-priest in the sacrifices.
As she was praying and weeping, Eli the high-priest thought she had drunk too much wine, and he reproached her for it.
"Nay," said Hannah, "I have not drunk wine, but I am in great sorrow because I have no child, and I pray God to give me one."
Then Eli spoke kindly to her, and said that God would surely hear her prayer and give her a son.
And indeed not long after a son was born to her, and she called his name Samuel, which means, Asked of God. She did not forget her promise, for when he was old enough she brought him to the tabernacle to serve the Lord there. And God afterwards gave her other children, sons and daughters.
Eli had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who were priests, but were very wicked men. All the people cried out against them, and Eli also mourned over their wickedness, and feared greatly that some punishment would be inflicted on them by the Lord.
One night Samuel, who was then twelve years of age, heard the voice of God
calling him by name as he slept. And he woke up and ran to Eli, thinking it was
he who had called him. But Eli
"I did not call; lie down again."
Twice more did the voice call to Samuel, and each time the boy rose and went to
Eli. The third time Eli said to
"Indeed, my son, I was silent now as before; it is God who is calling to thee. Go, therefore, lie down, and if He call thee again, say, Speak, Lord, Thy servant heareth."
And the voice did call him again, and Samuel answered as Eli had bidden. Then the Lord spoke, and said that a great misfortune would happen to the Israelites, that they would be defeated by their enemies, and that the two sons of Eli would be killed, because they were wicked and their father had not punished them as they had deserved.
Samuel was very sad when he heard this, and he would not have told it to Eli, but that Eli obliged him to do so. Then the father knew that his sons must die, and that the Lord was displeased with him also; and he was much grieved.
Shortly afterwards the Philistines made war upon the Israelites, and defeated them in a great battle. Four thousand were slain, and the rest retreated to the camp in disorder. The Israelites thought that if they sent for the ark, and took it with them the next time they fought, they would be victorious. So the ark was sent to the camp, and Hophni and Phinehas accompanied it, because their father was too old to come. Before they set out, Eli told them that if the ark was taken, and they came back without it, he would not receive them. The arrival of the ark gave great joy to the Israelites, and the Philistines were afraid when they heard of it. But both sides found they were mistaken, one in its joy and the other in its fear. For in the next battle the Philistines conquered again. They slew thirty thousand of the Israelites, among whom were the sons of Eli, and the ark itself fell into their hands.
A man of the tribe of Benjamin, who had escaped with difficulty from the field of battle, brought to Shiloh the news of this great defeat, and of the loss of the ark. The whole city was full of lamentations. Eli the high-priest, who was sitting on a high throne at one of the gates, heard these cries and knew that some great calamity had happened. He sent for the messenger to come to him. And when he learned of the defeat of the Israelites he was not surprised, though he grieved greatly, because the Lord had prepared him to expect these things. But when he was told of the loss of the ark, he fell off from his seat to the ground and died, for his grief was greater than he could bear. He was ninety-eight years of age, and had ruled forty years.