I’ve been, these past weeks, getting to know the boy Samuel. I’ve hovered over and dipped into the early chapters of the first book of Samuel for a very long time now.
Once in a while I read the whole thing. And another day just a little bit seems to rise off the page to meet me.
Now and again I’ll even pull a commentary or read an article.
But I always end up back just chewing the text. None of the learned ones have managed to explain, at least to my satisfaction, what puzzles me most about the boy Samuel.
Samuel, the one for whom his mother ached and yearned for years. Her grief grew deeper whilst the other wife, blind in her abundance, shamed her for her emptiness ’til food tasted like sand. And small comfort, her husband, though he loved her most, failed to grasp her longing, and sought to fill her ache with richer servings on her plate.
This same Samuel, he no sooner arrived wailing newborn promise to flood her parched places when she stretched arms to the sky with the boy in her hands and gave him back to the Giver.
This was no lip-serving baby dedication, but a heart-ripping surrender of all she’d lived to gain and all she’d die to herself to lose.
She’d trust the Giver to take all.
She’d trust the Giver to take well.
This is the riddle, the thing wise scholars with their many degrees and lifetimes of study cannot open to me.
In days when the word of the Lord was precious for its scarcity, in days when He did not often reveal Himself as plain as day, He came to the temple recognized neither by Eli the priest, nor by the one to whom He called by name.
Samuel would hear his name float through the temple chambers and think it to be his master Eli. And Eli would think it no more than a tired child’s teasing dream, a nuisance to wake him from slumber.
Eli had drifted, no longer recognizing his Master’s voice. But Samuel, in the tenderness of his years, had not yet heard the voice. Never had he heard his Master’s whisper or bellow, song or lament.
His heart did not know the very One whom he served.
How can this be?
How can it be that the boy clad in a linen ephod could still not know the One for whom he was born to live, surrounded as he was with all that pointed Godward, the candles and flame and incense and parchment and sacrifice?
I do know how. But then, I don’t know how.
This mystery latches on to the next. How should the very first words to ring in a boy’s untested ears be for the coming destruction of his teacher’s priestly family line?
How should the first words a boy hears from his Master, his Life-Giver, be the kind that send him back to his blankets, hiding away in the night lest his teacher ask him for the painful saying?
These words, sometimes they leave me crawling back to my bed too, lying down until morning, hoping none ask.
For sometimes, despite how He lays out out His precious word before me day after day after day, I haven’t any idea what He just said.
From the archives.