“the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.”
a name sounds in the echoey half-light, and a slight pattering of feet replies across stone floor and up to the sleeping bed that the boy is awed of disturbing
the old man up from sleep: “no. it wasn’t me. go back to bed.”
and then again, and again …
finally and really awake now, with strangely sharpening eyes, the same grey and resigning voice, “no. it wasn’t me. go back to bed … but if you hear a call again, say ‘speak Lord, your servant is listening.'”
The story of Samuel’s call has been in my imagination since I can remember. I used to think about it in lying in my own bed, when only one door separated the boys’ room from my parents’. I remember running there sometimes from night noises, a sudden panic, or a dream.
One or two years ago, I heard my father read it from the bible at “family prayer.” The words that set the scene are in one sense very matter-of-fact, but they immediately engulf my imagination. Everything is literal; but the phrases and details seem to possess luminous, understated depths of quiet sadness and hope which I can’t escape from hearing.
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim, so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down within the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was.
Eli lying down in the temple “in those days” when “the word of the Lord was rare” and “there was no frequent vision” is the old man of a fallen line lying down to die in a belated, dying age.
Yet, in the shadows of His house “the lamp of God had not yet gone out.”
And in its immense quiet and shelter, there is the child Samuel, “lying down within the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was.”