Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

(Eli and Samuel, John Singleton Copley)

1 Samuel 2:11-21:

Then Elkanah went home to Ramah, while the boy remained to minister to the Lord, in the presence of the priest Eli. Now the sons of Eli were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord or for the duties of the priests to the people. When anyone offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come, while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand, and he would thrust it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot; all that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is what they did at Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there. Moreover, before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the one who was sacrificing, “Give meat for the priest to roast; for he will not accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.” And if the man said to him, “Let them burn the fat first, and then take whatever you wish,” he would say, “No, you must give it now; if not, I will take it by force.” Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord; for they treated the offerings of the Lord with contempt. Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy wearing a linen ephod. His mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year, when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the Lord repay you with children by this woman for the gift that she made to the Lord”; and then they would return to their home. And the Lord took note of Hannah; she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. And the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.

For our last reflection on this meditation, before I move on to the other meditation in the Advent Quiet Morning I attended, let's turn our attention to those yearly trips Hannah and Elkanah made to the temple every year.

In my mind's eye, I see Hannah making Samuel that little robe every year before their trip. Maybe she worked on it all year long, putting intricate little stitches in it, or some beadwork. There had to be a certain amount of faith in making this garment--she would have no idea how much Samuel would grow from year to year--she had to make her best guess. Of course, with a robe she had a little leeway. Maybe she took the time to put large hems in the bottom and the sleeves and a couple of darts in the shoulders so it could be "let out" if he had a growth spurt.

But I have no doubt Hannah's mind was frequently imagining Samuel carrying out his duties in the temple, wearing the robe. Perhaps, as the year rolled on, Elkanah thought about which animals from his flocks and herds would be the choicest sacrifices. But much of their thoughts surely were on their son.

What kind of priest was he growing into? Surely Hannah and Elkanah had seen the behavior of Eli's less-than-scrupulous sons. I imagine sometimes they simply prayed that Samuel would be spared picking up bad habits from them. Did Hannah worry that one of them would lay claim to the robe Hannah was making? Did Elkanah sometimes have second thoughts about bringing the choicest offerings, knowing Eli's sons were likely to take more than their fair share for themselves?

I imagine there were times Hannah and Elkanah became concerned about Samuel's upbringing in that environment, and I imagine more than once, they mulled the possibility of bringing him home with them. Especially Hannah.

How many times on that long trip to the temple, did Hannah think to herself, "This is the year I am bringing him home with us. I'm worried he's not being treated well. I'm worried he is learning wicked practices from those sons. Maybe I made a mistake, leaving him there. I mean, you know, I'm his mother, for cryin' out loud. I have a right to rear my son. I'm not asking anything that any parent doesn't have a right to do. How do I know those sons haven't been a bad influence on him?"

Perhaps she and Elkanah even rehearsed what they'd say to get him back, what would work--or even how to kidnap him back.

Meanwhile, I wouldn't be surprised if, as that time of year approached, Eli had similar worries. "What if they want him back for themselves this year? That boy is such a comfort to me. He's so precocious. He learns so quickly. He doesn't even know himself what a gift he has been for me. What if they ask? Do I assert my authority, or am I better served just caving in to them?"

But my guess is, when Hannah and Elkanah saw Samuel up on the altar--particularly when Hannah saw him in his little ephod, in the robe she had lovingly made for him, serving the priests and caring for Eli with love--their hearts melted, and they realized that he belonged up there on the altar. It would be wrong to expect to bring him back home. Hannah's heart was both stabbed and healed. She would not be bringing him home...but to see him on the altar, and growing into his future was a joy in itself. She had done the right thing in giving him to God and God's service.

Eli probably felt grateful every year he was allowed to keep Samuel without much fuss or difficulty. He tried to communicate that in the strength of the blessing he gave Hannah and Elkanah.

We've all had those second thoughts about the things we've earnestly left on the altar. It's human nature.

At the time we gave those things to God, we were ready and willing. But over time, sometimes we have second thoughts about that. We might even have, in a drama-laden moment, taken those things back, literally yanking them off the altar and saying, "I've got a right to control this, and I'm going to control it!"

Part of our growth as children of God is to develop the eyesight to see what Hannah and Elkanah might have seen--to see what belongs on the altar for what it is. Just as I imagine they saw Samuel as really no longer belonging to them, but to God--to see that he "fit" in that place he was--so we are invited to see the things we have left upon the altar with the same holy reality--that these things "fit" the altar, and they no longer fit within the realm of our control.

Samuel grew in stature and wisdom because he was allowed to stay at the altar, where he belonged. The things we leave at the altar will also change, although we may not see it that way at first. They no longer belong to us, and seeing that, is a gift.



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I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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