Hannah was one of the two wives of a man named Elkanah. This family lived in Ramah and each year they would make a religious pilgrimage to the Hebrew shrine at Shiloh to offer sacrifices to God. The ark of the covenant was enshrined in this location so it was a very special place for the Hebrews.
Now Hannah was childless while Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, had children. Because of this, Peninnah thought of herself as the favorite of her husband and especially favored by God. She would taunt and provoke Hannah because of her barrenness. The people at that time thought that not having children was a great misfortune. Hannah was therefore a very unhappy and miserable person. On one of the pilgrimages to Shiloh she was especially despondent about her not having a child. Her husband gave the best of the offerings to his other wife and one small portion to Hannah. In her desperation she went into the shrine to pray.
In her prayer she made a vow to God and it read, “O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thy maidservant, and remember me, and not forget thy maid’ servant, but wilt give to this maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.” (I Sam. 1:11)
While Hannah was praying, Eli, the priest, came in and saw her. He saw her lips moving but heard no sound. He thought she was drunk and accused her of it. But Hannah poured out her heart to Eli and told him of her vow to God. Eli, realizing she was not drunk, gave her his blessing, saying, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have made to him.” (I Sam. 1:17) This assurance brought joy to the heart of Hannah and she did leave in peace. The petition was granted, Hannah gave birth to a male child, and she named him Samuel, because she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.” When he was weaned, she brought him to Eli as she had promised. Every year she looked forward to the pilgrimage to Shiloh to see her son and to bring him a robe that she would make for him.
Samuel was just a young boy working in the temple shrine learning all that was necessary to become a priest. While he was still young he had his first encounter with the Lord. The Bible tells us that “The word of the Lord” was rare in those days. There were priests like Eli and his sons but all they did was to perform rituals and sacrifices. The sons were especially greedy regarding the offerings given to the God. They would take the best portions for themselves.
One night Samuel went to sleep. Early in the morning he heard his name called, “Samuel, Samuel.” He thought the old priest, Eli, was calling him and he went to see what he wanted. Eli told him he did not call and that he should go back to bed. Samuel did as instructed. A short time later Samuel heard his name called again. He got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am.” Again Eli said he did not call him and told him to go back and lie down. Samuel did not know what was going on and he was probably confused. But he did what he was told and again he heard his name called. He again went to Eli and said, “Here I am.” Eli finally realized what was going on and he told Samuel to go lie down again. He told him that if he heard the voice calling him that he should remain still and say, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant hears.” (I Sam. 3:9) Again Samuel did as he was instructed. And again he heard his name called. He quietly repeated the statement Eli gave to him and then the Lord spoke to him. If Eli had known what the Lord was going to say he might not have told the young Samuel to listen. The next morning Eli pumped Samuel for the information. Samuel was reluctant to tell him because it was not good news. However, Eli threatened Samuel if he did not tell him, so Samuel gave him the bad news. God had told Samuel that He was going to do two things that would make the two ears of everyone who heard about it tingle. The Lord told Samuel that the house of Eli would be destroyed because of the evil ways of Eli’s sons and because Eli did nothing to correct them. He further states that all the ritual sacrifices could not or would not prevent the disaster from taking place.
Later the news came to Eli that in a battle with the Philistines the ark of the covenant had been captured and that Eli’s two sons were killed in the battle. When Eli heard the news he fell off his seat, broke his neck and died.
First, let us consider the commitment that Hannah made to the Lord. She was a desperate and sad and disappointed lady. The thing she felt was most important in her life, giving birth to a male child, was not coming forth. But she never gave up. She may have spent many nights crying. She was very despondent and tortured by the taunts of her husband’s other wife. But she had the composure to do the very thing she needed to do. She turned to God in prayer. She poured out her heart and made a vow or commitment to God. It was one of those true and seldom made commitments. It was not made to relieve immediate pressures. It was not made to be broken or taken lightly. When we wonder why certain things do not seem to change we should take a look at our commitments. How strong and determined are we to keep our commitments to the indwelling Lord? Do we make promises or vows that we do not intend to keep? Do we get started and give up when the going gets a little challenging? Do we give up when the pressure of the moment eases up?
We can hardly imagine the intensity of feeling and the depth of sincerity of Hannah when she made her commitment. That which she loved the most she would see only once a year. But she lived with that love in her heart all through the year. Her heart was filled with a true and genuine fulfillment as she worked on making the little robe for her son. Hannah’s encounter with the Lord was quite different than her son’s. She was reassured by the old priest, Eli. He was not much of a holy person, but it was what he represented to her. But that was not all; she had the feeling of Tightness and fulfillment in her heart. Because of this, knowing that God would bless her with a child, she could go away in peace. Once the barrenness cycle was broken she later had three more boys and two girls.
Now let’s consider Samuel, a young boy being prepared to be a priest. The Lord had greater plans for Samuel. He heard a voice calling him. It was unusual and he thought it was the old priest. But when he took time to remain still and listen, he realized that it was that deeper voice of the spirit. Many people get caught up in the trap of the voice of conscience. They have not learned to recognize the difference between the voice of conscience and the still small voice of their indwelling Lord. You have no doubt heard the expression, “Let your conscience be your guide.” This is bad advice. We should never let our conscience be our guide. We should let the deeper still small voice of spirit be our guide. It knows what we should do for growth, improvement, and fulfillment in our lives. The human ego which expresses the voice of conscience can delude us with its sweet talk and glowing promises that usually are never fulfilled. Conscience should always be responsive to the still small voice.
Conscience is made up of our religious, moral, ethical, and cultural training and values. These are all relative and much is false when compared with truth. If I had let my religious conscience be my guide, I never would have left the traditional church and come into Unity. And what a great tragedy and loss that would have been for me. I would still be miserable, as miserable as Hannah was. The ego can delude us and make us think it is the deeper voice of Spirit and many people run around saying that God is telling them to do things that are highly questionable in principle and truth. They use the expression, “The Holy Spirit told me to do it” as a rationalization. They haven’t taken the time to listen on a deeper level and really hear the voice of the Lord or the Holy Spirit. They are quite often simply responding to the religiously trained voice of conscience.
But Samuel was willing to go deeper. When he was lying there and responding with the statement, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth,” he had no requests. He wanted to know what the Lord had to say to him. Many times when we try to pray we have so many requests that we are not receptive to the greater inspiration that would come from our indwelling Lord.
A key word in the statement that Samuel made was “servant.” Samuel wanted to be a servant of the Lord and not a servant of his own personal ego. He did not want to use the Lord for personal gain. Jesus expressed this same idea many years later when he said, “The greatest among you shall be a servant.” A servant is one who gives and serves in many ways. He or she can give freely of time, ability, self, and money, knowing that the Lord will take care of them. Jesus is also quoted as saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
We might rephrase Samuel’s statement by saying, “Speak, Lord, thy servant heareth. Show me or teach me how to serve and give more freely and abundantly and generously. Let me forget about all thought of return and compensation. I know your blessings are far greater than any of my human expectations. Show me what to do with my life, be it great or small. Wherever you lead me I will go. Whatever you tell me to do, I will do it no matter how difficult, for I know you are with me to help me. No matter if it hurts or seems to disappoint my human ego, I will do it. Help me to go beyond the superficial, enticing voice of the ego or the psychic refrains of the soul and other entities. Only you know what is best for me and it is only your still small voice that I want to hear. To know Thee is the only way to true peace and fulfillment. To know Thee is, as Jesus said, Eternal Life. Help me to let go of all sense of self-deception. Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.”
© 1985, Jim Lewis
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.