The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. Then the LORD called Samuel. … . – 1 Samuel 3:1-11 and 19 (NIV)
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This story is often taught to children in the hopes they might identify with another child, despite all the differences of time, place, and custom. We are given a delicious set of parallel characters – one elderly, feeble, and learned, yet devout and intelligent; the other young, innocent, and eager to learn.
In the context, the child rather than the elder is given the vision. The encounter is unencumbered and direct, with all of a child’s open wonder. Many Jews, when reading their Hebrew Bible aloud and coming upon a passage that our translations render as LORD – all capitals – will substitute “Hashem,” that is, “the Word of God,” for this is the Unnameable One, the YAHWEH or YHWH or Jehovah of the Tetragrammaton. Samuel is facing something that ought to be terrifying. Fortunately, he’s too naïve to know fear.
When some Christians, myself included, reread these passages with the substitution of “the Word of God,” we perceive ways the Logos spirit present with God the Father from the very beginning of Creation may have visited among the Jewish people throughout history. A technical term for these encounters is, in fact, theophanies. Even so, I want to emphasize that this is not an acceptable interpretation from a standard Jewish point of view, but one that makes sense to only some Christians. Still, the LORD and faithful angels communicated with humans. This is, after all, a faith of experience and practice.
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Still, in our skeptical age, many highly educated readers today might find the Bible more approachable by accepting it along the lines of Shakespearean or Greek tragedy, full of the expressions of the human condition – for better and for worse. From that perspective, this passage is rich and brooding – not only have spiritual visions become rare, as in a drought, the priest is also going blind. And both the priest and the child are in a temple before the Temple itself is erected. Something, obviously, is about to change.
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Therefore they believe that inward Righteousness is wrought by Virtue of the Grace of God, and is a necessary Qualification to fit Man for Glory, which makes them chuse with the Apostle, rather than talk of the Righteousness of Faith, to shew forth their Faith by their Works. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)