The setting is Israel before the glory days of King David. There has been a long period—a couple hundred years—of intermittent warfare, cycles of events during which Israel would suffer invasion followed by famine; then a judge would emerge and win a temporary peace. During the peace, the people would sin, and the down-spiraling cycle would kick in again. Another invasion followed by defeat, resulting in yet another famine, growing more severe each time. This story takes place during a lull in the violence, a restful season of relative peace. Days were unusually quiet and uneventful.
The people of Israel have settled back into a lax lifestyle that could be described as downright complacent. Their attitude toward God and His vision for them as a nation has become indifferent, a little ho-hum and boring. Their leader, the high priest, is Eli, an old man whose eyesight has begun to grow dim. Unless something changes, he will turn the reins of leadership over to his two rebellious sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who helped him minister in the tabernacle, which was the place of worship during this period of Israel’s history.
There’s more to the setting, so bear with me. A few years earlier, a woman named Hannah was a regular visitor to the temple. She spent most of her time in prayer, begging God for the gift of a son. She vowed to the Lord that if He would grant her request, she would give the boy back to Him. The Lord finally gave her a son, whom she named Samuel. Appropriately, the name means “asked of God.” Soon after he was weaned, she fulfilled her promise and placed Samuel in the care of Eli, the aging, almost blind, high priest of Israel. Eli was responsible for Samuel’s welfare and education. He was tutoring him in spiritual things, preparing him for a lifetime of service to God.
The whole land of Israel, stuck in a political and spiritual “slick,” was half-asleep, yawning its way from one day to the next. God is silent. Everyone’s passive. No one has visions, except maybe a few charlatans. Sounds a little like today, doesn’t it?
Used with permission. All rights reserved.