the Second Week of Advent
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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART FOR THEY SHALL SEE GOD
SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS has made all our children familiar with little Samuel. In the beautiful picture that sanctifies the walls of all our nurseries our children see and hear little Samuel kneeling and saying, Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth. And many a mother has taken the opportunity from that sweet picture to teach her child the same lesson that Eli taught the child Samuel. 'sometimes when you are alone, my child, and both while you are yet a child, and after you are a big man, the same God of little children and of big men who spoke to little Samuel will come and speak to you. He will call you by name. If your name is Samuel, He will call and say, Samuel, Samuel, or whatever else your name is. And, be sure, my child, to answer at once. Be sure you say that moment, Speak, Lord, for Thy little servant heareth. And God will speak to you just as sure as He spoke to Samuel. Be sure He will. For He is about your path, and about your bed. Yea, the darkness hideth not from Him; but the night shineth as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to God.' Good Sir Joshua has helped multitudes of good mothers to teach their children to pray.
Hannah lent little Samuel to the Lord according to her promise. That is to say, she lent Samuel to Eli the Lord's servant, and to the temple at Shiloh, which was the Lord's house. As soon as he was able to put on his own clothes and run about, his mother kept her promise. Hannah took Samuel up to Shiloh, and the child was young. And she said to Eli: O my lord, as thy soul liveth, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the Lord. For this child I prayed: therefore also I have lent him to the Lord: as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord. And Samuel ministered before the Lord, being a child, and he was girded with a linen ephod. Little Samuel was the little doorkeeper of God's house in Shiloh. He ran messages also for Eli. He opened the doors of the tabernacle in the morning, and he shut them at night. He lighted the seven-branched candlestick at sunset, and he put it out at sunrise, and did everything his quick little hands and quick little feet could do to keep the house of God in order and beauty, serving the Lord. Once every year his mother came up to Shiloh to see her son, and to bring him a little coat that she made a little bigger and a little bigger every year till he grew to be a man. And after his mother was taken home to heaven and came no more to Shiloh, when Samuel the prophet needed another coat he had it always made of the same substance and of the same shape that his mother wove for him on her loom in Ephraim. It was her favourite substance and her favourite pattern, and the old prophet would never wear anything else. All his days the people knew Samuel by his 'mantle,' which was just his little coat made larger for a man. And he wears it to this day as he serves God beside his mother in heaven. When he came back from heaven to rebuke Saul for his sins, and to announce to that bad king his fast-approaching end, Samuel had still the very same mantle on. Only it was made now of finer linen, and it was cleaner and whiter than any weaver or fuller in Israel could weave it or whiten it. All the same, it was the very same mantle-the very same little coat his mother had made him when he was her little son, only of a substance now and a beauty fit for the heavenly Shiloh.
If Samuel's mother was still in this world when the ark was taken, and when Shiloh was laid waste, then the likelihood is that he went back to live with his mother till he should see what the Lord had for him to do. Wherever Samuel lived I am sure he lived a good life, and was never idle. Only, for the next twenty years, or thereabouts, Samuel is quite lost to us in that wild and lawless world. From about his twelfth to his thirtieth year, like Another, Samuel was ripening in secret for his future work as a great prophet. Ripening; because he had already been planted in the house of God in his early youth. In after-years Samuel's best-known name in Israel was 'The Seer.' 'Tell me,' said Saul on one occasion to a stranger he met, 'where the Seer's house is.' 'I am the Seer,' said Samuel; 'come with me, and tomorrow I will tell thee all that is in thine heart.' And if you will weigh that name of Samuel well, and will carry that name deep enough into the things of God and man, you could not have anything told about Samuel that would better help you to understand him. 'I am the Seer, and I will tell thee all that is in thine heart.' And, not only in Saul's heart, but in God's heart also. For God opened His mind and heart to Samuel, and when the people discovered that, all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord. 'The Seer,' they said. 'Samuel, the Seer. The man amongst us who sees God, and who tells us what is in our hearts.'
When he was yet a child, Samuel was made a seer before he knew. He saw enough of God and man that terrible night to make him an old man and a seer before the morning. As he lay awake till the morning he saw what was the wages of all that wickedness that had so horrified him to see and to hear in Eli's sons. He saw, while yet a child, that the wages of such sin is death. And he saw what would be the end of all that to Eli also, his father in the Lord. Till it was no wonder that he hesitated to tell to Eli all that he had seen and heard that terrible night. And all that must have worked powerfully together to make young Samuel the pure, prayerful, holy child before God and man that he early was and continued to be. His purity of heart and his love for holy things prepared Samuel early to be a seer; and the sights he saw both in heaven and in earth; both in God and in man, only perfected all his days what had been so early and so well begun.
And all happy children who have mothers like Hannah, and who all their days keep themselves pure in heart and pray like Samuel, they see God clearer and clearer all their days. They are still the seers in Israel. Every Scripture testifies to that, and every great saint and servant of God is a fresh proof of that. The impure in heart never see God. Hophni and Phinehas never saw God. The darkness shall cover us, they said, and it did. It did, till a Hand out of the darkness struck them down in their sin. They had no mother, and therefore they never saw God till they came to their awful end. Had Hannah been their mother; had Hannah adopted the two sacred orphans; and had she adopted them in time: then they, as well as Samuel, would have seen God; and all the awful overthrow of Eli's house, and God's house, and the whole house of Israel would have been averted and escaped. Such blessedness is there in a good mother; in an early plantation in the house of God; and in a pure heart; for, then, with Hophni and Phinehas for Israel's high priests, and with Samuel for her prophet from Dan to Beersheba,-'I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned My hand against their adversaries. He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat; and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee.' Mothers in Israel, would you have your sons to be seers and life-long servants of God? Now is your opportunity. Teach them early, as Eli taught Samuel. Teach them under the picture of Samuel hanging over their bed. And never lie down in your own bed without prayer for them till you are sure that they see God. And then you can take your well-earned rest. 'Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.' And, would any young man here see God? Would he see God in his own heart and mind and imagination, where God is best seen? Then let him keep God's temple clean. And then he will not only see God in his own mind and heart and imagination, but in Holy Scripture also, in Jesus Christ, in creation, in providence, in the means of grace, and eventually where Samuel now sees Him. The promise is plain, and the thing is true. 'Blessed are the pure in heart.' And again, 'If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine.' And again, 'And holiness, without which no man shall see God.' The true doctrine of seeing God is written in Scripture with a thousand sunbeams, and every man's own life is to him the seal of it. Every pure man's life is to him the seal of it. And every impure man's life is no less to him the seal of the other side of it. Hophni and Phinehas's lives were the seals of it to them. And Samuel's life was the seal of it to him. And your life is the seal of it to you. And my life is the seal of it to me.
Blest are the pure in heart,
For they shall see their God:
The secret of the Lord is theirs;
Their soul is Christ's abode.
Without being prophets we could predict what kind of a judge Samuel would make when he sat down on the seat of justice. Seeing God; remembering what Abraham said to God on one occasion about the Judge of all the earth; able to tell men all that was in their hearts; Israel never had a judge like Hannah's son. Josephus says that Samuel had an 'inborn love of justice.' And so he had. Some men still, both in public and in private life, have that same love of justice born in them. And they are happy men, and all men are happy who have to do with them. Some other men, again, most men indeed, have an inborn love of injustice that they have to fight against all their days. The golden rule is written, as if with nature's own finger, on some men's hearts; while other men are never able all their days to learn that rule. Samuel was still 'The Seer' as he sat on the judgment-seat; but there was nothing enthusiastic, carried-away, or impracticable about Samuel. He was a clear-eyed, firm-handed, sure-footed, resolute-minded, righteous man, with an inborn sense of truth and righteousness: and all his opinions, and decisions, and sentences carried all men's consent and conscience with them. In ancient Rome they used to put on a white robe when they went out to ask for the votes of the voters, and it was for this that they were called 'candidates' in the language of Rome: spotless men, that is, in our language. But it was only one famous name here and another famous name there that came out of office as clean as they entered it. Look at Samuel laying down his office, and putting on his snow-white mantle. 'Behold, now, I am old and grey-headed: and I have walked before you from my childhood unto this day. Behold, here I am. Witness against me before the Lord. Whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? And I will restore it to you. And they said, Thou hast not defrauded us, nor oppressed us, neither hast thou taken aught of any man's hand. And he said to them, The Lord is witness. And they answered, He is witness.'
Samuel was removed from his mother's side while still a child. No sooner was he at home in Shiloh than Shiloh fell, and he had again to change his home. In his office of judge he was continually on circuit dispensing justice and judgment up and down the land. And then when Saul became king, Samuel was compelled to retire into obscurity, and become of no reputation. Samuel was emptied from vessel to vessel till there was no lees left in the wine. The noblest thing, in some respects, in all Samuel's noble life was the way he took the providence of God in the establishment of the monarchy. The monarchy was a great innovation. It was a great revolution. And even more than that, it was a severe condemnation, if not of Samuel's own life, yet of his office and his order, which are sometimes dearer to a man than life itself. And, in addition to that, it was the deposition and dismissal of his two sons from the office and the rank to which he had raised them. Everything was against Samuel taking kindly to the thought of the new monarchy. All Samuel's past life had been spent in animating and purifying, and restoring the republic; but when he saw that a kingdom was coming in, instead of meeting it with resistance and obstinacy and lifelong hostility, the great man bowed to the will of God and the will of Israel, and cast in his lot with the new dispensation. Samuel had a great struggle with himself to do it; and he did not hide that struggle from Israel. But, that struggle over, Saul had no such loyal and faithful friend as Samuel the deposed judge. The State and Church of Israel shall have Samuel's service to the end. What there is out of the great past that is worth preserving he will do his best to preserve. What of the old order can safely be carried over into the new order he will do his best to carry that over. As far as Samuel is concerned Saul and his kingdom shall not only have fair play; but they shall have all Samuel's influence with God and with man. It is only a great man and a noble who can act in that way. And the more individuality of character, and the more independence of mind, and the more strength of will such men have, the nobler is the thing they do. It takes the very finest natures to pass over from one generation to another, and to work in the new generation as they worked in the old. It was splendidly done by Samuel. And it has been splendidly done, now and again, since Samuel's day. And, best of all, it has been splendidly done in our own day. And it is one of the finest sights to be seen among men when men have eyes and hearts to see it. It is only the old, and the ripe, and the much-experienced, and the men fullest of past service, who can do Samuel's service to our generation and the generation which is coming up after us. No amount of talent; no amount of loyalty; no amount of humility, even, can make up in the young-in young statesmen and in young churchmen-for the wisdom, and the experience, and the standing, and the influence of the aged. If the past time is to hand over its proper heritage to the present time, it is the old who can best do it. And I do not know that history, either sacred or profane, holds out a better example of this large-hearted, public-spirited wisdom than Samuel the deposed judge, and now the chief counsellor of Saul.
But Samuel, deposed and superseded as he was, was full of new and still more fruitful ideas and intentions for Israel. And what did Samuel do to occupy his talents in his ripe age, and still to serve God and God's people? Never mortal man did a better, or a more fruitful thing than Samuel now did. Samuel planned and set up an institution, so to call it, that has made far more mark on the world than anything else that survives to us out of Israel or Greece or Rome. In his ripe and farseeing years Samuel devised and founded and presided over a great prophetical school in his old age. That school of the prophets to which we owe so much of Samuel himself; to which we owe David, and Gad, and Nathan, and all their still greater successors; that great school was the creation and the care of Samuel's leisure from office. How much of the Old Testament itself we owe to the prophets, and the preachers, and the psalmists, and the sacred writers, and other trained students of Samuel's great school, we have not yet fully found out. The day may come when all the Old Testament, as we now have it, will be traced back to that great institution that God honoured Samuel to plan and to set up as his reward for his pure heart, and his holy, studious, self-sacrificing life. And it is admitted-it is no fancy to say it-that our modern universities, divinity halls, and great public schools, have all their far-down roots in Mount Ephraim, and in Samuel's great college which he founded there. True, divine prophecy does not come by the will of man in prophetical schools, or anywhere else. School or no school, holy men of God will always speak as they are moved by the Holy Ghost. No man knew that better than Samuel; but at the same time, no man ever struck out a more fruitful line of action in the things of God than when Samuel laid the foundation of the sacred school of Ramah. Israel had already a divine deposit of religion and worship and morality and civilisation, all of which they had but to accept and assimilate in order to be the strongest, the safest, and the happiest nation on the face of the earth. But the divine law was too high and too good for Israel. Their hearts were hard, and they were not upright in God's covenant. And the new monarchy was already threatening to become a very stronghold of that hard, worldly, rebellious spirit. Saul, in spite of all that Samuel could do, was soon to become a complete shipwreck. But the throne was destined to stand long after Saul was cast out of it; and Samuel is determined to do his very best to secure it that Saul's successors shall have around them and over their people a class of men who, if not indeed prophets,-Samuel cannot secure that-the wind bloweth where it listeth,-yet Samuel can and will secure that there shall be an estate of learned and earnest-minded men, who shall watch over the religion and the morals of the people, in the prophetical spirit and in the prophetical name. And thus it came about that at Naioth in Ramah the first school of the prophets was set up. Ramah was Elkanah's old property; it had now come into Samuel's hands; and at Naioth, the quietest and sweetest spot of all his patrimonial estate, Samuel set up the first divinity hall; the first school for prophets and psalmists in Israel.
But, crowning all and sanctifying all was Samuel's life of prayer. Samuel was a proverb of prayer. The tradition of Hannah's psalm and prayer was well known to every young prophet in Samuel's school, and her best memories were perpetuated and transmitted in the devotional life and labours of her son. 'Moses and Aaron among His priests, and Samuel among them that call on His name.' As much as to say that Samuel stands at the head of all the men of prayer in Israel, just as Moses and Aaron stand at the head of all the prophets and priests in Israel. The successors of Moses and Aaron were a glorious enough succession; but all that fades and vanishes away before the far greater glory of pure and unceasing prayer, and especially of unceasing intercessory and undeserved prayer. 'As for me,' said Samuel, 'God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you.' Samuel said that as his answer to his sentence of deposition and banishment from being their head and their king in all but the name. Samuel, then, among them that pray for their enemies and for them that despitefully use them. Samuel among them that are cast off and forgotten after a lifetime of self-forgetful service. Samuel among them that cease not to pray for the prosperity of those who have taken their place in the world and in the Church, and in the hearts and the mouths of men. Samuel among them who have such a pure heart that nothing will ever turn their heart to gloom, or bitterness, or discontent, or retaliation, or to anything else, but to still more prayer.
Such, then, was some of the interest that the Lord paid to Hannah for the early loan of Samuel her son. And the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and for ever.
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Samuel'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​s/samuel.html. 1901.