It was beginning to get dark and Eli sat at the entrance of the tent, exhausted and with aches all over his body. He sighed and closed his eyes. Sometimes, being a high priest was too demanding. He had been up from sun up preparing the final sacrifice, the one that only the high priest could offer, and which was done once a year, on the altar in the Holies of holies, where the Ark of Covenant rested.
He sighed again, letting the remains of the tension drain from his body. He had survived the presence of Yahweh yet again. Entering into the Holies of holies was usually with a mixture of trepidation, excitement and reverence. One might not come out alive, if the wrath of Yahweh is incurred.
He absentmindedly rubbed at his right ankle, where the chain with the tinkling bell had been fastened to when he had entered the Holies of holies. The tinkling of the bell as he went about the sacrifice made the others aware that he was still alive and should he be smitten by Jehovah, it was with the chain that he would be drawn out; no one but the high priest could enter the Holies on any account.
It was a great responsibility being the high priest and he felt honored to have been chosen to take up the responsibility. Despite the sacrifices and demands, he would not have wanted to live his life doing anything other than being a priest of the Lord and serving in His temple day and night. These thoughts swirled in his head as he drifted off to sleep.
He woke up startled. He stretched and made to stand up to retire for the night when he stopped suddenly. A lone figure was sprawled by the altar of incense. He wasn’t sure he had seen right, it often happened nowadays, thanks to his failing eyesight. He hesitated a moment, deciding whether to confirm his suspicion or not. He decided on the former.
As he approached the altar, he could make out her figure very well. It was indeed a human figure. To his surprise, it was a woman. She was lying face down and her lips were moving but he could not hear a word of what she was saying. She looked about thirty years of age and was well dressed, a sign of wealth.
A sudden anger filled him as he watched her. How could people turn a holy gathering into an avenue for drunkenness? He thought with annoyance. He had seen enough sacrilege during these festivals to last a lifetime. Men and women getting drunk and committing lewd acts right inside the tent, and on the day when their sins were being atoned! He could never understand them. Children of Belial, he called them.
A wave of pain swept over him as he recollected the rumors he had been hearing that his sons, priests of the Most High, were involved in some of these sacrilegious act. Where had he gone wrong? He thought, sighing in sorrow. Did he have a right to judge this woman? He was suddenly weary and tired.
When he was close enough to the woman, he nudged her with his toes.
‘’Stand up woman’’ his voice drained of the anger ‘’it is late now; shake off your drunken stupor. Surely you have children to tend to’’
She turned, kneeling and looking up at him. Her face was wet and her eyes were red rimmed. She was the picture of misery and sorrow. He wondered what troubles were ailing her so much. Had she been drinking just to forget her sorrows? When she spoke, her voice was hoarse and shaky.
‘‘Don’t mistake your handmaiden for a daughter of Belial’’ the tears were streaming down her face now. ‘’I am a woman of sorrows and heart broken. The words are too heavy to say and so I was praying with my heart and not my mouth’’
Her words were laced with so much sorrow that it broke his heart to hear them. He sighed. This was a rare sight, to see someone stay behind after the priestly blessings to talk to God. Most people barely waited till the end of the priestly blessings before rushing off to wine and dine.
He looked at her and saw a broken woman; whatever had made her stay behind must be very important. He resisted the urge to question her any further; rather he opted to pray for her.
‘‘Go in peace daughter, may God grant you the desires of your heart’’
In an instant, he saw her countenance change. It was like the sun shining brightly after being hidden by the cloud. She sighed and a smile lit up her face. He reckoned that she had needed to hear that word from him. He could not help smiling back at her. It was in this moment that he realized why he cherished being a priest. She bowed and left the tent, walking with a spring to her steps.
He stared at the tent door long after she had disappeared. He felt good inside and invigorated. Days like this were few and far apart. He realized then that he needed this as much as hers, something to restore his faith in his calling. He made his way towards his chambers, a smile on his face and a spring to his steps.
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To honour my beloved reader and one who has been generous with her kind words and support, Yemie, this story is an adaptation of 1st Samuel 1: 1-18.