Hannah Gives Birth to Samuel, 1-20
1:1 There was a man from Ramathaim Zophim, from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah. He was the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 1:2 He had two wives; the name of the first was Hannah and the name of the second was Peninnah. Now Peninnah had children, but Hannah was childless.
‘A thousand of our years are like a mere day to God, says Ps 90:4, and when you’re waiting for God to do something it can certainly feel like it. We are still in the judges period when each person makes up their own rules as they go along, Judg 21:24f, and there is corruption at the heart of Israel’s religious life, 1 Sam 2:12-36.
To deal with it, God once again sends a baby. Those who long for change can’t see it happening yet. Stories like this are meant to encourage us to believe that God is not asleep but has everything in hand when we get frustrated with his apparent inaction.’ (Bible Application Handbook)
In the Hebrew canon, 1 Samuel follows Judges. The last chapters of that book have the refrain, ‘there was no king in Israel’, Judges 18:1; 19:1; 21:25, and prepare of the developments recorded in the present book.
A time of transition. Samuel marks the transition between the times of the judges and those of the kings. Although Israel was experiencing a time of peace, the closing chapters of Judges indicates that there was extensive moral disorder and unrest.
A human story. The book begins with the mention of a particular man – Elkanah – although attention soon shifts to his wife Hannah and her desire for a son. ‘Her motives may have been mixed, but her request was in line with the overarching will of God, who was preparing to bring into the world a man who would be his faithful representative and mouthpiece.’ (Baldwin)
Ramathaim – Quite possibly to be associated with the NT Arimathea, 15 miles west of Shiloh (v3). This may be a longer version of ‘Ramah’, which, according to this book, was the birthplace, 1:19, residence, 7:17, and burial place, 25:1, of Samuel.
He had two wives – Although polygamy was at variance with the ideal of marriage, Gen 2:24, it was practiced by Abram, Jacob, Gideon, David and Solomon. In the present case, the marriage to the second wife was doubtless occasioned by the infertility of the first.
Hannah had none – ‘Since bearing children was a sign of God’s greatest blessing, (Ps 127:3) the inability to bear children was often viewed as a sign of God’s punishment. Additionally, a woman’s status in the family would be very tenuous if she had not borne children. A barren woman could be and often was discarded, ostracized or given a lower status. Mesopotamian prayers and legal texts show that these same issues existed throughout the ancient Near East.’ (OT Background Commentary)
‘It was legal to marry more than one wife (see Dt. 21:15-17), and indeed a second wife was probably a sign of affluence. The general picture is of a respectable, God-fearing family. But it was not an entirely happy family. Barrenness can still cause psychological distress, but it was much worse in OT times, in a culture where it was viewed as a disgrace for a married woman to have no children. Despite Elkanah’s attempts to help and console Hannah, the unkindness of her rival-wife Peninnah made her position intolerable.’ (NBC)
Hannah was being tested, just like other women before her, Gen 11:30; 25:21; 29:31; Jud 13:2. (Baldwin)
1:3 Year after year this man would go up from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the LORD of hosts at Shiloh. It was there that the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phineas, served as the LORD’s priests. 1:4 Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he used to give meat portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. 1:5 But he would give a double portion to Hannah, because he especially loved her. Now the LORD had not enabled her to have children. 1:6 Her rival wife used to upset her and make her worry, for the LORD had not enabled her to have children. 1:7 Peninnah would behave this way year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the LORD’s house, Peninnah would upset her so that she would weep and refuse to eat. 1:8 Finally her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep and not eat? Why are you so sad? Am I not better to you than ten sons?”
Year after year – This example of faithfulness and godliness contrasts with the generally decadent state of the nations, and with the scandalous lives of the priestly leaders, 2:12-17.
The Lord Almighty – lit. ‘the Lord of hosts’. This name is used frequently in Samuel, Kings, Chronicles and the prophets. ‘The name expresses the infinite resources and power which are at the disposal of God as he works on behalf of his people.’ (Baldwin)
Hophni and Phinehas…were priests of the Lord – ‘God had then tied his people to one place and one altar, and forbidden them, under any pretence whatsoever, to worship elsewhere, and therefore, in pure obedience to that command, he attended at Shiloh. If the priests did not do their duty, he would do his. Thanks be to God, we, under the gospel, are not tied to any one place or family; but the pastors and teachers whom the exalted Redeemer has given to his church are those only whose ministration tends to the perfecting of the saints and the edifying of the body of Christ, Eph 4:11,12. None have dominion over our faith; but our obligation is to those that are the helpers of our holiness and joy, not to any that by their scandalous immoralities, like Hophni and Phinehas, make the sacrifices of the Lord to be abhorred, though still the validity and efficacy of the sacraments depend not on the purity of him that administers them.’ (MHC)
Eli was growing old, and his sons were expected to succeed him. But it would be Samuel who would replace Eli, and this early part of the book explains how Samuel came to be at Shiloh at all.
‘These verses illustrate some religious customs of the times. Whole families made pilgrimages once a year to sanctuaries such as Shiloh, in order to worship either at a festival time or on some special family occasion. The families presented animals to be sacrificed. After the sacrifice had been offered, part of the meat was returned to the worshippers. Further details are given in 1 Sam 2:13-16. Such portions of meat were very much valued, evidently, but in this case they gave rise to favouritism, jealousy, bitterness and distress.’ (NBC)
‘The merry chatter of Peninnah’s children enjoying their portions would be reminder enough of Hannah’s isolation, without additional taunts and innuendoes.’ (Baldwin)
Now the LORD had not enabled her to have children – Clearly, the narrator is reflecting here the ultimate, not the immediate, cause of her childlessness.
The house of the Lord – ‘Here the sanctuary is referred to as the “house of the Lord,” which is ambiguous regarding the nature of the structure. In verse 9 it is referred to as a “temple,” which implies a building. In 2:22 reference is made to the tent of meeting, that is, the tabernacle. This variation in terms suggests that the tent has either had a more durable structure built around it or has been erected inside a sacred enclosure that perhaps was previously Canaanite.’ (OT Background Commentary)
“Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” – cf. Ruth 4:15.
1:9 On one occasion in Shiloh, after they had finished eating and drinking, Hannah got up. (Now at the time Eli the priest was sitting in his chair by the doorpost of the LORD’s temple.) 1:10 She was very upset as she prayed to the LORD, and she was weeping uncontrollably. 1:11 She made a vow saying, “O LORD of hosts, if you will look with compassion on the suffering of your female servant, remembering me and not forgetting your servant, and give a male child to your servant, then I will dedicate him to the LORD all the days of his life. His hair will never be cut.”
‘Significantly, the story of the power struggles that characterized the history of Israel as men wrestled for control of the tribes and nations is introduced, in terms of both narrative and theology, by the story of a woman with no power at all: the barren Hannah. In Hannah we are presented with a woman of spiritual insight who, in spite of her despair at her own circumstances, is convinced that God is in control and is willing to listen and respond to her outpourings. She is a woman of integrity and of capability. She is able to make vows and is willing to keep them. In reflecting on her own circumstances, she comes to understand that God can turn upside down the values of the world, and that human power struggles are largely irrelevant when viewed in the light of God’s control. It cannot be an irrelevance that the prayer in 1 Samuel 2, which provides the theological introduction to the whole of the royal history, is placed in the mouth of this woman.’ (DOT:HB, art. ‘Women’)
v11 ‘Hannah was so distraught that she seems not to have noticed the presence of Eli, and had no hesitation in presenting her desperate situation in prayer to the Lord. For her, the power of the Lord of hosts was not confined to miltary exploints; she believed he knew all about her and could give her a son. For her part, she would acknowledge that any son born to her was in answer to prayer, and therefore she vowed to give him back to God, who gave him. The outworking of the vow shows that she intended this quite literally, v24.’ (Baldwin)
“No razor will ever be used on his head” – This implies a Nazirite vow, Num 6:2ff. Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist were dedicated to life-long Naziritehood from birth.
Was Hannah right to bargain with God?
Is the desperate prayer of Hannah for a son a legitimate way to approach God, or is it a bad example of trying to bargain with God?
Hannah’s prayer has no more the ill sense of bargaining with God than many of our prayers. While it is true that we can abuse the privilege that we have of direct access to the throne of God to make our requests known, it is God who will judge the propriety and motivation of each prayer, not any mortal.
What is surprising is to notice the same directness of access and the simplicity with which this woman, who is part of the fellowship of the many barren women in the Bible, makes her request known to God. There is no demanding or threatening here. Her prayer is not formal, contrived or ritualistic. It is as direct as any might wish it to be. If only God would look, if only he would remember her and if only he would give her a son, she vowed that she would not grow proud, forgetful or ungrateful; on the contrary, she would give this son (she never considered that it might be a girl) back to God.
God was not obligated to answer her. But the fact that he did indicates that he judged her motives to be right and her request appropriate. (HSB)
1:12 As she continued praying to the LORD, Eli was watching her mouth. 1:13 Now Hannah was speaking from her heart. Although her lips were moving, her voice was inaudible. Eli therefore thought she was drunk. 1:14 So he said to her, “How often do you intend to get drunk? Put away your wine!”
v14 Eli has gravely misinterpreted the situation, and speaks to Hannah as if she were as rebellious and undisciplined as his sons.
1:15 But Hannah replied, “That’s not the way it is, my lord! I am under a great deal of stress. I have drunk neither wine nor beer. Rather, I have poured out my soul to the LORD. 1:16 Don’t consider your servant a wicked woman, for until now I have spoken from my deep pain and anguish.”
“Wicked woman” – lit. ‘daughter of Belial’.
1:17 Eli replied, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant the request that you have asked of him.” 1:18 She said, “May I, your servant, find favor in your sight.” So the woman went her way and got something to eat. Her face no longer looked sad.
‘There is an instructive contrast between the Hannah who, distraught and averse to food, went to pray, and the Hannah who returned to join the family. Though outwardly her circumstances had not changed, she was now joyous and resolute, full of assurance that her prayer would be answered.’ (Baldwin)
1:19 They got up early the next morning and after worshiping the LORD, they returned to their home at Ramah. Elkanah had marital relations with his wife Hannah, and the LORD remembered her.
1:20 After some time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, thinking, “I asked the LORD for him.”
Hannah Dedicates Samuel to the Lord, 21-28
1:21 This man Elkanah went up with all his family to make the yearly sacrifice to the LORD and to keep his vow, 1:22 but Hannah did not go up with them. Instead she told her husband, “Once the boy is weaned, I will bring him and appear before the LORD, and he will remain there from then on.”
“After the boy is weaned” – This would take place between the ages of 2 and 3.
1:23 So her husband Elkanah said to her, “Do what you think best. Stay until you have weaned him. May the LORD fulfill his promise.”
So the woman stayed and nursed her son until she had weaned him. 1:24 Once she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with three bulls, an ephah of flour, and a container of wine. She brought him to the LORD’s house at Shiloh, even though he was young. 1:25 Once the bull had been slaughtered, they brought the boy to Eli. 1:26 She said, “Just as surely as you are alive, my lord, I am the woman who previously stood here with you in order to pray to the LORD. 1:27 I prayed for this boy, and the LORD has given me the request that I asked of him. 1:28 Now I dedicate him to the LORD. From this time on he is dedicated to the LORD.” Then they worshiped the LORD there.
Shiloh = Jud 21:19 n