The birth of Samuel, 1-20
1 Sam 1:1 There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite.
‘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.
1 Sam 1:2 he had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.
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 Sam 1:3 Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the LORD Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the LORD.
Year afer 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.
1 Sam 1:4 Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters.
‘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)
1 Sam 1:5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the LORD had closed her womb.
1 Sam 1:6 And because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her.
1 Sam 1:7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat.
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)
1 Sam 1:8 Elkanah her husband would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”
“Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” – cf. Ruth 4:15.
1 Sam 1:9 Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s temple.
1 Sam 1:10 In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD.
‘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’)
1 Sam 1:11 And she made a vow, saying, “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
‘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 Sam 1:12 As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth.
1 Sam 1:13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk
1 Sam 1:14 and said to her, “How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine.”
Eli has gravely misinterpreted the situation, and speaks to Hannah as if she were as rebellious and undisciplined as his sons.
1 Sam 1:15 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD.
1 Sam 1:16 “Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”
“Wicked woman” – lit. ‘daughter of Belial’.
1 Sam 1:17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”
1 Sam 1:18 She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.
‘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 Sam 1:19 Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the LORD and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah lay with Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her.
1 Sam 1:20 So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the LORD for him.”
Hannah Dedicates Samuel, 21-28
1 Sam 1:21 When the man Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the LORD and to fulfill his vow,
1 Sam 1:22 Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, “After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the LORD, and he will live there always.”
“After the boy is weaned” – This would take place between the ages of 2 and 3.
1 Sam 1:23 “Do what seems best to you,” Elkanah her husband told her. “Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the LORD make good his word.” So the woman stayed at home and nursed her son until she had weaned him.
1 Sam 1:24 After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh.
Shiloh = Jud 21:19 n
1 Sam 1:25 When they had slaughtered the bull, they brought the boy to Eli,
1 Sam 1:26 and she said to him, “As surely as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD.”
1 Sam 1:27 I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him.
1 Sam 1:28 So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD.” And he worshiped the LORD there.