1 Samuel 1:1-28
Trusting in God's Grace

Copyright © 2016, Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter.  All rights reserved.
www.biblicaltheology.com   Scripture quotes from KJV


There is no question that, for most people, the experiences of life are dynamic.  It has been said that the character of one’s life is defined by the sum of all of one's experience, and some folks experience some very difficult circumstances.  There are some experiences of life that can only be described as devastating, usually those involving the loss of someone or something that is precious to us.  We have recently twice witnessed the sudden and unexpected death of a very young child.  The impact on the families cannot be described with words as they suffer through a dark grief that few can understand and probably none would truly desire to.  We have witnessed disasters, both natural and man-made that resulted in dramatic losses of life and property. 

Many in the United States remember only too vividly the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina on August 29th, 2005 as the center of the storm passed east of New Orleans, Louisiana.  Breaches in the levees resulted in the flooding of thousands of homes and businesses.  Millions of people were impacted by this storm and the responses of many who experienced significant losses are instructive.  For some, the loss of all of their property brought tremendous grief.  Their testimonies were filled with tears and words of desperation and hopelessness.  Yet others, who suffered identical losses, responded with an almost opposite attitude, praising God for their survival and demonstrating a courage and hope that would inspire their rebuilding or relocation.  What makes one group suffer so much, and another other group suffer so little?  In these examples, there is one simple answer: the confidence that comes from sincere faith in the LORD. 

The Old Testament books of 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings was once a single book, a book that contains much of the history of the period of time when Israel was ruled by kings.  The book is, essentially, a narrative that describes, through the experiences of the nation, the character and consequences of trusting or rejecting God.  Often those consequences involve submission to calamity by those who reject God, and strength to endure and just reward by those who sincerely call upon His name in faith and trust.

The book was divided into four parts, presumably as recently as the first few centuries B.C. so that its content could be written on standard scrolls, about ten meters in length.  Early scrolls vary somewhat on where the breaks between the scrolls are made, and there has been some variation among their names, including their early assignment of the names 1, 2, 3, and 4 Kings. 

The period of history covered by the four books span hundreds of years, and it is believed that they were written by many contributors, possibly starting with Samuel.  However, its consistency in grammar and vocabulary points to a single editor or group of editors that contributed to the final canonical Jewish manuscript.

The book of First Samuel starts with a major turning point in the nature and character of the nation of Israel, a moment in time that is nearly as significant a transition as that brought under Moses.  Following the deaths of Moses and Joshua, the nation of Israel was led by the tribe of Levites who were, for the most part, ungodly and corrupt.  Occasionally God would raise up an individual such as Samson, Deborah, Gideon, and others would serve the LORD and bring the nation back to obedience.  This period was one of cycles of apostasy and repentance that served only to drive the nation further and further away from God.  The character of the nation is clearly demonstrated in a verse that is repeated twice in the previous book of Judges which immediately precedes the historical narrative of First Samuel:

Judges 17:6 & Judges 21:25.  In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.

The book of Judges records seven cycles of spiritual apostasy and repentance.  The nation needed a figure like Moses to lead them back to faith, and God provided such a man in the prophet Samuel, son of Elkanah and Hannah.

1 Samuel 1:1-2.  Now there was a certain man of Ramathaimzophim, of mount Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephrathite: 2And he had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah: and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.

Elkanah's family is recorded as coming from the villages in the hill country of Ephraim, a geographical distinction rather than a tribal one.  This is a region that was largely populated by Levites, possibly tracing Elkanah back to the tribe of Levi.  Also significant is the writer's description of his wives.  Though the Jewish Torah taught that a husband should have a single wife, cultural tradition intervened when the wife could not bear children.  The inheritance of the possessions of the family was passed down through children, necessitating a solution when a wife was found to be barren.  Consequently, we see several examples in scripture of the application of polygamy as a solution to this problem.[1]  Invariably, when this solution was chosen, conflict arose between the wives and among the sons of the secondary wives, a conflict that rose directly from the choice to take the matter of inheritance into their own hands through polygamy rather than trusting in the LORD.

Elkanah and Hannah made such a choice.  When it was found that Hannah could not bear children, Elkanah selected a second wife, Peninnah, whose purpose in the family was to simply and solely to bear children to whom the inheritance could be passed.  Peninnah literally served no other function.

1 Samuel 1:3-6.  And this man went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto the LORD of hosts in Shiloh.  And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the LORD, were there. 4And when the time was that Elkanah offered, he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions: 5But unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah: but the LORD had shut up her womb.

It is quite evident that Elkanah was a religious man who was disciplined in his worship and sacrifice to the LORD.  He traveled regularly to Shiloh, a city that was at that time the center of Israelite worship.  As we are introduced to the dynamics of Elkanah's family we see a pattern that seems common to those who choose polygamy to insure the transmission of the inheritance:  favoritism.  Elkanah's chosen and beloved wife was Hannah.  It is evident that Elkanah did not love his second wife as he did Hannah, and thought little more of the children that she bore for him.  They were simply a product of the mechanics of inheritance rather than the product of a desire for beloved children.  This set the stage for tremendous stress in the family, particularly for Hannah as she would be forever locked into a relationship with another woman who despised her.

This preference is indicated in the statement that he gave a “worthy portion” to Hannah.  When people brought their sacrifices to the ancient altar the sacrifice was not simply burnt and discarded.  The family would bring an animal for sacrifice, it would be killed, but it would then be used to provide food for the celebratory feast that would include the family and the Temple “staff,” intentionally Levites.  The fact that Elkanah was offering Hannah a portion of the sacrifice is relevant to the context of this situation.

1 Samuel 1:7-8. And as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the LORD, so she provoked her; therefore she wept, and did not eat. 8Then said Elkanah her husband to her, Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons?

One can easily note that the emotional stress that was experienced by Hannah was difficult and long.  A multiple of years would pass while Peninnah would continually “provoke” Hannah.  Despising Hannah’s barrenness, Peninnah would incessantly remind her of her state, a state that included an assessment of her unworthiness.  Ancient culture held that those who were faithful to God were blessed and those who were not experiencing blessing were receiving the just reward from the LORD for their sinfulness.  Hannah had reason to believe, and Peninnah had reason to continually remind her, that she was a cursed woman, cursed by some sin that separates her from God and His blessings.  Yet, Hannah knew in her heart that she loved God, despite her condition. 

Her failure to eat is significant.  The meal they were sharing was an important and traditional part of their worship.  She was in Shiloh with her husband and family, partaking in the celebratory meal that was held in the house of the LORD, in the temple area.  Her failure to eat is indicative of her sincere belief that she was not worthy to take part in the worship of God in this place.

Hannah’s submission to the constant torment from Peninnah as well as her refusal to eat at the celebratory meal clearly indicates the discouraged and distressed state of her heart.

This logical rewards-punishment, “performance-based acceptance,” philosophy of the ungodly world continues today.  It is natural to think that we should be blessed when we are good, and that we should be punished when we are bad, and if God is sovereign then it is He who provides the blessings and punishments.  Many take this idea to support a belief that “God does not send good people to hell,” forming the basis of an heretical position that good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell.  However, the scriptures describe God's purposes quite differently.  No person is good; hence all such arguments fail.[2]  People do suffer the consequences of their apostasy and sin, but God is a God of love and grace, blessing all people who place their faith and trust in Him without regard to any measure of performance or reward.  The first chapter of James' letter to the church reminds us that God does not bring calamity upon the faithful.  Consequently, when faced with such issues we may ask ourselves, (1) is this really a calamity? or (2) if it is, what is its true source?

Hannah's stress came from an erroneous assumption to the answers of both of these questions.  First, her barrenness was not a calamity, for she was not barren.  God had a plan for her that worked in His timing, not hers.  Her stress came largely from the abuse she received from those around her, an abuse that was informed by their generational ignorance, an abuse that was entirely sinful in its expression.  Hannah would eventually bear a son, and he would be a blessing to her and to her people.  Second, her culture (and Peninnah) would be telling her the source of her barrenness was her own sin.  However, the source of her failure to bear a child was simply one of God's timing for her.  Her barrenness was not in any way a punishment for her behavior.  Her faith in God was stellar, a sincere faith that was literally unknown in her generation, and a faith that will soon be vindicated.  Through this experience God would teach a lesson of trust to her, her husband, and all who would learn of her experience.

1 Samuel 1:9-11.  So Hannah rose up after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk. Now Eli the priest sat upon a seat by a post of the temple of the LORD. 10And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the LORD, and wept sore. 11And she vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.

After the meal Hannah left the others and went off to pray.  Hannah's piety exceeds that of any other woman in the Old Testament.[3]  No other woman in the Old Testament is described as going up to the house of the LORD, making a vow to the LORD, or is specifically described as praying.[4]

When one considers her affliction one might expect her to be angry and embittered.  Our natural response to stress is to fight or flee, and Hannah did neither.  Though many others would follow Peninnah’s behavior and seek to discourage her and make her think that God was judging her, punishing her, or otherwise condemning her, Hannah trusted enough in the LORD to pray with fervency and sincerity. 

As Eli watched, both he and Hannah had no idea of the impact that God's response to this prayer would have in the life of Eli and in the future of the nation of Israel.

Hannah's prayer was simple.  In asking the LORD to grant her desire for a son, she promised that she would not only dedicate the son to God, but to establish him as a Nazirite.  The phrase "no razor come upon his head" indicates one of the tenets of the Nazirite vow, a promise of complete dedication to the service of the LORD.  The vow was common among those Israelites, a vow that would usually be taken by the individual who is dedicating himself to the LORD, and the vow would be in affect for a season, a finite period of time.  This vow is different in that Hannah is making the vow for her desired son.[5]  Hannah was promising that, if God would give her a son, she would dedicate him as a Nazirite from birth.

1 Samuel 1:12-14.  And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli marked her mouth. 13Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken. 14And Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee.

One would think that the safest and most comfortable place for anyone to go in a time of stress would be the house of the LORD.  Hannah should be able to expect to receive compassion and support from the Temple staff as she is going through such a difficult time.  However the Temple, like the church today, is a fellowship of imperfect people, people who are sometimes uncaring, insensitive, and thinking more of themselves or their own interests than of others.  We see such an example of insensitivity to the work of the Holy Spirit in Eli.  Unaccustomed to a woman in a posture of prayer, Eli assumed that Hannah was drunk and he immediately and without question demonstrated autocracy, insensitivity, and judgment.

By this time Eli was no longer serving as the Temple priest.  The task was being done by his two quite incompetent sons who had little interest in things of the LORD, but rather treated the position as one for personal gain.  Eli, who himself was not a standout as a godly priest, would now spend his time as a “protector” of the temple, sitting at the door and monitoring the activity to assure that the people are following Temple traditions.  The incompetence of Eli and his sons signaled the end of the period of the Israelite Judges.  God had a plan for a new future for Israel, and it would start with this brief and seemingly fruitless encounter between Eli and Hannah.

We might be overly critical of Eli for first assuming that Hannah was drunk, but that assumption is probably somewhat reasonable.  At the time of the feast, many of the people would become drunk, and Hannah had just left the celebratory meal.  Eli would be specifically watching for those who might enter the Temple in a drunken state, and would be expected to chastise someone for doing so.  As Hannah was praying, Eli noticed the moving of her soundless lips. It was far less likely that a woman would be seen praying in the temple in this way, and far more likely that people would be found drunk after the meal. 

Still, we might find the first reaction of Eli to be instructive as we are reminded that, when we observe the situations that others experience, we seldom have all of the facts, and we easily may jump to an erroneous conclusion and judge one another without the application of true agape love.  When Hannah needed the caring counsel of Eli, she was greeted with condemnation and judgment. 

1 Samuel 1:15-18.  And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the LORD. 16Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto. 17Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him. 18And she said, Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.

Her answer, utilizing the phrase "wine nor strong drink" is another of the formulae used to refer to one who has taken the Nazirite vow, a statement that identifies that her abstinence is related to her devotion to the LORD, and emphasizes the dedication and the vow she prayed.  Though Peninnah and others (and now Eli) may identify her as one cursed with sin, by the testimony of her own Nazirite vow, Hannah makes it clear to Eli that she is not a woman of debauchery and should not be identified with those that are.  Eli may have been astonished by the open candor and faith of this woman and upon understanding her state; he spoke appropriate words that would serve to encourage her, giving her a blessing of hope.  She left the encounter with the LORD and Eli with her burden lessened, as she did then eat and her sadness was not as evident.

Just as Eli would have had no idea of the significance of this "chance" meeting, neither would Hannah.  However, the LORD would meet her at her point of need and bring about circumstances where Hannah would later return to Eli in a quite different context.

1 Samuel 1:19-20.  And they rose up in the morning early, and worshipped before the LORD, and returned, and came to their house to Ramah: and Elkanah knew Hannah his wife; and the LORD remembered her. 20Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the LORD.

Following their final acts of worship, Elkanah, Hannah, and their family returned home to Ramah.[6]  The writer also makes a point of stating that Elkanah “knew” Hannah, his wife.  This word for “knowledge” implies a complete and intimate knowledge of another individual.  As a very contextual language, when used in this specific context it refers specifically to Elkanah and Hanna sharing a sexual encounter that would potentially conceive a child.

Since Elkanah truly loved Hannah (as she did in return), there would be no question that there had been many previous opportunities for her to conceive, hence her description as “barren.”  However, God had a purpose for the son of Elkanah that necessitated the form of nurturing that would come from these parents when they were both fully committed to the LORD.  By the time Hannah took on the Nazirite vow and also vowed to bring up her son in the nurture and admonition of the LORD[7] she was now ready. 

God "remembered" Hannah.  The Hebrew word rendered "remembered" is a formula that refers, not to the restoration of a forgotten idea, but rather to God's initiating an event that He has planned to take place at a particular point in a person's life after a period of waiting.  Freed from the burden of her depression, Hannah conceived and bore a son, who she named, Samuel, literally šā'ûl min 'el, "asked from God." 

We may be reminded of other, similar, situations in the Old Testament as even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob found their wives to be presumably barren, taking additional wives in order to perpetuate their family.  In each case, the child of the promise became a significant figure in the history of Israel, and Hannah's son would be used by the LORD in a similar manner.  The baby Samuel would eventually rise above Eli to bridge the period of the judges with the period of the kings as he would serve as one of the more significant prophets.  

1 Samuel 1:21-23.  And the man Elkanah, and all his house, went up to offer unto the LORD the yearly sacrifice, and his vow. 22But Hannah went not up; for she said unto her husband, I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the LORD, and there abide for ever. 23And Elkanah her husband said unto her, Do what seemeth thee good; tarry until thou have weaned him; only the LORD establish his word. So the woman abode, and gave her son suck until she weaned him.

The faithfulness of Elkanah is indicated both by his continued worship and his support of Hannah's vow.  We only have recorded a single statement from Elkanah to represent what was about a three-year discussion.  Hannah's refusal to take the baby to the LORD is quite instructive.  Hebrew tradition held that the first-born child belongs to the LORD, not to the parent.[8]  In order to receive the child from the LORD it was necessary that the child be "redeemed," or purchased back from the LORD through sacrifice.  There was a provision in the law to delay the redemption, dedicating the child for a period of time.[9]  Redemption was traditionally done at the first opportunity to bring the child to the temple.  However, Hannah had no intention of redeeming Samuel.  Her refusal to take the child to the temple simply indicates that she intends upon keeping the vow she made to the LORD, to give the child to the LORD forever. 

Elkanah certainly had much to say about this decision.  The failure to redeem the child had great implications for this man of faith.  This is the child that he too was waiting for, the child from the wife whom he loves.  This is the child who would now (much to Peninnah’s chagrin), receive the blessing of the inheritance, so the failure to redeem the child would certainly be beyond Elkanah's initial expectation for their first-born son.  However, Elkanah trusted the faith of is wife and though he could have overruled her choice, he did not.  Using an idiomatic expression that, though different from other similar statements and circumstances,[10] Elkanah certainly expressed his trust that Hannah’s choice would be consistent with the will of God, and by so being, he would support it.  

1 Samuel 1:24-25.  And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bullocks, and one ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine, and brought him unto the house of the LORD in Shiloh: and the child was young. 25And they slew a bullock, and brought the child to Eli.

At this point the child Samuel would be about three years old.  It is also possible that it had been three years since the last sacrifice for Hannah and her son since the quantity of sacrifice she brought with her was three times that which would be expected for a single year.[11]  They slew only one bullock because only one was needed for the sacrifice and to support the meal that would accompany it.  The remainder of the sacrifice was turned over to the temple.  After this generous, timely, and appropriate sacrifice, Hannah brought the child to Eli with the intent, not to redeem Samuel as would be customary, but to fulfill her vow to the LORD.

What are some occasions that might be similar for us today?  The prospect of giving a first-born child away is likely a concept that few new parents would care to consider.  Though not at so young an age, many parents do experience a similar situation when their children follow God's call to a ministry that takes them away from the home and family of their birth.  Missionary families face these types of issues every day.  Yet if one considers the heart of Hannah, we see how her faith and her determination to honor God gave her the resolve to give her child away. 

1 Samuel 1:26-28.  And she said, Oh my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the LORD. 27For this child I prayed; and the LORD hath given me my petition which I asked of him: 28Therefore also I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the LORD. And he worshipped the LORD there.

Hannah fulfilled her vow, and did so with her husband's blessing.  One should not take too much stock in the KJV rendering of the use of "lent," a word that implies that her dedication of Samuel to the LORD's purpose was only for a period of time, implying that the child was "on loan" to God.  Other translations faithfully render the word as a gift.[12]  The context and language are clear:  Hannah did not come to redeem her child, or to "buy him back" from the LORD as was customary, nor would she ever do so.  She brought the child to Eli with the expressed purpose of leaving her child with Eli to be reared in the temple so that he would be completely available to fulfill any purpose that the LORD would intend.  She and Elkanah were intending upon leaving to return home to Ramah without their son, and so they did. 

There is some controversy over who is identified as worshipping the LORD in the last sentence.  The narrative identifies three individuals to whom this phrase could refer.  Were it Elkanah, there would be little significance to the statement because we know that Elkanah came to the temple to worship the LORD.  Were it Eli, we would find no more significance in the statement since this is where Eli is expected to be worshipping the LORD regularly.  If the passage refers to Samuel we are given a verification that Hannah did, indeed, leave her child with Eli.  If Samuel were about three years old, he would not be mature enough to worship.  In order to worship the LORD there, Samuel would have to stay there.  Elkanah went home to Ramah, and would worship the LORD daily from there.  Samuel stayed with Eli and grew under his tutelage, growing in knowledge of the Torah and growing in his worship of God.  Samuel's faith would quickly overshadow that of Eli when he was old enough to hear God speaking to him.  When Samuel did hear the voice of the LORD, Eli's influence, and the influence of his family, would quickly diminish as Samuel would hear from God and become the prophet of Israel.   

Because of Hannah's faith, she placed herself and her son in a position where God could use them to accomplish something far larger than themselves.  Samuel would lead the nation until they called for a King.  It was Samuel who anointed the early succession of Kings, starting with Saul and David.  He also prophesied that the nation's choice of a king was not in God's will for them, and that these kings would soon place them into bondage, they would lead the nation away from God, and eventually to their destruction.  As one matures in the faith, one comes to realize that all that we are, and all that we have, belongs to the LORD.  We are not in the “buying back” business.  There is no mechanism to “redeem” anything for ourselves.  Just as Hannah literally left her son on the altar of the LORD, true stewardship will lead every faithful believer to place all they have, including their own children, on the altar of the LORD, though that altar now resides in the heart of every believer.  However, few live as though they have dedicated themselves and their possessions to God.  We hold back our time, our talents, and our resources so that we can keep more of them for ourselves, somehow thinking that by so doing we will be happier. Yet we understand that God rewards faithfulness with an abundance of the things that matter:  peace, love, and joy: an abundance that comes from only one source, the throne of God itself through the power of the Holy Spirit as He works in one's life. 

Dedicating all that we have is simply an expression of trust in God.  Hannah trusted in God enough to dedicate her son to Him, and by so doing, God used her Son in a mighty way.  People of faith will know of Samuel until the end of the age.  Let us not miss out on the blessings that God has in store for us by failing to trust in Him completely.  Let us strive to dedicate all that we are and all that we have to God and then step back and watch God do wonderful things in our lives.

 


Footnotes

[1] e.g. Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar; Genesis, Chapter 16.

[2] Romans 3:23.

[3] Bergen, p 67.

[4] Hannah's vow is similar in structure to other Old Testament vows, and contains the following similar charactistics:  (1) a voluntary vow can be made by anyone and everyone, man or woman, individual or group; (2) the unidentified narrator and not the vower defines the act as a vow; (3) the vower is in a state of distress and seeks the Lord's support via the vow; (4) the vower uses language that manifests some intensity of feeling, as well as a personal relationship with the Lord; (5) the vows show a complex concern with urgent human issues and fears; (6) the vower addresses the Lord directly and in a personal manner; (7) the vower sets forth a condition for the Lord to meet; (8) the vower follows the condition with a promise to dedicate something - a service or property - to the Lord as thanks for the Lord's support.  Hyman. p 236.

[5] Note that the parents of Samson did the same thing (Judges 13:7).

[6] Same as Ramathaimzophim

[7] Ephesians 6:4.

[8] Exodus 13:2-13, Num. 3:47, et. al.

[9] Leviticus 27:1-8.

[10] Walters, p 385.

[11] The predominant position by biblical scholars is that there is an unsolvable paradox between the “three bulls” that were brought and the “bull” that was sacrificed.  (Rayner, p 96).  However her three-year hiatus from bringing the sacrifice would be a sufficient reason for her to bring three bulls. 

[12]  (NIV, NASB, e.g.)