The Agora
Bible Commentary
1 Samuel

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1 Samuel 1

1Sa 1:1

See Lesson, Josh--Samuel, typical history.

1Sa 1; 2: See article, For this child I prayed.

RAMATHAIM, A ZUPHITE: Or "Ramathaim-zophim" (AV). A town in the hill country of Ephraim (1Sa 1:1,19; 2:11), where Samuel's parents lived. Near Bethhoron -- a city of Kohathites (Jdg 21:20-22). It was not only Samuel's birthplace, but after the destruction of Shiloh he made it his main headquarters on his judicial circuit (1Sa 7:17; 8:4; cf 1Sa 15:34; 16:13). To this place David fled from the wrath of Saul (1Sa 19:18-23; 20:1). Samuel was buried there (1Sa 25:1; 28:3). Since Elkanah, Samuel's father, was a member of the Levitical Zuphites (1Sa 1:1; 1Ch 6:33-35), who had apparently received their inheritance in the territory of Ephraim (Jos 21:5; 1Ch 6:22-26,35,66; cp Tes 30:250), it was prob at Ramathaim in the land of Zuph that Saul first met Samuel (1Sa 9:5-6,18). In NT times its name seems to have been Arimathea.

ELKANAH: A Levite and a descendant of Korah (1Ch 6:33-38). His name means "God-acquired", suggesting two possible interpretations: (1) all his possessions were acquired from God, or (2) he was acquired by God, and his possessions were held in stewardship. In either case Elkanah's name highlights the lesson of this story: it is about possessions and how they may be used in the service of God.

1Sa 1:2

HE HAD TWO WIVES: How many sad memories of domestic unrest this verse evokes: Sarah and Hagar, Rachel and Leah, the households of David and Solomon. Polygamy was permitted by the Law of Moses, which merely attempted to mitigate its abuses, but it was certainly not the ideal. "From the beginning it was not so" (Mat 19:8; Gen 2:24).

HANNAH: "Hannah" means grace or favor.

PENINNAH: "Peninnah" means coral, truly a beautiful substance, but a substance composed of dead material (the skeletons of little sea-creatures) which is, significantly, the color of flesh. The two women picture the extremes of inward and outward adorning (possessions again!); their characters and subsequent actions reflect their names.

1Sa 1:3

This domestic triangle was accustomed to go up yearly -- prob at Passover -- to worship at Shiloh, the site of the ark and the tabernacle (Jos 18:1; 19:51; 22:9; Jdg 18:31). There lived Eli (alah, to ascend) the priest with his sons Hophni ('handful'? -- either of incense or of stolen offerings, it mattered not!) and Phinehas ('mouth of the serpent'! -- wise and subtle, yet also destructive).

THE LORD ALMIGHTY: Heb "Yahweh Tzvaoth" = He who shall be Armies, or hosts. The first of 231 occurrences in the Bible.

SHILOH: According to Jdg 21:19 it was located north of Bethel, south of Lebonah, and on the east side of the highway connecting Bethel with Shechem, in the territory of Ephraim. After the initial conquest of Canaan the tabernacle was moved from Gilgal to Shiloh (Jos 18:1). Here the last seven tribes received their allotments (Jos 18:8-10). From Shiloh the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh returned to their inheritances (Jos 22:9), and at Shiloh the other tribes gathered to war on those tribes for erecting an altar at the Jordan (Jos 22:12). The tabernacle was located at Shiloh throughout the period of the judges, which included the days of Eli and Samuel. It was at Shiloh that Hannah prayed for a child (1Sa 1:3,11), and to this place she brought Samuel to minister before Eli (1Sa 1:24). The ark was taken from Shiloh during a battle with the Philistines, was captured, and was not returned to Shiloh. Psa 78:60 attributes the fall of Shiloh to the judgment of God, and Jeremiah cites its fall as an illustration of God's judgment (Jer 7:12,14; 26:6,9).

1Sa 1:5

So often we witness the barren woman in the Divine plan. Is God unmerciful to deny good things to his servants? Let us recognize that God in His providence often works through the adversity of his children, and there is no ultimate evil for those who conform to His will. Long years of meekly endured trial -- and childlessness was a great trial to an Israelite woman -- may in fact be only a preparation. We must all be trained to subordinate our natural desires, even when they seem worthy in themselves, to the promotion of God's will. It is possible that if God had immediately granted children to Hannah, as he had to Peninnah, that the one might have been as selfish and ungrateful as the other. It is certain she would never have felt the urge to dedicate her children wholly to the Lord.

DOUBLE PORTION: Showing that her son, if and when she had one, would be the firstborn (Deu 21:17).

THE LORD HAD CLOSED HER WOMB: Sarah believed her barren condition was of God (Gen 16:2). Rachel was taught by her husband Jacob that God was the Source of her condition (Gen 30:2). Were these patriarchs right in thinking that this affliction of barrenness was from God? Clearly God could do this, and in the case of Hannah it is explicitly stated that "the Lord had shut up her womb." In fact, in the time of Abraham there was a clear demonstration of God's power in this matter. When Sarah was taken into the house of Abimelech, all the women in his household stopped bearing children, and at the end of the incident the record states: "For the Lord had fast closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech, because of Sarah..." (Gen 20:17,18). By contrast with all these cases, Israel as a nation was promised that if they would keep God's laws, He in turn would bless the fruit of their wombs, and none would be barren among them (Deu 7:13,14).

1Sa 1:6

Vv 6,7: Peninnah had all things, acquired from a benevolent God, children and social rank and satisfaction and probably wealth -- yet she gave no glory to God. And continually, perhaps in subtle ways, and with feigned "sorrow", she reminded the less fortunate Hannah of her plight. By comparison, Hannah had very little (a barren woman was a reproach and a pitiable creature), yet she recognized herself as acquired by God. Therefore her problems were His and she was not alone in her distress. There was no retaliation, but a turning of the other cheek, a casting of her burdens upon a greater Power.

"Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting (Heb sacrifices), with strife" (Pro 17:1).

1Sa 1:8

"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Heb 12:11).

TEN SONS: Jacob had 10 sons (by Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah) before he ever had one by Rachel. Was Elkanah telling his beloved Hannah that he loved her as much as Jacob loved Rachel, even though she had borne no sons?

1Sa 1:9

HANNAH STOOD UP: She and the family must have been eating in the very precincts of the tabernacle -- where she would feel esp the presence of God and the Mercy Seat.

ELI: Eli must have been a great leader, to rise to such prominence. The country was now prosperous -- in ct times of Samson. Eli is High Priest, though of the house of Ithamar instead of Phinehas.

TEMPLE: Heb "heykal". The earlier form of the word translated "temple" means "palace" and thus reminds us that the tabernacle and temple in the Israelite theocracy were residences inhabited by the Divine King.

1Sa 1:10

Leaving the table of feasting, for which she had no appetite (v 7), she made her way to the sanctuary nearby, where God might be approached. She knelt in the court, outside the veil of the holy place (Xd 38:518), sensing that her prayer of faith would pierce the heavy curtains and find its way to the golden mercy seat. And so "she prayed to the Lord, and wept sore."

"Consider Hannah's example. Her story is well known. Hannah longed for a child, but it was denied her until after much prayer she was granted her request, and received the desire of her heart. She was to become a mother and so fulfil the wish of every woman in Israel. Motherhood was particularly desirable in Israel, for the covenant promised that the 'seed of the woman' would bruise the serpent power, and every godly woman desired to contribute to that end. So Hannah hoped and prayed, and hoped and prayed again, until, in the goodness of God, her ardent ambition was realised in the birth of little Samuel. Did Hannah then, in her excess of joy and the love that she poured out upon the child, forget her obligations to God? By no means! Having experienced the goodness of Yahweh in the birth of Samuel she turned to Yahweh in fervent thanksgiving. More, she attempted to repay God, and so endorse the genuineness of her thanks, by a most generous act of unselfishness: she gave the child back to Yahweh. Her thanks were endorsed by sacrifice. Yahweh's gift to her found response in her gift to Yahweh. What a wonderful example. We often pray for things; do we remember to thank God in return when the prayer has been answered? Thanksgiving is a gracious act of recognition of benefits received. What is the normal reaction to circumstances when a generous warmhearted deed that has been unselfishly done for another is taken for granted, or is received coldly, or with indifference? Is it not one of hurt? Is it not a divine command that we 'in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you' (1Th 5:18)? Let us be warm in our expressions of thanks one to another; and above all to God" (HPM).

1Sa 1:11

Her beautiful and delicate prayer (v 11) and her later song of triumph (1Sa 2:1-10) must have been the constant study of the young maiden Mary a thousand years later; we have intimations of Hannah's spiritual daughter in every word of this godly woman. Even to this day the whole creation groans in affliction (Rom 8:22), waiting for the manchild who sits at the right hand of the Father. How great will be the joy of the world when he returns (Isa 54).

REMEMBER ME: Cp Gen 29:31: "When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren." And Gen 30:22: "When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren." Cp the situation: 2 wives and a rivalry.

THEN I WILL GIVE HIM TO THE LORD: That very thing that Hannah wanted most, she promised to give away (cp Abraham and Isaac: Gen 22). For her there could be nothing short of total and absolute consecration. Her son -- if God were to grant her request -- would be a Nazarite, totally dedicated to God, not for a fixed period (as was common), but for life! Do we feel the same about our possessions? Do we view ourselves as "God-acquired", or as "self-made" men and women? Do we ask what we can do for our Father, or rather what He can do for us? Do our prayers often seem to go unanswered? If so, then see Jam 4:3.

FOR ALL THE DAYS OF HIS LIFE: In ct to the fixed period of Num 6:4.

1Sa 1:13

We may sadly infer from Eli's thoughts that prayer was less frequent than sin at God's house; Eli knew of his sons' adulterous (and probably drunken) consorts (1Sa 2:22), and most likely assumed that this woman was one of them. But Eli should have been slower in judging appearances. We gain an insight into the character of the righteous but timid priest. He was severe when he should have been gentle (with Hannah), possibly hoping to compensate for his gentleness when he should have been severe (with his sons). He was a parent with love but no firmness and no discipline. We may imagine his love shriveling year by year, as his seed in the face of his feeble protests were transformed by their natural inclinations into the seed of the serpent.

1Sa 1:14

GET RID OF YOUR WINE: LXX adds: "And go from the presence of the LORD."

1Sa 1:15

Hannah by a soft and wise answer (Pro 15:1) turned away the misdirected wrath of Eli. Such foresight and meekness prepared the way for Eli's later reception of Samuel as a young child, and this in turn prepared the way for God to work through the young child at Shiloh.

I HAVE NOT BEEN DRINKING WINE: Had she already begun her own Nazarite vow, in anticipation of the conception of a son (v 11)?

1Sa 1:16

But Hannah, although properly meek before the old man, was not indifferent to his shortcomings. We detect in her words a subtle rebuke: 'Why are you so anxious to criticize my "sin", when the true offspring of Belial are your own sons?' (1Sa 2:12). Here again is the undercurrent of faith in this remarkable woman: Hannah knew of Eli's sons and their wicked deeds; they were a public reproach to Israel. She had prayed for a son, a gift from God, so that she might give him back to God. At a previous time, when Israel had cried for deliverance (Exo 2:23-25), a faithful woman had cast her son upon the waters (Exo 2:2,3; Heb 11:23), trusting in God to protect and use the goodly child for His purpose (Ecc 11:1). Now Hannah visualized her son-to-be as another Moses, a deliverer of his people from bondage and corruption. Had not Moses promised the people that the Lord would raise up unto them a prophet from their midst, like unto him (Deu 18:15,18)?

WICKED WOMAN: "Base woman" (RSV). From "belial" = worthless or vain.

1Sa 1:17

So Hannah had experienced the calm, composing influence of prayer. Her burden, which an hour before had seemed unbearable, was now laid upon another. Whether the response would be favorable or not, she felt a new peace.

1Sa 1:18

HER FACE WAS NO LONGER DOWNCAST: The composing influence of prayer. Cp Psa 42:1, etc.

1Sa 1:19

RAMA: See v 1n.

1Sa 1:20

SAMUEL: The derivation of the name appears a bit confusing. According to the AV text, the reason given for the choice is that Hannah had asked (Heb "shaal") him of the Lord. But this Heb word is not the root of the name Samuel. In fact, the Heb word "shaal" is found in the name Saul, whom the people of Israel received when they asked for a king! Samuel, or "Shemuel" (1Ch 6:33), signifies "God hears". (It is practically identical with Ishmael: Gen 16:11!) The idea, in brief, seems to be this: Hannah asked (shaal) God for a son. God heard (shema-El) her request, and as a memorial Hannah named her son "Shemuel", or Samuel. And, to fulfill her vow, Hannah gave back (or "lent") the "Asked one" to God (1Sa 1:27,28).

1Sa 1:21

Vv 21,22: The next feast day Hannah was unable to attend as she had before, but it was no hardship at all, for she could now hold and cherish and nurture the long-awaited child. Elkanah and the rest of his house (how interesting that his other wife no longer even merits a name!) went up to Shiloh as usual. Elkanah had a special vow to perform (v 21) -- poss an indication that he had now made Hannah's vow his own also. It is a fact that, had he so desired, he could have annulled his wife's vow when he learned of it (Num 30:6-8). Not only did he not do so, but -- it appears -- he joyfully took up the pledge himself, as a gesture of thanksgiving for the gift of the special child!

1Sa 1:22

AFTER THE BOY IS WEANED: Cp vv 23,24. The rabbis differ as to whether this was most commonly done at age 2, or 3, or 5, or 7, or even older. One scholar observes, "There was a three-fold weaning of children in old times; the first from their mother's milk, when three years old [cp the direct statement in 2Ma 7:27]; the second from their tender age, and care of a dry nurse [ie, generally, one who cares for a small child: GB], when seven years old; the third from childish manners, when at twelve years of age; and that it is this last and metaphorical weaning which is here meant, when Samuel was twelve years of age, and fit to serve in the temple" (Gill). It is possible that Samuel came to the tabernacle, AND received the call of God (1Sa 3), at the age of 12 -- to accord with the age of Jesus when his Father spoke to him at the Temple (Luk 2).

Hannah saw beyond the present and the immediate future. Her eyes and her heart were fixed upon eternity! What a great purpose the sorrow of one barren woman played in the development of God's plan! The real strength of Israel lay not in its judges, nor in its priests, and there was "no king in Israel" (Jdg 21:25). The strength of Israel lay in its godly households, few though they were, where women like Hannah created islands of purity, order, and peace. Her quiet faith and subtle strength were victorious at last to move mountains and alter the landscape of the Divine plan.

Israel's destiny was in eclipse; there was apostasy, confusion, and decline on every side. But to remedy these great evils, God chose no grown man. His ways are not our ways, a thousand years are but as one day in His sight (Psa 90:4; 2Pe 3:8), and He never has to hurry. Instead, the Almighty prepares through necessary affliction a special mother, and then causes a special and cherished child to be born. In God's own time when the precious "seed" has sprouted and grown to maturity, deliverance will come. The thankful mother, lost among the thousands of Israel but at one with her God, nourishes at her breast the destiny of her people. With his mother's milk and tender care, Samuel receives also her simple faith. ("Who is best taught?" the rabbis asked. "The one who is taught by his mother.") It is only for a few short years, but it is enough. Together they wait for the time to visit Shiloh.

1Sa 1:23

DO WHAT SEEMS BEST TO YOU: Elkanah agrees to Hannah's vow. He could have annulled the vow (Num 30:6-8). Instead, it appears that he makes her vow his own.

1Sa 1:24

"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?" (Isa 49:15).

1Sa 1:27

At last the day arrives, and the little family makes its way to the house of God, to stand before Eli the priest. Our minds readily leap forward a thousand years, to another couple bringing a little baby into the Temple at Jerusalem, to offer sacrifice for purification and to present him to the Lord. The two scenes become almost as one to the eye of faith, and it is surely no flight of fancy to see in them both the epitome of every righteous parent's hopes and longings. May the words of Hannah be the words of every believer to whom God has entrusted that most precious gift -- another human life, to protect and cherish and nurture in the fear of the Lord.

I PRAYED FOR THIS CHILD: "I too desire that my son should be lent to the Lord. So when the last trump shall sound and I shall stand before the Judge of all the earth, what will he say to me? I see him reproving me for all my faults, and then he asks, 'Where is the one talent that I gave you? What use have you made of it?' Will I have hidden this talent in the earth, or will I with confidence be able to reply, 'Lord, see my son!'?" (Xd 90:84). See Lesson, Thoughts of a mother.... See Article, For this child I prayed.

1Sa 1:28

1Sa 1:28.

SO NOW I GIVE HIM TO THE LORD: "That which we win by prayer we should dedicate to God, as Hannah dedicated Samuel. The gift came from heaven, let it go to heaven. Prayer brought it, gratitude sang over it... let devotion consecrate it" (CHS).
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