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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 1

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verses 1-8


“There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 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.” “Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord. On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters; and although he loved Hannah, he would give Hannah only one portion, because the Lord had closed her womb. And her rival used to provoke her sorely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons”?”

“Rama-thaim-Zophim”. There were not less than eight places called “Ramah” mentioned in the O.T., most of then within five or ten miles of Jerusalem.(F1) There is not enough information to determine exactly which location was referred to here.

“Elkanah … an Ephraimite” Elkanah was an Ephraimite only in the sense that he lived in the hill country of Ephraim. He was most certainly a Levite as positively indicated in the account of his ancestry given in 1 Chronicles 6:33. Furthermore, as Keil pointed out, the very name “Elkanah” identifies him as a Levite. “All of the Elkanahs mentioned in the O.T. (with a single exception) can be proved to have been Levites.”(F2) R. Payne Smith stressed the fact that, “`Elkanah’ was a name commonly used among the Kohathites, to which division of the sons of Levi Samuel belonged.”(F3)

The fact of Elkanah’s being called in this passage “an Ephraimite” merely means that, like all Levites, he was attached to the tribe of Ephraim in civil and legal matters. “Elkanah is called an Ephraimite, because, as far as his civil standing was concerned, he belonged to the tribe of Ephraim, just as the Levite in Judges 17:7 is described as belonging to the tribe of Judah.”(F4)

“Hannah” This name in the Douay Version is “Anna.” According to Henry Preserved Smith it means “grace,” and Peninnah means “coral.”(F5) Barnes gave the meaning of Peninnah as “pearl,” and declared that it means the same thing as “Margaret.”(F6) F. K. Farr gave the meaning of “Elkanah” as “possessed of God,”(F7) a name especially appropriate for a Levite, because the Levites were in a special sense God’s possession.

“He had two wives” It must not be thought that because so many examples of polygamy are found among the heroes of the O.T. that God ever approved of it. It was never the will of God (Matthew 19:3-9), and the example here in the case of Elkanah is another instance of the unhappiness and strife that normally resulted from the possession of two or more wives.

Now this man used to go up year by year to worship at Shiloh. Louise Pettibone Smith misconstrued this passage to mean that, “This pilgrimage only once a year shows that this had nothing to do with the later law of the three national festivals (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles).”(F8) Such a view is founded on the outmoded and discredited theory of a LATE DATE of the Pentateuch. As Willis declared, “There are indications that this may have been one of the three national festivals mentioned in Exodus 34:18-24 and Deuteronomy 16:16.”(F9) In fact, no other annual festivals of the Jews existed in those times except the three feasts which were just mentioned. We agree with Willis that the particular festival that Elkanah attended was probably that the Feast of Tabernacles.

“To sacrifice to the Lord of Hosts” “This name of God, with variations, is found 260 times in the O.T., but this is the first mention of it.”(F10) Scholarly disputes over whether the title means “heavenly hosts such as the stars,” “the hosts of angels,” “the hosts of the armies of Israel,” or “the hosts of all human armies” are of little interest, because God is the “Lord of all hosts.” The Good News Bible and the NIV both rendered it “Lord Almighty”; but James Moffatt and the Douay Version of the Old Testament wisely let it stand as “Lord of Hosts,” “Jehovah Sabaoth.”

“At Shiloh” Joshua had removed the ark from Gilgal to Shiloh, a town in his own tribe of Ephraim, located about ten miles south of Shechem. (Joshua 18:1).

“Where Eli, Hophni, and Phinehas were priests of the Lord” Eli had not retired at that time as High Priest, but he had abandoned much of the duties of his office to his unscrupulous, immoral sons.

“He would give Hannah only one portion, because the Lord had closed her womb” The sacrificial meal which Elkanah’s household enjoyed at Shiloh was evidently a peace-offering. Payne defended the ASV rendition here as being at least “possible,” adding that, “The Hebrew text, though obscure, at least suggests `worthy’ or `double’ portion; and such an act by Elkanah would partially explain Peninnah’s conduct.”(F11)

Worshippers were permitted to feast on the peace-offerings after the priests had taken their portion, and the event mentioned here was that of parceling out the food to individuals. Peninnah with her children received many portions, and despite Elkanah’s love for Hannah, she would normally have received only one portion as the RSV text states it.

Hannah’s weeping was evidently precipitated by Peninnah’s jealous and unfeeling conduct as she taunted Hannah, especially on those occasions of the annual worship at Shiloh. Difficulties in the Hebrew text here have led some to suppose that Hannah on the particular occasion mentioned here interrupted her meal to enter the tabernacle for prayer. This, it seems, might be supported by 1 Samuel 1:18, where it mentions Hannah’s eating immediately after the account of her prayer.

Verses 9-18


“After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, “Oh Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look upon the affliction of thy maidservant, and remember me, and not forget thy maidservant, but wilt give to thy maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.” “As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard; therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. And Eli said to her, “How long will you be drunken? Put away your wine from you.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman sorely troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your maidservant as a base woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation. Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have made to him.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her countenance was no longer sad.”

“After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh” suggests that this phrase might mean “after their meal had started,” and that Hannah interrupted her meal to make her appeal to God.

“Hannah rose” The Septuagint (LXX) adds the words here that “she arose and stood before the Lord,” indicating that she made her prayer from a standing position, a bit of information which seems to be borne out by Hannah’s reference to the occasion in 1 Samuel 1:26.

“No razor shall touch his head” From this, we may conclude that Samuel was a Nazarite for life, but Samuel’s right to prophesy, to offer sacrifices, and to give commandments to kings did not derive from this, but solely from his being directly called by the Lord to the prophetic office.

“Now Eli was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord” According to R. Payne Smith, the “seat” mentioned here was a kind of “pontifical throne at the entrance to the inner court of the tabernacle.”(F12)

“The temple of the Lord” Wilson reminds us that the word “temple” means, “either the temple or the tabernacle,”(F13) and in our studies in the Psalms, we found that very frequently the term was used of the tabernacle, as is certainly the case here.

“How long will you be drunken?” It appears from this that drunkenness at the tabernacle festivals was a rather common occurrence, else Eli would not so readily have accused Hannah with these harsh words. It is of great interest that “silent” prayer is here answered by the direct intervention of God Himself.

“Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition” This response from Eli came after Hannah explained to the High Priest his mistake, and we view this sentence from the lips of Eli as a prayer to God, and not merely as “a wish” that God would answer Hannah’s prayer. The proof of this is seen in the fact of Hannah’s being “no longer sad” (1 Samuel 1:18). The prayer of the great High Priest and judge of Israel himself was the factor that resulted in the dramatic change in Hannah’s attitude.

Verses 19-20


“They rose early in the morning and worshipped before the Lord; and they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her; and in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”

“For she said, “I have asked him of the Lord” A number of excellent scholars tell us that the name Samuel does not mean, “asked of the Lord.” Still, the Douay Version declares flatly in a footnote on that verse that, “This name means `asked of God.’“(F14) Whatever the truth may be, it is evident enough from the Sacred Text that there must be some connection between the name Samuel and Hannah’s declared reason for giving it.

Verses 21-28


“And the man Elkanah and all his house went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice, and to pay his vow. But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, that he may appear in the presence of the Lord, and abide there forever.” Elkanah her husband said to her, “Do what seems best to you, wait until you have weaned him; only may the Lord establish his word.” So the woman remained and nursed her son until she weaned him. And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine; and she brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh; and the child was young. Then they slew the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. And she said, “Oh my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For the child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me my petition which I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord. And they worshipped the Lord there.”

“Elkanah and all his house went up … to pay his vow” “This shows that Elkanah had ratified Hannah’s vow, making it his vow also.”(F15)

“As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him” From 2 Maccabees 7:27, we learn that the weaning time for children in Palestine and the Mideast was a period of two years, or often, three years.

“She took him up with her, along with a three-year old bull” This does not mean that Hannah, alone, made the trip to Shiloh on this occasion, for 1 Samuel 1:3; 1 Samuel 1:21 establish the fact that Elkanah and his whole house made those yearly pilgrimages. Hannah, however, is the principal actor on this particular occasion.

“A three year old bull” We believe that this is an error in the RSV rendition, because the Hebrew has “three bulls,” not a three-year old bull. There is no good reason why the Syriac should be preferred here. The argument that only one bull was brought is based upon the mention in 1 Samuel 1:25 that “they slew the bull.” Keil gives us what is probably the correct understanding of this passage.

The bull mentioned in 1 Samuel 1:25 was the sacrifice connected with the presentation of Samuel to the Lord - whereas the other two bulls were those brought on the previous two years during the interval when Samuel was being weaned. These were facts which the author did not think it needful to mention, simply because it is implied from 1 Samuel 1:3, and from the provisions of the Law of Moses.(F16)

“An ephah of flour” Moffatt rendered this “a bushel of flour,” as does the Good News Bible. Other translators usually make it three-fifths of a bushel.

“I am the woman who was standing here … praying to the Lord” The O.T. reveals no fixed position as a requirement for prayer. Prostration before the Lord, kneeling, lifting up hands or eyes or both toward heaven, and standing are all mentioned. Jonah’s position in the belly of the sea-monster was not likely to have been any of these.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 1". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/1-samuel-1.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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