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the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 1

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verse 1


First Samuel begins by contrasting Israel’s last two judges (Eli: a failure; and Samuel: a success) and then Israel’s first two kings (Saul: a failure; and David: a success).

The first major section of Samuel sharply contrasts obedience and disobedience to the will of God as God expressed that for Israel in the Mosaic Covenant. This contrast is clear in all seven major sections of 1 and 2 Samuel. The events in this section took place during Eli’s 40-year judgeship (1 Samuel 4:18; 1 Samuel 1144-1104 B.C.). [Note: Eugene H. Merrill, "Paul’s Use of ’About 450 Years’ in Acts 13:20," Bibliotheca Sacra (July-September 1981):247, dated Samson’s death about 1085 B.C.] First Samuel overlaps Judges chronologically.

Verses 1-2

The problem 1:1-2

Samuel’s parents lived near Ramathaim-zophim (lit. two heights, elsewhere called Ramah, e.g., 1 Samuel 1:19, lit. height) in Ephraim in central Canaan. There was also a Ramah in the territory of Benjamin farther to the south (Judges 19:13; et al.), and one in Naphtali to the north (Joshua 19:29; Joshua 19:36). Samuel’s father, Elkanah, was an Ephraimite by residence but a Levite by birth (1 Chronicles 6:33-38). Ramah was not one of the Levitical towns in Ephraim. Elkanah’s residence raises initial questions about his commitment to the Mosaic Law. Was he really where he should have been, and does this indicate that the will of God may not have been very important for him (cf. Judges 17:7-13)? In the story that follows it is Hannah (lit. grace) rather than Elkanah (lit. God created) who emerges as the person of outstanding faith. Hannah’s problem was that she was barren (1 Samuel 1:2).

In the Hebrew Bible the description of Samuel’s father and Samson’s father are almost identical (cf. Judges 13:2). The Holy Spirit may have written this to remind us of the unusual Nazirite status of both judges.

Verses 1-10

A. The Change from Barrenness to Fertility 1:1-2:10

In the first subsection (1 Samuel 1:1 to 1 Samuel 2:10), we have the joyful story of Samuel’s miraculous birth and his mother’s gratitude to God for reversing her barrenness and making her fertile. The significance of this story is not only that it gives us the record of how Samuel was born and that his mother was a godly woman. It also shows how God, in faithfulness to His promise to bless those who put Him first (Deuteronomy 28), did so even for a despised woman in Israel (cf. Rahab and Ruth). He brought blessing to all Israel because of her faith.

Verses 1-28

1. Hannah’s deliverance ch. 1

"1 Samuel 1 is presented as a conventional birth narrative which moves from barrenness to birth. Laid over that plot is a second rhetorical strategy which moves from complaint to thanksgiving. With the use of this second strategy, the birth narrative is transposed and becomes an intentional beginning point for the larger Samuel-Saul-David narrative. Hannah’s story begins in utter helplessness (silence); it anticipates Israel’s royal narrative which also begins in helplessness. As Hannah moves to voice (2,1-10), so Israel’s narrative moves to power in the historical process. Both Hannah’s future and Israel’s future begin in weakness and need, and move toward power and well-being. The narrative of 1 Samuel 1 functions to introduce the theological theme of ’cry-thanks’ which appears in the larger narrative in terms of Israelite precariousness and Yahweh’s powerful providence. Our chapter corresponds canonically to 2 Samuel 24 which portrays David in the end (like Hannah) as a needy, trusting suppliant. The two chapters, witnesses to vulnerable faith, together bracket Israel’s larger story of power." [Note: Walter Brueggemann, "1 Samuel 1 : A Sense of a Beginning," Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 102:1 (1990):48.]

Verses 3-8

Hannah’s barrenness 1:3-8

Elkanah was a bigamist, a marital status forbidden by God (Genesis 2:24). However, Elkanah loved Hannah dearly and gave her special consideration since she was infertile (1 Samuel 1:5; cf. Jacob’s relationship with Rachel and Leah). Hannah’s inability to bear children may have prompted Elkanah to take Peninnah as a second wife (cf. Genesis 16).

God had promised to bless His people with many descendants if they obeyed Him (Deuteronomy 28:11). Consequently many Israelites saw a woman’s inability to bear children not just as a natural handicap but also as a curse from God. Peninnah (lit. pearl; her "rival," 1 Samuel 1:6) may have accused Hannah of some sin in her life that had apparently brought God’s curse on her (1 Samuel 1:6; cf. Hagar’s treatment of Sarai; Genesis 16:4). From the context we learn that Hannah was an unusually godly woman. Probably her barrenness was not a divine punishment for sin. It appears to have been a natural condition that God placed on her for His own purposes, some of which become clear as this story unfolds (cf. John 9:1-3).

Elkanah was careful to observe some of the statutes in the Mosaic Law, such as worshipping God yearly at Shiloh. However, he seems to have been somewhat insensitive to the depth of Hannah’s suffering as a barren woman (1 Samuel 1:8).

The name "Lord of hosts" occurs first in the Old Testament in 1 Samuel 1:3. [Note: See Matitiahu Tsevat, "Studies in the Book of Samuel," Hebrew Union College Annual 36 (1965):49-58.] This is a very commonly used divine titulary (a title that became a name) in the rest of Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and the prophetic books. The "hosts" are the armies of the sovereign God and consist of humans (1 Samuel 17:45), angels (Joshua 5:14), and stars (Isaiah 40:26). This name expresses the infinite resources and power at God’s disposal as He fights for His people.

"Three dramatic elements in the scene make the problem of barrenness more poignant for the narrative.

"First, we are told twice that ’The Lord had closed her womb’ (1 Samuel 1:5-6). . . . Second, while it is Yahweh who has created Hannah’s problem, Hannah’s response is not against Yahweh, but against Peninnah (1 Samuel 1:6-7). . . .

"Third, the scene ends with Elkanah’s four-fold question, three times lameh, ’why,’ plus a concluding question about his own value to Hannah (1 Samuel 1:8). Elkanah’s questions are voiced in pathos. He does not understand Hannah’s response; moreover he is helpless to change Hannah’s situation. Elkanah is helpless about the problem of barrenness caused by Yahweh, and he is helpless in the destructive interaction between his wives. Hannah is deeply needy and immobilized, and her husband is helpless. The family system seems desperately closed. The only opening is that every year Elkanah goes up to sacrifice to Yahweh, the very one who has closed Hannah’s womb." [Note: Brueggemann, p. 35.]

Verses 9-18

Hannah’s lament and Eli’s response 1:9-18

These verses provide some insight into the godly character of Samuel’s mother and her personal relationship with Yahweh. That she would offer her son to God’s service for life was similar to asking that God would lead your child into "the ministry." Asking that he would be a lifetime Nazirite was similar to asking that your child would dedicate himself completely to God, not just by profession but also by conviction. Hannah showed that she desired the honor of Yahweh more than simply gaining relief from her abusers. She wanted to make a positive contribution to God’s program for Israel by providing a godly leader, not just to bear a child. Compare the blessing God gave Samson’s parents, in Judges 13:2-5, that probably came just a few years before Hannah made her vow.

The record of Eli’s observations of and dialogue with Hannah (1 Samuel 1:12-17) confirms the sincerity and appropriateness of her petition. Eli did not rebuke Hannah but commended her. [Note: This is the only Old Testament passage that shows a priest blessing an individual worshipper.] However, Eli’s response to Hannah reveals his instability. He misunderstood Hannah because he did not perceive her correctly. This weakness surfaces again later and accounts in part for his demise.

Prayer in the ancient world was usually audible (cf. Psalms 3:4; Psalms 4:1; Psalms 6:9; et al.; Daniel 6:10-11). [Note: Ronald F. Youngblood, "1, 2 Samuel," in Deuteronomy-2 Samuel, vol. 3 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 573.] Pouring out one’s soul before God (1 Samuel 1:15) graphically describes earnest, burdened praying. [Note: G. W. Ahlstrom, "1 Samuel 1, 15," Biblica 60:2 (1979):254.] This kind of praying normally results in a release of anxiety, as it did in Hannah’s case (1 Samuel 1:18; cf. Philippians 4:6-7).

"The issues now turn not on barrenness and birth, but upon submission to Yahweh and trust in Yahweh. Thus while the two scenes share a common problem, they approach the problem very differently. Scene 1 [1 Samuel 1:3-8] treats the problem of barrenness as a matter of family struggle. In scene 2 [1 Samuel 1:9-18] the same problem has been redefined in Yahwistic categories of need, submission, and trust." [Note: Brueggemann, p. 37.]

When we believers find ourselves in difficult situations, we should commit our desires to God in prayer. In prayer we should seek what is best for God primarily because the purpose of prayer is to enable us to accomplish God’s will, not to get Him to do our will (cf. Matthew 6:9-10). When we feel a need greatly, we should also pray earnestly. When we pray this way, God will enable us to feel peace in our problem (cf. Philippians 4:6-7).

Verses 19-20

A birth announcement 1:19-20

Hannah’s godly character surfaces again in the naming of Samuel. His name probably means "heard of God" or "God hears." Another possibility is "the name of God." Hannah, whose name means "grace" or "graciousness," recognized that Samuel’s birth was not just a coincidence. It was an answer to prayer and a supernatural gift from God.

"Yahweh is the key actor in the narrative. Hannah could speak complaint and petition only because she submitted to Yahweh. Eli could give assurance to her only because he spoke on behalf of Yahweh. The son is born only because Yahweh remembered. Everything depends on asking Yahweh and being answered by Yahweh. Thus scene 3 [1 Samuel 1:19-20] resolves scene 1 [1 Samuel 1:3-8], but only by way of the decisive intrusion of Yahweh through scene 2 [1 Samuel 1:9-18]." [Note: Brueggemann, p. 37.]

Verses 21-28

The parents’ thanksgiving 1:21-28a

"Scenes 3 [1 Samuel 1:19-20] and 4 [1 Samuel 1:21-28 a] are a pair, not unlike the pairing of 1 [1 Samuel 1:3-8] and 2 [1 Samuel 1:9-19]. They are the two scenes of resolution. . . . These two scenes are concerned not with the birth, but with Hannah coming to terms with the reality of Yahweh. She is portrayed as the one who is needy, trustful, submissive, and grateful. She is a model of fidelity." [Note: Ibid., p. 39.]

The Mosaic Law required an offering to God when He granted a vow (Leviticus 27:1-8). Elkanah went to the central sanctuary to make this offering shortly after Samuel’s birth (1 Samuel 1:21). The text refers to Hannah’s vow as Elkanah’s (1 Samuel 1:21). It was his vow in this sense: since he did not cancel it when he heard about it, he became responsible for it as Hannah’s husband (cf. Numbers 30:1-8).

Samuel may have been as old as three years before Hannah weaned him and brought him to the sanctuary (1 Samuel 1:23; cf. 2 Maccabees 7:27). The three-year-old bull and the flour (1 Samuel 1:24) were evidently for a burnt offering (an offering that represented the worshipper’s total dedication to God, Leviticus 1) and for food respectively. The Hebrew word for flour used here, qemah, never occurs in a sacrificial context except once, where it is unaccompanied by an animal sacrifice (Numbers 5:15). Hannah could have offered a less expensive animal sacrifice (Leviticus 12:6), but she was very grateful.

Verse 28

The beginning of Samuel’s worship 1:28b

"The future of the story now to be told in I and II Samuel concerns not only the newly born son, but the rule of Yahweh to whom laments are addressed and thanksgiving uttered. No wonder the narrative ends with yielding, grateful, trusting worship." [Note: Brueggemann, p. 39.]

The "he" who worshipped before the Lord (1 Samuel 1:28) may refer to Elkanah, the leader of the family and the main man in the context. It might also refer to Eli to whom Hannah was speaking. [Note: Youngblood, p. 575.] I think it probably refers to Samuel, the most immediate antecedent of "he" in 1 Samuel 1:28. If this interpretation is correct, this reference marks the beginning of Samuel’s ministry, which all of chapter 1 anticipates.

Hannah obeyed the Mosaic Law when she fulfilled her vow (1 Samuel 1:24-28). This contrasts with the disobedience of Eli’s sons (1 Samuel 2:11-36). In Deuteronomy 28 Moses predicted the outcome of these two responses to God’s Word, and the writer of this book illustrated it in 1 Samuel 1, 2.

Hannah’s obedience resulted in great blessing. God blessed her with fertility, He blessed her and her husband with this child and other offspring (1 Samuel 2:20-21), and He blessed Israel with a spiritual leader.

"This beautiful story of a faithful mother in Israel whom God honored by giving her a son is the crown jewel in the argument of the book. Yahweh looks for faithful, godly men and women whom He can set over His People." [Note: Homer Heater Jr., "A Theology of Samuel and Kings," in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, pp. 121-22.]

Godly parents should give their children away-to the Lord for His service.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/1-samuel-1.html. 2012.
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