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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

1 Samuel 1

THE FIRST BOOK OF SAMUEL,
OTHERWISE CALLED
THE FIRST BOOK OF THE KINGS.

(1 Samuel 1:1-8) The Home Life of the Family of the future Prophet-judge of Israel. (1 Samuel 1:9-28) Interview of Hannah with Eli—Birth and Dedication of Samuel.

Somewhere about the year 1140 B.C. (or, as some suppose, thirty years earlier), the Levitical family of Elkanah, of the house of Kohath, lived in Ramathaim-zophim, a little city of Benjamin, built on the slopes of Mount Ephraim. The supposed date of the Trojan War coincides with this period of Jewish history. We may then fairly assume that the events related in the Homeric epic took place during the time treated of in these Books of Samuel.

Verse 1

(1) Now there was a certain man.—Literally, And there was, &c. These introductory words do not signify that this history is the continuation of the Book of Judges or of any preceding writing. It is a common historical introductory formula. We find it at the commencement of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Kings, Esther, Ezra, Ezekiel, &c. The circumstances under which this record was probably compiled are discussed elsewhere.

Of Ramathaim-zophim.—The name Ramathaim—literally, The Two Ramahs—is the dual of the well-known Ramah, the appellation by which this city is usually known. The old city was, no doubt, built on two hills, which looked one on the other: hence perhaps the name Zophim, the watchers. Possibly at an early date watch-towers or outlooks, to enable the citizens to guard against surprise, were built on the summit of these hills. Either of these suppositions would account for the suggestive name by which Ramah was once known, the “Ramahs of the Watchers.”

Others would connect the appellation “Zophim” with the family of Zuph, from whom Elkanah descended. (See 1 Chronicles 6:35, and 1 Samuel 9:5, where the land of Zuph is mentioned.) An interesting. though fanciful, derivation refers Zophim, watchers, to the “prophet-watchmen” of the house of Israel, as Ramah in after years was a school of the prophets.

On the whole, the simplest and least strained explanation is the one given above, which refers the name to the hills so placed that they watched one another, or better still, to the watch-towers built at an early date on the two summits.
Ramah lay among the mountains of Ephraim, which extended into the territory of Benjamin, in which tribe the city of Ramah lay.

His name was Elkanah.—Elkanah, the father of the future prophet-judge, was a Levite of the family of Kohath (compare the genealogy given here with 1 Chronicles 6:22). He is here termed an Ephrathite: that is, an Ephraimite, because, as far as his civil standing was concerned, he belonged to the tribe of Ephraim.

Some have found a difficulty in reconciling the Levitical descent of Samuel with his dedication to the Lord by his mother, supposing that in the case of a Levite this would be unnecessary; but the dedication of Samuel, it should be remembered, was a life-long one, whereas the Levitical service only began when the Levite was twenty-five years old; and even then the service was not continuous.

Verse 2

(2) And he had two wives.—The primeval Divine ordination, we know, gave its sanction alone to monogamy. The first who seems to have violated God’s original ordinance appears to have been Lamech, of the family of Cain (Genesis 4:19). The practice apparently had become general throughout the East when the Mosaic Law was formulated. In this Divine code it is noticeable that while polygamy is accepted as a custom everywhere prevailing, it is never approved. The laws of Moses—as in the case of another universally accepted practice, slavery—simply seek to restrict and limit it by wise and humane regulations. The inspired writer in this narrative of the home life of Elkanah of “Ramah of the Watchersquietly shows up the curse which almost invariably attended this miserable violation of the relations of the home life to which in the old Eden days the eternal law had given its sanction and blessing. The Old Testament Book contains many of these gently-worded but fire-tipped rebukes of sin and frailty—sins condoned and even approved by the voice of mankind.

Peninnah.—Hannah signifies grace or favour, and has ever been a favourite name among the women of the East. It was the name of the Punic Queen Dido’s sister, Anna. The traditional mother of the Virgin Mary was named Anna. (See Luke 2:36.) Peninnah is translated by some scholars “coral;” according to others it signifies “pearl.” We have adopted the same name under the modem “Margaret.”

Verse 3

(3) Went up out of his city yearly.—The He brew expression rendered yearly, is found in Exodus 13:10, and there refers to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Passover. There is little doubt but that this great national festival is here referred to. It was the Passover that the whole family were accustomed to keep at the sanctuary of the Eternal. The writer places in strong contrast the piety and devotion which evidently still existed in the family life of many in Israel with the fearful disorders and crime which disfigured the priestly life in those days. There were not a few, doubtless, in Israel who, like Elkanah and his house, honoured the name of the Lord, while the recognised rulers and religious guides of the people, like the sons of Eli the high priest, too often lived in open and notorious sin.

Unto the Lord of hosts.—This is the first time in the Old Testament Book that we find the well-known appellation of the Eternal “Jehovah Sabaoth,” Lord of hosts.

It is computed that this title of God occurs 260 times in the Old Testament, but it is not found in any of the books written or compiled before this time. In the New Testament it is only once used (see James 5:4).

The glorious title, with which Isaiah, who uses it some sixty times, and Jeremiah some eighty times, have especially made us familiar, represented Jehovah, the Eternal One, as ruler over the heavenly hosts: that is, over the angels and the stars; the stars being conceived to be the dwelling-places of these deathless beings.

The idea of their invisible God-Friend being the sovereign Master of a host of those innumerable glorious beings usually known as angels, or messengers, was no strange one to Hebrew thought. For instance, already in the story of Jacob we find the patriarch calling the angels who appeared to him the “camp of God”(Genesis 32:1-2).

In the blessing of Moses in the magnificent description of the giving of the law on Sinai (Deuteronomy 33:2), we read of “ten thousands of saints” (Kodesh). The glorious Angel who allowed Joshua to worship him under the towers of Jericho (Joshua 5:14) speaks of himself as “captain or prince of the host of the Lord.” It is especially noteworthy that here in these Books of Samuel, which tell of the establishment of an earthly sovereignty over the tribes, this stately title of the real King in Israel, which afterwards became so general, first appears. It was the solemn protest of Samuel and his school against any eclipsing of the mighty but invisible sovereignty of the Eternal by the passing splendours and the outward pomp of an earthly monarchy set up over the people.

It told also the strange and the alien peoples that the God who loved Israel was, too, the star ruler, the Lord of the whole universe, visible and invisible.

In Shiloh.—That is, rest. This sacred city was situated in Ephraim. It became the sanctuary of Israel in the time of Joshua, who pitched the tent of the Tabernacle there. Shiloh, as the permanent seat of the Ark and the Tabernacle, was the religious centre of Israel during the whole period of the judges. On rare occasions the sacred tent, and all or part of the holy furniture, seems to have been temporarily moved to such places as Mizpah and Bethel, but its regular home was Shiloh. At the time of the birth of Samuel, and during his younger days, the high priest resided there, and the religious families of the people were in the habit of making an annual pilgrimage to this, the central sanctuary of the worship of Jehovah.

The priests of the Lord.—The mention of these two priests of the Lord by no means suggests that the ritual of the Tabernacle had become so meagre and deficient as only to require the services of two or three ministers: indeed, the contrary is signified by the description of one portion only of the ceremonies given in the next chapter. These two, Hophni and Phinehas, are here alluded to specially by name. First, on account of their rank and connection with the high priest Eli, to whose high dignity one of the brothers would probably succeed. Secondly, because these unhappy men figured in one of the great historical disasters of the people. Thirdly, the writer, out of many servants of the sanctuary, chose two prominent figures to illustrate the terrible state of corruption into which the priesthood had fallen. Bishop Wordsworth here draws a curious but suggestive lesson. “Although Hophni and Phinehas were among the priests, yet Elkanah and Hannah did not separate themselves from the service of the sanctuary when they ministered—a lesson against schism.”

Verse 5

(5) A worthy portion.—Literally, one portion for two persons: i.e., a double portion. It was an expression of his deep love for her. As Von Gerlach puts it, “Thou art as dear to me as if thou hadst borne me a child.” Some scholars would translate the difficult Hebrew expression here by, “But to Hannah he gave a portion of anger or sadness,” thus intensifying the natural sorrow of Hannah by representing her husband as unkind. The Vulgate, Luther, and Abarbanel favour this singular interpretation; but the one adopted by the English Version, and explained above, is in all respects grammatically and exegetically to be preferred.

Verse 6

(6) And her adversary also provoked her sore.—Jealousy, grief, anger, malice, the many bitter fruits of this way of living, so different to God’s original appointment, here show themselves. The one sin of polygamy poisons the whole home life of the family, in all other respects apparently a quiet, Godfearing, orderly household.

Verse 7

(7) And as he did so year by year.—That is, Elkanah, on the occasion of every yearly visit to the national sanctuary, was in the habit of publicly giving the childless Hannah the double gift, to show his undiminished love; while the happier mother of his children, jealous of her rival, every year chose this solemn occasion of offering thank-offerings before the Tabernacle, especially to taunt the childless wife, no doubt referring the absence of children, which among the mothers of Israel was considered so deep a calamity, to the special auger of God.

Verse 8

(8) Than ten sons.—Merely a round number to express many. The simple narration evidently came from Hannah, who, no doubt, in after years loved to dwell on her past sorrowful life, contrasted with her present strange blessedness as mother of the Restorer of the people.

Verse 9

(9) After they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk.—This was the solemn sacrificial meal, at which the whole family were present.

Now Eli the priest sat upon a seat.—Eli, the high priest of Israel at this time, was a descendant of Ithamar, the younger son of Aaron (see 1 Chronicles 24:3, where it is stated that his great-grandson, Ahimelech, was of the sons of Ithamar). The circumstances which led to the transfer of the dignity from the line of Eleazar, who succeeded his father Aaron in the office, are unknown. It has been suggested that at the death of the last high priest of the line of Eleazar, Ozi, there was no son of sufficient age and experience to succeed, and so the office passed to the next of kin, Eli, a son of the house of Ithamar. (See Josephus, Antt. v., 2, § 5.)

The seat upon which Eli is represented as usually sitting (see 1 Samuel 4:18) was evidently a chair or throne of state, where the high-priestly judge sat at certain times to administer justice and to transact business. The Hebrew word rendered here “post,” and the expression “doors of the house” (1 Samuel 3:15), seem to suggest that now a permanent home had been erected for the sanctuary: something of a building, possibly of stone, surrounding the Tabernacle had been built.

The “temple of the Lord,” rather, palace of the Lord, so called not from any external magnificence but as being the earthly place where at times the visible glory of the Eternal King of Israel, the Shekinah, was pleased to manifest itself.

Verse 11

(11) And she vowed a vow.—The vow of Hannah contained two solemn promises—the one pledged the son she prayed for to the service of the Eternal all the days of his life. The mother looked on to a life-long service in the ritual of the Tabernacle for him, but the Being who heard her prayer destined her son for higher work; in his case the priestly duties were soon merged in the far more responsible ones of the prophet—the great reformer of the people. The second promise undertook that he should be a Nazarite. Now the Nazariteship included three things—the refraining from intoxicating drinks, the letting the hair grow, and the avoiding all ceremonial defilement by corpses even of the nearest kin. Samuel was what the Talmud calls a perpetual Nazarite.

These strange restrictions and customs had an inner signification. The abstinence from wine and strong drink typified that the Nazarite determined to avoid all sensual indulgence which might cloud the mind and render the man unfit for prayer to, and work for, the Lord; the avoiding contact with the dead was a perpetual outward protest that the vower of the solemn vow renounced all moral defilement, that he gave up every thing which could stain and soil the life consecrated to the Eternal’s service; the untouched hair, which here is especially mentioned, was a public protest that the consecrated one had determined to refrain from intercourse with the world, and to devote the whole strength and fulness of life to the Lord’s work. The LXX. (Greek) Version here inserts the words, “and he shall drink neither wine nor strong drink,” wishing to bring the passage into stricter accordance with Numbers 6:0. The original Hebrew text, however, contents itself with specifying merely the outward sign of the untouched hair, by which these solemnly consecrated ones were publicly known.

Verse 13

(13) Now Hannah, she spake in her heart.—Eli was watching the worshippers, and, as Bunsen well remarks, was struck with dismay at her silent earnestness, such heartfelt prayer being apparently not usual at that time, and remembering the condition of the moral life in the precincts of the sanctuary over which he ruled with so weak and vacillating a rule, and how sadly frequent were disorders at the sacrificial meal, at once suspected that the weeping, praying one was a drunken woman. He, however, quickly atoned for his unworthy suspicion.

Verse 14

(14) And Eli said unto her.—The LXX. or Septuagint attempts to soften the harshness of the high priest to Hannah by inserting before Eli the word “servant,” or “young man,” thus suggesting that the hard, unjust words were spoken by an attendant. But it is clear that the English Version represents the true text here, for in the next verse Hannah replies directly to Eli with the simple words “No, my lord.”

Verse 15

(15) NO, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit . . .—Calvin, quoted by Erdmann, well remarks here:—“Consider the modesty of Hannah, who, though she had received injury from the high priest, yet answers with reverence and humility.”

On these words of Hannah the Talmud says:—“Some think that Hannah spake in the following sense. Thou art neither lord, nor does the Holy Spirit rest upon thee, because thou dost suspect me in this matter, and hast formed such an uncharitable opinion of me. Neither the Shekinah nor the Holy Spirit are with thee.”—Treatise Berachoth, fol. 31, Colossians 2:0.

Verse 17

(17) The God of Israel grant thee thy petition.—The character of Eli is a deeply interesting one. Weak and over-indulgent to his headstrong, wicked sons, probably too self-indulgent, and a lover of ease, yet in the brief record we possess we catch eight of not a few noble thoughts and wishes: flashes of true nobility, real generosity and self-forgetfulness, of intense, devoted patriotism, light up a life which closed in failure and disaster. Here the old man is quick to see that he had been insulting a blameless woman, so at once he retracts his cruel accusation, and silently accuses himself of precipitancy and injustice in his graceful, courteous words of farewell; adding too his fatherly wish, he almost promises that what she wished so ardently should be hers.

Verse 18

(18) Let thine handmaid find grace.—In other words, Hannah’s reply to his loving farewell asked the old man to think kindly of her, and to pray for her with his mighty power of prayer.

Did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.—A beautiful example of the composing influence of prayer. “Hannah had cast her burden upon the Lord, and so her own spirit was relieved of its load. She now returned to the family feast, and ate her portion with a cheerful heart.”—Speaker’s Commentary.

Verse 19

(19) And they rose up.—Another notice of the pious customs of the house of Elkanah. This is a striking picture of one of the many holy homes in Israel, even in the wild, disorderly days of the Judges, and of the deep degradation of the priests of the sanctuary.

“The house at Ramah,” the usual short name by which the city, “The Ramahs of the Watchers,” Ramathaim-zophim, was known.

Verse 20

(20) And called his name Samuel.—The words translated “because I have asked him of the Lord,” do not explain the meaning of the name “Samuel·” they simply give the reason for his mother so calling him. The name Sh’muel (Samuel) is formed from the Hebrew words Sh’mua El (a Deo exauditus), “heard of God.”

Verse 21

(21) And his vow.—Elkanah too had vowed a vow unto the Lord, in case his wife Hannah should have a son. It has been remarked that vows are characteristic of that particular age of the Judges; for instance, we have detailed accounts of Samson and Jephthan’s vows, the oath in the Benjamite vow, &c.

Verse 22

(22) Until the child be weaned.—Weaning, we know, took place very late among the Hebrews. From 2Ma. 7:27, it appears that Hebrew mothers were in the habit of suckling their children for three years. The mother proposed, when the weaning had taken place, to leave her son as a servant of the sanctuary, there to remain all his life.

On the late period of weaning among the Oriental nations, Kalisch refers to the Persian custom of suckling boys two years and two months, and girls two years.

Verse 23

(23) Only the Lord establish his word.—No special word or promise of the Eternal in the case of the infant Samuel is recorded in this history; but there was an ancient Rabbinical tradition that a direct revelation respecting the future destiny of Samuel was made. “The Bath-kol (Daughter of the Voice) went forth, saying, There shall arise a just one, whose name shall be Samuel. Then every mother who bore a son called him Samuel; but when they saw his actions, they said, This is not Samuel. But when this one was born, they said, This is that Samuel, and this is what the Scripture means when it says, ‘The Lord confirmed his word that Samuel may be that just one.’”—Rashi.

If we decline to accept the Rabbinical tradition, Bunsen’s simple comment will explain the difficult words of the text, “establish his word”: that is, may the Lord fulfil what He designs with him, and has promised by his birth.

Verses 24-25

(24, 25) With three bullocks . . . And they slew a bullock.—There at first sight seems a discrepancy here, and the LXX. translators seem to have felt it, for they read, instead of “three bullocks,” “a bullock of three years old.” The true explanation, however, is that the one bullock alluded to in 1 Samuel 1:25 was the burnt offering by which the child was consecrated to the Lord. The other two were the yearly festival offering, the presentation of which being the usual gift, the chronicler did not think it here worth while to mention again.

Verse 26

(26) O my lord, as thy soul liveth.—“This oath is peculiar to the Books of Samuel, in which it occurs six times, and to the Books of Kings, in which, however, it is found only once. The similar oath, as Pharaoh liveth (by the life of Pharaoh), occurs in Genesis 42:15; and as the Lord liveth is found almost exclusively in the books of which Judges is the first and 2 Kings the last, being especially frequent in the Books of Samuel. This accords with the fact of the age of the Judges and Saul being characteristically the age of vows.”—Speaker’s Commentary.

Verse 28

(28) I have lent him to the Lord.—The rendering of the Hebrew here, “I have lent,” and in Exodus 12:36, is false. The translation should run: Therefore I also make him one asked of the Lord; all the days that he liveth he is asked of the Lord.” The sense is: “The Lord gave him to me, and now I have returned him whom I obtained by prayer to the Lord, as one asked or demanded.”

And he worshipped the Lord there.—“He,” that is, the boy Samuel: thus putting his own child-seal to his mother’s gift of himself to God.

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/1-samuel-1.html. 1905.