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David Guzik :: Study Guide for 1 Samuel 1

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The Birth of Samuel

1 and 2 Samuel form one book in the ancient Hebrew manuscripts. They were not divided into two books until the Old Testament was translated into Greek. We don't know who wrote the books; certainly, Samuel was a major contributor, but much of the book takes place after his death in 1 Samuel 25. They are called the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, not because he wrote all of them, but because they describe his great ministry in Israel and the legacy of it.

"Samuel the Prophet" thus practically bridges the gulf between Samson the Judge and David the King: and there is deep significance in the fact that his name is identified with the two Books of Scripture which describe this great transitional period, every event of which was affected by his influence. (F.B. Meyer)

A. Hannah's barrenness and her vow.

1. (1Sa 1:1-2) The family of Elkanah.

Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim Zophim, of the mountains of Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. And he had two wives: the name of one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.

a. Now there was a certain man: The book begins with a certain man, living at a certain time in Israel. This was a critical time in Israel's history, because of the rising power of the Philistines, who were becoming stronger and stronger because of their more modern Greek military technology. Israel could compete on more equal terms with Moab and Ammon, but Greek military equipment (helmets, shields, coats of mail, swords and spears) made the Philistines much more formidable opponents.

i. The Philistines were an immigrant people from the military aristocracy of the island of Crete (Amos 9:7). Small numbers of Philistines were in the land at the time of Abraham; but they only came in force soon after Israel came to Canaan from Egypt. They were organized into five city-states. Archaeologists tell us two other things about the Philistines: they were hard drinkers, and they were the first in the region to effectively use iron, and they made the most of it.

ii. "Never did time seem more hopeless than when Samuel arose. The Philistines, strengthened not merely by a constant influx of immigrants, but by the importation of arms from Greece, were fast reducing Israel to the condition of a subject race." (Smith, Pulpit Commentary)

b. A certain man: At this strategic time and place, God begins His plan as He almost always does - with a person, a man or a woman He will use. God could accomplish His work all by Himself, or by using angels, or by any number of other means, but His normal way of working is to find a certain man and work through them.

c. Elkanah was a descendant of Zuph, and his family line shows he was a Levite (1 Chronicles 6:16-30). He is called an Ephraimite here because his family lived in a Levitical city in boundaries of Ephraim, not because he was of the tribe of Ephraim.

d. Elkanah … had two wives: The certain man mentioned in verse one, whose name was Elkanah, had two wives. Polygamy was a fact of life in that whole part of the ancient world. However, the Bible never puts polygamy in a favorable light; strife and conflict always characterize polygamous families in the Bible.

i. In this account, we will see an intense, competitive relationship between the two wives, Peninnah (who had children) and Hannah, who did not.

ii. "The custom of those times permitted polygamy; but wherever there was more than one wife, we find the peace of the family greatly disturbed by it." (Clarke)

iii. "Polygamy was ever a sin, though in the patriarchs and ancient saints, a sin of ignorance. 'It was not so from the beginning.' (Matt. xix. 8; Mal. ii. 15) … And although before the law given by Moses, polygamy is not reprehended." (Trapp)

2. (1Sa 1:3-7) Elkanah and his family journey to the tabernacle.

This man went up from his city yearly to worship and sacrifice to the LORD of hosts in Shiloh. Also the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the LORD, were there. And whenever the time came for Elkanah to make an offering, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah, although the LORD had closed her womb. And her rival also provoked her severely, to make her miserable, because the LORD had closed her womb. So it was, year by year, when she went up to the house of the LORD, that she provoked her; therefore she wept and did not eat.

a. This man went up from his city: According to the law of Moses, Israelites were not to worship God through sacrifice any time and any way they pleased. They were to bring their sacrifices to the tabernacle of God, and the priests of God, which at this time, were at Shiloh.

i. Shiloh was the central city of Israel, the religious center, for almost four hundred years. The tabernacle - the majestic tent God command Moses to build when they came out of Egypt, was erected there, and in it sat the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark was the symbolic throne of God among Israel, the sacred chest containing the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. At the Ark, once a year, the high priest would make atonement for the sins of the nation. Though it was hidden, it was a powerful and important part of Israel's religious life.

ii. Today, if you visit Shiloh, you can see the bare, ancient outline of ruined walls of stone, walls that had once surrounded Israel's tabernacle for almost 400 years. On the heights you can see desolate, fruitless hills all around; rocky and bare, except for a distant Israeli neighborhood.

iii. Shiloh enjoyed all this glory for hundreds of years, but it came to an end abruptly. Hundreds of years later, through the prophet Jeremiah, God used Shiloh as a lesson. "Go to Shiloh," He says. "Look what happened to a place of spiritual privilege and glory when they forgot about Me. The same will happen to you if you do not turn again to Me" (a paraphrase of Jeremiah 7:12-14).

b. Also the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the LORD, were there: These priests are mentioned by name because they were known among Israel as notoriously wicked priests (as will be shown in 1 Samuel 2:17, 24). Their mention here is to show how godly Elkanah was - even though the priests were wicked, he still offered sacrifices to the LORD, knowing that the wickedness of the priest did not make his own service to the LORD invalid.

i. "This good man did not run into that vulgar error, of neglecting his duty of offering to God for the wickedness of the priests." (Poole)

c. He would give portions: Every year, when Elkanah brought his family to the tabernacle for sacrifice, he would eat a ceremonial meal at the tabernacle with his family, giving portions to his wives and their children. He showed his favor and love to Hannah by giving her a double portion.

i. No one who offered a sin offering ate any portion of it; but of the peace offerings or offerings of thanksgiving, the offerer received a substantial portion.

ii. "The sacrifices which were made were probably peace-offerings, of which the blood was poured out at the foot of the altar; the fat was burnt on the fire; the breast and right shoulder were the portion of the priest; and the rest belonged to him who made the offering; on it he and his family feasted, each receiving his portion." (Clarke)

d. Yet, because of the conflict between the two wives, Hannah could not enjoy this display of love and favor from Elkanah: therefore she wept and did not eat.

i. It is possible for problems at home to make your time at the house of God miserable. There is Hannah, at the house of the LORD, with a full, blessed, double portion in front of her, and she can't enjoy it at all!

e. Despite the pain of Hannah, God had a purpose in it all: the LORD had closed her womb. God would use the closed womb of Hannah, and the pain from being childless, to accomplish something great in her life and in the whole plan of salvation. Even though things were hard, God was still in charge.

i. God's sovereignty over the womb is a familiar theme in the Bible (Genesis 20:18; 29:31; 30:22). Though many couples today experience the same pain of childlessness, God has a plan and a purpose for something good - though not easy - in it all.

ii. "It was a great reproach to a woman among the Jews to be barren; because, say some, everyone hoped that the Messiah should spring forth from her line." (Clarke)

iii. "Barrenness in ancient times was the ultimate tragedy for a married woman, since her husband's hopes and dreams depended on her providing him with a son to perpetuate his name and inherit his estate." (Youngblood)

iv. Why should Peninnah (who seems of a bad character) be blessed with children, and Hannah (who seems of a good character) be cursed with barrenness? Often, we don't understand God's ways, until He has finished accomplishing His purpose. Hannah (her name means grace) has a barren womb, but a fruitful spirit. God is going to use this woman!

3. (1Sa 1:8-11) Hannah's godly vow.

Then Elkanah her husband said to her, "Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?" So Hannah arose after they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the tabernacle of the LORD. And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the LORD and wept in anguish. Then she made a vow and said, "O LORD of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head."

a. Hannah, why do you weep? … Am I not better to you than ten sons? In Elkanah's response to Hannah's sorrow, we see that he really does love her; yet, as many men, he is at least somewhat insensitive to her. He does not recognize that she had needs that he could not fulfill (such as the desire to be a mother).

b. Hannah was in bitterness of soul and great anguish; yet she did the right thing. Hannah took those bitter and anguished feelings to God honestly in prayer.

i. Most people know a time of bitterness of soul and anguish at some time in their lives. Thomas Sutherland said that he lost his faith during his time as a hostage in Lebanon. "God, I prayed so many times and prayed so hard - so hard! - and nothing happened. After thinking about it deeply, I'm not so sure there is a God." He added, "But I never felt abandoned by my country." The headline to this story read: Sutherland Tells of Captivity Without Bitterness. But what about his bitterness towards God?

ii. Hannah had many problems. Her husbands heart was divided. Her home, instead of being a place of refuge from trials, was a place of trials. Her hope had been disappointed. She was misunderstood by her husband. Yet in all those things, Hannah did the right things: she wept, she prayed, and she committed the whole situation to the LORD.

c. O LORD of hosts: Hannah begins her prayer by calling on the LORD of hosts.The title LORD of hosts is used some 260 times in the Old Testament, and has the idea "LORD of the Mighty Armies." Hannah feels attacked by her rival, and so calls on the LORD of Mighty Armies to be her protector!

d. She made a vow: Hannah promises her son to the work of the LORD, vowing that he will be a Nazirite from birth (I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head). According to Numbers 6, the vow of a Nazirite included the following:

i. Abstinence from any product from a grape vine, signifying distance from all fleshly pleasures.

ii. Taking no part in any mourning for the dead, nor to come near a dead body, because the dead show the corruption and the fruit of sin. Also, because the Nazirite had greater concerns than the ordinary joys and sorrows of life.

iii. Never cutting the hair, because it was a public, visible sign to others of the vow.

iv. Typically, the vow of a Nazirite was taken for a set and rather short period of time. Samuel and Samson (Judges 13:5) were unique, because they were Nazirites from birth.

e. I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life: The child born would be a Levite, and being of that tribe, would be already dedicated unto the LORD, because God regarded the tribe of Levi as His own special possession. But the time of a Levite's special dedication to the LORD only lasted from the age of 30 to 50 (Numbers 4:2-3). Here, Hannah was taking something that already belonged to the LORD in some sense, and gave it again to the LORD in a greater way - for the whole life, and in a the dedication of a Nazirite, which was a greater consecration than a Levite.

i. Even so, we may be dedicated unto the LORD - but is there a greater dedication God wants from us? It would have been easy for Hannah to say, "I don't need to dedicate my child to the LORD, because he is already dedicated." But there was a deeper dedication the LORD was trying to draw out of Hannah. Is there a deeper dedication the LORD is trying to draw out of you?

f. It is difficult, even impossible to understand all the reasons and dynamics behind the plan of God; but certainly, if God wanted this little boy to be dedicated to Him in this special way, He had to allow Hannah to come to this place of desperation.

i. Certainly, this was not the first time Hannah had prayed for a child. But perhaps this was the first time she prayed, truly giving the child to the LORD - not just in her heart, but in this vow as well.

ii. "Prayers and tears are the saints' best weapons." (Trapp) But Hannah - just as many of us - would not resort to these best weapons until bitterness and anguish forced her.

4. (1Sa 1:12-14) Eli, the high priest, watches Hannah's silent prayer.

And it happened, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli watched her mouth. Now Hannah spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, "How long will you be drunk? Put your wine away from you!"

a. As she continued praying is literally, "as she multiplied to pray." We have recorded only a bare summary of Hannah's prayer. As is the case with most all of the prayers and speeches of the Bible, all we have recorded is a portion or a summary of what was said.

b. Now Hannah spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: It is often good to pray aloud, because it can help us to better focus our thoughts. Yet this passage shows that prevailing prayer doesn't need to be vocal, it can be silent in the heart.

c. How long will you be drunk? Of course, Eli misunderstands Hannah here. But the fact that he would even suspect that she was drunk shows that it may not have been all that unusual for people to be drunk at the "fellowship meals" they would have in sacrificing to the LORD at the tabernacle. The fact that Eli suspected Hannah of drunkenness doesn't speak well for what he had seen around the tabernacle area previously!

i. "The fact that Eli supposed her to be drunken, and the other of the conduct of Eli's sons already mentioned, prove that religion was at this time at a very low ebb in Shiloh; for it seems drunken women did come to the place, and lewd women were to be found there." (Clarke)

d. Hannah suffers from being misunderstood by both her husband and her high priest; our High Priest never misunderstands us (Hebrews 4:14-16).

5. (1Sa 1:15-18) Hannah responds to Eli's accusation; Eli answers back with a blessing.

And Hannah answered and said, "No, my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor intoxicating drink, but have poured out my soul before the LORD. "Do not consider your maidservant a wicked woman, for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief I have spoken until now." Then Eli answered and said, "Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him." And she said, "Let your maidservant find favor in your sight." So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.

a. No, my lord: Hannah will not accept Eli's accusation, but she will not respond in a haughty or an arrogant tone. She will explain herself, but will do it remembering that he is her high priest.

b. I have poured out my soul before the LORD: This is exactly what Hannah needed to do. Instead of keeping the bitterness of soul and the anguish in her heart, she poured it out of her soul before the LORD. Don't hold it in, pour it out before the LORD! The bitterness and anguish is like an acid that will eat up your insides, unless you pour it out before the LORD.

c. The God of Israel grant your petition: Eli may have spoken this only as a pious wish; but it was in fact a word from the LORD.

i. Caiaphas is an example of a high priest who was not godly, yet spoke a word from the LORD (John 11:49-52).

d. Her face was no longer sad: The change in Hannah's countenance shows that she received the promise with faith, something necessary if we will inherit the promises of God (Hebrews 6:12).

i. Hannah shows how we can regain the joy of fellowship in the house of the LORD again: by pouring out our heart before the LORD and by, receiving His word with faith.

B. The birth and dedication of Samuel.

1. (1Sa 1:19-20) Samuel's miraculous conception is evidence of God's special call on his life.

Then they rose early in the morning and worshiped before the LORD, and returned and came to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. So it came to pass in the process of time that Hannah conceived and bore a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, "Because I have asked for him from the LORD."

a. Then they arose early in the morning and worshipped: Hannah could genuinely worship the LORD in faith, while the promise was still not yet fulfilled. What a glorious pattern of faith!

b. And the LORD remembered her: To use the term remembered is an anthropomorphism, a way of explaining God's actions in human terms that we can understand, even if it doesn't perfectly describe God's action. It isn't as if God ever forgot Hannah.

c. It came to pass in the process of time: It didn't happen right away. Hannah had reason enough to be discouraged, but when the promise of God came, she did not lose faith in the promise, even when it took some time. She is a great example of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises (Hebrews 6:12).

i. "So the meaning is, That although her husband knew her conjugally at his return, and God was mindful of her, and intended in his time to give her his blessing, yet she did not conceive at first, but after some days or time afterwards." (Poole)

2. (1Sa 1:21-23) Hannah keeps the child until he is weaned.

Now the man Elkanah and all his house went up to offer to the LORD the yearly sacrifice and his vow. But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, "Not until the child is weaned; then I will take him, that he may appear before the LORD and remain there forever." And Elkanah her husband said to her, "Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him. Only let the LORD establish His word." So the woman stayed and nursed her son until she had weaned him.

a. Until the child is weaned: In that culture, a child was not weaned until two years old, or sometimes three. It is reasonable to assume that Hannah was in no hurry to wean Samuel!

b. Only let the LORD establish His word: This is wonderful counsel from Elkanah. He is saying, "do everything in obedience to God so we may see His word established among us."

3. (1Sa 1:24-28) Hannah dedicates Samuel to God's service.

Now when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bulls, one ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD in Shiloh. And the child was young. Then they slaughtered a bull, and brought the child to Eli. And she said, "O my lord! As your soul lives, my lord, I am the woman who stood by you here, praying to the LORD. For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted me my petition which I asked of Him. Therefore I also have lent him to the LORD; as long as he lives he shall be lent to the LORD." So they worshiped the LORD there.

a. She took him up with her: How difficult this must have been! Not only hard for Hannah, but hard for Elkanah also. Their willingness to fulfill the vow, even at great personal cost, is evidence of godliness in both Elkanah and Hannah.

b. The fact that 1 Samuel 1:24 mentions three bulls brought to Shiloh, but 1 Samuel 1:25 mentions only one being sacrificed (with some of the meat available for a fellowship meal) emphasizes that one of the bulls was specifically made as a burnt offering for the cleansing and consecration of little Samuel.

i. The magnitude of Elkanah's offering when Samuel was dedicated to the LORD - offering an entire bull - shows that a "grown up" offering for sin was made at his dedication, even though Samuel was only about three years old. This is a subtle reference to the inherited nature of our sinfulness. Though Samuel has not sinned as much as an adult, he is still a guilty sinner, because he has inherited a sinful nature from Adam - as we all have.

c. Literally, I also have lent him to the LORD could be translated, "And I also made myself to ask him for the LORD." The idea is not that Hannah "owns" the child and is "lending" him to the LORD. Instead, the idea is that the child is her "prayer," or the fulfillment of her prayer to the LORD.

i. The name Samuel means "Name of God" but Hannah - as was common among the Hebrews - made a pun on the name by saying that she had "asked the LORD for him." Asked in Hebrew sounds like Samuel.

d. So they worshipped the LORD there: Worship is a repeated characteristic of this family (1 Samuel 1:3, 19, 28). Even in difficult situations, they can worship the LORD. Praising God on the day you give your little son away may not be easy, but it is praise God is pleased with, even as we are to bring a sacrifice of praise to God (Hebrews 13:15).

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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Study Guide for 2 Samuel 1 Next Book →
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