After many years of barrenness, Hannah’s prayers are answered. She gives birth to Samuel and gives him to Eli the priest so that he may serve God all the days of his life.
Hannah, who prays for a son, is mistaken for a drunk: “Now Hannah spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli thought she was drunk.” (v. 13)
III. Important Verses
2: 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.
6-7: 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.
11: 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.”
12-16: 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!” But 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.”
1-4. Elkanah and his two wives travel yearly to Shiloh
5. Elkanah’s love for Hannah
6-7. Peninnah provokes Hannah
8. Elkanah’s response
9-11. Hannah’s vow
12-18. Discussion with Eli the priest
19-20. Hannah is given a son
21-28. Hannah gives her son Samuel over to Eli to serve God
The book of 1 Samuel, which describes the transition from the period of the chiefs to the period of the monarchy, begins with the birth of Samuel. After being tormented by her co-wife, Hannah prays to God and asks for a child. Her prayers are answered, and she names her son Samuel. Samuel is given over to Eli the priest to serve as a nazirite before God.
Elkanah has two wives. It is interesting to note that polygamy, which is never forbidden in the Hebrew Bible, is virtually unattested to in the biblical laws (see Exod 20:17; 21:5; Lev 18:8, 11, 14, 15, 16, 20; 20:10; 21:13; Num 5:12; Deut 5:21; 22:22 where there is only a mention of the singular ‘ishah “wife,” not nashim “wives”). Yet, as Hamilton notes, it is well attested to in the biblical narratives: “Indeed, the OT is replete with illustrations of polygamous marriages. To be more precise, it tells of instances of polygyny (one husband, more than one wife), but no instance of polyandry (one wife, more than one husband). Apart from the two wives of Lamech already noted, we recall (1) Abraham with Sarah and his concubines Hagar and Keturah (Genesis 16; 25:1–2); (2) Jacob with Leah and Rachel (Gen 29:15–30); (3) Esau with three wives (Gen 26:34; 36:2; 28:9); (4) Gideon with his “many wives” (Judg 8:30); (5) Elkanah with Hannah and Peninnah (1 Sam 1:2); (6) David with seven named wives (1 Sam 18:17–30; 25:38–43; 2 Sam 3:2–5) and additional unnamed ones (2 Sam 5:13); (7) Solomon and his royal harem (1 Kgs 3:1; 11:3; Cant 6:8); and (8) Rehoboam with his eighteen wives (2 Chr 11:21). There is one law in the Deuteronomic code (Deut 21:15–17) which does allow for one man to be married simultaneously to two wives. And the only individual who is admonished in the same code not to multiply wives is the king (Deut 17:17). No such prohibition is directed to the king’s subjects.” (Hamilton, Victor P. “Marriage” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary vol. 4, pp. 459-469.) He also points out how polygamy causes problems: “It is clear that in most of the above-cited instances polygyny was a major contributor to problems in the household. Witness the debacle between Hagar and Sarah, or Rachel’s envying of Leah’s fertility (Gen 30:1–2, 15), or the frustration of Esau’s parents (Gen 26:35), or the liquidation of Gideon’s seventy sons by Abimelech, his son by concubine (Judges 9), or Peninnah’s provocation of Hannah (1 Sam 1:6), or David’s in-house squabbling and treachery among half-brothers and half-sisters (2 Samuel 13, 1 Kings 1–2), or Solomon’s forfeiture of his empire (1 Kings 11).”
On a general note, it is important to ask: why was the book of Samuel divided into two parts? McCarter writes: “In classical antiquity books were written on scrolls of more or less fixed length, and because the Book of Samuel, like that of Kings or Chronicles, was twice too long, it was divided into two in early [manuscripts] of the Septuagint (LXX) or Greek Bible. The rationale behind the choice of a place to separate the books seems clear enough: it was chosen to conform to the custon of concluding a book with the death of a major figure – of Jacob and Joseph at the end of Genesis, of Moses at the end of Deuteronomy, of Joshua at the end of Joshua, and thus of Saul at the end of I Samuel… But the two books were originally one in the Jewish canon. The great Samuel scroll from Qumran (4QSamA) ncludes both, the Talmud regularly refers to a single Book of Samuel, and the marginal notes of the Masoretes assume a one-book arrangement.” (3) The tradition of the Septuagint was taken up by the Venetian printers of the 1500’s and is still accepted today.
VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 15 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Hamilton, Victor P. “Marriage” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary vol. 4, pp. 459-469Klein, Ralph W. “1 Samule,” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 10 (Wordbooks, 1983).
McCarter, P. Kyle, Jr. “1 Samuel,” Anchor Bible vol. 8 (New York: Doubleday, 1980)
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