Hannah and Samuel – 1 Samuel 1:1–2:11
Read the Passage: 1 Samuel 1:1-2:11
Authorship and Date – Technically speaking, the authorship of both 1 & 2 Samuel is anonymous. Jewish tradition identifies the author as the judge and prophet Samuel (cf. 1 Sam. 10:25), with assistance from the prophets Nathan and Gad (cf. 1 Chron. 29:29). In any event, Samuel could not have written all (or even most) of these two books, as the book of 1 Sam. begins before his birth and his death is recorded in 1 Sam. 25:1. In all likelihood, the books were compiled by a later editor who used materials from Samuel, Nathan, and Gad. It is difficult to assign an exact date to the books of 1 & 2 Samuel, however, it is clear that they were penned after the division of the monarchy in 931 BC (cf. 1 Sam. 27:6). Moreover, in all likelihood, they were written before the Babylonian exile in 586 BC.
Purpose and Theme – The books of 1 & 2 Samuel are historical in nature and were written in order to detail Israel’s shift from a loose tribal confederation under the rule of various judges (a theocracy) to a unified nation ruled by a centralized monarchy. Chronologically the books and 1 & 2 Samuel cover roughly 135 years of history from the birth of Samuel in c. 1105 BC to the death of David in c. 971 BC. Theologically, there are five prominent themes in the books of 1 & 2 Samuel. These themes are: (1) God’s faithfulness and love of His people during times of trial, (2) God’s sovereignty over the lives of individuals and nations, (3) the personal and national effects of sin, (4) the presence and outworking of the Davidic Covenant, and (5) the work of the Holy Spirit in empowering God’s people for service.
Structure and Outline – The books known as 1 & 2 Samuel were originally one book in the Hebrew Bible. Likely on account of their combined length, which would have been more of an issue when they were recorded and read from a scroll, they were divided into two books in the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint (LXX). This division was then followed by the Latin version of the Bible (i.e., the Vulgate), subsequent English translations, and in many modern Hebrew Bibles. Note that when 1 & 2 Samuel were first divided, these two books were known as 1 & 2 Kings, with the modern English books now known as 1 & 2 Kings titled 3 & 4 Kings. A simple outline of the book of 1 Samuel follows;
- Call and Ministry of Samuel (1 Sam. 1–7)
- Call and Decline of Saul (1 Sam. 8–15)
- Call and Rise of David (1 Sam. 16–31)
Hannah’s Childlessness (1:1–18)
The first seven chapters of the book of 1 Samuel focus upon the Prophet and Judge Samuel. The first few verses introduce us to Samuel’s father and mother, Elkanah and Hannah. In 1 Sam. 1:1–18 we learn that Hannah was barren, for “the Lord had closed her womb” (1 Sam. 1:5), like Sarah (Gen. 16:2) and Rachel (Gen. 30:2) before her. Likely on account of Hannah’s barrenness, Elkahah had taken a second wife, which caused no small amount of family disharmony. The text reports that on one of the three required yearly feasts (cf. Deut. 16:1–17), likely the Feast of Tabernacles, the High priest Eli observed Hannah praying about her barrenness. In her prayer Hannah promised to devote her offspring to the Lord as a Nazirite. After some initial confusion, in which Eli confused Hannah’s silent prayer with drunkenness, she informed him of her situation and he assured her of God’s help.
Hannah’s Son (1:19–28)
After hearing the explanation of Hannah regarding her prayer in 1 Sam. 1:10–16, the priest Eli told her, “Go in peace, and [may] the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him” (1 Sam. 1:17). The text then reports that “it came to pass in the process of time that Hannah conceived and bore a son” (1 Sam. 1:20). For the next several years, however, she did not attend the yearly feasts, telling Elkanah, “Not until the child is weaned; then I will take him, that he may appear before the Lord and remain there forever” (1 Sam. 1:22). In Hebrew culture weaning would have occurred around the age of two or three. At the specified time Hannah kept her vow, bringing Samuel to the Lord “with three bulls, one ephah of flour, and a skin of wine” (1 Sam. 1:24). According to Num. 15:8–10, this was the prescribed offering for the fulfillment of a sacred vow.
Hannah’s Prayer (2:1–11)
Hannah’s joyful, dedicatory prayer regarding the birth of Samuel is recorded in 1 Sam. 2:1–11, and is in sharp contrast to her prayer of bitterness recorded in 1 Sam. 1:10–11. While it must have been difficult to depart with Samuel, Hannah clearly loved God more than her son. Her prayer here can be divided into four sections. Interestingly, the first section records Hannah’s thankfulness for the Lord’s salvation (cf. 1 Sam. 2:1–2). The second part of Hannah’s prayer is a rebuke to the proud. Perhaps the one in view here is Elkahah’s second wife, Peninnah (cf. 1 Sam. 2:3–8a). The third portion of Hannah’s prayer affirms the Lord’s care of his saints (cf. 1 Sam. 2:8b–9a). The final section of the prayer includes Hannah’s affirmation that God will judge the earth and bless the King (cf. 1 Sam. 9b–10). This prayer demonstrated much spiritual growth in the life of Hannah.
- What do you know about the book of 1 Samuel? What people, places, and events come to mind when you think of these two Old Testament books?
- Is polygamy acceptable to God? Why is polygamy present in the Bible and tolerated by God, especially among leaders in Israel?
- Does the Lord actively open and close the womb in regard to every birth? What about Hannah’s conversation with Eli consoled her?
- Is Hannah’s prayer in 1 Sam. 1:10–11 a model for believers to follow? How do you envision that the transfer of Samuel from Hannah to Eli went?
- What changed in Hannah’s life to move her from one who would pray a prayer of bitterness (cf. 1 Sam. 1:10–11) to one of joy (cf. 1 Sam. 2:1–11)?