1 Samuel 1:4-20; 1 Samuel 2:1-10

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1 Samuel 1:4-20; 1 Samuel 2:1-10

Background to the Book of 1 Samuel

Historical Setting the Book of 1 Samuel

The story contained in the books of Samuel tells of the extraordinary change in the way Israel is governed. Up to this time, there had been various tribes who on occasions had come together to combat a threat from other nations. In each instance in the book of Judges, we are told how a person was raised by God to lead the tribes on this particular occasion. The Spirit of God settles on the person and even when this is not overtly mentioned in the story it is clear from the way the story progresses that we know God's hand is directly involved in the successful consequences.

1 and 11 Samuel tell us about the immense political and new government structures, which take place around the end of the 10th century BCE. The centre of government during the time of the judges was at Shiloh and by the time we get to the end of 11 Samuel, the centre of what is now an empire, has moved to Jerusalem.

The voices for setting up a monarchy became stronger and it fell to Samuel, the last of the judges, to be instrumental in the forthcoming tussle between those who wanted a monarch and those who believed that God would continue to raise up leaders as required.

The amount of material, which focuses on Samuel, Saul and David compared with the space given to the remainder of the Kings of Israel, is quite disproportionate. A total of fifty five chapters is given to these three people and forty seven chapters to all the remaining kings of both the northern and southern kingdoms.

We read in the books of Joshua and Judges about the gradual settlement of the Israelite tribes into Palestine, some encroaching from the south, others from the east and the north. It was clear there was fighting with other tribes and we become familiar with the names of the Edomites and the Moabites. However, the greatest threat became the Philistines who had settled in the west of Palestine along part of the coast. Because they had perfected the art of iron casting, they were able to make wheels and other tools which gave them a superiority in war. The settlement process took at least two hundred years from the time the tribes started to enter into Palestine.

One of the ancient traditions tells of the conquest of Canaan by slow stages, with each tribe fighting alone or, at best, in coalition with other tribes. Another tradition tells about the invasion, which attacked first the southern hill country, where Judah and Simeon defeated Adonibezek, took Hebron, Debir, and Hormah, but could not gain control of the coastal plain. The house of Joseph invaded the central highlands and captured Bethel. To the north, the tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali settled among the Canaanites, and, as they grew stronger, gradually forced them into slave labour. To the west, the tribe of Dan was hemmed in against the highlands and could not conquer the plains.

The books of Samuel tell us how first Saul became king and was commissioned to defeat the Philistines who were a very real threat to the survival of Israel. Next, we see the gradual disintegration of Saul's mental and physical health and the rise of David after his defeat of Goliath. David is portrayed positively as he saves Saul's life and negatively as he betrays his own people and fights for the enemy, although never against Israel itself. The Philistines thought he was doing this but David was fighting other tribes and killing everyone so there was no one alive to tell the Philistine commander what David was doing. Some of the negative qualities of David's actions and character are omitted in a later telling of his story (Books of Chronicles). It is well that we remember he was a person of mixed motives, great faith, courage, love, greed, need for power, who killed those in opposition to his desires, he was cruel and had fits of anger. His grief at the death of Saul and Jonathon is beautifully portrayed in the lament of 2 Sam 1:19ff.
In the second book of Samuel, we read of the rise and fall of David's reign.

Dates of the first 3 Kings of the United Kingdom


c.1020-1004 BC


1004 - 965



Literary Background to the Book:

In the English translations 1 Samuel comes after the book of Ruth which has finished with the genealogy of David and we move now into the story of how Israel got its first king and then David.

Martin Noth's publication of his book (1943) in which he proposed that the body of material from Deuteronomy to the end of Second Kings was called the Deuteronomic History has been accepted, in some form, by most people. He suggested that early in exile an author/group created this history using many different sources and traditions to compose this body of work in order to explain to the people in exile why that were there. It begins with the laws given to Moses (Deuteronomy) and demonstrates in the stories following the Book of Deuteronomy how the people, priests and especially kings disobeyed the law with the consequence that they lost the land and ended up in Babylon. They gained the land (Joshua & Judges) because it was given by Yahweh and lost it because they went after other gods and were generally disobedient in their religious and ethical practices.

There is one voice in the Deuteronomic History which believes the people tried to displace Yahweh as King when they called on Samuel to give them a king like the surrounding countries. This belief becomes a major factor in their punishment and exile because they failed to trust in Yahweh and their Kings were disobedient also.

There are many books which give introductions to the Deuteronomic History and the Old Testament Guides list some idea.

Context of 1 Samuel 1:4-20 (What's Happening in the Literature around 1 Sam 1:4-20)

Verses 1-3 give us some background detail about Hannah's husband Elkanah. We are told he comes from the hill country in Ephraim which is north of Jerusalem. His father and grandfather are named and the information that they are also Ephraimites. We tend to forget that it was quite permissible to have more than one wife and in his case he had two wives. Although he we are told he loves Hannah, this appears ironic when she receives only one portion of the sacrificed meat, because she has failed to bear him any children. It is a further reminder that a woman only has security and status:

  • when she is a virgin and therefore a saleable commodity
  1. when she has borne children

Elkanah goes to Shiloh to offer sacrifices where the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phineas, are the priests in charge. We later read that they are corrupt and condemned by Samuel. Hannah goes by herself to the temple and offers her pray to Yahweh. After her dialogue with Eli she returns with Elkanah to their home in Ramah. She conceives and bears a son whom she names Samuel. The chapter finishes with Hannah keeping her promise to God and taking the young child into the care of Eli at Shiloh where she lends him to the Lord (v.28). Before we get to the events which occur in Shiloh we have Hannah's Song of Praise to God.

This chapter begins the narrative which demonstrates God's involvement with the affairs of Israel as she moves from the chaos at the end of judges to the call for and establishment of the throne of David. Samuel's conception is by the grace of God (and the Lord remembered her, v19) and God continues to be in his life as Samuel plays an important role in the reshaping of Israel's history. The story eventually ends with the reign of King David, but it takes a long while to get there - 35 chapters before we get to the point that David is crowned king over Israel and Judah.

Insights/Message of 1 Samuel 1:4-20

Text & Literary Structure

The story we are examining is part of a much bigger story and the plot encompasses the role that Samuel will play in forthcoming years when the people demand a king like other countries. We are at the very beginning even before Samuel is born in order that we know how he ends up in the house of Eli at Shiloh where the Lord will speak to him as a young boy. His mother, Hannah is in a precarious position in the household of her husband in which the other wife has given Elkanah sons and makes life difficult for Hannah. Elkanah appears to love Hannah but only gives her one portion of the sacrifice. On the other hand, when he finds her weeping he suggests that he is more to her than ten sons. There is disjunction between what the narrator tells us in v.5 and the words of Elkanah himself in v.8. Perhaps, the situation is one which suits Elkanah with one wife bearing children and the other retaining her beauty and focused on his needs. The names of the wives support this theory: Peninnah means fertile or prolific and Hannah means charming or attractive (Birch: 1998, 974). However, Hannah is not comforted by Elkanah's assurance and goes to the temple to pray to the Lord. Three times she refers to herself as "your maidservant" and makes a promise to God that if he grants her a son she will give him back in service to God. In both these interactions she is deeply distressed, but we have no response from God at this point.

Because Eli was unable to hear her words he thought Hannah was drunk and accused her of such. Hannah was quite direct and denied this accusation telling the priest exactly why she was there and by his response in v.17 he clearly believed her. Eli prayed on her behalf as well and Hannah left after a final petition to Yahweh. Verse 18b is in direct contrast to the distress and unhappiness of vv.5-8 and Hannah now eats and is at peace.

As in much Hebrew narrative the events of the next twelve months are reduced to 2 verses with the verbs giving the action and very little description. Interestingly, Hannah names the boy and the narrator has her telling us why he is called Samuel. She is acknowledging the role of Yahweh in his birth and the name is a play on the Hebrew word for ask. However, the Hebrew root has closer links with Saul than Samuel and may be pointing to a future role of Samuel as Kingmaker.

Message / Theology

From this situation in which rivalry and bitterness are present comes a son who is given back in service to Yahweh. Although the narrator tells us twice that her womb has been closed by the Lord (vv.5,6) the story demonstrates that when a person prays to God in all sincerity that prayer may be answered. Samuel will play a significant role in the future events of Israel: from before his conception he belongs to God. Hannah has several other children (2:21). We are invited always to ask God for what we seek, however, we know that prayer is not always answered in the way we hope. It is one of the mysteries that we have to live with in our faith journey. Hannah makes a bargain with God which she keeps when her request is granted. My guess is that most of us have bargained with God at one time in our lives or another. It doesn't bring any certainty that our request will be granted.

The mention of the razor not touching the child's hair is a reference to the Nazirites of whom Samson was one. A mark of a Nazirite was abstention from alcohol and never cutting their hair. There doesn't appear to be any further reference to (Samuel later in regards) this part of the promise.

God is portrayed through the narration (v.5) and through the voice of Hannah as closely involved in all aspects of people's lives. Hannah asked for the Lord to remember her (v.11) and because the Lord remembered her, she conceived (vv. 19-20). The next time the Lord visits and she conceives. Each time we are left in no doubt that God is in control of this woman's pregnancies and offspring.

The detail of the story in vv.21-28 describe the events leading to Hannah's journey to Shiloh where she leaves Samuel with Eli and declares, twice, that she has lent him to the Lord.

Jealousy between wives is present in a number of Old Testament narratives: Rachel and Leah, Sarah and Hagar. While we have monogamy as the preferred state of marriage relationship there are increasing numbers of extended families with step parents and step siblings. Jealousy on the part of adults and children is a major element in many of these situations and causes lots of pain and heartache.

It is true that as we receive the grace and love of God in our lives we are expected to give it back to God and to God's people. Hannah's story becomes a symbol for our lives.

This story can represent the situation of Israel which ends is disarray and bitterness and yet through it all God will remember Israel if only they turn to the one who can save them.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: John 18:33-37, has no particular allusions or quotes. Revelation 1:4b-8: has several allusions to the OT. Rev 1:4b is seen in Zech 4:2-7 in which the seven lamps as God's one spirit is spoken through the word. Ps 89:27, 37 is the basis for the reference in Rev 1:5 in which the faithful unending witness is the moon which is compared with David's unending reign. This reign will now be surpasssed by the reign of Christ. There is a further allusion in v.5 to the priestly role of atonement by Christ surpassing that of the priests who use animal sacrifice. Rev 1:6 is based on an expression in Exodus 19:6 which refers to Israel as the priestly nation but in this context it is now the kingdom of Christ who will become the priestly ones and who will have direct access to God. Rev 1:7 incorporates two texts, one from Dan 7:13 and the other from Zech 12:10. This same combination is also present in Matt 24:30. Two phrases have been added to the Zexh quote - "every eye" and "of the earth" which gives it a greater universal significance. The final verse in the set reading (v.8) has the phrase "Alpha & Omega" which reflects the thought in Isa 40-48 of the phrase, "the first and the last" acknowledging that God is the one who transcends and controls history.

Resources/Worship for 1 Samuel 1:4-20

Worship and Ways to present 1 Sam 1:4 - 10

Instead of a Psalm set for this week we find Hannah's Song in 1 Sam 2:1-10. It comes straight after she has completed her journey to Shiloh and left Samuel with Eli. It could be used with some explanation as part of opening praise in the worship service or it could come as part of the response following the sermon. It affirms her trust in God as new life has come from despair and barrenness.

Again as narrative it would be good to present it with different voices if not as a drama at least as a reading with varied voices of the characters.



The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the books of Samuel, eg. If you want to know more about the Philistines there are details given of several articles/chapters in books that can help with this topic.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the 1990's is more up to date than some earlier works.

Anderson, A.A. 2 Samuel. WBC. Dallas: Word Books, 1989
Birch, B. The First and second Samuel. NIB. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998.
Brueggemann,W. First and Second Samuel. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990
Gordon, R.P. 1 & 2 Samuel. OTG. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1984
Gunn, D.M. The Story of King David. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1978
Hertzberg, H.W. 1 & 11 Samuel. OTL. London: SCM Press, 1964.
Klein, R. 1 Samuel. WBC. Waco., Texas: Word Books, 1983.
Mauchline, J. 1 and 2 Samuel. NCB. London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1971.
Schniedewind,W.M. Society and the Promise to David: The Reception History of 2 Samuel 7:1-17. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989


Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: