“Now there was a certain man.” The book of 1 Samuel opens up in a way that reveals to us that this record, like the other records in the Bible, is not an invented, “Once Upon A Time” story. It is real history. It involves real people, real places, and a real God who is interested in, and involved with, people’s lives. The first verse of 1 Samuel opens by naming a place and setting it in a geographical location, and also by naming the man Elkanah and grounding him with four generations of ancestors and by saying he was from the tribe of Ephraim. Romans tells us that the records in the Old Testament were “written to teach us,” and we can understand how and why that is. The God who cared about the people of the Old Testament cares about us and is involved with our lives, and God does not change. In learning about the events and people in the Old Testament, especially as we study them through the lens of the New Testament, we learn about God, life, and ourselves.
“Ramathaim.” A dual name for the town of Ramah (cp. 1 Sam. 1:19 where Ramah is said to be Elkanah’s home, and 1 Sam. 7:17 where it is said to be Samuel’s home). But the town of Ramah was associated with at least three different hills which are right next to each other, so Ramah here could be expanded “Ramathaim.” The name zophim is related to Zuph, the man in the verse, such that Ramathaim-zophim could be the Ramah that was founded or occupied by the family descended from Zuph. Also, since Ramah was associated with different hills, it is possible that the descendants of one family, the Zuphites, primarily occupied one hill while other families occupied other places in Ramah. All this would have been well known at the time of Samuel, but the details are lost to us now.
“Elkanah.” Likely a Levite living with the tribe of Ephraim, and he is in the priestly line in 1 Chronicles 6:27-28.
“an Ephraimite.” Elkanah was a Levite, but he lived in the tribal territory of Ephraim so here he is called “an Ephraimite.” However, the town of Ramah is not technically in Ephraim but in Benjamin. It is possible that since the tribe of Benjamin was reduced to 600 families, that people from Ephraim expanded south into the tribal area of Benjamin. In this early part of 1 Samuel, the action occurs in the central hill country of Israel. The Bible tells us that Elkanah was a Levite.