|The Book of 1 Samuel|
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Go to Bible: 1 Samuel 1
“Now there was a certain man.” The Book of First 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.(top)
“Hannah.” Her name means “grace” or “mercy.”
“Peninnah.” Her name means “pearl.”(top)
“worship.” The Hebrew verb is shachah (#07812 שָׁחָה), and it is the same Hebrew word as “bow down.” The common biblical way of bowing down before people or God was to fall to one’s knees and bow the upper body to the earth. Shachah is translated as both “bow down” and “worship;” traditionally “worship” if God is involved and “bow down” if people are involved, but the verb and action are the same, the act of bowing down is the worship.
[For more on bowing down, see commentary on 1 Chron. 29:20.]
“Yahweh of Armies.” 1 Samuel 1:3 is the first time in the Bible that the name of God, “Yahweh of Armies” is used. The Hebrew is translated “LORD of hosts” in many English versions, but very few people today think of a “host” in reference to an army, making that translation unclear at best. The English word “host” in the phrase “Lord of hosts” is derived from the Late Latin hostis “stranger; enemy” (same basic root as in “hostile”), and referred to an army or an orderly multitude. Thus, the “heavenly host” is the orderly army of spirit beings, and also the orderly “army” of stars in the sky, while “Yahweh of hosts” refers to God’s army of spirit beings and, in the Old Testament, Israel.
The word “host” is confusing because the English word “host” also means a person who entertains guests, but the Latin root of the entertainment type “host” is hospes, not hostis. It is too bad that both hospes and hostis developed into the English word “host,” but that is the situation. To properly understand the Bible, the student of Scripture must know that “Lord of hosts” does not refer to God’s entertainment of guests, but rather to His being the God of His “armies.”
Andrew Steinmann writes: “In military contexts, ‘armies’ in ‘Yahweh of armies’ can refer to Israel’s army (1 Sam. 17:45). The noun צָבָא [tsaba', “army”] is often used for the army of Israel or for an enemy army (e.g. 1 Sam. 12:9; 14:50; 17:55). In this phrase with יְהֹוָה [Yahweh], the noun is always used in the plural צְבָא֖וֹת. The plural is never clearly explained in the OT, but 1 Sam. 17:45 indicates its military significance by using another plural in parallel to it: David refers to “Yahweh of armies, the God of the battle lines of Israel”….The plural may denote that Yahweh commands a heavenly army (the angles; see BDB, s. v. צָבָא, 1 b; cf. 2 Kings 6:17) as well as an earthly one (Israel’s army). The stars and other heavenly bodies can also be called an ‘army’ (Gen. 2:1; Isa. 40:26; 45:12; BDB, 1 c). In that case, it probably refers to the apparent regimented alignment of the stars like the alignment of soldiers in the army’s ranks (i.e., the stars are grouped in constellations where each has its specific place and each appears in the sky in the proper season; see Gen. 1:14).”a
Although the meaning of the name “Yahweh of armies” is not specifically stated in the Bible, that should not surprise us because we are not told the specific meaning of any of the names of Yahweh in the Bible, we learn their meaning from the vocabulary itself and the contexts in which the name is used. In this case, “armies” is a well-known word, and there is plenty of biblical context to understand that God has enemies and that He commands armies who fight for Him and with Him. For example, when the Israelites left Egypt, God referred to them as “my armies” (Exod. 7:4), and Exodus also says, “Yahweh is a man of war” (Exod. 15:3). When God came to help Israel leave Egypt’s control, He came with thousands of angels (Deut. 33:2). Also, the warfare between enemy angels, while not a major subject in the Bible, is nevertheless certainly present (Dan. 10:13; Jude 1:9), as is the warfare between God’s angels and God’s enemies on earth (Gen. 19:12-13; Josh. 5:13-14; 2 Kings 19:35). In fact, the angel that appeared to Joshua introduced himself as the commander of Yahweh’s army (Josh. 5:14). Furthermore, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus, will lead armies and destroy God’s enemies (Ps. 2:6-9; Isa. 11:4; 63:1-5; Rev. 19:19-21).
The fact that 1 Samuel 1:3 says that Elkanah went yearly to Shiloh to worship “Yahweh of Armies” tells us that although this is the first time we see that name for God in the Bible, it was not new in the culture. God may have revealed the name to some prophet in Israel, or it may be in the wars that Israel was fighting, God’s help and presence were so powerfully manifested that “Yahweh of Armies” was invented as a fitting name for Him. We can see that people were comfortable enough with the name “Yahweh of Armies” that it was used to directly address God in prayer, as Hannah did: “O Yahweh of Armies, if you will see…” (1 Sam. 1:11). Once it was introduced here in Samuel, the name “Yahweh of Armies” was commonly used in the Bible, occurring almost 250 times in the Old Testament.
God has enemies with whom He, His angels, His human armies, and His Messiah are at war. This is very solid evidence that God is not in control of everything that happens on earth. If God were in control of both sides of the conflict between good and evil, then His kingdom would be divided and would fall, just as Jesus said, “And if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom is not able to stand” (Mark 3:24, cp. Matt. 12:25-26; Luke 11:17-18).
[For more on the war between God and the Devil, and that God is not in control of everything that happens, see commentary on Luke 4:6.]
“this man would go up...to worship...at Shiloh.” Shiloh was about 16 miles from Ramah as the crow flies, and a few more miles when traveling by roads, so the journey could be made in one day, although it would take most of the day.
|1Sa 1:4||- (top)|
“gave a double portion.” The Hebrew is difficult, more literally “one portion of double faces (or “of double noses”) but what does that mean? Most commentators assume the two “noses” means a double portion and from the context and the fact he loved Hannah that may be correct. But following the Septuagint here, other versions focus on the word “one.” For example, the RSV reads, “although he loved Hannah, he would give Hannah only one portion, because the LORD had closed her womb.” But the context does seem to indicate that Hannah got special treatment in some way.(top)
“her rival.” Hannah’s rival was Penninah, Elkanah’s other wife. As we see in other places in the Bible (such as when Abraham took the slave Hagar as a concubine), and in history, the wives of a polygamous man often did not blend into “one happy family.” In fact, it was often the case that the two wives would each have their own tent, and the husband went back and forth between them.
“to irritate her.” The Hebrew is related to the word “thunder,” and Fox (The Schocken Bible) has “making her complain.” Penninah would purposely torment Hannah, making her complain; to irritate her.(top)
|1Sa 1:7||- (top)|
“Am I not better to you than ten sons.” Elkanah was trying to be helpful, but his question almost certainly did not help. So much of a woman’s social life was just among other women, and between feeling cursed by God and scorned by other women, Elkanah was not better than having sons. Elkanah’s ignorance of Hannah’s situation shows up in the fact that he does not even seem to be aware that Peninnah was cruel to Hannah.(top)
“Yahweh’s temple.” The word “temple” is being used generally, as the place of God’s residence. At this point in history, God lived in a tent, the “Tent of Meeting,” often referred to in Christian circles as “the Tabernacle.”(top)
“wept, yes, wept.” The verb is doubled for emphasis in Hebrew, and is the figure of speech polyptoton. Hannah “wept, yes, wept,” meaning she wept deeply, freely, bitterly.
[For more on the figure polyptoton and this style of translating the figure, see commentary on Gen. 2:16, “eat, yes, eat.”](top)
“see, yes, see.” The Hebrew text has the figure of speech polyptoton. Hannah wanted Yahweh to really see her and her situation and intervene on her behalf.
[For more on the figure polyptoton and this style of translating the figure, see commentary on Gen. 2:16, “eat, yes, eat.”]
“remember me.” In this context, “remember” is being used idiomatically, meaning to act on one’s behalf. Hannah was not asking for God to simply mentally remember her, but to support her and act on her behalf.
[For more on the use of “remember,” see commentary on Gen. 8:1.]
“male child.” The literal Hebrew is “seed of men.” While “male child” may be the correct meaning in this context, there may also be a deeper meaning: the use of the word “seed” can indicate that Hannah wanted a child who could then reproduce other children down through the generations.(top)
“continued a long time praying.” The Hebrew text is more literally something such as, “as she multiplied (or ‘made many’) to her praying.” Hannah was desperate. This was not a short “said and done” prayer. She took a long time in petitioning Yahweh for what she so badly wanted. Godly men and women throughout the Scriptures pray a lot, and they realize their weakness and inability to accomplish their desire apart from help from God. There is no prideful “I can make it happen” attitude in Hannah, and no thought that if she “just had faith” she would gain her desire. Hannah knew what all Christians should know: she could not force God’s hand; she just had to rely on His grace and mercy. She came to God with humility, honesty, passion, and brokenness—a way that every Christian should pray. Her future was in the hands of God.
[For more on faith and trust, see Appendix 16, “‘Faith’ is ‘Trust.’”](top)
“Eli thought she was drunk.” At first blush, we can see that Eli may have thought that Hannah was drunk because most people did not pray that long or move their mouth without discernably saying something when they prayed. Prayers in the ancient world were either said out loud, or said to oneself in the heart, they were not usually spoken in such a way as Hannah was doing. Nevertheless, it is a sad situation when the High Priest’s first thought is that Hanna was drunk. Eli had many faults, and here we see one of them: assuming the worst about someone before finding out the facts.(top)
“Put away your wine from you.” Eli was so quick to judge some people’s sins, but would do nothing about his own sons who committed horrific sins, and right at the Tent of Meeting itself! But so many people are that way—they excuse their own sins and/or the sins of their family and friends, but are hard on other people.(top)
|1Sa 1:15||- (top)|
“a daughter of Belial.” Being a son or daughter of Belial is to be a child of the Devil.
[For more on sons of Belial, see commentary on 1 Sam. 2:12. For more on the unforgivable sin and children of the Devil, see commentary on Matt. 12:31.]
“the abundance of my concern and my being provoked.” The concept of “abundance” is being distributed to both Hannah’s concern and her being provoked.(top)
|1Sa 1:17||- (top)|
“May your servant find favor in your eyes.” The High Priest represented Yahweh.
“So the woman went her way.” There is much in a seemingly unimportant sentence. The text does not name Hannah, but says, “the woman.” It was Hannah as a woman, a wife, and a potential mother that was at stake here, and she had just been blessed by the High Priest. As a woman, Hannah went forth, grasping onto the blessing of Eli as the Word of Yahweh that she would have a son, and she was no longer downcast. Hope had been given, joy had been restored.(top)
“worshiped before Yahweh.” That is, worshiped at the Tabernacle, almost certainly in the presence of the High Priest. In that sense, they did worship before (or, “in the presence of”) Yahweh. This is the same word for worship as in 1 Sam. 1:3.
“Elkanah knew Hannah his wife.” An idiom for sexual intercourse. See commentary Matthew 1:25.
“remembered her.” “Remembered” is an idiom for “acted on her behalf.” See commentary on 1 Samuel 1:11.(top)
“in the course of time.” The Hebrew is an idiom, “at the revolutions (or “circuits”) of the days” and it is about the circuit of the days or the sun, or about a year later. The Hebrew idioms about the turning of days were a godly reminder of the “wheel of life”—birth, growth, death—that is the essence of life on earth (cp. James 3:6). Here, the days turn and Samuel is born. Eventually, he will grow, marry, and have children of his own, then age and die. Samuel’s godly mother Hannah also aged and died, but she is not mentioned again after 1 Sam. 2:21.
The context lets us know that here in 1 Samuel 1, the “course of time” (“circuits of days”) for Hannah to give birth was about a year, because the following year, when Elkanah and his family went to offer their yearly offering at the Tabernacle, Samuel was already born (1 Sam. 1:21). So it would have been very soon after Elkanah and Hannah got back to their hometown of Ramah that Hannah got pregnant, and when Elkanah took his family to the Tabernacle the following year, Samuel would have been only a few months old at best.
“Samuel.” There is much discussion on the name “Samuel.” Although in its present form in the Hebrew text it seems related to “God heard,” it is much more likely that it is related to the Hebrew shaal (“ask”) and el, God, thus “asked of God.”(top)
|1Sa 1:21||- (top)|
“…until the child is weaned.” Hannah’s sentence starts with “until,” which is more accurate than “after” or “once,” which many versions have. This is an emotional time. Hannah envisions herself giving up her beloved baby boy to the High Priest and then only seeing him again once a year. She does not speak in a complete sentence. She speaks in a plea, with her eyes, her tone of voice, perhaps with the shake of her head. She looks at her husband Elkanah, who had the authority in the house to force her to go, and silently asks, “Can I wait.” “Can I wait...until the child is weaned?” Elkanah, who loved her and no doubt saw her pain but understood her resolution to keep her commitment to give Samuel to be a Nazirite and serve God throughout his life, agreed to her request.
“appear before Yahweh.” The Hebrew is more literally, “appear before the face.” Hannah may have also had in mind Exodus 34:23, that the males appear before the face of Yahweh three times a year.
“stay there forever.” The Hebrew is the figure hyperbole, meaning for his lifetime.(top)
“may Yahweh fulfill his word.” In this case, the word of God refers to the blessing of Eli, the High Priest, who blessed Hannah, saying may God grant her request that she requested (1 Sam. 1:17), and also to the fact that what Hannah had requested was a boy, whom she would then give to God as a Nazirite to serve God throughout his life (1 Sam. 1:11). Here, Elkanah shows that he understands the promise that Hannah has made and that the High Priest blessed, and he reminds Hannah of her commitment as he left on his annual journey to Shiloh to worship. So Elkanah allowed Hannah to stay home but reminded her that there would soon come a time when she would not be able to stay home, but would need to fulfill her vow. Hannah, godly and faithful, did indeed fulfill her vow once little Samuel was weaned (1 Sam. 1:24).
“until she weaned him.” Women weaned later in ancient times than they generally do today. In part, because baby formula and other foods young children usually eat today were not available, so a weaned child generally had to eat whatever was available for the parents to eat. If 2 Maccabees 7:27 is any guide, weaning around three years old was common.(top)
“three bulls.” The Masoretic Hebrew text reads “three bulls,” but “three-year-old” is the reading of the Septuagint and the Qumran scroll, and many scholars think that is the correct reading and that the Masoretic text is corrupted. The fact is that either sacrifice, a bull or three bulls, was much more than the Law required for the redemption of a firstborn son (Lev. 12:6) and likely reflects on the wealth of Elkanah. Gordon Wenham writes in support of there being three bulls: “One bull was for the burnt offering, one for the purification offering that was expected after childbirth (Lev. 12), and the third for the peace offering in payment for her vow. An ephah of flour (1 Sam. 1:24) is approximately three times the normal quantity of flour to be offered with a bull (Num. 15:9), which supports the idea that three bulls were in fact offered on this occasion.”a However, something unexplained in Wenham’s argument is that a bull was not required after the birth of a child, but a year-old lamb was (Lev. 12:6). It has been suggested that Elkanah brought much more than the Law required because it would help offset the expense of caring for Samuel, after all, most families that offered sacrifices did not leave babies to take care of when they left the Tabernacle.
“skin-bottle.” A “bottle” or container made from animal skin.
[For more on skin-bottles, which were usually made from the skins of goats, see commentary on 1 Sam. 10:3.]
“the child was a child.” This apparent tautology is actually the figure of speech antanaclasis (“word clashing”), in which the same word is used in a sentence (or in very close proximity) with different meanings, and the antanaclasis catches the reader’s attention and brings an emphasis to the text.b Perhaps the most famous English example of antanaclasis was in the speech that Benjamin Franklin made to the early continental congress about the American Revolution in which he addressed the division among them and the danger of that division in the light of their treason against England: “Gentlemen, we must all hang together or most assuredly we shall hang separately.” Other examples could include: “We were driving all day in a driving rain,” and “I wait on tables while my customers wait on me.” There are many biblical examples of antanaclasis, for example, Matthew 8:22 says, “Let the dead bury their dead,” i.e., let the spiritually dead bury their physically dead relatives. Romans 2:12 says, “For as many as have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law,” i.e., those people who sinned who did not have the regulations of the Law will perish but not because they were judged by the judgments in the Law. Romans 9:6 says, “For they are not all Israel, who are descended from Israel.” The meaning is that not every Israelite by birth is a part of the true believers of Israel who will be part of the resurrection of the Righteous and receive everlasting life. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NASB) says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf.” In this antanaclasis, the Greek word hamartia (#266), which can mean “sin” or “sin offering,” is used with two different meanings, and the REV catches the sense: “He made him who did not know sin to be a sin offering on our behalf” (cp. CJB; NLT). Other examples of antanaclasis include Judges 11:27; Ezekiel 20:9). There are times when a word in a general context has different meanings but it is not the figure antanaclasis, it is simply the fact that most words have more than one meaning (see commentary on 1 Sam. 14:16, “multitude”).
Here in 1 Samuel 1:24, the word “child” has two different meanings, “the child (little boy) was a child (very young),” but the antanaclasis catches our attention and emphasizes that Samuel was very young when taken to the Tabernacle. This was a great sacrifice for Hannah, and showed her love for God and her dedication to Him.
[See figure of speech “antanaclasis.”]
“the bull.” The Hebrew reads the singular, “bull,” but it sometimes occurs that a singular noun is used in Hebrew as a collective singular (cp. Gen. 15:9-10, “bird” is singular in Hebrew). Or, since this bull is associated with bringing Samuel to Eli, it may be that this was the bull specifically associated with Hannah’s vow.
“and brought the child to Eli.” For Eli to have sons he would have had to have had a wife and likely daughters, and would have lived with a large family contingent, so there would have been women who would oversee the care of Samuel. Death frequently came so suddenly and unexpectedly in the ancient world that having a large extended family living together provided security and protection for all. That way, if a father or mother died, the family took care of each other.(top)
“as your soul lives.” This phrase occurs in other places as well (cp. 1 Sam. 17:55; 20:3; 25:26; etc). It was a way of placing yourself under an oath that you were telling the truth. The phrase, “as Yahweh lives” was very similar (cp. Judg. 8:19; Ruth 3:13; 1 Sam. 20:3; etc.).(top)
“request that I requested.” The Hebrew text uses the noun and the verb of the same word.
“requested from him.” The Hebrew is written in such a way as to indicate that what Hannah requested came from God’s supply of blessings. It could more literally be translated, “requested from with Him.”(top)
“And he worshiped.” This refers to Samuel and is a summary statement showing that Hannah’s prayer and promise had come to pass. This is the same word for worship as in 1 Sam. 1:3.
“lend...lent.” The Hebrew has a word-play on “ask.” “Ask” is shaal, and “lent” is from the same Hebrew root. But “lend” or more accurately “lend on request,” contains the idea that what is “lent” was asked for, and that is why there is the lexical tie between “ask” and “lend,” and the Hebrew text picks up on the lexical tie between the two words. We do not normally think of “lending” a child to Yahweh, especially since Samuel was “lent” for his whole life (“as long as he lives”) so Hannah would never expect to get him back, but the idea was not to be accurate in that way but rather to emphasize the fact that via Hannah’s vow, Yahweh in a sense asked for Samuel. This may also help Elkanah’s statement to Hannah, “May Yahweh fulfill His word.” Also, if Hannah felt that Yahweh in some manner asked for the child, along with her vow, that may have helped her let go of Samuel at such a young age.(top)