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1 Samuel 1:4-20 – Samuel’s Birth


God answers the prayers of a childless Hannah with the birth of Samuel, who will minister to Israel during its painful transition to monarchic rule.


These verses, which come in a story already begun, are best understood in their immediate context (1:1-2:11):

A    Pilgrimage from Ramah to Shiloh (1:1-8)
    B    Hannah's prayer (1:9-11)
        C    Hannah weeps with Eli (1:12-18)
            D    Return to Ramah from Shiloh (1:19a)
                X    Hannah's prayer answered; Samuel is born (1:19b-22)
            D′    Pilgrimage from Ramah to Shiloh (1:23)
        C′    Hannah rejoices with Eli (1:24-28)
    B′    Hannah's hymn (2:1-10)
A′    Return to Ramah from Shiloh (2:11)

Our text comprises the first half of this introduction to Samuel-the sad half. Hannah's sad situation at home arises out of her childlessness (vv. 1-8). She only receives a single portion of the sacrificial meal (v. 5-a "double portion" in NRSV; the Hebrew is uncertain). Overcome with grief after years of being reminded of her situation at these annual celebrations, Hannah "took it to the Lord in prayer." The sad songs of lament are what we would call "prayers," because the characteristic of the lament is its request, its petition of God. In this case, Hannah asks God for a son (vv. 9-11). A third element of sadness appears in the clumsy pastoral care of Eli, the priest at Shiloh, who misinterprets her remorse as drunkenness (vv. 12-14). Upon Hannah's protestation, however, Eli realizes his mistake and prays that her prayer might (better: announces that her prayer will) be answered, relieving Hannah's sadness (v. 15-18). At the heart of the above structure, God answers Hannah's prayer; she conceives and gives birth to a son whom she names "Samuel" because she "asked him of the LORD" (vv. 19b-22). Hannah's hopes for the future lay in the birth of her son. Israel's future also will be tied to the birth of this son, given as a gift in answer to prayer.

1 Samuel 1:4-20

4On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; 5but to Hannah he gave a double portion,* because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. 6Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. 7So it went on year after year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. 8Her husband Elkanah said to her, ‘Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?’

After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord.* Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. 11She made this vow: ‘O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite* until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants,* and no razor shall touch his head.’

12 As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. 14So Eli said to her, ‘How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.’ 15But Hannah answered, ‘No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.’ 17Then Eli answered, ‘Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.’ 18And she said, ‘Let your servant find favour in your sight.’ Then the woman went to her quarters,* ate and drank with her husband,* and her countenance was sad no longer.*

19 They rose early in the morning and worshipped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 20In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked him of the Lord.’

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