Today we’re going to start one of the most epic books of the Old Testament, and that’s saying something considering we’ve already had plagues, parting of seas, invasions, and conquering. So what’s the books of Samuel about then?
A mad king. A small shepherd boy who seems unlikely for anything great—takes down an enemy twice his size and then goes on to lead an army against the mad king. A friendship forged with the mad king’s son, in which both risk their lives. The rightful king ascends the thrown and his dynasty will reign forever!
This is the stuff of the stories we still tell: King Arthur, the Lord of the Rings, a hundred different tellings and re-tellings. So if you want kings and knights, loyalty and oaths, romance and violence, heroes and villains, all told with the backdrop of the fate of an entire nation, this is the book for you.
However, this book doesn’t jump straight into this business of kings. Because when we last left the people of God, the Israelites, did they have kings? [Let them answer]. No! They had something else. Who were the leaders of Israel? [Let them answer.] That’s right! Judges. So the first part of this book that we’ll be looking at today it bridges those stories between how we go from Judges to Kings and the way it does it is with, surprise, a guy named Samuel. Today we’ll be studying Samuel only a little, because we’ll be focusing on his mother, Hannah.
Please go get your Bibles and let’s open up to 1 Samuel 1:1-8.
1 There was a certain man of Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham son of Elihu son of Tohu son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 2 He had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
3 Now this man used to go up year by year from his town to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord. 4 On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; 5 but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. 6 Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. 7 So it went on year by 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. 8 Her 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?”
We’re introduced to a lot of characters right here, but the most important is Hannah. Hannah is married to a man who also has another wife. The other wife has many children, Hannah does not, but the man favors Hannah. We’ve seen this before haven’t we? Who remembers the similar story to this? [Let them answer.]
That’s right, Rachel and Leah. Leah had many children, but Jacob loved the childless Rachel. Seems to be a theme here.
Like Jacob, the husband thinks his love for her should be enough. That as long as he loves her she shouldn’t want children. But I think this is the case of a man missing the point, and not understanding this woman’s pain.
Having a child meant a lot to women back then. Nowadays it still means a lot, emotionally. It means the start of a new family, the start of a new life, and for some women it’s all their dreams coming true. But back then it was more than that. It wasn’t just your dream coming true—it was your purpose coming to fruition. An ancient woman’s only role back then was to produce an heir, and to fail to do that? To fail to do that was to fail your purpose in life.
Personally I am grateful we live in a world that has moved beyond this. Babies and children are great, obviously. You guys are kids and we love you! But women are capable and able to do so much more. Unfortunately the patriarchy and misogyny of the time didn’t really allow for women to reach the full capabilities. It pinned them into this one purpose, this one job. Reproduction. So if you failed at that one job? Things were not good for you.
It also put them in a precarious position—as we saw with Ruth—if your husband dies. Remember Ruth had no heir, and because of that she was a poor widow with no way to make her life better. She needed a son to claim her husbands inheritance, she couldn’t claim it legally as a woman. She had no way to make her life better without a man of some sort—husband or son in it. So while not being able to have kids today can be sad, it’s not nearly the big deal it was back then.
So every year Hannah goes to the Tabernacle and makes sacrifices with her husband and her family. Remember the Tabernacle is the tent where people worshiped and where the Ark of the Covenant was kept and sacrifices was made. There was no Temple yet. The Bible refers to it as lower case “temple” of the Lord as opposed to Temple with a capital T. Because it is not *the* Temple. That has not been built yet. So anytime in this section it uses lowercase temple, just imagine in your mind the Tabernacle—which is like a ten church.
At the Tabernacle is where we’re introduced to Eli and his two sons. They are the priests and will be important shortly. And as we’re going to see this year Hannah goes up to the Tabernacle and prays. Can someone read 1 Samuel 1:9-11?
9 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. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. 11 She 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.”
As a woman I don’t believe Hannah would have been allowed in the Tabernacle proper. She might be allowed in the Tabernacle’s courtyard but maybe she could only come to the gates, I’m not sure. But she gets as close as she can, where she is allowed to go as a woman and prays. She is very emotional and prays to God, basically just like “Oh God if you would just give me a son and I will dedicate him to you.” Remember from our study of Samson, being a Nazirite was basically being a layman priest. Only Levites could be priests—and Hannah and her family are not Levites. But anyone, even women, could become a Nazirite and serve God in this way.
Eli the high priest at the time sees her. It says he’s sitting at the doorpost of the Tabernacle. Let’s see what Eli thinks of Hannah’s pray. Can someone read 1 Samuel 1:12-14?
12 As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. 14 So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.”
Does Eli see Hannah praying and think “Oh my what a pious woman praying to God?” Nope. Does he see her and think “Oh my, this woman is very emotional right now and sad and maybe I should comfort her?” Nope. Eli’s mind goes immediately to the worst case, cynical situation. This woman must be drunk, he thinks to himself. As if there is no other reason a woman might want to come and pray. Now it’s possible that drunk people stumbling around happened a lot, but I think it also says a lot about Eli that he went for the cynical, little faith in humanity first thought. People do this a lot. We see someone looking sick and throw up into the bushes and we think “They must be drunk!” instead of maybe they’re honestly sick and need help. We see someone acting strange and we think “they must be high” instead of maybe there is something wrong. We write off people as the worst examples of humanity instead of giving them the benefit of a doubt we’d give ourselves.
Can someone read 1 Samuel 1:15-18?
15 But 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. 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” 17 Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” 18 And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your sight.” Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.
Words like Eli’s could have scared Hannah off. It could have made her feel ashamed, that he thought she was drunk instead of just trouble. Sometimes we feel that way when wrongly accused of something, as if we did something wrong even though we didn’t. And if Hannah was left she would never had a chance to talk to him and actually feel some relief in her soul. It’s not our job to scare people away from church, away from God, and Eli should have known better. Thankfully, Hannah does not go away ashamed. Instead she corrects him and tells him how troubled she is. Eli then basically says he hopes God grants her request. This makes Hannah feel better—maybe because she thinks Eli’s words might mean more to God than hers, since he is the high priest. We know that’s not the case, but that is a misconception people often have, that pastors and priests have God’s ear more than the rest of us. So maybe that is why Hannah felt comforted. Or maybe it was just she was done praying and felt as if she had given the problem to God. We don’t know.
Alright let’s see what happens next, can someone read 1 Sam 1:19-23?
19 They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 20 In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”
21 The man Elkanah and all his household went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice, and to pay his vow. 22 But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, that he may appear in the presence of the Lord, and remain there forever; I will offer him as a nazirite for all time.” 23 Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Do what seems best to you, wait until you have weaned him; only—may the Lord establish his word.” So the woman remained and nursed her son, until she weaned him. 24 When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine. She brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh; and the child was young. 25 Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. 26 And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. 27 For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him. 28 Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.” She left him there for the Lord.
Hannah has a son and she names him Samuel. The next year when it’s time to go back for the yearly sacrifice, Hannah doesn’t go. She says she is waiting until she can offer him as a Nazirite, before she takes him. Basically she’s waiting until he’s old enough that he doesn’t need to be breastfed, which back then could be fairly old, three or even four.
Then when he’s old enough she takes him to the Tabernacle and they make their sacrifice and then they go to Eli. She’s basically like “I was that woman praying all those years ago and look how God has answered my prayers! Now I give him to God.”
The implication here is that she actually leaves him at the Tabernacle to be raised by Eli.
Why? Samson didn’t have to be raised at the Tabernacle to be a Nazirite. But Hannah wanted to fully give her son back to God, because she knew her son didn’t belong to her. He belonged to God. So she gives him to God’s house—the Tabernacle—where he will be raised by the priests so that he can fully serve God.
This child was the only thing Hannah wanted in her entire life. It would be very easy for her to keep him, for her to say that being a Nazirite doesn’t really require him to be fully God’s. She can raise him and keep him home. But Hannah is a woman of great faith and she knows that it was God that gave Samuel to her. So she doesn’t take the easy route. Instead she gives up her son. She gives back to God what God has given her, probably the hardest thing any mother can do.
Can someone read 1 Samuel 2:1-10?
2 Hannah prayed and said,
2 “There is no Holy One like the Lord,
no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.
3 Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.
4 The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble gird on strength.
5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
6 The Lord kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low, he also exalts.
8 He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.[c]
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and on them he has set the world.
9 “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness;
for not by might does one prevail.
10 The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered;
the Most High[d] will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king,
and exalt the power of his anointed.”
Giving up a child is one of the hardest things a mother can do and yet as we see in this prayer, Hannah does it with exultation for God. Hannah’s prayer is not one of despair, even though it would be easy for her to do so. Instead she praises God for his great strength and power. There are few people with faith like Hannah. So many of us want to keep close to us the things God has given us. We think the thing—whether it’s money, a talent, or whatever—is ours. We earned it. We produced it. We worked for it. We forget that it is God who gives and takes. But Hannah doesn’t forget. She does what most of us can’t.
Now we’re going to skip forward slightly. The section we’re skipping we will come back to next week though, because it’s important. But for now let’s skip ahead to 1 Samuel 2:18-21.
18 Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy wearing a linen ephod. 19 His mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year, when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. 20 Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the Lord repay you with children by this woman for the gift that she made to the Lord”; and then they would return to their home.
21 And the Lord took note of Hannah; she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. And the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.
Even though Hannah gave Samuel to the Tabernacle, she does not forget him. She makes him a little robe every year, it says, and brings it up to the Tabernacle to him. Now when you think of making a robe, you’re probably thinking going to the store to buy a bolt of cloth and then coming home to sew it into a robe. Not too hard. But that’s not what this would be. There weren’t really stores where you could just buy a bolt of cloth. You generally had to weave your own cloth. So imagine it to be much more painstaking. Hannah weaving individual threads until they from a cloth which she can then make into a robe. This was her labor of love, her way to remember her son every year and to remind him, when she came to the Tabernacle for her yearly sacrifices that she still loved him.
I don’t want you to think Hannah gave up her son because she did not love him. That is not the case. As we see from this Hannah greatly loved Samuel. That’s what makes the sacrifice all the more poignant. It’s not really a sacrifice to give up something you don’t love. That’s why your parents don’t ground you from things like school or vegetables. They ground you from things you like. That’s why for Lent you’re supposed to give up something you love. So it means something. You feel the pain of it’s loss.
Hannah would feel the pain of Samuel’s loss keenly. Her firstborn son, the son who fulfilled her life’s purpose, but she knows he belongs to God.
God sees Hannah’s faithfulness and he rewards her. He gives her three more sons and two daughters.
Hannah’s story is generally revered and taught for two reasons: one being this idea of sacrifice and giving back to God what is his. If Hannah can give up her son, how much easier should it be for us to give up our tithes, or to give up candy for Lent. But the other is her prayer. Hannah didn’t hide her emotions from God. Hannah didn’t pretend with God that everything was fine. In the beginning when she was praying, so hard and fervent that the priest thought she was drunk, she was not hiding. Was her prayer angry or just sad? We know it was anxious and she was greatly troubled.
God doesn’t want us to hold back from him. He wants you to take your requests and emotions—yes even anger—to him.
So remember Hannah when you pray. Remember you can take anything to God, and you can take any emotion to him, and you can pray as calmly or emotionally as you like. God hears you. And he will answer—though perhaps not always the way we want.
And with that we’ll end here. Next week we’ll talk about Samuel himself.