1 Samuel 1:1-24a
Samuel’s Mother: Hannah
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Samuel was called by YHWH to lead Israel out of an era of apostasy. He was YHWH’s main instrument in transitioning the nation from being ruled by Judges to being ruled by a King. His mother was a huge factor in his success.
1 Samuel 1:1-3 (Holman) There was a man from Ramathaim-zophim in the hill country of Ephraim. His name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives, the first named Hannah and the second Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah was childless. This man would go up from his town every year to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of Hosts at Shiloh, where Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were the Lord’s priests.
The family’s hometown, known as Ramah, was situated about five miles north of Jerusalem and became the center of Samuel’s ministry. Ramah is probably identical with the New Testament’s Arimathea.
Elkanah had two wives. Peninnah had children; Hannah did not. Elkanah regularly worshiped at Shiloh, located about 20 miles north of Jerusalem. Here, in the center of the Promised Land, the tabernacle was situated.
1 Samuel 1:4-7 Whenever Elkanah offered a sacrifice, he always gave portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to each of her sons and daughters. But he gave a double portion to Hannah, for he loved her even though the Lord had kept her from conceiving. Her rival would taunt her severely just to provoke her, because the Lord had kept Hannah from conceiving. Whenever she went up to the Lord’s house, her rival taunted her in this way every year. Hannah wept and would not eat.
When Elkanah divided the peace offerings among his family, his beloved Hannah, who had no children, always received the largest portion. One can almost guess what this practice precipitated. Partiality always sets the stage for jealousy.
Peninnah would antagonize Hannah to the point Hannah would fret, weep, and stop eating. So much for polygamy! Though tolerated in Old Testament days, it was never a part of God’s intent for marriage. Polygamy always caused trouble.
Peninnah is presented as a peevish and coarse woman. She added affliction to affliction, a hideous form of malice. Compounding the misfortunate of another person is despicable. We are to bear one another’s burdens, not add to them.
Home should be a refuge from trial, but too often becomes the very scene of antagonism. One cranky family member can keep a household in an uproar from morning till night (Thank God people have to sleep at night!). There is never any shortage of rude people who can drop a “scalding drop into a sore place and make it sorer. It can be done so that you cannot print it and publish it; it can be done so that you cannot report it; it can be done so that you can only feel it. These are the miseries that spoil so many lives” (Parker).
1 Samuel 1:8-9 “Hannah, why are you crying?” her husband Elkanah asked. “Why won’t you eat? Why are you troubled? Am I not better to you than 10 sons?” Hannah got up after they ate and drank at Shiloh. Eli the priest was sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s tabernacle.
Hannah, realizing Elkanah did not understand her sorrow, left the family circle to be alone with her thoughts. She eventually made her way to the tabernacle. When Hannah reached the tabernacle, Eli the priest was also there.
1 Samuel 1:10-11 Deeply hurt, Hannah prayed to the Lord and wept with many tears. Making a vow, she pleaded, “Lord of Hosts, if You will take notice of Your servant’s affliction, remember and not forget me, and give Your servant a son, I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and his hair will never be cut.”
Mocked by her counterpart, and sensing the disappointment of her husband, Hannah responded properly. She did not speak sharply in return; instead she went to God in prayer. Bitterness of soul led her to prayer, which in turn led her to victory. Hannah allowed her adversity to be a steppingstone to faith rather than a stumbling block. Let the daily annoyances of life turn you toward prayer. This will draw you ever closer and closer to the Master.
In her deep sorrow, Hannah made a vow. If she could have a baby boy, he would be dedicated to service in the tabernacle for his whole life. Also, he would be set apart as a Nazirite, a person whose life was especially dedicated to the Lord.
1 Samuel 1:12-14 While she continued praying in the Lord’s presence, Eli watched her lips. Hannah was praying silently, and though her lips were moving, her voice could not be heard. Eli thought she was drunk and scolded her, “How long are you going to be drunk? Get rid of your wine!”
Hannah’s lips moved as she silently prayed. Hereby she testified her belief that God knows our hearts and its desires; thoughts are words to Him (Henry).
Eli had the unfortunate responsibility of serving as High Priest when Israel’s spiritual life was at a low ebb. He had probably seen many loose and immoral women during his tenure. Eli assumed that Hannah was a mumbling drunk.
Hannah’s blessed communion with God was abruptly interrupted by Eli’s sharp command. Poor Hannah! She had already been provoked by Peninnah and reproved by Elkanah. Now she is reprimanded by the High Priest.
This was not the first or the last time a true worshiper would be ridiculed. Devotions is often misunderstood. Be careful in forming opinions about the conduct of another. Do not be rash and hasty to condemn. We cannot see intentions or know motives. Avoid vilifying the modes of worship practiced by others.
1 Samuel 1:15-20 “No, my lord,” Hannah replied. “I am a woman with a broken heart. I haven’t had any wine or beer; I’ve been pouring out my heart before the Lord. Don’t think of me as a wicked woman; I’ve been praying from the depth of my anguish and resentment.” Eli responded, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant the petition you’ve requested from Him.” “May your servant find favor with you,” she replied. Then Hannah went on her way; she ate and no longer looked despondent. The next morning Elkanah and Hannah got up early to bow in worship before the Lord. Afterward, they returned home to Ramah. Then Elkanah was intimate with his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. After some time, Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, because she said, “I requested him from the Lord.”
Upon learning of his error, Eli prays that YHWH will grant her petition. Hannah found encouragement in the High Priest’s words and went home rejoicing.
“Samuel” is made of two Hebrew words meaning “heard of God.” The name would be a constant reminder that God heard the prayer of Hannah. She wanted never to forget, and wanted her son never to forget he was a special gift from God. It would be good if we all remembered this truth about our own children.
1 Samuel 1:21-24a When Elkanah and all his household went up to make the annual sacrifice and his vow offering to the Lord, Hannah did not go and explained to her husband, “After the child is weaned, I’ll take him to appear in the Lord’s presence and to stay there permanently.” Her husband Elkanah replied, “Do what you think is best, and stay here until you’ve weaned him. May the Lord confirm your word.” So Hannah stayed there and nursed her son until she weaned him. When she had weaned him, she took him with her to Shiloh.
Elkanah allowed Hannah to keep the child at home for a while, but the vow must not be broken. Vows made in distress must not be forgotten in ease. Beware vows! But if you make one, be sure you fulfill it. Too many Christians are like the ancient merchant who in a storm vowed to sacrifice 100 bullocks to Jupiter. After the storm he first reduced his pledge to one bullock, then to a sheep, then to a few dates. Walking to the temple, he ate the dates and laid only the stones on the altar.
Weaning took place about age three. Hannah not only had to wean the child, but also had to wean her own heart. Everyday endeared the child to her more, but she fulfilled her vow. In giving up Samuel, Hannah gave to God the light of her eyes, the joy of her heart, the costliest and most precious thing she possessed.
The child was brought at an early age in order that the house of God might be the first dwelling he could remember. The earliest impressions upon his memory were to be of God’s house. From his youngest days he would have impressed upon him the sacred presence of God.
The significance of Hannah’s gift is hard to overstate. Her child laid the foundation for a widespread prophetic order. He made it an office that exerted influence side by side with the priests and kings. He brought the prophetic order from obscurity to prominence. What Washington did for the USA Presidency, and what John Marshall did for the USA Supreme Court, Samuel did for the prophets.
Before he was even born, Samuel was blessed by God. The prophet had a praying mother. Home is where children must receive most of their spiritual nurturing. A church, at best only supplemental, cannot replace the home. An ounce of godly parents is worth a pound of clergy. Home is the most important altar.
The American statesman, John Randolph, said he would have been swept away by the flood of French infidelity had it not been for a saintly mother who taught him to kneel as a child beside her and to fold his hands in prayer.
John Newton learned to pray at his mother’s knee. She died when he was eight, but her influence remained. When as an adult John was living the life of a blasphemer, he was caught in a storm at sea. He finally cried out, “My mother’s God, thou God of Mercy, have mercy on me.” Thus was converted the author of “Amazing Grace.”
In the 1800s, a mother wrote in her diary, “This morning I rose early to pray for my children, and especially that my sons may be ministers and missionaries of Jesus Christ.” All five became preachers or missionaries.
When the sculptor Bacon was erecting a monument to Lord Chatham in Westminster Abbey, an observer told him, “Take care what you are doing, for you are working for eternity.” Parents need the same reminder. The way children are raised has everlasting consequences. Parents, “take care what you are doing, for you are working for eternity.”