In the last essay, we began a new study of the books of Samuel by doing an introduction to the books. In this essay we will study chapters 1-2. Chapter one tells the story of Samuel’s birth. His father was an Ephraimite named Elkanah who had two wives: Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had several children, but Hannah was barren (1:1-2). That caused Hannah much grief (1:7); and year after year, Paninnah gave her grief over the matter (1:6-7).
So one year, when the family came to Shiloh to sacrifice at the tabernacle, Hannah was desperate. In her desperation, Hannah prayed that if the Lord would give her a male child she would consecrate him to the Lord as a life-long Nazirite (vv. 9-11). You may remember that Samson also was a life-long Nazirite. As we learned when studying Samson, the life-long element was an exception to the rule. Nazirites normally committed themselves to the vows for a limited period of time.
Although Eli at first thought Hannah was drunk, he soon realized she was not; and sent her away in peace, with a comforting prayer that her prayer would be answered. That cheered Hannah; and she went back to her husband in a happy mood (vv. 12-18).
When they returned home, Hannah soon became pregnant with Samuel, which means “heard of God.” Then after he was born, she followed through with her vow. She kept Samuel at home with her until she weaned him. And then she took Samuel to Eli at the tabernacle and left him there to serve God as a life-long Nazirite (vv. 21-28).
There are several key lessons from chapter one. First, Hannah’s prayer and piety had a great result, the birth of Samuel who became a great leader in Israel. Second, Elkanah’s sensitivity helped Hannah to accomplish the Lord’s will (v. 23). He loved her even while she was barren, and he let her fulfill her word to the Lord in her own timing. Third, Eli’s spiritual insight was adequate for the situation despite the problems we will see with his leadership later in the book. And fourth, Hannah followed through with her vow. Each of us should likewise follow through with our vows to the Lord.
All right, chapter two begins with a great song of exultation and praise by Hannah (vv. 2:1-10). The first thing I notice here is that the prayer is not limited to praise for what God has done for her. Although the prayer includes that, it also takes on a prophetic and messianic character. For example, after expressing her great joy in verse one, in verses 2-8 Hannah praised the Lord for his omniscience and righteousness; for how he brings down the proud and lofty, how he kills and makes alive, and how he makes some poor and others rich and the like. And then in verses 9-10 she concluded by predicting that the Lord would keep the faithful, bring down the wicked, and give strength and power to his king. Of course this latter aspect is the messianic part. Israel did not yet have a king. Judges ruled Israel in those days.
Old Testament scholars tend to go in opposite directions in their interpretation of this song. On the one hand some believe that Hannah prayed the song; but they believe she appropriated an already-existing song to express what she was feeling. Other Old Testament scholars believe the author inserted this song, or hymn, into Hannah’s mouth long after the time of Hannah.
Another, and perhaps better, alternative in my opinion, is to believe that Hannah herself composed the song under the inspiration of God. There are biblical examples of Hebrew poetry on which she could have modeled the song, if they were available to her. For example there was the song of Moses in Ex. 15 and the song of Deborah in Judges five. In any case, there likely would have been a collection of hymns at the tabernacle.
Hannah certainly had reason to sing. Her desire for a son was fulfilled; the Lord answered her prayer; she was experiencing the joy of sacrificial giving; and she was full of faith that the Lord is in control of the world. Therefore she need not be anxious about anything. Moreover the Lord was revealing something significant to her about the future of Israel, a future with which her son would have far more to do than she could ever imagine.
Well, let’s look at some of the details. In verse one, in the second line of the song, the NRSV translates the word “horn” as “strength.’ And that is correct. The horns of an animal are the locus of its strength or power. And Hannah was saying, “my strength is exulted in my God,” or “in the Lord.”
In verse two she mentioned the holiness of God, something none of us should forget. And in verse three she described the Lord as “a God of knowledge,” referring to his all-knowing omniscience. To say, “his actions are weighed,” means he is just, fair, in what he does. And then in verses 4-8 she expresses what some of those weighed actions are.
First, “the bows of the mighty are broken.” But in contrast to that, the Lord strengthens “the feeble’ (v. 4). Second, the Lord sees to it that those who are full; and some sort of unrighteousness is assumed here, come to a place where they have no bread; and those who are hungry are given bread. Third, a woman who had been barren bore seven children, while a woman who had many children is made unhappy. Of course seven is the ideal, the perfect, number. And as we all know a child was the specific blessing that Hannah had sought from the Lord; and Peninnah, Elkanah’s other wife, had many children. So there is some obvious autobiography in the song (v. 5). According to verse 21, Hannah herself eventually gave birth to five children. So she certainly was blessed in that area, after many years of barrenness. Fourth, the Lord kills and brings to life (v. 6). Fifth, the Lord makes poor and rich (v. 7), sometimes even lifting the needy to a place of honor (vv. 7-8). Those are the kinds of actions the Lord takes, but always in a just and fair manner.
At the end of the song, in verses 9-10, Hannah became prophetic. The Lord will guard the faithful and cut off the wicked (v. 9). He will judge the ends of the earth. And he will give strength to his king (v. 10).
Now this last reference is important. Remember, Israel did not yet have a monarchy. Indeed it is Hannah’s son who would lead the nation to a monarchical form of government. So the Lord was giving her a prophecy here. Of course liberal scholars, who do not believe in predictive prophecy, say that this prayer comes from a much later time, after the monarchy was well established. Some who are willing to attribute the prayer to Hannah might want to suggest that she was speaking from a common belief that a monarchy was coming rather than receiving a revelation from the Lord.
But there is no reason to reject the idea that the Lord was revealing the future here; and the revelation was not just in relation to the coming of a king in Israel the nation. The revelation was a prophecy of the coming King of Kings, who in the end-time will judge the ends of the earth.
Now then, I want to talk about the contrast between Hannah’s prayer in chapter one and her prayer in chapter two (points from The Pulpit Commentary). Beginning with chapter one, Hannah’s prayer, first of all, was born of deep sorrow. She was desperate when she prayed that prayer (v. 10).
Second, her first prayer was uttered in the heart (v. 13). That doesn’t seem particularly significant to us; but in Hannah’s culture, prayer at the tabernacle was done out loud. Thus this is the first recorded instance in the Scripture of a silent prayer.
Third, Hannah’s chapter one prayer expressed fervent desire. I am reluctant to place much stock in fervency. That is, God doesn’t answer our prayers, because we pray fervently. We too often pray fervently for wrong things. Rather the Lord answers our prayers because they are according to his will. However, when we are praying according to God’s will, fervency can’t hurt. It helps us to focus, if nothing else.
Fourth, her prayer exhibited genuine faith (v. 11). She really believed that the Lord was listening; and that he answers prayer.
Fifth, Hannah’s prayer manifested self-surrender. She presented herself to the Lord as his servant. Hannah was not seeking her own gratification. She was asking for a son, but at the same time she was offering that son to the Lord for his service.
Sixth, she offered her prayer with perseverance (v. 12). She “continued praying before the Lord,” it says.
And finally, seventh, an abundant blessing followed her prayer. Hannah left the place of prayer with peace in her heart and a happy face, verses 17-18.
Hannah’s prayer in chapter two is quite a contrast to that in chapter one. Several years have passed. Hannah’s earlier prayer was wonderfully answered. And at the beginning of chapter two, she had just fulfilled her vow to bring her son to the tabernacle for the Lord’s service. Thus the location was the same. But the prayer was totally different.
Then her heart was full of grief; now it rejoiced in the Lord. Then she had no strength; now the Lord endued her with strength and honor. Then her mouth was shut, in silent endurance, under the provocation of Peninnah; now she loudly lifted her voice in praise. Then she desperately was asking for help; now she rejoiced in his salvation.
Now we already have looked at the specific matters in which she rejoiced. But let me review them, using different language. First was the perfection of the Lord’s character in verses 2-3. Second was that list of the Lord’s actions, in verses 4-8. And third was the establishment of the Lord’s kingdom in verses 9-10.