1 Samuel chapter 1

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What does 1 Samuel chapter 1 mean?

Leading up to this point in Israel's history, there has been no central government: Israel has no "king." This point was made several times in the book of Judges (Judges 19:1; 21:25). Another meaning for those statements is that Israel has been faithless and lawless, resulting in subjugation to her enemies. God sent rescuers to break those cycles (Judges 2:16–19), though Israel continued to sink deeper and deeper into sin.

The last man to serve solely as a judge, Samson, only "began" to break Israel out from oppression (Judges 13:5). His efforts against the Philistines (Judges 16:30–31) paved the way for this book's namesake, Samuel, to complete the task (1 Samuel 7:14). Their lives likely overlapped, though it's never stated that they met. Samuel will serve as Israel's last legitimate judge (1 Samuel 7:15–17) and the first prophet of Israel's new monarchy (1 Samuel 3:20; 9:15–16; 16:13).

The story of Samuel begins with the poignant story of Samuel's mother Hannah. Like the mothers of several significant men in the story of Israel, Hannah was barren (Genesis 21:1–3; 25:21; 30:22–24; Judges 13; Luke 1:5–25). She could not have children until the Lord blessed her with a son, and that son was meant to change the course of Israel's history. These birth narratives demonstrate God's sovereignty over His people and His faithfulness to His promises.

Hannah's husband, Elkanah, lived in the hill country of Ephraim and had two wives. He may have married the second wife, Peninnah, because of Hannah's infertility (1 Samuel 1:1–2).

Every year, the family traveled to Shiloh, to the temple of the Lord, to worship and sacrifice offerings to the Lord and have a feast. Their sacrifice was a peace offering shared between the Lord, the priests, and those bringing the offering. Elkanah would divide the meat given to him into equal portions to distribute to Peninnah and all her children. He would give a double portion to Hannah, whom he loved, to honor her. Apparently jealous, Peninnah would then torment Hannah because she could not have children. Then Elkanah would try to comfort Hannah. This entire process became an annual tradition (1 Samuel 1:3–8).

One year, though, Hannah refuses to eat and goes to the temple to pray. Deeply distressed, she weeps and pours her heart out to the Lord. She makes a vow to the Lord to give a son to Him for a lifetime of service if He will allow Hannah to conceive and give birth to that son. She includes in the vow that no razor will ever touch his head, suggesting this is the Nazirite vow from Numbers 6 (1 Samuel 1:9–11).

Hannah is so overwhelmed with emotion that she catches the attention of the priest over the temple at Shiloh. Eli watches as Hannah's lips move in prayer but no sound comes out. The priest assumes she is drunk and reprimands her. Hannah, though, assures the priest she hasn't been drinking. She has been praying to God out of her deep anger and worry (1 Samuel 1:12–16).

Eli sees that she is telling the truth. He blesses Hannah, affirms her prayer, and possibly even prophesies that God will grant her petition. Hannah leaves the temple no longer sad. After worshipping, Hannah and the rest of the family return home. The Lord "remembers" Hannah—He acts on her behalf. Before long, Hannah and Elkanah conceive, and she bears a son, whom she names Samuel (1 Samuel 1:17–20).

Elkanah takes Hannah's vow as his own (Numbers 30:10-15) and possibly makes an additional vow. The next time he goes to Shiloh for the annual sacrifice, he plans to pay that vow. Hannah, however, does not go to that sacrifice, saying that their son needs to first be weaned—no longer reliant on her for nutrition—before he can be given to lifelong temple service. Elkanah agrees and prays that the Lord will establish His word, meaning the gift of the child, despite the delay in keeping the vow (1 Samuel 1:21–23).

When Samuel is weaned, they take a large sacrifice to the temple in Shiloh, including a bull, flour, and wine. Hannah presents Samuel to Eli and tells the priest that this is the boy she was praying for on the night of their encounter. She tells Eli that she is giving the boy over to the Lord for as long as he lives (1 Samuel 1:24–28).
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