9 December 2014

1 Samuel 1:1-20

‘’Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” (v. 17)

Psalm: Psalm 130


The two books of Samuel tell the story of the transition of the nation of Israel from being ruled by the judges to rule under kings. Samuel, who is thought of by many as a judge himself, is the key figure in enabling this transition. The story begins with the birth narrative of Samuel and we should note that there is no such narrative for any of the kings.

The vow made by Hannah about her son's lifestyle is essentially that of a Nazirite as defined in Numbers 6:1-21. We should remember that Samson and probably John the Baptist (who also gets a birth narrative) were also Nazirites (Luke 1:15).

This story takes place before the reign of Solomon who built the temple in Jerusalem. The 'temple' mentioned to in verse 9 refers to the tabernacle or tent in which was situated the Holy of Holies carried by the children of Israel during their wanderings in the desert and also contained the Ark of the Covenant.

The men in this story do not come out very well, despite their best intentions. Elkanah assumes that a double food portion will help with Hannah's grief at being childless (verse 5) and suggests that he is worth more than ten sons (verse 8). Eli meanwhile assumes that she is drunk because he cannot hear what she is saying as she prays (verse 13). Ultimately, it is only when Hannah offers the full extent of her grief and anxiety in prayer to God that she finds consolation and in time she is able to conceive. The name Samuel sounds like the Hebrew for 'heard of the LORD'.

The theme of barrenness overcome by God is a common theme from the Old Testament seen in the stories of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 17:15-22) and Jacob and Rachel (Genesis 29-30) complete with the familiar stories of rivalry with the other wife. This narrative also has great parallels with the birth narrative of Christ although the intervention of God overcomes virginity and not just barrenness in order to bring to birth his servant.

To Ponder

  • Is it significant that we have a birth narrative of a prophet instead of the two kings whose reigns are described in this book? If so why?
  • Hannah's prayer involved a vow that if she had a son he would be a Nazirite. Is she bargaining with God? If so, to what extent is this a good model of prayer?
  • Hannah might have been comforted by the hymn What a friend we have in Jesus if she had known it. Read it now as if you have never read it before. 

Bible notes author

The Revd Jonathan Mead

Jonathan is a Methodist minister, who works part time in the London NW Mission circuit and part time as a learning and development officer in the London District. He enjoys keeping fit, reading history and visiting Mediterranean destinations..