Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Though the books of Samuel are essentially about King David, the story recorded therein begins with a man named Elkanah and his wife Hannah (1 Samuel 1:1-2).  “Hannah was childless” (1:2b).  Therefore, within the community, Hannah is looked upon as being cursed by God.  By extension then, she embodies exile.  However, in contradistinction to what would have been thought about her, we find that “the Lord had not enabled her to have children” (1:5c).  Interestingly, “Her rival wife used to upset her and make her worry, for the Lord had not enabled her to have children” (1:6).  So while the author speaks of the power of God, presenting the position that the delivery of children stands within the realm of God’s blessing, Hannah’s rival wife (Peninnah) turns this in a different direction, diminishing the power and blessing of God inherent in the statement, and thinks only of God’s cursing.  She points the finger of scorn and rejection at Hannah, while it is said of Elkanah, her husband, that “he especially loved her” (1:5b).  He evidenced this love in that “Whenever the day came for sacrifice, he used to give meat portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters.  But he would give a double portion to Hannah”  (1:4-5a).  So whatever it was that was said or thought about Hannah within the community, Elkanah, through this type of act toward her, in spite of the fact that she had not been able to give him any children, identifies himself with Hannah in the midst of her perceived cursing, and freely joins her within her exilic condition. This sounds a great deal like what God would do for His people, in and through the Messiah. 

During one of the times that the family went to sacrifice, “after they had finished eating and drinking, Hannah got up” (1:9b).  She began to pray.  “She was very upset as she prayed to the Lord and she was weeping uncontrollably” (1:10).  For various reasons, Eli the priest thought that she was drunk (after all, they had been eating and drinking), so he questioned her about her physical condition.  Hannah protested that she was not drunk, and answers him by saying “I have spoken from my deep pain and anguish” (1:16b).  Now, in her condition of childlessness, which was considered to be in a cursed state and therefore akin to being in exile, it could be said that Hannah was groaning under her burden.  This would be not unlike the Israelites in Egypt, as “They cried out, and their desperate cry… went up to God” (Exodus 2:23b).  In much the same way as “God heard their groaning” and “remembered His covenant… saw the Israelites, and… understood” (2:24-25), Hannah hears Eli say, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant the request that you have asked of Him” (1:17).  “After some time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a Son.  She named him Samuel, thinking, ‘I asked the Lord for him’.” (1:20)  The reason for the name is that “Samuel,” which means “Name of God,” sounds like the Hebrew verb that is translated as “asked.” 

We go on to read that Elkanah (Hannah’s husband, Samuel’s father) continued his yearly tradition of going to Shiloh to make yearly sacrifices, but that Hannah did not go with him (1:21-22).  “Instead, she told her husband, ‘Once the boy is weaned, I will bring him and appear before the Lord, and he will remain there from then on” (1:22b).  This was based on her vow concerning her son “to dedicate him to the Lord all the days of his life” (1:11b), which, based on the way things would progress, implied his service in the tabernacle.  Eventually, she would fulfill this vow.  Now because for Hannah Samuel represents exodus from exile, thereby making him serve as a deliverer of sorts for Hannah before he would ever carry the mantle of judge and prophet in Israel, this story does have a bit of a connection with that of Moses, which should not come as a surprise.

After Moses’ birth, and after his mother does her best to keep him from being killed at the hands of the Egyptians, she places him in a basket and sets him floating down the Nile River.  He is found by Pharaoh’s daughter.  Moses’ sister had been watching to see what would happen and “his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and get a nursing woman for you from the Hebrews, so that she may nurse the child for you?’...  So the young girl went and got the child’s mother” (Exodus 2:7,8b).  In an ironic turn of events, “Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this child and nurse him for me, and I will pay your wages.’  So the woman took the child and nursed him” (2:9).  With this, we are put in mind of Hannah’s weaning of Samuel before bringing him to the Lord and leaving him with Eli at the tabernacle.  The connection is made a bit more explicit by the similar language that follows, as “When the child grew older she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son” (2:10a), just as Samuel would effectively become the son of Eli.  Closing out the connection, we go on to read that “She named him Moses, saying, ‘Because I drew him from the water’.” (2:10b).  Because “Moses” is related to the Hebrew verb which means “to draw out,” we see that Moses received his name in a way not unlike that in which Samuel received his name; and because Moses is intimately connected to exodus in every way, in this tacit connection with the birth of Samuel, we have a telling Scriptural signpost of the incredible significance of exodus in the understanding and interpretation of the divine Word.                 

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