1 Samuel 1:1-3

  1. The Historical Setting for the Establishment of Kingship in Israel (1 Sam 1:1-7:17)
    1. Samuel's Birth; Judgment Pronounced on the Elides; Samuel Becomes a Prophet (1 Sam 1:1-4:1a)
      1. Samuel's birth (1 Sam 1:1-28)
        1. Elkanah's family (1 Sam 1:1-3)


1:1 Ramah in the region of Zuph. The KJV and NASB translate the Hebrew haramathayim tsopim as "Ramathaim-zophim," which is a geographical designation. The NIV and NEB translate the phrase as "Ramathaim, a Zuphite" which takes haramathayim [TH 7436A, ZH 8259] as the name of the place of Elkanah's residence, and tsopim [TH 6690.3, ZH 7435] as a designation of the clan to which Elkanah belonged. This is supported by the statement in 1:1b that Elkanah was a descendant of Zuph, and by the reference to the land of Zuph in 9:5. In 1:19 and 2:11 Elkanah is said to reside in Ramah (haramah). It seems likely that haramathayim is an alternate form, used only here, for the name Ramah. The -ayim sufformative is probably locative rather than dual (compare Gath/Gittaim; see note on 2 Sam 21:9; B. Mazar 1954:230). This is likely the same Ramah where Samuel later established his headquarters (7:15-17) after the destruction of Shiloh.

1:2 Elkanah had two wives. Although the creation narrative (Gen 2:24), as well as certain sections of the Wisdom Literature (cf. Prov 5:15-20; 18:22; 31:10-31), clearly imply monogamous marriage as God's standard for the marital relationship, bigamy and polygamy came to be tolerated in ancient Israel as socially acceptable (e.g., Esau, Jacob, Gideon, Saul, David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijah, Ahab, Jehoram). The words Jesus spoke about regulations for divorce in the Mosaic law ("Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended," Matt 19:8) apply equally well to polygamy. Just as with divorce, polygamy is not explicitly prohibited in the Mosaic law but instead regulated in order to ameliorate its destructive effects (Deut 21:15-17). As Wright (1983:177) observes, "The story of Elkanah and his rival wives (ch 1) was hardly written for the primary purpose of criticizing bigamy, but it is a vivid illustration of the potential agonies it can produce." See further ISBE 3.901-902; Kaiser 1983:182-190.

1:3 the Lord of Heaven's Armies. Lit., "the Lord of Hosts" (yhwh tseba'oth [TH 3068/6635, ZH 3378/7372]). This is the first occurrence in the OT of what becomes a common title for the God of Israel (there are 260 occurrences of it in the OT, mostly in Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi). It appears to be a shortened form of "the Lord God of Hosts" (yhwh 'elohe tseba'oth; cf. 2 Sam 5:10; Hos 12:5 [6]; Amos 3:13; 4:13). The precise significance of tseba'oth in the title has long been discussed with no consensus achieved. By itself it is used to designate the armies of Israel (17:45; cf. Deut 20:4), celestial bodies (Deut 4:19; 17:3; 2 Kgs 17:16; 21:3-5; 23:4-5; Isa 40:26), or heavenly creatures such as angels (1 Kgs 22:19; Pss 103:21; 148:2). Vos (1975:243) comments, "Jehovah of Hosts is His royal name. It designates Him as the almighty King both in nature and history [Ps 103:19-22; Isa 6:5; 24:23; Jer 46:18; 48:15; 51:57]." Whatever its specific meaning in the title, which may in fact vary in different contexts, it clearly seems to be intended to depict Israel's God as supreme over all powers in heaven and earth. The LXX either transliterates the term (sabaōth [TG 4519, ZG 4877]), or renders it by kurios pantokratōr [TG 2962/3841, ZG 3261/4120] (Lord Almighty) or kurios tōn dunameōm [TG 1411, ZG 1539] (Lord of the Powers). Because Rom 9:29 and Jas 5:4 also transliterate the term, as was sometimes done in the LXX, "Sabaoth" is often transliterated in modern languages, producing phrases such as "the Lord Sabaoth" and "the Lord of Sabaoth."


The narratives of 1 Samuel 1-7 do three important things: (1) They present Samuel as a faithful leader who serves in the multiple roles of prophet, priest, and judge; (2) they depict the disastrous situation into which Israel had fallen by turning away from covenant faithfulness during the period of the judges; and (3) they clearly show that Israel had no legitimate reason for desiring to have a king like the nations around them. All of these things are important for understanding the conditions attending the establishment of the monarchy under Samuel's direction in 1 Samuel 8-12.

First and Second Samuel depict Israel's momentous transition from the period of the judges to that of the monarchy. These books do not provide us with a detailed political history of this time, but are rather, for the most part, a collection of biographical stories pertaining to the leading personas in this period of Israel's history, namely, Samuel (chs 1-12), Saul (chs 13-31), and David (2 Sam 1-24). The narrative reaches its climax with the kingship of David, and particularly with God's promise to him that his dynasty would endure forever (2 Sam 7).

Even though the central focus of the narratives of 1-2 Samuel is the rise and reign of David, the story begins with the birth of Samuel rather than with the birth of David. When David appears on the scene in later chapters, there is still no description of his birth but only the story of his being chosen and anointed by Samuel when he was a young man. By this rhetorical means, the narrator, from the very beginning of his account, subordinates David's position as king to the word and work of the prophet Samuel.

Samuel was born during a dark period of Israel's history. The religious and moral deterioration characteristic of this time is clearly portrayed in the two stories appended to the book of Judges: A private sanctuary is robbed of its idols and priest (Judg 17-18); and a civil war is fought against Benjamin because of the rape and murder of a woman traveler (Judg 19-21). Yet contrary to outward appearances, God was still at work among his people. The book of Ruth shows us that in the private sphere of family life the Lord was even then preparing the line from which David would be born (Ruth 4:18-22).

First Samuel 1 reveals that the Lord was also at work in another family, even though this family also had a dark side: In the household of Elkanah there was internal strife. Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Hannah was barren but Peninnah was not. Peninnah used her own fecundity to torment Hannah. In this situation, the Lord intervened on the side of Hannah. As de Jong (1978:51) suggests, Samuel was born not by might nor by power, not by the will of man nor by the will of the flesh, but according to the Lord's will. In fact, it is the Lord who is at the center of the entire narrative. 1. Brueggemann (1990b:47) notes that while the focus of 1 Samuel is on David, behind David is Saul and behind Saul is Samuel. But then we are still required to ask, "Whence comes Samuel?" Brueggemann responds, "The answer of course is that behind Samuel stands Hannah, frail, distressed, weeping, not eating. It is Hannah who finally dares to pray and to vow, to receive, to yield, and to worship. Israel's monarchy, we are told, begins in this voiceless voice of hopeless hope.... And behind Hannah? There is only Yahweh who closes wombs, who remembers, who answers prayers, and gives sons. There is only Yahweh and Yahweh has initiated the sequence of Hannah, Samuel, Saul and David ex nihilo, out of nothing but hurt brought to voice, hope dared, uttered fidelity, petitions risked, and vows kept." It was the Lord who had closed Hannah's womb (1:5-6); and the Lord who remembered her (1:19); and Hannah confesses at the end of the chapter that it was the Lord who had granted her request (1:27). It is clear that the Lord is faithful to his people when they are ready and willing to submit to him in faith, obedience, and worship. It is Hannah who personifies these qualities.

As a prelude of things to come, this chapter also introduces the reader to the high priest, Eli, and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas. Eli is presented as a priest who is deficient in spiritual discernment but dutiful in his priestly tasks. No hint is given about the personal qualities of Hophni and Phinehas.

The first chapter begins with an introductory formula ("There was a man," 1:1) that is also found at the beginning of the Samson narratives (Judg 13:2). The formula suggests that what follows is to be read as the beginning of a new sequence of narratives in the context of the preceding stories of the judges. The man about whom the narrative speaks is Elkanah, who lived in the hill country of Ephraim. Hannah, one of Elkanah's two wives, remained barren. The familiar biblical theme of the barren wife (e.g., Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Samson's mother) raises the prospect, if not the expectation, of divine intervention on Hannah's behalf. This potentiality is heightened when the reader learns in 1:5 that "the Lord had given her no children."

Every year Elkanah and his family went to Shiloh to worship at the Tabernacle. Elkanah was evidently a godly man and consistent in his performance of ritual observances. Whether the yearly trip to Shiloh was occasioned by one of the three annual festivals (Passover, Festival of Harvest, Festival of Shelters; see Exod 23:14-19; 34:23; Deut 16:16-17) or was a special family observance is not made explicit in the text. Perhaps it was the Festival of Shelters, the most exuberant of Israel's feasts and the one at which the participants celebrated God's care for his people during the wilderness wandering (Lev 23:43), as well as his blessing in the recent harvest (Deut 16:13-15). 3. Judges 21:19 refers to an "annual festival of the Lord held in Shiloh." Since this festival is spoken of in connection with "vineyards" (Judg 21:20) and may have been held at the time of the grape harvest, it is often taken as a reference to the Festival of Shelters (Wolf 1992:505). Perhaps the same festival is in view here. In any case, at Shiloh Elkanah brought his sacrifices and worshiped "the Lord of Heaven's Armies" (see note on 1:3). It is particularly significant that this designation for Yahweh appears for the first time in the Old Testament in these narratives, which prepare the way for the establishment of kingship in Israel. At this time in history, Israel was extraordinarily in need of a reminder of the power and sovereignty of Yahweh, its Great King.

1 Samuel 1:4-8

  1. Hannah's sorrow (1 Sam 1:4-8)


1:4 he would give portions of the meat. From Lev 3; 7:11-21, 28-34, we learn that the ritual for the fellowship offering (sometimes called the peace offering) included a sacrificial meal. Both the priest and those who offered the sacrifice ate a part of the sacrificed animal. The fat was burned, and the blood was sprinkled on the altar.

1:5 only one choice portion because the Lord had given her no children. Or, "And because he loved Hannah, he would give her a choice portion because the Lord had given her no children." The Hebrew of this phrase is difficult. The difficulty centers in the word 'appayim (NLT, "choice") which normally means "both nostrils," "anger," or "face." The NIV and NASB, following Keil and others, understand the expression manah [TH 4490, ZH 4950] 'akhath 'appayim to mean "one portion for two persons (i.e., faces)" or a "double portion." The KJV (much like NLT), following the Targum, renders the expression "a worthy portion" (i.e., "a portion of the face" in the sense of a portion of honor). Both of these suggestions, however, seem somewhat contrived in their attempt to produce an acceptable meaning. It has been widely recognized that the LXX (Vaticanus) provides a sensible and, given the alternatives, probably the preferable reading (plen hoti [TG 4133/3754, ZG 4440/4022], "except that") that presupposes a minor modification of the MT to 'epes ki [TH 657A/3588, ZH 700/3954] (nevertheless), in place of 'appayim ki [TH 639/3588, ZH 678/3954] (cf. Num 13:28; Deut 15:4; Judg 4:9). The idea of the statement, then, is that even though Hannah received only one portion, this was not because Elkanah did not love her, but simply because she was barren. In addition, he recognized that her condition was not simply misfortune, but was due to an intervention of the Lord.

1:6 Peninnah would taunt Hannah. Lit., "Her rival, however, provoked her intensely to aggravate her." Peninnah is designated tsarathah [TH 6869A, ZH 7651] (her rival), which is a technical term for a rival wife in Syriac and Arabic (S. R. Driver 1913:9) but is used only here in the Hebrew OT. The term suggests that Peninnah had become a second wife to Elkanah subsequent to his marriage to Hannah, perhaps even because of Hannah's barrenness. The verbal form of the same root occurs in this sense in Lev 18:18. McCarter (1980b:60) notes that the "Hebrew tsarah became virtually a technical, legal designation for a man's second wife in the Talmudic period, when bigamy was permitted (though not encouraged) until its general prohibition in the tenth century CE."


When the time came for distribution of portions of the sacrificial meal to the family members, Hannah received only one portion. This was not because Elkanah did not love her, but simply because Hannah had no children. Hannah's barrenness is rhetorically emphasized by a repetition (1:5) of the statement that the Lord had closed her womb (1:2). Her sterility, however, provides the occasion for Peninnah (her rival, see note on 1:6) to taunt her and cause her great emotional distress. This unjust treatment of Hannah by Peninnah highlights the contrast between the two women, one of whom is cruel and arrogant and the other afflicted and crushed. Similar contrasts are drawn between other individuals throughout 1-2 Samuel (e.g., Eli's sons and Samuel; Saul and David; Saul and Jonathan; Michal and Abigail). So here, even before his birth, Samuel is aligned with the side of honor and godliness through his oppressed but pious mother (cf. Eslinger 1985:73).