Meditation on 1 Samuel 1: 1 – 2:11 (selected verses)
Bible Translation by Hans Wilhelm Hertzberg & J.S. Bowden
Merritt Island Presbyterian Church
Nov. 15, 2015
1:1 There was a certain man of Ramathaim, of the Zuphites, of the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. 2 He had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. And Penninah had children, but Hannah had no children.
3 Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phineas, were priests of the Lord. 4 Now there was a day when Elkanah sacrificed. And he used to give portions to Penninah his wife and to all her sons and daughters, 5 but he would give Hannah one portion, the portion of the face, for he loved Hannah, although the Lord had closed her womb. 6 And her rival used to provoke her sorely, to humiliate here, because the Lord had closed her womb. 7 So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. 8 And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, ‘Hannah, who do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than 10 sons?” 9 But Hannah rose, after they had eaten the boiled meat and had drunk, and went before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on his seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. 11 And she vowed a vow and said, ‘O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of the maidservant, and remember me, and not forget thy maidservant, but wilt give to thy maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life and no razor shall touch his head.’ 12 As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard; therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. 14 And Eli said to her, ‘How long will you be drunken? Put away your wine from you. 15 But Hannah answered, ‘No, my Lord, I am only a woman sorely troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16 Do not regard your maidservant as a base woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation. 17 Then Eli answered, ‘Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have made of him.’ 18 And she said, ‘Let your maidservant find favor in your eyes.’
Then the woman went her way and ate with her husband and drank, and her countenance was no longer sad. 19 They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord, then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkhanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her; and Hannah conceived, and in due time bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked him of the Lord.’ 21 And the man Elkhanah and all his house went up (again) to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice, and to pay his vow. 22 But Hannak did not go up, for she said to her husband, (I will remain here) until the child is weaned; then I will bring him to see the face of the Lord and abide there for ever…
24 And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a 3-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine; and she brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh, although the child was still young. Then they slew the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. 26 And she said, Oh, my Lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. 27 For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me my petition which I made to him. 28 Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord. And they worshiped the Lord there…
2:11 And they left him there before the Lord and went home to Ramah.
I enjoyed a lovely walk in my neighborhood yesterday morning before I began work on my sermon. The walk was soothing for me, a healing balm. I was hurting from an argument I had had with my mother the day before. I was having trouble letting the hurt go. I needed God’s help.
I listened for His voice in the breeze that whispered through the palms. I felt God’s love in the warmth of the sun on my back. I remembered what God has done for me, giving me hope and the promise of new and abundant life, as I trust Him each day. And as I submit to Him. I remembered my gratitude–the foundation of our faith — and the grace that God has shown me. I gave Him my thanks and praise.
I thought about Hannah in 1 Samuel and how she persevered through years of hurt and disappointment. She continued to seek God’s presence and trust in Him. Then one day, after she shared the longings of her heart, “pouring out her soul to the Lord,” she experienced a dramatic transformation.
Her sadness was turned to joy.
We who have struggled with conflict and hurt in our families are inspired by the example of Hannah, “sorely provoked” and “humiliated” by Penninah, her husband, Elkanah’s, other wife. Yes, it was common for a man to have more than one wife in Biblical times. This was a way the community looked after its members. Widows were given in marriage to brothers or other kin of the deceased. When there were no other offers of marriage to an “old maid,” she was sometimes given in marriage to her sister’s husband, such as when Laban gave his daughter, Rachel, and her less attractive, nearsighted, older sister, Leah, to be Jacob’s wives. Having more than one wife helped to ensure the survival of the family, for children often died young; mothers frequently died in childbirth. Rachel died giving birth to her second son, Benjamin, Joseph’s younger brother, while journeying to Ephrath, later known as Bethlehem.
Maybe we feel a little sympathy for Penninah when we find out that Hannah was the one Elkanah loved. We read nothing about his feelings for Peninnah, who gave him sonsand daughters, while Hannah gave him none. We find no conversation between Elkanah and Penninah recorded. We do find, however, loving dialog between Elkanah and Hannah, revealing his patience and compassion while she was depressed, withdrawn, refusing to eat. He doesn’t hold her barrenness against her, for it was the Lord that “closed her womb.” Still, a woman’s identity and self-worth was found in giving birth and providing her husband with sons to carry on the family name and religion, and to keep his memory alive after his death.
Can you hear the comfort Elkanah offers his favored wife? He asks, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? Any why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than 10 sons?” He also gave her preferential treatment over Peninnah and her children.The climax of the pilgrimage is a sacrificial meal at which the pilgrims rejoice before Yahweh with eating and drinking. The head of the household divides the portions. Elkanah gave Hannah the “portion of the face,” perhaps a portion of honor, presumably much larger than the portion he gives to Penninah and her sons and daughters. But the fact that the women and children were present with him at the table, sharing the feast together, reveals an unusual kindness in Elkanah. Women and children usually remained in the background during the feast and waited to eat after mealtime was over.
How do you feel about the priest’s reaction to Hannah’s praying–accusing her of being drunk? It may be one of those moments of rare comic relief that we find in Scripture. But notice a pattern in God’s Word–that often the most “religious” people, the people we expect to have all the answers, are the ones who don’t understand what is happening in the spiritual realm. They don’t have eyes to “see”! God uses ordinary people to accomplish His work! The Lord is already using you and me!
Does it seem like the writer uses more words than necessary to describe Hannah’s silent prayer? In verse 13, we read Hannah “speaking in her heart;” “with only her lips moving”, “without making any sound.” Well, people didn’t pray silently back then–or at least it wasn’t common. Silent prayer is a spiritual practice that became more popular–but was still not universally accepted– after a 16th century Carmelite nun named Teresa of Avila, Spain, wrote books about something called “mental prayer.”
What I don’t want you to miss is the turning point for Hannah in this passage. She endures many years of disappointment, shame and humiliation, worsened by Penninah’s provocation. She gives the Lord the longings of her heart every year that she and Elkanah make the pilgrimage to Shiloh. She never gives up. She always hopes in the Lord. She is always gracious–even to Eli the priest. She says respectfully, “No, my lord, I am only a woman sorely troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord.”
Eli responds with a common “formula” blessing that doesn’t reveal whether he believes that God will give Hannah what she desires–or not. I don’t think he knows she has asked for a son when he says, “Go in peace, and (may) God grant your petition which you have made to him.” Hannah hears a promise, though, and responds in humility, submitting to God’s will for her life. There is NO trace of any of the “vexation”–(anger) — or “great anxiety” that she had shared in her silent prayer, when she “poured out her soul before the Lord.” She reminds us of the Virgin Mary after the angel tells her that she will conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to Jesus, who will be Son of the Most High. Mary says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Hannah says essentially the same thing. “Let your maidservant find favor in your eyes.”
She is no longer sad; her grief is gone! Now she eats and drinks with her husband, celebrating the promise of God granting her the longing of her heart.
She soon gives birth to Samuel, a name that means, “He over whom the name of God has been said.” What is lost in translation is the wordplay on the root “sa al.” When Eli uses “sa al” two times as he speaks to Hannah, the word means simply “to ask.” When Samuel anoints Israel’s first king “Saul,” the name means, “he who is asked.” When Hannah keeps her promise to the Lord and gratefully brings Samuel to be raised by the priest in the temple, she uses the same root word, “sa al,” which now becomes, “he who is lent.” When something is “lent,” if you think about it, it is usually “given” for a time, with the expectation of return.
But Hannah knows that Samuel, asked for in faith and given by God–in His time, belongs to the Lord–forever. She gratefully returns to the Lord what is most precious to her, saying, “I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.”
Friends, do you know that you are a precious gift from God? That we and all of our family members belong to Him? We are, as Hannah says, “lent to the Lord,” as long as we live.
Are you feeling anxious or angry–like Hannah, who was sorely provoked by Penninah for many years? Seek the Lord. Trust Him with the longings of your heart. Pour out your soul before Him! Be patient! Hold onto your faith as you persevere through your trials. Hannah waited for many years on the Lord, without giving up hope. In fact, I think her years of suffering made her cling to Him even more.
And one day, her sadness turned to joy.
Let us pray.
Holy One, thank you for your love, a love that led you to give up your Son for our sakes! Thank you for listening to our prayers, for beckoning us to come to you and pour out our souls before you. Give us the longings of your heart, Lord. Help us to trust in your will, your plan for our lives, and your timing for all things. Move us to gratitude for what you have done for us so that we will be content no matter what happens in our lives. Help us to have grace for one another. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.