Chapter 1 - The Birth of Samuel
As we have already noted, 1 Samuel 1-7 focuses our attention particularly upon Samuel himself. Chapters 1-3, which we will call The growth of Samuel, describe his birth, development, and call. Chapters 4-6, which we will call The guilt of Israel, describe the capture, triumph, and return of the ark. Chapter 7, which we will call The guidance of Samuel, describes his intercession for Israel.
Verses 1-8: Hannahs Sorrow
The home of Elkanah (vv.1-2)
"Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim, of mount Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah." Whilst Ramathaim-zophim, otherwise known simply as Ramah (v.19), was located in mount Ephraim, it actually lay in the territory of Benjamin. Samuel was born, lived, laboured, died, and was buried there (7.17; 15.34; 16.13; 19.18; 25.1; 28.3). Like most of the judges who preceded him, Samuel had an unpretentious background. He did not come from a leading family, or from a prominent city, which reminds us that it is not where we come from, but where we are going, that is of supreme importance. We should never use our background, or surroundings, as an excuse for spiritual failure.
The place-names and people-names are interesting. You could construct a sermon from them! Ramathaim-zophim means "the two heights of the Zophites" (from his ancestor, Zuph). Ephraim means "fruitful". Elkanah, who was a Levite descended from Kohath (1 Chr 6.22-28), means "whom God possessed". Jeroham means "who is loved". Elihu means "whose God is he." Tohu means "low". Zuph means "flag", or "sedge", but he is also known as Zophai (1 Chr 6.26), meaning "honeycomb." Over to you! But do think particularly about Elkanah. Keil & Delitzsch point out that this was a most appropriate name for a Levite (they say it means "the man whom God has bought or acquired"), since the Levites were "set apart for service at the sanctuary, in the place of the first-born of Israel" (Num 3.13, 44-51). We too have been purchased by God: "Ye are not your own...for ye are bought with a price" (1 Cor 6.19-20).
"And he had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of other was Peninnah. and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children." A.McShane (Lessons for Leaders) has a most helpful piece here. "This Levitical family, although devoted to God and the Tabernacle, was far from happy. Departure from the primeval law of Eden brought with it a crop of sorrows, for while at that time polygamy was widely practised and was tolerated by God, yet its evils are constantly brought out in the pages of Scripture. One cannot forsake basic principles without suffering the consequences." Hannah, like her namesake Anna in Luke 2.36, means "grace", or "gracious", whilst Peninnah means "coral." Coral is very beautiful, but Peninnah was far from beautiful when it came to her attitude towards Hannah!
The house of God (v.3)
"And this man went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto the Lord of hosts in Shiloh." The tabernacle was at Shiloh (Josh 18.1). It is called "the house of the Lord" (v.7), and the "temple of the Lord" (v.9). Both titles seem inappropriate at first glance. But only at first glance! Notice, for the first time in the Bible, the title "the Lord of hosts". It has its roots in Genesis 2.1: "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them". Keil & Delitzsch explain as follows. "It is simply applied to Jehovah as the God of the universe, who governs all the powers of heaven, both visible and invisible, as He rules in heaven and on earth." Commentators have pointed out that the title is used particularly when Israel was weak. He is the all-powerful God, with infinite resources, and is quite able to help and deliver His people.
Circumstances were far from ideal. Politically, Israel was constantly harried by the Philistines; ecclesiastically, Gods interests had become corrupted by evil men; domestically, Elkanahs two wives were far from friends. But these dark days did not prevent Elkanah from making the journey northwards every year to Shiloh, where he worshipped and offered sacrifices to "the Lord of hosts". Whether the annual visit to Shiloh was in addition to the three visits required in Exodus 23.14 etc, we do not know. But we do know that "the entire family circle went to the true centre, and each member shared in the eating of the peace-offerings before the Lord" (A.McShane). The lesson for us is clear. Even in difficult and discouraging times, we must still give the Lord His proper place in our lives, and that includes our assembly worship and service.
There is an ominous ring about the statement, "And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the Lord, were there". They too had significant names. Hophni means "pugilist", and he certainly behaved like one! Phinehas means "mouth of brass" (Gesenius), although some say that it means "serpents mouth". He certainly spoke like one! (2.16). They are called, here, "priests of the Lord", but they are also called "sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord" (2.12). There was no correspondence between their official position, and their actual practice. They ministered to themselves, rather than to the Lord. Their spiritual degeneracy was matched by their moral degeneracy (2.22).
The heartbreak of Hannah (vv.4-8)
The annual visits to Shiloh, which should have been happy occasions for the whole family, only intensified Hannahs grief. The following points are worthy of note.
Privileges were ineffective (vv.4-5). "And when the time was that Elkanah offered, he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions: But unto Hannah he gave a worthy (double) portion; for he loved Hannah." According to Keil & Delitzsch, this reads, literally, "one portion for two persons". They go on to explain that "he gave it as an expression of his love to her, to indicate by a sign, "thou art as dear to me as if thou hadst born me a child". But this was little or no consolation to her: "But the Lord had shut up her womb". (This was evidently a repetition of events in the life of Jacob - read Genesis 29.29-35. God does not look favourably on favouritism.) That was bad enough, but worse follows.
Peninnah was insulting (vv.6-7). "And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb. And as he did so year by year (i.e. as Elkanah gave her a double portion during the annual visit to Shiloh), when she (Hannah) went up to the house of the Lord, so she (Hannahs adversary, Peninnah) provoked her; therefore she wept, and did not eat." "Just as Elkanah showed his love to Hannah at every sacrificial festival, so did Peninnah repeat her provocation" (Keil & Delitzsch). Such conduct should have no place amongst Gods people: "And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it" (1 Cor 12.26). All sorts of evil can flow from jealousy on the one hand, and superiority on the other.
Elkanah was insensitive (v.8). He did not seem to understand Hannahs problem. Notice his battery of staccato questions. "Why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am I not better to thee than ten sons?" He did not wait for the answer to any of his questions! He took no time to understand. There are important lessons here for husbands and wives, for parents and children, not to mention assembly relationships. How much do we care? Do we take time to visit, sit down, listen, and endeavour to understand the distress, difficulties, and problems of fellow-believers?
To be continued.