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Bible: What Does 1 Samuel 1-2 Teach Us About the Early Years of Samuel?

Updated on August 21, 2016

Hannah and Samuel

320px-Hannah presenting Samuel before  Eli
320px-Hannah presenting Samuel before Eli

Samuel the priest

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Recounting the events leading up to his birth and dedication to the LORD, Samuel recalls how his father Elkanah, an Ephraimite, used to travel yearly to Shiloh with his two wives, fruitful Penninah and childless Hannah (vv. 1-3a).

[The author inserts that the priest's two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were present (v. 3b), perhaps to show how Elkanah's faithfulness contrasted with their wickedness].

While visiting the tabernacle, Elkanah would always sacrifice twice as much for Hannah as he would for Penninah (vv. 4-5).

Consequently, every year Hannah could never celebrate because Penninah would continually mock her rival’s barrenness (vv. 6-7).

The year before Samuel's birth Elkanah tries to console Hannah at the feast in Shiloh, but fails to do so (v. 8; cf. Ruth 4:15).

Standing near the tabernacle she weeps bitterly, praying that she might conceive a male child.

She vows to "lend" the boy to the LORD to be a Nazirite if He gives him to her (vv. 9-11, 28; cf. Judges 13:5 for a divinely-appointed calling to that ministry).

While she thus petitions God, Eli the priest sits by the tabernacle's doorpost, watching her (v. 12).

To him, Hannah appears intoxicated, for he sees her mouth move but hears nothing (v. 13).

Without making certain of this judgment, Eli reprimands her (v. 14).

When Hannah humbly explains that she is not drunk, but only in emotional distress (vv. 15-16), the old priest does not bother to apologize for his error.

Instead, he attempts to save face by resorting to the "pious" response of the religious when they find out that they have judged another falsely (v. 17).

Hannah meekly takes comfort from his favor and breaks her fast (v. 18).

After an early morning worship service, Elkanah and family return to Ramah (see v. 1) where the LORD "remembers" Hannah.

There she conceives and bears Samuel ("heard by God") [vv. 19-20].

A year passes, and the time of sacrifice in Shiloh returns (v. 21).

Hannah remains behind, however, not wishing to go until Samuel is weaned and old enough to minister before the LORD (vv. 21-22).

Though Elkanah appears skeptical, he instructs Hannah to "let the LORD establish His word" (v. 23; cf. Manoah's attitude in Judges 13).

Hannah takes Samuel to the tabernacle in Shiloh after he is weaned, sacrifices a bull to the LORD on his behalf, and then brings the little fellow to Eli (vv. 24-25).

She joyfully identifies herself to him and explains how God answered her prayer for a son (vv. 26-27).

Then Hannah announces that she had just lent him to the LORD for service; her act of faith moves each of them to worship (v. 28).

[Hannah waited a long time for a child, but the LORD did not comfort her until the time was "right"; that is, right according to God’s timetable.

Only then did He grant her request].

Samuel as a Child


1 Samuel 2

At that time, the LORD enables Hannah to compose a prayer (vv. 1-10).

Initially, she expresses her inability to contain her joy over Yahweh's "salvation," for He has rescued her from barrenness and stopped the ridicule of her enemies (e.g., Penninah?) [v. 1].

Hannah believes that Yahweh is supremely holy and thus a perfectly trustworthy foundation for her life (v. 2).

Because she knows that her omniscient God will judge the arrogant, Hannah boldly warns the proud, "Be quiet before Him" (v. 3).

From that cue, she speaks about three conditions wherein people experience "reversals" in life:

(1) strength--> weakness, weariness-->strength;

(2) fullness-->hunger, hunger-->satisfaction;

(3) barrenness-->fruitfulness, fruitfulness-->feebleness (vv. 4-5).

In all of these affairs, the LORD is sovereign; He is master over death and life, wealth and poverty, and He causes to occur what He desires in individual lives (vv. 6-7).

The mighty Creator and Support of the world specializes in reversing fortunes, bringing the poor to a glorious inheritance, but reducing mighty, wicked ones to silent darkness and brokenness (vv. 8-10).

Once she finishes her prayer, Elkanah returns home; little Samuel, however, remains behind to serve Eli and the LORD (v. 11).

Hophni and Phinehas


Samuel Replaces Eli's Sons

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In contrast to Samuel, Eli's two degenerate sons violate the custom of the sacrifice, threatening worshipers with violence if they do not give them raw meat (vv. 12-17).

[According to the Law, God does not allow anyone to eat the fat of the sacrifices (cf. Lev. 3:17; 7:25).

That prohibition, however, does not at all concern Hophni and Phinehas].

Dressed like a little priest, Samuel continues to minister (v. 18).

Each year Hannah weaves him a robe and brings it to him when she and Elkanah come to sacrifice (v. 19).

Samuel pleases Eli so greatly that he prays that Hannah may bear more children to replace the "loan" (v. 20).

Again, God answers prayer, for she bears five children to Elkanah (v. 21a).

Year by year, Samuel matures before the LORD (v. 21b).

Eli, now very old, hears about his sons' illicit behavior and reprimands them, warning them of God's judgment (vv. 22-25a).

Nevertheless, they show no respect for him at all, refusing to repent.

[Samuel, the author, concluded that Eli's sons did not listen to their father, because the LORD wished to kill them for their wickedness (v. 25b).

God’s will in this matter did not negate the sons’ personal responsibility.

The prophet-to-be, however, continued to grow up spiritually and physically (v. 26; cf. Luke 2:52].

Finally, God sends a prophet to Eli with a sad message regarding the priest's family (vv. 27-36).

He asks him three rhetorical questions regarding his priesthood privileges, substantiating Yahweh's choice of Aaron and his house to be priests before Him (vv. 27-28).

Once he finishes reminding Eli of God's favor, however, the prophet then rebukes the old man for honoring his sons "more than Me" (v. 29).

[Apparently, Eli allowed his sons to eat the best meat and then offer up leftovers (so to speak) to God].

What was Yahweh's decision?

The current priest's behavior merits severe chastening; accordingly, his house will not last much longer (vv. 30-32).

Not only will Hophni and Phinehas shame him, but they will also die soon (vv. 33-34. See 4:11 and 1 Kings 2:27).

In their place, God will raise up a faithful priest (Samuel) from whom Eli's descendants will beg their daily sustenance as well as a low position of service (vv. 35-36).

© 2013 glynch1


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    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Interesting the way you keep Hophni and Phinehas in the background as a contrast to Elkanah and Samuel. I had not thought of that before.