Introduction to 1 and 2 Samuel
The books of 1 and 2 Samuel used to be one book. The writer wrote the book in the *Hebrew language. Many years later, men translated the Bible into the Greek language (the language of the *New Testament). These men divided this book into two parts. The name of the book comes from the first important person in this book. He was Samuel the *prophet. But Samuel did not write the book. He died before the end of it.
We do not know who wrote the book. The author lived after King Solomon had died in about 930 BC (930 years Before Christ). After Solomon died, the country of *Israel divided into two countries, *Israel and *Judah. The country of *Judah included the *tribes of *Judah and Benjamin (see 1 Kings 12:1-24). In 1 and 2 Samuel the author often refers to *Judah as a country.
In those days, the kings and leaders employed writers. They wrote about the events in their country. The *prophets also wrote accounts of events. 2 Samuel 1:18; 1 Kings 11:41; 14:19, 29; 1 Chronicles 27:24; 29:29 all refer to these writers and their books. The writer of 1 and 2 Samuel probably got most of his information from these accounts.
The book of 1 Samuel records a major change from the time of the judges to *Israel’s first king. The judges had led the *Israelites for about 350 years after the death of Joshua. During this time the *Israelites called their leaders ‘judges’. Samuel was the last of the judges. He was also a *prophet and a priest. Samuel *anointed Saul, the first king of *Israel. But Saul did not obey God. So, God chose another king, David, who would obey him. 1 Samuel ends with the death of Saul. The book of 2 Samuel records the life of David as king.
Elkanah and his family go to Shiloh
v1 There was a man whose name was Elkanah. He lived in the town of Ramathaim. This town was in the hills in the country of Ephraim. Elkanah was the son of Jeroham. Jeroham was the son of Elihu. Elihu was the son of Tohu. Tohu was the son of Zuph. Zuph came from the *tribe of Ephraim. v2 Elkanah had 2 wives. The name of one wife was Hannah. And the name of the other wife was Peninnah. Peninnah had children but Hannah did not have any children.
The town of Ramathaim also had the name Ramathaim-zophim or Ramah. It was about 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the main town in the country of *Israel. There were many towns in the Bible. We do not know where every town was. This is because some of them now have a different name. Also, enemies destroyed many towns. The book of 1 Samuel describes events that happened about 3000 years ago. Many things have changed since then.
There is a list of Elkanah’s family in verse 1. This probably means that he was quite an important man. He had two wives. In the ancient world, many men had more than one wife. A man wanted children, especially a son, to continue his family name. So, if his wife could not have children, he sometimes had a second wife. A woman who could not have children felt shame. Other people said that she was a failure. Genesis 2:24 shows that God wanted men to have only one wife. When a man had more than one wife, usually there was trouble between his wives.
v3 Every year, Elkanah left Ramathaim and went to the town of Shiloh. He went there to *worship. He gave *sacrifices to the most powerful *Lord. Hophni and Phinehas were the priests to the *Lord at Shiloh. Eli was their father. He was the chief priest. v4 Elkanah gave his *sacrifices to God. Then he gave a share of the meat to Peninnah and her sons and daughters. v5 But Elkanah always gave a double share of the meat to Hannah. Elkanah loved Hannah. But God had prevented her from having children.
v6 Peninnah would annoy and upset Hannah on purpose. She did this because God had not given Hannah any children. v7 This happened every year when they went to the house of the *Lord in Shiloh. Peninnah would upset Hannah until she cried. Then Hannah would not eat anything. v8 Elkanah asked Hannah, ‘Why are you crying and not eating? Why are you sad?’ He said, ‘I am better to you than ten sons’.
*Israelite men had to go and give *sacrifices to God at three particular times a year (Exodus 23:14-17; Deuteronomy 12:5-7). They went to ‘the house of the *Lord’. This was a building or *temple in Shiloh. The *Israelites met God there and offered *sacrifices to him. Shiloh was about 24 kilometres (15 miles) east of Ramah.
‘The all-powerful *Lord’. This is the first time that the Bible calls God by this name. It means that God is the ruler of everything that he made. The *Lord made the world and all the people. He also made the *angels and the stars.
Elkanah and his family *worshipped and gave their *sacrifices to God. The priests burned part of the animal. This was how they gave that part of the animal to God. Then the priests could eat some meat from some of the *offerings. Afterwards the people could eat the rest of the meat. This shows that God wanted this to be a happy time for the people. Peninnah was proud that she had many children. She *worshipped God. Then she was unkind and cruel to Hannah. Peninnah did this every year and made Hannah very sad. God does not want people to behave like this.
Elkanah loved Hannah although she could not have a son for him. ‘I am better to you than ten sons’. This meant that Elkanah loved Hannah very much. But he did not understand how sad she felt. A woman feels pain in her heart if she cannot have children. Elkanah’s love was not enough. Hannah was desperate for a son.
Some women in the *Old Testament could not have children. They believed that God had prevented it. In Deuteronomy 7:12-14, God told the *Israelites to obey his laws. God said that they must obey him. Then they would have children.
Hannah and Eli
v9 One day they were at Shiloh. They had finished eating and drinking. Hannah got up. Eli the priest was next to the house of the *Lord. Eli sat on a chair by the doorway of the *temple. v10 Hannah was very sad. She cried and prayed to the *Lord. v11 She made a promise to God. She prayed, ‘You are the most powerful *Lord. See how sad I am. I am your servant. Remember me and do not forget me. If you give me a son, I will give him back to you for all of his life. No one will ever cut his hair off’.
v12 Hannah kept praying to the *Lord. Eli watched her mouth moving. v13 Hannah was praying in her spirit. Her lips moved but Eli could not hear her voice. He thought that she had drunk too much wine.v14 He said to her, ‘Stop drinking so much. Throw away your wine’. v15 Hannah said to Eli, ‘No, I have not been drinking wine or strong drink. I have trouble deep in my heart. I told the *Lord all about my problems. v16 Please do not think that I am a wicked woman. I have been praying here because I am suffering. And I am very sad’.
v17 Eli answered Hannah and said, ‘You can go and have peace. May the God of *Israel give you what you have asked him for’. v18 Hannah said, ‘May I always please you’. Then Hannah went away and ate something. She was not sad now.
Hannah was desperate when she prayed. But she did not pray in a selfish way. She wanted a son so that she could give him to God.
‘No one will ever cut his hair off’. This is a mark of the Nazirite promise (Numbers 6:1-21). The person promised to give all his life to God for a definite time, maybe months or years. Then he lived separate from ordinary life. He let his hair grow long. This showed that he had made the Nazirite promise. Hannah asked God for a son. She made this promise on his behalf. It was very unusual for someone to be a Nazirite for all of his life.
Hannah prayed in a humble way as a servant to God. She felt that God had forgotten her. But she knew that God was all-powerful. God was the only person who could help her. And she knew that. Hannah did not pray aloud. But God heard her as she prayed in her spirit. In those days, people did not say silent prayers. They prayed aloud. (This happens in many countries today.) Eli the priest watched Hannah. He thought that she had drunk too much wine. Many *Israelites did not know that God was holy. The sons of Eli were priests. But in 1 Samuel 2-3, we see that they were wicked. Eli may have seen people who behaved badly in the *temple. Eli spoke to Hannah. Then he realised that she was a good woman. She trusted God. So Eli was kind to her. In the *Old Testament, the priest spoke on behalf of God. Eli gave Hannah peace from God. Then he prayed that God would answer her prayer. We do not know whether Hannah had told Eli her request.
‘May I always please you’. Hannah said this to show respect to Eli and to God. Now Hannah ate and was not sad. She trusted God to answer her prayer.
v19 Elkanah and his family got up early the next morning. They *worshipped God. Then they went home to Ramah. Elkanah had sex with his wife Hannah. God remembered her. v20 Hannah discovered that she was expecting a baby. She gave birth to a son. She called him Samuel. She said, ‘His name is Samuel because I asked the *Lord for him’.
‘God remembered her’ means that God answered her prayer. It does not mean that he had forgotten her. Sometimes we have troubles for a long time. We think that God has forgotten us. But, in Isaiah 49:15, God says, ‘I will not forget you’. In the *Hebrew language the name Samuel sounds like the words ‘God has heard’. God heard and answered Hannah’s prayer. That is why she chose this name.
Hannah gives Samuel to God
v21 Every year Elkanah went to Shiloh to give *sacrifices. He kept the promise that he had made to God. His family went too. v22 This time Hannah did not go. She said, ‘I will not go until the boy is old enough to eat proper food. When he is old enough I will take him to the house of the *Lord at Shiloh. I will give him to the *Lord and he will live there for ever’. v23 Elkanah said to Hannah, ‘You must do what you think is right. Stay here until the boy is able to eat proper food. May the *Lord help you do this’. So, Hannah stayed at home and looked after her son.
v24 When Samuel was old enough to eat proper food Hannah took him to Shiloh. She took a male cow that was three years old. She also took a large bag of flour and a leather bag full of wine. Samuel was still young. v25 They killed the male cow for the *sacrifice. Then Hannah brought Samuel to Eli. v26 Hannah spoke to Eli. ‘Master, I am the woman that you saw standing here. I was praying to the *Lord. v27 I prayed for this child and the *Lord answered me. The *Lord gave me what I asked him for. v28 Now I give this child back to the *Lord. He will belong to the *Lord all of his life’. And Samuel *worshipped the *Lord there.
We do not know what promise Elkanah made to God. But he kept his promise. Hannah did not return to the house of the *Lord in Shiloh until she took Samuel there. A woman fed her baby with milk from her breast for about three years. The baby depended on her completely during this time. Samuel could eat proper food when he was old enough. Then the priests would be able to look after him. Hannah stayed at home with Samuel until this time. Elkanah knew that this was wise. Samuel was still young when Hannah took him to Shiloh. She kept her promise to God. She did not try to delay it for a long time. The male cow was for a *sacrifice to God. The bag of flour was about 22 litres. Hannah may have made bread from the flour. Then she gave the bread to God. Leviticus 1-7 describes the *sacrifices and gifts that people had to give to God. They carried wine in leather bags. They did not have bottles in those days. Jesus referred to this in Matthew 9:17. They made the leather bag from the stomach of a sheep. Many people went to the house of the *Lord. Eli may not have remembered Hannah. So, she explained why she was giving her young son to God.