Barrenness, Covenants, Prayer and Joy | Part 1

The below is a study on I Samuel 1:1-18 as submitted to Jeffery Gage as a required assignment at Shepherds School.

Locating 1 Samuel 1

First Samuel records events that follow the book of Judges, opens with the birth of the judge Samuel. This book focuses on the lifespan of three men whom God particularly used to initiate, establish, and develop the kingship over Israel. In a familiar pattern of redemptive history, first Samuel records the re-creation of God’s dwelling place among his people. Judges, which precedes 1 Samuel, shows us God’s use of even the pagan nations to destroy, discipline and judge the people of Israel. This highlights Israel’s need for a true and faithful king to lead them. Thus, the grand context of 1 Samuel is that of the transition from judgeship (the last judge being Samuel himself), to kingship (with Samuel goes on to anoint the first king).  

Judges ends with the ominous words, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (21:25), and even in 1 Samuel, the people of Israel want what is right in their eyes. Israel desire a king because of what they see in other nations. They desire a king that meets their expectations. The standards they use are not the standards God sets forth. Between a generation who is caught up in a cycle of sin, judgement, and deliverance and a generation caught up in a desire for a mighty and political king, God orchestrates the arrival of a prophet and a judge who is used to initiate the appointing of a Kingship of Israel. The birth of this prophet initiates the battle for covenantal and kingly hope.

The Cursed Players

The record of Samuel’s arrival opens with a discussion of his lineage, specifically his father (1 Sam. 1:1). Elkanah was of the tribe of Levi (see 1 Chron. 6:16-30) and other than two brief mentions of Elkanah, nothing much is said of this man, except for one important attribute: Elkanah was faithful. Elkanah was obedient. Though he had two wives—an indication that Israel had adopted practices outside of God’s design for his creation (Deut. 17:17)—the passage highlights that Elkanah was a man who respected God’s rule over his family. He went up year after year to worship and to sacrifice (1 Sam. 1:3).

Hannah recognizes that only the Almighty can provide what she desperately needs.

Elkanah favours his wife Hannah, and gives her double portions (1:5). This causes Peninnah, presumably out of jealousy or indignation, to provoke and antagonise Hannah to the point of distress where Hannah doesn’t want to even eat. Peninnah, the fruitful one becomes jaded to God’s abundant provision towards her and is bitter because of her lack of Elkanah’s favour. Hannah, the barren one becomes taunted and discouraged. Yet after sacrificing in Shiloh as well, Hannah rises up and begins to eat and drink. She, unlike Peninnah, is strengthened towards the Sovereign, towards faithfulness, towards prayer, towards dependence.

The Covenantal Plea

The priest, Eli, was sitting on the seat by the doorpost, a place of authority, a ‘throne’ (1:9) The priest is observing the worshippers, and sees Hannah, the ‘favoured one’ in great distress (1:10). Words of sadness and desperation occur over and over in this passage, tinging the first instance of a prophet and a monarchy with deep distress and uncertainty. The phrase ‘LORD of hosts’ appears along with a vow (1:11). Hannah recognizes that only the Almighty can provide what she desperately needs. She rehearses the age old story she has learned: the affliction of her people, the promises of God’s blessing, the anticipated seed, and the submission and faithfulness that God required. She calls upon God’s covenantal promises by addressing him as ‘Yahweh’ and indicates her heart attitude by referring to herself as ‘Your maidservant’. Her use of the word for ‘son’ (literally ‘a seed, offspring’) is full of Jewish covenantal implications.

This text teaches us that the faithful followers of God can be strengthened by the fact that God is working covenantally to fulfil his purposes, despite his apparent silence.

The Convinced Players

Hannah’s prayer was an intense one. It increased, it continued, it multiplied. Her very desires and God-given appetites did not decrease with prayer, but rather it became more and more pronounced. Eli sees her visible distress and turmoil and assumes it is because of drunkenness (1:14). Hannah tells Eli of the baring of very soul and passions before the LORD, but she doesn’t tell Eli what it is that she is yearning for. Yet Eli assures Hannah that she has been heard (1:17). His reference to the God of Israel was surely a reminder to her to place all of her confidence in the almighty One who promised a people, a family to Jacob. Perhaps she was struck by the use of the name of ‘God of Israel’ as it related specifically to the barren wife of Jacob, Rachel, who bore a striking similarity to Hannah’s story (Gen. 29:31). Eli sends Hannah off with a promise of peace, shalom, favour, chanah. Hannah can trust that God will show favour to his people, to his servants.  

Yahweh as the Promised Joy

This text teaches us that the faithful followers of God can be strengthened by the fact that God is working covenantally to fulfil his purposes, despite his apparent silence. Elkanah, being a Levite, would have had a great knowledge of who God was and what he required from him people. His obedience was not outward only, but the text says that he worshipped (1 Sam. 1:19). Elkanah bowed down and submitted his will to the LORD of hosts, recognizing God’s sovereign reign over his and his family’s lives, even in Hannah’s barrenness. Hannah herself was faithful in going with Elkanah to worship in Shiloh.

Faithful followers of God can be strengthened by the fact that God is working covenantally to fulfil his purposes, despite his apparent silence.

As Israelites, being well versed in the story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as Adam, the couple knows that they are experiencing the curse of bareness, yet they also know that God has promised a seed. The text indicates that both Elkanah and Hannah display their willing trust in the fact that God promises hope amidst the pain, that his will is supreme, and that all blessings are gracious gifts from Him. They recognize it was God who closed her womb and that it would be God who could provide, that that provision would ultimately be of God. This text teaches that the blessings of God are not what give joy and fulfillment, but rather a contentedness in the character and promises of God are what produce joy and fulfillment. Peninnah had children, yet she found no joy in them. Hannah was not promised a child, as Eli’s response merely echoes her wish (1:17), yet she went away with peace. She went away with hope because she knew relief came from the LORD, Yahweh, the covenantally faithful God.

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