All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Based on 1 Samuel 1

Elkanah, whose name means, “God has redeemed,” or “God has created,” is from Ramathaim Zophim, generally abbreviated as Ramah. He is a Levite of the family of Kohath, from the tribal area of Ephraim. Although he only lives a few miles away from Shiloh, many Levites are scattered throughout Israel to give spiritual assistance to the people farther away from the tabernacle. 

Elkanah has two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. And although polygamy is still acceptable at this time, only the rich can normally afford it. In Elkanah’s situation, it places an economic burden on him, and when we look more closely at Hannah, we understand why.

As his first wife, she is heartbroken to discover that she cannot bear children. This also seriously affects Elkanah’s future, because he has no son to receive his inheritance and carry on the family name. Since bearing children is also generally considered a sign of God’s blessing, the inability to conceive is viewed as a sign of God’s punishment. To make matters worse for Hannah, Elkanah’s second wife, Peninnah, is having children, placing her in a very negative social standing. 

Each year, Elkanah comes to the tabernacle in Shiloh to worship and sacrifice to the Lord. He is faithful in this duty, in spite of the corrupt conduct of Hophni and Phinehas, the two priest sons of Eli, the high priest.

Elkanah is to make a sacrificial offering and a peace offering that involves a shared meal in the tabernacle court. Meat is a rare item in ancient meals because it is too expensive for most to use very often. He gives a portion of the meat offering to the officiating priest. Then he gives another portion to Peninnah and her sons and daughters, followed by a double portion to Hannah, as if she has a child. This indicates publically that he still esteems her highly, and wishes she was not barren.

Peninnah reacts to Elkanah’s generosity by making Hannah’s life miserable through rivalry, ridicule, and jealously. When Elkanah goes to Shiloh, Hannah goes with him, but suffers greatly from being constantly reproached by Peninnah, year after year.

At the feast, it becomes more than she can bear, and since she is crying continuously, she does not eat. Elkanah asks why she is weeping and not eating. Is he not better than ten sons? Obviously for Hannah, a loving husband does not resolve the reproach of being barren and it’s long-term effects.

Accused of Drunkenness

After the meal, Hannah makes a voluntary vow to the Lord that if He will give her a male child, she will dedicate him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor will be used on his head. The fact that his hair would not be cut makes this a Nazarite vow. Usually, these vows are temporary, but this one is permanent, just as Samson’s was. 

While Hannah is making her vow, she is silently praying and her lips moving without uttering a sound. Eli is sitting nearby, and as he sees her, he concludes that she is drunk. With the degeneration of much of the priesthood, drunkenness is not uncommon during these feasts.

Eli says to her, “How long will you be drunk? Put your wine away from you!”

She answers, “No, my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor intoxicating drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord.”

Eli is moved by her answer and responds with a blessing, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him.” This surely brought peace to her heart.

A Special Name

The next day, they worship the Lord and return home, and soon Hannah conceives and bears Samuel. Although his name is commonly understood to mean “Name of God,” Hannah gives it a different meaning, saying, “I have asked for him from the Lord.” Since Hebrew has no vowels, she uses the consonants in another sense to mean, “Heard of God,” which certainly corresponds with what she says.

The next year, Elkanah goes to Shiloh to offer his yearly sacrifice and fulfill a vow, but Hannah does not go with him because Samuel is not yet weaned, which generally occurs at three years of age. She only wants to go to Shiloh when Samuel is old enough to leave him at the tabernacle, and Elkanah agrees with her decision

When Samuel is weaned, Hannah goes to the tabernacle with “three bulls” (or a “three-year old bull,” if one follows the ancient Greek Septuagint translation, which is used by several modern translations). If one follows this translation, it will correspond with what Abraham does in his consecration sacrifice in Genesis 15:9.

If one follows the New King James Version, the single bull mentioned is probably the burnt offering that Elkanah uses to consecrate Samuel to the Lord. This would seem logical, since the cost for three bulls would be prohibitive. However, Elkanah also takes an ephad of flour and a skin of wine to be used with the sacrifice. If there is only one bull sacrificed, this is far more flour than is required for a burnt offering, but he brings three bulls, then the ephad of flour is the proper amount.

At the tabernacle, Samuel is brought to Eli, and Hannah tells him that she is the one he spoke to, and that now she has brought her very young son, whom she’s promised to the Lord’s service. After they worship at the tabernacle, they depart, leaving little Samuel behind.

Once again, God appears to have people wait for the fulfillment of His plan until He can develop their faith, as He often did with patriarchs such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If the delay had not occurred, Samuel probably would not have become the important high priest that the people trusted, and the one who anointed David as king.   

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