The vow. The book of Samuel begins with the story of the remarkable birth of Samuel. The story focuses on Samuel's mother, who was
barren and so desperate for a child that she vowed to part from it and dedicate it to God, if her prayer for a son were answered.
The motif of formerly barren women who give birth to national leaders or ancestors is well attested in the Bible (Sarah, Rebekah,
Rachel, Samson's mother; see Gen. 21.1–8; 25.19–26; 30.1–2, 22–24; Judg. 13.2–3, 24
), the exceptional birth hinting at divine concern and purpose for the child. The narrative consists of an exposition, which
gives details about the persons, the background, and relevant customs, and three parts. The first part takes place at Shiloh,
the second at Ramah, and the third at Shiloh again; a final section, which rounds off the story, is embedded within the next
The list of Elkanah's ancestors shows that he was of distinguished lineage.
Bigamy was allowed and not uncommon.
The Ark of the LORD was housed in the sanctuary at Shiloh. The information concerning the worship every year at Shiloh links the beginning of the book of Samuel with the end of the
book of Judges, where a feast of God is mentioned, celebrated every year at Shiloh (Judg. 21.19
). Though not figuring in the present story, the two sons of Eli are mentioned because the stories about Samuel are intertwined
with those about Eli and his sons (see ch 2
One portion only—though: The Heb may also be interpreted, “one twofold portion—for” (cf. the fivefold portion Joseph gave to Benjamin, Gen. 43.34
); this interpretation better explains Peninnah's reaction.
Fertility is understood throughout the Bible as a divine gift. Barrenness was considered a disgrace, causing great distress
to the woman concerned (e.g., Gen. 30.1, 22–23
Peninnah is the opposite of Hannah. Not only does Peninnah have many children, whereas Hannah has none, but Peninnah deliberately
hurts her rival, while Hannah refrains from paying back, weeping in silence.
Am I not more devoted to you than ten sons, cf. Ruth 4.15
Though Hannah does not eat, she waits until all have finished their meal.
The structure of Hannah's vow is typical of vows in the Bible: First a condition is stated, and this is followed by a commitment
if the condition is fulfilled (cf. Gen. 28.20–22; Judg. 11.30–31
). Here the vow is preceded by an invocation of God. Long hair was characteristic of Nazirites, who devoted themselves to
God (Num. 6.5
). The word “Nazirite” is actually used by the Septuagint in the present v. and by the Dead Sea manuscript 4Qsama in v. 22
. Samuel is also called a Nazirite in the postbibli‐ cal book of Sirach (
Silent prayer was uncommon.
They went back home: This phrase often serves to mark the end of a story or an episode (e.g., 2.11
). The Lord remembered her: This is shown when Hannah's womb is opened (see v. 11
), enabling her to conceive.
The verb “shaʾal” (= ask) recurs in the narrative several times, more than is expressed in the translation (see also 2.20
Weaning used to take place after several years; according to 2 Macc. 7.27
after three years.
One ephah, about 23 liters (21 quarts).
Hannah uses the same words as Eli did before (v. 17
), to indicate to the priest that his blessing has materialized.
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