First Samuel begins at a time when Israel’s spiritual condition was at one of its lowest points. The history leading to the first chapter of Samuel is recorded in Judges, one of the saddest books of the Bible, which begins with much enthusiasm as the people started to occupy the land God had given them, but they were surrounded by many enemy-nations. When Joshua entered the land, there were some 31 royal city-states,[1] and by the time of Samuel, many still remained within the land. Hence, the book of Judges began with the words: “Who shall be first to go up for us against the Canaanites to fight against them?And the LORD said, Judah shall go up. Indeed I have delivered the land into his hand.” But there was nobody in Judah who was willing to answer the call.


Four times, the book remarks there was no king in Israel (Judg. 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, 21:25). In fact, the book ends with this verse and states that the land was filled with conflict and war.

One could have thought that this was the end of the nation of Israel. But God’s promises do not depend on man, and so in Samuel, He begins preparing His redemption. He chose a woman, Hannah, who was barren and whom He miraculously touched. Hannah gave birth to Samuel, and Samuel became a priest, a judge, and a prophet. He also anointed David, from whom the last king of Judah, the Messiah, would come to save the world.


This brief summary of God’s plan of redemption from Hannah to Yeshua does not do justice to the fact that the process was a difficult one. It also fails to show that the story of Hannah, which began with a tragic event, turned into something joyful and hopeful.

Hannah was married to Elkanah, but he had two wives (I Sam. 1:2). Every time one reads that a man has two or more wives, there are problems. The verse continues: the name of one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children. Because Hannah was barren, Elkanah’s second wife persecuted her nonstop: And her rival also provoked her severely, to make her miserable, because the LORD had closed her womb (I Sam. 1:6). The Hebrew word for “rival” is zarah, from zar, meaning “enemy.” So, this was not a happy family, and Hannah was suffering.


According to verse 7, this provocation even increased when it was time to go to the Tabernacle at Shiloh and worship the Lord, and where Israel offered her firstfruits and enjoyed a great communal meal. However, Hannah could not participate, and she had nothing to offer to the Lord.


The question needs to be asked where Elkanah was during these conflicts. He was the head of the family, so why could he not stop the strife and the persecution in his own home? We are told that he loved Hannah (I Sam. 1:5), but it seems that he did not know how to bring peace to his home.


The persecution against Hannah was so great that she was unable to eat (I Sam. 1:7), and so Elkanah asked her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?” (I Sam. 1:8). This was a very insensitive approach to a barren woman and not what Hannah needed to hear, for she was under much persecution.

The high priest at the time was Eli, a man much like Elkanah. Both were very nice, but both were out of touch with reality, and they were bad leaders who caused chaotic life-circumstances for those in their care. Eli’s sons, Pinhas and Hophni, overtly and freely abused the people because of their position as priests (I Sam. 2:12-17), stealing from them and introducing women of no repute in the sanctuary. They acted as if God did not exist. In fact, I Samuel 2:12 states that they did not know the LORD. Yet, they were supposed to be God’s shepherds, and they were supposed to communicate with God on behalf of the people. Eli himself could not correct the lawlessness of the situation, and all Israel knew it. Both Hannah and Israel were persecuted and mistreated by these leaders, but the story is really about their rising up and out of the Tohu va Vohu, this chaos.


The breakthrough for Hannah began in verse 9, where it says that she arose. Disregarding the conditions around her, she approached God directly and started praying to Him, vowing to give Him the precious and hoped for child:


9 So Hannah arose after they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the tabernacle of the LORD. 10 And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the LORD and wept in anguish. 11 Then she made a vow and said, O LORD of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.


Hannah approached God in humility, calling herself three times a maidservant, which is the word for a female slave. She made a vow and promised the best that she could ever possess as an offering to God.


The question arises why Hannah made such a promise to God. Was she concerned for her reputation and wanted to have a child so that people would look at her more favorably? Reading the text for the first time, one may conclude that Hannah sought a way out from the constant bickering with her husband’s other wife. Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving in I Samuel 2 reveals that her praises and thanksgiving go way beyond her personal condition, as her prayer, her Magnificat, has little or no reference at all to herself or her personal situation. Instead, Hannah spoke of the complete redemption of Israel and of the world, going as far as mentioning Sheol and even the resurrection. She even says that the barren woman will have seven children (I Sam. 2:5). Yet, she herself would only have six children. Hence, this song is not about her.


Furthermore, she ends her song of praise by speaking of the coming of the Messiah, saying that God will give strength to His king, And exalt the horn of His anointed (I Sam. 2:10). Some see this phrase and the whole prayer as a prophecy of the history of Israel from Abraham to the Messiah,[2] interpreting His anointed as the Messiah. And indeed, in I Samuel 2:1, Hannah unknowingly mentioned the name of the Jewish Messiah. The Hebrew bi-shua-techa (“your salvation”) stems from the root yasha, the same root from which comes the name of our Messiah!


It helps to read I Samuel 1 in light of the Song of Hannah in chapter 2 because it presents the possibility that Hannah was more grieved by the condition of Israel (and especially the Tabernacle of God) than her own suffering. Being a woman of God, she could not but be hurt for God at the sight of the evilness. This would be in line with how other men and women of God reacted when they saw how some defamed the Lord. They were hurt deep in their hearts when the God whom they loved was insulted.


First Samuel 1:10 explains: And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the LORD and wept in anguish. These are very strong words. The expression “bitterness of soul” means a severe grief deep in one’s soul. Furthermore, in Hebrew, the last words, wept in anguish, is really the repetition of the word “weep.” Hannah “wept, wept.” Was Hannah’s grieving like that of David’s when he said, My eyes shed streams of water, Because they do not keep Your law (Ps. 119:136)? Was her zeal the same as what Jeremiah felt, who, seeing the fall of Israel and the coming judgment, said, And my eyes a fountain of tears, That I might weep day and night For the slain of the daughter of my people (Jer. 9:1b). Was Hannah like Isaiah and Paul and all the others who mourned because of sin? Yeshua promised, Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted (Mt 5:4). But mourn for what? Mourn along with God over the sin which surrounds us. Grieve over the suffering and the abuse around us. This is when God comes down and comforts us, as He did with Hannah. Her grief brought her to be mightily used of God; this, then, is the beginning of a long life of ministry with our Creator.

Right after weeping, Hannah dedicated the son she did not have to God: Have my son. I will dedicate him all the days of his life to You. God heard, and it is through her son Samuel that He saved the priesthood in Israel.


This event may well have happened during the Feast of Passover at the Tabernacle in Shiloh: This man went up from his city yearly to worship and sacrifice to the LORD of hosts in Shiloh (I Sam. 1:3). The Hebrew word translated in most of our Bibles as “yearly” really means “from days to days.” The Targum translates it as “from festival to festival,” for there were three feasts when all Israelites would go up to the Tabernacle: Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost), and Sukkot (Tabernacles). At Passover, the Israelites would offer their firstborn to God, and Hannah had no firstborn to offer except a promise of dedication if the Lord allowed her to have a male child. She had come empty-handed to the Tabernacle, but her love for Lord brought her to give the best she possibly could.


At Passover, God Himself was going to offer His Firstborn for the salvation of the world. Here, a woman comes with an offer of a firstborn for the sake of Israel. There is also a parallel between Hannah and Miriam (Mary). Hannah provided Samuel the priest and prophet to anoint David the ancestor of the Messiah, and Miriam gave birth to the Messiah.


There are a few noteworthy words in chapter one of I Samuel that underline the importance of the information given in this text. For example, for the first time in the Scriptures, this chapter mentions one of God’s titles: LORD OF HOSTS (I Sam. 1:11). After Hannah uses this title for the first time, it is then repeated over 260 times in the rest of the Scriptures. The title describes God as ruler over all powers in heaven and on earth. It is notable that the first mention of this title is given by a woman. The LORD OF HOSTS responds to Hannah’s prayer by intervening in her life and in the life of the nation. Also used for the very first time in the Scriptures is the Hebrew word translated as “temple”: Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the temple of the Lord (I Sam. 1:9). So far in the Scriptures, the place of sacrifices was called mishkan, or “tabernacle.” In this verse, the word hekal is used. This is noteworthy, as there was no temple yet in Israel. There is, however, a temple that is not on this earth, but in heaven. It is the true and original Temple of God. In II Samuel 22:7, David said, In my distress I called upon the LORD, And cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, And my cry entered His ears. Again, David could not have been speaking about the physical temple in Jerusalem, as it was not built yet. So, why did the Ruach Ha Kodesh, the Spirit of God, inspire Samuel to talk about God’s temple at this point in time? One possible explanation is that I Samuel 1:9 was written in order to tell the people that the representative of the God of Heaven was here on earth; Eli the high priest, who was sitting on the chair of judgment, was not up to the task, and a change was needed. Hannah was the first to understand the grave situation, come to God, and be ready to work alongside the Almighty to make the change.


With this in mind, the significance of verse 11 becomes clear: then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head. When Hannah mentioned the razor, she might have done so in reference to Samson, her contemporary. He was the judge of Israel, yet he failed in his office because of sexual misconduct. Hannah offers a better judge, promising that this boy will be brought up in the Scriptures.


The rabbis who translated the Targums understood the extent of Hannah’s offering to God, and instead of translating the Hebrew word morah as “razor,” they used the word “fear.” In Hebrew, the word sounds the same and is written the same—except for one letter. Hence, instead of saying that no razor will come upon Samuel’s head, the rabbis paraphrased the verse and said, And the dominion of man will not be upon him (Targum 1Sam.1:11b). They must have thought of Eli, Pinhas, Hophni, and their gangs—those people who were feared by Israel. Another interpreter went a little further and saw that the Hebrew word for “razor,” morah, sounds a lot like the word for “teacher,” moreh.[3] Hence, he paraphrased the verse and wrote, he will be serving before the Lord all the days of his life and be the teacher of Israel.[4] The truth is that Samuel would become both to the nation: He would be a man who did not fear and a man who taught the Word of God.


The Hebrew word for “dedicate” is chanoch. It is used for the dedication of something or someone to God or the Temple itself. In the biblical context, to train up a child (Prov. 22:6) is to dedicate him to the Lord and to train him in the knowledge of God, teaching from a very young age not to depart from the things of the Lord.


Hannah promised to bring him to God’s Tabernacle once he was weaned: Not until the child is weaned; then I will take him, that he may appear before the LORD and remain there forever (I Sam. 1:22). Most people who read this will assume that she brought Samuel to Eli when he was

two or three years of age. However, the term the Spirit used to describe Samuel when he was brought to the Tabernacle is “young”: Now when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bulls, one ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD in Shiloh. And the child was young (I Sam. 1:24). In the last phrase, and the child was young, that same Hebrew word naar, is used twice. Therefore, a better translation would be, “And the child was a child.”[5] The Scriptures use naar twice to describe a baby (Moses in Exodus 2:6 and Bathsheba’s son in II Samuel 12:16). All other times, the word describes a young boy responsible for his actions—like those men who came to the door of Lot in Sodom (Gen. 19:4) or like Absalom the son of David when he was already a soldier (II Sam. 18:29). The word naar itself means “to shake,” “shake out,” or “shake off,” as if the individual has reached the end of his infancy and childhood. In Isaiah 7:16, it says, For before the child [naar] shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings. The age of reason starts around the time when a child turns 12. This is when he has learned how to know and refuse the evil.


The repetition of the word “child” at the end of I Samuel 1:24 does not make sense unless there is a message here. One possible interpretation is that the Lord draws the reader’s attention to the fact that He would raise up a child to rule over Israel since even an adult could not. This view makes sense since Samuel did become a great hope for the remnant of the Jews as his reputation spread all over the land. It was through him, while at a young age, that God declared the fall of Eli and his family.


During the period of suffering, Hannah did not know that her grievance would lead her to see how God would use her to save Israel. God knows when we are going through a difficult time. For the believer, it is never for naught, for there is always a reason why the people of God are suffering. Often, great fruit is produced through this suffering. Israel as a nation also suffered under the leadership of her priests, and just like it was with Hannah, God prepared a time of redemption for her. About 300 years before the birth of Samuel, He raised up another woman, Ruth, who became the great-grandmother of David. So, God’s plan of redemption went from Ruth to Hannah to Samuel to David. While we may not always be able to foresee the greater plan of God, faith tells us that God is always in action, always preparing the best for us, even though we may not see it at the moment.


This article was first published in Ariel Magazine. It is republished on this website with permission from the publisher and copyrights owner: Summer, Vol.1 No. 31. Ariel Ministries USA, San Antonio, TX. All rights reserved.

[1] Ira Sharkansky, Israel and Its Bible: A Political Analysis (New York and London: Routledge, 1996).

[2] Vilna Gaon cited by Yosef Weinberger in ArtScroll Tanach Shmuel 1 (Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah Publications, 2011), p.30.

[3] b. Nazir 66a, cited in ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] P. Kyle McCarter, The Anchor Yale Bible, I Samuel (Vol. 8; New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1980).