Follow the link for The literary structure of 1 Samuel 1:21-2:11a
Last week we began the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel. We saw how she was in a difficult situation – she couldn’t have children. And so her husband Elkanah married another woman who did have children. And then this rival wife tormented Hannah over this. We heard how Hannah became so troubled and overwhelmed that she couldn’t eat. So she poured out her heart to God at the tabernacle in prayer. And that she made a vow that if God would give her a son, she would give that son back to serve God forever.
She prayed boldly and persistently until she felt that God had heard her prayer – and then she went away in faith and at peace. And sure enough, not long after, God answered her cry and gave her a son, Samuel.
Which leads us to our story today –
Hannah’s gift of Samuel to God
21The man Elkanah and all his house went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice and to pay his vow.
There are two things here that point to Elkanah devotion. 1) He went up each year to worship at Shiloh at the tent of meeting, which seems to be a voluntary pilgrimage beyond what is required. And 2) he paid his vow. As we saw last week vows are voluntary commitments or acts of devotion to God, beyond what is required. They often had a deal quality to them – God if you do this, then I will do this.
We don’t know what this vow was about, but perhaps it was a prayer for good crops and then an extra sacrifice to God because of good crops. Deuteronomy 23:21 says of vows – “If you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin.”
The notation in our story of him paying his vow shows us that he was a person of integrity, who kept his commitments to God.
22But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the Lord and dwell there forever.”
Immediately it is clarified that Hannah and Samuel did not go up to worship. She had vowed to give Samuel to serve God under a Nazarite vow for his whole life. (v. 22 – some versions include a phrase from other ancient manuscripts which says, “I will offer him as a Nazarite for all time.”)
And so there is the question of her delay. Now that she has the child; now that she is a new mom, will she have second thoughts? Lest anyone think that she would not come through on her commitment, the reasoning is explained. Samuel was probably around three months old at this time, and he would need to be weaned first. In her thinking, once the child was given, he could not come back and forth to their household and weaning was required for this kind of permanent separation.
23Elkanah her husband said to her, “Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him; only, may the Lord establish his word.” So the woman remained and nursed her son until she weaned him.
Elkanah agrees that this is fine. He has already accepted her vow to give up their son, which he could have canceled according to Numbers 30:6-8, but didn’t.
It’s unclear what Elkanah means when he says, “may the Lord establish his word.” One possibility is that God may have told them that their child would be a great prophet, and so the sense is that he is praying that God will speak through him and that Samuel’s prophetic words will be established by God, or come to pass.
This matches what is said later in 1 Samuel 3:19-20 – “the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground . . . Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord.” (his words/established). And this also seems to refer to Deuteronomy 18:15-18 that speaks of God sending another prophet like Moses, whose words will come true.
In the ancient world children were weaned after 3 years or even longer. (2 Maccabees 7:27). This is different than what we are used to, but this is the time frame we are working with.
24And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. And the child was young. 25Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli.
So when Samuel was a toddler, she took him to give him to the Lord. And as they brought him they gave a very generous offering, according to Numbers 15:8-10 and what is required for fulfilling a vow.
- They gave a 3 year old bull, instead of a 1 year old, which was more valuable. (If the alternative reading of 3 bulls is used, the same point is made)
- They gave an ephah of flower, about a bushel, instead of 3/10 of an ephah
- They gave a full skin of wine, instead of a half hin of wine (which was just over half a gallon). So they gave perhaps a gallon or two.
26And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. 27For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. 28Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.”
After three or more years she has now come back to Eli and she reminds him of who she is. (“As you live” is a testimonial oath. He couldn’t see well (1 Samuel 3:2), so perhaps a testimonial oath was needed to confirm her identity). And she tells him that her prayer was indeed answered.
She even quotes Eli’s word to her from their previous encounter in 1:17, the Lord “has granted me my petition that I made to him.” Here next to her is her son Samuel.
Just as she named him Samuel because of a wordplay with the word for ask, this continues here. The word for “ask” can also mean lend. And so just as he came to her by asking God, so now she gives him to God as a loan forever.
Now let’s stop for a moment and think about Hannah’s gift to God:
- This was a first born son and in that day this was the most valuable child
- This was her only child
- And she didn’t know if she could have others, this one was the product of a miracle
- And he was given while still a small child, which must have been terribly difficult
This was an extraordinary gift and act of devotion to God!
And then our story ends –
1:28And he (most likely Elkanah) worshiped the Lord there . . ..And then after Hannah’s praise to God, which we will come back to . . . in 2:11a it says, Then Elkanah (and presumably also Hannah) went home to Ramah.
Lessons for us
1. We should keep our commitments to God also . . . Just as Elkanah kept his vow, and especially just as Hannah kept her vow, so we are to keep our commitments that we make to God.
Whether we are talking about baptismal vows, marital vows or the kind of vows we see in this story, where we ask God to help us and if he does we commit to do something for God. Once again, Deuteronomy 23:21 says, “If you make a vow/commitment to the Lord your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin.” If you tell God you will do something, then you need to do it.
2. We should give generously even sacrificially to God as well . . . This shows up in the offering they brought to the tabernacle of God, which went well beyond what was required. And this certainly shows up in giving Samuel to be the Lord’s forever.
How does your giving compare to theirs?
- Is it thoughtless and haphazard, so that we just give whatever, usually a little bit here or there. Maybe whatever might be in your wallet or purse when you show up to church? Maybe the smallest bill you have?
- Or is it straight by the rules? You are supposed to give this much so you give that much.
- Or is it abundant and generous, beyond what is required as an expression of love and devotion to God?
Let me end by noting that you can’t out-give God. If we look ahead in the story in 1 Samuel 2:21 we see that God gave Hannah five other children after this. Now, we don’t always get back the same thing we give, but you will never be more generous than God is. And he blesses those who give generously and sacrificially to him. Are you generous with God?