1 Samuel 1
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Now there was a certain man of Ramathaimzophim, of mount Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephrathite:




Ch. 1 Samuel 1:1-8. Elkanah’s household and devotion

1. Now] And. The conjunction implies that the book of Samuel is a continuation of the history contained in the book of Judges which it immediately follows in the order of the Hebrew Bible, Ruth being placed among the Hagiographa.

Ramathaim-zophim] The name Ramathaim (= “the two heights”) is found here only, and is no doubt another name for Ramah (= “the height”) the birthplace (1 Samuel 1:19), residence (1 Samuel 7:17), and burial-place (1 Samuel 25:1) of the prophet Samuel. Its site “is the most disputed problem of sacred topography.” Probably it is to be placed either (a) at Er-Ram, a conical hill about 5 miles due north of Jerusalem, in which case it will be identical with Ramah of Benjamin (Joshua 18:25): or (b) at Neby Samwil (= “the prophet Samuel”) a conspicuous eminence 5 miles N. W. of Jerusalem, on which is still shewn the traditional tomb of Samuel: or (c) at Ram Allah, east of Beth-horon on the western slopes of Mount Ephraim.

The epithet Zophim distinguishes the town from others of similar name, as Ramathaim in Zuph (1 Samuel 9:5), a district probably named after Elkanah’s ancestor, Zuph or Zophai (1 Chronicles 6:26).

Ramathaim is possibly the same as Arimathaea in the N. T. The form Armathaim in which it appears in the LXX. gives the link of connexion between the names.

of mount Ephraim] The central mountainous district of Palestine, in which the tribe of Ephraim settled (Joshua 17:15), was “a good land.” The limestone hills are intersected by fertile valleys, watered by innumerable fountains, and still remarkable for their fertility. See Stanley’s Sinai and Palestine, p. 229, ff. The name extended southwards to the territory of Benjamin in which Ramah lay. Thus Deborah’s palm tree was “between Ramah and Bethel in Mount Ephraim” (Jdg 4:5).

Elkanah] In 1 Chronicles 6:22-28; 1 Chronicles 6:33-38, Samuel’s descent from Kohath the son of Levi is given at length. Shemuel in 1 Chronicles 6:33 is the Hebrew form of the name for which the E. V. usually substitutes the Latinized form Samuel. The discrepancies in these genealogies may be partly due to corruptions of the text, partly to the same individuals bearing different, though in some cases synonymous, names.

an Ephrathite] The Levite Elkanah is called an Ephrathite, i.e. Ephraimite, because his family had originally belonged to the Kohathite settlements in the territory of Ephraim (Joshua 21:20). It is suggested in the Speaker’s Commentary, that as Salmon, the 7th from Judah, entered Canaan with Joshua, Zuph, who was the 7th from Levi, according to the genealogy in 1 Chr., may very probably have lived at the time of the settlement of the land. The genealogy would naturally stop with the first settler in Canaan, who gave his name to “the land of Zuph” (1 Samuel 9:5). If so, we must suppose that he at once migrated from the residence assigned him in the tribe of Ephraim.

And he had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah: and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
2. two wives] Polygamy, though at variance with the original institution of marriage (Genesis 2:24), was tolerated by the Mosaic law as an existing custom (Deuteronomy 21:15-17), and the fact that Abraham, Jacob, Gideon, David and Solomon were all polygamists, shews that no moral blame attached to the practice in this period. It gradually became less frequent, and no case is on record in the Biblical history after the Captivity, but it was reserved for Christianity to re-establish the primeval ideal.

Hannah] i.e. “Grace.” The same name is borne in the N.T. by “Anna, a prophetess” (Luke 2:36): and according to tradition the wife of Joachim and mother of the Virgin Mary was named Anna. In the Phoenician colony of Carthage, where a language closely akin to Hebrew was spoken, the sister of the queen Dido was named Anna (Verg. Aen. iv. 9).

Peninnah] i.e. “Coral,” or “Pearl.” The name may be compared with our Margaret, which means pearl.

And this man went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto the LORD of hosts in Shiloh. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the LORD, were there.
3. yearly] The Law required every male to present himself “before Jehovah” at the central sanctuary of the nation at each of the three great Feasts (Exodus 34:23; Deuteronomy 16:16), but there is no evidence that this command was ever strictly observed, and Elkanah’s practice was probably that of a pious Israelite of the time. “All his household” (1 Samuel 1:21) went with him, in obedience to the injunctions of Deuteronomy 12:10-12. To which of the Feasts he went up must remain a matter of conjecture. Our Lord’s parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover (Luke 2:41).

the Lord of hosts] See Note I. p. 235, for a discussion of the meaning of this title.

in Shiloh] The position of Shiloh is defined with remarkable exactness in Jdg 21:19. It was in Ephraim, “on the north side of Bethel, on the east side of the highway that goeth up from Bethel to Shechem, and on the south of Lebonah.” This agrees perfectly with the situation of the modern Seilûn, which is about ten miles north of Bethel, and east of the main road. It is thus described by Lieut. Conder (Tent Work in Palestine, I. 82): “The ruins of a modern village occupy a sort of tell or mound. On the east and north the site is shut in by bare and lofty hills of grey limestone, dotted over with a few fig trees; on the south the plateau looks down on the plain just crossed. A deep valley runs behind the town on the north. Below the top of the hill there is a sort of irregular quadrangle. The rock has here been rudely hewn in two parallel scarps for over 400 feet, with a court between, 77 feet wide, and sunk 5 feet below the outer surface. Thus there would be sufficient room for the court of the Tabernacle in this area.”

Here in the territory of the most powerful tribe, in the heart of the promised land, the whole congregation of Israel met and set up the Tabernacle of the congregation, the last relic of their wanderings in the desert (Joshua 18:1). The name is appropriate. Shiloh signifies “Rest.” Shiloh continued (with temporary exceptions, see e.g. Jdg 20:27) to be the religious centre of the nation, “the place which Jehovah had chosen to put his name there,” until after the loss of the Ark in the disastrous battle of Ebenezer. Possibly it was destroyed or occupied by the Philistines: at any rate it ceased to be the national sanctuary. Samuel sacrificed at Mizpeh, at Ramah, at Gilgal, never, so far as we read, at Shiloh. The tabernacle was removed to Nob (1 Samuel 21), and the once holy place was utterly desecrated. Jeremiah points to its desolation as the standing witness of God’s judgments. “Go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel” (Jeremiah 7:12).

And the two sons] Better, And Eli’s two sons Hophni and Phinehas were there priests to Jehovah. They are mentioned rather than their father because in his old age he had resigned the active duties of his office to them. The name Hophni occurs nowhere else in the O. T.: for Phinehas it was reserved to sully the honour of one of the most illustrious names in Israel, borne by him whose bold act of judgment “was counted unto him for righteousness” (Psalm 106:30-31).

And when the time was that Elkanah offered, he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions:
4. offered] sacrificed, as in 1 Samuel 1:3. His sacrifice was a thank-offering, for it was only of the thank-offerings that the worshippers partook (Leviticus 7:11-18).

he gave] The tenses in 1 Samuel 1:4-7 express repeated action: “he used to give: her adversary used to provoke her.”

portions] Of the victims sacrificed. Cp. 1 Samuel 9:23.

But unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah: but the LORD had shut up her womb.
5. a worthy portion] Lit., one portion for two persons: a double portion. If the text is sound, this seems to be the best explanation of an obscure expression. Elkanah marked his love for Hannah by giving her a double portion. Similarly Joseph distinguished Benjamin by sending him a fivefold portion (Genesis 43:34). But the Sept. points to a different reading which would give the following sense: “And to Hannah he gave a single portion, because she had no child: nevertheless Elkanah loved Hannah most: but the Lord had shut up her womb.”

had shut up her womb] Hannah’s faith might have been strengthened by the recollection that Sarah (Genesis 16:1), Rachel (Genesis 30:1), Manoah’s wife (Jdg 13:2), all had to bear the reproach of childlessness for a time, and all eventually bore illustrious sons.

And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the LORD had shut up her womb.
6. her adversary] Peninnah. The cognate verb is used in Leviticus 18:18, “Thou shalt not take a wife to her sister to vex her.”

And as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the LORD, so she provoked her; therefore she wept, and did not eat.
7. as he did so] Peninnah’s spitefulness was evoked by the display of Elkanah’s affection. Exultation at another’s misfortune is one of the most detestable forms of malice.

did not eat] Refused to take any part in the rejoicings of the sacrificial feast.

Then said Elkanah her husband to her, Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons?
8. better to thee than ten sons] Cp. Ruth 4:15.

So Hannah rose up after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk. Now Eli the priest sat upon a seat by a post of the temple of the LORD.
9–20. Hannah’s Prayer and its answer

9. So Hannah rose up] Simply And. Hannah left the feast for which she had not heart, and went to pray.

Eli the priest] Eli belonged to the house of Ithamar Aaron’s fourth son, as is clear from a comparison of 1 Chronicles 24:3 with 2 Samuel 8:17 and 1 Kings 2:17, and from the omission of his name in the genealogy of Eleazar in 1 Chronicles 6:4-15. The last high-priest mentioned before him was Phinehas the son of Eleazar (Jdg 20:28); but when or why the succession passed into the family of Ithamar, we are not told. The office did not return to the line of Eleazar until Solomon deposed Abiathar in fulfilment of the doom pronounced upon the house of Eli, and appointed Zadok in his place (1 Kings 2:27). Eli united the offices of Priest and Judge.

upon a seat by a post of the temple] Rather, “upon the seat (or, his seat) by the doorpost of the temple.” “The sanctuary itself was so encased with buildings, as to give it the name and appearance of ‘a house’ or ‘temple.’ There was a gateway with a seat inside the doorposts or pillars which supported it. It was ‘the seat’ or ‘throne’ of the ruler or judge, as afterwards in the Palace of Solomon. Here Eli sat on days of religious or political solemnity, and surveyed the worshippers as they came up the eminence on which the sanctuary was placed.” Stanley’s Lectures on the Jewish Church, I. 321.

the temple] The Heb. word denotes a spacious and stately building: hence (a) a royal palace: (b) the temple: (c) heaven, as the true temple of Jehovah. It is applied to the tabernacle only here and in 1 Samuel 3:3, and possibly in Psalm 5:7. Its use in the present passage may indicate that the book was written at a time when the religious nomenclature had been coloured by the construction of Solomon’s temple.

And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the LORD, and wept sore.
And she vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no rasor come upon his head.
11. vowed a vow] The law of vows, with special limitations in the case of married women, is given in Numbers 30.

look on the affliction of thine handmaid] The rendering of the LXX. “If thou wilt indeed regard the low estate of thine handmaiden” (ἐὰν ἐπιβλέπων ἐπιβλέψῃς ἐπὶ τὴν ταπείνωσιν τῆς δούλης σου) gives the words adopted by the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:48).

I will give him) The vow is twofold, involving (1) the lifelong consecration of the child to the service of Jehovah, for as a Levite he would serve from the age of 25 or 30 to 50 only, and very possibly at this time many Levites, e.g. Elkanah himself, had no official duties: (2) the special Nazirite vow, the characteristics of which were (a) abstinence from intoxicating drinks, as an act of self-denial and a protest against sensual indulgence: (b) the free growth of the hair, symbolizing apparently the complete dedication of all the man’s powers to Jehovah: (c) the avoidance of defilement by a dead body, as a token of absolute purity of life. See Numbers 6. The vow was usually taken for a limited time only, but Samson, Samuel, and St John the Baptist were dedicated to a perpetual Nazirate from their birth.

And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli marked her mouth.
12. continued praying] Lit. “multiplied to pray,” i.e. “prayed long and earnestly.”

Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken.
13. Eli thought she had been drunken] Silent prayer was not usual at the time. Eli’s ready suspicion makes it probable that such excesses were not uncommon at the sacrificial feasts. His hasty and uncharitable judgment points to some of the defects of his character.

And Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee.
And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the LORD.
15. of a sorrowful spirit] Lit. “heavy of spirit.” “Consider the modesty of Hannah, who, though she suffered injury from the High Priest, nevertheless answers with reverence and humility.” Calvin.

Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto.
16. a daughter of Belial] Rather, a worthless, or, wicked woman. Our translators have wrongly treated this word as a proper name in the historical books, but not elsewhere, though the alternative is generally given in the margin. It means worthlessness, and according to the usual Hebrew idiom a son or daughter of worthlessness signifies “a worthless man or woman,” and with positively bad sense, a lawless, ungodly, wicked person. If “naughty,” by which the word is rendered in Proverbs 6:12, had retained its archaic sense, it would be a fair equivalent. “Belial,” or more correctly “Beliar,” is used by St Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:15 as a name of Satan, the personification of all lawlessness and worthlessness. Milton naturally follows the E. V. in regarding Belial as the name of a spirit.

“Belial, than whom a spirit more lewd

Feel not from heaven, … to him no temple stood,

Or altar smoked, yet who more oft than he

In temples and at altars, when the priest

Turns atheist, as did Eli’s sons, who filled

With lust and violence the house of God.”

Paradise Lost, I. 490, ff.

grief] Lit. “provocation” (cp. 1 Samuel 1:6), or “vexation” as the consequence of provocation.

Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him.
And she said, Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.
18. grace] i.e. favour, as in 1 Samuel 25:8.

And they rose up in the morning early, and worshipped before the LORD, and returned, and came to their house to Ramah: and Elkanah knew Hannah his wife; and the LORD remembered her.
19. the Lord remembered her] Cp. Genesis 30:22.

Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the LORD.
20. Wherefore] Simply And.

to Ramah] See note on Ramathaim-Zophim in 1 Samuel 1:1.

Samuel] This name, in Hebrew Shemuel, is familiar to us only in its Latin dress. It was borne by two other persons in the O. T. (Numbers 34:20; 1 Chronicles 7:2). Three explanations of it are proposed: (a) “Name of God”: (b) “Asked of God”: (c) “Heard of God”: of which the last is the most probable; compare Ishmael = “God heareth.” Hannah gives the child a name which will be a continual memorial of God’s answer to her prayer. It found a subsequent appropriateness in the fervency and efficacy of his own prayers.

And the man Elkanah, and all his house, went up to offer unto the LORD the yearly sacrifice, and his vow.
21–28. Samuel’s infancy and dedication to Jehovah

21. his vow] This assumes that Elkanah as well as Hannah had made a vow. The Sept. reads “his vows and all the tithes of his land.” Cp. Deuteronomy 12:11.

But Hannah went not up; for she said unto her husband, I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the LORD, and there abide for ever.
22. until the child be weaned] He would then be two or three years old. It is still a common practice in the East to suckle children for two years: and in ancient times they were sometimes not weaned till three years old. See 2Ma 7:27, “O my son, have pity upon me that gave thee suck three years and nourished thee.” The weaning was made an occasion of festivity (Genesis 21:8). The objection has been made that so young a child would have been troublesome to Eli, but there were women engaged in the tabernacle service (1 Samuel 2:22), to whose care he might have been committed. It was important that he should be dedicated as soon as possible. The house of God was to be the only home he knew; the earliest impressions of his boyhood were to be those of the sanctuary.

for ever] Equivalent to “as long as he liveth” of 1 Samuel 1:28.

And Elkanah her husband said unto her, Do what seemeth thee good; tarry until thou have weaned him; only the LORD establish his word. So the woman abode, and gave her son suck until she weaned him.
23. his word] No express promise of a son has been mentioned; Eli’s blessing in 1 Samuel 1:17 can scarcely be understood as such. But Samuel’s birth implied that Hannah’s prayer was heard, and Elkanah prays that it may receive a complete fulfilment. The Sept. reads “The Lord establish that which is gone forth out of thy mouth.”

And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bullocks, and one ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine, and brought him unto the house of the LORD in Shiloh: and the child was young.
24. three bullocks] We may conjecture that one was intended for a burnt-offering, one for the “sacrifice in performing a vow,” and one for a peace-offering. See Numbers 15:8.

one ephah of flour] According to Josephus, the ephah contained about 8½ gallons, according to Jewish authorities about 4½ gallons. The smaller estimate is probably correct. Three tenth parts of an ephah of flour were to be offered with each bullock (Numbers 15:9) as a “meat-offering” (minchah).

a bottle of wine] i.e. a skin-bottle, which would hold a considerable quantity. The prescribed drink-offering with each bullock was half an hin of wine (Numbers 15:10), or about three pints, the hin being a sixth part of the bath, which was of the same capacity as the ephah (Ezekiel 45:11).

the house of the Lord] See note on 1 Samuel 1:9.

the child was young] Lit. “the child was a child.” The term is quite vague, and gives no clue to Samuel’s age at the time. See however the note on 1 Samuel 1:22.

And they slew a bullock, and brought the child to Eli.
25. they slew a bullock] The bullock; viz. the one which had been brought as a dedicatory offering with the child: the sacrifice of the others is taken for granted. We may try to picture the scene. Elkanah leads the bullock to the north side of the altar of burnt-offering, in the court before the door of the tabernacle, and binds it to the horns of the altar. Hannah brings her child, and lays his hand on the head of the victim in token that it is his representative; at that moment Elkanah or one of the priests slays it (Leviticus 1:5). Its blood is sprinkled and its limbs burnt upon the altar, as an emblem of the complete dedication of the child to Jehovah.

The Sept. version differs widely from our present Heb. text, and describes the presentation of Samuel as combined with the yearly sacrifice. “And she went up with him to Selom with a bullock of three years old, and bread, and an ephah of fine flour, and a bottle of wine; and entered into the house of the Lord in Selom: and the child was with them. And they brought him near before the Lord: and his father slew the sacrifice, which he used to offer year by year unto the Lord. And he brought the child near and slew the bullock. And Anna the mother of the child brought him near to Heli, and said,” &c. This may represent a different original text, or be a loose paraphrase.

And she said, Oh my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the LORD.
26. as thy soul liveth] An oath peculiar to the books of Samuel and Kings.

that stood by thee] Prayer was offered either (a) standing, as by Hannah and Abraham (Genesis 18:22), cp. Matthew 6:5, Mark 11:25, Luke 18:11 : (b) kneeling, as by Solomon (1 Kings 8:54), and by Daniel (Daniel 6:10), cp. Acts 9:40; Acts 20:36; Acts 21:5 : (c) prostrate, as by Moses and Aaron (Numbers 16:22), and by our Lord (Matthew 26:39).

For this child I prayed; and the LORD hath given me my petition which I asked of him:
Therefore also I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the LORD. And he worshipped the LORD there.
28. therefore also, &c.] Render, And I on my part have given him to Jehovah as long as he liveth: because he was one asked for Jehovah. The exact translation of the Heb. is doubtful, and the remarkable play upon words in it is lost in translation. But the general sense is clear: ‘Jehovah gave me the child, and I restore him in accordance with my vow.’ The word translated lend occurs elsewhere only in Exodus 12:36, where it means give rather than lend. A loan may be reclaimed at the will of the lender. Hannah’s surrender of Samuel was complete. See 1 Samuel 1:11 and ch. 1 Samuel 2:20.

he worshipped] Who? Not Samuel, who was too young: but Elkanah, as head of the household, worshipped, while Hannah poured out her heart in the hymn which immediately follows. The Sept. however omits the words, and the Vulg. reads “And they worshipped the Lord there.”

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