1 Samuel 1:4-20 – Samuel’s Birth


1 Samuel 1:4-20


God answers the prayers of a childless Hannah with the birth of Samuel, who will minister to Israel during its painful transition to monarchic rule.


These verses, which come in a story already begun, are best understood in their immediate context (1:1-2:11):

A    Pilgrimage from Ramah to Shiloh (1:1-8)
    B    Hannah’s prayer (1:9-11)
        C    Hannah weeps with Eli (1:12-18)
            D    Return to Ramah from Shiloh (1:19a)
                X    Hannah’s prayer answered; Samuel is born (1:19b-22)
            D′    Pilgrimage from Ramah to Shiloh (1:23)
        C′    Hannah rejoices with Eli (1:24-28)
    B′    Hannah’s hymn (2:1-10)
A′    Return to Ramah from Shiloh (2:11)

Our text comprises the first half of this introduction to Samuel–the sad half. Hannah’s sad situation at home arises out of her childlessness (vv. 1-8). She receives a special portion of the sacrificial meal (v. 5-a “double portion” in the New Revised Standard Version [NRSV]; the Hebrew is uncertain) to make up for her childlessness. Overcome with grief after years of being reminded of her situation at these annual celebrations, Hannah “took it to the Lord in prayer.” The sad songs of lament are what we would call “prayers,” because the characteristic of the lament is its request, its petition of God. In this case, Hannah asks God for a son (vv. 9-11). A third element of sadness appears in the clumsy pastoral care of Eli, the priest at Shiloh, who misinterprets her remorse as drunkenness (vv. 12-14). Upon Hannah’s protestation, however, Eli realizes his mistake and prays that her prayer might (better: announces that her prayer will) be answered, relieving Hannah’s sadness (v. 15-18). At the heart of the above structure, God answers Hannah’s prayer; she conceives and gives birth to a son whom she names “Samuel” because she “asked him of the LORD” (vv. 19b-22). Hannah’s hopes for the future lay in the birth of her son. Israel’s future also will be tied to the birth of this son, given as a gift in answer to prayer.