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When the judges ruled over Israel, there was a man from Ramathaim-zophim, from the hill country of Ephraim. He was Elkanah, who descended from Jeroham, Elihu, Tohu, and Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives: Peninnah, who bore him sons and daughters, and Hannah, who remained childless.

At the end of the Book of Judges, the world has descended into violence and chaos—it is, as the book concludes, a time when “there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what seemed right to them” (Judges 21:25). And their selfish desires are often very wrong morally, socially, and personally. Israel is a dark place waiting for a light to enter, and as is usually the case in the story of the people of God, God has a plan.

Elkanah used to go up every year from his city to worship and offer sacrifices at the altar of the Eternal One, Commander of heavenly armies, at Shiloh, where the priests of the Eternal were Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas. On the days he made a sacrifice, Elkanah would share a portion of his offering with his wife Peninnah and all her children, but he offered a double portion of sacrificial meat for Hannah because he loved her even though the Eternal One had not given her children. Peninnah used to infuriate Hannah until Hannah trembled with irritation because the Eternal had not given Hannah children. This went on year after year; and every time Hannah went up to the house of the Eternal, Peninnah would infuriate her. So, as she often did, Hannah wept and refused to eat.

The story of Samuel begins quietly, not with a great warrior coming onto the scene, but with the faithful prayer of a woman who wants to be a mother. The underlying message of the books of Samuel is, as in many other places in the Bible, that faith and trust in God are more important than any trust we place in human beings—even powerful human beings. Hannah’s prayers for a child, her absolute faith in God’s plan, and her willingness to be a part of it however she can, resonate as the kings and warriors begin to enter the stage. Without her faith, there can be no story.

Elkanah (seeing Hannah’s despair): Why are you crying and not eating? Why are you so sad, Hannah? Don’t I love you more than any 10 sons could?

9-10 One day after they ate and drank at Shiloh, Hannah got up and presented herself before the Lord. It so happened that the priest Eli was sitting in a place of honor beside the doorpost of the Eternal’s congregation tent as Hannah entered. She was heartbroken, and she began to pray to the Eternal One, weeping uncontrollably as she did.

Hannah: 11 Eternal One, Commander of heavenly armies, if only You will look down at the misery of Your servant and remember me—oh, don’t forget me!—and give Your servant a son, then I promise I will devote the boy to Your service as a Nazirite all the days of his life. [He will never touch wine or other strong drink,][a] and no razor will ever cut his hair.

12 As she prayed silently before the Eternal One, the priest Eli watched her mouth: 13 Hannah’s lips were moving, but since she was praying silently, he could not hear her words. So Eli thought she was drunk.

Eli: 14 How long are you going to continue drinking, making a spectacle of yourself? Stop drinking wine, and sober up!

Hannah: 15 My lord, I am not drunk on wine or any strong drink; I am just a woman with a wounded spirit. I have been pouring out the pain in my soul before the Eternal One. 16 Please don’t consider your servant some worthless woman just because I have been speaking for so long out of worry and exasperation.

Eli: 17 Go, don’t worry about this anymore, and may the True God of Israel fulfill the petition you have made to Him.

Hannah: 18 May your servant be favored in your sight.

Then Hannah rose and went back to where she was staying. The sadness lifted from her, so she was able to eat.

19 The next morning, they rose early to worship the Eternal One. Then they went back to their home at Ramah, and Elkanah slept with Hannah his wife. The Eternal remembered her petition; 20 and in the new year, Hannah became pregnant. When her son was born, she named him Samuel, which means “His name is El (God),” because she said,

Hannah: I asked the Eternal One for him.

21 The next year, Elkanah and all his family went up to Shiloh to make their sacrifices to the Eternal and to fulfill his vow. 22 But Hannah remained behind.

Hannah (to Elkanah): When the child can eat solid food, I will bring him so that he can appear in the presence of the Eternal One and remain there continually.

Elkanah (to Hannah): 23 Do whatever you think best. If you want to wait until Samuel is weaned, do that. Since the Eternal is faithful, surely He will keep His word.

So Hannah stayed at home and nursed her son until he was weaned. 24 When that day came, she gathered a three-year-old bull,[b] over half a bushel of flour, and a skin of wine; and she took him to the house of the Eternal One at Shiloh. Samuel was just a lad. 25 They slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to the priest Eli.

Hannah (to Eli): 26 My lord, I swear I am the woman who was praying to the Eternal One in front of you. 27 It was this child I prayed for, and the Eternal has indeed granted me the petition I made. 28 So, as I vowed, I will lend him back to the Eternal. For as long as he lives, let him serve our Eternal One.

And she left Samuel there with Eli to serve the Eternal One.


  1. 1:11 Most manuscripts omit this portion.
  2. 1:24 Hebrew manuscripts read, “three bulls.”

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