The birth of Samuel is evidence that God answers prayers. Hannah was unable to give children to her husband, so she went to God in prayer, asking him to give her a son. Hannah prayed for a son for a long time. Her rival, Peninnah had “sons and daughters” (1 Samuel 1:4), a clear indication that her struggle to conceive lasted several years.
Although Hannah’s prayers went unanswered for many years, she never gave up. Her faith remained strong in the midst of broken dreams. In the end, her faith and trust in God was rewarded. God opened her womb and she gave birth to a son who became a great leader in Israel. Samuel was a remarkable child. The birth and childhood of Samuel is a remarkable story. His early life in the temple, serving under Eli, reflects the kind of person Samuel would become throughout his ministry.
Hannah and Her Vow
In her deep desire to have a son, Hannah went to worship God at Shiloh with her husband Elkanah. While at the sanctuary, Hannan made a vow to God. In her prayer, she said to God, “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head” (1 Samuel 1:11).
In her prayer, Hannah made a vow to God. She promised God that if he gave her a son that she would give the child back to God so that her son would serve in the temple all the days of his life. Hannah’s intent was to return to Shiloh and let Eli raise her son in the house of the Lord.
That was a difficult decision for Hannah. People struggle with making decisions every day. This was the case of Hannah. For years she had struggled with the problem of infertility. Hannah wanted to be a mother, but her womb was closed. For years Hannah struggled with Peninnah. Because of her infertility, her husband selected a second wife. Peninnah, the second wife, made life miserable for Hannah. In her struggle with infertility, Hannah had learned how to live with broken dreams. Year after year she went to Shiloh to worship and pray. Daily, she went to God with her request.
Hannah and Her Son
The morning after Hannah had prayed and made her vow, she and Elkanah returned to their home at Ramah. Although she did not know, Hannah returned home with an open womb. In her prayer, Hannah asked God, “remember me” (1 Samuel 1:11) and in due time, “the LORD remembered her” (1 Samuel 1:19). Soon after their arrival at Ramah, Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. Her infertility ended because God answered her prayers and because God remembered her condition. As Brueggemann puts it, “Yahweh is a powerful rememberer; and when Yahweh remembers the partner and the promise, newness becomes possible” (Brueggemann 1990: 14).
Hannah named her son Samuel. The reason for calling him Samuel was because she had asked him of the Lord (1 Samuel 1:20). Samuel was the fruit of Hannah’s many prayers. Lemuel’s mother called her son, “son of my womb” and “son of my vows” (Proverbs 31:1-2). Both Samuel and Lemuel were “the result of a mother’s vow.”
As the time for the annual festival at Shiloh arrived, “Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the LORD and to fulfill his vow” (1 Samuel 1:21). The text does not mention the nature of Elkanah’s vow. It is possible that Elkanah joined Hannah in making a vow to the Lord asking him to give a son to his wife or probably he made the vow at the time Hannah became pregnant. Since the Lord had given a son to Hannah, Elkanah went to Shiloh to worship and to fulfill the vow he had made to the Lord.
When Elkanah and his family went to Shiloh to worship, “Hannah did not go” with them (1 Samuel 1:22). Since Hannah became pregnant soon after she and her husband had returned from the annual festival at Shiloh, Samuel was just a little baby, probably two or three months old. The boy was too young to travel.
Another reason Hannah decided not to go was because she planned to nurse the child. Hannah said to Elkanah, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, that he may appear in the presence of the LORD, and remain there forever; I will offer him as a nazirite for all time” (1 Samuel 1:22 NRSV).
Most mothers in Israel nursed their children for two or three years. One mother of Jewish martyrs nursed her son for three years. She told him before he faced martyrdom, “My son, . . . I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years” (2 Maccabees 7:27). Mothers who were unable to produce sufficient milk or women who enjoyed a better economic situation in society could employ wet-nurses to feed their babies. Hannah could have employed a wet-nurse, but she chose to nurse her son and in the process spend more time with him before he was brought to the temple to live there.
Hannah and the Dedication of Her Son
The time arrived for Hannah to fulfill her vow to the Lord. Hannah had lived many years without a son, now that she was the mother of a son, the time had arrived to fulfill her vow and give him up. Hannah was wavering in her heart about losing the son for whom she had prayed for many years. She was struggling because of her promise; she had promised to leave the child in the temple at Shiloh.
Some scholars do not believe that Hannah was struggling with her decision to give up Samuel to live in the temple. However, the text provides clues that Hannah was struggling with her decision. By not going to Shiloh for three years or more, Hannah was avoiding the place where she had made her vow.
When Hannah made her vow to the Lord, she said to God that if he gave her a son, she would give him back to serve in the temple “all the days of his life” (1 Samuel 1:11). But she had already kept him for three years or longer. Thus, Samuel did not serve in the temple “all the days of his life” because Samuel did not come to Shiloh until several years after he was born.
Gruber writes that “there are ample attestations” from the Ancient Near East that some children were weaned “as late as at three, or seven, or ten, or even fifteen years of age.” He concludes that “the argument that Samuel could not have been presented to the service of the Temple ‘at so early an age’ serves only to reinforce the impression conveyed by 1 Sam. 1:20- 24 that Hannah nursed Samuel for a very long time indeed, whose precise duration remains a matter of speculation” (Gruber 1989: 67).
Another clue that Hannah was struggling with her decision is found in the words Elkanah told his wife. He said to Hannah, “Whatever you think is best. Stay here for now, and may the LORD help you keep your promise” (1 Samuel 1:23 NLT). Elkanah’s words are very revealing because it shows Hannah’s struggle and indecision.
Elkanah told Hannah, “Whatever you think.” Elkanah was saying it was her decision. Elkanah knew about Hannah’s vow to dedicate Samuel to God, but he allowed her to make the final decision whether to send him to Shiloh.
According to the Law of Moses, Elkanah could cancel Hannah’s vow, “If a woman living with her husband makes a vow or obligates herself by a pledge under oath . . . her husband may confirm or nullify any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself” (Numbers 30:10, 13). By law Elkanah had the right to cancel Hannah’s vow but he chose not to invoke his right. It is possible that Elkanah believed that Hannah’s vow was the will of God.
Elkanah told Hannah, “Whatever you think is best.” Hannah had a difficult decision to make. Elkanah told Hannah to do what was best, not what was convenient nor what was her preference, but what was right. Some decisions may go contrary to the desires of one’s heart, but decisions made every day, big or small, should glorify God. Hannah was a woman of faith, a woman who belonged to God and her decision to surrender her son to God would be a demonstration that she belonged to God.
Elkanah told Hannah, “may the LORD help you keep your promise.” God had answered Hannah’s prayer and given her a son. Now, it was time for Hannah to keep her promise but because of her struggle, Elkanah prays for her, “may the LORD help you keep your promise.” In Hebrew, this expression reads differently. It says, “May the LORD establish [fulfill] his word.” Or as the NIV reads, “may the LORD make good his word.”
Elkanah seems to be saying to Hannah that since the Lord has heard her prayer, that it was time for her to allow a complete fulfillment of her vow. The Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament provides a good interpretation of Elkanah’s words, “may the Lord establish that which is gone forth out of thy mouth.”
After Samuel was weaned, Hannah went to Shiloh to fulfill her vow. She took “the boy with her, young as he was” (1 Samuel 1:24) to give him to the Lord so that he could serve God all the days of his life. After Hannah and Elkanah arrived at Shiloh, “they [Hannah and Elkanah] brought the boy to Eli (1 Samuel 1:25). Hannah told Eli “I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him” (1 Samuel 1:26–27).
Hannah also told Eli that she had promised to give her son to God, “So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD” (1 Samuel 1:28). Eli agreed to take the boy and teach him the ways of the Lord. After worshiping the Lord, Elkanah and Hannah returned home without the child. Samuel grew up in the sanctuary at Shiloh serving the Lord and assisting Eli. According to Tsumura, Hannah’s vow to give her son to the Lord “shows not only that Hannah promises it but also that she has already given him by faith. Usually, a woman who had suffered so from not having a child would not give him up once he was born, but Hannah, a dedicated woman, was willing” (Tsumura 2007:118).
The story about Samuel’s birth is a story of love, of commitment, of gratitude. Hannah made a very difficult decision for a mother who could not have children. She promised to give God the son that was given to her by God’s grace, even when that decision went against her motherly heart. Because Elkanah loved his wife, he supported her decision and together they came to the sanctuary to offer their son to God.
Hannah and Elkanah were people of faith and committed worshipers of Yahweh. Hannah decided to give her son to God because she knew that Samuel was not hers; he belonged to the God who in his mercy, had given him to her. Walter Brueggemann expresses well Hannah’s gratitude for what the Lord had done in her life: “In offering her thanksgiving, Hannah is aware of the amazing sequence by which her barrenness has eventuated in birth. The one whom she had ‘asked’ is now given back. Hannah is faithful; Yahweh is powerful. Hannah is appropriately grateful. In place of despair has come gratitude, resulting in submission and praise. The resolution is glad worship” (Brueggemann 1990: 15).
My pastor, Jeff Griffin, Senior Pastor of The Compass Church in Naperville, Illinois preached a sermon on May 16, 2021 titled “Samuel: Lessons From a Remarkable Child – Dedication.” The post above is based on his sermon.
Jeff begins his sermon by remembering how he received the call to the ministry. Jeff went to Wheaton College. In his senior year, he had a deep spiritual experience. Jeff tells of his journey of how he received the call to the ministry. He wanted to be a doctor, but God told him that he would be a pastor. Jeff accepted the call to the ministry because he realized that his life was not his own; his life belonged to God. As a Christian, he knew that all that he was and all that he had belonged to God, that his plans were God’s plan, So, when God called him to be a pastor, he said yes.
Jeff concluded his sermon by mentioning the experience of some of the volunteers in the church. These people are serving the Lord because they know that as people of faith, people who belong to God, they should be involved in serving the Lord. Jeff then challenged people everywhere to serve God because, as he said, all that we are and all that we have belongs to God.
The Sermon: “Samuel: Lessons From a Remarkable Child – Dedication” by Jeff Griffin.
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Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Other Studies on Samuel
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Brueggemann, Walter. First and Second Samuel. Interpretation. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 1990.
Cartledge, Tony W. 1 & 2 Samuel. Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary. Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2001.
Gruber, Mayer I. “Breast-feeding Practices in Biblical Israel and in Old Babylonian Mesopotamia.” Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society 19 (1989): 61-83.
Tsumura, David T. The First Book of Samuel. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007.