One can reasonably argue that the book of Judges shows us the decline of Israel to a situation in which they have to have a king to lead them, and that the treatment of women that we see in Judges is a sign of that decline. One can also argue that Ruth is a response to that theme in Judges. How does the story of Hannah fit into that theme?
Verses 1-10: These verses are a song, perhaps not one that Hannah composed, but one she knew already and applied to herself, much as we might choose to sing a hymn that reflects our circumstances. Note the parts of this song: thanksgiving (1-2), a warning to the arrogant (3), the reversal of fortune (the high are brought down, the low are exalted—4-8), and an expression of confidence (9-10). (The song is, roughly, chiastic.) What is the overall theme of the poem? How does this song fit Hannah’s situation? How might it also be important to us? Are there parts that seem not to be relevant to Hannah’s situation? If so, what do you make of that?
Most commentators suggest that the metaphor, “mine horn is exalted in the Lord,” is that of a proud animal carrying its head high? (Compare Psalm 92:10 and 89:18.) Does that make sense to you? Do you have an alternative interpretation?
Verse 3: Against what does the Lord here? How does the poem explain that warning?
The King James version says “the Lord is a God of knowledge,” but literally translated it would be “the Lord is a God of knowledge knowledge.” Hebrew sometimes uses a duplicate verb to connote plurality. Some translators take this to be “all-knowing,” but others believe that the duplication of the verb indicates the quality rather than the quantity of his knowledge: “true knowledge.”
Verses 4-5: In verse 4 and the first half of 5, we have examples of God knowing how to weigh actions and respond. In both cases, the strong become weak and the weak become strong. However at the end of verse 5, the order is reversed: the weak become strong and the strong become weak. Can you see any reason for that change?
Verse 5: This verse clearly applies to Hannah’s situation, but why does her song also include so many things that do not apply to it? This verse of the song speaks of a barren woman who has borne seven children, but 1 Samuel speaks of Hannah as the mother of six children, including Samuel. What do you make of this difference?
Verse 6: Some doubt that this verse refers to actual death and resurrection. Why might they doubt? What alternative understanding is possible? On the other hand, I might we think that the verse really is about real death and real resurrection?
Verse 10: How do you explain the reference to a king at the end of this verse when Israel didn’t have a king at this time?
The Hebrew for “his anointed” at the end of the verse is mesiho, a variation of the title mesiah, or “messiah.” This appears to be the first time that the phrase is used in the Old Testament.
Verse 11: Notice the simplicity with which the narrator tells how Hannah kept her promise. Notice, too, the contrast of this verse, with the song that came immediately before it. What is the effect of that difference?
Verses 12-17: Why do we have so much detail about the sins of Eli’s sons? What does it mean to say that they did not know the Lord? Compare verses 13-15 to Leviticus 7:23-36 and 17:6, and Deuteronomy 18:3. What specific sin do we see here? At the end of verse 14 we read, “So they did in Shiloh unto all the Israelites that came thither,” after a description of how the priest in Shiloh chose meat for the priests. What is the point of that clause?
Leviticus tells us that the priests were to receive the breast and the right thigh of sacrificed animals (Leviticus 7:28-36). Deuteronomy tells us that they were to receive the shoulder, the jowls, and the stomach of oxen and sheep (Deuteronomy 18:3). It appears that at the temple in Shiloh there was still another way of dispensing the meat of sacrificial animals to those officiating: a worker would stick a fork into the boiling pot and whatever he pulled up was for the priest. In every case, however, the fat was reserved to be burned on the altar for the Lord.
Verse 18: Once again, we have one short verse describing Samuel’s service, in contrast to the many verses that describe the “service” of Hophni and Phinehas. Once again, that contrast lends emphasis to this verse. The literary structure here is interesting and, I think, informative: Verses 1-10 are parallel to verses 12-17, and verse 11 is parallel to verse 18. It’s as if the writer is saying: Hannah praised—and Samuel served; Eli’s sons blasphemed—and Samuel served. What is the effect of that parallel? What does it say to us?
Verse 23: What sin do Eli’s sons commit? Why is it such a serious sin.
Most traditional Jewish commentators have found the sin so repugnant that, rather than believing that the verse means what it says, they have assumed that it means something else, such as that, somehow, the sons delayed the women who worked in the temple.
Verse 25: Here is another translation of the first part of this verse: “If a man sins against the man, God will mediate for him; but if a man sins against the Lord, who intercede for him?” (New International Commentary on the Old Testament: Samuel, 160-61). What’s the point of this comment and question in the story? What’s the answer to the question?
Verse 27: Who is this “man of God”? Is he a prophet? If he is, why do we not know his name? If he is not, how do we explain what he says to Eli? What is the status and place of the prophets during the time of the Judges?
Verse 29: How has Eli honored his sons more than the Lord? How might we do the same thing?
Verse 30: Does this verse show us the Lord changing his mind? If so, how do you explain that. If not, why not?
Verses 30-36: What do you make of this horrible curse? What is Eli’s sin? Is it more than not disciplining his sons?
Verse 1: Notice how we have seen Samuel grown: in 2:18 we saw him serving before the Lord; in 2:26 is a growing and that he was pleasing to the Lord and to the people; here we see him ministering with Eli.
The word translated “precious” could also be translated “rare.” What are the different meanings that “rare” might have in this context?
Why might the word of the Lord have been rare or precious in those days? Why is it important to the story we are reading for us to know that the word of the Lord was rare then?
Verses 2-4: Why might Samuel have been sleeping near the ark? In addition to the practical reasons for doing so, is there any symbolic significance to the fact that he was? (Where was the ark kept?)
Samuel’s answer to the Lord means “Behold, here I am,” or even, “See me here.” In Arabic, one answers a call even today with something similar—”Ready”—and that is part of the import of this response.
In scriptures we find this phrase commonly used when prophets respond to a call. For other examples of the phrase, see verse eleven of this chapter, Genesis 22:1; 27:1 and 18; 31:11; and 46:2; Exodus 3:4; Isaiah 6:8; and 2 Nephi 16:8. We also see it in Moses 4:1 and Abraham 3:27, in the calling of the Savior and in Satan’s rebellion. Compare what happens here to what happens in Genesis 22, where we see the same kind of language in another case, and Genesis 3:9-10 and Exodus 20:18-21, where we see cases in which people don’t respond to a call from the Lord in this way. What might it tell us that Samuel and other prophets respond this way? In other words, what kinds of things are implied by the answer, “Here I am” or “Behold me here”? When do we say to the Lord some equivalent of “Here I am, ready”? Do our covenants imply that this should be our response to the Lord’s call? Is everything we are asked to do by someone with Church authority a call from the Lord? If not, how do we decide what is and what isn’t? Might a person reasonably accept every call extended even if she doesn’t believe that every call is a call from the Lord? Why? How does one go about turning down a call if he feels that call is not an inspired one?
Why does the Lord call Samuel over and over? Why not just tell him the first time who it is that calls?
Verse 11: What is the “thing” that the Lord is going to do? Is he referring to the capture of the ark, or to that and all of the events surrounding that capture, the defeat of Israel, the death of Eli and his sons, etc?
Verse 13: The Lord says that Eli didn’t restrain (literally “rebuke”) his sons, but we saw him doing so in 1 Samuel 2:23-25. How do you explain this seeming contradiction?
Verse 14: Does this verse mean that there could be no way of expiating Eli and his family? What way might there be?
Verse 19: Why do you think the writer has placed such emphasis on Samuel’s growth?
There are two explanations of the Hebrew word for prophet, nabi. One is that it means “one who is called.” The other is that it means “one who calls or invokes.” Does one or the other strike you as more plausible? If so, is the other one also informative?
Samuel was judge of the people as well as a prophet. What do you think his duties were as a judge that differed from his duties as prophet?
Compare chapters 7 and 8. What does chapter 7 show Israel doing? What are they asking for? What is Israel doing in 8? What are they asking for? What is the narrator trying to show with this contrast? Compare Israel’s attitudes in these two chapters with Hannah’s attitude in her song. What are the parallels? The differences?
Verse 1: Does Samuel step down as judge or appoint his sons as assistants? At this point in his life, how does Samuel differed from Eli?
Verses 3-5: Is the elders’ request reasonable under the circumstances? What reasons do they give for their need of a king? (See also verse 20.)
Verse 6: Why is Samuel displeased?
Verse 7: How is the request for a king a rejection of God? Is there anything parallel in our own lives or circumstances? The chances that we will have a king are slim, so how are the Lord’s teachings about kings relevant to us? What might they imply for those in a contemporary democracy?
Verses 10-18: What are the problems with having a king?
Verse 20: Is this an afterthought or is it one of the people’s sincere reasons for wanting a king? If the latter, what is wrong with the request?
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