A Hermeneutical Method applied to First Samuel 1:1-2:11 (Sermon Method Series 4/7)

At this point I think it’s important to run through the hermeneutical method to arrive at grounded applications from this passage. We don’t want to spiritualize or allegorize what’s going on in the passage, so by moving through a method we can hopefully avoid those issues and arrive at a truth and application that the author was trying to get across.

What did this story mean to them?

  • This story would be meaningful for Israelites because it explains the origin of one of their great prophets, Samuel. It sets the stage for God’s work in Samuel’s life and in the early history of the people of Israel.
  • I would imagine Hannah’s obedience and conformity to the Law would appeal to Israelites hearing this as well.
  • The Israelites may have seen some kind of resolution or justification in Hannah’s eventual conception and birth. If they viewed barrenness as a curse or trouble from God, they may have wondered at her apparently obedient nature. Why would God leave her cursed and barren? But he doesn’t! He makes her the mother of a great prophet!

What’s different about their context from ours as it relates to this story?

  • As Christians we’re under a new covenant in Christ. We don’t have to offer sacrifices like Hannah did.
  • The whole premise of barrenness as a curse is particularly interesting as a spiritual concept. I don’t believe barrenness is a curse as we understand “curse” modernly. I would attribute it to a general consequence of the Fall of humanity (In speaking or preaching about barrenness in this passage, be extra sensitive: you could have couples or women in your congregation who are unable to conceive. This may be especially painful as they may be praying just as fervently as Hannah, but without her wonderful resolution). Realize too that in the story, the narrator never says that barrenness is a curse. Even in other passages it’s the characters themselves that consider it that way. Finally in Hannah and in the other cases from the stories of the Patriarchs, barrenness was often overcome by the Lord’s work to bring about a progression in the Salvation Story (God’s work among people that led to Jesus). So, our cultural understandings on this issue are fairly different.
  • We don’t make vows like Hannah did. This relates to the earlier discussion about vows and oaths and the new testament teaching on this issue.
  • We don’t let churches or institutions adopt children for service! It might seem strange to us, but in the story it worked out just fine and wasn’t viewed negatively.

What are some general truths from the passage?

  • While we haven’t seen the rest of the story yet, a truth is that God acted to bring about a leader/prophet that the people needed.
  • God answered Hannah’s prayer and gave her a son.
  • The story has a good conclusion in part because Hannah is faithful to fulfill her vow.
  • God acted in a situation that seemed impossible to bring about an amazing and needed result.
  • Hannah had faith enough to ask God for a human impossibility. She knew she was barren and yet she still asked for help.
  • Hannah turned to God in her distress, not anything else.

What are application points we can derive from these general truths?

  • First I think it’s important when teaching this passage (and others like it) that you emphasize God is not there to simply fulfill all our wishes. In scripture we have a lot of examples of people praying for things that are fulfilled because these stories are God’s record of His actions with people. We’re going to see a lot of things that are out-of-the-normal because God was working out his plan of salvation. I believe God still does miracles today, but just because these things happened in the Bible frequently doesn’t mean we should expect the exact same thing today. Explaining some of that (but maybe not in so much detail) will help people think critically about the story and not expect that their prayers for anything and everything will automatically be fulfilled by God.
  • God is faithful to act in our lives in the right ways at the right time. We can trust God with our lives and we can make decisions in life that reflect this trust. In our story and as we’ll see in later passages, Samuel became an important figure for the people of Israel. He was the one God worked in at the right time to bring about God’s purposes. The application for us is to be in prayer and in tune with the Holy Spirit so that we don’t make faithless decisions, but choices that reflect our trust in God to act at the right time.
  • God answers our prayers, and as scripture teaches us, prayer makes a difference. At this point is may not be incredibly helpful to get into issues of God’s foreknowledge and prayer and so forth. I think scripture is clear that prayer is important and does change things. I tend to think that if Hannah had not been obedient and faithful to God and had not prayed for a son, she wouldn’t have had a son, let alone a prophet of God who was important to the history of God’s people! Prayer is certainly no guarantee of God’s action; His action is not automatic, and what we ask for is not always in His will to fulfill. But the main lesson I think we can take away from this is not the power of prayer but the importance of faithfully bringing our requests to God. This story is not just an introduction of a book or greater narrative. I think an original hearer of this story or a modern reader can learn from Hannah’s wonderful example of obedience and faith. Through these characteristics she experiences the wonderful work of God in her life and even sees the perfect fulfillment of her prayer in life. Our application today is to exercise the same faith in God as we live our lives in step with him.

This would conclude a lesson or sermon on the passage then. Having a call for prayer or even extending such a message about faith and trust into an explanation of the Gospel would be entirely possible.

In the next few posts I’ll work through 1 Sam 2:12-36 so you can see the same method used on a different passage. I’ll also continue to focus on the Cultural Concepts to show how this background information really helps to put these passages in their appropriate contexts.

Walking Through First Samuel 1:1-2:11 (Sermon Method Series 3/7)

For teaching or preaching I typically just walk through a passage paragraph by paragraph and explain aspects and interesting parts along the way. Then I look for truths and applications. Along the way the cultural information can fit in to bolster our understanding.

This is a first look then at what is in the paragraphs. Working through these paragraphs is how I might preach it, but there’s still one more step I’ll cover in the next post about applying a hermeneutical method. It’s sort of the big check and balance to what you might discover after reading and observing everything like I do here:

1 Sam 1:1-8

In the opening section the stage is set with Elkanah, Peninnah, and Hannah. The story opens with the information that Peninnah has children, but Hannah does not. At this point I think it’s worth explaining the information I learned about childbirth and barrenness from the Cultural Concepts. I’d explain that in that time period being barren may have been viewed as a curse from God. I could even cite or read the verses that the HIBD article had cited for this. I don’t think it’s a stretch to really explain how what Hannah saw as a curse and a pain in life (and it certainly did cause her pain) became a means of experiencing God’s work in her life. Now again, you want to be careful of sort of spiritualizing the story at this point. I don’t think it was written to teach us that God will always act through our pain to do something amazing. I can’t promise that. Lots of people live with a pain or difficulty for a long time. So, in teaching this, it’s good to mention the principle and the general truth, but be careful of jumping to applications until you’ve really covered the whole story and thought about the overall message and reason it was written.

1 Sam 1:9-11

In this section Hannah is especially distressed and goes to pray. In this section it would be good to explain the nature of vows in the OT and their seriousness. It might also be good to reference the NT teaching on vows and oaths, but only if you’re particularly concerned members of your congregation might try and emulate the OT concept of a vow. Obviously, just because something happens in the Bible doesn’t mean we should do the same.

In the last post I quoted and contrasted from some Ugaritic material that the Cultural Concepts linked me to. I think it may be interesting for people to hear the vow of Keret in the Ugaritic material. Of course I would almost certainly refrain from explaining at length anything about Ugaritic material. The important thing is simply to show an example of a vow from the ancient world. I would even mention that it’s just one example I found and doesn’t determine what all other ancient vows were like. But reading this other vow helped me to see how passionate and heartfelt Hannah’s prayer really was. It also highlights to me that she doesn’t try to offer God gold or silver for her request. She vows to give up the thing she is praying for. Now here as well I would probably caution over-interpreting that aspect though. While giving up her child is certainly very difficult, it was the having of children that she was desperate for, to be seen not as one cursed by God, but as Peninnah and other women in her community were seen.

1 Sam 1:12-18

In this section there’s an almost comical event where Eli the priest speaks to Hannah because he thinks she’s drunk. But of course that’s not the case. Now I didn’t look up Drunkenness in the Cultural Concepts but it is in the list for the Passage Guide. I’m somewhat familiar with the culture to know that drunkenness was not looked upon well, and I would suppose especially so at the temple. Eli understands what’s going on once Hannah explains herself. He wishes her the best and she goes on her way. I like how it says of her departure: “and her face was no longer sad.” I would imagine some combination of prayer, “pouring out [her] soul”, and then Eli’s kind farewell lifted her spirits here. I would also guess that Hannah has a degree of faith in God. Why else would she pray to Him so fervently?

1 Sam 1:19-20

In these verses we have Hannah’s request fulfilled! It says the Lord remembered her, and she conceived and bore a son. If I were preaching this I might be inclined to touch on the aspect of God “remembering” something. I certainly don’t think this is like a remembering/forgetting issue. God doesn’t forget anything. I think what is happening is simply an anthropomorphic way to talk about God intervening at this point. We could say that now God’s attention is turned towards Hannah and he decides to act in her life.

1 Sam 1:21-27

This section wraps up the narrative part of our passage. In it Elkanah and his family once again go up to make their annual sacrifice to the Lord. Hannah stays behind though to wean her son. It’s unclear if this time period is short or another year cycle, but eventually Hannah brings her son along with a sacrifice. She then takes the boy, explains her story to Eli, and offers her son for the service there.

The sacrifice here is related to having a firstborn son. I’ve checked out a few Bible dictionaries and even the Factbook page for “Firstborn Redemption.” While it’s interesting that Hannah is following the law well and offering the sacrifice for her son, it doesn’t seem to me that it’s a significant part of the story. In preaching I’m not sure it would be necessary to explain Firstborn Redemption and read off passages explaining it just to say “Hannah did it all right”. A sermon could probably just mention that she’s following the law in offering this kind of sacrifice and also that she’s fulfilling her vow about her son as well.

1 Sam 2:1-11

Hannah’s prayer is a poetic expression of her joy and thankfulness to God. There are only a few things of note here in this section.

In verse one she exclaims that her “horn” is exalted in the Lord (ESV). In Logos I can right-click on this, and it shows me the sense of the word here:

Samuel 2 horn bsl context menu

 

This will bring up the Bible Sense Lexicon and a definition for “strength ⇔ horn”: “Strength understood as a horn, which is related to the strength of an animal”

Strength horn bsl browser

 

This makes a bit more sense than the typical understanding of “horn” in English.

The prayer is quite beautiful, and I notice in particular that is seems to highlight changes of social/spiritual states.

1 Sam 2:4 – mighty are broken – feeble bind strength

1 Sam 2:5 – Full are hungry – hungry cease hungering; Barren bears seven children – one with children is forlorn

1 Sam 2:6 – The Lord kills and brings life – brings to Sheol and raises (from)

1 Sam 2:7 – The Lord makes poor – rich; brings low – exalts

1 Sam 2:8 – Raises poor – lifts needy

1 Sam 2:9 – Guards faithful – cuts off wicked

1 Sam 2:10 – Adversaries broken – strength to his king

I think this aspect plays into Hannah’s perception of her change of state. She viewed herself as one cursed, and by childbirth now as one with a new state, a state of honor.

Verse 11 ends this section of the narrative by stating that the boy stayed and was ministering before the Lord and Eli the priest. Again, some aspects of the timeframe seem to be glossed over by the narrator. Only just before, the boy was being weaned, and now he’s ministering. It might be worth explaining to your listeners that the timeframe isn’t incredibly important here. The fulfillment of the vow and Hannah’s change of mind-state is probably the most in-focus thing in these opening chapters.

In the next post I’ll run through a hermeneutical method step by step to try and arrive at some truths and application points.

 

Context and Cultural Concepts in First Samuel 1:1-2:11 (Sermon Method Series 2/7)

Welcome back! Let’s get right back into the text today.

I like the ESV so I’ve opened that up to 1 Samuel chapter 1. The ESV has a break after verse 20, but I think the story here is longer, and probably includes chapter 2:1-11 as well. Chapter 2:1-11 is Hannah’s prayer, so it’s a longer additional piece, but that’s because the narrative is extending to show some more content from the story. It is a bit long to group into one sermon, but I think trying to break chapter 2:1-11 out into it’s own sermon might get repetitive. You probably wouldn’t have to read the whole of chapters 1:1-2:1-11 to your congregation, but studying both sections as a unit is probably for the best.

There’s a lot in chapters 1:1-2:11 then, so I’m going to run a passage guide over all of it. It’ll return a lot of results, but I think it’s fine trying to trim the information overload down to some key points. I’m going to run a little hermeneutical process over the chapters also, and then discuss the application points.

Samuel 1 2 11 passage guide

 

In the Cultural Concepts there’s a lot of things listed out here. I want to focus a bit on these to introduce this new dataset since it’s just come out.

Passage Guide Sam 1 1 2 11 Cultural Concepts

Childbirth – The first concept listed is Childbirth. Clicking on this link in the Passage Guide will open a Factbook page for the concept. Some of the Cultural Concepts are merged with other information in Factbook, so the title might change as in this one to “Birth”. By scrolling down you’ll see the “Cultural Concepts” section of the Factbook:

Factbook Birth

In this Factbook page I can see all the other important verses for the concept of Birth. I notice in a lot of the Genesis passages the stories of the patriarchs and their own birth stories. In Gen 29:32-35 Leah and Rachel are discussed in relation to bearing children. Leah has many children, but Rachel is barren. It also leads into Chapter 30 where Rachel is distraught at not having any children.

Now the power of the Cultural Concepts is in data linking, but we need to think for ourselves about the significance and theology of these passages. In the Samuel passage something very similar to Gen 29 is happening with the wives of Elkanah. Peninnah was provoking Hannah because Hannah had not had any children.

Looking back at the Factbook “Birth” entry, there is listed in the Domain section “Barrenness”. Clicking on this will get us more information why being barren was such a troubling thing for them back then. In this case I’m going to use one of the Cultural Concept links to the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. This gets me to more academic information about Barrenness, rather than other instances in the Bible or Ancient Texts. In the HIBD article it mentions Sarai, Rebekah, Rachel, Manoah’s wife, Hannah, and Elizabeth as all being barren at one point. It also explains that barrenness was attributed to God’s work in some instances, and that generally it may have been perceived by people as a punishment or curse. Oddly enough, in most of these cases these women were barren because God was going to work powerfully in their lives through these difficulties. They may have felt cursed or punished, but God was planning something else for their lives, but only at the right time.

But it feels like I’ve jumped down a rabbit trail a bit, though it’s certainly worth it. Because of the connections in the Cultural Concepts with Barrenness and Childbirth I was able to find a number of other verses that dealt with similar things to my passage. I was also able to get right into a bible dictionary that explained Barrenness and some of the social and spiritual thoughts that the people had about it in that time.

Going back to the Passage Guide, I want to take a look at Oath now. In 1 Sam 1:11 it says in the ESV that Hannah vowed a vow in her prayer to God. This seems like a pretty important part of the story and could use some background information.  Here in “Oath” I’ve clicked a link to Corpus des Tablettes en cuneiformes alphabetiques decouvertes a Ras Shamra-Ugarit (Please don’t totally check out now!). There’s some interesting value here I think. In the Ras Shamra Ugaritic there’s this mention of the character Keret. It says of him here “There Keret the votary vowed a gift. ‘O Athirat of Tye, and goddess of Sidon, if I take Hurriy to my house, and bring the sacred bride into my dwelling, twice her weight in silver shall I give, and three times her weight in gold!’”

Ras Shamra link

Comparing that to Hannah’s vow, she asks God not to forget her, and to see her affliction, and that she will give back to the Lord the child she prays for. There are a lot of circumstantial differences here between asking for a wife or a son. But I find it interesting that riches are offered to the goddess of Keret, but the son Hannah desires is offered back to God. There’s also a very personal aspect to Hannah’s prayer, that God would see her pain and relieve her of her suffering. This is only one comparison to a vow outside the Bible; surely there are passionate pleas across ancient literature, but I like how the contrast here highlights Hannah’s prayer from the heart.

Looking up in the Factbook entry for Oath, there is a separate section for Dictionaries here. It has a link to the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible article for Oath.

Dictionaries BEB

The article isn’t incredibly in-depth, but it does explain the importance and gravity of an oath. Breaking an oath, especially one related to a covenant was especially bad.

I like how the Bible verses listed for Oath in the Cultural Concepts section shows the whole Bible. Because of this I can see Matt 5:33-37. In this passage Jesus discourages the taking of oaths, that people should simply make their “yes”, “yes”, and “no”, “no”. To have this intertextual information this readily available helps to explain oaths in a lesson. I can work into the lesson the nature of Hannah’s heartfelt vow as it relates to her barrenness, but then I can also explain the later New Testament teaching by Jesus about taking vows and oaths.

As far as the Cultural Concepts those are the ones I feel are probably most important to this passage. In the next post I’ll walk through First Samuel 1:1-2:11 and take general observations.