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.


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