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:
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”
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.