Today we return to our study of the Old Testament Historical Books. We are now beginning our look at 1 and 2 Samuel. The events of 1 Samuel began in about 1110 BC, as that is the approximate date of Samuel’s birth. Although Samuel was technically the last judge of Israel, he was also more than a judge. He was also a prophet and the transitional leader during the period between Israel’s amphictyony (a confederation of tribes ruled by different judges) and Israel’s united monarchy, which began with Saul (1 Sam. 3:20; 7:15; 9:1–10:1).
The story of Samuel began at Shiloh, which was located in the territory of the Israelite tribe of Ephraim. At this time, the tabernacle was set up in Shiloh, and that was where the Israelites during that era were to offer sacrifices to the Lord in worship (Judg. 18:31). Of course, piety was at a low point in Israel when 1 Samuel begins, for it was still the period of the judges, when few Israelites were exemplars of faith and devotion to God. Still, there were godly believers in Israel. We saw an example of such faithfulness in Boaz and Ruth, and today’s passage tells us about another pious family who lived during that time, the family of Elkanah.
Elkanah, from the tribe of Levi, used to go up yearly to worship the Lord at Shiloh, probably a reference to his participation in the annual Feast of Tabernacles (1 Sam. 1:1–3; see Lev. 23:33–43; 1 Chron. 6:16–48). This Levite who lived in Ephraim’s territory had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah, as polygamy was often practiced in ancient Israel. But as polygamy does not conform to God’s original intent for marriage (Matt. 19:3–9), it led to strife in the families with multiple wives, as we see in Peninnah’s repeated taunting of Hannah. Peninnah taunted Hannah because Hannah was barren. The ancient Israelites regarded barrenness as an awful predicament. After all, Yahweh, the Lord of Israel and one true God, declares that children are a blessing from Him (1 Sam. 1:4–7; see Ps. 127).
Hannah’s barrenness did not make Elkanah love her less, but Hannah wanted a child and prayed at Shiloh for God to open her womb (1 Sam. 1:8–11). One of the priests at Shiloh, Eli, saw her praying and mistook her praying for drunkenness, which shows the sad spiritual state of Israel at the time. Things were so dark spiritually that even a priest did not recognize true piety. But when Eli learned of Hannah’s prayer, he asked for the Lord to grant her request (vv. 12–18).