Want to read the Scripture our Discussion is Based on? Click here.
While the role of a mother can easily be overlooked, a leader will often reflect on the important influence of their parents in their life. In this way, parents, family members, and friends can act as the leaders of those who are involved in leadership. For this reason, it is critical that those in leadership surround themselves by responsible and trustworthy people.
Hannah and her immediate family played a significant role in setting the tone of the book of 1 Samuel. While their interpersonal relationships are limited in presentation, they serve to help the reader identify a necessary future trend for Israel. Contextually, the relationships within Hannah’s immediate family can be considered reflective of the interactions Sarah’s immediate family in Genesis 16-18. However, while “the actions of Sarah and Abraham promoted division and death, the actions of Hannah and Elkanah promote community and life.”
Elkanah’s role in his family was partially circumvented by Hannah in her making the Nazarite vow in 1 Samuel 1:11. Ruth Fidler and Gnana Robinson, propose that early Jewish legislation did not allow for Hannah to make the vow without Elkanah’s consent. Despite this potential problem, Elkanah supports the vow that Hannah made as if it were “his vow” (1 Sam. 1:21, NRSV) and dedicated his first born son with his favored wife to God.
Peninnah (1 Sam. 1:2-7) and the sons of Eli (1 Sam. 1:3; 2:11-17) also act as sources of conflict in this passage. Although the resolutions of these conflicts are not fully present, these still promote life – as Hannah seeks her “solution in the proper place.”
The fact that Hannah chose to find her solution in God's will and judgment speaks to the dependent nature of her relationship with God. As opposed to the story of Abraham's family, Hannah and the members of her family leave God's judgment and work up to Him to enact. The way that she interacts with God “sustains her above and beyond the marginalization caused by [Elkanah, Peninnah, & Eli].”
The relationship that Hannah and God have is not without tension. Hannah is introduced as a childless woman in 1 Sam. 1:2, but it is not until 1 Sam. 1:5-6 that the reader learns that “the Lord had closed her womb” (NRSV). While these interventions by God causes initial strife for Hannah, “such divine intervention was indeed appropriate for the birth of the hero that Hannah’s son was destined to become.”
The interactions between Eli and Hannah serve to compare and contrast their individual relationships with God. The first verbal encounter between Hannah and Eli was following her occasion of “pouring out [her] soul before the Lord” (1 Sam. 1:15, NRSV). His initial reaction was one of a mistaken interpretation of her silent prayers, claiming that she was “a drunken spectacle” (1 Sam. 1:14, NRSV). While Hannah sought the Lord obediently, Eli responds to her explanation of prayerful anguish with a blessing and assent to a request that appears to be completely unknown to him.
Samuel enters the scene immediately following Hannah seeking the Lord (1 Sam. 1:10-11) and spending the following morning in worship before returning home (1 Sam. 1:19). Their time as mother and son, in the traditional sense, is limited to only a few years at most while she weans him (1 Sam. 1:22-23). However, their interactions extend into his later years as she visits and brings him “a little robe” (1 Sam. 2:19, NRSV) each year during their family’s traditional time of sacrifice.
Hannah’s Role & Leadership
Hannah, while not explicitly identified as being barren, fits within the archetype of the Barren Mother. This model has several components which ultimately align to denote the importance of the child that is born to the childless mother. While other women may meet many aspects of this model, it is only fully witnessed in the person of Hannah. Barren Mothers are first marked by their childlessness (1 Sam. 1:2), followed by the presentation of a rival (1 Sam.1:6), the rival has children (1 Sam. 1:2), conflict emerges (1 Sam. 1:6-7), a plea is made to the Lord (1 Sam. 1:10-11), the request is heard by the Lord (1 Sam. 1:1:19, 2:21), the child is given (1 Sam. 1:20), and finally, the son becomes a significant leader (1 Sam. 3:1ff).
While there is an immediate local impact on the nation of Israel in the birth of Samuel, there is also a symbolic national long term effect. This long term typology of the Barren Mother model is an introduction to Israel’s request for a king in 1 Samuel 8:4-6. While it serves as an introduction to the later request, it also serves as an imitation of “the larger structure of 1 Samuel 1-8.”
This model does not only serve to introduce the book of 1 Samuel but also acts as a capstone of the book of Judges. In Judges 13, Samson’s similar birth narrative occurs shortly before the four-time reoccurrence of the phrase, "in those days there was no king in Israel" (Jdgs. 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25, NRSV). The Deuterocanonical links between these two barren mothers and the desire of Israel for a king establish a firm placement for Hannah's experience.
Hannah gives her firstborn child to a man, whose sons have taken on his responsibilities as a priest over Israel, to raise on behalf of the Lord (1 Sam. 1:4, 26-28). While Hannah cherishes her time as a mother, during the transition and dedication of Samuel her role becomes rather priestly in nature. Between the Nazarite vow she makes, the enormous sacrifice which Hannah brings, and the prayer seen in 1 Samuel 2:1-10, her role grows larger than the confines of a typical Israelite woman.
Hannah’s “firm control of events” leads the reader to question what she anticipated for the future of her son’s leadership. Hannah’s regard for these aspects of her son’s life may also be explained as her prerogative or desire for Israel to have a King. Given the combination of her priestly and kingly desires expressed, it causes the reader to wonder if Hannah did not envision Samuel as a new Melchizedek (Gen. 14: 17-24) figure for Israel.
The kingly motif present in Hannah’s Prayer or Song of 1 Samuel 2:1-10 is contested by many scholars as a later Deuteronomist addition. Regardless of the authorship, Graeme Auld looks at Hannah's prayer as a prefiguration and foreshadowing of Israel's future kings In light of the larger context of the Deuteronomistic literature, this section of text is multi-functional as both reflective and aspirational.
It is important to note that Hannah’s role within her Patriarchal society was not entirely unique in function. According to Joan Cook, “Women’s public roles and social influence were frequently more significant during times of social upheaval and political decentralization with no dominant national power structure.” Hannah fulfills this role of a strong and vibrant female leader during a time in which Israel’s priesthood was failing to lead the nation.
While her role is not as prominent as her predecessor, Deborah, in the book of Judges, the reader cannot deny the influence that this prayerful mother has on her son. In Hannah’s aforementioned priestly acts, she sets the tone for the reader to understand that her family, and not Eli’s will be entering into the sacred priestly role. This barren mother would mark the change for the future of Eli’s family lineage – a childless mother whom he blesses to give birth to his unknown replacement.
Likewise, her focus on seeking God in times of struggle leads to an important contrast between her leadership and that of other leaders in the nation of Israel. While Saul and other leaders that precede and follow Samuel also seek God's divine will, Hannah stands apart for the way that she adheres to the law regarding sacrifice. Later in his life, Samuel establishes this concept as an important theological understanding that was exhibited by his mother. Faith must not be incorrectly practiced in methodology, but it can neither be artificially practiced in hollow actions.
Modern Implications & Application
A literal application of this text may prove difficult in our culture, as it would inevitably lead to a misconception of the role of women. However, understanding the effects that a family can have on an individual’s role in leadership is a crucial point of interest. While roles such as Peninnah’s are limited to only a few verses of text, her effect on Hannah led to the penitent lifestyle of Samuel in small ways.
A leader’s spouse can also play a major role in the way that they are able to act and find respect in leadership. Should a leader’s spouse not uphold their decisions or give respect, then their choices will have little effect on the community in which they lead. Elkanah gives a primary view of how a spouse can support the decisions of their partner in honoring the vow to dedicate Samuel to the Lord (1 Sam. 1:21-23).
Spiritual leaders can often have as drastic an effect on one another as a spouse can have on their partner’s leadership. Eli’s misunderstanding of Hannah's prayer could have driven her to find solace from a source other than the Lord. In his time of error, he answered Hannah with a blessing upon hearing her explanation of sobriety and anguish-induced prayer (1 Sam.1:17).
Hannah, as a leader in her family, helped to uphold the importance of turning to God in times of trial. She also established a level of respect in Samuel for Eli that is later witnessed in David’s treatment of Saul. Just as Samuel treated Eli with respect following his rejection from the Lord (1 Sam. 3:27-36), David later treats Saul with a similar respect following his initial rejection as King (1 Sam. 15-16). While Hannah does not explicitly teach practice this to Samuel, their annual interactions in light of their origin likely affected the way that Samuel acted in later years.
Hannah’s role could easily go unnoticed, but Samuel’s leadership sprouted from her attentiveness to her faith. Her family members and Eli acted as the leaders of Samuel and those who followed him in leadership. In likeness to Samuel, the modern leader must find sources of good influence in their immediate circles of influence.
. Frederick J. Gaiser, "Sarah, Hagar, Abraham – Hannah, Peninnah, Elkanah: Case Studies in Conflict," in Word & World no 3, vol. 34, (September 2014), 273.
. Ibid., 280.
. Ruth Fidler, “A Wife’s Vow – The Husband’s Woe? The Case of Hannah and Elkanah (1 Samuel 1,21. 23)” in Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 3, vol. 118, (2006), 381.
. Gnana Robinson, “Let Us Be Like the Nations: A Commentary on the Books of 1 & 2 Samuel,” in International Theological Commentary, eds. Fredrick Carlson Holmgren & George A. F. Knight, (Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993), 17.
. Gaiser., 281.
. Ibid., 282.
. Joan E. Cook, “Hannah’s Desire, God’s Design,” in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series, 282, eds. David J.A. Clines & Philip R. Davies (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 53.
. Michael Carasik, “Why Did Hannah Ask for ‘Seed of Men’?” in JBL 3, vol. 129, (2010), 436.
. Joan E. Cook, 11.
. Ibid., 14-27.
. Ibid., 14-15.
. Christopher Jero, “Mother-Child Narratives and the Kingdom of God: Authorial Use of Typology as an Interpretive Device in Samuel-Kings,” in Bulletin for Biblical Research 25.2, (2015), 160.
. J.P. Fokkelman, “Vow and Desire,” in Narrative Art & Poetry in the Books of Samuel, vol.4, (Assen, The Netherlands; Van Gorcum, 1993), 40.
. David Jobling, “1 Samuel” in Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry, eds. David W. Cotter, Jerome T. Walsh, & Chris Franke, (Collegeville, MN; The Liturgical Press, 1998), 133.
. Graeme Auld, “I & II Samuel: A Commentary” in The Old Testament Library, (Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox Press, 2011), 39.
. Joan E. Cook, 39.
Rev. Olivia Phillips