Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
THE FIRST BOOK OF SAMUEL
THE VERY REV. H. D. M. SPENCE, M.A.,
Dean of Gloucester.
INTRODUCTION TO THE FIRST BOOK OF SAMUEL.
THE FIRST BOOK OF SAMUEL.
I. The Contents and Design of the (First) Book of Samuel.—In the reign of King Rehoboam, the son of Solomon—at the instance, probably, of the chief of the then flourishing prophetic schools—a learned son of the prophets, one (his name is not recorded) who in later days would have been termed a scribe, undertook to compose, from materials preserved in these schools, a general history of the events connected with the chosen people for some 120-130 years prior to the accession of the great Solomon, whose memory was still fresh in Israel.
 The earlier date—that of the reign of Rehoboam—is adopted by Thenius, Keil, Erdmann in Lange, Commentary.
Dr. Payne Smith, for reasons suggested in his Introduction to the First Book of Samuel, in the Pulpit Commentary. puts the date a little later—somewhere in the time of Jehoshaphat.
The Rabbinical view is that Jeremiah was the author. Grotius adopts this view.
Stähelin suggests Hezekiah’s reign as the period of this composition.
Haevernich prefers the early years of Solomon.
Ewald places the first production as late as the second half of the Babylonian exile, but assumes that this was only a partial revision of a much earlier history.
It was well, surely, that the renowned centres of Hebrew education should possess a connected story of that marvellous century which had witnessed so mighty a change in the people. In its first years, Israel, without culture, almost without religion, seemed fast degenerating into a loose aggregation of Bedouin tribes, perpetually harassed by the neighbouring races, especially by a growing and powerful nation—the Philistines—who were constantly recruited from countries beyond the seas.
The last years of the same century witnessed a different state of things. Israel, having completely vanquished the neighbouring races, had developed into a treat and united nation. Its tribes were no longer confined to the narrow limits of Canaan; its influence was acknowledged over a great extent of the continent of South-western Asia. It had become, strange to relate, one of the great world-kingdoms, and under David and Solomon scarcely acknowledged a rival power in the East. The internal life of the people had undergone no less a change. Arts and literature were cultivated; great prosperity and a comparatively high state of culture and learning were to be found in the dominion ruled by the famous Solomon. An elaborate system of government had been established, and a powerful standing army, of which the twelve tribes formed the nucleus, gave a seeming stability to the marvellous structure of Hebrew power. On one of the old sacred hills, in the centre of the land originally conquered by the tribes, on a spot hallowed among the race by primeval tradition, the great king had built a temple to their God—the unseen Protector of the people—a building of magnificence and grandeur never surpassed, probably never equalled, in any land, though some 3,000 years have passed over the world since the dedication morning.
What strange chain of events had led up to this marvellous change in the condition of the Hebrew people? The sacred “scribe” begins his story of these “events” about 170 years before the death of Solomon, with a picture of the life of the people in the days of the aged Eli, high priest and judge of Israel.
1. THE DAYS OF ELI.—The introduction is abrupt. It says nothing of the early history of the old priestly judge, who, however, in his youth and vigorous manhood, must have been a distinguished hero and administrator; for his high post, which he retained to the end of his days, was not inherited by him, but won: Eli belonged only to the younger branch of the house of Aaron, and therefore the transfer to him of the high-priestly and judicial office, of which the historian tells us nothing, must have been the result of his own merit.
In his old age, as represented in this book, he appears as a benevolent, kindly man, but utterly incapable of controlling the wild passions of the people. His own sons, themselves priests, are represented as being covetous and utterly lawless; and a terrible picture of the shame and degradation of the people is painted for us in the brief, but vivid, recital of the doings at Shiloh in the old age of Eli, the high priest—in Shiloh, the chief religious centre of the race.
But though the people, as a whole, were deeply tainted, even in the highest ranks, with all the vices most hateful to the pure religion of their God, yet there were some families in Israel pious, simple, honest folk. Of these the writer gives us a specimen in the account of the house of Elkanah, and especially in the carefully drawn picture of the inner life of his wife, Hannah, the mother of Samuel.
At this time Israel was still contending for bare existence with the neighbouring nations and tribes; its very life and existence as a people (as has been related in another compilation, called the “Judges”) had long been threatened. One of these neighbouring peoples—the warlike Philistines—as it grew in power, directed its energies especially to the conquest of the Hebrew race, whom they seem to have hated with a fierce and jealous hatred.
In the old age of Eli, each year the Philistine encroachments seem to have grown more intolerable; each year the people seem to have been less capable of offering to these encroachments any effectual resistance. The patriot scribe who compiled our history, with stern grief, very shortly recounts a terrible sequence of national disasters—the utter defeat of his people; the loss of their prized and sacred symbol, the Ark of the covenant; the death of Eli, the high priest and judge, caused by shame and grief.
The nation had now reached its lowest pitch of degradation. It appeared as though nothing could now save Israel from being wiped out from among nations: for even worse, we know, happened to the “chosen race” than our historian tells us in this Book of Samuel. He recounts enough, surely, in his sorrowful narrative, for us to picture Israel’s deep distress—her armies beaten, her strong places taken, her people little better than trodden-down subjects of the idolatrous Philistines—but here he pauses; he refrains from dwelling on the sacking of Shiloh, on the destruction of the sanctuary, on the awful scenes which evidently followed the taking of the Ark in battle, and the death, through shame, of the aged Eli. It was a horror too great for the patriot scribe to dwell on. But Asaph, the psalmist, darkly speaks of this dread period in his mournful poem, where it speaks so eloquently of the time “when God greatly abhorred His Israel, so that He forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh.” The psalmist draws with a few masterly strokes a vivid picture of the utter desolation of the land—a prey to fire and sword:—
“He was wroth,
And greatly abhorred Israel:
So that He rejected the tabernacle in Shiloh—
The tent (which) He pitched among men.
And He gave His strength into captivity,
And His beauty into the adversary’s hand.
Yea, He gave over His people to the sword,
And was wroth with His inheritance.
Their young men the fire devoured,
And their maidens were not praised in the marriage song.
Their priests fell by the sword,
And their widows made no lamentation.”—Psalms 78.
The memory of the awful disaster seems never to have been lost in Israel. Far on in the history of the chosen people the prophet Jeremiah refers to this terrible judgment, which inaugurates in so stern a manner the public career of Samuel: “For go now to my place which was in Shiloh, where I made my name to dwell at the first, and see what I have done to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel” (Jeremiah 7:12. See also Ruth 4:14 and 1Samuel 26:6 of the same prophet).
2. THE DAYS OF SAMUEL.—The prophet-scribe proceeds then to give an account of the times which immediately succeed the catastrophe of Shiloh and the death of Eli. In the period of the deepest degradation of the people (again to use Asaph’s words in Psalms 78), “the Lord awakened as one out of sleep,” and gave them Samuel. To the divinely-guided labours of this prophet-judge—no doubt, after Moses, the greatest of the sons of Israel—was owing all the matchless prosperity which the people enjoyed in the latter part of David’s life, and during the reign of his son Solomon. Our historian—educated, no doubt, in one of Samuel’s prophet schools—gives us some account of the Restorer’s early days. Brought up by the high priest Eli, under the shadow of the sanctuary at Shiloh, the child Samuel was early trained to love the glorious national traditions of the past, and to share in the yet more glorious national hopes for the future. He was too—living as he did at Shiloh—a sorrowful witness of the moral degradation of the lives of the foremost men of the land. Their fatal example in Shiloh was but too faithfully copied in all the coasts of Israel. He shared, too, in the terrible disaster which overwhelmed high priest and sanctuary, and which threatened the total ruin of his nation. From that sad day Samuel, the pupil of Eli, became the foremost man among the scattered and disorganised tribes. For long years he laboured with all his great powers, ever helped with the consciousness that the Glorious Arm of the Holy One who loved Israel was beside him. For long years he laboured to restore the dying life of the people, by infusing into it the old trust in the Eternal Friend—by restoring throughout the harassed land a respect for morality, and a reverence for the religion of their fathers.
And to a certain extent Samuel was successful. His steady, ardent faith held together in their darkest hours the shattered remnant of the race, at a time when total absorption among the Philistines and the neighbouring tribes seemed imminent. But as he worked and prayed, slowly, against his own wishes and pre-conceptions, the conviction forced itself upon him that the whole existing system had become hopelessly unsound, and the community would only be saved by a totally new organisation.
 Ewald, History of Israel, Book II., Section III., chap. iii.—Samuel.
The historian, in simple, eloquent language, gives us the picture of Samuel’s inward struggles here, and relates how the noble-minded statesman, always under Divine guidance, founded the monarchy, chose a king, and quietly yielded up the supreme power in the State. Nor was this all; in his long wanderings up and down among the people, during the years of his toil in the course of his vast labour of religious restoration, he-had seen how deep was the ignorance of the children of Israel. In the troublous days of the judges the arts, music, poetry, history, were unknown. The chosen race cared for none of these things. In matters of religion a wild and gloomy superstition had taken the place of the pure and spiritual belief taught by Moses. To remedy this state of things, Samuel founded the schools of the prophets, in order that, by their agency, the mental condition of the people might be raised, and men trained to serve God in Church and State. In these schools the founder did not expect his students to receive the gift of inspiration. That, the most rare and precious of gifts, the great seer knew was to be obtained by no education or training, but was the gift of God alone, from whom it might come to a herdman, with only such learning as could be picked up in a village (Amos 7:14-15); he knew that it was never bestowed except for high purposes, and in cases where there was a special internal fitness on the part of the receiver. But the words prophet and prophecy have a wide meaning in Holy Scripture.
 Dean Payne Smith, Introduction to the Book of Samuel (Pulpit Comm.).
The instruction was essentially free, was open to all comers, and, when educated, the prophet might return to his farm, or to some occupation connected with city life. But he was from henceforth an educated man; and he had been taught too the nature of Jehovah: how He was to be worshipped, and what was the life which every member of a covenant nation ought to lead.
Thus Samuel’s schools not only raised Israel to a higher mental level, but were the great means of maintaining the worship of Jehovah among the people. As such, we find future prophets earnest in maintaining them. But the prophetic order had in Samuel’s mind another important function. It was to· be a permanent public power alongside of the priesthood which already existed, and of the kingly office which he, Samuel, had inaugurated. It was intended especially to offer to the latter, when inclining to tyranny, a powerful opposition, founded on the Divine Word. Throughout the history of Israel we find the prophetical order not merely the preachers of a high and pure morality, and a lofty, spiritual religion, but we see in them “the tribunes of the people,” the protectors of the oppressed subjects against the despotic monarch, the steady defenders of the down-trodden poor against the exacting and covetous rich.
 Dr. Erdmann in Lange, Introduction, Section IV.
In one sense, they tilled the position which the priesthood ought to have occupied, had the representatives of that order done their duty, but who—as Samuel well knew, not only from the past sad history of the period of the judges, but from his own personal observation at Shiloh during the life-time of Eli—had been tried, and had been found miserably wanting.
This was the first part of the prophetic historian’s work. Up to 1Samuel 7:14, the life and work of Samuel, the pupil of Eli, was his theme. Here a new period in the story of Israel begins. The king—the creation of Samuel—from henceforth fills the central position; on him now all eyes are turned. The judge of Israel—Samuel—with dignified composure quits the office he had so well filled, and makes room for the leader of the new Israel. In this place (1Samuel 7:14-17) the historian summarily condenses all that had still to be said about Samuel, and in the succeeding chapters the great judge only fills the subordinate, but still important, position which he may be said to have created—that of chief of the prophetic order.
3. THE DAYS OF SAUL.—The writer of our book now brings a new figure—King Saul—on the stage of his history; round this personage, for some seven chapters, the whole interest centres. Already a considerable change in the state of Israel has been effected during the quarter of a century of Samuel’s work and influence. The people had been able to stem the tide of invasion during that period; they had more than held their own. A feeling of national unity had once more been created, and the tribes agreed to acknowledge the object of their loved prophet’s choice as their king; and now, in the first records of the new state of things under a king, we see the result of Samuel’s toil in the spirit of energy with which the people seconded the efforts of Saul to free the land from the enemy. The chronicle of the years that followed is the chronicle principally of wars—successful wars, on the whole. Israel is depicted as slowly rising into a new independent position. One by one the great predatory tribes of the border lands, crushed and defeated, are driven back into their native deserts; the old nations of Canaan, who had begun in good earnest during the troublous times of the judges to assert anew their independence, fell again into servitude; while the most dangerous of all—the warlike Philistines—had to contend no longer for supremacy, but for very existence. Under the first king the military education of the people was completed. It has been in almost all ages customary to condemn the royal hero who led Israel with such consummate skill and splendid valour during the restless years of those wars, necessary for the existence of Israel as a distinct people; but this is by no means the spirit of the writer of the book. He represents Saul as a great hero, better fitted than any of his contemporaries for the royal dignity—represents him as possessing warlike courage and skill, indomitable energy to push his conquests in all directions, a sense of honour ever watchful for the welfare of his people against their many and powerful foes, zeal and tenacity in carrying out his plans. He reiterates that, under his successful generalship, a really heroic school of great warriors arose—the warriors who later formed and led the great conquering armies of David and Solomon; he dwells on his power of attracting noble souls to himself; and with loving pen he lingers on that infinite charm which the name “anointed of Jehovah” carried with it in all succeeding centuries, and shows us how this strange and mighty kingly influence was first inspired by King Saul. The writer closes the “Saul” division in 1Samuel 14:47-52, where, as before, in the case of Samuel (1Samuel 7:14-17), so now here, in the case of King Saul, he brings together everything that remains to be said in general about the first king—his prowess, his wars, even his family and private matters. From this point forward another—David—is chosen as the true central figure of the national history, round which all interest henceforth gathers. And here a tinge of sadness characterises the great national epic, for Saul, in spite of his great and heroic qualities, fell short of his true destiny; in spite of his skill and valour, he failed to satisfy the invisible Guardian of Israel. It is hard at this distance of time to trace the real causes which led to the fall, and to the final rejection of his house. He seems, however, to have sickened with that strange sickness which so often among men is the result of supreme power: the sickness of despotism—that terrible malady which has marred so many noble souls. Saul forgot altogether the Glorious Arm which originally lifted him up, and set him on his throne, and then fought for him, and strengthened him in all his ways. He ceased to hold communion with the Spirit of the Eternal God, and so the Spirit left him. The writer then begins the fourth division of his history, in which the central figure is no longer Saul, but the new choice of the Lord—the brave shepherd-boy, the loving friend of Saul and his noble son Jonathan, the gallant chief, the king of the future—David, the son of Jesse. Throughout the remaining portion of our book (1 Samuel), the gradual ascent of David, through conflict and suffering, to the throne, along with the slow heartrending descent of Saul, till his sorrowful death in battle, is the writer’s theme.
 Dr. Erdmann in Lange, Comm.: Introduction to the Book of Samuel, Section IV.  Ewald. History of Israel, Book III,—B. David, L
 Ewald. History of Israel, Book III,—B. David, L
4. THE DAYS OF DAVID.—In this First Book of Samuel we have only the memoirs of some of the early days of the mighty king, the days of his hard and painful trials; but it was in these times that the foundation stories of that character, loved of God, were laid. It was in the long wanderings with the ever-increasing band of his devoted men, who followed him in his exile, that he first showed that firm and unshaken trust in the Lord, who had chosen him out of the sheepfolds to be His servant—that simple, pure striving never to be untrue to Him—those longing efforts to return to Him after error and transgression—the trust, the striving, and the efforts, which were the mainsprings of that chequered, but still glorious, golden-hued life. We see, too, in the prophet-scribe’s selection of passages out of the first period of David’s career (in the First Book of Samuel), how deep and true was the enthusiasm which the young chieftain kindled in all those Jewish heroes who—driven from Saul’s court by Saul’s fatal mistakes—rallied round the hero, the friend, and pupil of Samuel. With rare power, by a few master-touches in the simple narrative, the scribe-writer shows us how the name of David became dearer and ever dearer to the people; and although the last chapter of our book ends with the account of the great military disaster which closed the reign of Saul, the reader feels no apprehension any longer for the fate of the chosen people, knowing that David was ready to step into the breach, conscious that to such a hero-king—strong in the devoted love of the nation—a splendid future indeed lay before Israel. That future is painted in the Second Book of Samuel, which describes at length the splendour and glory of the reign of David, the man after God’s own heart.
In this inspired chronicle of our book the youth of Israel, in the days of the kings, would find an answer to the question, “What changed their nation from ‘the loose aggregate of Bedouin tribes’ of the days of Eli into the mighty, world-famed Israel of the magnificent Solomon?” It was a noble story, and one well fitted to inspire a new, bright confidence in the mighty arm of Jehovah.
II. The Original Sources of the Book.—Two well-known passages in the Book of Chronicles—referred to below—inform us of certain original writings which issued most probably from the prophetic schools founded by Samuel. These writings, or memoirs, without doubt, form the basis of the two Books of Samuel.
To these written records we must add a mass of well-authenticated oral traditions, which—assuming the Books of Samuel were written, as we suppose, in the reign of King Rehoboam, or even a little later, in the reign of Jehoshaphat—must have been well known to the prophetic scribes. We read also in 1Chronicles 27:24 of an historical work relating to the government of David, entitled, “The Chronicles of King David” (Diaries or Annals of King David). We may safely infer that all the principal events of his reign were included in these chronicles. These annals—probably! of a statistical, historical character, since the reference to them occurs in the midst of lists of state and military officials—were, no doubt, also in the possession of the writer of the Books of Samuel.
 Keil, Introdwtioa to the Books of Samuel.
In 1Chronicles 29:29 the following statement concerning contemporary literature occurs: “Now the acts of David the king, behold they are written in the acts of Samuel the seer (the Roëh), and in the acts of Nathan the prophet (the Nabi), and in the acts of Gad the seer (the Chozeh).” We conclude then that for the narrative of Eli’s times, for the details respecting himself, for much of Saul’s story, for many of the events related (in the First Book of Samuel) of David’s early career—the principal written authority was the Books of the Acts of Samuel the Seer (Roëh). The acts of Gad the seer (Chozeh) were, there is little doubt, the foundation of a large portion of the narrative of the desert wanderings of David. Nathan the prophet (Nabi) supplies materials for the life and work of David in the so-called Second Book of Samuel. Each of the prophets, it is evident, recorded the events of his own times. But besides these written contemporary memoirs, and the well-authenticated oral traditions which were current in his time, the prophet-writer has incorporated in his history certain songs and verses of songs from poems, such as the “Song of Hannah,” “the folk-song respecting the victories of Saul,” and the still more glorious deeds of David; and notably, in the second book, “the elegy of David on Saul and Jonathan,” taken directly from the Book of the Upright (Yashar); he has also made use of certain psalms and songs composed by David.
Guided by the “Spirit of the Lord,” the unknown son of the prophets in his college home—possibly in the Naioth of Ramah—out of these materials made his selection, and wrote down, for the teaching of the Israel of his own time and—unconsciously, no doubt, as far as he was concerned—for the instruction of a long series of generations yet unborn, the strange story of the rise of his people to grandeur and to power.
1. DATE OF WRITING.—In the first section of this Introduction the probable date has been assumed to be the reign of King Rehoboam, the son of Solomon (see too the Note on p. 1). There are a few notes of time in the two Books of Samuel, which were most probably written or compiled by one hand—for instance, the statement, “Ziklag pertaineth unto the kings of Judah unto this day” (1Samuel 27:6), plainly tells us the separation of Israel had already taken place; in the six stories respecting some of the principal heroes of David’s army, at the end of the Second Book (1Samuel 23:8-29), the compiler is evidently uncertain as to their proper place in the life of David: thus a considerable time must have elapsed before the tradition of the exact period when these events happened could have died out. The chronology, too, of Saul’s reign is also indefinite. All this points to a date for the composition some time after David’s death. But, on the other hand, the language is pure, and virtually free from Chaldaisms and later forms of Hebrew, being in this respect different from the Books of Kings, where the Hebrew used belonged evidently to a later date. There are absolutely no hints as to the subsequent disasters of the people and the exile. Thenius, Keil, and Erdmann place the composition in the times of Rehoboam; Dean Payne Smith, a little later, probably in the days of King Jehoshaphat. On the whole, it seems most probable that in the latter days of King Rehoboam our book was compiled in its present form.
2. CHARACTER OF THE BOOK.—It is more than a mere historic record of the fortunes of Israel during the momentous period of their rapid rise from semi-barbarism to a state of comparatively high civilisation—more than a brilliant and vivid biography of certain of the most gifted and famous of the children of Israel: Eli, Samuel, David, and Saul. Careful students of the book have particularly noticed its deep religious spirit, in which respect it is said to take the highest rank among the historical books of the Old Testament Samuel—by far the most prominent figure—is throughout the instrument of the Divine working; Saul the king is anointed by Divine command, and prospers with his doings only so long as “the Spirit of the Lord” remains with him; the instant that “Spirit,” whose blessed influence was quenched by Saul’s self-will and reliance, departs, success departs too from Saul’s armies, and peace and prosperity from his house. From the sad moment of the separation from the king of the Spirit of the Lord, the course of the royal life is downwards. No gallantry or determination can avert the catastrophe, and the life of the disobedient “anointed of the Lord” closes in clouds and thick darkness.
 Dr. Erdmann, in Lange, Comm.: Introduction, Section IV.
His divinely appointed successor, in his first great deed of arms, and in his subsequent military successes. is ever assisted to victory by the “glorious arm” of the Lord; by the same protection he is preserved through numberless persecutions and deadly perils, and is led higher and higher by the same Almighty Hand, till, without crime or plotting, he mounts his fallen predecessor’s throne.
Throughout the book, the work and power of a new order or class in Israel is dwelt on with peculiar insistence. The first notice of this “order of prophets”—which was the name by which those enrolled in its ranks were known—is made in the compilation now under our consideration. And that great servant of the Lord, Samuel, who was the mainspring of all the mighty changes wrought at this period among the people, was undoubtedly the founder of the famous “order.” From the period of the death of Eli, related in the early chapters of this book, for more than 800 years, during all the changing fortunes of the people, the prophetic order continued an enduring public power. It acted as the mediating agency between God and His people, and was the organ of the Spirit of the Lord to the children of Israel during the whole period of the monarchy and the captivity. After the sorrowful return from Babylon, the priesthood—which from the days of Eli onward had continued to exist, though shorn of its old splendour and influence—seems to have recovered some of its ancient power and consideration, and during the last melancholy age of the existence of Israel as a people once more filled the chief position in the nation.
Throughout the Book of Samuel the influence of the new order of prophets is depicted as ever growing. Samuel, the prophet and seer, chooses the first king, and during Saul’s period of loyalty to God stands by him as friend and counsellor. The successor to the faithless Saul is selected and anointed again by the prophet Samuel, and the young “anointed of the Lord,” David, receives his training and education evidently in Samuel’s prophetic school. All the days of Samuel’s life, the seer remained David’s counsellor and friend. When Samuel had passed away, another of the order, Gad the seer, trained by Samuel, took his place by David’s side; and later we see the prophet Nathan occupying the same position when David had become a mighty monarch. Here and there, too, in our book, we come upon casual references to the growing influence of the prophetic order; and it was, be it remembered, the spirit of the first chief of the prophets that King Saul, in his dire necessity, invoked as the only Being who could give him real help or true advice. The documents referred to above (Section II.) as the main sources of the writing were mostly, if not entirely, the work of distinguished and well-known members of the great prophetic schools; and we may, therefore, with some certainty conclude that this Book of Samuel—at least, the greater part—was taken from a tradition of which the centre and starting-point was in the mighty and influential prophetic order.
 Erdmann, Introduction to Samuel, Section IV.
III. Messianic Teaching.—In the Book of Samuel there is little which directly touches upon Messianic hopes, although the history is frequently quoted in the New Testament, especially in the writings of St. Paul and St. Luke.
Two fine passages, written by contemporary theologians of our own Church of England, sum up the Messianic teaching of our book.
“It is the first book in Holy Scripture which declares the incarnation of Christ as King in a particular family—the family of David. It is the first book in Scripture which announced that the kingdom founded in Him, raised up from the seed of David, would be universal and everlasting. Here also the prophetic song of Hannah gives the clue to the interpretation of this history. ‘The Lord,’ she says, ‘shall judge the ends of the earth,’ that is, His kingdom shall be established in all nations. ‘He shall give strength unto His King, and exalt the horn of His Anointed’—the Messiah, or Christ, who was come of David—and sit on His throne for ever.”—Bishop Wordsworth.
“It was thus Samuel’s lot to sketch out two of the main lines of thought which converge in Christ. The idea of the prophet and the idea of the king gain under him their shape and proportion. This is especially true as regards the latter. The king is ever in Samuel’s eyes ‘the Messiah,’ Jehovah’s Anointed One. Again and again the word occurs with marked prominence. It was the pregnant germ of a great future with the Jew. He never lost the idea, but carried it onward and onward, with David’s portrait for its centre, as of one in whom Messiah’s lineaments were marked in outline—feebly indeed, and imperfectly, but with the certainty that a Messiah would come who would fill up with glorious beauty that faint, blurred sketch.”—Dean Payne Smith.
IV. The Name.—Abarbanel writes—“All the contents of both books may, in a certain sense, be referred to Samuel: even the deeds of Saul and David, because both, having been anointed by Samuel, were, so to speak, the works of his hands.” In other words, the writing is called after Samuel not because he wrote it all, but on account of it describing his great work for the chosen people. The two Books of Samuel really form one book. In Hebrew MSS. they form one undivided work, and are called “the Book of Samuel.” The present division in the Hebrew Bible into two books under the same name dates only from the sixteenth century, and was introduced by Daniel Bomberg, after the example of the LXX. and Vulg. Versions.
In the LXX. and Vulg., however, these books are reckoned as belonging to the Book of the Kings. In the LXX. they are called “the Book of the Kingdoms.”
Now there was a certain man of Ramathaimzophim, of mount Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephrathite:(1) Now there was a certain man.—Literally, And there was, &c. These introductory words do not signify that this history is the continuation of the Book of Judges or of any preceding writing. It is a common historical introductory formula. We find it at the commencement of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Kings, Esther, Ezra, Ezekiel, &c. The circumstances under which this record was probably compiled are discussed elsewhere.
Of Ramathaim-zophim.—The name Ramathaim—literally, The Two Ramahs—is the dual of the well-known Ramah, the appellation by which this city is usually known. The old city was, no doubt, built on two hills, which looked one on the other: hence perhaps the name Zophim, the watchers. Possibly at an early date watch-towers or outlooks, to enable the citizens to guard against surprise, were built on the summit of these hills. Either of these suppositions would account for the suggestive name by which Ramah was once known, the “Ramahs of the Watchers.”
Others would connect the appellation “Zophim” with the family of Zuph, from whom Elkanah descended. (See 1Chronicles 6:35, and 1Samuel 9:5, where the land of Zuph is mentioned.) An interesting. though fanciful, derivation refers Zophim, watchers, to the “prophet-watchmen” of the house of Israel, as Ramah in after years was a school of the prophets.
On the whole, the simplest and least strained explanation is the one given above, which refers the name to the hills so placed that they watched one another, or better still, to the watch-towers built at an early date on the two summits.
Ramah lay among the mountains of Ephraim, which extended into the territory of Benjamin, in which tribe the city of Ramah lay.
His name was Elkanah.—Elkanah, the father of the future prophet-judge, was a Levite of the family of Kohath (compare the genealogy given here with 1Chronicles 6:22). He is here termed an Ephrathite: that is, an Ephraimite, because, as far as his civil standing was concerned, he belonged to the tribe of Ephraim.
Some have found a difficulty in reconciling the Levitical descent of Samuel with his dedication to the Lord by his mother, supposing that in the case of a Levite this would be unnecessary; but the dedication of Samuel, it should be remembered, was a life-long one, whereas the Levitical service only began when the Levite was twenty-five years old; and even then the service was not continuous.
And he had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah: and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.(2) And he had two wives.—The primeval Divine ordination, we know, gave its sanction alone to monogamy. The first who seems to have violated God’s original ordinance appears to have been Lamech, of the family of Cain (Genesis 4:19). The practice apparently had become general throughout the East when the Mosaic Law was formulated. In this Divine code it is noticeable that while polygamy is accepted as a custom everywhere prevailing, it is never approved. The laws of Moses—as in the case of another universally accepted practice, slavery—simply seek to restrict and limit it by wise and humane regulations. The inspired writer in this narrative of the home life of Elkanah of “Ramah of the Watchers” quietly shows up the curse which almost invariably attended this miserable violation of the relations of the home life to which in the old Eden days the eternal law had given its sanction and blessing. The Old Testament Book contains many of these gently-worded but fire-tipped rebukes of sin and frailty—sins condoned and even approved by the voice of mankind.
Peninnah.—Hannah signifies grace or favour, and has ever been a favourite name among the women of the East. It was the name of the Punic Queen Dido’s sister, Anna. The traditional mother of the Virgin Mary was named Anna. (See Luke 2:36.) Peninnah is translated by some scholars “coral;” according to others it signifies “pearl.” We have adopted the same name under the modem “Margaret.”
And this man went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto the LORD of hosts in Shiloh. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the LORD, were there.(3) Went up out of his city yearly.—The He brew expression rendered yearly, is found in Exodus 13:10, and there refers to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Passover. There is little doubt but that this great national festival is here referred to. It was the Passover that the whole family were accustomed to keep at the sanctuary of the Eternal. The writer places in strong contrast the piety and devotion which evidently still existed in the family life of many in Israel with the fearful disorders and crime which disfigured the priestly life in those days. There were not a few, doubtless, in Israel who, like Elkanah and his house, honoured the name of the Lord, while the recognised rulers and religious guides of the people, like the sons of Eli the high priest, too often lived in open and notorious sin.
Unto the Lord of hosts.—This is the first time in the Old Testament Book that we find the well-known appellation of the Eternal “Jehovah Sabaoth,” Lord of hosts.
It is computed that this title of God occurs 260 times in the Old Testament, but it is not found in any of the books written or compiled before this time. In the New Testament it is only once used (see James 5:4).
The glorious title, with which Isaiah, who uses it some sixty times, and Jeremiah some eighty times, have especially made us familiar, represented Jehovah, the Eternal One, as ruler over the heavenly hosts: that is, over the angels and the stars; the stars being conceived to be the dwelling-places of these deathless beings.
The idea of their invisible God-Friend being the sovereign Master of a host of those innumerable glorious beings usually known as angels, or messengers, was no strange one to Hebrew thought. For instance, already in the story of Jacob we find the patriarch calling the angels who appeared to him the “camp of God”(Genesis 32:1-2).
In the blessing of Moses in the magnificent description of the giving of the law on Sinai (Deuteronomy 33:2), we read of “ten thousands of saints” (Kodesh). The glorious Angel who allowed Joshua to worship him under the towers of Jericho (Joshua 5:14) speaks of himself as “captain or prince of the host of the Lord.” It is especially noteworthy that here in these Books of Samuel, which tell of the establishment of an earthly sovereignty over the tribes, this stately title of the real King in Israel, which afterwards became so general, first appears. It was the solemn protest of Samuel and his school against any eclipsing of the mighty but invisible sovereignty of the Eternal by the passing splendours and the outward pomp of an earthly monarchy set up over the people.
It told also the strange and the alien peoples that the God who loved Israel was, too, the star ruler, the Lord of the whole universe, visible and invisible.
In Shiloh.—That is, rest. This sacred city was situated in Ephraim. It became the sanctuary of Israel in the time of Joshua, who pitched the tent of the Tabernacle there. Shiloh, as the permanent seat of the Ark and the Tabernacle, was the religious centre of Israel during the whole period of the judges. On rare occasions the sacred tent, and all or part of the holy furniture, seems to have been temporarily moved to such places as Mizpah and Bethel, but its regular home was Shiloh. At the time of the birth of Samuel, and during his younger days, the high priest resided there, and the religious families of the people were in the habit of making an annual pilgrimage to this, the central sanctuary of the worship of Jehovah.
The priests of the Lord.—The mention of these two priests of the Lord by no means suggests that the ritual of the Tabernacle had become so meagre and deficient as only to require the services of two or three ministers: indeed, the contrary is signified by the description of one portion only of the ceremonies given in the next chapter. These two, Hophni and Phinehas, are here alluded to specially by name. First, on account of their rank and connection with the high priest Eli, to whose high dignity one of the brothers would probably succeed. Secondly, because these unhappy men figured in one of the great historical disasters of the people. Thirdly, the writer, out of many servants of the sanctuary, chose two prominent figures to illustrate the terrible state of corruption into which the priesthood had fallen. Bishop Wordsworth here draws a curious but suggestive lesson. “Although Hophni and Phinehas were among the priests, yet Elkanah and Hannah did not separate themselves from the service of the sanctuary when they ministered—a lesson against schism.”
But unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah: but the LORD had shut up her womb.(5) A worthy portion.—Literally, one portion for two persons: i.e., a double portion. It was an expression of his deep love for her. As Von Gerlach puts it, “Thou art as dear to me as if thou hadst borne me a child.” Some scholars would translate the difficult Hebrew expression here by, “But to Hannah he gave a portion of anger or sadness,” thus intensifying the natural sorrow of Hannah by representing her husband as unkind. The Vulgate, Luther, and Abarbanel favour this singular interpretation; but the one adopted by the English Version, and explained above, is in all respects grammatically and exegetically to be preferred.
And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the LORD had shut up her womb.(6) And her adversary also provoked her sore.—Jealousy, grief, anger, malice, the many bitter fruits of this way of living, so different to God’s original appointment, here show themselves. The one sin of polygamy poisons the whole home life of the family, in all other respects apparently a quiet, Godfearing, orderly household.
And as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the LORD, so she provoked her; therefore she wept, and did not eat.(7) And as he did so year by year.—That is, Elkanah, on the occasion of every yearly visit to the national sanctuary, was in the habit of publicly giving the childless Hannah the double gift, to show his undiminished love; while the happier mother of his children, jealous of her rival, every year chose this solemn occasion of offering thank-offerings before the Tabernacle, especially to taunt the childless wife, no doubt referring the absence of children, which among the mothers of Israel was considered so deep a calamity, to the special auger of God.
Then said Elkanah her husband to her, Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons?(8) Than ten sons.—Merely a round number to express many. The simple narration evidently came from Hannah, who, no doubt, in after years loved to dwell on her past sorrowful life, contrasted with her present strange blessedness as mother of the Restorer of the people.
So Hannah rose up after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk. Now Eli the priest sat upon a seat by a post of the temple of the LORD.(9) After they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk.—This was the solemn sacrificial meal, at which the whole family were present.
Now Eli the priest sat upon a seat.—Eli, the high priest of Israel at this time, was a descendant of Ithamar, the younger son of Aaron (see 1Chronicles 24:3, where it is stated that his great-grandson, Ahimelech, was of the sons of Ithamar). The circumstances which led to the transfer of the dignity from the line of Eleazar, who succeeded his father Aaron in the office, are unknown. It has been suggested that at the death of the last high priest of the line of Eleazar, Ozi, there was no son of sufficient age and experience to succeed, and so the office passed to the next of kin, Eli, a son of the house of Ithamar. (See Josephus, Antt. v., 2, § 5.)
The seat upon which Eli is represented as usually sitting (see 1Samuel 4:18) was evidently a chair or throne of state, where the high-priestly judge sat at certain times to administer justice and to transact business. The Hebrew word rendered here “post,” and the expression “doors of the house” (1Samuel 3:15), seem to suggest that now a permanent home had been erected for the sanctuary: something of a building, possibly of stone, surrounding the Tabernacle had been built.
The “temple of the Lord,” rather, palace of the Lord, so called not from any external magnificence but as being the earthly place where at times the visible glory of the Eternal King of Israel, the Shekinah, was pleased to manifest itself.
And she vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no rasor come upon his head.(11) And she vowed a vow.—The vow of Hannah contained two solemn promises—the one pledged the son she prayed for to the service of the Eternal all the days of his life. The mother looked on to a life-long service in the ritual of the Tabernacle for him, but the Being who heard her prayer destined her son for higher work; in his case the priestly duties were soon merged in the far more responsible ones of the prophet—the great reformer of the people. The second promise undertook that he should be a Nazarite. Now the Nazariteship included three things—the refraining from intoxicating drinks, the letting the hair grow, and the avoiding all ceremonial defilement by corpses even of the nearest kin. Samuel was what the Talmud calls a perpetual Nazarite.
These strange restrictions and customs had an inner signification. The abstinence from wine and strong drink typified that the Nazarite determined to avoid all sensual indulgence which might cloud the mind and render the man unfit for prayer to, and work for, the Lord; the avoiding contact with the dead was a perpetual outward protest that the vower of the solemn vow renounced all moral defilement, that he gave up every thing which could stain and soil the life consecrated to the Eternal’s service; the untouched hair, which here is especially mentioned, was a public protest that the consecrated one had determined to refrain from intercourse with the world, and to devote the whole strength and fulness of life to the Lord’s work. The LXX. (Greek) Version here inserts the words, “and he shall drink neither wine nor strong drink,” wishing to bring the passage into stricter accordance with Numbers 6. The original Hebrew text, however, contents itself with specifying merely the outward sign of the untouched hair, by which these solemnly consecrated ones were publicly known.
Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken.(13) Now Hannah, she spake in her heart.—Eli was watching the worshippers, and, as Bunsen well remarks, was struck with dismay at her silent earnestness, such heartfelt prayer being apparently not usual at that time, and remembering the condition of the moral life in the precincts of the sanctuary over which he ruled with so weak and vacillating a rule, and how sadly frequent were disorders at the sacrificial meal, at once suspected that the weeping, praying one was a drunken woman. He, however, quickly atoned for his unworthy suspicion.
And Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee.(14) And Eli said unto her.—The LXX. or Septuagint attempts to soften the harshness of the high priest to Hannah by inserting before Eli the word “servant,” or “young man,” thus suggesting that the hard, unjust words were spoken by an attendant. But it is clear that the English Version represents the true text here, for in the next verse Hannah replies directly to Eli with the simple words “No, my lord.”
And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the LORD.(15) NO, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit . . .—Calvin, quoted by Erdmann, well remarks here:—“Consider the modesty of Hannah, who, though she had received injury from the high priest, yet answers with reverence and humility.”
On these words of Hannah the Talmud says:—“Some think that Hannah spake in the following sense. Thou art neither lord, nor does the Holy Spirit rest upon thee, because thou dost suspect me in this matter, and hast formed such an uncharitable opinion of me. Neither the Shekinah nor the Holy Spirit are with thee.”—Treatise Berachoth, fol. 31, Colossians 2.
Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him.(17) The God of Israel grant thee thy petition.—The character of Eli is a deeply interesting one. Weak and over-indulgent to his headstrong, wicked sons, probably too self-indulgent, and a lover of ease, yet in the brief record we possess we catch eight of not a few noble thoughts and wishes: flashes of true nobility, real generosity and self-forgetfulness, of intense, devoted patriotism, light up a life which closed in failure and disaster. Here the old man is quick to see that he had been insulting a blameless woman, so at once he retracts his cruel accusation, and silently accuses himself of precipitancy and injustice in his graceful, courteous words of farewell; adding too his fatherly wish, he almost promises that what she wished so ardently should be hers.
And she said, Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.(18) Let thine handmaid find grace.—In other words, Hannah’s reply to his loving farewell asked the old man to think kindly of her, and to pray for her with his mighty power of prayer.
Did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.—A beautiful example of the composing influence of prayer. “Hannah had cast her burden upon the Lord, and so her own spirit was relieved of its load. She now returned to the family feast, and ate her portion with a cheerful heart.”—Speaker’s Commentary.
And they rose up in the morning early, and worshipped before the LORD, and returned, and came to their house to Ramah: and Elkanah knew Hannah his wife; and the LORD remembered her.(19) And they rose up.—Another notice of the pious customs of the house of Elkanah. This is a striking picture of one of the many holy homes in Israel, even in the wild, disorderly days of the Judges, and of the deep degradation of the priests of the sanctuary.
“The house at Ramah,” the usual short name by which the city, “The Ramahs of the Watchers,” Ramathaim-zophim, was known.
Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the LORD.(20) And called his name Samuel.—The words translated “because I have asked him of the Lord,” do not explain the meaning of the name “Samuel·” they simply give the reason for his mother so calling him. The name Sh’muel (Samuel) is formed from the Hebrew words Sh’mua El (a Deo exauditus), “heard of God.”
And the man Elkanah, and all his house, went up to offer unto the LORD the yearly sacrifice, and his vow.(21) And his vow.—Elkanah too had vowed a vow unto the Lord, in case his wife Hannah should have a son. It has been remarked that vows are characteristic of that particular age of the Judges; for instance, we have detailed accounts of Samson and Jephthan’s vows, the oath in the Benjamite vow, &c.
But Hannah went not up; for she said unto her husband, I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the LORD, and there abide for ever.(22) Until the child be weaned.—Weaning, we know, took place very late among the Hebrews. From 2 Maccabees 7:27, it appears that Hebrew mothers were in the habit of suckling their children for three years. The mother proposed, when the weaning had taken place, to leave her son as a servant of the sanctuary, there to remain all his life.
On the late period of weaning among the Oriental nations, Kalisch refers to the Persian custom of suckling boys two years and two months, and girls two years.
And Elkanah her husband said unto her, Do what seemeth thee good; tarry until thou have weaned him; only the LORD establish his word. So the woman abode, and gave her son suck until she weaned him.(23) Only the Lord establish his word.—No special word or promise of the Eternal in the case of the infant Samuel is recorded in this history; but there was an ancient Rabbinical tradition that a direct revelation respecting the future destiny of Samuel was made. “The Bath-kol (Daughter of the Voice) went forth, saying, There shall arise a just one, whose name shall be Samuel. Then every mother who bore a son called him Samuel; but when they saw his actions, they said, This is not Samuel. But when this one was born, they said, This is that Samuel, and this is what the Scripture means when it says, ‘The Lord confirmed his word that Samuel may be that just one.’”—Rashi.
If we decline to accept the Rabbinical tradition, Bunsen’s simple comment will explain the difficult words of the text, “establish his word”: that is, may the Lord fulfil what He designs with him, and has promised by his birth.
And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bullocks, and one ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine, and brought him unto the house of the LORD in Shiloh: and the child was young.(24, 25) With three bullocks . . . And they slew a bullock.—There at first sight seems a discrepancy here, and the LXX. translators seem to have felt it, for they read, instead of “three bullocks,” “a bullock of three years old.” The true explanation, however, is that the one bullock alluded to in 1Samuel 1:25 was the burnt offering by which the child was consecrated to the Lord. The other two were the yearly festival offering, the presentation of which being the usual gift, the chronicler did not think it here worth while to mention again.
And she said, Oh my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the LORD.(26) O my lord, as thy soul liveth.—“This oath is peculiar to the Books of Samuel, in which it occurs six times, and to the Books of Kings, in which, however, it is found only once. The similar oath, as Pharaoh liveth (by the life of Pharaoh), occurs in Genesis 42:15; and as the Lord liveth is found almost exclusively in the books of which Judges is the first and 2 Kings the last, being especially frequent in the Books of Samuel. This accords with the fact of the age of the Judges and Saul being characteristically the age of vows.”—Speaker’s Commentary.
Therefore also I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the LORD. And he worshipped the LORD there.(28) I have lent him to the Lord.—The rendering of the Hebrew here, “I have lent,” and in Exodus 12:36, is false. The translation should run: “Therefore I also make him one asked of the Lord; all the days that he liveth he is asked of the Lord.” The sense is: “The Lord gave him to me, and now I have returned him whom I obtained by prayer to the Lord, as one asked or demanded.”
And he worshipped the Lord there.—“He,” that is, the boy Samuel: thus putting his own child-seal to his mother’s gift of himself to God.
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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