Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible
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:
An Exposition, With Practical Observations, of The First Book of Samuel
This book, and that which follows it, bear the name of Samuel in the title, not because he was the penman of them (except of so much of them as fell within his own time, to the twenty-fifth chapter of the first book, in which we have an account of his death), but because the first book begins with a large account of him, his birth and childhood, his life and government; and the rest of these two volumes that are denominated from him contains the history of the reigns of Saul and David, who were both anointed by him. And, because the history of these two kings takes up the greatest part of these books, the Vulgar latin calls them the First and Second Books of the Kings, and the two that follow the Third and Fourth, which the titles in our English Bibles take notice of with an alias: otherwise called the First Book of the Kings, etc. The Septuagint calls them the first and second Book of the Kingdoms. It is needless to contend about it, but there is no occasion to vary from the Hebrew verity. These two books contain the history of the last two of the judges, Eli and Samuel, who were not, as the rest, men of war, but priests (and so much of them is an appendix to the book of Judges), and of the first two of the kings, Saul and David, and so much of them is an entrance upon the history of the kings. They contain a considerable part of the sacred history, are sometimes referred to in the New Testament, and often in the titles of David’s Psalms, which, if placed in their order, would fall in these books. It is uncertain who was the penman of them; it is probable that Samuel wrote the history of his own time, and that, after him, some of the prophets that were with David (Nathan as likely as any) continued it. This first book gives us a full account of Eli’s fall and Samuel’s rise and good government, ch. 1-8. Of Samuel’s resignation of the government and Saul’s advancement and mal-administration, ch. 9–15. The choice of David, his struggles with Saul, Saul’s ruin at last, and the opening of the way for David to the throne, ch. 16–31. And these things are written for our learning.
The history of Samuel here begins as early as that of Samson did, even before he was born, as afterwards the history of John the Baptist and our blessed Saviour. Some of the scripture-worthies drop out of the clouds, as it were, and their first appearance is in their full growth and lustre. But others are accounted for from the birth, and from the womb, and from the conception. What God says of the prophet Jeremiah is true of all: "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee," Jer. 1:5. But some great men were brought into the world with more observation than others, and were more early distinguished from common persons, as Samuel for one. God, in this matter, acts as a free agent. The story of Samson introduces him as a child of promise, Jdg. 13. But the story of Samuel introduces him as a child of prayer. Samson’s birth was foretold by an angel to his mother; Samuel was asked of God by his mother. Both together intimate what wonders are produced by the word and prayer. Samuel’s mother was Hannah, the principal person concerned in the story of this chapter. I. Here is her affliction—she was childless, and this affliction aggravated by her rival’s insolence, but in some measure balanced by her husband’s kindness (v. 1-8). II. The prayer and vow she made to God under this affliction, in which Eli the high priest at first censured her, but afterwards encouraged her (v. 9–18). III. The birth and nursing of Samuel (v. 19–23) IV. The presenting of him to the Lord (v. 24–28).
We have here an account of the state of the family into which Samuel the prophet was born. His father’s name was Elkanah, a Levite, and of the family of the Kohathites (the most honourable house of that tribe) as appears, 1 Chr. 6:33, 34. His ancestor Zuph was an Ephrathite, that is, of Bethlehem-Judah, which was called Ephrathah, Ruth, 1:2. There this family of the Levites was first seated, but one branch of it, in process of time, removed to Mount Ephraim, from which Elkanah descended. Micah’s Levite came from Bethlehem to Mount Ephraim, Jdg. 17:8. Perhaps notice is taken of their being originally Ephrathites to show their alliance to David. This Elkanah lived at Ramah, or Ramathaim, which signifies the double Ramah, the higher and lower town, the same with Arimathea of which Joseph was, here called Ramathaim-zophim. Zophim signifies watchmen; probably they had one of the schools of the prophets there, for prophets are called watchmen: the Chaldee paraphrase calls Elkanah a disciple of the prophets. But it seems to me that it was in Samuel that prophecy revived, before his time there being, for a great while, no open vision, ch. 3:1. Nor is there any mention of a prophet of the Lord from Moses to Samuel, except Jdg. 6:8. So that we have no reason to think that there was any nursery or college of prophets here till Samuel himself founded one, ch. 19:19, 20. This is the account of Samuel’s parentage, and the place of his nativity. Let us now take notice of the state of the family.
I. It was a devout family. All the families of Israel should be so, but Levites’ families in a particular manner. Ministers should be patterns of family religion. Elkanah went up at the solemn feasts to the tabernacle at Shiloh, to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts. I think this is the first time in scripture that God is called the Lord of hosts—Jehovah Sabaoth, a name by which he was afterwards very much called and known. Probably Samuel the prophet was the first that used this title of God, for the comfort of Israel, when in his time their hosts were few and feeble and those of their enemies many and mighty; then it would be a support to them to think that the God they served was Lord of hosts, of all the hosts both of heaven and earth; of them he has a sovereign command, and makes what use he pleases of them. Elkanah was a country Levite, and, for aught that appears, had not any place or office which required his attendance at the tabernacle, but he went up as a common Israelite, with his own sacrifices, to encourage his neighbours and set them a good example. When he sacrificed he worshipped, joining prayers and thanksgivings with his sacrifices. In this course of religion he was constant, for he went up yearly. And that which made it the more commendable in him was, 1. That there was a general decay and neglect of religion in the nations. Some among them worshipped other gods, and the generality were remiss in the service of the God of Israel, and yet Elkanah kept his integrity; whatever others did, his resolution was that he and his house should serve the Lord. 2. That Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, were the men that were now chiefly employed in the service of the house of God; and they were men that conducted themselves very ill in their place, as we shall find afterwards; yet Elkanah went up to sacrifice. God had then tied his people to one place and one altar, and forbidden them, under any pretence whatsoever, to worship elsewhere, and therefore, in pure obedience to that command, he attended at Shiloh. If the priests did not do their duty, he would do his. Thanks be to God, we, under the gospel, are not tied to any one place or family; but the pastors and teachers whom the exalted Redeemer has given to his church are those only whose ministration tends to the perfecting of the saints and the edifying of the body of Christ, Eph. 4:11, 12. None have dominion over our faith; but our obligation is to those that are the helpers of our holiness and joy, not to any that by their scandalous immoralities, like Hophni and Phinehas, make the sacrifices of the Lord to be abhorred, though still the validity and efficacy of the sacraments depend not on the purity of him that administers them.
II. Yet it was a divided family, and the divisions of it carried with them both guilt and grief. Where there is piety, it is a pity but there should be unity. The joint-devotions of a family should put an end to divisions in it.
1. The original cause of this division was Elkanah’s marrying two wives, which was a transgression of the original institution of marriage, to which our Saviour reduces it. Mt. 19:5, 8, From the beginning it was not so. It made mischief in Abraham’s family, and Jacob’s, and here in Elkanah’s. How much better does the law of God provide for our comfort and ease in this world than we should, if we were left to ourselves! It is probable that Elkanah married Hannah first, and, because he had not children by her so soon as he hoped, he married Peninnah, who bore him children indeed, but was in other things a vexation to him. Thus are men often beaten with rods of their own making.
2. That which followed upon this error was that the two wives could not agree. They had different blessings: Peninnah, like Leah, was fruitful and had many children, which should have made her easy and thankful, though she was but a second wife, and was less beloved; Hannah, like Rachel, was childless indeed, but she was very dear to her husband, and he took all occasions to let both her and others know that she was so, and many a worthy portion he gave her (v. 5), and this should have made her easy and thankful. But they were of different tempers: Peninnah could not bear the blessing of fruitfulness, but she grew haughty and insolent; Hannah could not bear the affliction of barrenness, but she grew melancholy and discontented: and Elkanah had a difficult part to act between them.
(1.) Elkanah kept up his attendance at God’s altar notwithstanding this unhappy difference in his family, and took his wives and children with him, that, if they could not agree in other things, they might agree to worship God together. If the devotions of a family prevail not to put an end to its divisions, yet let not the divisions put a stop to the devotions.
(2.) He did all he could to encourage Hannah, and to keep up her spirits under her affliction, v. 4, 5. At the feast he offered peace-offerings, to supplicate for peace in his family; and when he and his family were to eat their share of the sacrifice, in token of their communion with God and his altar, though he carved to Peninnah and her children competent portions, yet to Hannah he gave a worthy portion, the choicest piece that came to the table, the piece (whatever it was) that used to be given on such occasions to those that were most valued; this he did in token of his love to her, and to give all possible assurances of it. Observe, [1.] Elkanah loved his wife never the less for her being barren. Christ loves his church, notwithstanding her infirmities, her barrenness; and so ought men to love their wives, Eph. 5:25. To abate our just love to any relation for the sake of any infirmity which they cannot help, and which is not their sin but their affliction, is to make God’s providence quarrel with his precept, and very unkindly to add affliction to the afflicted. [2.] He studied to show his love so much the more because she was afflicted, insulted, and low-spirited. It is wisdom and duty to support the weakest, and to hold up those that are run down. [3.] He showed his great love to her by the share he gave her of his peace-offerings. Thus we should testify our affection to our friends and relations, by abounding in prayer for them. The better we love them the more room let us give them in our prayers.
(3.) Peninnah was extremely peevish and provoking. [1.] She upbraided Hannah with her affliction, despised her because she was barren, and gave her taunting language, as one whom Heaven did not favour. [2.] She envied the interest she had in the love of Elkanah, and the more kind he was to her the more was she exasperated against her, which was all over base and barbarous. [3.] She did this most when they went up to the house of the Lord, perhaps because then they were more together than at other times, or because then Elkanah showed his affection most to Hannah. But it was very sinful at such a time to show her malice, when pure hands were to be lifted up at God’s altar without wrath and quarrelling. It was likewise very unkind at that time to vex Hannah, not only because then they were in company, and others would take notice of it, but then Hannah was to mind her devotions, and desired to be most calm and composed, and free from disturbance. The great adversary to our purity and peace is then most industrious to ruffle us when we should be most composed. When the sons of God come to present themselves before the Lord Satan will be sure to come among them, Job 1:6. [4.] She continued to do this from year to year, not once or twice, but it was her constant practice; neither deference to her husband nor compassion to Hannah could break her of it. [5.] That which she designed was to make her fret, perhaps in hopes to break her heart, that she might possess her husband’s heart solely, or because she took a pleasure in her uneasiness, nor could Hannah gratify her more than by fretting. Note, It is an evidence of a base disposition to delight in grieving those that are melancholy and of a sorrowful spirit, and in putting those out of humour that are apt to fret and be uneasy. We ought to bear one another’s burdens, not add to them.
(4.) Hannah (poor woman) could not hear the provocation: She wept, and did not eat, v. 7. It made her uneasy to herself and to all her relations. She did not eat of the feast; her trouble took away her appetite, made her unfit for any company, and a jar in the harmony of family-joy. It was of the feast upon the sacrifice that she did not eat, for they were not to eat of the holy things in their mourning, Deu. 26:14; Lev. 10:19. Yet it was her infirmity so far to give way to the sorrow of the world as to unfit herself for holy joy in God. Those that are of a fretful spirit, and are apt to lay provocations too much to heart, are enemies to themselves, and strip themselves very much of the comforts both of life and godliness. We find that God took notice of this ill effect of discontents and disagreements in the conjugal relation, that the parties aggrieved covered the altar of the Lord with tears, insomuch that he regarded not the offering, Mal. 2:13.
(5.) Elkanah said what he could to her to comfort her. She did not upbraid him with his unkindness in marrying another wife as Sarah did, nor did she render to Peninnah railing for railing, but took the trouble wholly to herself, which made her an object of much compassion. Elkanah showed himself extremely grieved at her grief (v. 8): Hannah, why weepest thou? [1.] He is much disquieted to see her thus overwhelmed with sorrow. Those that by marriage are made one flesh ought thus far to be of one spirit too, to share in each other’s troubles, so that one cannot be easy while the other is uneasy. [2.] He gives her a loving reproof for it: Why weepest thou? And why is thy heart grieved? As many as God loves he rebukes, and so should we. He puts her upon enquiring into the cause of her grief. Though she had just reason to be troubled, yet let her consider whether she had reason to be troubled to such a degree, especially so much as to be taken off by it from eating of the holy things. Note, Our sorrow upon any account is sinful and inordinate when it diverts us from our duty to God and embitters our comfort in him, when it makes us unthankful for the mercies we enjoy and distrustful of the goodness of God to us in further mercies, when it casts a damp upon our joy in Christ, and hinders us from doing the duty and taking the comfort of our particular relations. [3.] He intimates that nothing should be wanting on his part to balance her grief: "Am not I better to thee than ten sons? Thou knowest thou hast my entire affection, and let that comfort thee." Note, We ought to take notice of our comforts, to keep us from grieving excessively for our crosses; for our crosses we deserve, but our comforts we have forfeited. If we would keep the balance even, we must look at that which is for us, as well as at that which is against us, else we are unjust to Providence and unkind to ourselves. God hath set the one over-against the other (Eccl. 7:14) and so should we.
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.
Elkanah had gently reproved Hannah for her inordinate grief, and here we find the good effect of the reproof.
I. It brought her to her meat. She ate and drank, v. 9. She did not harden herself in sorrow, nor grow sullen when she was reproved for it; but, when she perceived her husband uneasy that she did not come and eat with them, she cheered up her own spirits as well as she could, and came to table. it is as great a piece of self-denial to control our passions as it is to control our appetites.
II. It brought her to her prayers. It put her upon considering, "Do I well to be angry? Do I well to fret? What good does it do me? Instead of binding the burden thus upon my shoulders, had I not better easy myself of it, and cast it upon the Lord by prayer?" Elkanah had said, Am not I better to thee than ten sons? which perhaps occasioned her to think within herself, "Whether he be so or no, God is, and therefore to him will I apply, and before him will I pour out my complaint, and try what relief that will give me." If ever she will make a more solemn address than ordinary to the throne of grace upon this errand, now is the time. They are at Shiloh, at the door of the tabernacle, where God had promised to meet his people, and which was the house of prayer. They had recently offered their peace-offerings, to obtain the favour of God and all good and in token of their communion with him; and, taking the comfort of their being accepted of him, they had feasted upon the sacrifice; and now it was proper to put up her prayer in virtue of that sacrifice, for the peace-offerings, for by it not only atonement is made for sin, but the audience and acceptance of our prayers and an answer of peace to them are obtained for us: to that sacrifice, in all our supplications, we must have an eye. Now concerning Hannah’s prayer we may observe,
1. The warm and lively devotion there was in it, which appeared in several instances, for our direction in prayer. (1.) She improved the present grief and trouble of her spirit for the exciting and quickening of her pious affections in prayer: Being in bitterness of soul, she prayed, v. 10. This good use we should make of our afflictions, they should make us the more lively in our addresses to God. Our blessed Saviour himself, being in an agony, prayed more earnestly, Lu. 22:44. (2.) She mingled tears with her prayers. It was not a dry prayer: she wept sore. Like a true Israelite, she wept and made supplication (Hos. 12:4), with an eye to the tender mercy of our God, who knows the troubled soul. The prayer came from her heart, as the tears from her eyes. (3.) She was very particular, and yet very modest, in her petition. She begged a child, a man-child, that it might be fit to serve in the tabernacle. God gives us leave, in prayer, not only to ask good things in general, but to mention that special good thing which we most need and desire. Yet she says not, as Rachel, Give me children, Gen. 30:1. She will be very thankful for one. (4.) She made a solemn vow, or promise, that if God would give her a son she would give him up to God, v. 11. He would be by birth a Levite, and so devoted to the service of God, but he should be by her vow a Nazarite, and his very childhood should be sacred. It is probable she had acquainted Elkanah with her purpose before, and had had his consent and approbation. Note, Parents have a right to dedicate their children to God, as living sacrifices and spiritual priests; and an obligation is thereby laid upon them to serve God faithfully all the days of their life. Note further, It is very proper, when we are in pursuit of any mercy, to bind our own souls with a bond, that, if God give it us, we will devote it to his honour and cheerfully use it in his service. Not that hereby we can pretend to merit the gift, but thus we are qualified for it and for the comfort of it. In hope of mercy, let us promise duty. (5.) She spoke all this so softly that none could hear her. Her lips moved, but her voice was not heard, v. 13. Hereby she testified her belief of God’s knowledge of the heart and its desires. Thoughts are words to him, nor is he one of those gods that must be cried aloud to, 1 Ki. 18:27. It was likewise an instance of her humility and holy shamefacedness in her approach to God. She was none of those that made her voice to be heard on high, Isa. 58:4. It was a secret prayer, and therefore, though made in a public place, yet was thus made secretly, and not, as the Pharisees prayed, to be seen of men. It is true prayer is not a thing we have reason to be ashamed of, but we must avoid all appearances of ostentation. Let what passes between God and our souls be kept to ourselves.
2. The hard censure she fell under for it. Eli was now high priest, and judge in Israel; he sat upon a seat in the temple, to oversee what was done there, v. 9. The tabernacle is here called the temple, because it was now fixed, and served all the purposes of a temple. There Eli sat to receive addresses and give direction, and somewhere (it is probable in a private corner) he espied Hannah at her prayers, and by her unusual manner fancied she was drunken, and spoke to her accordingly (v. 14): How long wilt thou be drunken?—the very imputation that Peter and the apostles fell under when the Holy Ghost gave them utterance, Acts 2:13. Perhaps in this degenerate age it was no strange thing to see drunken women at the door of the tabernacle; for otherwise, one would think, the vile lust of Hophni and Phinehas could not have found so easy a prey there, ch. 2:22. Eli took Hannah for one of these. It is one bad effect of the abounding of iniquity, and its becoming fashionable, that it often gives occasion to suspect the innocent. When a disease is epidemical every one is suspected to be tainted with it. Now, (1.) This was Eli’s fault; and a great fault it was to pass so severe a censure without better observation or information. If his own eyes had already become dim, he should have employed those about him to enquire. Drunkards are commonly noisy and turbulent, but this poor woman was silent and composed. His fault was the worse that he was the priest of the Lord, who should have had compassion on the ignorant, Heb. 5:2. Note, It ill becomes us to be rash and hasty in our censures of others, and to be forward to believe people guilty of bad things, while either the matter of fact on which the censure is grounded is doubtful and unproved or is capable of a good construction. Charity commands us to hope the best concerning all, and forbids censoriousness. Paul had very good information when he did but partly believe (1 Co. 11:18), hoping it was not so. Especially we ought to be cautious how we censure the devotions of others, lest we call that hypocrisy, enthusiasm, or superstition, which is really the fruit of an honest zeal, and it is accepted of God. (2.) It was Hannah’s affliction; and a great affliction it was, added to all the rest, vinegar to the wounds of her spirit. She had been reproved by Elkanah because she would not eat and drink, and now to be reproached by Eli as if she had eaten and drunk too much was very hard. Note, It is no new thing for those that do well to be ill thought of, and we must not think it strange if at any time it be our lot.
3. Hannah’s humble vindication of herself from this crime with which she was charged. She bore it admirably well. She did not retort the charge and upbraid him with the debauchery of his own sons, did not bid him look at home and restrain them, did not tell him how ill it became one in his place thus to abuse a poor sorrowful worshipper at the throne of grace. When we are at any time unjustly censured we have need to set a double watch before the door of our lips, that we do not recriminate, and return censure for censure. Hannah thought it enough to vindicate herself, and so must we, v. 15, 16. (1.) In justice to herself, she expressly denies the charge, speaks to him with all possible respect, calls him, My lord, intimates how very desirous she was to stand right in his opinion and how loth to lie under his censure. "No, my lord, it is not as you suspect; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, not any at all" (though it was proper enough to be given to one of such a heavy heart, Prov. 31:6), "much less to any excess; therefore count not thy handmaid for a daughter of Belial." Note, Drunkards are children of Belial (women-drunkards, particularly), children of the wicked one, children of disobedience, children that will not endure the yoke (else they would not be drunk), more especially when they are actually drunk. Those that cannot govern themselves will not bear that any one else should. Hannah owns that the crime would have been very great if she had indeed been guilty of it, and he might justly have shut her out of the courts of God’s house; but the very manner of her speaking in her own defence was sufficient to demonstrate that she was not drunk. (2.) In justice to him, she gives an account of her present behaviour, which had given occasion to his suspicion: "I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit, dejected and discomposed, and that is the reason I do not look as other people; the eyes are red, not with wine, but with weeping. And at this time I have not been talking to myself, as drunkards and fools do, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord, who hears and understands the language of the heart, and this out of the abundance of my complaint and grief." She had been more than ordinarily fervent in prayer to God, and this, she tells him, was the true reason of the transport and disorder she seemed to be in. Note, When we are unjustly censured we should endeavour, not only to clear ourselves, but to satisfy our brethren, by giving them a just and true account of that which they misapprehended.
4. The atonement Eli made for his rash unfriendly censure, by a kind and fatherly benediction, v. 17. He did not (as many are apt to do in such a case) take it for an affront to have his mistake rectified and to be convinced of his error, nor did it put him out of humour. But, on the contrary, he now encouraged Hannah’s devotions as much as before he had discountenanced them; not only intimated that he was satisfied of her innocency by those words, Go in peace, but, being high priest, as one having authority he blessed her in the name of the Lord, and, though he knew not what the particular blessing was that she had been praying for, yet he puts his Amen to it, so good an opinion had he now conceived of her prudence and piety: The God of Israel grant thee thy petition, whatever it is, that thou hast asked of him. Note, By our meek and humble carriage towards those that reproach us because they do not know us, we may perhaps make them our friends, and turn their censures of us into prayers for us.
5. The great satisfaction of mind with which Hannah now went away, v. 18. She begged the continuance of Eli’s good opinion of her and his good prayers for her, and then she went her way and did eat of what remained of the peace-offerings (none of which was to be left until the morning), and her countenance was no more sad, no more as it had been, giving marks of inward trouble and discomposure; but she looked pleasant and cheerful, and all was well. Why, what had happened? Whence came this sudden happy change? She had by prayer committed her case to God and left it with him, and now she was no more perplexed about it. She had prayed for herself, and Eli had prayed for her; and she believed that God would either give her the mercy she had prayed for or make up the want of it to her some other way. Note, Prayer is heart’s-ease to a gracious soul; the seed of Jacob have often found it so, being confident that God will never say unto them, Seek you me in vain, see Phil. 4:6, 7. Prayer will smooth the countenance; it should do so.
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.
Here is, I. The return of Elkanah and his family to their own habitation, when the days appointed for the feast were over, v. 19. Observe how they improved their time at the tabernacle. Every day they were there, even that which was fixed for their journey home, they worshipped God; and they rose up early to do it. It is good to begin the day with God. Let him that is the first have the first. They had a journey before them, and a family of children to take with them, and yet they would not stir till they had worshipped God together. Prayer and provender do not hinder a journey. They had spent several days now in religious worship, and yet they attended once more. We should not be weary of well-doing.
II. The birth and name of this desired son. At length the Lord remembered Hannah, the very thing she desired (v. 11), and more she needed not desire, that was enough, for then she conceived and bore a son. Though God seem long to forget his people’s burdens, troubles, cares, and prayers, yet he will at length make it to appear that they are not out of his mind. This son the mother called Samuel, v. 20. Some make the etymology of this name to be much the same with that of Ishmael—heard of God, because the mother’s prayers were remarkably heard, and he was an answer to them. Others, because of the reason she gives for the name, make it to signify asked of God. It comes nearly to the same; she designed by it to perpetuate the remembrance of God’s favour to her in answering her prayers. Thus she designed, upon every mention of his name, to take the comfort to herself and to give God the glory of that gracious condescension. Note, Mercies in answer to prayer are to be remembered with peculiar expressions of thankfulness, as Ps. 116:1, 2. How many seasonable deliverances and supplies may we call Samuels, asked of God; and whatever is so we are in a special manner engaged to devote to him. Hannah intended by this name to put her son in mind of the obligation he was under to be the Lord’s, in consideration of this, that he was asked of God and was at the same time dedicated to him. A child of prayer is in a special manner bound to be a good child. Lemuel’s mother reminds him that he was the son of her vows, Prov. 31:2.
III. The close attendance Hannah gave to the nursing of him, not only because he was dear to her, but because he was devoted to God, and for him she nursed him herself, and did not hang him on another’s breast. We ought to take care of our children, not only with an eye to the law of nature as they are ours, but with an eye to the covenant of grace as they are given up to God. See Eze. 16:20, 21. This sanctifies the nursing of them, when it is done as unto the Lord. Elkanah went up every year to worship at the tabernacle, and particularly to perform his vow, perhaps some vow he had made distinct from Hannah’s if God would give him a son by her, v. 21. But Hannah, though she felt a warm regard for the courts of God’s house, begged leave of her husband to stay at home; for the women were not under any obligation to go up to the three yearly feasts, as the men were. However Hannah had been accustomed to go, but now desired to be excused, 1. Because she would not be so long absent from her nursery. Can a woman forget her sucking child? We may suppose she kept constantly at home, for, if she had gone any where, she would have gone to Shiloh. Note, God will have mercy and not sacrifice. Those that are detained from public ordinances by the nursing and tending of little children may take comfort from this instance, and believe that, if they do that with an eye to God, he will graciously accept them therein, and though they tarry at home they shall divide the spoil. 2. Because she would not go up to Shiloh till her son was big enough, not only to be taken thither, but to be left there; for, if once she took him thither, she thought she could never find in her heart to bring him back again. Note, Those who are stedfastly resolved to pay their vows may yet see good cause to defer the payment of them. Every thing is beautiful in its season. No animal was accepted in sacrifice till it had been for some time under the dam, Lev. 22:27. Fruit is best when it is ripe. Elkanah agrees to what she proposes (v. 23): Do what seemeth thee good. So far was he from delighting to cross her that he referred it entirely to her. Behold how good and pleasant a thing it is, when yoke-fellows thus draw even in the yoke, and accommodate themselves to one another, each thinking well of what the other does, especially in works of piety and charity. He adds a prayer: Only the Lord establish his word, that is, "God preserve the child through the perils of his infancy, that the solemn vow which God signified his acceptance of, by giving us the child, may be performed in its season, and so the whole matter may be accomplished." Note, Those that have in sincerity devoted their children to God may with comfort pray for them, that God will establish the word sealed to them at the same time that they were sealed for him.
IV. The solemn entering of this child into the service of the sanctuary. We may take it for granted that he was presented to the Lord at forty days old, as all the first-born were (Lu. 2:22, 23): but this is not mentioned, because there was nothing in it singular; but now that he was weaned he was presented, not to be redeemed. Some think it was as soon as he was weaned from the breast, which, the Jews say, was not till he was three years old; it is said she gave him suck till she had weaned him, v. 23. Others think it was not till he was weaned from childish things, at eight or ten years old. But I see no inconvenience in admitting such an extraordinary child as this into the tabernacle at three years old, to be educated among the children of the priests. It is said (v. 24), The child was young, but, being intelligent above his years, he was no trouble. None can begin too soon to be religious. The child was a child, so the Hebrew reads it, in his learning-age. For whom shall he teach knowledge but those that are newly weaned from the milk and drawn from the breasts? Isa. 28:9. Observe how she presented her child, 1. With a sacrifice; no less than three bullocks, with a meat-offering for each, v. 24. A bullock, perhaps, for each year of the child’s life. Or one for a burnt-offering, another for a sin-offering, and the third of a peace-offering. So far was she from thinking that, by presenting her son to God, she made God her debtor, that she thought it requisite by these slain offerings to seek God’s acceptance of her living sacrifice. All our covenants with God for ourselves and ours must be made by sacrifice, the great sacrifice. 2. With a grateful acknowledgement of God’s goodness in answer to prayer. This she makes to Eli, because he had encouraged her to hope for an answer of peace (v. 26, 27): "For this child I prayed. Here it was obtained by prayer, and here it is resigned to the prayer-hearing God. You have forgotten me, my lord, but I who now appear so cheerful am the woman, the very same, that three years ago stood by thee here weeping and praying, and this was the child I prayed for." Answers of prayer may thus be humbly triumphed in, to the glory of God. Here is a living testimony for God. "I am his witness that he is gracious (see Ps. 66:16–19); for this mercy, this comfort, I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition." See Ps. 34:2, 4, 6. Hannah does not remind Eli of it by adverting to the suspicion he had formerly expressed; she does not say, "I am the woman whom you passed that severe censure upon; what do you think of me now?" Good men ought not to be upbraided with their infirmities and oversights. They have themselves repented of them; let them hear no more of them. 3. With a full surrender of all her interest in this child unto the Lord (v. 28): I have lent him to the Lord as long as he liveth. And she repeats it, because she will never revoke it: He shall be (a deodand) lent or given to the Lord. Not that she designed to call for him back, as we do what we lend, but she uses this word Shaol, lent, because it is the same word that she had used before (v. 20, I asked him of the Lord), only in another conjugation. And (v. 27) the Lord gave me the petition which I asked (Shaalti, in Kal), therefore I have lent him (Hishilti, the same word in Hiphil), and so it gives another etymology of his name Samuel, not only asked of God, but lent to God. And observe, (1.) Whatever we give to God, it is what we have first asked and received from him. All our gifts to him were first his gifts to us. Of thy own, Lord, have we given thee, 1 Chr. 29:14, 16. (2.) Whatever we give to God may upon this account be said to be lent to him, that though we may not recall it, as a thing lent, yet he will certainly repay it, with interest, to our unspeakable advantage, particularly what is given to his poor, Prov. 19:17. When by baptism we dedicate our children to God, let us remember that they were his before by a sovereign right, and that they are ours still so much the more to our comfort. Hannah resigns him to the Lord, not for a certain term of years, as children are sent apprentices, but durante vita—as long as he liveth, he shall be lent unto the Lord, a Nazarite for life. Such must our covenant with God be, a marriage-covenant; as long as live we must be his, and never forsake him.
Lastly, The child Samuel did his part beyond what could have been expected from one of his years; for of him that seems to be spoken, He worshipped the Lord there, that is he said his prayers. He was no doubt extraordinarily forward (we have known children that have discovered some sense of religion very young), and his mother, designing him for the sanctuary, took particular care to train him up to that which was to be his work in the sanctuary. Note, Little children should learn betimes to worship God. Their parents should instruct them in his worship and bring them to it, put them upon engaging in it as well as they can, and God will graciously accept them and teach them to do better.