Biblical Commentary

1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26



Chapter 1 of First Samuel told of Hannah’s infertility, which caused her great pain. Her husband, Elkanah, took another wife, Peninnah—almost certainly because Hannah was unable to give him a child—even though he loved Hannah. Peninnah had several children, and mocked Hannah for her childlessness.

In desperation, Hannah went to the temple, where she prayed for a son, promising God, “if you will indeed look on the affliction of your handmaid, and remember me, and not forget your handmaid, but will give to your handmaid a boy, then I will give him to Yahweh all the days of his life, and no razor shall come on his head” (1:11). After the family returned to Ramah, “Elkanah knew Hannah his wife; and Yahweh remembered her. It happened, when the time had come, that Hannah conceived, and bore a son; and she named him Samuel, saying, ‘Because I have asked him of Yahweh'” (1:19-20).

As soon as Samuel was weaned, Hannah made good on her promise to God. She brought Samuel to the Shiloh temple, made a sacrifice, and said, “For this child I prayed; and Yahweh has given me my petition which I asked of him. Therefore also I have granted him to Yahweh.” Then she went home, leaving Samuel at the Shiloh temple “to Yahweh” (1:27-28).

Chapter 2 begins with Hannah’s Song (2:1-10)—a song that celebrates Yahweh and the wonderful things that Yahweh does.

Then we learn that Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are “base men; they didn’t know Yahweh” (2:12-13). Their sin “was very great before Yahweh; for the men despised the offering of Yahweh” (2:17)—taking for themselves what belongs to the Lord.

This last paragraph sets the stage for a series of contrasts between young Samuel and the evil sons of Eli. They commit sacrilege at the temple, but Samuel ministers faithfully there. They are destined for death (2:27-36), but Samuel continues “increased in favor both with Yahweh, and also with men” (2:25).


18But Samuel ministered before Yahweh, being a child, clothed with a linen ephod. 19Moreover his mother made him a little robe, and brought it to him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. 20Eli blessed Elkanah and his wife, and said, “Yahweh give you seed of this woman for the petition which was asked of Yahweh.” They went to their own home.

“But Samuel ministered before Yahweh, being a child, clothed with a linen ephod” (v. 18). An ephod is a vestment usually associated with a priestly ministry. Priestly ephods were quite ornate, incorporating gold, blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and fine linen—and two onyx stones set in gold filigree, each of stone bearing the names of six tribes (Exodus 28:4ff.). But David wore a linen ephod (2 Samuel 6:14) and used an ephod to seek God’s guidance (1 Samuel 23:9; 30:7). Samuel wears his linen ephod in conjunction with his service in the tabernacle—a quasi-priestly garment.

“Moreover his mother made him a little robe, and brought it to him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice” (v. 19). This is a touching note. Hannah dedicated Samuel to God and left him at the Shiloh temple to serve God there, but she has not forgotten him. She is still his mother, and he is near to her heart.

The robe that she makes for Samuel each year is probably something suitable for his role in temple ministry—a robe to wear with his linen ephod. As a growing boy, he needs a new robe every year, because a year-old robe will no longer fit properly.

If this robe is, indeed, a liturgical garment, Hannah’s annual gift reflects her continuing devotion to the Lord as well as her love for Samuel.

“Eli blessed Elkanah and his wife, and said, ‘Yahweh give you seed of this woman for the petition which was asked of Yahweh.’ They went to their own home” (v. 20). Eli earlier blessed Hannah by saying, “Go in peace; and may the God of Israel grant your petition that you have asked of him” (1:17). Hannah then conceived and bore Samuel (1:20). Now Eli blesses both Elkanah and Hannah—asking the Lord to give them additional children. Verse 21 tells us that Hannah bears five more children.


21Yahweh visited Hannah, and she conceived, and bore three sons and two daughters. The child Samuel grew before Yahweh.

This verse isn’t in the Revised Common Lectionary reading, but one wonders why. It is a natural conclusion to Hannah’s story.

The Lord honors Eli’s blessing of Elkanah and Hannah by giving them five children to repay their gift of Samuel to the Lord (v. 20). The five children (and especially the three boys) would be considered a great blessing in that time and place.


22Now Eli was very old; and he heard all that his sons did to all Israel, and how that they lay with the women who served at the door of the Tent of Meeting. 23He said to them, “Why do you do such things? for I hear of your evil dealings from all this people. 24No, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear: you make Yahweh’s people disobey. 25If one man sin against another, God shall judge him; but if a man sin against Yahweh, who shall entreat for him?” Notwithstanding, they didn’t listen to the voice of their father, because Yahweh intended to kill them.

These verses are not in the Revised Common Lectionary reading. They tell of a “man of God” who comes to Eli and pronounces the Lord’s judgment on Eli and Eli’s sons and Eli’s entire family. Because Eli’s sons were unfaithful and Eli failed to correct them, the Lord “will cut off your arm, and the arm of your father’s house, that there shall not be an old man in your house” (2:31). The Lord then said, “I will raise me up a faithful priest” (2:35)—meaning Samuel.


26The child Samuel grew on, and increased in favor both with Yahweh, and also with men.

Eli’s sons will die—both on the same day (2:34), but Samuel will continue to grow physically, spiritually, and socially.

This verse will inspire Luke’s comment about Jesus: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).

There are other parallels between the Samuel story and the Jesus story as well:

• Both sets of parents made an annual pilgrimage to the temple (1:3; Luke 2:41ff.).

• Eli said to Hannah, “Go in peace; and may the God of Israel grant your petition that you have asked of him” (the petition for a son) (1:17) and Hannah responded, “Let your handmaid find favor in your sight” (1:18). The angel announced to Mary that she would have a son, and Mary responded, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

• Hannah’s song (2:1-10) becomes the model for Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).

• “In a moment of need in the life of the people, God’s mercy has intervened to send a savior” (Newsome, 68).


27A man of God came to Eli, and said to him, “Thus says Yahweh, ‘Did I reveal myself to the house of your father, when they were in Egypt in bondage to Pharaoh’s house? 28Did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before me? Did I give to the house of your father all the offerings of the children of Israel made by fire?

These verses are not in the Revised Common Lectionary, but are included in some lectionaries.

The man of God is an unnamed prophet. The Lord has revealed himself to Aaron your brother”—Aaron, whom God chose to be a priest and head of the priestly family (Exodus 28:1).

Aaron and his descendants (including Eli) were responsible for particular religious observances, including making sacrifices at the fiery altar, burning incense to provide a fragrant scent in the tabernacle and temple, and wearing an ephod (an ornate vest on which were fastened the names of the twelve sons of Israel, precious stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel, and the Urim and Thummim that were used for casting lots and for divining the will of the Lord).

The Lord gave the priests (Aaron and his descendants, including Eli) portions of the sacrifices that people offered to the Lord (Leviticus 7:34; 10:14). Their portions of these offerings were a major source of their support. However verse 29 notes that Eli and his sons “kick at my sacrifice and at my offering”—in other words, took more than their allotted share. Eli honored his sons more than the Lord by allowing them to fatten themselves on “the best of all the offerings of Israel my people on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel”—the parts reserved for the Lord. Therefore, the Lord will cut off their strength so that they will not live to old age (vv. 30-31).

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.


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Newsome, James D. in Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; McCann, J. Clinton; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV–Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994)

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Saleska, Timothy E., in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The First Readings: The Old Testament and Acts (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)

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Copyright 2008, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan