I Samuel 1:1–20: The Birth of Samuel
This passage begins with a man named Elkanah, who has two wives named Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah has children, but Hannah doesn’t have any—and, unfortunately, Peninnah has a habit of “provoking her in order to irritate her” (verse 6). Every year Elkanah and his wives and children go to worship the LORD, and when Elkanah is giving the meat to his wives and children, he gives a double portion to Hannah, because he loves her, and the LORD has closed her womb.
However, as time goes by, eventually Peninnah’s teasing gets so bad, when they’re worshipping the LORD, that Hannah starts to weep, and won’t even eat. Elkanah tries to talk to her, but I’m not sure if he understands the psychology of the situation:
Elkanah her husband would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” (verse 8)
On one such occasion—based on the timing, I guess this would be the last time that it happened—Hannah went to pray to the LORD, and made a vow to Him:
And she made a vow, saying, “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.” (verse 11)
(In other words, she would make the boy a Nazirite.)
The thing is, she is praying silently to the LORD, but because she is so intent on her praying, her lips are moving. Eli, one of the priests, sees this, and assumes that she is drunk. He accuses her of this, and she assures him that no, she is not drunk, just pouring out her soul to the LORD, in her anguish and grief (verses 15–16).
When Eli hears this, he tells her to go in peace, and prays that the LORD will grant her request. She goes away, apparently feeling better, because she eats, and her face is “no longer downcast” (verse 18). The next morning they worship the LORD again, before returning home.
Elkanah then lays with Hannah, and the LORD opens her womb. She conceives and gives birth to a son, whom they name Samuel. The footnote indicates that the name “Samuel” sounds like the Hebrew “heard of God,” and Hannah gave him that name because she asked the LORD for Samuel to be born.
In the last passage, in the book of Ruth, I mentioned the fact that the LORD had kept Ruth’s womb closed, during her first marriage, and then opened it up for her second marriage, and that as a result King David—and, eventually, Jesus—were born. We have a similar thing happening here; the LORD is keeping Hannah’s womb closed, until she vows to devote her son to the LORD’s service, at which point He opens her womb, and Samuel is born, ready to serve Him.