*Good morning. It is sure warming up here in Madison this morning. I pray you feel the warmth of God's love on this day. Today, we will begin looking into the Book of First Samuel. This will be a fun study, but also a very important study going forward. I hope you enjoy it.

"There was a certain man from Ramathaim...whose name was Elkanah...He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none." (I Samuel 1:1a,2)

The book opens in "once upon a time" fashion. Now, we need to remember back to the stories of Genesis. Especially those that involved a man who had more than one wife. Usually, one wife was able to have children while the other was not. The husband usually loved the wife who was not able to have children. Then, miraculously, God opened the womb of the barren wife. Guess what? This story is not much different.

"Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb." (I Samuel 1: 4-5)

The NRSV says that Elkanah gave Hannah a double portion "because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb." The difference being the word "though." Hannah was loved regardless of her inability to have children. Before I continue I must say that the name Hannah is one of my favorite names. In fact, had Melody and I had a daughter one of the names we were discussing was Hannah. *My wife does not remember this and swears that we never discussed Hannah. Oh well! It doesn't matter, because we had all boys. Well, Hannah isn't the only wife. And guess what?

"And because the Lord had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat." (I Samuel 1:6-7)

Remember, women who were not able to have children were almost viewed as having no value. I said "almost" because I didn't want to sound too negative. The name of Hannah's "rival" (the other wife) is Peninnah. Her name is interesting in that it seems to be more of a technical term for a second wife in the rabbinic time period. Her name even indicates "rival." Well, in a sort of humerous moment Hannah's husband says to Hannah: "Why are you downhearted? Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?" (I Samuel 1:8) Guess what? Hannah doesn't give him an answer. I can just hear her: "Um...How do I put this nicely? Um...No!" Hannah is described as being "bitter of soul" (verse 10) and even makes a vow to God saying that if God would give her a son she would then return the son to God. She even declares that no razor will touch the sons head. (Remember that vow from the story of Samson?)

Hannah is at the temple of the Lord when making her vow. The Bible says that she prayed to the Lord and as she did Eli the high priest of the temple (not the one in Jerusalem that is to come, but the central sanctuary in Shiloh) observed her lips. They were moving, but nothing was coming out. Here we see a lady who is down, feels low and abandoned, yet has faith in God. Eli the priest declares that Hannah must be drunk. He even says to her: "How long willl you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine." (I Samuel 1:14) Here we have a woman who shows great piety through deep prayer, and a priest who apparently can't recognize true piety when it is right before his eyes. *Interesting. Our baby boy's name (he is still my baby even at ten) is Zander Eli. I guess he sort of has a biblical name. Eli seemingly has a problem with Hannah liking the wine. (Although, at least in this situation, she has not touched the stuff) The funny thing is, our Zander, whose middle name is Eli, can't stand for someone to even mention alcohol. And we can't figure out why he is this way. Anyhow, Hannah lets Eli know that she is not drunk, but pouring her sould out to the Lord. Apparently Eli wasn't familiar with that. Well, Eli tells her to go and she did. And guess what?

"Elkanah lay with Hannah (We know what that means. Right?) his wife, and the Lord remembered her. So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, 'Because I asked the Lord for him.'" (I Samuel 1:19b-20)

Samuel actually means "God heard." Hannah keeps her word and when the child is weaned she takes hiim to the temple and gives him to God. Samuel is to serve God his entire life. We will spend a lot of time looking at the life of Samuel. But, now I want to look at the story over all.

If you remember back in the Book of Judges I said that although Samson's story was the last Judge story in the book, he was not necessarily the last judge of Israel. Many consider Samuel to be Israel's last judge. In fact, I would argue, he may even be the only one who could be described as fit to be judge. Samuel never wavers in his service to God. He is not wimpy at all as some were.

The Books of Samuel (I and II) consist of three cycles. The first one is the Samuel Cycle. Of course, we read of his birth. His birth was very similar to many other Old Testament births. His mother was barren, but God opened her womb and she bore a son. In the story of Samuel his mother breaks out in a song of praise. This song (or prayer) is found in chapter two. It is often referred to as Hannah's Song. This song voices a theme that resounds throughout the books of Samuel. The theme: "Yahweh raises up, and he pulls down. The humble are given honor, and the proud are shamed." We will see this play out as we go through the books. We have already seen it with the story of Hannah and Peninnah.

Well, Samuel remains at the temple. We are told that Eli the Priest has two sons. We will meet these two sons tomorrow. Thank you for being patient with my late postings. This week is very busy in a great way as we continue to have Vacation Bible School. Tomorrow evening we get to go swimming. Well, everyone will swim except me. I swim like a dying fish. Have a great evening! -Pastor Rick

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