By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Women in the Old Testament

  • The book of Samuel begins with the story of Hannah, the childless wife of Elkanah, an Ephraimite.
  • The story of Hannah and Peninnah echoes that of Sarah and Hagar as well as Rachel and Leah.
  • Peninnah mocked Hannah's barrenness.
  • Elkanah was probably a man of means to be able to support two wives.
  • Elkanah said those amazing words to Hannah: "Why are you sad?…Am I not more to you than ten sons? (Commentators are divided in their assessment of them. Some think Elkanah was saying that love is more important than childbearing. Others think because he already had sons by Peninnah, he was insensitive to Hannah's unhappiness, along the lines of his needs were met; hers were of no consequence.)
  • In that society, a woman's prestige depended upon her ability to produce sons.
  • Not having offspring was oftentimes thought to be divine punishment. Indeed, the text says, "Yahweh closed Hannah's womb."
  • Hannah decided to take her case directly to Yahweh.
  • She prayed earnestly [i.e. women prayed].
  • Most prayer involved sacrifice and ritual; silent prayer without benefit of clergy was so unusual, Eli thought her to be drunk and scolded her for violating the sacredness of the place of worship.
  • It would be a long time before Rabbis would ratify Hannah's prayer of the heart as authentic prayer, thereby foregoing sacrifice and ritual.
  • Hannah was not intimidated, nor deterred, by Eli's religious authority.
  • Hannah asserts her right to pray and gives voice to her need.
  • Hannah made a vow [i.e. women could make vows] that if Yahweh gave her a son, she would give him back to Yahweh.
  • Having a son would change her societal position even if she didn't have the pleasure of raising that son.
  • Hannah's loss was Israel's gain.
  • Upon hearing her need, Eli was able to bless her and add his prayers to hers. Hannah accepted this without recrimination and went home feeling that her prayers had been answered.
  • Some scholars also think that giving her first son to the temple was much like offering the firstfruits of harvest - the goal is to get more.
  • Indeed, Hannah had three more sons and two daughters.
  • Hannah's story begins with weeping; it will end with singing.
  • Hannah keeps her vow, bringing Samuel to the temple once he was weaned.
  • No one knew of her oath, except Hannah - even so, she kept it.
  • Hannah's highest sense involved giving her beloved child to the Lord.
  • The song of Hannah is a song of praise for her good fortune.
  • Hannah's song puts childbirth on the same plane as winning wars.
  • Hannah's song anticipates the "anointed one."
  • Hannah's song was the basis of the Magnificat, sung by Mary when she was a witness to the child in her womb.
  • Through Hannah, God used a very insignificant woman to accomplish a very significant work.


Alter, Robert and Frank Kermode. The Literary Guide to the Bible. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press. 1987.

Brueggeman, Walter. "1 & 2 Samuel." Interpretation. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1990.

Evans, Mary. "1 and 2 Samuel." New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000.

Mills, Watson and Richard Wilson. Mercer Commentary on the Bible. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1995

Newsom, Carol and Sharon Ringe. The Women's Bible Commentary. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992.

Payne, David. "I & II Samuel." The Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1982.

Peterson, Eugene. "First and Second Samuel." The Westminster Bible Companion. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999.

Robinson, Gnana. "1 & 2 Samuel, Let Us Be Like the Nations." The International Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans, 1993.

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