This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
World leaders meet in Northern Ireland
1 Samuel 1:21 – 2:11
21 The husband, Elkanah, went up with all his household to offer the yearly sacrifice to Adonai and fulfill his vow. 22 But Hannah did not go up, explaining to her husband, “Not till the child has been weaned. Then I will bring him, so that he can appear before Adonai and live there forever.” 23 Her husband Elkanah answered her, “Do what seems good to you; stay here until you have weaned him. Only may Adonai bring about what he said.” So the woman stayed behind and nursed the child, until she weaned him. 24 After weaning him, she took him up with her, along with three young bulls, a bushel of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of Adonai in Shiloh, even though he was just a child. 25 After the bull had been slaughtered, the child was brought to ‘Eli; 26 and she said, “My lord, as sure as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here near you, praying to Adonai. 27 I prayed for this child, and Adonai has granted the request I asked of him. 28 Therefore, I too have loaned him to Adonai — as long as he lives, he is on loan to Adonai.” And he prostrated himself there before Adonai.
2 Then Hannah prayed; she said:
“My heart exults in Adonai! My dignity has been restored by Adonai! I can gloat over my enemies, because of my joy at your saving me.
2 “No one is as holy as Adonai, because there is none to compare with you, no rock like our God.
3 “Stop your proud boasting! Don’t let arrogance come from your mouth! For Adonai is a God of knowledge, and he appraises actions. 4 The bows of the mighty are broken, while the feeble are armed with strength. 5 The well-fed hire themselves for bread, while those who were hungry hunger no more. The barren woman has borne seven, while the mother of many wastes away.
6 “Adonai kills and makes alive; he brings down to the grave, and he brings up. 7 Adonai makes poor, and he makes rich; he humbles, and he exalts. 8 He raises the poor from the dust, lifts up the needy from the trash pile; he gives them a place with leaders and assigns them seats of honor.
“For the earth’s pillars belong to Adonai; on them he has placed the world. 9 He will guard the steps of his faithful, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness. For it is not by strength that a person prevails — 10 those who fight Adonai will be shattered; he will thunder against them in heaven — Adonai will judge the ends of the earth. He will strengthen his king and enhance the power of his anointed.”
11 Elkanah went home to Ramah, while the child began ministering to Adonai under the direction of ‘Eli the priest.
I’ve used the Jewish translation because it shows clearly the Jewish custom of not using the holy name of God, “JHWH” but while keeping the consonants of the name, adding the vowels of the word ADONAI, “Lord”. So the text kept the holy name while the reader said, “Lord.”
Hannah had come to the temple as a childless wife to pray for a child. She prayed so fervently that Eli the priest thought at first she was drunk, but on learning the truth gave her his blessing. Now she comes back t the temple to offer her child to the service of God. There is a distinctive sense of passionate humanity throughout the books of Samuel, which is evident here at the start of the book. Hannah is so overjoyed at the birth of her child she wants, against common sense, to lend him back to God. Why would God give her a child just so that she could return his gift? The answer is the same as the answer to the question why God would give us life just so that we can return the gift. Life is this generosity between God and humanity, the books of Samuel teach. This is a profound faith, which discovers the presence of God in utterly secular contexts and the undignified tragicomedy of human behaviour.
Here the woman gains dignity as one who has something she can loan to God. Notice, the child is not simply given, as if the parents didn’t want to own him; he is on loan as long as he lives. Interestingly however, as scholars have noted, “one who is on loan” is the meaning of the Hebrew name SAUL, while SAMUEL means “one who is from God.” Some scholars say this proves the story was originally the story of Saul’s birth, rather than Samuel’s. I think it’s a dark portent of the later involvement of Samuel in the life and death of the first king of Israel.
Hannah’s song of praise is robust and exhilarating; the woman scorned as barren now sings of God’s generosity to those whom life has not favoured: the barren woman, yes, but also the feeble, the hungry, the poor and the needy, are lifted up, while the fertile, the full-fed, the mighty and the rich are put down. God’s goodness runs counter to the way of the world.
The author saw the world placed like a plate on four pillars which held it above the primeval waters. The inhabitants of the world may think they rule it, but they are forgetting: the pillars of the world belong to God, without whom there is no stability.
When Luke came to write the song of Mary the mother of Jesus, he used this song as a basis to express another woman’s joy that the Messiah would be born of a peasant woman and not of a queen. “He has put down potentates from their thrones /and has exalted the humble!” Messiah Jesus will represent throughout his life the same topsy-turvy kingdom of God as Samuel did before him. These great songs are high points in the Bible’s depiction of women.