Hannah was an oppressed woman, scorned by her husband’s rival wife because of her barrenness. But the way she prayed and trusted Yahweh through this hardship became a remarkable example of how God works through the lowly to subvert human notions of power and status. In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they trace the theme of the firstborn in the scroll of Samuel.
This story of this oppressed woman in pain and suffering and this story of this enfranchised but lazy and self-indulgent priest and his sons––they live out exactly the inversion that Hannah’s poem talks about. But it’s also really at the heart of God’s desire to exalt the humble and bring down the mighty. That’s how Yahweh establishes the pillars and the order of the world.
The theme of the firstborn is actually much broader than just firstborn sons. Ultimately, it has to do with the consistent pattern of God choosing, blessing, and favoring someone who appears underserving and giving them the status of the firstborn (responsibility, inheritance, blessing).
In part two (09:59-27:27), Tim and Jon turn their attention to the scroll of Samuel, which opens with a look at a family who has remained loyal to Yahweh in the midst of overwhelming national disloyalty to Yahweh (the period of time we read about in the scroll of Judges). Although not named in the Judges scroll, Samuel was the last judge of Israel before kings started ruling the nation.
The scroll of Samuel opens with the story of Samuel’s mother. Samuel’s father Elkanah was married to two women, Hannah and Penninah. Although Hannah’s name means “favor,” she appeared to be less favored by God than her counterpart. Penninah had multiple children, and Hannah was barren. They aren’t siblings, but the two wives are set up as rivals in the pattern we’ve seen through multiple iterations of sibling rivalry. Hannah was broken-hearted over her barrenness, and Penninah would rub it in, making fun of her. Every year, the family went to the tabernacle to offer sacrifices of Yahweh, and one year, Hannah implored Yahweh to give her children.
1 Samuel 1:11
She made a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your maidservant and remember me, and not forget your maidservant, but will give your maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.”
Hannah’s prayer links her to both Sarah and Abraham. She is like Sarah in her prolonged barrenness, and she is like Abraham who had to give up his son Isaac. However, the narrator is calling attention to a big difference here—Yahweh had to demand Abraham’s son Isaac, but Hannah willingly offers her son to Yahweh. She vows to make her son a Nazirite (Israelites who would serve all their lives as priests even though they weren’t from the tribe of Levi).
In part three (27:27-46:11), the guys explore the events that unfold after Hannah’s prayer. Yahweh answers her prayer and gives her a son—she names him Samuel. Keeping to her promise, Hannah dedicates Samuel in the tabernacle and leaves him there to serve Yahweh.
Hannah responds to her barrenness much differently than other prominent biblical characters so far. Abraham and Jacob, for instance, received God’s promise, got tired of waiting (more than once), and took matters into their own hands. Hannah goes straight to the source of her barrenness, asks him in faith for help, and then gives back to him what he gives to her.
Hannah’s trust puts her and her son Samuel in a position that will eventually “reawaken” the narrative tracing of the line of Judah—the line that will produce God’s promised snake-crusher. Throughout Joshua and Judges, the line of Judah all but disappears from the storyline of the Hebrew Bible until God chooses Samuel to be the one to anoint King David.
In 1 Samuel 2:1-10, we read Hannah’s remarkable poem. It’s a declaration of her gratitude for Yahweh delivering her from her barrenness, and it’s a prophetic foretelling of God’s future deliverance of humanity from sin and death. The poem is full of examples of how Yahweh maintains order in the cosmos by upsetting human ideas of order and reversing human power structures.
In part four (46:11-1:03:54), the guys continue to explore the implications of Hannah’s poem. She describes how Yahweh does away with evil people and wicked behavior—except at the time she sings this song, everyone in Israel is still “doing whatever is right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
The reason Hannah can write so confidently about peace, righteousness, and order is because her poem is a prophetic outline of what’s to come. Her story and her poem become a template for the unfolding story. It’s as if she’s saying, “The way Yahweh works in the world is like what he did for me. If you have eyes to see it, you’ll start seeing it everywhere.”
Shortly after this (later in the Samuel scroll), God will raise up King Saul, and then, as Saul’s heart turns away from Yahweh, God will remove Saul and anoint David to be king of Israel. This is yet another example of how Yahweh brings order by disordering human attempts at order.
Before this, we see another example of the firstborn theme in the life of Samuel. The narrator pits him as a rival to Eli’s sons, who are priests in the temple. Eli’s sons are corrupt, and eventually, God takes the lives of Eli and both his sons and appoints Samuel as high priest over Israel in place of Eli.
Show produced by Cooper Peltz with Associate Producer Lindsey Ponder. Edited by Dan Gummel, Tyler Bailey, and Frank Garza. Podcast annotations for the BibleProject app by Hannah Woo.
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