Hannah vows that, if the LORD would give her a son, she would give the son back all the days of his life. After Samuel is born and weaned, Hannah and Elkanah present the boy in the temple. Many times, this is presented as Elkanah being supportive of Hannah’s choices and obligations. That he was an understanding husband, a passenger on the ride of Hannah’s righteous choice. Elkanah certainly was an understanding husband, but not in the way that is typically implied.
To understand what is really going on, we have to understand the proper authority of the husband over his wife and family, which even extends over vows made. Numbers 30:3-16 outlines the basic relationship, but it can be summed up by quoting verses 6-8:
“If she marries a husband, while under her vows or any thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself, and her husband hears of it and says nothing to her on the day that he hears, then her vows shall stand, and her pledges by which she has bound herself shall stand. But if, on the day that her husband comes to hear of it, he opposes her, then he makes void her vow that was on her, and the thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she bound herself. And the Lord will forgive her.
Elkanah had the right and authority to dissolve Hannah’s vow the moment he heard of it. We don’t know when Hannah told him of the vow, but we do know that whenever she did, he confirmed it. In 1 Samuel 1:21, it says the man Elkanah went up to “pay his vow.” His vow. Hannah’s vow was now Elkanah’s vow, and as the husband, it was now his responsibility to ensure it was fulfilled. Hannah, understandably, wants to delay, and Elkanah offers a gentle reminder in 1 Samuel 1:23:
Elkanah her husband said to her, “Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him; only, may the Lord establish his word.”
The husband’s role in all of this if further clarified in Numbers 30:15:
But if he makes them null and void after he has heard of them, then he shall bear her iniquity.
Like the entire relationship between a husband and his wife, this confirmation of authority also serves to provide a picture of Christ and His church. The husband takes responsibility, and bears the iniquity.
What light does it shine on husbands today? In most cases, we have abdicated or had this responsibility usurped.