The Responsibility of Hannah’s Vow

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.

The Herald that Hannah Gets, Not the Herald She Deserves

In the Bible, whenever we are presented with a barren woman, we should be expecting the announcement of good news. Many times, a herald will come and pronounce that her suffering will be over, and a child is on the way.

  • Sarah hears of the news from 3 angelic beings, one of them being a theophany of God himself.
  • Manoah and his wife get the prototypical angel of the LORD to announce the coming of Samson.
  • The Shunammite Woman in 2 Kings 4 has Elisha tell her that she will bear a son.
  • Zechariah, in Luke 1, has an angel tell him that his wife would bear him a son named John.

In the opening chapter of 1 Samuel, we are presented with Hannah, and like other barren women, she will be blessed with a child. But the herald she gets saddled with is Eli.

Eli is introduced to us as a bumbling priest, who can’t even tell the difference between someone praying and someone being drunk. This hints at what is to come. We will be informed later that Eli’s eyes are dim, and his sons are out of control. Judgement is coming on his house (and by proxy, the nation) because of his apathy and impotence.

Here, acting as a herald, he doesn’t even know the content of Hannah’s petition. He simply offers a generic blessing. “May the God of Israel grant your petition.” Its a far cry from a prophet like Elisha or an angel of the LORD pronouncing something with authority. Neither Hannah nor Samuel seem to get the mighty herald they deserve, but as Robert Alter observes, Eli’s parody of such a herald sets the rest of the story up nicely, where Eli’s faulty authority will be replaced by the leadership of Samuel.

The Armor of Goliath, Saul, and David

Thinking more about armor took me back to the story of David and Goliath. In the Bible, clothing is often an expression of character and status, and nothing exemplifies this more than the passage detailing the defeat of Goliath of Gath.

And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. (1 Sam 17:4,5)(ESV)

First, it describes Goliath in his armor. The Hebrew word usually translated “coat of mail” literally means “scales.” As in the scales of a snake. David the giant slayer is also David the serpent slayer. This reinforces the Christological readings of Israel’s poet warrior. As a shepherd, David delivered sheep from the lion and the bear, and now he begins his role as shepherd of Israel by delivering it from the serpent. Given that this episode is immediately after David is anointed as king, this makes perfect sense.

Second, when Saul offers his own armor for David to use, armor that is described in similar terms as Goliath’s.

Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. (1 Sam 17:38)(ESV)

God has already rejected Saul, and so Saul becomes a shell of a king. This great warrior who would lead Israel in her battles, who is himself described as a giant, taller than all of the people, now sits impotent.

David rejects Saul’s armor, going out with only a sling and stones, because David will not be another Saul.  David will be a shepherd. He will use God’s faithfulness as a shield.

Later on in 1 Samuel, the connection with Saul and Goliath is made stronger when Saul is shown repeatedly to be carrying a spear. Saul becomes David’s new Goliath, but instead of facing the new giant head-on, David uses the shoes of peace to flee.

When we put on the armor of God, we are saying we want to be like God.  Like Christ. We want to share in his character and status. We must dress like the king if we want to be like the king. And like David, we must reject the armor of serpents and the worldly wisdom that goes with it.