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.