Friday, January 30, 2015

Samuel’s Little Robe (I Samuel 2:19)

Whose mother sent him a new coat each year? Samuel’s (I Samuel 2:19)

First Samuel opens with a woman named Hannah troubled by her infertility (I Samuel 1:1-8). She journeys to Israel’s religious epicenter, Shiloh, and prays to the Lord for a child, promising, “I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.” (I Samuel 1:11 NASB). After being unjustly rebuked by the priest, Eli (I Samuel1:12-18), her prayer is answered and she gives birth to a son, Samuel (I Samuel 1:19-28), for which she famously offers a prayer of thanksgiving (I Samuel 2:1-11).

The narrative then shifts to detailing the impropriety of Eli’s sons (I Samuel 2:12-17) before returning its focus to the boy Samuel, who was being raised in Shiloh (I Samuel 2:18-21).

Immediately after mentioning that Samuel is wearing a priestly ephod (I Samuel 2:18), the text notes that Hannah periodically returns to Shiloh to present her son with a robe (I Samuel 2:19).

And his mother would make him a little robe and bring it to him from year to year when she would come up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. (I Samuel 2:19 NASB)
This child will grow up to become one of the most pivotal figures in Israel’s history. Gene M. Tucker (b. 1935) focuses:
Even children of destiny have parents. Here, of course, his mother Hannah stands out. Although she had “loaned him” to the Lord (I Samuel 1:28, 2:20 RSV) in fulfillment of her vow [I Samuel 1:11], she continued to be his mother. One cannot help but he touched by the account of the mother who sees her young son but rarely, each year bringing him “a little robe” [I Samuel 2:19], He is, after all, a growing boy, and last year’s robe will soon be too short. (Fred B. Craddock [b. 1928], John H. Hayes [1934-2013], Carl R. Holladay [b. 1943] and Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: Year C: A Comprehensive Commentary on the Lectionary, 45)
The image of the young man in his little robe has become iconic. F.B. Meyer (1847-1929) informs:
Dean [Arthur Penrhyn] Stanley [1815-1881] tells us that, in his gentler moments, Martin Luther [1483-1546] used to dwell on these early chapters of the books of Samuel with the tenderness which formed the occasional counterpoise to the ruder passions and enterprises of his stormy life. Indeed, students of the Scriptures in every age have been arrested by the figure of this little child girded with his linen ephod, or in the little robe which his mother brought him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice [I Samuel 2:18-19]. (Meyer, Samuel: The Prophet, 3)
In consecutive verses, the narrative addresses the child’s wardrobe (I Samuel 2:18-19). Bruce C. Birch (b. 1941) tracks:
The failure of Eli’s sons in their priestly duties is followed by a notice concerning Samuel’s education as a priest [I Samuel 2:18-21]...The notice about Samuel’s clothing [I Samuel 2:18] bridges to a brief account of the small robe Hannah would make and bring to Samuel each year [I Samuel 2:19]. (Birch, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume II: Numbers, Deuteronomy, Introduction to Narrative Literature, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 987)
Robert P. Gordon (b. 1945) supposes:
He [Samuel] wears a linen ephod, probably a loincloth, in accordance with priestly custom (e.g. I Samuel 22:18); there is no talk of lower-age limits for priestly service in this story where grown men have failed (cf. Numbers 8:24-26; I Chronicles 23:24-32). A more substantial outer robe (I Samuel 2:19) was supplied for his growing frame when his mother made her accustomed visits to Shiloh. (Gordon, I & II Samuel: A Commentary, 82)
Ronald F. Youngblood (b. 1931) evaluates:
Even as a young apprentice priest under Eli’s supervision, Samuel wore the linen ephod characteristic of that ministry [I Samuel 2:18]. Anthony Phillips [b. 1936] (“David’s Linen Ephod,” Vetus Testamentum 19/4 [1969]: 487), primarily on the basis of II Samuel 6:14, attempted to prove that Samuel’s ephod “is not to be understood as a special priestly garment but a brief loincloth suitable for young children.” But Phillips fails to explain why David (II Samuel 6:14) would wear a child’s garment, and he resorts to the Septuagint’s omission of linen in I Samuel 22:18 to confirm his belief that the eighty-five priests slaughtered by Doeg are not described there as “wearing” ephods but as “carrying” an “oracular instrument” (another meaning for ’ēpōd). N.L. Tidwell (“The Linen Ephod: I Samuel 2:18 and II Samuel 6:14,” Vetus Testamentum 24/4 [1974]:505-07) rightly criticizes Phillips’ view in favor of the traditional interpretation: “Linen ephod” always refers to a priest’s garment, whether worn by a youth or by an adult. Indeed, the little “robe” that Samuel’s mother made for him annually as he was growing up (II Samuel 2:19) may well have been an example of the “robe of the ephod” mentioned in Exodus 28:31 (the Hebrew word for “robe” being the same in both passages). Although David is not described as wearing such a robe in II Samuel 6:14, he is so depicted in the parallel text of I Chronicles 15:27. (Tremper Longman III [b. 1952] and David E. Garland [b. 1947], 1 Samuel ~ 2 Kings (Expositor’s Bible Commentary), 60)
A. Graeme Auld (b. 1941) supplements:
The ephod with which he is girded [I Samuel 2:18] is worn or borne almost always by priests; and we shall find David wearing it bringing the ark to Jerusalem (II Samuel 6:14)...We may wonder whether this youngster’s distinctive uniform anticipates a priestly role or a royal (or at least leadership) role. The topic of dress is immediately developed in the final scene, in which his mother appears (I Samuel 2:19-21). The little “robe” she makes for him is worn alike by princes and priests (indeed Exodus 28:31 talks of “the robe for the ephod”). And, just as he himself had been “brought up” (I Samuel 1:24-25 in both the Greek Text and Masoretic Text) to the sanctuary—the same verb as is also used of offering certain sacrifices there—so too his mother “brings up” this garment “periodically” (the same term is used for the “periodic” sacrifice). (Auld, I & II Samuel: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 49)
Hannah leaves Samuel in the care of Eli, the priest (I Samuel 1:24-28). Though she is not a daily part of her firstborn son’s life, she does visit him. Most English translations convey annual pilgrimages in conjunction with sacrifice: “each year” (ESV, NLT, NRSV, RSV), “annual” (HCSB, MSG, NIV), “year to year” (ASV, KJV, NASB), “year by year” (NKJV), “every year” (CEV). The Hebrew, however, is not this explicit.

P. Kyle McCarter, Jr. (b. 1945) notifies:

From time to time...the seasonal sacrifice [I Samuel 2:19] [is in]...Hebrew miyyāmîm yāmînâ...’et-zebah hayyāmîm. As in I Samuel 1:3, 21 to translate these expressions “Year by year...the annual sacrifice” would be overprecise, even though an annual pilgrimage may in fact be involved here. (McCarter, I Samuel (Anchor Bible), 84)
The notice regarding Samuel’s progress serves to indicate a passage of time (I Samuel 2:18-21). Alfons Schulz (1871-1947) approves:
I Samuel 2:19 delightfully relates how at the pilgrimage each year Hannah, the mother, brings her son, who serves in the sanctuary, a new robe—obviously because in the meantime he has ‘grown out of’ the old one: a splendid, childlike touch in a brief remark. (David M. Gunn [b. 1942], “Narrative Arts in the Books of Samuel,” Narrative and Novella in Samuel: Studies by Hugo Gressmann [1877-1927] and Other Scholars 1906-1923, 168-69)
Many have seen an irregularity as the term for coat is in the singular (I Samuel 2:19): Does Hannah return the same coat on each visit?

One Midrash explains this perceived discrepancy with an ancient version of Ann Brashares [b.1967]’s The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Basil Herring (b. 1947) retells:

The Bible tells us, “Moreover, his mother made him a little robe and brought it to him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice” (I Samuel 2:19). Now the midrash...asks how it could be that she brought the same robe every year as he was growing up. Did he not outgrow it, as every mother knows? The answer, says the midrash, is that something miraculous occurred: although the child grew from year to year, he never outgrew the garment—it grew with him, it always fit, it was never too tight. Indeed, says the midrash, when he became the leader of Israel, Samuel continued to wear this robe long after his mother had died...What is the midrash trying to suggest? The answer, one might say, is that this mother’s robe was a reflection of her love—it was not static but dynamic; it changed with time; it grew and evolved, it took different forms and expressions, appropriate to the stages of life as Samuel himself went through his own phases...As a mother Hannah had found the key to allowing her love for Samuel to grow with him, in spite of the inevitable separation and distance that time would bring, allowing him to develop his own identity, making his own choices, his own mistakes, and his own life. (Herring, The Jewish Imagination: Discourses on Contemporary Jewish Life, 152)
Most interpreters have come to the logical conclusion that Hannah presents her son with new robes (I Samuel 2:19). Amos Oz (b. 1939) and Fania Oz-Salzberger (b. 1960) praise:
Don’t let the singular noun form mislead you: she made him a new little coat every year, fit to size, and the biblical author recognizes the sweetness of that petit priest-child clothing [I Samuel 2:19]. For Hannah, not Bathsheba, is the earliest linchpin of the two faces of Jewish motherhood: great physical tenderness, and early scholarly sendoff. Heartbroken at the shrine or school gate, but decisively returning home to start next year’s little coat. (Oz and Oz-Salzberger, Jews and Words, 83)
Warren W. Wiersbe (b. 1929) correlates:
In Scripture, garments often speak of the spiritual life (Isaiah 61:10; Zechariah 3:1-5; Ephesians 4:22-32; Colossians 3:8-17; I Peter 5:5), and a change of clothing symbolizes a new beginning (Genesis 35:2, 41:14, 45:22; Exodus 19:10; Revelation 3:18). Each year’s new garments spoke not only of a boy growing physically but also spiritually (I Samuel 2:21), and this reminds us of out Lord who “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52 NKJV). (Wiersbe, Be Successful (1 Samuel): Attaining Wealth That Money Can’t Buy, 29)
Randy Frazee (b. 1961) situates:
Just as Samuel’s mom-made robe got a little bigger each year [I Samuel 2:19], so did the assignment God had in mind for him. In the Upper Story perspective, God was preparing the young man to lead Israel through its own awkward adolescence. (Frazee, The Heart of the Story: God’s Masterful Design to Restore His People, 98)
Hannah bestows her son a “little robe” (ASV, ESV, HCSB, MSG, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NRSV, RSV), “little coat” (KJV), “small coat” (NLT) or “clothes” (CEV) (I Samuel 2:19).

Victor P. Hamilton (b. 1952) identifies:

While we cannot be sure about the nature of the “robe” Samuel wore (I Samuel 2:19), the word me‘îl for the priest’s robe is described at length in Exodus 28:31-35 and Exodus 39:22-26. Jonathan wears one (I Samuel 18:4), as do Saul (I Samuel, 24:5, 12) and even Samuel’s spirit (I Samuel 28:14). (Hamilton, Handbook on the Historical Books: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, Esther, 221)
Eugene H. Peterson (b. 1932) assumes:
The ephod that Hannah made for Samuel was a distinctive garment of some kind, worn by priests [I Samuel 2:19]. An elaborate description of the ephod worn by the high priest is provided in Exodus 28:5-14. The robe Hannah sewed must have been a simpler form. (Peterson, First and Second Samuel (Westminster Bible Companion), 34)
Alexander Francis Kirkpatrick (1849-1940) surveys:
The Hebrew mě‘īl denotes a kind of long upper tunic worn by kings (I Chronicles 15:27), prophets (I Samuel 15:27), men of position (Job 2:12), women of rank (II Samuel 13:18). The term is applied to a part of the High Priest’s dress, the robe of the Ephod (Exodus 28:31), and it is suggested in the Speaker’s Commentary that “mention of the ephod and the robe as worn by the youthful Samuel taken in connexion with his after acts seems to point to an extraordinary and irregular priesthood to which he was called by God in an age when the provisions of the Levitical law were not yet in full operation.” (Kirkpatrick, The First Book of Samuel: with Map, Notes and Introduction, 58)
Some interpreters have associated Samuel’s distinctive attire with a particular status. V. Philips Long (b. 1951) acknowledges:
The “little robe” provided by Hannah is probably an outer garment of some sort to be worn over the linen priestly ephod [I Samuel 2:19]. In both the Bible and the ancient Near East generally, special garments often carried symbolic significance or marked the wearer as holding a particular office or status. (John H. Walton [b. 1952], Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), 281)
John H. Walton (b. 1952) and Kim E. Walton (b. 1954) bolster:
The word translated “robe” [I Samuel 2:19] refers not to everyday clothing but to a priestly garment (Exodus 28:31-34; I Chronicles 15:27). The garment described by this word was worn by others besides priests but was typically worn by someone with a particular status or authority. (Walton and Walton, The Bible Story Handbook: A Resource for Teaching 175 Stories from the Bible, 150)
Keith Bodner (b. 1967) questions:
In two successive sentences there is a reference to Samuel’s garment (“But Samuel was serving in the LORD’s presence, a lad outfitted in a linen ephod. And a little robe his mother would make for him” [I Samuel 2:18-19]). Does this juxtaposition (priestly ephod, prophetic mantle) symbolize or prefigure his multiple offices? Ora Horn Prouser [b. 1961] (1996:27-37) notes that often in I and II Samuel, “clothes make the man,” meaning “clothing” is found at a number of key moments in the narrative. (Bodner, National Insecurity: A Primer on the First Book of Samuel, 31)
Diana Vikander Edelman (b. 1954) remarks:
The me‘îl, while a common piece of clothing for those of rank, seems to have been especially associated with the office of prophet (cf. I Samuel 2:19, 15:27; II Kings 2:13-18). (Edelman, King Saul in the Historiography of Judah, 245-46)
David Toshio Tsumura (b. 1944) equates:
The small robe which Hannah made for Samuel [I Samuel 2:19] may be a special garment for priests like the Akkadian tēlītu garment (cf. I Samuel 15:27, 28:14). (Tsumura, The First Book of Samuel (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 159)
Not all have been convinced that Samuel’s garments indicate status. Peter D. Miscall (b. 1943) differentiates:
The linen ephod is apparently part of his official garb at Shiloh [I Samuel 2:18]; the little robe is an annual gift from his mother and not necessarily any type of cultic attire [I Samuel 2:19]. (Miscall, 1 Samuel: A Literary Reading, 17)
James E. Smith (b. 1939) dismisses:
The robe [I Samuel 2:19] was an outer garment of wool, woven throughout without seam, with holes for the head and arms, and reaching nearly to the ground. This garment was the ordinary dress of all classes of people. It has no special meaning except that in this handiwork, Hannah exhibited her motherly pride and care. (Smith, 1 & 2 Samuel (College Press NIV Commentary), 62)
John Mauchline (1902-1984) concurs:
The little robe (I Samuel 2:19) or ‘small cloak’ which Hannah brought to Samuel on her annual visit to Shiloh was probably not an official vestment but an ordinary wearing garment, which expressed the mother’s care for her son. (Mauchline, 1 and 2 Samuel (New Century Bible), 52)
Regardless of its meaning, Hannah insures that Samuel is well dressed. Hans Wilhelm Hertzberg (1895-1965) determines:
The little robe which the mother makes for her son year by year and brings with her when she comes on pilgrimage is an indication of her motherly care [I Samuel 2:19]—the boy would grow out of the previous year’s robe—and pride; such a garment is a sign of distinction (cf. the mantle in Isaiah 3:6). (Hertzberg, I and II Samuel: A Commentary (The Old Testament Library), 35)
The robe is emphasized in its Hebrew positioning (I Samuel 2:19). J.P. Fokkelman (b. 1940) illumines:
The narrator ensures that we do not underestimate the connotations of the garment and prepares us for any symbolism by an inversion in his second line (I Samuel 2:19a). Even though it is the grammatical object “a small coat” is conspicuously placed in initial position. The article of clothing complements the priestly apron [I Samuel 2:18] and is going to provide the boy with the warmth he is not often to be given by the mountain climate in Ephraim. The small coat symbolizes, and is a substitute for maternal warmth. (Fokkelman, Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel, Volume IV: Vow and Desire, 124)
Roy L. Heller (b. 1963) accents:
His mother...regularly brings him a handmade mě‘îl qātōn (“little robe”) from time to time when she comes to sacrifice with her husband [I Samuel 2:19]. This robe is far from negligible in the context of the story. The syntax of the first clause of I Samuel 2:19 actually fronts the object and relegates the subject, “his mother,” to the very end; the Hebrew reads: ûmě‘îl qātōn ta‘ăśeh lô’immô (“and a little robe she-used-to-make-for-him his-mother”). In the Exodus traditions, the robe was part of the priestly vestments (Exodus 28:4, 31, 34, 29:5, 39:22-26). It is, therefore, unusual that his mother should be making it; he should be given one due to his priestly activities, as with the ephod...The literary significance of mě‘îl (“robe”) in the books of Samuel, however, reveals a very different function. It is, consistently, the article of clothing most closely identified with political, usually royal, power (I Samuel 2:19, 18;4, 24:5, 12; II Samuel 13:18). It is moreover, the article of clothing that will identify Samuel himself in his final confrontation with Saul during his life (I Samuel 15:27) as well as the one after his death (I Samuel 28:14). The little robe worn by the boy Samuel, therefore, serves as a foreshadowing of the political power that he will exercise, and will desperately hold onto, in the later stories about him. In its immediate context here, however, the boy Samuel’s “little robe” serves as the positive introductory image that leads, almost immediately, to Eli’s blessing of his parents [I Samuel 2:20]. Unlike the ineffective speech that Eli will pronounce in the next section [I Samuel 2:22-36], his blessing here leads to YHWH’s regard for Hannah, her conception, and her bearing three sons and two daughters [I Samuel 2:21]. (Heller, Power, Politics, and Prophecy: The Character of Samuel and the Deuteronomistic Evaluation of Prophecy, 54)
Some have been bothered by the robe remaining perpetually “little” (I Samuel 2:19 NASB). Henry Preserved Smith (1847-1927) presumes:
There seems no reason to find fault with the statement on the ground that as the boy grew it would no longer be a little robe [I Samuel 2:19]. The narrator has the early years especially in mind. Doubtless the cloth was spun and woven by his mother, as well as the robe cut and sewed by her. (Smith, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Books of Samuel (International Critical Commentary), 19)
Even as a child, Samuel is dressed as a little man (I Samuel 2:18-19). Martin Sicker (b. 1931) considers:
As the child grew, every year his mother made him a little robe [I Samuel 2:19], “a long outer garment worn by people of rank or special status.” It has been suggested that the reason for pointing out that she made him a little robe, it being self-evident that the robe for a toddler would have to be small, is that robes usually were worn by grown men and not by children. Dressing the child in a robe, which was replaced yearly with a new one, so that he always appeared well groomed and clothed as a small man, markedly different in appearance from other children, served as tangible affirmation of Hannah’s conviction that Samuel was destined to be a man of great importance in Israel...It may be observed that although Samuel was not and never would be eligible for service as a priest [Leviticus 18:1-7; I Samuel 1:1] even from the time he was a toddler his mother dressed him in clothes clearly emblematic of the officiating priesthood, effectively emulating Moses who, in consecrating Aaron and his sons as priests, invested them with visible emblems of their holiness, including the distinctive ephod and robe [Exodus 28:1-4]. (Sicker, The First Book of Samuel: A Study in Prophetic History, 33-34)
Frank G. Honeycutt (b. 1957) illustrates:
I read a book long ago written by Randall Balmer [b. 1954], who teaches religion at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. Randall had a very dominant pastor father who wanted his son to grow up and preach the Word. There’s a great picture in the book of Randall at age six, standing behind his birthday present that year: a miniature pulpit just his size, every hair in place with Vitalis. This is how I usually think about Samuel in our lesson—dutiful, obedient, cherubic, small; robed with his little slippers. A very, very good little boy. (Honeycutt, Jesus and the Family: Crisis and Conversion in the American Household, 58)
Samuel will come to be associated with a robe for the remainder of his career. John Woodhouse (b. 1949) reveals:
Samuel would wear a robe for the rest of his life (and beyond!), and his robe will feature at two important points later in the story (I Samuel 15:27 and I Samuel 28:14). (Woodhouse, 1 Samuel: Looking for a Leader (Preaching the Word), 56)
J.P. Fokkelman (b. 1940) reviews:
The reader, who has taken a look further on, now knows what Hannah is not able to foresee: the coat (me‘īl) [I Samuel 2:19] is to accompany Samuel constantly and is to be an essential attribute of his, in his office as prophet, during two dramatic encounters with Saul [I Samuel 15:27, 28:14). There the garment has to do with the doom and the death of the first king...Hannah is not only linked through her poetry, to the monarchy which is the future of the country, but to this concrete object which she herself makes and replaces annually. Via the small coat she protects Samuel right from the start in his new stage of life, which stage is never to come to an end, that of being a Nazirite [I Samuel 1:11]. That way whilst remaining in absentia for most of the year she nevertheless keeps on looking after the boy whom we know is to grow into a kingmaker. (Fokkelman, Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel, Volume IV: Vow and Desire, 124)
Robert Polzin (b. 1937) echoes:
From the earliest days of his youth to his resurrection in I Samuel 28:11-20, Samuel wears a robe representing the royalty that was wrapped around Israel during the course of the story. When Samuel first started ministering to the LORD at Shiloh, his mother Hannah began a practice of making a small robe (me‘îl qāton), which she would take him each year when she went up to Shiloh (I Samuel 2:19). That young, berobed Samuel is now an old man and dead, and the robe has become a shroud [I Samuel 28:14]. During his career, Samuel’s robe was torn by Saul (I Samuel 15:27), an action Samuel interprets as the tearing away of the kingdom from Saul. Jonathan’s robe played a similar role when he stripped it off to hand over to David (I Samuel 18:4), again signifying the transfer of royal power, the kingdom, from Saul’s house to David’s. Then David himself cut off the end of Saul’s robe in I Samuel 24:5, presenting Saul and the reader with a cleaner, more clearcut image of the seizing of kingship. When Saul had seized Samuel’s robe, the kingdom was torn from Saul’s grasp; when David cut Saul’s robe, it was delivered up into his hands. This robe of royalty appears one final time in I Samuel, now wrapped around a dead person. In line with the conjoined character zones of Samuel and Saul throughout the story, Samuel is clothed in a dead man’s robe as he foretells the imminent death of Saul and his sons. The robe as shroud enfolds Saul’s death and well as Samuel’s. (Polzin, Samuel and the Deuteronomist: A Literary Study of the Deuteronomic History, Part Two: 1 Samuel, 218)
Meir Shalev (b. 1948) connects:
I see Samuel’s robe as his trademark garment, akin to Elijah’s mantle [II Kings 2:11-14]. Samuel’s custom of always wearing a robe originated in his early childhood, when his mother Hannah gave him over to the House of the Lord at Shiloh [I Samuel 2:19]. The “little robe”—these are the Bible’s touching words—was the gift she would bring on her annual visit to her son who grew bigger each year, and it became the symbol of her love, and her main connection with him. I imagine that Samuel’s enormous rage after the war with Amalek, when Saul clutched and accidentally tore the hem of his robe [I Samuel 15:27], derived from Samuel’s deep emotional bond with his garment. (Shalev, Beginnings: Reflections on the Bible's Intriguing Firsts, 84)
Significantly, First Samuel sandwiches notices of Samuel’s growth (I Samuel 2:18-21, 26) between accounts of the shortcomings of Eli’s family (I Samuel 2:12-17, 22-25, 27-36).

Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933) observes:

“The rise of Samuel” is narrated in counterpoint to the account of “Eli’s fall” [I Samuel 2:11-36]. Samuel’s rise is punctuated by a series of carefully placed statements reporting his growth to manhood and his maturation in faith [I Samuel 2:18-21, 26]. There is irony in the fact that he is nurtured in faith by Eli, the very one whom he displaces. (Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 22)
James D. Newsome, Jr. (b. 1931) asks:
As if the final compiler of this story wished to weave a tapestry, the dark fibers of the priests’ sacrilege are interrupted at important points by the emerging bright thread of young Samuel’s purity and innocense (I Samuel 2:18-20, 26). And lying side by side, the two patterns of behavior seem all the more at odds. How could Hophni and Phinehas stoop so low, we are asked to wonder. How could the boy remain so essentially good in such a corrupted atmosphere? (Newsome, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel (Knox Preaching Guides), 21)
Ben F. Philbeck, Jr. (1931-1989) praises:
The insertion of these brief verses [I Samuel 2:18-21] describing God’s blessings on Samuel’s family demonstrates the author’s mastery of the storyteller’s art. The passage adds little to the progress of the narrative, but the account of Samuel’s simple ministry before the Lord and of Hannah’s good fortune serve as a perfect foil for the misfortunes which are about to befall Eli’s house [I Samuel 2:27-36]. (Clifton J. Allen [1901-1986], General Articles, 1 Samuel - Nehemiah (Broadman Bible Commentary), 17)
Samuel is intentionally juxtaposed with Eli’s sons. Bill T. Arnold (b. 1955) encapsulates:
The positive evaluation of Samuel and his family...begins with a general statement, setting the tone for I Samuel 2:18-21: “Samuel was ministering before the LORD—a boy wearing a linen ephod” [I Samuel 2:18]...This ideal scene, so lovingly describing the adorned little priest, is surely a dramatic contrast to the grasping and avaricious sons of Eli. Through the years, Eli comes to appreciate this devout family, blessing them and praying that Yahweh will honor their faithfulness [I Samuel 2:20]. (Arnold, 1 & 2 Samuel (NIV Application Commentary))
Tony W. Cartledge (b. 1951) contrasts:
The narrator purposefully punctures the account of Eli’s worthless sons with periodic glimpses at Hannah’s more worthy child. While Hophni and Phinehas were appropriating Israel’s sacrifices for their own gain [I Samuel 2:12-17], “Samuel was ministering before the LORD, a boy wearing a linen ephod” (I Samuel 2:18). (Cartledge, 1 & 2 Samuel: Bible Commentary (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary), 55)
Mary J. Evans (b. 1949) expounds:
In contrast with the grasping materialism of Hophni and Phinehas [I Samuel 2:12-17] is the thankful service offered by Samuel and his mother. Samuel was ministering before the LORD [I Samuel 2:18], presumably as his age allowed under Eli’s direction. The ongoing contribution of Hannah—giving Samuel to God [I Samuel 1:11] and giving clothes to Samuel [I Samuel 2:19]—is mentioned, alongside Eli’s blessing [I Samuel 2:20]. It appears that Eli did not participate in his sons’ irreverent greed, and his cooperation with those coming to offer sacrifices contrasts with the bullying of his sons and their servants. God’s gracious response to this obedient service, giving Hannah five more children [I Samuel 2:21], provides a further contrast with God’s condemnation of Eli’s sons (I Samuel 2:27-36). (Evans, 1 & 2 Samuel (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series))
Dale Ralph Davis (b. 1944) notices:
One cannot help but observe the contrast between I Samuel 2:19-21 and I Samuel 2:22-26, a delightful scene set against an ominous one...There is a clear parallelism between the two scenes, but the parallels highlight the differences. Here (I Samuel 2:19-21), Yahweh is giving life, there he has resolved death. (Davis, Looking on the Heart: Expositions of the Book of 1 Samuel, Volume 1: 1 Samuel 1-14, 32)
Francesca Aran Murphy (b. 1960) adds:
In antithesis and parallel to Eli, Samuel...points us toward the monarchy: his role in the story to come will be as the radar for the legitimacy of Israel’s kings. The priest of the Lord will elect and deselect Yahweh’s kings. (Murphy, 1 Samuel (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 26)
Samuel’s superiority over Eli’s sons may be evident even in his clothing (I Samuel 2:18-19). Eugene H. Peterson (b. 1932) contemplates:
Whereas the scoundrel sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are characterized by a story in which they aggressively grab whatever they can get from the holy place [I Samuel 2:12-17], Samuel, the blessed son, is characterized by a story in which he is clothed year after year in a succession of priestly robes, custom-sown by his mother, suited to his growing stature [I Samuel 2:18-21]. Clothing can either disguise or reveal our true identity. Eli’s sons, dressed in their inherited, hand-me-down priestly robes, looked like priests but were, in fact, wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). The handmade, custom-tailored robe worn by Hannah’s son revealed his true priestly identity. (Peterson, First and Second Samuel (Westminster Bible Companion), 34)
Linking these accounts reminds the reader that this mixed bag, a holy place run by an unholy family, marks the atmosphere in which Samuel is raised (I Samuel 2:12-21). John Goldingay (b. 1942) resolves:
This is the context in which Samuel is brought up! Did Hannah know? What chance is there that he will grow up in the proper way, as a “boy” functioning among the other “boys” implicated in the abuses undertaken by Eli’s sons [I Samuel 2:12-17]? Fortunately Samuel is growing up “in Yahweh’s presence” as well as “in Eli’s presence” [I Samuel 2:11]. (Goldingay, 1 & 2 Samuel for Everyone, 29)
Andrew W. Blackwood (1882-1966) assures:
A good child can grow up with evil men, much as a white lily may emerge from the blackest muck. More than a little depends on the character of the original stock. Even when forced to dwell among older fellows as base as the sons of Eli, a lad like Samuel keeps on serving the God of his mother and father. In army and navy training camps, here at home and on countless battlefields beyond the seven seas, young men who had loved God back at home kept on being loyal despite all the seductions of a world at war. (Blackwood, Preaching From Samuel, 33)
Hannah’s bestowing Samuel with a robe is typically seen as an act of love (I Samuel 2:19). It is a means for Hannah to see her son (I Samuel 2:19). Serge Frolov (b. 1959) footnotes:
The verbal forms used in I Samuel 2:19a identify both actions that it refers to as equally repetitive; the sequence ימימה מימים לו והעלתה אמו תעשה־לו קטן ומעיל should therefore be rendered ‘and his mother used to make him a little overcoat and regularly bring it up to him’. In other words, Hannah cleverly used the natural process of the boy’s physical growth, referred to in I Samuel 2:21b, to stay in touch with him: before each pilgrimage she would make a new, presumably larger, coat and bring it to Shiloh. The King James Version obscures this nuance by using indicative simple past forms (“His mother made him a little coat and brought it to him from year to year”). (Frolov, The Turn of the Cycle: 1 Samuel 1-8 in Synchronic and Diachronic Perspectives, 103)
Like Little Orphan Annie’s beloved locket, the robe serves as a tangible reminder to Samuel that his mother loves him. She is present even when she is absent.

Eugene H. Merrill (b. 1934) interprets:

Though Samuel’s mother had given Samuel to the LORD [I Samuel 1:11], she retained her maternal love and responsibility. She came yearly to Shiloh to attend to the needs of her son [I Samuel 2:19]. Nor did the LORD forget Hannah. As is so often the case, He gave her not only what she had prayed for but much more—in her case three sons and two daughters [I Samuel 2:21] (cf. the example of Rachel, Genesis 30:22-24; 35:16-18). (John F. Walvoord [1910-2002] and Roy B. Zuck [1932-2013], The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, 435)
Joan E. Cook infers:
After the intercalated story of Eli’s corrupt sons [I Samuel 2:12-17] (further reason for Hannah to wonder about her own son’s safety) the narrative implies that Hannah lived in Ramah with Elkanah when the conclusion explains that they made the annual trip together, and each year she took him a little robe [I Samuel 2:19]. She did not completely relinquish care of him, but continued to look after his well-being. And we can be sure she took the opportunity to make certain that her son was receiving proper care from his mentor at the shrine. Eli blessed the couple, praying that they would have other children, after which Hannah had three more sons and two daughters [I Samuel 2:20-21]. (Cook, Hannah’s Desire, God's Design: Early Interpretations of the Story of Hannah, 40)
Stephens G. Lytch (b. 1953) envisions:
Her love was evident in the gift that she took him on her regular visits to Shiloh. She always brought him a little robe [I Samuel 2:19]. It was nothing extravagant, but one can imagine the love she poured into each stitch as she made the robe, thinking of her son and whispering prayers of gratitude to God for the gift of his life. One hopes that the presents we give our loved ones are as loaded with care and gratitude. (David L. Bartlett [b. 1941] and Barbara Brown Taylor [b. 1951], Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Volume 1, Advent through Transfiguration, 148)
Dallas A. Brauninger (b. 1943) relates:
Someone sees when a parent does the little sustaining things for a child in the name of love. Parents will know later what this teaches a child. So be of good courage, you who are a parent, for being a parent is a holy trust. (Brauninger, Lectionary Worship Aids: Series V, Cycle C, 24)
Elizabeth George (b. 1944) applies:
How does a woman who loves God and her family fill her days when her nest is empty? Note Hannah’s example. Mark it well! Rather than give in to sadness, Hannah worked on long-distance love. Each year she made Samuel a little robe and took it to him (I Samuel 2:19). (George, The Remarkable Women of the Bible: And Their Message for Your Life Today, 181)
Hannah’s attentiveness to her son moves the priest Eli; he pronounces blessing and she births five more children (I Samuel 2:20-21). Robert P. Gordon (b. 1945) comments:
As with the midwives in the Exodus story (Exodus 1:21), Hannah’s faithfulness was rewarded with the gift of a family (cf. Psalm 127:3). Significantly, this prosperity is connected with Eli’s priestly blessing, and the relationship between the aged priest and Elkanah’s family fulfills the ideal of a happy co-operation between priesthood and people which is so desiderated in I Samuel 1:12-17. (Gordon, I & II Samuel: A Commentary, 82-83)
Antony F. Campbell (b. 1934) inspects:
Samuel and his family stand in sharp contrast. Samuel is in the service of the LORD. The little robe, renewed each year, is a pointer to the child’s growth [I Samuel 2:19]; the reference to the repeated visits and the birth of five more children evokes the passage of time [I Samuel 2:21]. But, above all, it is symbolic of the blessing and favor bestowed on the family, in direct connection with Samuel (I Samuel 2:20). While Eli blesses Elkanah and his wife, the weight of his blessing seems to fall on the man; when its fulfillment is reported, the emphasis is on the LORD’s visiting the woman. And Samuel grew in the presence of the LORD (I Samuel 2:21b), while the sons of Eli were growing in contempt of the LORD (I Samuel 2:17). Eli is treated gently (I Samuel 2:20); the reproach is reserved for his sons. (Campbell, 1 Samuel (Forms of the Old Testament Literature), 49)
This marks Hannah’s last appearance in Bible’s narrative (I Samuel 2:18-21). Presumably tending to her children, she is effectively written out of the text.

David Jobling (b. 1941) discusses:

Hannah assists and monitors Samuel’s progress at the shrine when each year she takes him a new robe [I Samuel 2:19]. When we last hear of her she has become the mother of a large family, a family that, we are led to believe, she owes to the priestly blessing of Eli [I Samuel 2:20-21]. It is not clear that either she or Elkanah wants these children. (Jobling, 1 Samuel (Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry), 133)
Hillel I. Millgram (b. 1931) investigates:
With this touching picture of Hannah settled among her growing family, sewing a new little robe for her son and bringing it to him each year [I Samuel 2:19], Hannah fades from the view of history. And were this all there is to the story, the mystery of the author’s reason for opening the book with Hannah would remain unsolved. But this is not all. Besides her great act of commitment and renunciation, she left us another legacy, commonly known as “Hannah’s Prayer” [I Samuel 2:1-10]. (Millgram, The Invention of Monotheist Ethics: Exploring the First Book of Samuel, 34)
The woman whose story began with bemoaning her barrenness, is remembered as a mother. Lillian R. Klein (b. 1929) attends:
Hannah’s narrative concludes with a comment on her annual visit with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice [I Samuel 2:19]. At that time, her motherhood is emphasized: it is not “Hannah” but “his [Samuel’s] mother” who makes a “little robe” and brings it to him at Shiloh...Hannah’s image is secure indeed: she is recognized as mother of Samuel — who becomes a prophet, judge, and king-maker — and as a good woman. (Carol L. Meyers [b. 1942], Toni Craven [b. 1944] and Ross Shepard Kraemer [b. 1948], “Hannah”, Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books and New Testament, 91)
Robert D. Bergen (b. 1954) attributes:
Samuel’s mother annually brought Samuel a robe (mě‘îl) [I Samuel 2:19], a longer outer garment worn by members of the Levitical tribe involved in priestly service (cf. Leviticus 8:7). This thoughtful gift from Hannah suggests that although Samuel was gone from the household in Ramah, he was still very much in Hannah’s heart (cf. Proverbs 31:19-21). Through the use of clothing motif in portraying Samuel’s career (cf. I Samuel 15:27), the writer suggests that Samuel’s life was the outcome of a splendid mother of faith. (Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel (New American Commentary), 79-80)
Samuel may be gone from Hannah’s day to day life but he is not forgotten. Her bringing a “little robe cut to his size” (I Samuel 2:19 MSG) reveals that she keeps watch over him and loves him continually though her physical presence in his life is only sporadic. In kind, Samuel, one of Israel’s greatest figures, is remembered more as the son of his mother than that of his father. Hannah’s love, embodied in his robe, carries him throughout his life.

What is Hannah trying to communicate by bringing Samuel a new robe (I Samuel 2:19)? What does the garment mean to Samuel? What other items could Hannah have brought her son? Were you Samuel, what would you have wanted your parents to send you? What does Samuel’s coat speak to parents who cannot be involved in the daily activities of their children? Does Samuel’s adult attire hinder his experience of childhood? If Hannah provides Samuel’s little robe, who bestows his ephod (I Samuel 2:18-19)? Does the ephod complement or conflict with the robe provided by Hannah? What is the desired relationship between clergy and lay people? When has a child consistently dressed as an adult? Who do you know of who wore the same attire throughout life; who has a signature outfit? What did your parents or guardians dress you in? If there is a specific attire associated with your profession; if so who provided your first specimen? Do you keep anything associated with your parents? What objects represent love to you?

Contrary to the natural interest of many readers, the Bible is silent regarding Hannah’s emotional response to having her son raised apart from her.

Robert Alter (b. 1935) indicates:

And a little cloak would his mother make him [I Samuel 2:19]. This is a poignant instance of the expressive reticence of biblical narrative. We have been told nothing about Hannah’s feelings as a mother after her separation from the child for whom she so fervently prayed [I Samuel 1:10-11]. This minimal notation of Hannah’s annual gesture of making a little cloak for the son she has “lent” to the LORD beautifully intimates the love she preserves for him. The garment, fashioned as a gift of maternal love, stands in contrast to the ephod, the acolyte’s official garb for his cultic office. (Alter, The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel, 2)
The Bible’s silence has not prevented many a reader from empathizing with the lonely mother. Janet S. Jagers (b. 1942) infers:
Hannah continues to see her son each year [I Samuel 2:19]. I imagine she must have treasured the opportunity to talk with him, catch up with the latest news, and make sure he was all right. How hard do you think it was for her to leave him at the end of each yearly visit? Yet we see not even a hint of sorrow in her actions, just gratefulness. She continues to sacrifice and worship the Lord, just as she had done before Samuel was born [I Samuel 1:3-8]. (Jagers, Women at the Well: A Five-Week Study of Women in the Bible, 80)
Francine Klagsbrun (b. 1931) laments:
The loss Hannah feels after relinquishing her child touches us through an exquisitely sensitive detail. Each year when she and Elkanah make their pilgrimage to Shiloh, she brings the young Samuel, a little robe that she has made herself (I Samuel 2:19). She sees her son just once a year, we learn from this detail, and her only way of measuring his growth is through the new robe she sews for each visit. Hannah had promised her child away before she knew how quickly she would fall in love with him; now the robe is her ongoing embrace. (Gail Twersky Reimer [b. 1950] and Judith A. Kates [b. 1941], Beginning Anew: A Woman’s Companion to the High Holy Days, 101)
John Pinkston (b. 1937) consoles:
Once a year, his mother came to visit Samuel, bringing him a little coat which she had made when she and her husband came to offer their seasonal sacrifices [I Samuel 2:19]...However, God knew of the empty feeling that Hannah experienced each year as she left her little boy behind. God had mercy upon Hannah and she had three sons and two daughters because of her commitment and generosity to God in turning her firstborn over to Him for His Service [I Samuel 2:20-1]...Samuel became a prophet and Israel’s last judge. (Pinkston, Our Lost National Identity: Tracing the Lineage of Israel’s Lost Ten Tribes, 103)
Hannah and her husband, Elkanah, have been presented as paragons of parenthood. Joe O. Lewis (b. 1935) extols:
Contrary to Eli’s sons [I Samuel 2:12-17], Samuel’s parents are models of devotion. Hannah saw her son annually and brought him a new robe each year [I Samuel 2:19]. The story hints at the difference in Hannah’s attitude during these years. Her burden has been removed. In subsequent years Hannah bore five more children (I Samuel 2:21). Eli’s blessing referred each year to the vow in which Hannah “asked” for a child (I Samuel 1:20) and “lent” him to God. Both words are the same and reflect the meaning of Samuel’s name. During those years, Samuel “grew”; literally he “became great” with the Lord (I Samuel 2:21). (Lewis, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 Chronicles (Layman’s Bible Book Commentary), 17)
The life of Samuel’s parents, like his own, centers around worship. John Woodhouse (b. 1949) notices:
This [I Samuel 2:18-21] reminds us of the beginning of our story. It all began with those visits to Shiloh that were so miserable for Hannah year after year (I Samuel 1:3-7). The annual pilgrimage was still taking place, but now it was a time for Hannah’s tender motherly love to find expression in the new robe she brought each year for her growing boy. We can easily picture the care with which that robe was made each year — each year a little bigger! (Woodhouse, 1 Samuel: Looking for a Leader (Preaching the Word), 56)
Grenville J.R. Kent (b. 1965) studies:
After the birth, Elkanah maintains his worship cycle, while Hannah breaks it only until the weaning (I Samuel 1:21-23). Then she brings him a new robe ימימה מימים (from year to year, literally from days to days) (I Samuel 2:19). Thus it is worship and sacrifice that provide the rhythm of their lives, and Hannah’s worship of Yahweh is stylistically linked to her pregnancy, subtly advancing the theme that the baby is God-given in answer to prayer. (Kent, Say It Again, Sam: A Literary and Filmic Study of Narrative Repetition in 1 Samuel 28, 104)
Karen Pidcock-Lester (b. 1956) characterizes:
Hannah and Elkanah...cherish their son. No one can dispute that. They have waited long and prayed fervently for his arrival. But as much as they love Samuel, their lives are shaped not by their devotion to him, but by their devotion to God. They worship, praise, sacrifice for, give thanks to, submit to, and serve not Samuel, but God. They recognize that God has different plans for Samuel from what they might have envisioned, but they surrender their plans and submit to God’s. They do what they can to help Samuel fulfill God’s purposes for his life, “making a little robe and taking it to him each year” [I Samuel 2:19]. (David L. Bartlett [b. 1941] and Barbara Brown Taylor [b. 1951], Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Volume 1, Advent through Transfiguration, 148)
Hannah actively seeks God’s will for her son. Steven E. Albertin (b. 1949) correlates:
Hannah making her yearly visit to the temple to give her son the gift of a little robe she had made for him [I Samuel 2:19]. It is a very simple and tender picture of mother expressing her love for her son. But to our modern eyes the tenderness of this picture begins to fade when we realize that this yearly visit would never have even been necessary if Hannah had not already taken the drastic action of giving her son away. Contrary to our world, where our children are constantly worshiped and adored, here we see a parent whose focus was not on pampering her son but on worshiping God. Hannah’s willingness to giver her son to the Lord and only to be able to visit him occasionally in the temple is stunning when compared to how parents treat their children today. (Albertin, Charles D. Reeb [b. 1973] and Richard E. Gribble [b. 1952], Sermons on the First Readings: Cycle C, 62)
Hannah not only seeks God’s will, she participates in it. Uriel Simon (b. 1929) understands:
Evidently the narrator mentions the lad’s holy apparel so that he can juxtapose it to the little robe, thus suggesting that the robe, too, is one of his sacred garments [I Samuel 2:18-19]. If this is true, Hannah’s motivation for making her son a new robe every year is not concern that he be well-dressed but a desire to continue her act of giving. For her, the dedication of her son to service in the sanctuary is not a one-time deed, but one renewed each year by the recurrent donation of a sacred robe to the lad who serves in the sanctuary. (Simon [translated by Lenn J. Schramm], Reading Prophetic Narratives, 29)
Samuel becomes a great man, no less than a kingmaker. His life trajectory begins with a mother who put God’s will for her child’s life above all else. May we do the same.

How do Hannah’s consistent worship patterns contribute to Samuel’s development? Does worship characterize your life? What are the consequences to Hannah and Samuel of his being raised away from her? Did the absence of his parents in adolescence effect Samuel’s demeanor later in life? What would be the psychological results of Samuel’s unusual upbringing? In what ways have you given your child to God?

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” - attributed to Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)

1 comment:

  1. Cullen Murphy (b. 1952) documents:

    Elizabeth Cady Stanton [1815-1902]’s commentaries throughout The Woman’s Bible are tart and acerbic...She was the mother of seven children, a fact that keeps peeking through. In I Samuel 2:19, a passage in the story of Hannah and her son begins, “His mother used to make for him a little robe, and take it to him each year.” Stanton writes, “The historians and commentators dwell on the fact that Hannah made her son ‘a little coat’ and brought one annually. It is more probable that she brought him a complete suit of clothes once in three months, especially trousers, if those destined to serve in the temple were allowed to play sports.” (Murphy, The Word According to Eve: Women and the Bible in Ancient Times and Our Own, 34)

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