In this selection we move on to the story of Samuel. It is remarkable how fast the narrative sections of the Bible come and go. Only one day on Ruth makes sense based on the number of pages, but weird when you consider how much time is spent describing the tabernacle.
The mother of Samuel is Ana in Spanish and Hannah in English. Hannah begins the story unable to conceive. So far in my reading, Sarah was unable to conceive, Gen. 11:20, Rebekah was sterile, but just for like a minute until Isaac prayed that she not be, Gen. 25:21, Rachel was sterile, Gen. 30:22, and the mother of Samson was sterile, Judges 13:2.
On the plus side, perhaps these passages can challenge the notion that being able to easily conceive children is “normal.” On the downside, these passages clearly suggest that the purpose of womanhood is childbirth. More ugliness comes with Sarah, Rachel and Hannah all having another woman in the picture who torments them for not being about to conceive. (Hagar, Leah, and Peninnah, all significantly less popular name, no?) This picture of women and jealous of each other is some pretty shitty cultural baggage that is carried by the Scripture. Although, we should not lose sight of the place in the narrative for the forgotten and forsaken.
[For what it is worth, both Samson mother and Hannah agree to dedicate their boy, if they conceive a son, to YHWH and to not cut his hair. I makes me wonder if there is some bleeding of stories here, like with Rebekah being unable to have children but for like one verse.]
This passage also contains solid story telling that sparks the mind and the soul. Hannah’s giving up her first son, her miraculously conceived son, is made more touching by the detail that she kept him with her only until he is weaned. Also, she provides either a three-year-old bull, or three bulls to Shiloh. So, they are rich.
Then we have the carousing of Eli’s sons. They are defiling the Lord’s house. Eating meat the wrong way and having sex with the women who tend to the meeting tent. (Basically, typical preacher’s kid behavior.) Then we have goody-two-shoes Samuel who, in a time when visions are rare, gets a personal call from God. The refrain “Here I am,” or “Aqui estoy,” the refrain from Abraham returns.
It feels to me like this section, with Samuel’s becoming the new Prophet, means Israel is back. Or at least on its way back, after the ugly division of Judges. And, it is weird, because my church experience is to just tell the story of Deborah and Samson, and only the good bits of Samson, from Judges so I think we miss the people losing their way, even after entering the Promised Land, theme.
[Last note: the House of the Lord is in Shiloh during this time. That happened without much fanfare. There is a verse in Joshua 18:1 that remarks that they set up the meeting tent in Shiloh as they were sort of regrouping. The title of the section is literally “Division of the Rest of the Land.” Again, compare to the full month of reading about what to make the candle holders out of.]