Lifelong Servant of God
1 Samuel 1:9-11
9After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. 11And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”
As Elkanah and his family worship the Lord as part of his service as priest, we zoom in on our heroine, Hannah. [We know they are in worship by the emphasis on the fact that they were in Shiloh, where the temple was located at that time.] While in the midst of worship, she removes herself from the crowd and finds a quiet place to pray alone. She is observed by the High Priest for that time, Eli. In the midst of her prayer, she makes a vow for her hoped for future son.
Thinking through these verses, I spent a little time looking at the Hebrew for a couple of words that caught my attention. First of all, Hannah describes herself as God’s servant. The word there is literally handmaiden. She considers herself God’s handmaiden. And what she promises is that her son would be as equally dedicated as she to the Lord.
It is always interesting to me as well when someone asks God’s to remember them. God most certainly has not forgotten anyone. But here she asks that He become particularly mindful of her. And finally, the small word give took on some emphasis, as she uses it both of God and of herself. If God will give her a son, she will give him back to God. That word in the Hebrews means “abandon, appoint, ascribe”. Those words will play out in important ways as this story unfolds.
And finally, I learned a new fact today as I studied this passage concerning the role of Levites in the Jewish culture. And I do love a new fact!
Levites were not lifelong servants. The original generation of Levites served only twenty years, from age 30 to age 50 (Num 4:2–3, 22–23, 29–30, 34–35), although for later generations this was expanded to twenty-five years (ages 25 to 50; Num 8:24–25). Samuel, however, was a servant of God his entire life. As a boy he already served before God in an ephod, and he continued in service as God’s prophet until his death. …
[Hannah’s] vow also included the promise that “a razor will never be used on his head”. Since ancient times this has been understood to be a promise that Samuel would be a Nazirite, since this phraseology occurs elsewhere in the OT only in connection with Samson, a Nazirite. Josephus seems to indicate this also when he describes how, in conformity with Hannah’s vow, “his hair was allowed to grow long, and his drink was water.” All of these are secondary interpretive glosses, but cumulatively they depict an exegetical tradition that understood Samuel to have been a lifelong Nazirite.
Steinmann, A. E. ©2016. 1 Samuel. (pp. 54–55). Saint Louis, MO: CPH.
Making the vow of a Nazirite was serious business and very few were called upon to make that vow for a lifetime. The only other person that comes to mind was Samson’s mom making the vow for him before birth, just like Hannah is doing here. That didn’t work out quite as well as Hannah’s vow for Samuel.
1And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, when either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the Lord, 3he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. 4All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins. 5“All the days of his vow of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the Lord, he shall be holy. He shall let the locks of hair of his head grow long. 6“All the days that he separates himself to the Lord he shall not go near a dead body. 7Not even for his father or for his mother, for brother or sister, if they die, shall he make himself unclean, because his separation to God is on his head. 8All the days of his separation he is holy to the Lord.
So the tenure of a priest in Israel was 20-25 years. Yet, Hannah makes the vow of the Nazarite for her not even yet conceived son for his entire life. This vow has a very interesting history, beginning with the above passage from Numbers and following through into the New Testament, where we find Paul participating briefly in a Nazarite vow with a group of men in order to walk in spiritual solidarity and relationship with them. The last person in the Bible for whom a lifelong vow was taken is John the Baptist. (See Luke 1:15) Jesus did not take the vow of a Nazarite, as we see him touch dead people for the purpose of resurrecting them, and wine was on the menu for Him.
What we take away from this whole discussion is that taking those times of separation from the norm for the purposes of spiritual development or time with the Lord are not a bad idea. Today, we make take a time of fasting to set aside the ways of the world to concentrate on the Lord. [Just an FYI, apparently, taking the vow of a Nazarite is no longer a part of Jewish practices.]