A Promise Kept
1 Samuel 1:21-28
21The man Elkanah and all his house went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice and to pay his vow. 22But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the Lord and dwell there forever.” 23Elkanah her husband said to her, “Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him; only, may the Lord establish his word.” So the woman remained and nursed her son until she weaned him. 24And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. And the child was young. 25Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. 26And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. 27For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. 28Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there.
Hannah’s prayer has now come full circle, as she sets about to make good on the promise she made to God as she prayed through her childless state. Back in verse 11 of this chapter, we find Hannah telling God that should He grant her a son, she will take the vow of a Nazarite for him, and return him to the Lord.
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.”
The Lord has indeed granted her that son and now it is time to fulfill her vow. She waits until Samuel is weaned, probably around 3 years old. Apparently, a wife could make such a vow, but it had to have the support of her husband, which Elkanah has given. He simply asks that God empower her keeping of this decision. ... only, may the Lord establish his word – God is always the Author of the believer’s good works.
According to Num 30:11–16, when a married woman took a vow, her husband could annul it when he first learned that she had made it. From the conversation between Hannah and Elkanah (1 Sam 1:22–23), it is apparent that Elkanah knew of his wife’s vow and approved of it. Thus, Hannah’s vow became Elkanah’s vow, and he had taken responsibility for it. The mention of the vow and Hannah’s delaying the dedication of Samuel meant that the fulfilling of the vow and its accompanying sacrifice would be postponed until the child was older.
Steinmann, A. E. ©2016. 1 Samuel. (p. 62). Saint Louis, MO: CPH.
10And if she vowed in her husband’s house or bound herself by a pledge with an oath, 11and her husband heard of it and said nothing to her and did not oppose her, then all her vows shall stand, and every pledge by which she bound herself shall stand. 12But if her husband makes them null and void on the day that he hears them, then whatever proceeds out of her lips concerning her vows or concerning her pledge of herself shall not stand. Her husband has made them void, and the Lord will forgive her. 13Any vow and any binding oath to afflict herself, her husband may establish, or her husband may make void. 14But if her husband says nothing to her from day to day, then he establishes all her vows or all her pledges that are upon her. He has established them, because he said nothing to her on the day that he heard of them. 15But if he makes them null and void after he has heard of them, then he shall bear her iniquity.” 16These are the statutes that the Lord commanded Moses about a man and his wife and about a father and his daughter while she is in her youth within her father’s house.
When Samuel is weaned, Hannah makes the trip to Shiloh to worship and turn her son over to Eli, in fulfillment of her vow. Honestly, I think that took tremendous courage and I’m not sure I would have been able to follow through like she did. But the text does not say this was an easy thing for Hannah and it's also not to say she turns her back on Samuel, as will be revealed as the story progresses.
The word I find most interesting in this whole passage is at the end, in verse 28. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.” The ESV uses the word “lent” for what she has done with Samuel. He has been “lent to the Lord”. Now for us, to lend something means that you will get it back. So I struggle with that word choice, for she never meant to take him back into her own home. Once he was placed into the Temple, that is where she expected Samuel to remain. She had no plans to take him back, nor does she. But closer inspection of the Hebrew there would ask for a different English word – “safely dedicated” might be more accurate. I think that Samuel knew his mother well throughout the rest of her life and while they may not have seen one another with frequency, she made sure to see him often.