An Exegetical Study of 1 Samuel 1:1-28
Plot and scenes examined
Each of the three major divisions of the plot, beginning, middle, and end, has its unique characteristics. Introduction of the characters and the conflict characterizes the beginning. This information is static and timeless and is presented with state of being verbs. Robert Alter calls this information pre-temporal. The introduction is followed by the exposition where the action is repetitive and is presented with action verbs. Punctual action and resolution of the conflict characterize the middle. Conclusion of the story marks the end unless there is a turning point and a new conflict is introduced. If a new conflict is introduced, then that additional problem is solved in the conclusion.
The beginning of the plot in 1 Samuel one is in verses 1-8 and is made up of two scenes. In scene one is the pre-temporal information that introduces Elkanah, Hannah, and Peninnah in verses 1, 2. The conflict is implied at the end of verse 2 when it says that “Hannah had no children.” Scene two contains the exposition and its iterative action in verses 3-8 and the conflict is explicitly described. The conflict is also stated in the first dialogue by Elkanah when he says to Hannah “Am not I better to thee than ten sons?” The conflict centers around Hannah’s barrenness.
The middle of the plot in verses 9-20 is divided into three scenes. The solution to the conflict as seen in scenes three and four is prayer, which God answers in scene five.
In scenes six and seven, the end of story comes. But this is a complex plot with a turning point, and a new conflict is introduced in scene six which is resolved in scene seven.
Exegesis of scene one in 1 Samuel 1 equips us to make this the summary statement for scene one: Hannah is barren. This summary statement or meaning for the original audience will be converted to a timeless principle for our modern audience: There is a barrenness of leadership.
The preliminary information is presented at the beginning in scene one rather than throughout the body of the narrative. Scene one is made up of seven lines. The first two lines are about the man, the next three lines concern his two wives, and the last two lines mention the children.
The first two lines comprise a common pattern concerning the preliminary information provided at the beginning of the narrative. This common pattern can be seen in 1 Sam.1:1 and 9:1. Both of these common patterns introduce the fathers of the first two main characters of Samuel: Samuel and Saul. As the following outline of the common patterns reveals, a variation exists when there is a significant reason for the alteration. The pattern in 1:1 and 9:1 are identical. The pattern is broken in 25:2, 3, introducing Nabal.
The common pattern of the introductory narrative formula followed by the dwelling place, name, family, and then, last, the possessions is true to form in regard to Samuel’s and Saul’s fathers. But the pattern is significantly broken with Nabal. His possessions are listed before his name and family; this alteration indicates the materialism of Nabal that was displayed with David in chapter 25 and would have cost Nabal his life at the hands of David had not Nabal’s wise wife intervened.
The next three lines are devoted to Elkanah’s co-wives. Line 2a simply states that Elkanah had two wives. Line 2b, however, states that Elkanah’s number one wife was Hannah. The word “one” ( אַחַת֙) which comes from is a cardinal number and means one in quantity not order as in Dt.6:4.
In line 2c, the narrator informs his readers that Peninnah, on the other hand, was “the other” or second as the meaning of the ordinal number (הַשֵּׁנִ֖ית).
The last two lines of scene one concern the children and also indicate why Elkanah marries Peninnah when Hannah is his number one wife. “Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.” Elkanah, who has an “impressive genealogy . . . a proud past” as seen in his four-fold genealogy in verse one, is married to a barren wife with whom he has no future posterity. So, like Abraham in Gen.16, Elkanah uses human reason to solve his barren wife’s problem. He commits polygamy and creates the conflict for which the middle of the plot will unfold and provide the solution. Scene one is true to its form of introducing the main characters in timeless and static form. Although the conflict is implied in scene one, the conflict is clearly seen in scene two. A summary statement of each scene is necessary from which a timeless principle will later be formed for homiletical purposes. The summary statement for scene one is thus: Hannah’s problem is barrenness. In the light of all the predictions of a coming king from Gen. 17 and on, barrenness in the beginning of the book in which the king comes is significant.
In Part Two, we will examine scene two in 1 Samuel 1.
Walter Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox, 1973), 12.