Two quick questions raised by a single verse, 1 Samuel 1:28, and in fact, a single word…
- In response to her answered prayer, Hannah brings the very young Samuel back to the Shiloh temple to be devoted to the LORD’s service for life. Now multiple times in Ezra-Nehemiah, albeit books that narrate a much later time, we encounter a category of the post-exilic population called ‘Nethinim’, the ‘given ones’, apparently meaning a kind of dedicated person, a temple slave of some kind. The word occurs in 1 Chr. 9:2; Ezr. 2:43, 58, 70; 7:7; 8:17, 20; Neh. 3:26, 31; 7:46, 60, 72; 10:29; 11:3, 21, and nowhere else in the Old Testament. Ezra 8:20 attributes the formation of this class of persons to David, though there is no reference to them in narratives of pre-exilic times. So my first question is, should we view the character Samuel in these terms, as one of the ‘given ones’, a ‘nātîn‘ or temple slave? He is certainly something like it, though the formal category may come later.
- However, the word for ‘given’ (in all English versions I’ve checked) is different in 1 Samuel 1:28. It is ‘šāʾûl‘. Look familiar? It should, for it is identical to a name that occurs numerous times in the same book from 9:2 and following: Saul. At one level this is odd, because the Hebrew form is the qal passive, which I would expect normally to mean ‘requested’, or ‘asked’. Its meaning in its context can be debated: I haven’t yet looked into it in detail. But my second question is this: Why does the story so carefully connect Samuel to Saul through this distinct anticipation of his name so early in the book? The English reader can’t see it, but it’s obvious in the Hebrew. Samuel himself is the first ‘shaul’ in the book of Samuel. To conclude, here is the BibleWorks chart showing occurrences of this word form in the Old Testament. Aside from its use as Saul’s name, this form is extremely rare. Its occurrence in 1 Samuel 1:28 in description of Samuel is no accident!