Lectionary Reflection for the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

From 1 Samuel (BTCB) by Francesca Aran Murphy, commenting on 1 Samuel 1:4-20:

The book begins with a childless woman in a tribal society, in which contempt is heaped on women who do not deliver population growth. The first role that it addresses is motherhood. In Israel’s polygamous society, Hannah is one of Elkanah’s two wives, the barren one. Because nature has not taken its course in her marriage to Elkanah, Hannah asks God for a son.

Antiochene theologian Saint John Chrysostom contrasts her tiny request with more worldly demands: politically ambitious men who are “suing and grasping for a kingdom” should be “ashamed” to remember Hannah, “praying and weeping for a little child” (Homilies on Ephesians 24, in Franke 2005: 196).

Literary critics of the Hebrew Bible have taught us to see the barren woman’s request for fertility as a “type scene,” a model story that is repeated across scripture, so that when we meet a barren woman, we can expect that pretty soon she will be mother to a hero-child (Alter 1981: 51). Ancient Christian commentators found theological types in scripture.

Here the type of the barren-woman-turned-mother represents theological truth that God assigns spiritual gifts. Hannah’s pregnancy is not strictly miraculous, since she is not evidently incapable of childbearing, not too old like Sarah, for instance. Hannah’s fertility is not miraculous but providential, the hand of God working unseen within nature and history.

For Chrysostom, the moral of the story is patience and providence. “Let us not take this” story “with a grain of salt,” he says, but “even” when some “disaster” seems “insupportable to us, let us . . . wait on God’s providence” (2003: 74-75). This typical episode sets the history that 1 Samuel recounts rolling because the book is about God’s providential dealing out of roles.


©2010 by Francesca Aran Murphy. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.