Chronologically, the Book of Samuel begins immediately where the Book of Judges ends. It was an evil time and Israel just had a civil war between all the tribes and Benjamin. As a result, Israel as a whole was weak, discouraged and not very united.
Influence from foreign nations continue to pull them into idolatry and the Word of the Lord became romanticized. Israel still held on to their traditions and culture out of habit, but compromises can be seen everywhere, even within the priesthood. Without a clear vision of who they were or where they were going, Israel fell into normalcy and did whatever they thought was necessary for surviving in a land supposedly filled with milk and honey, but as far as the eyes could see was surrounded by wild animals and hostile neighbours.
“And the children of Israel departed thence at that time, every man to his tribe and to his family, and they went out from thence every man to his inheritance. In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” – Judges 21:24-25
The Problem of a Romanticized Religion
The story began with a family of Levites and a woman call Hannah who could not give birth.
In those times, people viewed barrenness negatively because the Bible clearly said that a blessed people will have no male or female barren among them. According to the Midrash (a Hebrew Commentary of the Bible), Hannah was barren for ten years, despite her desire for a child, and that lack of result created a kind of cognitive dissonance among the religion-focused Levites and the household of Elkanah, Hannah’s husband. To save the family from embarrassing themselves and their tribe, Elkanah married a second wife call Peninnah for the sake of procreation. Children were born and the tribe was pleased, but something inevitably was lost in the translation…
Elkanah loved Hannah, and even Peninnah knew that. What Peninnah did not know was whether Elkanah loved her. She saw how Elkanah dotes on her children but she also noticed how he always gave a double portion to Hannah and that made her mad. Nothing in the law required Elkanah to do that… right? While not trying to create a scene, Peninnah could not help not trying to “encourage” Hannah to have children of her own. It really was for her own good as a woman… to have children… you know? So she reminds her every single time when they go up to the temple to give thanks for the family, and that well-timed ‘encouragement’ was what drove Hannah to lose all appetite and wept in sadness.
The high priest of Israel, Eli noticed the sad state of Hannah inside the tabernacle courtyard and immediately assumed she was drunk. It was probably a valid assumption as the world beyond the temple is in such a mess. Temple prostitutes and idolators roam the streets and once in a while, one or two delinquents do wander in. What Eli did not know was that his two sons were mixing around with those prostitutes and stealing food from the worshipers even then. What he assumed was that if he kept the basic appearance of order within the tabernacle, then the world would not have a foothold to erode the traditions and culture he loved so much. But yet again something got lost in the translation…
A romanticized religion cares more for the appearance of things than what the truth really is. A romanticized religion focus on the dos and don’t and rewards those who do, but ignores those who don’t. It is the simplest form of religion that is easily maintained, preserved, but leaves millions hungry for the knowledge of the one true God.
The Book of Samuel began in just such a setting where religion is romanticized, and people were doing whatever they want irregardless of the law.