“How long will you go on being drunk?” (1 Samuel 1)

“How long will you go on being drunk?”

When the priest Eli sees Hannah mumbling something as he sits at the door of the temple, he assumes she’s drunk, so he asks this question (1 Samuel 1:14).  Although Eli’s remark is less of a question, more of an accusation, and he concludes his speech by telling Hannah to put away her wine.  If Hannah were drunk, then Eli’s rebuke would be appropriate.  He’s a priest, so it’s his job to help keep people on the straight and narrow.  (Although, he wasn’t doing a good job with his own sons–see 1 Sam. 2:12.)

The problem is Hannah’s not drunk, just desperate.  She’s desperately praying for a child.  Hannah is barren, but her husband Elkanah has 2 wives, and the other wife, Peninnah is fruitful.  To make things worse Peninnah taunts Hannah, and this has been going on for years.

So, poor Hannah is literally pouring out her heart before YHWH, begging, pleading for a son (whom she promises to dedicate to YHWH), and then Old Eli comes up and starts insulting and accusing her.  Eli is in charge of Israel spiritually, but the man has no spiritual discernment.

How would you respond if you were Hannah?

I would have bitten his head off.  “You jerk! Leave me alone and focus on those loser sons of yours.”  To her credit, Hannah responds as graciously as one could imagine.  She calls Eli “my lord” and refers to herself as “your servant”.  She’s vulnerable and explains her predicament.

To his credit, Eli changes his tune and speaks a word of blessing to her that God apparently honors by giving Hannah a son, Samuel, who after being weaned was returned to Eli where he grew up.

The text continues to portray Hannah positively (in contrast to Eli and his sons) as her prayer of praise is recorded in 1 Samuel 2:1-10, and echoes of Hannah’s prayer appear in Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).

This text clearly views Hannah, the female without leadership responsibility more favorably than the male with leadership responsibility.

She prays earnestly.  She speaks graciously.  Her words are recorded at length by the biblical authors.

He lacks discernment.  He speaks rudely.  His parenting of his two evil sons is condemned by God.

I want to be more like Hannah, than Eli.  To give people the benefit of the doubt.  To use my authority not to insult or put down those outside of power structures (either male or female).  I want my words to bless others in future generations.

To men in positions of spiritual leadership, be like Eli at the end of the story, not like him at the beginning.  Bless godly women, don’t curse them.

Why do people in positions of authority sometimes act like Eli?

Image (Jan Victors, Hannah giving her son Samuel to the Priest, 1645) from http://www.wga.hu/index1.html


  1. Why do I act like Eli? For me, when I find myself in ministry with “a job to do,” I tend to forget that relationships with people is the end that I am looking for. I often act like interaction with people is a means to an end.

    The other day, a Christian friend called me out after an interaction that we had together. She told me that I had acted like a pompous @$$ in front of a friend of hers. I could not even recall what I had done! That was the problem, though. I was engaged in a conversation with my friend, while her friend was excluded from the conversation simply because I was not interested enough to include her. Here was a child of God who I did not even acknowledge as existing. I walked away from the conversation happy to have talked to my friend, not realizing I had ignored the other lady. When my friend called me on the carpet, I later recalled what had happened and realized my error.

    Lesson learned, right?

    The next day in church, I saw a guy friend of mine who I had not talked to in a while. I went over and started talking to him. There was another man standing there who I effectively ignored. He finally walked away and I realized that I had done it again – not even 24 hours later!

    The bottom line is that I need to learn to be more engaging and to truly care about people the way that Jesus does.

    Later, I wonder if Eli did the same thing again? “I didn’t call you, Samuel. Go back to bed.”
    “I didn’t call you, Samuel. Go back to bed.” (ugh, kids!)
    “I…. wait, maybe something is going on here and I am not paying attention?”

    OK, that last part is not in the Bible, but I find myself being “that guy” who shoos his kids away a few times when they approach him, only to finally realize that whatever I am doing is not as important as my kids. Sometimes God is gracious enough to open my eyes and see what a bonehead I am being. Unfortunately for them, many times I do not realize it until long after they were trying to get my attention.

  2. Phil,
    We all do that kind of stuff, well, maybe some of us more than others, but at least you’re aware of it eventually. We appreciate you sharing your struggles to avoid Eli-ism. Blessings.

  3. Because we forget that leading is about loving and serving, not about putting people in their place or asserting our dominance or even keeping the status quo.

  4. Thank you for this post and for the helpful replies. I like Hannah because she disagrees with Eli in the moment and she also affirms him in the moment, and then she moves on! I think if we could deal more in the moment (as the two of them do) there would be so much more oxygen to breathe in Christian fellowship. What if there was a mandatory limit on the amount of time you had to confront someone for their insensitivity? Wouldn’t that be great? Or what if we just covered insensitivity with love? Even better!

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