“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