Samuel is an extremely important figure in Israel’s history. He is the last judge of Israel and the one who will become a prophet and “king-maker” as Israel becomes united under a single monarchy. Today’s reading tells about how his mother was barren for many years and although loved deeply by her husband, she suffered deeply without children. Again, the importance of childbearing and the continuance of family plays such a significant role in Bible narratives. What should be a joyous occasion at the Tabernacle every year is instead a misery for her as it is a painful reminder of her inability to bear children. So while there she cries out to God, begging for a child.
When she receives that child, he is dedicated to the service of the Lord. It’s important to note that she definitely still loves him and brings him clothing every year. Eli, the priest, is so impressed by this act of faith that he asks God to provide her with more children. This entire story allows Israel to have a new spiritual leader, as the priesthood has failed. Israel is in a state of religious turmoil with people having no morality and worshiping all kinds of false gods. Eli’s sons are a mockery to the priesthood and God and abuse their power to steal food from the altar. The text even makes sure that we understand they aren’t even ashamed or subtle about it.
After Samuel is born, Israel’s spiritual leadership shifts more in the direction of prophets and less from the priests. God, knowing that this needs to happen, provides a faithful boy from a faithful family who can be raised among the priests and learn their ways, while still remaining true to God. He is the last judge and will oversee Israel’s transition to a monarchy as God continues to develop his relationship with Israel.