Christianity 201

June 21, 2017

A Coat of Many Sizes

Today’s article isn’t about a coat of many colors, but rather about many different coats, each one presented annually from the same giver to the same recipient; Hannah to her son Samuel who is serving Eli. The notes below are from the blog A Trivial Devotion by Chandler Vinson which is no longer being updated, but is a wealth of commentary on individual passages. Click the title below and use it as a launching point to explore other articles on the blog. We’ve excerpted just a few of the writers quoted within it to give you an idea.

Samuel’s Little Robe (I Samuel 2:19)

First Samuel opens with a woman named Hannah troubled by her infertility (I Samuel 1:1-8). She journeys to Israel’s religious epicenter, Shiloh, and prays to the Lord for a child, promising, “I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.” (I Samuel 1:11 NASB). After being unjustly rebuked by the priest, Eli (I Samuel1:12-18), her prayer is answered and she gives birth to a son, Samuel (I Samuel 1:19-28), for which she famously offers a prayer of thanksgiving (I Samuel 2:1-11).

The narrative then shifts to detailing the impropriety of Eli’s sons (I Samuel 2:12-17) before returning its focus to the boy Samuel, who was being raised in Shiloh (I Samuel 2:18-21).

Immediately after mentioning that Samuel is wearing a priestly ephod (I Samuel 2:18), the text notes that Hannah periodically returns to Shiloh to present her son with a robe (I Samuel 2:19).

And his mother would make him a little robe and bring it to him from year to year when she would come up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. (I Samuel 2:19 NASB)

This child will grow up to become one of the most pivotal figures in Israel’s history. Gene M. Tucker (b. 1935) focuses:

Even children of destiny have parents. Here, of course, his mother Hannah stands out. Although she had “loaned him” to the Lord (I Samuel 1:28, 2:20 RSV) in fulfillment of her vow [I Samuel 1:11], she continued to be his mother. One cannot help but he touched by the account of the mother who sees her young son but rarely, each year bringing him “a little robe” [I Samuel 2:19], He is, after all, a growing boy, and last year’s robe will soon be too short. (Fred B. Craddock [b. 1928], John H. Hayes [1934-2013], Carl R. Holladay [b. 1943] and Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: Year C: A Comprehensive Commentary on the Lectionary, 45)

The image of the young man in his little robe has become iconic. F.B. Meyer (1847-1929) informs:

Dean [Arthur Penrhyn] Stanley [1815-1881] tells us that, in his gentler moments, Martin Luther [1483-1546] used to dwell on these early chapters of the books of Samuel with the tenderness which formed the occasional counterpoise to the ruder passions and enterprises of his stormy life. Indeed, students of the Scriptures in every age have been arrested by the figure of this little child girded with his linen ephod, or in the little robe which his mother brought him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice [I Samuel 2:18-19]. (Meyer, Samuel: The Prophet, 3)

In consecutive verses, the narrative addresses the child’s wardrobe (I Samuel 2:18-19). Bruce C. Birch (b. 1941) tracks:

The failure of Eli’s sons in their priestly duties is followed by a notice concerning Samuel’s education as a priest [I Samuel 2:18-21]…The notice about Samuel’s clothing [I Samuel 2:18] bridges to a brief account of the small robe Hannah would make and bring to Samuel each year [I Samuel 2:19]. (Birch, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume II: Numbers, Deuteronomy, Introduction to Narrative Literature, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 987)

The notice regarding Samuel’s progress serves to indicate a passage of time (I Samuel 2:18-21). Alfons Schulz (1871-1947) approves:

I Samuel 2:19 delightfully relates how at the pilgrimage each year Hannah, the mother, brings her son, who serves in the sanctuary, a new robe—obviously because in the meantime he has ‘grown out of’ the old one: a splendid, childlike touch in a brief remark. (David M. Gunn [b. 1942], “Narrative Arts in the Books of Samuel,” Narrative and Novella in Samuel: Studies by Hugo Gressmann [1877-1927] and Other Scholars 1906-1923, 168-69)

Most interpreters have come to the logical conclusion that Hannah presents her son with new robes (I Samuel 2:19). Amos Oz (b. 1939) and Fania Oz-Salzberger (b. 1960) praise:

Don’t let the singular noun form mislead you: she made him a new little coat every year, fit to size, and the biblical author recognizes the sweetness of that petit priest-child clothing [I Samuel 2:19]. For Hannah, not Bathsheba, is the earliest linchpin of the two faces of Jewish motherhood: great physical tenderness, and early scholarly sendoff. Heartbroken at the shrine or school gate, but decisively returning home to start next year’s little coat. (Oz and Oz-Salzberger, Jews and Words, 83)

[What I’ve just presented you with is probably about 5% or less of the total blog post; a wealth of citations from various commentaries on Samuel’s robes. A conclusion follows.]

Samuel becomes a great man, no less than a kingmaker. His life trajectory begins with a mother who put God’s will for her child’s life above all else. May we do the same.

How do Hannah’s consistent worship patterns contribute to Samuel’s development? Does worship characterize your life? What are the consequences to Hannah and Samuel of his being raised away from her? Did the absence of his parents in adolescence effect Samuel’s demeanor later in life? What would be the psychological results of Samuel’s unusual upbringing? In what ways have you given your child to God?

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” – attributed to Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)

 

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