A lecturer once told me that within Hebrew story writing the first words of a character are meant to give a clue about that person and how they will turn out. It is meant to give an insight into their personality or something about them. Upon asking another lecturer if this was the case they were quite dismissive! I thought we would explore this a little in the opening chapter of 1 Samuel by looking at the first words of a few characters:
The first is Hannah’s husband:
‘Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” (1Samuel 1:8).
First of all his first words are introduced by him being called ‘Her husband’ which in itself tells us something about his character not be very important in the story. He certainly doesn’t come across very well, he doesn’t understand his wife’s pain and what the situation means to her.
‘And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.” (1Samuel 1:11).
We see Hannah’s first words are very serious, she makes a vow to God, and pleads with God to give her a son who she will give back to the Lord. Serious heartfelt words, but like Elkanah she is not really a major character after the first few chapters so this doesn’t tell us too much.
‘and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”’ (1Samuel 1:12).
This one might be a little more revealing. Eli misreads the situation and thinks Hannah is drunk. What is interesting here is that his first words are to condemn the innocent Hannah whereas in fact as we find out he is unable to keep his own sons bad behaviour in check.
‘The the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” (1Samuel 3:4).
This certainly fits with Samuel’s character. Samuel’s first words show him to be ready and listening, a servant of the Lord.
So can we conclude that there is something in the first words of a character? Hmm for me the idea needs more exploring but I certainly think it merits looking into a bit more. I will try to come back to this in another blog later on. The useful point is that if the first words are meant to be revealing (something we can check with the main characters throughout the story) then we might learn something more about the minor characters who only appear briefly and speak very little because the writer might be telling us more then we might initially think.