The Shimshon and Shemuel narratives each open with a scene in which the leader's birth and future destiny is promised. The two birth stories contain a significant number of plot similarities, buttressed by some linguistic allusions. The similarities, though, mainly serve to highlight the many contrasts between the narratives and the difference in character between the protagonists.
Both stories revolve around a barren woman who is promised a child who then grows up to be a leader of the nation. There are many more specific parallels, which are summarized in the following table:
Mrs. Manoach and Channah
Barren – Both wives are introduced as being barren.
Dominant – Both Mrs. Manoach and Channah are the prominent characters in the narrative and are more dominant than their husbands.
No wine – Mrs. Manoach is told not to drink wine while Eli tells Hannah "rid yourself of your wine".
Shimshon and Shemuel
Nazir-like status – The angel states that a razor should not touch Shimshon's hair, and Channah promises the same regarding Shemuel.
Leadership – Both Shimshon and Shemuel becomes judges of Israel.1
Fight Philistines – Both leaders help save their nation from the Philistines.
Hashem with them – The verses state that both boys grow up "with Hashem" or "blessed" by Him. Moreover, Hashem grants each some level of Divine inspiration. By Shimshon we are told, "וַתָּחֶל רוּחַ ה' לְפַעֲמוֹ", and by Shemuel the verse says "נִגְלָה ה' אֶל שְׁמוּאֵל".
Husbands – Both husbands bring a sacrifice in the context of the consecration scenes.
Man of God – In each story there is a man of God (the angel in the Shofetim story and Eli in Sefer Shemuel) who plays a role in promising the birth of the child. The angel actively promises the couple a son, while Eli more passively tells Channah, "May Hashem grant your request that you asked of Him".
Missing something – Both Manoach and Eli are portrayed as knowing less than the females around them. Manoach is not privy to the original prophecy and erroneously believes that the angel's visit will cause death. Similarly, Eli is in the dark regarding Channah's true nature, accusing her of drunkenness until she corrects his mistake.
There are a handful of linguistic parallels as well:
Degree of similarity – All of the above phrases have a very high level of linguistic similarity.
Distinctive phrases – Both of the phrases "וּמוֹרָה לֹא יַעֲלֶה עַל רֹאשׁוֹ"2 and "וַיִּגְדַּל הַנַּעַר"3 appear in these two stories only. The exact opening "וַיְהִי אִישׁ אֶחָד מִ... וּשְׁמוֹ" is also unique to these narratives, but similar phrasing introduces the stories of the Idol of Mikhah, Shaul, Esther, and Iyyov, as well.4
Content parallels – Although other stories of barren woman share components with each of these events,5 most of the specific parallels mentioned above do not appear in those stories.
Despite the many similarities, there are several important points of contrast between the narratives. These are summarized in the chart below:
Mrs. Manoach and Channah
Name – Despite the dominant character of both females, only Channah is named while Manoach's wife is not.
Active vs. Passive – While Mrs. Manoach passively receives news of her son's birth, Channah actively prays to have a baby.
Command vs. Promise – Similarly, while Shimshon's mother is commanded not to shave her son's head, Channah proactively promises this if her wish for a child is granted
Shimshon and Shemuel
Nazir-like Status – Shimshon is commanded to be a fuller Nazirite than Shemuel. He is prohibited from wine while Shemuel is under no such constraints.
Philistines – Hashem says that Shimshon will merely "begin to save the nation from the Philistines". By Shemuel, in contrast, we are told that the Philistines surrendered and "did not continue to come into the border of Israel".
While Shimshon is disconnected from the people, abandoning them to live amidst the Philistines, Shemuel actively makes rounds amongst the nation, interacting with his flock.
Shimshon overpowers the Philistines with his physical strength and fights his battles alone to combat personal grudges. Shemuel's victories, in contrast, are spiritual. When the nation is in need, he motivates them to repent so as to merit salvation.
Though Shimshon at times prays for assistance, this is to save or avenge himself rather than the nation. In contrast, Shemuel prays on behalf of the people, to ensure that they (not he) will be saved.
Hashem – Shemuel achieves full prophetic status ("נֶאֱמָן שְׁמוּאֵל לְנָבִיא לַה'") while Shimshon appears to attain only that "the spirit of God beat within him". When his head is shaved, Hashem is no longer with him at all.
The comparison of Shimshon and Shemuel serves to highlight how Shimshon does not appear to fully accomplish his mission, while Shemuel surpasses him in every respect:
Partial leadership and partial salvation – Shimshon only "begins" to fight the Philistines ("וְהוּא יָחֵל לְהוֹשִׁיעַ אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל"), and never fully leads the people, acting on his own and not in concert with the nation. Radak explains that these two points are connected. Due to the nation's low spiritual level, they merited only partial salvation.6 Thus, it was Shimshon's job to periodically smite the Philistines, but not to totally vanquish them. Since incomplete conquest naturally leads to retaliation, Shimshon needed to act alone so that the Philistine vengeance would be aimed only at him and not the people as a whole. Thus, Shimshon "abandoned" his people to marry and live amongst the Philistines, recognizing that his isolation ensured their safety.
Shemuel finishes the job – The numerous parallels between the leaders and their births suggest that Shemuel is a corrective to Shimshon. Whereas Shimshon strived to only physically save the nation, Shemuel looked to improve their spiritual state. As such, they could merit full, and not just partial, salvation.
The mothers – The difference between the leaders might be reflected in their parents as well. While Mrs. Manoach did not actively seek to improve her situation, Channah turned to Hashem, and on her own offered her son to serve Him. Channah succeeded in bequeathing to Shemuel the notion that success hinges on turning to and serving Hashem, thereby allowing him to steer the nation in a new direction.