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I sometimes wish some of you could stand on this side of the pulpit and hear all of you sing. It’s just an amazing thing to hear all the people of God gather together singing. It’s a wonderful privilege to hear that and to bring the Word to you this morning. We’re beginning a summer series on the life of the Old Testament prophet Samuel. In some ways the series will be expositional as we’ll be moving through the first 12 chapters of the book of 1 Samuel, but we’ll have a particular focus on his life, his role, and his ministry as a prophet within the larger context of redemptive history.
So you might be here this morning and think what is redemptive history? It’s going to be an important theme for us in this series. If you’ve never heard of redemptive history, it’s simply the revelation of God’s character, the unfolding of His promises, the unfolding of His covenant of grace in space and time as we see it in the Scriptures.
It tells us not only how God works in the lives of His people, but it tells us about God Himself, revealing His character.
So you might think of this series as something of a biography of Samuel, and that would be fine, but properly seen from a biblical perspective, a study on the life of Samuel is not ultimately about Samuel, but it’s about God, and that it is not just a neat and tidy story, but it gets at questions. Questions that are sort of lurking in the background of the text and questions that are probably lurking in the background of your life, whether they’re conscious or unconscious.
Questions about God’s character, questions about God’s providence, questions about God’s justice, questions about God’s mercy, questions about God’s faithfulness. These are all questions that we carry with us as we walk with the Lord, and the people of God are no stranger to them.
So I want to encourage you to keep those in mind this morning and as we walk through the series, beginning with this birth narrative of Samuel, so we’ll begin in 1 Samuel chapter 1 and read through the first part of chapter 2, this birth narrative of Samuel.
Hear the Word of the Lord.
“There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.”
“Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord. On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, ‘Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?'”
“After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, ‘O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.'”
“As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. And Eli said to her, ‘How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.’ But Hannah answered, ‘No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.'” Then Eli answered, ‘Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to Him.’ And she said, ‘Let your servant find favor in your eyes.’ Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.”
“They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her. And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked for him from the Lord.'”
“The man Elkanah and all his house went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice and to pay his vow. But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, ‘As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the Lord and dwell there forever.’ Elkanah her husband said to her, ‘Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him; only, may the Lord establish his word.’ So the woman remained and nursed her son until she weaned him. And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. And the child was young. Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. And she said, ‘Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to Him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.'”
“And he worshiped the Lord there.”
“And Hannah prayed and said,
‘My heart exults in the Lord;
my horn is exalted in the Lord.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in your salvation.’
‘There is none holy like the Lord:
for there is none besides You;
there is no rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
and by Him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble bind on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
The Lord kills and brings to life;
He brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
He brings low and he exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
He lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and on them he has set the world.’
‘He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
for not by might shall a man prevail.
The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces;
against them he will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king
and exalt the horn of his anointed.’
“Then Elkanah went home to Ramah. And the boy was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli the priest.”
May the Lord bless His Word to us this morning.
Well, this is a long passage and a lot to unpack in a short time, so being mindful of our time, I want to look briefly just at three things this morning from our passage.
Number one, Hannah’s cry. Number two, Israel’s condition. Then number three, God’s response.
The primary focus of our passage this morning is on this woman named Hannah, one of the wives of Elkanah. He had two wives, not something incidentally endorsed by the text, but just a point of historical fact. You have Peninnah, who had children, and Hannah, who had no children, and it’s clear the fact that Hannah had no children was this overwhelming burden in her life. It became this trial of faith as many who I’m sure have struggled with infertility have known that trial of faith and the questions that this brings.
In verse 5 it begins to heighten the tension. Elkanah, her husband, he sees her trouble and it says that he has compassion on her. It says he gave her a double portion because he loved her. But it says the Lord had closed her womb.
Now what’s striking here is she has the favor of her husband. She has the favor of her husband, but that’s not enough. He bestows physical blessings on her and he gives her his affection. “Hannah, am I not more to you than ten sons?”
Incidentally, husbands, you can try that on your wives if she’s going through a hard time and heartache. You can just look at her and say, “Honey, I know you’re having a hard time and it’s a really troubling time, but just, when you’re really down, I want you to think this: You get to be married to me.” [laughter] See how that goes for you. [laughter]
So we see Elkanah’s logic here, trying to encourage her with his compassion, with his love.
But I just want to pause and say there’s a passing lesson here, and that is this: We can often look to our spouses or to another person to relieve our deepest burdens, or to fill our deepest longings, or we can try to fill that role for someone we love, but it doesn’t work.
Elkanah, for all his affection for Hannah, he cannot relieve her deepest burden. He can’t fill her deepest need. He’s powerless, as she is powerless. So she has his favor, but the real question, the question that’s being begged here this morning is, does she have God’s favor?
Another dynamic here is Peninnah’s mockery. It says Peninnah, with all her sons and daughters, you just get that in your mind, Peninnah pulling up to church in her big family van, you know. She could be a pastor’s wife at Christ Covenant, she’s just, here they all come, you know, just unloading. And Hannah pulling up in her little Fiat there, just looking at her, I’m not blessed, she’s blessed. Peninnah looks at her, continually taunts her, mocks her.
And this is critical. Notice that the time that she does this is around the time of worship. She chooses the time of worship to mock her, in verses 6 through 8. Now you can imagine someone, just think of someone in the car with you, on the way to church, just sitting in the seat beside you, year after year, think about this.
There they are, we’re driving to church, and they’re looking at you and they’re saying how long have you been praying about this? What’s the problem? Where’s your God? Where’s he at? Why do you have this unfulfilled longing in your life? Why is that there? Why hasn’t God relieved your burden? Where’s God’s favor?
And Peninnah’s clearly presented as her adversary, as her accuser, as her mocker. This persistent voice.
Well, maybe you have a Peninnah in your life. Perhaps not a person, but a voice. We all tend to. Questioning, doubting, doubting God’s character, doubting His favor, and Hannah is so grieved that the text says that she would not eat. And there’s great irony here in that Hannah’s name actually means “favored one,” and yet it’s Peninnah who appears as the favored one.
And the point is by all accounts Hannah appears to us to be a woman of reproach, not an object of mercy, just based on her circumstances alone. Her circumstances don’t match her name, because she does not have the blessing of children. She doesn’t seem to have God’s favor. The question is, is that so?
It’s important to note that there’s a theological theme related to barrenness and the blessing of God’s promises throughout the Old Testament. You can think back to the blessing of children, it goes all the way back to the Lord promising that the Messiah would come from the seed of Eve. Or think about God’s promise to Abraham that he would be the father of many of nations, and yet what do we see there? We see Sarah going through a significant period of her life where she’s barren, and we see Hagar mocking her, very similar story, before Sarah finally gives birth to Isaac.
Some years later you have Isaac praying to the Lord because Rebekah was barren, and she finally gave birth to the twins, Jacob and Esau. Then you have Jacob’s wife Rachel who was barren while Leah bore children before she finally gave birth to Joseph. So barrenness in each case, it begged the question, it begged question about God’s favor, about God’s promises, but it also served as a harbinger that God was about to do something miraculous for His people.
The writer of 1 Samuel would expect his readers, expect you and me, to pick up on that and make this connection with Hannah. Perhaps we have a sign here that God is not aloof to what’s going on, but is actually working.
So we look at chapter 1, and you can just see what’s hovering over it, this sense of powerlessness, this sense of lifelessness, just hovering over the text, hovering over Hannah, hovering over Elkanah, hovering over Eli, as we’ll see.
So the question is, what is Hannah going to do? Or even more important, the question is what is God going to do?
In verse 10, Hannah begins to pour her heart out to God. That’s the only thing that she can do. She appeals to God, says, “O Lord of hosts,” and the emphasis here is on God’s omnipotence, on His sovereignty. She goes to the only One who can bring life, and she appeals to God’s mercy and to God’s might to do for her what she cannot do for herself.
And yet she makes a promise. Hannah makes a Nazarite vow not to take a razor to her son’s head if the Lord would give her a son. The Nazarite vow is significant because it marked a life that was consecrated holy to God before God. It’s a solemn dedication that one would give their lives, all of their life to God.
So that’s significant because we’ll see Israel is not consecrated to God and actually needs someone who can be for them what they are not, and can lead them back to God.
So that’s from a broader perspective, but it’s also important just thinking about her cry. We might see as Hannah’s just trying to move God. What is she doing here? Is she just creating a deal? O Lord, if you’ll do this for me, if you’ll get me out of this situation, then I’ll do that for You? Is that what’s going on here?
We might think that Hannah’s just trying to move God, but what is really happening here is God is moving Hannah. In the midst of her hardship, in the midst of her vexation, God is moving her through those things, moving her lips to cry to Him, to look to Him, to seek Him, to hope in Him, even when she doesn’t have an answer.
Well, this is really hard to do. Many of us know this. When you’re seeking God for an answer, to continue to hope in Him, even when it’s not there. I’m reminded of something I read from St. Augustin in Confessions a couple weeks ago, and I’ll paraphrase it. It goes something like this: It is better to seek God and fail to find an answer rather than to seek an answer and to fail to find God.
This is where we find Hannah in verses 17 and 18. She’s appealing to God. And Eli finally, he finally gets his perception right. She receives his blessing, but she doesn’t have a child yet. But she starts eating again and her countenance is lifted. You think about that. Everything is not fulfilled in her life, and yet she has this renewed hope, this renewed hope in God, and it’s through this lens of hoping in God, of crying out to Him, that Hannah begins to emerge not as a woman of reproach, but a part of the remnant of faithful Israel.
This one woman. Hannah’s hope sets her apart as one whose heart is still set on God.
It’s a weak faith, troubled faith, powerless, but it tells us something, does it not? That that’s the state in which God often begins to work in the deepest ways in our lives.
So Hannah cries out to God, weak and troubled, but faithful and persistent. She remains open to the Lord and this leads us to our second observation in this passage, and that’s Israel’s condition. Israel’s apostasy seems to be in the backdrop until you consider the historical setting of this book of 1 Samuel. This is during the twilight period of the judges, when every man did what was right in his own eyes.
And it’s confirmed by a couple of things in this passage, you can look and see. First, just look at the priests of Israel. Eli and his sons, Hophni and Phinehas. They were the local pastors and Eli was unfaithful and Hophni and Phinehas, they were just absolute scoundrels. We’ll read about that later.
But there’s this curious episode where Hannah is crying out to God and Eli and does not seem to discern that Hannah’s praying, but he assumes that she’s drunk. And that’s curious because as Isaiah 56:7 says, Yahweh’s house was to be a house of prayer, this was to be something that was recognizable, but it appears that we have a pastor here, we have a priest here, who’s more familiar with drunkenness than prayer. That’s how far gone Israel is. He’s someone who’s completely disengaged from his calling.
Many of you know I was a ruling elder in Greenville for a while before the Lord called me into ministry and I taught a Sunday School class for a long time and we had this young lady who was a baby-sitter we found through Campus Outreach, and we became very close to her and she got engaged and they invited us to their wedding. Now, their wedding was on Labor Day weekend, and if you’re a sport’s fan, you realize that’s the first Saturday of the college football season.
And it just so happened their wedding was right at the same time as my team was playing. Well, you know, ruling elder, Presbyterian church, I’ve got my priorities in order. I’m not going to miss the wedding for a football game, so Michelle and I go to the wedding and I bring my phone. [laughter] So sitting there throughout the service and they have a sit-down dinner after, and so we’re sitting around this table, a bunch of members of the church, and this one woman who was in my Sunday School class, she would consistently come up and ask me questions after a lesson and talk to me about theological things, and all of that, and after the dinner, we were about to leave and she came up to me and she said, “Hey, Derek, can I ask you a question?” and I said, “Yeah, what’s that?” and she said, “Well, I noticed that every minute or so you were bowing your head at the table.” She said, “Were you praying for that couple? Is that what you were doing?” I had to be honest and say, “Uh, no, I was actually checking the score of the football game.” You could just see the disappointment just on her face, her opinion of me goes straight down.
So what do you have there? Think about that. You have an elder who’s disengaged from his calling. Multiply that by 10,000 and think of the crisis, the spiritual crisis, the psychological crisis, when one of your pastors or priests are out to lunch, and that’s what we have here in Israel.
So you look at the priests. Also look at the place, the meeting place of Shiloh. It was set up by Joshua to be the center of religious life for the people of Israel, a place of pilgrimage, a place of blessing. It was a shell of itself. Shiloh had become a place of spiritual wreckage, the ground zero of spiritual wreckage for Israel.
And so what’s the point? The point is not only that Hannah is barren physically, but the greater reality, the larger story, is Israel is barren spiritually. And 1 Samuel 3:1 tells us that because of Israel’s apostasy, that the Word of the Lord was rare and there were few visions in those days.
So what do you have here? You have the withdrawal of God’s Word and with the withdrawal of God’s Word, the withdrawal of God’s presence in the life of His people, and perhaps you know what it’s like. We’ve all has those times where you’ve been in a spiritual dry season. Or maybe you even know this morning what it’s like to be in a place of spiritual wreckage. You say, “Derek, my life is not too far from Shiloh actually.”
When God’s Word seems rare, it seems strange, it seems unfruitful for some reason. Sometimes God ordains that and we have to be faithful and keep crying out to Him and trust in Him.
But there’s also a sense in which our sins can deafen to God’s Word. There’s a deadening effect of sin in our lives. Where we can no longer see, we can no longer feel, we can no longer hear, and that’s where Israel is. That’s wayward Israel. And it begs the question, what should Israel do? What should you and I do? If that’s us.
And the answer has in some sense already been given to us. We should pour our hearts out before God, just as Hannah did, and appeal to His might and mercy.
So the remaining question now is what will God do, though? Does God see Hannah’s travail? Will He hear her cry? Will He open her womb? And the answer to that question ultimately is connected to the larger story, the greater story: Does God see the barren wasteland of Israel? Has God ultimately forsaken them, or will He be merciful and send one to that place of spiritual wreckage? One to lead them back to Himself.
That brings us to our last point: God’s response. In verses 19 and 20, it says Elkanah knew his wife and the Lord remembered her, that’s very important, and in due time she conceived and bore a son and named him Samuel. Verse 10 says she named him Samuel because he was “asked of God,” but the name Samuel does not precisely mean “asked of God.” It comes from the Hebrew word “shem” which means name and “el” which means God, literally “the name of God.”
And yet it’s close to the word that means “to ask” and that’s what Hannah alludes to here. It’s also similar to the Hebrew word which means “heard of God.” It’s as if Hannah is saying “I have asked, and the Lord has heard.”
This whole theme of asking becomes important later because Hannah asked God for a son and she gets Samuel. Later Israel asks Samuel for a king, and they get Saul.
Two very different requests, with very different results.
Verses 21 through 28, Samuel is weaned from his mother, he’s presented to God. And once weaned, this is a time of celebration usually where the child is presented to the father. But notice in this case, Hannah presents Samuel to Eli the priest, symbolic of what she’s doing here. What is doing? She’s fulfilling her vow. She’s giving her son to God’s service.
Finally, as the passage moves forward into chapter 2, we see this prayer, this song, of Hannah. The birth narrative of Samuel concludes with a song of exultation. Here we see Hannah in a different light. She’s gone, she’s gone from praying to singing. She’s gone from lamenting to proclaiming. You know what’s interesting about this? It’s interesting that Peninnah now fades to the background. Hannah’s mockers, her accusers, are gone because Yahweh has done away with them.
She’s not just praising God for an answered prayer, she’s praising God for His redemptive character. Commentators observe that this song serves in some sense as a table of contents for the book. Hannah rejoiced in God and what He has done. She says, “There is no rock like our God.” She rejoices that He is a God of knowledge and justice. She says the bows of the mighty are broken, that God brings low the rich, He raises up the poor. The one who is barren is rejoicing, while the one with many is forlorn.
She uses that number seven, which is a word for completion. Essentially saying that God has brought me to completion.
She rejoices that He is a God of life who raises up the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy out of the ash heap, the hungry are brought to satisfaction.
So she’s noting God’s redemptive character, but she’s also noting what is about to unfold in the life and ministry of Samuel, as the history of Israel moves forward.
In verses 9 and 10 it says that Yahweh will guard the feet of His faithful ones, referring to them as the pillars of the earth. You might say, “Well, what are the pillars of the earth?” The pillars of the earth are the ones that God raises up to break the enemies of God’s people apart, to thunder in heaven and to judge the ends of the earth, and here we see a brief snapshot of Samuel’s ministry as a prophet and as a judge to Israel, bringing the defeat of their enemies and preparing the way for the Lord’s anointed King David, who would usher in one of the greatest periods in Israel’s history.
Now we know we can read ahead that this does not mark the end of their sinfulness, but it does mark a new beginning of the revelation of God’s mercies to them. It points us to an even greater mercy. Hannah’s song is a foretaste, a foretaste of another psalm, the psalm of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary, in Luke 1, in much the same language, is rejoicing, rejoicing over what God was going to do in sending another prophet, a prophet greater than Samuel, a king mightier than David, a priest more holy than Eli. Going to send a prophet to the very place of spiritual wreckage of His people. A son, a son who has been asked of God, sent for the barren, for the wayward, by those who are waiting on God to deliver them.
Just as God remembered Hannah’s cry and provided a son, provided Samuel, so God remembers our cry and has provided Christ, His only Son.
In the tabernacle, we see Hannah giving her son to God. But in the incarnation, we see God giving His Son for us.
So what’s the message to you this morning? Wherever you’re at, whether you’re wayward or you’re barren, you’re struggling, you’re in a trial of faith, you’re far from God, or you feel far from God. What is God’s answer to you? God’s answer to you is Christ. That’s God’s answer to us, for in Him the barren become fruitful, the poor become rich, the hungry are satisfied, the dead are brought to life. In Christ, God has raised up for us a pillar of salvation. On Him He has set the world and on Him we can rest our hopes, whether you’re barren or wayward or waiting, for He breaks our enemies of sin and death to pieces.
So Christ Covenant, we need to learn to look to Christ, and as we look to Him, we’ll come to a greater understanding, that number one God sees, God sees. He sees the travails of your life.
Number two, God hears. God hears the cries of your soul.
Number three, God saves.
God sees, God hears, and God saves. In Christ we see this. In Him, there is a song of salvation. In Him, there is a song of deliverance, a song of Hannah, a song of Mary, and a song of all those who turn to Him.
Let’s pray. So our Father in heaven, we are grateful that You see our travail, that You hear our cries, that You have saved us in and through the work of Your Son. We ask, O Lord, that You would take Your Word and press it upon our hearts, that our eyes might look to You and we might be saved and we might follow. We make this prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.