Sermon preached on 1 Samuel 1 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 11/30/2014 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Samuel 1
Lent to the LORD
We begin a new sermon series today. My goal is to ultimately take us through the books of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings which cover the history of the rise and fall of the Jewish monarchy and kingdom. However due to the length of these books, we’ll likely not go through them one right after another. At this point, the plan will be to go through 1 Samuel, take a break with another book, and then return to 2 Samuel, and so on. Lord willing, we’ll eventually make it through this important history of God’s people.
And so as we begin the book of 1 Samuel, let me give you a little introduction to the book. 1 Samuel is a book about a transition. It’s a transition from the time of the judges to the time of the Jewish monarchy. In other words, it’s a transition from when the people of Israel went from being led by the occasional regional judge as circumstances demanded, to the time when the Israelite nation was led by a king. At this time is also when you see the beginning of the formal ministry of the prophets emerge. To clarify, there were prophets before. Moses, Miriam, and Noah, as examples, are called prophets. But in classic Old Testament history, beginning with Samuel, all the way through Malachi, you have a vibrant ministry of prophets. The books in the Old Testament from Isaiah to Malachi record the writings of many of these. But the books of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings also record the ministry of several key prophets, especially highlighting how God had them bringing important messages to these new kings, and also the ones to regularly anoint these new kings as kings. And so these four books we’ll be studying deal a lot with both kings and prophets, and in 1 Samuel you’ll find the start of both. And in this book, you’ll find three main figures: Samuel, Saul, and David. The name of the book gets its name from Samuel of course. Samuel is a prophet of the Lord, and the one who God has anoint the first two kings of Israel. First, God has him anoint Saul, whom we are supposed to see is the wrong choice of a king. He’s the king the people wanted, not the king the people should have wanted. Second, God has Samuel anoint David as king, and that is God’s choice of a king, a man after God’s own heart. And it’s in 2 Samuel then that we see God promise to bring an even greater king and greater kingdom through David’s line; that looks to Jesus Christ, of course.
And so with that brief introduction into this book, I want to dig into chapter 1 now. Here’s how we’ll approach this chapter. First, I want to consider the setting. Second, I want to walk through the story and make sure we understand what’s going on. Third, I want to apply this story to our own place in the larger story. And for each of these points, I want us to step back and see the bigger picture.
So let’s begin first then with the setting, as seen in verses 1-7. The immediate setting draws us into the life of Hannah. This was a woman, by the way, I had wanted to cover with our women of the Bible series, but didn’t get to due to trying to restrain the overall number of weeks that we spent on that series. But now we will get to learn more about her actually over the next few sermons. And so verse 1 introduces us first to her husband, a man named Elkanah who lived in the territory of Ephraim. In verse 2, we learn that Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Hannah was barren, however, but Peninnah was not. Elkanah we are told greatly loved Hannah, and according to verse 5, it implies that he loved her most of his two wives. And as so typical in such polygamous marriages, there was again rivalry between the two wives. We are not told of any evil that Hannah did to Peninnah, but verse 6 does call Peninnah her rival, with the description that Peninnah would provoke Hannah severely over the fact that she had borne no children, and this of course made Hannah miserable.
In terms of the setting, we are also told that they were a religious family in that they made a trip every year to worship and sacrifice to the LORD at Shiloh. You might be used to thinking about the tabernacle being in Jerusalem, but that actually comes later in Israel’s history. At this point in Israel’s history, the tabernacle with the Ark of the Covenant were at Shiloh. God had told the people that when they came into the Promised Land that they were supposed to make their sacrifices at the central place of worship; at this time that was located there in Shiloh, and so the family made an annual visit to worship and make sacrifices at the correct place appointed by God at the tabernacle.
However, these pilgrimages to the tabernacle were difficult for Hannah. On the one hand, they were an occasion for her husband to show special love for her as it says in verse 5 that he would give her a double portion of the offering. To clarify, some offerings in the Old Testament were ones that you’d offer at the tabernacle and be able to feast on part of the offering; a sort of celebration of the peace and fellowship you have with God. The family is recorded as doing this, and Hannah would get a double portion of the offering to enjoy. However, this was also an opportunity for Peninnah to further provoke her, and that’s exactly what verse 7 says she did to Hannah on these annual trips to the tabernacle. And so Hannah wept and didn’t eat.
That’s the setting of our story as we come to another of these occasions were the family comes to Shiloh to worship, and Hannah is again distraught, not eating but instead weeping. From verse 8 it goes into the story of a particular visit now to Shiloh. But before we dig into that, let me step back as promised and note the bigger picture of the setting. I’ve already begun to do that in the introduction. But let me add a further thought. The setting of this story is on one hand about Hannah and her barrenness, and he so desperately wanting a child to solve her affliction. But the bigger picture is somewhat similar. This is the time of the judges. The time of the judges is a horrible, dark, time, for Israel. It’s a time of moral chaos, with the people see-sawing back and forth between following God and rejecting God. Basically, they would fall away in some evil, and God would have one of the neighboring peoples come and afflict them. In their affliction, they would cry out, and God would hear them, and raise up a judge to liberate them. And as the book of Judges details this repeated cycle, the judges themselves seem to go downward as well, themselves looking less and less commendable. The book of Judges then begins to tell us the core problem at that time. The core problem was that there was no king in the land, so that everyone did what was right in their own eyes. So, when we get to this book, and it starts at the time of the judges, we should be remembering the need of Israel for a king to lead them in the right way, so they would be freed from the afflictions caused by their sin. And when you add the book of Ruth in here, which in the Christian Bible is situated between the books of Judges and 1 Samuel, there that book too is in the time of the Judges and is looking ahead to the ultimate birth of David. David would be the child that would be that king the people so desperately need to put an end to the dark era of the time of the judges.
And so that’s where the immediate setting and the setting of the bigger picture intersect. Hannah is looking for a child to be born to save her from her affliction. And the people in general are hoping for one to be born and come as king to save them from their affliction. These stories begin to come together in this chapter.
So then we come to the heart of the story from our passage beginning in verse 8. Again, we’ll begin with the immediate story here about Hannah, and then look at the bigger picture. And so here we see Hannah, full of sorrow, weeping and essentially fasting, unable to be comforted by her husband, going to the tabernacle to pray. Verse 10 says she was full of bitterness of soul, weeping in anguish, but she goes to pray. And in her prayer we see that she makes a vow, verse 11. There she recounts to God her plight, she asks for help, specifically for a male child, and vows that if God gives her this child, then she will dedicate him back to the Lord, with no razor touching his head. That part about the razor, by the way, calls to the mind the Nazarite vow described in Numbers 6. That Nazarite vow is a vow someone could do that would make themselves separated unto the Lord for some holy period of service. It was a voluntary thing, and during the time of the vow you couldn’t cut your hair, or have any wine or anything produced from grapes even. And so the vow that Hannah makes essentially is saying that she would dedicate this male child, if so received, unto a similar lifelong type of service. The child would be set apart as holy unto the Lord, to serve the Lord all his days in this holy way. This obviously was quite an extraordinary vow, but surely reflects the earnestness of her appeal to God.
Verses 12-18 then record an interesting conversation between her and the priest Eli. Eli, the priest, notices her praying, but mistakenly thinks she is drunk. As a side note, we are not surprised to find at the time of the judges, that Eli is not a very commendable priest. Here he at first fails to see piety in Hannah and mistakenly takes it for wickedness. Later we’ll see that Eli fails to see on the other hand the wickedness in his own two sons. But more on that later. But for now, what Eli does for Hannah’s circumstances is to provide divine encouragement to Hannah that her prayer has been heard. In verse 17, Eli blesses her and encourages her at God’s answer. Whether he meant that as a hope or a certainty is unclear, but in verse 18 Hannah certainly interprets his words very positively. Notice that her whole demeanor immediately changes. Before she was weeping and not eating. Now in verse 18, she goes away eating and her face is no longer sad. Praise the Lord at how she was encouraged in this way.
And indeed the God of peace did answer her petition. In verses 19-28 we thus see that Hannah conceives, gives birth to Samuel, nurses and weans the child, and ultimately fulfills her vow to the Lord. Let me point out the two sides of this. First, there is the emphasis here on God answering the prayer. What was clear in verses 8-18 is that Hannah was praying about this, asking God for something. Now look at verse 20. After she returns home, and eventually conceives a child with Elkanah and gives birth, she names him Samuel. And she explains the name in verse 20, “Because I have asked for him from the LORD.” The name Samuel actually literally means something like “His Name is God”, but the name Samuel in Hebrew also sounds very similar to the Hebrew word for “ask,” which is what Hannah chooses to emphasize in verse 21 about the boy. So the story very much shows that Hannah asks God for a male child, and God gives Hannah a male child. Both Samuel’s name and this text emphasizes this fact. Hannah reiterates this point again in verse 27 in what she tells Eli.
And so then the second side of this is that Hannah now needs to keep her vow. She had vowed to give the boy back to Lord, to dedicate him to a special, holy, lifelong service to God. And that is exactly what she does. I love how verses 22-23 give us a little bit of suspense here of whether or not she will keep this, but of course she does. And in verse 23, her husband seems to completely agree with this too. Elkanah’s reference about the Lord establishing this dedication of the boy to the Lord’s service, is a wonderful way to show that Elkanah is in complete agreement with this. There was a provision in the Torah that said if a wife made some vow, that when the husband heard of it, he could annul it if he did so right then. But clearly Elkanah has not annulled Hannah’s vow, but is essentially invoking God’s blessings upon her that she would have the strength to keep the vow.
And she did keep it. Once he was weaned, she took the boy up and with a sacrifice she presents him to Eli. Look at how she further explains this in verse 28. She says, “Therefore I also have lent him to the LORD; as long as he lives he shall be lent to the LORD.” The Hebrew word for lent is a passive form of the same word for “ask” — the same one that Hannah had said influenced her choice of Samuel’s name. And so this passage really continues to connect everything around this prayer request. She had “asked” for a male child in prayer. God gave what she asked and so the name Samuel is given, a name that sounds very similar in Hebrew to the word for “ask”. And then when she fulfills her said of the vow, she says that she is lending the boy to the Lord permanently, with the word for “lend” being another form of this same thematic word for “ask.” And so the asking for a male child, and God’s answer with the male child, and her response in giving back the male child, is all thematic and interconnected in this passage. Interestingly, this asking, and giving back, will come again to Hannah. After Hannah gave Samuel to the Lord to serve with Eli in Shiloh, she would come and visit Samuel and Eli each year on their annual trip. And Eli would pray for Elkanah and Hannah, according to 2:20. Eli there again employs this same language of a loan that Hannah gave to God of Samuel. Eli ask there in 2:20 that God would give more descendants to them, in light of her having given back Samuel. And in 2:21, God does. He visits Hannah and she gives birth to three more sons and two daughters. You can’t out-give God.
Well, let’s step back then and consider the bigger picture; to consider the larger story going on beyond just chapter 1. As mentioned, the larger story is about the transition from the time of the judges to the time of the monarchy, and also the entrance of the prophets. Samuel will serve as the last judge of the people before the switch to kings. Samuel will become that first prophet with many more to follow. And then as that prophet, God has him anoint the first two kings, Saul and David. Because of this, he is often called the “kingmaker”. He is used by God to establish a kingdom among the people of God, a kingdom which is ultimately anticipating the kingdom of heaven to come in Jesus Christ.
Here Samuel’s name also help tie in with the bigger picture. We’ve made the point that Samuel’s name sounds somewhat like the Hebrew word for “ask”. Well, King Saul’s name even more so resembles that word for “ask”. It’s basically a form of that same Hebrew word. And so tie this all together. Hannah asks in a noble way for a son, and she is given Samuel. In the bigger picture, Samuel would be used by God to bring a solution to the troubled time of the judges, by bringing forth the king and the kingdom. That would come in King David ultimately, when Samuel anoints him as king, a man of God’s choosing. And yet first, God would have Samuel anoint King Saul. Why? Because the people “asked” for such. They asked for a king like all the other nations, and so in “asking” in this bad way, God gives them what they asked for: Saul. And Saul’s name basically means “ask”.
And so in the book which is about the transition to new things, we think of that which we ask of God and that which God gives us. That’s in this immediate chapter with Hannah and Samuel. And it becomes reflective of the larger theme in this book. And we are thankful that God would ultimately give the people not what they asked for, namely Saul, but that which God knew they needed. A king like David. And that ultimately looks forward to the king that comes in that line, Christ Jesus, ushering in an everlasting kingdom of which there will be no end.
And so as we turn now in our third point to relate all of this story to our story, let’s begin this time with the bigger picture. The bigger picture starts with what we just talked about. What Samuel does here in the Old Testament looks forward to what will happen in the New Testament. Samuel is used to begin to usher in the king and the kingdom under the old covenant. When you get into the New Testament, you find John the Baptist doing something very similar. He came proclaiming the coming of the kingdom and the coming of the king. He identified Jesus Christ as that promised Messiah, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the World. John baptized the King of Kings with water, while the Holy Spirit also came upon him, and the Father confirmed the Christ by speaking from heaven. And just like how the book of 1 Samuel is not really a book about Samuel but about King David, the ministry of John the Baptist was not really about himself, but about the Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the one God chose to give to us his people. The ultimate king of God’s choosing. We are now living as a part of this bigger picture; we live after the establishment of Christ’s heavenly kingdom, which is already being manifest on earth through the visible church, and looking forward to its appearing in glory at Christ’s return.
And so this is how it all relates to our life. We are part of Christ’s kingdom, having seen the Christ come and his kingdom established and yet awaiting his return in glory. We now are a part of the advancement of his kingdom on earth through the gospel proclamation. But what I love about this bigger picture is how it works itself out in the ordinary details of our life.
I mean take Hannah for example. Did she have any clue how God would use Samuel? Did she have any idea why God had her be barren for so long? Did she understand why it was necessary for all that heartache she experienced before such amazing things did start to happen with the birth of Samuel? Even now, we can look back and see the big picture and become excited at how God did work all things together for good, as part of the big picture. But we don’t know how much she ever figured out the big picture in her lifetime. And frankly, even now, looking back at it, we still don’t have all the questions answered of why God thought it best to have her go through the many afflictions she did have to first go through. And yet nonetheless, in the big picture, she was used by God.
But how did that work out in her life’s details? In the ordinary details of her life, for the most part. In the ordinary events that included heartache and sorrows that she brought to God in prayer; and in ordinary way that in God’s timing, he brought answers to her prayers. From her limited perspective, a lot of it probably seemed very ordinary. In many ways it was very ordinary. But God was at work in her immediate life, while simultaneously at work in the big picture of redemptive history.
May that then be for us. May each of us see how God has given abundantly to us in Christ, and in turn offer our entire lives as holy and lent forever to the Lord. But look to see how you can serve him in the ordinary. Live as a disciple of Christ, working hard in your stations in life as unto him. Look to grow in knowing his Word. Look to use the gifts he’s given you in God-honoring ways. And in the midst of trials, pray. Pray, fervently, and if appropriate with tears and fasting. Keep on praying, even when the answers are not immediately there. And trust that God is at work in your life. That he is involved in the ordinary details of your life, while simultaneously using them in some way as part of his bigger plans that are advancing his kingdom.
Elkanah invoked God’s name in seeking help for Hannah in fulfilling her vow. May we too call upon the Lord in the ordinary details of our life, using the ordinary means of Word, Prayer, and Sacrament, for the strength to live out the Christian life. That as we daily look to take up our crosses and follow him, that he would establish you and use you for your good and for his wonderful kingdom purposes. Amen.
Copyright © 2014 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.