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TEXT: I Samuel 1:8-2:11
SUBJECT: The Life of Samuel #2: The Prayer
Today, with God's blessing, we will move on in our study of The Life of Samuel. If you don't know his life, I urge you to read it. The whole thing can be found in the Book of I Samuel, with most of it, in the first seven chapters. Few men have lived more public lives than he did, and even fewer have set a better example.
His life is worth imitating. But 'following his example' is not the main reason it is in the Bible. Like the rest of Scripture, it was written to disclose the character of God and His saving work in Jesus Christ. This will be the emphasis of my sermons, and I pray it's what you get out of them all. For this to occur, however, more will be needed than my speaking and your listening are able to provide. We need nothing less than an almighty persuasion sent from God Himself.
Everybody who knew Him knew Jesus was a very great man, as great as John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. But Peter knew more than they did. He knew Him as-
The Christ, the Son of the Living God.
How did he come to this knowledge? Not his keen powers of observation or his sharp reasoning, but something else-
Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in Heaven.
In reading the Bible and hearing sermons, therefore, we are at God's mercy. And that's not a bad place to be! There's a prayer in the Psalms, and I can think of none better for private Bible study or the public hearing of the Word, Psalm 119:18-
Open my eyes, that I may see
Wondrous things from your Law.
We pick up the story where we left it last Sunday: with a woman in deep distress. Her name is Hannah; she's a godly wife, married to a loving and sympathetic man called Elkaneh. Her problem is infertility. Though she and her husband have been married for many years, they cannot have a baby.
To make matters worse, the other wife can. Elkaneh, it seems, married Hannah for love, and when it became clear she would give him no sons, he took a second wife named Penninah, who had a lot of them (and daughters too).
The little ones were the gifts of God, but they were not received with gratitude. It was pride Penninah felt in her children-or maybe the right word is 'arrogance'. Comparing her own fruitfulness with Hannah's barrenness could only mean: Penninah had God's blessing and Hannah bore His curse.
That's what she thought, and she was not the kind of person to keep her thoughts to herself. No, they were her favorite topics of conversation. Morning, noon, and night Penninah gloried in her children and scorned Hannah for not having any.
If her crowing was bad on other days, it was even worse on holidays. Every year the family went up to Shiloh to worship the Lord, but neither lady was doing much of it: Penninah was puffing out her chest the whole time, and Hannah was crying her eyes out.
We don't know what Elkaneh said to Penninah, but whatever it was it didn't work. She kept on chiding, year after year, she never let up.
As for his other wife, he did his best to comfort her-
Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?
You have to admire the man's sensitivity and tact, but his wisdom? Maybe not. The more he did for Hannah, the more Penninah did to her. She-
Provoked her severely, to make her miserable.
Hannah is not a touchy woman, feeling sorry for herself, and grumbling all the time. She is godly and strong and patient and.
How do we explain this? Preachers and others often say it is God's will for His people to be happy. But Hannah's is one of God's select people, and she's not happy. She's not Living Her Best Life Now. It would be easy to chalk it up to sin in her life, or if not sin, a lack of self-esteem. Or a lack of faith. Or maybe a lack of estrogen!
These are easy answers, and there may be some truth in them. But there is a far deeper truth as well, one we don't like to mention, least of all in church. But it needs saying: You know what was at the bottom of Hannah's unhappiness?
Her infertility is noted twice in the paragraph. V.2 says, Hannah had no children. Nothing to threaten us here; it's all very natural, bordering on clinical. But v.5 is far different: The Lord had closed her womb.
The Lord made her unhappy. Later, we find her unhappiness was a temporary thing that gave way to-and greatly enhanced-the happiness to follow. It was one of those evils that-
Work together for good to those who love God,
Who are called according to His purpose.
Looking back on our unhappiness, we often see it was laced with good. In heaven, we will see it was all good and necessary for our salvation. This doesn't make our present unhappiness any happier, of course. But it makes it bearable. Because it comes from the God who loves us enough to discipline us and who is wise enough to use the unhappiest things in life to make us happier than we can imagine-
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
Do you get what he's saying? Not, 'the happiness of heaven will be in spite of the pains of this life, but because of them!'
I don't half believe this. And, if you're like I am, join me in the man's prayer-
Lord, I believe!
Help my unbelief!
Hannah is a woman in deep distress.
For a time, it seems, she kept her sorrows bottled up. The story doesn't say she avenged herself on Peninnah by saying, Maybe I have no kids, but at least my husband loves me! Nor can we find her taking it out on her husband as though he could conjure up a baby for her!
Hannah took her misery to God. God has always been everywhere at all times. But, in Hannah's day, He identified Himself with the Tabernacle. The Lord and His favor were in the Sacred Tent in a way they were not anywhere else. The connection between the Lord and the Tabernacle were so close that 'going to the Tabernacle' and appearing before the Lord meant the same thing.
In anguish of soul, she runs off to the Tabernacle, hoping to find God's favor at last, grief pouring out of her soul like a flash flood.
In the middle of her prayer, a thought occurs to her. Of course her desires matter to God, but maybe His desires should matter to her. Maybe, in fact, the two are one and the same thing. And so, she renews her prayer for a son, but this time, she takes a vow: if the Lord gives her a son, she will give a son to the Lord, and-
No razor shall come upon his head.
In other words, he will be a Nazirite from birth. He will be dedicated to the Lord in a special way. What a sacrifice the dear lady is willing to make! To long for a son all her life only to give him right back to God. This is how we look at her vow, but I wonder if Hannah saw it that way? I wonder if, instead of calling it 'a sacrifice' she would call it 'a privilege'? I wonder if she didn't have an inkling of what our Lord said many years later-
Whoever will save his life shall lose it,
But whoever shall lose his life for my sake,
The same shall find it?
Hannah is not dickering with God! She is taking an oath. If the Lord gives her a son, she will give him back for life. She makes the vow over and over again, thinking no one sees her but the Lord.
But someone else did see her. Eli, the high priest, is sitting in the doorway to guard the Tent from people who aren't fit to be there. And surely-he thinks-he has found one! The woman's lips are moving, but she's not saying a word, and this can only mean-
How long will you be drunk? Put your wine away from you!
The cleric's outburst says more about himself than it does about Hannah. For one thing, he and his family have been so lax in their duties that drunkenness was common in and around the Tabernacle. When I see lips moving in church, I think: prayer, not Jack Daniels!
A second thing is even more serious: Eli is a 'strong man', but only to the weak. His own sons are doing things far worse than having a drink or two too many. They're robbing the men, sleeping with the women, polluting the sacrifices, and earning extra money running prostitutes! Eli raises a weak protest now and then against them. While lowering the boom on a godly woman overcome with grief!
If Eli is a hasty man, he is not stubborn. When Hannah says it is intense prayer making her lips move, the priest changes his mind. No longer rebuking her, he pronounces a blessing-
Go in peace and the God of Israel grant you the petition which you have asked of Him.
His words are not good luck in Hebrew. As the High Priest of Israel, Eli had the power to bless the people-and they would be blessed. Because he was the High Priest-and a Type of Christ-God would hear his words and bring them to pass.
Hannah knew it was so, and for the first time in our story-
Her face was no longer sad.
What a wonderful change has taken place in the dear lady! With one word, she has gone from the saddest woman Israel to the happiest. What changed her mood so drastically was the Word of God.
Through Eli's unworthy mouth, God spoke to her, promising to answer her prayer. On one level, this means nothing more than she will have a baby. But if you read Hannah's Song in Chapter 2, you'll find what she prayed for was far more than a baby. She was praying for God to defend and promote His people, and to silence and punish His enemies.
The birth of her baby would do that, in some small part. Penninah the mocker would be shut up for good. When the baby grew to manhood, the word would be realized in a fuller way, as God saves His people from the corrupt leaders in church and state, by making Samuel their judge and priest. And then, through Samuel's later work, Israel's great king, David, would be anointed, and through him, David's Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, would ascend to the Throne in Heaven, and then return to set things right, fully and forever.
Hannah was thrilled by the Gospel. The word itself means, Good News, and that's what it is: for the Gospel does not tell us what we should do for God, but what God has done for us. The Gospel she heard was true, but not clear. She knew the birth of her son would somehow or other advance God's cause in the world and bring His salvation. That's all she knew, and even that made her sing-
My heart rejoices in the Lord!
If a fuzzy Gospel stirred Hannah's heart and raised her voice in God's praise, how much more must a clear Gospel stir our hearts and raise our voices to heaven? Psalm 98, calls us to His service in song--
Shout joyfully to the Lord,
All the earth;
Break forth in song, rejoice,
And sing praises.
Sing to the Lord with the harp,
With the harp and the sound of a
Psalm, with trumpets and the sound of a
Shout joyfully before the Lord,
Let the sea roar, and all its fullness,
The world and those who dwell in it;
Let the rivers clap their hands;
Let the hills be joyful together
Before the Lord,
For He is coming to judge the earth,
With righteousness He shall judge
And the peoples with equity.
This is the kind of God the Lord is. He hears the prayers of His people, He takes pity on them, and, given the time, He provides everything their hearts desire, and more-
Blessed be the God and Father of our
Lord Jesus Christ,
Who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings
In the heavenly places,
When the holidays were over, the family went home, and about nine months later, Hannah had the baby God promised her. She called him-
Samuel, because I have asked for him from the Lord.
The name, Samuel, has a double meaning: it means 'Asked for' and it also means, 'the name of God'. This makes the unexpected baby a forerunner of another Baby who was even less expected. For who is Jesus? He is Bearer of God's Name because He is God.
God has kept His promise to Hannah, as He has kept every promise to you and me, and will keep them. No one here (I hope) would call God a Liar. But every time we worry and wonder and doubt His Word, that's what we do. Like Abraham before us, let us not-
Stagger in unbelief, but be strong in faith, giving glory to God, being fully convinced that what He has promised, He is also able to perform!
When Samuel was weaned, Hannah kept her vow and gave him to the Lord forever. He was brought to the Tabernacle and left with Eli, his family seeing him only once a year thereafter. Hannah still loved her boy, making him a new coat each year. But her love was not the morose and clinging kind. She loved him enough to give him to God, and be glad she did!
Before leaving her son for the first time, Hannah offered a prayer to God that sounds more like a song.
She begins by acknowledging God as her Savior-
My heart rejoices in the Lord;
My horn is exalted in the Lord.
I smile at my enemies,
Because I rejoice in Your salvation.
Then she sees that God has not only saved her, but all of His people-
The bows of the mighty men
And those who stumbled
Are girded with strength.
This means she is not the only needy, persecuted person in the world. Every suffering person who cries to the Lord is saved in God's good time.
Finally, she sees that what God has done for her and others, He will keep on doing until all injustice is wiped out, and the world will become the place it ought to be-
The adversaries of the Lord
Shall be broken in pieces;
From heaven He will thunder
The Lord will judge
The ends of the earth.
She ends her prayer with a prophecy. Her son, Samuel, will be a priest and a judge, and he will discharge both offices with integrity. But his great work will be something else. He will anoint the King, and the Lord who chose him for this sacred work-
Will give strength to His king,
And exalt the horn of His anointed.
The first readers of this Book must have taken David for this king-and they were right. But David was more than a king, he was a father of kings, and one of them, would be more than a king, He would be The King, the Lord's Anointed in the fullest sense of that word. That Son of David is Jesus Christ, our Lord.
The story ends with Elkaneh and his family going home and the child ministering to the Lord before Eli the priest. As a three year old boy, Samuel is serving his apprenticeship in God's service. It won't be long till he becomes the servant of servants.
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