“Samuel, prophet, priest, judge and king-maker”

January 25th, 2004

Texts: 1 Samuel 1:9-18,  Titus 2:3-6 & James 5:13-16

 

Main Idea: Worship and prayer are central to a lives that make a difference.

Purpose: Encourage godly childrearing by keeping connected with God

Question: Do you believe that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world?

 

            For the next four Sundays, we are going to be studying 1 Samuel, a wonderful historical book from the Old Testament, part of one work, originally, known as the Book of the Kingdoms.  .  The death of King David (c. 970 B.C.) provides a historical terminus for the date of composition for 1 & 2 Samuel that in fact record the king’s last words (See 2 Samuel 23).  But the question I want to pose is this: do you believe that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world?  I do.  I believe that the nurture and admonition of our children ranks near the top of world-changing activities.  Parenting is a high calling and it is the life commitment that Hannah chose out of gratitude for the mercy God had shown her in the gift of a son, namely, her son Samuel.[1]

 

            The period of the judges is coming to a close with this book.  The history of the judges is one of popular, or corporate rebellion against God--the egregious breaking of the Sinai covenant in spirit and letter--this national sin brought divine retribution.  The sorry state of Israel which is the setting of Samuel’s birth narrative is an expression of divine displeasure.  Again, we have to check our 21st century thinking at the door.  We ascribe to a privatized view of religion and of sin which is quite alien to a proper biblical understanding--according to the bible the sins of the individual had corporate repercussions.[2]  When national disaster befell Israel, such as the current occupation by the Philistines, the people would repent and a time of peace, of restoration would follow--and that condition would prevail until the people sinned against God again.  In short, this is the lesson of the Old Testament: obey and prosper, disobey and perish.

 

            According to the Jewish canon, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings formed the first half of the “prophets”--the middle section of their Holy Scriptures-- and these cover some 800 years of Jewish history.  Jesus elevates these books as Scripture in Luke 24 right alongside the second half of the Prophets which we commonly think of as properly ‘prophetic‘--the three major and the twelve minor prophets. Again, I want to point to the transitional character of 1 Samuel. We are on the cusp of the age of the monarchy between the time of the judges and the new age of kingship-- the monarchy begins with Saul and ends with the second Babylonian captivity, a period of some 500 years‘ duration.[3]  Momentous change is about to take place as we read about Elkanan and his two wives: one barren, Hannah, and Peninnah who had borne Elkanan’s children.  Peninnah played this difference up for all it was worth.  The marriage was a scene of rivalry and divided affections.  This dynamic speaks volumes about God’s preference for monogamy and about the plague of infertility which has been around for a long, long time.  The taunting and frustration of Hannah’s marital situation is heart-breaking but isn’t it astounding how God could plant such a prodigious personality in the midst of such ordinary and real life circumstances.  Hannah’s afflictions sculpted her soul; they shaped, fitted and suited her to become the mother of Samuel--a woman of deep, tried spirituality and a prayer warrior.  Her life is an encouragement and a challenge to all godly, but infertile women especially--an encouragement because, as it turns out, she was not cast off, she was not worthless and she was not incapable of expressing the love a wife expresses when bearing children for her husband.  And a challenge to us all to never ever give up praying.

 

            The setting for Hannah’s encounter with Eli is Shiloh, not even Jerusalem.  She had accompanied her husband to the yearly sacrifice and to worship there at that secondary shrine.  Here is a brief spiritual profile of Hannah sustained by the passage: 1.) Hannah was rightly related to God as a believer, 2.) she had an intensity of desire, 3.) she asked for her deepest desire, 4.) she had faith to believe and 5.) she received the promise by faith before it became experiential.  God delights in this kind of worshipper.  However, Eli completely misreads her bold, passionate faith and charges her with drunkenness.  After all, while everyone else is busy packing up to leave, she stands to do her business with the Lord.  She answers Eli respectfully, but very plainly: Sir, I’m not drunk, I’m sorely troubled, vexed in my spirit and “I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord” (v. 15).  Eli handles the encounter, made awkward by his moralistic approach, with grace and pronounces a blessing on her; he then intercedes for Hannah. There is a healing connection here, a joining of hope to hope which increases faith!  Regardless of his unhappy, initial approach to Hannah, and regardless of his own personal and priestly imperfections, his petition for Hannah is effectual with God and with her.  Eli by the grace of God communicates life to her--and that is the essential thing in pastoral work, and that’s what Jesus did so manifestly in His ministry on earth.  Hannah’s new spiritual health is now manifested outwardly, in better eating habits, her countenance was no longer sad (v. 18).  Furthermore God responds, opens her womb and she bears a son, Samuel, which can mean either “Asked of God,” or “Lend upon request.”  Either way, the child’s name bears the impress of his mother’s spiritual pre-natal experience, an experience with deep spiritual resonance in her life described as centrally worshipful and sacrificial.  As soon as Samuel is weaned he is placed, according to Hannah’s vow, in the service of the Eli, permanently lent, as it were, to the Lord.

 

            Once Hannah had her child--because the Lord remembered her, she conceived--, she committed herself to child-rearing, to rocking the cradle.  She appears to have elected to be what we might call a Titus 2:4-5 woman:

Titus 2:3  Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips, nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, Titus 2:4  that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, Titus 2:5  to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be dishonored. 

Hannah’s life priorities were in biblical order--while Samuel was young she poured her love, her faith, her purity and her energies into a son who grew up to be one of the most important leaders in the history of Israel.  That’s what it takes: God’s grace and some parents determined to secure a spiritual legacy for their children.  There is no higher calling than this one, no greater reward and no more influential occupation: the hand that rocks the cradle leads the nation--especially if that hand also lifts itself in praising God.[4]

            Immediately following this inspiring passage on the fruits of godly living in the family context beginning in 2:11ff., we have the heart-breaking passage on Eli’s “worthless” sons, we see the results of the failed parenting of one father, Eli, who plainly failed to lead, to direct his own sons while busying himself with “religious” work.  He did not, it would appear, correct them in a timely, or loving manner.  His failure to connect with them as a father led to the disqualification of his “house” for the priestly line.  Because of their wickedness, his lineage would be cut off.  And, worse, sin beginning with the household of Eli would bring destruction and judgment on the whole nation.  These sons of his were hardened in wickedness and they openly sinned against God--through despising of parents, gluttony, violence, extortion and fornication: “They would not listen to the voice of their father; for it was the will of God to slay them.”  Just as Hannah exulted: 1 Sam 2:6  "The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up. 1 Sam 2:7  "The LORD makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts.”  Hers was a resilient faith; but these sons of Eli were as faithless as they come.  A prophet came to Eli declaring that these sons should both die on the same day.  It is hard to know whether Eli was grieved and frightened by this prophecy--he knew it was a just punishment, he tried to warn them of it and yet he was still shocked when the judgment fell.  God really means business.

 

            What is being said here?  Let’s look more deeply.   What is there to explain the difference between Hannah’s story that issues in hope and life and the next narrative that ends in judgment and death?  I wish to suggest that we would be hard pressed to find a more compelling picture of hopelessness, and of spiritual disconnection than the opening chapter of 1 Samuel.  Let’s revisit that passage.  Peninnah is presented as an abusive personality, a hateful trouble-maker and a relational sink hole.  Her hostility, derision and persistent provocation of Hannah tells us that Peninnah, though she had children, was a thoroughly unhappy person.  Taunting, critical, and hostile, we are not surprised to observe that Peninnah is absent from the religious life of Elkanah and Hannah--we see no trace of her involvement with annual worship at Shiloh, or even a personal relationship with God.  The harshness depicted here may present a clue as to the nature of Eli’s failed parenting: if he were as moralistic to his sons as he was to Hannah, there is little reason to believe that they would enjoy relational health as father to son.  “Why do you do such things?” (2:23) is a good start.  But the lecture follows on so closely that Eli’s purpose seems to be to shame them, and put them further into bondage with guilt.  Yes, their behavior was shameful but they probably knew that--what they didn’t know is how to be good, or happy and pure.  They didn’t know how to give themselves to God, how to be vulnerable and, thereby open to healing with God and their Dad.

 

            On the other hand, we do read about the brokenness and affliction of Hannah.  The service is over.  Eli is seated nearby, tired from ministering perhaps, when Hannah stands up. She’s not done yet.  She prays now, pours out her bitterness through tears.  She takes strong spiritual action in vowing a vow.  Meanwhile Eli is reading her lips because she is praying silently (“in her heart“).  Imagine what he sees: a blubbering, disconsolate woman, moving her mouth swaying with the weight of her afflictions after worship. Perhaps, he reasons, she has over-indulged with the wine.  Then, with a sigh and considerable presumption, Eli heaves himself into a pastoral mode: “How long will you be drunken?   Put your wine away from you.” 

 

            Does that sound compassionate to you, or more like harsh moralism?  Can you hear: “How are you? What’s wrong?” Or, “Are you okay?” in that?  I can’t.  There’s not much sensitivity here, but there is, at the very least, an acknowledgement of her presence.  Hannah’s response, “Hold the phone.  Actually, I’m stone cold sober.  This is what being broken before the Lord looks like--I can‘t do it any better.  I was simply pouring out my sorrows before Him, letting Him know that I am sorely distressed and afflicted.  I’m so discouraged, so lonely, so unfulfilled.  That’s why I’ve unburdened myself here. So, please don’t think of me as a wicked, or immoral person.”  How human, how believable the story of Hannah’s distress now appears.

 

            I don’t know what actually went through Eli’s mind--I’d love to read his diary covering  that encounter.  It might read like this: “I was resting from the work of offering up the sacrifices today, the fellowship meal was over.  Huge crowd for Shiloh, beautiful day.  (Perhaps I overdid it a bit with the eating.) Everyone is winding down except for this young woman from out of town.  She’s the second wife of a man from Ramah, I think.  I wonder where wife #1 is?  I can‘t make out what she‘s saying quite, not from here.  People do the strangest things in worship these days.  She looks quite flushed, she’s swaying back and forth.  Maybe she’s afraid of falling, or dizzy . . .or drunk.  That’s it, she’s must have had too much to drink.  I’ll warn her about drunkenness, that‘s what I‘ll do.  (We all know the exchange that actually followed) “Boy, was I ever wrong with that young lady!  Turns out her name is Hannah, a very devout and sincere woman.  I remember now, she suffers from infertility--she’s been on the intercessory prayer list for some years now.  I really must remember to pray for her, poor thing, besides she asked me to . . .no, rather, I’ll pray because she’s hurting.  I was quite touched by her humility and her simple request.  Poor thing, she’s had a rough, rough road of it; I’ll bet it’s that other wife, the one that stays home.  Hannah’s so in love with her husband, I noticed that.  She’d make an excellent mother, yes, I think so.  “God, grant her the desire of her heart!  Perhaps, God, she could even have a son; that would be excellent.  But, I pray that he’ll turn out better than the sons I have.  I suppose, Lord, I should have spent more time with them, but, I’ve been so busy what with all Israel to look after. Amen.”  Then he’d mutter to himself, “Besides, those boys weren’t ever interested in anything but the perks.  Oh, well, parenting is so much tougher these days--so many distractions.”

 

            “Let your maidservant find favor in your eyes.”  Eli’s blessing had accomplished something all the comforts of Hannah’s husband could not do--it brought about a re-connection between her and God.. That’s what we all need: re-connection.  She realized through Eli’s kindness, his act of recognition and intercession that she was now a part of his life, and part of the worshipping community he led.  Someone else would carry her petitions to God alongside her.  That connection was nourishment to her because it invaded the prison of her private despair.  It unlocked a door.  She belonged to others by virtue of a godly relationship.  No wonder her heart skipped and her countenance was no longer sad!  Eli, who didn’t have to, had shared her pain, for once he escaped his moralistic habit, and that simple thing, that tiny gesture of concern made all the difference in the world.  It always does.  Eli helped Hannah escape her desperation, the temptation of trying to manage God by bearing her burdens with her.  It didn’t take very long; it doesn’t have to.

 

            Let’s pull this together now.  We’ve begun the study of 1 Samuel by looking at the religious life of his mother, Hannah.  And we’ve noted that Eli’s sons due to failed parenting, have become holy terrors--and their wickedness doesn’t bode well for the future of Israel.  Their behavior expresses the belief that religion is a joke and so they heap contempt on the Holy One of Israel by their brazen sins.  So, we may conclude that worship is central to lives that ultimately matter--just as the lack of worship points to lives that are basically a waste.  Secondly, we are witnesses to the power of intercessory prayer.  Working together, worship and prayer produce a connectedness to God which produces healing, wholesomeness and hope.  It is the place of worship in Hannah’s life that empowers her to raise up a Samuel--a prophet, priest, judge and king-maker.  So we are to encourage one another in worship and prayer also.  And none are to do so more than the elders to whom believers should freely turn in times of trouble.  This is the path prescribed in the Word.  Because IT WORKS.

 

James 5:13  Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises. James 5:14  Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; James 5:15  and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. James 5:16  Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.



[1] During this period, the people of Israel were colonizing the Promised Land according to the plan and purpose of God.  We have been taught that colonialism is a very bad thing.  The Bible doesn’t teach that.  It was clearly the plan of God to drive out the many pagan nations from Canaan because they were wicked and depraved and to replace them with His Own People, a nation of priests who would serve Him and make manifest Who the true God really is.  Israel was to be a light unto the nations.  Therefore, the moral condition of Israel was tremendously important--it still is. 

[2]The whole nation suffers for the sin of a few, or even, as the case of Achan, one.  We may say, “How unfair.” but that not only changes nothing it is borderline disrespect.  God made the rules, it is up to us to play by them.  We know this innately.  Have we not all witnessed the struggle of our children with each other when winning at all costs causes some to set aside the rules?   

[3] It is striking that while the monarchy was a gracious provision of God for the nation Israel, it was not intended to replace a humble dependence upon the Almighty for protection and survival  "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, 'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the LORD of hosts.  Zec 4:7  'What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of "Grace, grace to it!"

[4] Let me reiterate though, a key thought: Hannah’s fertility was a mercy of God.  It was as a result of divine visits that she conceived five further times (a total of four sons and two daughters. See 2:21). Part of our understanding of the sanctity of life ought to include this theological awareness God’s life giving powers are expressed through human reproduction--no wonder there are His rules pertaining to human sexuality for us to contend with!  Becoming pregnant can be an expressly God thing as well as, secondarily, a biological thing.  1 Sam 1:27  "For this boy I prayed, and the LORD has given me my petition which I asked of Him. 1 Sam 1:28  "So I have also dedicated him to the LORD; as long as he lives he is dedicated to the LORD."  I ascribe to the view that every pregnancy is a God thing and that is why I oppose abortion on demand.  Abortion rights should not be allowed to trump the right to life conveyed by sheer existence.