Samuel 1 and 2: An Introduction
These exhortations were given by me between 1999 and 2005. That was a long time ago, and I have grown a lot since then. They may not reflect my current beliefs.
This is the first exhortation in a series which I am planning on the books of Samuel.
First Samuel begins a little before the end of the era of the Judges. Eli the priest was the leader. Israel had begun to grow decadent; the Philistines were a very real threat to the survival of the tiny nation. The book is dominated by three men. First we have Samuel himself, the last Judge of Israel. Then we meet Saul, the first king. And of course there is David, the second and greatest King of Israel, the man after God’s own heart. Under these three men, the nation transforms into the great Kingdom that Solomon would inherit.
The division between First and Second Samuel is very artificial. Originally the two books were one, but in the Greek translation, the Septuagint, Samuel was too big to fit onto one scroll. This change was not incorporated into the Hebrew Bible until as recently as 1517 AD (1 Samuel (World Biblical Commentary), Ralph W.Klien, p xxv). It is extremely difficult to say when the book was written. Indeed, it is likely that it had several authors. The events described took place, roughly, between 1080 BC – the approximate date of the birth of Samuel – and 970 BC – the approximate data of David’s death. (Kenneth L.Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III (eds), Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, Volume 1, p379)
One of the difficulties about planning a series of exhortations based on a long book is finding appropriate places to stop. There is a temptation to do a certain set number of chapters every exhortation. I don’t want to do that, because that puts unfair emphasis on the events at the end of chapters. Today I’m just going to talk about something that happens right at the beginning of the book. We see Hannah, the mother of Samuel being strengthened by prayer and faith.
Samuel opens with the story of his birth. First Samuel chapter 1, verses 1 and 2:
Now there was a certain man of Ramathaimzophim, of mount Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephrathite: And 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.
Wanting to have children is a perfectly normal human thing, and not being able to have children when you want them, even today, is a difficult burden to bear. As well as her own unfulfilled desire, Hannah was teased by Peninnah, her husband’s other wife. Verses 3 to 8:
And this man went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto the LORD of hosts in Shiloh. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the LORD, were there. And when the time was that Elkanah offered, he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions: But unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah: but the LORD had shut up her womb. And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the LORD had shut up her womb. And as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the LORD, so she provoked her; therefore she wept, and did not eat. Then said Elkanah her husband to her, Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons?
I’m sure we have all heard that, in the ancient world, if you didn’t have children then there was nobody to look after you as you got older. Was this what grieved Hannah? was she worried because she had no “pension plan” ? Verses 9 to 11:
So Hannah rose up after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk. Now Eli the priest sat upon a seat by a post of the temple of the LORD. And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the LORD, and wept sore. And she vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.
Hannah wanted a child, a son, but this was not a selfish desire. If she was given a son she would give him “unto the LORD”. She vowed that he would be a Nazarite, a lifelong Nazarite. Hannah wanted a son, but she didn’t want a son to serve her: she wanted a son who would serve God.
A quick diversion. Samuel was marked out for Godly things from the womb. So was Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5), and Paul, who says he was “set … apart from his mother’s womb”Galatians 1:15. So were we. Ephesians 1, verse 4:
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
Remember that the next time life seems impossibly difficult – or even slightly difficult: we have been chosen from before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in the sight of God.
We will continue with the story with verses 12 to 18:
And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli marked her mouth. Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken. And Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee. And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the LORD. Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto. Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him. And she said, Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.
Eli looked at Hannah when she was praying. He thought she was drunk, and he rebuked her. She corrected him, and he apologised. Eli wasn’t perfect, but I think his willingness to admit he was wrong is something we should all emulate. Eli also comforted Hannah. He didn’t tell her she was foolish or selfish. “Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition.”
What happens next? Hannah “went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.”
Hannah was strengthened by prayer and her faith. Her countenance was no more sad. She wasn’t, at this point, pregnant. She hadn’t received a vision, but she had prayed, and she trusted God. She knew, as it says in Romans, “that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).
In a few moments we will eat the bread and drink the wine that are reminders of the work of Christ, and pointers towards the kingdom. Shortly after that we will all be going on our way, back to our temporary places in the world. The burdens we carry will tend to make us sad. We don’t need to be sad, because we are not without hope. Faith and prayer can bring happiness and confidence to us, just as it did to Hannah. We have been chosen from before the foundation of the world, and all things work together for good. We can go on our way, not with sad countenance but rejoicing, looking forward to Christ’s return