Friday, July 31, 2015

Nourishing Faith

True believers are sinners who were predestined by God in order that they might be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29). To accomplish this, Christ came to replace Adam, thus becoming the federal head of a redeemed new race (Rom. 5:10-21; I Cor. 15:44-49). The Holy Spirit regenerates His chosen ones into believers and children of God, transferring them from Adam’s condemned race into Christ’s new family (1 John 3:1-3; 2 Cor. 5:17). Thus, the entire world is either in Adam (bearing his image and being condemned) or in Christ (bearing His image and being redeemed).
Although believers are immediately made children of God, they do not at once fully reflect Christ’s image. Yet Christlikeness is to be the believer’s main pursuit. It is to be a life-long work that will not be finished until Jesus returns in glory (2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:21, 22; 1 John 3:2). Progress in this process is non-negotiable. We are to “pursue holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). The great blessing is that God has provided for His own “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (1 Pet. 1:3). Therefore, there is no excuse,  for each is commanded to “make every effort” to avail himself of God’s provision (v. 5).
These things are given as a gift (granted) “through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and virtue.” They are packaged in “his precious and very great promises” that may be claimed in order that one may “become a partaker of the divine nature.” Just as humans bore the nature of Adam, they must now evidence the new nature of Christ (1 Cor. 15:49. For one to continue life based on sinful lust (Adam’s nature) would probably mean that no spiritual transformation took place. On the other hand, the new birth provides “escape from the corruption that is in the world.”
In His infinite wisdom, the Lord knows just the right conditions to motivate His people to this work of developing Christlikeness, which is affliction, persecution, and suffering. Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet. 4:12, 13). There are three reasons why suffering is God’s incubator in producing Christ’s image in us.
1. Suffering drives us to what is real and true and away from the tawdry, counterfeit, and corrupting influence of the world. 2. Suffering allows us to share in Christ’s sufferings, which end in victory and triumph (1 Cor. 15:57). 3. Suffering drives the believer to the sympathetic Savior for protection and comfort (John 17:10, 11).
When believers make every effort to nourish their faith with the seven virtues listed in 2 Peter 1:3-11, they will be fruitful in the correct and precise knowledge of Jesus (v. 8). However, when a believer fails to procure God’s grace in this process, he will be blind and forgetful (v. 9). 

God’s Heavy Hand

God is a God of justice. While His patience is very long, He will recompense judgment upon those who sin against Him (Deut. 7:23; Joel 2:13). He often uses third-party means to judge His own people after careful and prolonged warning (Jer. 7:25; 25:9; 26:5; 46:27, 28). This was true of his judgment on the house of Eli (1 Sam. 4; Jer. 7:12, 14; 26:6, 9). The Philistines were His agents to judge His sinful priests. Having done so, He turned His wrath on the Philistines, first defeating Dagon in his own temple at Ashdod (1 Sam. 5:1-5). Then, His hand (signifying His acts of might and power) was heavy against the people—“He terrified [destroyed (KJV); ravaged (NASB); brought devastation on (NIV); Micah 6:13] and afflicted them with tumors” (v. 6). The exact affliction here called tumors is probably lymph abscesses of the groin or possibly a hemorrhoid-like abscess. The fact that it seems to be associated with a plague of mice (6:4, 5) also suggests that it may have been the bubonic plague common in the coastal region.
There were five city-states that composed the confederation of the Philistines in the south of Canaan on the coast of the Mediterranean: Ashdod, Gath, Ekron, Ashkelon, and Gaza. The Ashdodites complained to the five Lords of the Philistines assembled to evaluate the situation (v. 8). It was decided that the ark should be moved to Gath, a move which met with the same results, causing a very great panic. When the Lord afflicted the people of Gath, they sent the ark to Ekron but were met with loud protests (v. 10). Another meeting of the five serens or lords was called to answer the protest of the people of Ekron. Nevertheless, a deadly destruction spread throughout the city (v. 11; the ESV has “deathly panic”) killing many men and afflicting the rest to suffer from the horrible tumors (v. 12).
Seven months the ark remained in Philistia and the question persisted: “What shall we do to the ark of the Lord?” (6:1, 2). Everyone agreed it must be returned to Israel, but how was that task to be accomplished without inflicting further damage on Philistia? The priests of Dagon and the diviners were called to advise. This revelation emphasizes the level of disobedience that characterized the Philistines. Yet, they had no understanding of either the Creator’s expectations of them or of their failure in those expectations. As we stated before, the Philistines do not abandon their powerless and humiliated Dagon for the true God. They just want to get Him out of their lives. That is the true human condition with respect to God.
Without question, the level of thinking that permeates modern culture reflects the Philistine mindset. Having fallen under the judgment of God, as evident in the ceaseless barrage of bad news, the “lords” of the nation remain clueless as to the condition or the cause of the humiliation. Yet, the cries of men under judgment reach to the skies (v. 12) while they refuse to acknowledge the Lord in all things (Rom. 1:28-32).

Overcoming Defeat

The tragedy of the period before us (1 Sam. 4 through 7) is the revival of mere religiosity devoid of the deep experiential trust and fellowship with God that results from true repentance. Religious people confuse symbols with reality. Isaiah wrote, “This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isa. 29:13). Israel’s sin, while different in its expression was essentially the same as that of Eli’s sons. Their religion was a mere externalism played out in heathen tones established on carnal pride. For this reason, God judged both the house of Eli and the nation of Israel by removing from them the symbol of His presence, the Ark of the Covenant.
The elders of Israel immediately understood that their initial defeat at the hands of the Philistines was due, not to any secondary causes, but to Yahweh Himself. Yet, they did not inquire of the Lord as to the reason for His displeasure. It never occurred to them that their sin was the problem. Thus, they presumed that victory was assured by the presence of a mere symbol and determined to bring it to the fight.
This approach to life is not confined to ancient Israel. Many professing Christians use the same logic. If one experiences spiritual defeat, the way to overcome that defeat is to renew commitment to some activity—Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, counseling, or perhaps, giving up something like TV-watching. This approach is good for the conscience but fails ultimately to restore real spiritual vitality. Only genuine repentance and wholehearted seeking after God Himself will produce a proper solution. Only God’s Spirit can bring that about, and that destroys pride. Eli’s response to the prophetic messages pronounced upon him reveals this lack of true spiritual discernment: “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him” (1 Sam. 3:18). It was a half-hearted resignation due to his own spiritual disinterest. How different was David’s response to Nathan’s word from God (Psa. 51).
It is the work of God that we are tracing in this narrative. Israel’s focus on externals, deliberate disregard for God’s standards, disobedience to His commandments, and open flirting with pagan idolatry became the very avenue of Yahweh’s plan to restore His kingdom on earth. The Israelite elders’ false presumption provided the means to fulfill His will to judge Eli and the priesthood. At the same time, God would judge the Philistines and inflict more damage upon them than Israel’s armies could do. Thus, we read, “The hand of the Lord was heavy against the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and afflicted them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory” (1 Sam. 5:6).
To the discerning reader, the Philistines demonstrated an identical pattern of thinking as that of Israel. One need only observe the Ashdodites’ remedy for their affliction: “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us” (1 Sam. 5:7). Would it not be better to abandon Dagon and sue Yahweh, the true God, for mercy? 

The Word of LORD

We live in a culture that, in an effort to promote an atmosphere of acceptance, has adopted a form of logic that literally contradicts itself. Each is encouraged to hold his own “truth” but never to impose that truth on any other. In other words, one must never judge others by his standards because another’s truth is just as valid.
Such a philosophy is based on the notion that there is no knowable truth, everything being considered relative. As a result, diametrically opposing opinions are considered equally valid. The product is nothing but confusion, as the mayhem in unfolding current events demonstrates.
1 Samuel 3 opens with the phrase, “And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent [or published] vision.” The culture of this period was much like that of today: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:35). God’s Word had little or no influence on people’s beliefs and conduct. This is clearly evident in the way Eli and his sons conducted their lives. They were priests of God following their own rules. Practicing religion, even biblically established ritual, is not the same as obedience to the Word of God.
Eli believed in the Lord and ministered the sacrifices and worship of the tabernacle at Shiloh. However, Eli, unlike Samuel (v. 1), was not “ministering to the Lord.” He and his sons scorned (or “kicked at”) the offerings of the Lord by indulging themselves on the choicest parts of those offerings (2:28; see Jer. 5:5). In their pampered pride, they disregarded the laws regulating their share of the animals. They were ruled by passion and covetousness, not God’s will. Eli permitted this self-will (iniquity) by which they literally called curses upon themselves (v. 9). Being God’s high priest, Eli could and should have removed his sons from office. It was his duty to promote pure worship, but he honored his sons instead of the Lord. His failing eyesight was the physical complement of his spiritual condition.
God’s calling Samuel’s name three times in the night no doubt stirred the old man’s guilt-ridden conscience. The divine summons of the lad was a clear marker that the prophet’s message was coming to pass (2:27-36) and the old order was giving way to the new. Nevertheless, the old priest submitted, giving the lad proper instruction to respond to Yahweh when He called again.
The fourth time, “the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times” (v. 10). Samuel responded as Eli instructed (v. 11). His young and tender ears received a message from God that pronounced awful judgment against the man he had grown to love. He feared to tell his mentor the difficult news (v. 15). Nevertheless and because of Eli’s threats (v. 17), the whole message was shared. This was Yahweh’s test for his newly called prophet, confirmed in the verses following.
In spite of human culture to the contrary, God was moving forward with His undefeatable plan to rule all things through His Word. May we all, like Eli, graciously submit to that Word: “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him” (v. 18). 

A Prophet for the Times

First Samuel 3 opens with Samuel’s call and commission to the office of prophet. Samuel is first compared to the faithless sons of Eli: “Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord before Eli” (v. 1). The emphasis is that Eli could not but take notice of the contrast. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the promise emphasized the establishment of a sure house (2:35). Samuel’s sons did not follow the Lord (8:3). Still, the Lord declared that He would raise up a faithful priest and Samuel was pointing to that truth fulfilled in Zadok during the rule of David and Solomon, the Lord’s anointed (1 Chron. 24:3).
The apostasy in the nation of Israel was desperate and critical. God was not talking to His covenant people. “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision” (v. 1b). While the people needed a faithful priest, they needed a prophet more. One cannot but notice the irony here. The tabernacle served as God’s temple—His dwelling place among His people (Ex. 29:45; Psalm 132:14). Twice the tabernacle here is called “the temple of the Lord (1:9 and 3:3). He was in the midst of His people, but their sin was so great that He would not speak to them! Does this resemble our day? Yet, Samuel’s great contribution to the times was not to be the head of a priestly family but to be the spokesman of God.
The account of Samuel’s calling is detailed in verses 2 through 15. It appears that, because Eli’s eyesight was failing, Samuel was put in charge of trimming the menorah, the seven-branched lampstand that burned perpetually to light the sanctuary. To accomplish this task, Samuel slept in the sanctuary.
Again, we must take note of the imagery set forth here. The tabernacle was to serve as a miniature version of the creation as it was meant to be before Adam’s sin. The lampstand signified the light of witness and truth lighting up the darkness of that sacred space. Both the lampstand and the ark symbolized God’s presence in the tabernacle, making it the temple of God. God was in the midst of His people, revealing Himself to them (Rev. 21:22-26).
In this setting, Yahweh chose to make Himself known to the young boy. He called to the youth three times, confirming that it was indeed the Lord (v. 8). Verse 7 is illuminating: “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” It conjoins two inseparable truths—that God cannot be known unless and until He has revealed Himself through His Word to us. Samuel knew of the Lord, but He did not know the Lord personally and intimately until He made Himself known. Do you know the Lord?

A Man of God with a Message of Doom

Following Eli’s lame attempt to rebuke his wicked sons for their folly, God sends an unnamed prophet to the priest with a message of judgment from God. Eli’s sons did not listen to the warning of their father for two reasons: One reason is announced in the text; the Lord was about to end their lives. The second reason is found in the prophet’s message from God: “You scorn my sacrifices and my offerings . . . and honor your sons above me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel” (v. 29). Eli was just as guilty of degrading the priest’s office as his sons were. They were not serving the Lord in their position; they were serving themselves.
The prophet’s message began with a significant question: “Did I indeed reveal myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt subject to the house of Pharaoh?” (v. 27). In a word, the Lord declared that the purpose of the priest’s office was to show the God who revealed Himself. The Lord chose Aaron out of the tribes of Israel to be His priest, serving Him before the people. It was the priest’s duty to display a holy God before Israel by the service of sacrifices (the holiness of acceptable approach to God) and appearance (holy garments representing personal holiness to reflect God—v. 28).
The judgment was not directed solely against Eli and his wicked sons but against all who descended from Ithamar, Aaron’s youngest son. We are not told how Eli was related to Ithamar (comp. 1 Kings 2:27 with 1 Chron. 24:3) or how and why the priesthood passed from Eleazar’s to Ithamar’s line (note 1 Chron. 6:4-15; see also Numbers 25:10-13). E. Robertson writes that a Samaritan tradition the descendants of Ithamar seized the priesthood when Uzzi was rejected due to racial bias (The Old Testament Problem, 1950, p. 176). This family would now cease to exist due to the failing of Eli (his name means “my God,” note Matt. 27:46). The only one left, Abiathar, who escaped Saul’s massacre of the priests (22:18-23), would spend his years grieving his ruined family.
The sign that this judgment was fulfilled would be the fact that Eli’s two sons would both die on the same day (v. 34). In their place, God would raise up a faithful and reliable priest. In language similar to Deuteronomy 18:15-18, pointing to Samuel’s place in the forward development of God’s Kingdom, God declares that He will sovereignly do what sinful humans could never accomplish. Yahweh will build His faithful Priest a sure house and a perpetual priesthood (v. 35). This promise was later fulfilled in Zadok (1 Kings 2:35); ultimately, however, the language can point only to Christ Himself. (Note verse 36 and the fact that any survivors would beg a place to serve in order to get just a crumb of bread to sustain life. What sin enjoyed in abundance, judgment reduced to poverty.)

The Real Issue with Eli’s Sons

As we have previously observed, the narrator of First Samuel compares Samuel with the sons of Eli. The purpose of this comparison is to establish that God is about to create a new order and Samuel represents the expectation of that new order. The period of the Judges was a dismal display of human failure to put God into the supreme position which He, as God, deserves. Instead, Judges demonstrated the fickle and flimsy fruit of sinful man’s efforts to rule his own kingdom. “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” There is nowhere that this trend is more evident than in God’s priestly family, the sons of Levi.
Exodus 19:4–6 declares the fundamental statement of the divine plan for His covenant people. Israel became the first step in the progression to the full, perfect, and final realization of that purpose. The question is whether this plan was limited to Israel, or if Israel’s role was to point to a far more comprehensive realization of the divine purpose. The answer to that question lies in the very nature of the priesthood as standing between the people who need God and God Himself. They were to be God’s agents to bring men to God. Israel was called to be that kingdom of priests, a light pointing all the nations of the world to the one true God. As God was holy, so must those who represent Him be holy. In other words, to represent God properly, Israel must be like God in every way possible. To promote that obligation, God instituted three offices: priest, prophet, and king.
The duty of the priest was mediation and intercession in order to promote holiness, without which Israel could not be God’s light in the world. In effect, the priests ministered in God’s sanctuary in such a way as to invoke a proper fear of God through the display of His greatness in Israel’s worship. But what do we read? These priests, the sons of Eli, did not even know the Lord (v. 12).
The very first impression of God that these men mediated was one of carnal fulfillment in excess (vv. 13-17). The offerings, designed to promote God’s holy standards of righteousness and mercy, were treated with contempt by men whose real god was their own belly (Phil. 3:19).
The next section (vv. 22-25) shows that these priests not only indulged the flesh with food but further provoked Yahweh by adopting the pagan practice of temple prostitution. The text points to an official assembly of women serving at the temple’s entrance. There is no such instruction from Moses regarding such an assembly, and that the priest’s engaged sexually with these women argues for the pagan rite adopted into their worship (Acts 7:41). Eli condemned the practice as sin, warning that God’s judgment was inevitable unless they repented and abandoned such activity. The narrator points out that Eli’s lecture fell on deaf ears because God was about to put them to death (v. 25b). Is it possible that their deafness was increased by Eli’s own self-indulgence (4:18)? However, the ultimate reason for this failure was God’s purpose to bring in His ultimate Priest (2:35).

The Contrast of Sons

Leaving Samuel in the care of Eli, Hannah worshiped the Lord for His gracious response to her desperate prayer (1:11-18). She offered up the powerful and insightful praise of thanksgiving in the beautiful psalm recorded in the opening verses of chapter 2. In it she observed that Yahweh will judge His adversaries in order to strengthen His king. The narrative shifts in verse 11 from Hannah’s struggle resulting in the gift of Samuel to the divine purpose, the establishment of Israel’s judge and prophet in order to begin the process of the judgment predicted.
The next section (vv. 12-21) reveals the condition of the priesthood at that time. Eli has two sons who are described as “worthless men” (bâliyaʿal, something that does not conform to a right standard, so is of no worth, Prov. 6:12, 27; 19:28; Nahum 1:11; 2 Cor. 6:15; 2 Thess. 2:3). In this book, the expression first appeared in 1:16, which suggests that it was the general condition of the people. Like priest, like people.
The root of their condition was that “they did not know the Lord.” Their hearts were not set on seeking the Lord, understanding His will, or what it took to please Him. They were self- servers, seeking to satisfy their fleshly appetites. Notice the very next phrase, “The custom of the priests with the people was . . .” (v. 13). They did not know or care for what the Lord revealed or required concerning the priest’s portion of certain offerings. They took what they wanted, when and how it suited them. They had no regard for the Lord. The people even sought to caution them (v. 16). Yet, they rejected counsel and took the meat by force. “Thus, the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt” (v.17). Gluttony is the first of the sons’ sins that is condemned for which God’s wrath will fall on this corrupt family of the Aaronic priesthood, the descendants of Abiathar (1 Kings 2:27). Service to the Lord driven by selfish motives and desires shows no respect for the things of the Lord.
Samuel is contrasted with Eli’s sons in verses 18-21. This small section is bookended with two significant statements. First, Samuel is ministering “before Yahweh,” the narrator's way to highlight the contrast. Eli’s sons served themselves; Samuel served the Lord. His godly family is, then, set in stark contrast to Eli’s, and one can almost feel the storm brewing in the interaction between these two families. The section closes with Samuel’s growing up in Yahweh’s presence (21).
Eli’s (and all the priests’) responsibility was to walk with God (2:35), to render complete obedience to God (2:13), to discipline the flesh (2:29; 4:18), and to heed the warnings from God (2:27). Eli’s failure in these important areas was magnified in his sons. As has been said, what fathers tolerate in moderation, children practice in excess. A conviction in the first generation is an observation in the second generation but becomes a nuisance in the third. Oh, that God would keep us always a first-generation people.  

Hannah’s Psalm of Praise

The story of Samuel begins with his mother’s tribulation. This seems to be the typical pattern of God’s dealings with His people. It is “through many tribulations that we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Hannah was barren, and this condition caused her considerable distress, especially due to the harassment heaped upon her by her rival, Peninnah, Elkanah’s second wife (1 Sam 1:6).
Tribulation develops saints, as Paul understood (Rom. 5:1-5). The grace of God that causes one to rejoice in the hope of glory is the grace that first brings suffering. Gracious suffering shapes sinful character into godly character. This suffering produces endurance that leads to rejoicing hope. This was true of Hannah. Her suffering produced hope, hope that was realized in the man who would be God’s agent to establish a monarchy is Israel. The same difficulties will attend David before he will wear the crown. God humbles His servants before He exalts them (see 2:7, 8).
God heard and answered Hannah’s prayer (1:20) that she poured out in the agony of her soul before the Lord, and she delivered a son. She called his name Samuel, which means “asked of the Lord.” That name would remind her that her God was good and worthy of all her love and devotion. Promising to “lend” Samuel to the Lord for his whole life, she prepared him and when the time came, she brought the young child to Shiloh and presented him to Eli, the priest for service in the house of the Lord (1:24-28).
Chapter 2 opens with Hannah’s psalm of praise to God (2:1-10). Liberal Bible scholars have long rejected this beautiful Hebrew poetry as being a later addition to the text, written by a priest or scribe during David’s or Solomon’s reign. This idea was based solely on the mention of a king (v. 10), supposedly an anachronism since there was no king in Israel at that time. Even conservative scholars suggest that Hannah’s prayer was expanded by a well-meaning scribe during the monarchy. Cannot God prompt this mother of a prophet to say what every Israelite who knew the Pentateuch expected (Deut. 17:14, 15; 28:36)?
This psalm of prayer and praise is much deeper than its surface reading might lead one to see. For instance, it is generally regarded that Hannah’s mention of “my enemies” refers to Peninnah and others who made her life difficult (v. 1). Could this reference not be to the Philistines who would be subdued under David?
Certainly, the richness of the poetic language extends far beyond Hannah’s personal difficulties as she attributes to God greatness that exceeds His answer to her prayer for a son, even as wonderful at that was. Somehow, Hannah understood that this boy was destined to exceed all her hopes and expectations. The Lord was about to do great things in Israel.
Note verse five: “The barren has borne seven,” reminiscent of the blessing given to Naomi (Ruth 4:15). Seven is the number of completeness and perfection. This theme of humbling before exaltation is a basic principle of Scripture (Matt. 23:12). 

History of the King-Maker: Part Two—the Prayer of Hannah (1 Samuel 1)

The Law of Moses required that all males appear before the Lord for three major festivals at the tabernacle (Ex. 23:14-17). During this period (1076 b.c.), the tabernacle was located at Shiloh, about 15 miles north of Ramah, Samuel’s hometown. (To add a little perspective, Jephthah was judging from 1078 to 1072 b.c., Samson died in 1055 b.c., and Saul was anointed king in 1050 b.c.) Elkanah was a Levite (1 Chron. 6:22-28, 33-38) of the priestly Kohathite family originally dwelling in Ephraim; although Ramah, his home, was actually in Benjamin.
Elkanah regularly traveled to Shiloh to worship as prescribed. His bigamy, however, trends to accepted custom and clearly against Yahweh’s revealed definition of marriage (Gen. 2:24), which prohibited all other deviations. It is customary with imperfect humans to accept tradition against biblical standards because they work in situations where strict obedience is difficult. Thus, while the law did not explicitly prohibit polygamy, it did strictly regulate it. As already noted in a previous lesson, taking a second wife in cases of barrenness was a practical remedy to provide sons as heirs, but it produced difficulties in the home between wives. This trend of pragmatic solutions to tough situations is to be resisted by true saints at all costs. The appearance of godliness without its true power is the curse of modern Christianity for this reason.
Hannah’s grief over her barrenness was aggravated by Peninnah’s provocations. This was not eased by her well-intentioned and loving husband who sought to counter her distress by giving her a “worthy portion.” It only increased her distress. At issue was her very identity as a daughter of Abraham, which demanded that she bear a son and thus lend her part to fulfill the promised innumerable multitude of Abraham’s seed (Gen. 15:5). Her trials were designed to drive her to seek her God for a miracle solution. God is the God of the impossible and the manifestation of His great power glorifies His name (Psa. 50:15).
Thus, Hannah prayed before the tabernacle (vv. 9-13). But how long was her prayer? Notice that she rose up from the table to go to prayer and when finished, she returned to the table to eat (vv. 9, 18). Yet, she poured out her heart in overwhelming emotion to God. She was not ashamed to vent her shame to the One who could grant her a remedy. Psalm 42 is a great reference for this kind of praying. Notice her prayer itself. She is humble, referring to herself three times as a slave of Yahweh (v. 11). She did not demand but requested and beseeched Yahweh, pressing the need and at the same time yielding to His sovereign will—“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.” Lastly, her prayer was accompanied by a vow, common to OT times and regulated by the law (Num. 30:6-16). She promised to put her son in Yahweh’s service to prove her motive selfless. Hannah’s prayer provided the means the Lord sought to prepare Israel for her king.

History of the King Maker: Part-One—the Birth of Samuel (1 Samuel 1)

First Samuel 1 documents yet another story from the period of the Judges. The book records the establishment of Israel’s first monarchy (about 1050 b.c.), taking the name of the last Judge and king-maker. Who authored 1 Samuel is uncertain, but Samuel could very well have written at least some of the book (see 1 Chron. 29:29). Samuel served the Lord in Israel as prophet, priest, and judge for a number of years, bridging the period from the judges to the monarchy, anointing both Saul and David (in this connection, note the first appearance of the title “Lord of Hosts” in verse 3).
The account of Samuel’s birth begins with a little background. “A certain man” was from Ramathaim-zophim (meaning “double height of the watchers,” also known as Ramah) located in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Jerusalem, in the land of Zuph (9:5). It is interesting to note how the author first establishes the setting by noting Samuel’s hometown (see v. 19, 2:11; 7:17).
The “man” is identified as Elkanah (meaning “God has possessed” or “God has obtained”). His lineage is also listed. He was an Ephrathite (meaning “fruitful”) who had a troubled (less than fruitful) house. He married Hannah (meaning “grace”); however, Hannah was barren. Having heirs was necessary to passing the inheritance of land on to succeeding generations. Marrying a second wife was a way to fix the problem (as was Levirate marriage). Thus, Elkanah married Peninnah (meaning “jewel”). A jewel she was, for she bore him many sons and daughters (v. 4).
Since God made the rules about the land’s remaining within the tribes and clans of Israel, barrenness was considered a curse from God (“the Lord had closed her womb,” vv. 5, 6). Because of this, Hannah was treated scornfully by her rival, probably based on two things. First, although Peninnah blessed Elkanah with heirs, his first love was Hannah (v. 5). Second, Hannah’s barrenness was seen as the consequence of some evil thing in her life that drew down the displeasure of God. (Note the connection between the provocations and the trips to worship at Shiloh, v. 7.)
The times of worship at Shiloh involved sharing portions of the sacrifices (vv. 4-6). This was a particularly difficult time for Hannah, for we read that although her husband loved her, he gave her but one portion. (The Massoretic text from which our English translation is made, has double portion; however, both text and context argue for “one,” which is supported by the Septuagint, the Greek OT.) As a consequence, Hannah grieved her condition. To console her, Elkanah reasoned that he was better to her than ten sons (compare Ruth 4:15). While an effort to comfort, his is remark is a bit of self-inflation. Sons equated to security for a widow, the more the better.
How one handles trials demonstrates one’s spiritual character. Compare Naomi, her bitterness and resignation, with Hannah’s earnest seeking of the Lord. Trial’s should not discourage us but drive us to seek God (Psalm 42).