The background to this book is the book of Judges. And you’re perhaps fairly familiar with the book of Judges, because we read it together last year on Sunday mornings.
And so, you might recall that the book of Judges contains a pattern which is repeated over and over again. And the pattern is as follows: The Israelites did evil in the sight of the Lord. Therefore the Lord handed them over to their enemies. In their distress, the people called on the Lord for help. And the Lord answered them by sending a judge — or a saviour really — to save them from their enemies. And so, the Lord sent Othniel and Ehud and Shamgar and Deborah and Gideon and Tola and Jair and Jephthah and Ibzan and Elon and Abdon and Samson to save his people from their enemies.
However, right at the end of the book of Judges, we’re told that in those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit. And the point the writer of the book of Judges was making is that the Israelites would continue to do evil in the sight of the Lord so long as they did not have a king to rule over them and to lead them in the ways of the Lord. So long as they didn’t have a king to guide them, they would continue to sin against the Lord. And so, Israel needed a king.
And in 1 Samuel, we read how God appointed a king to rule over his people on his behalf. In fact, in 1 Samuel there are two kings, aren’t there? First of all, there was Saul. But later, after God rejected him as king, he made David king over his people. And David went on to become Israel’s greatest king. He was the one who gave peace to Israel, by defeating all their enemies. He brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem and made plans for the construction of the temple, where God would dwell among his people in the Promised Land. And, you see, David’s enthronement as king was the dawning of a new age in Israel, a new age which far surpassed the age of the Judges. It was a time of peace and security for Israel, and of stability; and a time when the Lord blessed them.
But, of course, eventually David died and there came after him a succession of kings. Some were faithful to the Lord and did what was right in his sight. But others were unfaithful and they did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. In fact, things got worse and worse over time and because the king and the people did evil in God’s sight and refused to listen to his prophets, who came to warn them, the Lord eventually gave them up to their enemies and they were taken away into exile, to a far off land.
Of course, you’ll remember from our studies in Ezra and Nehemiah that eventually the Lord brought his people back from exile. But Israel was never the same. The glory days of David’s reign were over. And so, the prophets began to speak about, and to look forward to, an even better age to come. And so, though the enthronement of David had been the dawning of a new and better age, the Lord Almighty had something even better in mind for his people, because he was planning to send into the world King David’s greater Son, Jesus Christ, to save his people from sin and death and to give them everlasting life in a new and better world, where they will enjoy peace and safety and stability forever and forever. The Lord Jesus was born as the new King; and he calls on men and women to repent and to enter his kingdom by faith. And all who repent and enter his kingdom by faith are promised eternal life in that new and better world to come.
And so, while the book of 1 Samuel tells us about the dawning of a new and better age in Israel, when the Israelites would have a king to rule over them, the Lord God had something even better in mind for his people. Whoever believes in Christ the King, and yields their life to him, is promised eternal life in the new heavens and earth. And so, as we read 1 Samuel and study the lives of Samuel and Saul and David, we must remember to turn our thoughts upwards to heaven where Christ the true King reigns over all. And we must look forward to that new and better world to come, where all of Christ’s people will live forever.
Having said that, let’s turn to 1 Samuel chapter 1 and to the story of the birth of Samuel, who was to be God’s prophet and the forerunner to King David.
Verses 1 to 3
And the chapter opens with verses 1 to 3 which sets the scene for us. The story begins with a certain man from a place called Ramathaim who was named Elkanah. Some of his ancestors are listed in verse 1. His hometown and his ancestors are not well-known. So, Elkanah was not really an important man. However, he was presumably fairly wealthy, because he was able to support two wives; and their names are given in verse 2. Polygamy was not forbidden in those days, but it often led to tension and trouble at home. And that was the case here, because — as we’ll see in a moment — Elkanah’s two wives did not get on.
In verse 2, we’re told that while Peninnah had children, Hannah had none. Notice, though, that Hannah is mentioned first in verse 2, which suggests that she may have been Elkanah’s first wife. However, since Hannah was unable to bear any children, and therefore was unable to provide Elkanah with an heir, it seems he took Peninnah as his second wife.
Elkanah was also a God-fearing man. Verse 3 tells us that year after year, this man went up from his hometown to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh, which was where the tabernacle of the Lord was kept in those days. Verse 3 also introduces us to Eli, the priest, and to his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas. In chapter 2, we’ll discover that Eli’s two sons were worthless men and unfit to serve as priests of the Lord.
So, verses 1 to 3 set the scene. We’ve been introduced to Elkanah with his two wives, one with children, the other with no children. And there’s Eli and his two sons, who were priests of the Lord, but who were worthless men. So, what happens next?
Verses 4 to 20
In verses 4 to 20 we read about Hannah’s prayer and the vow she made to the Lord. Year after year, they went to worship the Lord. And whenever they were sacrificing to the Lord, Elkanah would give portions of the meat to his wives. In those days, when a worshipper offered a fellowship offering to the Lord, part of the sacrifice was burned before the Lord, part of it was given to the priests for food, and part of it was used by the worshipper and his family for a special, thanksgiving meal. Presumably that’s what was happening here when Elkanah gave portions of the meat to his wives. Peninnah received enough for herself and all her sons and daughters. Hannah also received a portion. The NIV says that she received a double portion, because Elkanah loved her. However, some of the commentators suggest that this is not the best way to translate verse 5 and it should really be translated: ‘Although he loved her, he would give Hannah only one portion, because the Lord has closed her womb.’ You see, the fact was that Hannah only needed one portion, because, unlike Peninnah, Hannah didn’t have sons and daughters to feed. One portion was enough for her; and any more would only be wasted. But we can imagine Elkanah, as he handed Hannah her portion, giving her a loving, sympathetic look. He loved her and felt sorry for her whenever he handed her her one, small portion of meat.
Elkanah loved her and was presumably sympathetic. But, according to verse 6, Peninnah — her rival — used to provoke her. Did she tease her? Did she taunt her? What did she say to her? Well, we don’t know what she said exactly, but we do know that this went on year after year. Elkanah did his best to encourage and comfort Hannah. But still she was downcast and still she used to weep.
However, according to verse 9, once, when they had finished eating and drinking, Hannah got up from the table and she went off to pray to the Lord. And in her prayer, she made a vow to the Lord, vowing that — if the Lord should give her a son of her own — she will give her son back to the Lord. She says that no razor will ever be used on his head, which suggests that she was proposing that her son would become a Nazirite. We read about the Nazirites in Numbers 6, which explains how a Nazirite was an Israelite who made a vow of separation to the Lord. Normally it was a temporary vow, but in the case of Hannah’s son, it was to be a lifelong vow of separation. Nazirites would separate themselves from certain normal activities in order to devote themselves to the Lord. So, whereas everyone else could drink wine and other fermented drinks, the Nazirites could not. Whereas everyone else could touch a dead body — for instance, to prepare a loved one for burial — they could not. And whereas everyone else could cut their hair, they could not. And it seems that this is what Hannah was proposing for her child, if only the Lord would hear and answer her prayer for a child.
Well, verse 9 tells us that Eli the priest was sitting by the doorpost of the tabernacle. And, according to verse 12, he observed Hannah as she prayed. Though she was praying silently, her lips were moving. Eli therefore assumed she was drunk; and so he rebuked her. But she explained that she wasn’t drunk, but was pouring out her heart to the Lord and praying to him out of her great anguish and grief. So, when Eli heard her explanation, he blessed her. And look at verse 18: Hannah went off and ate something and her face was no longer downcast. She had prayed to the Lord, casting her cares and her troubles on the Lord, trusting that he cares for her.
Early the next morning, they set off home. Elkanah lay with Hannah and we’re told that the Lord remembered her. In other words, he remembered her prayer and he remembered to be merciful to her. And so, she conceived; and in due course, she gave birth to a son. And she named him Samuel, which sounds like the Hebrew for ‘heard of God’ or ‘asked of God’. She asked the Lord for a son; and the Lord heard and answered her.
Verses 21 to 28
In verses 21 to 28 we read that Hannah did not bring her son to the Lord immediately, but waited until he was weaned. That meant waiting until he was 3 or 4. Nevertheless, he was still very young when she took him to Shiloh, along with a young bull and some flour and wine to offer to the Lord. And, after slaughtering the bull, she brought Samuel to Eli and she explained to the priest that this was the boy she prayed for, and now, in fulfilment of her vow, she was giving him to the Lord. She said: ‘For his whole life hr shall be given over to the Lord.’ And the chapter ends with the statement that Samuel worshipped the Lord there at Shiloh.
Let me take you back to Hannah’s prayer in verse 11. This is how she prayed: ‘Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me….’
She asked the Lord to look on her misery. Some of the commentators point out that the exact same Hebrew words for ‘look on’ and ‘misery’ are used in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy and Nehemiah to refer to the way the Lord looked on the misery of the Israelites when they were slaves in Egypt. At that time, the Egyptians were mistreating the Israelites and they were abusing them and they were making their lives miserable, just as Peninnah was making Hannah’s life miserable. At that time, the people of Israel groaned in their slavery and cried out; and their cry for help went up to God, just as Hannah’s cry for help went up to God. And at that time, the Lord looked on the misery of the Israelites, just as he looked on Hannah’s misery. And just as the Lord saved the Israelites from their misery, so he was going to save Hannah from her misery by giving her a son of her own.
But here’s the thing: when the Lord answered Hannah’s prayer, he wasn’t only saving Hannah from her misery, but he was also saving all of Israel from their misery. Do you remember the end of the book of Judges? In those days, Israel had no king and everyone did as he saw fit. In those days, without a king to rule over them, the people did evil in the sight of the Lord. And so, as a result, in those days, again and again and again, the Lord would hand them over to their enemies, who made their lives miserable. Without a king to rule over them, their lives were miserable. But now, the Lord was going to give them a king who would save them from their enemies; and who would enable them to live before the Lord in peace and safety all the days of his life.
And the first step in what he was going to do to save the Israelites from their misery was to enable Hannah to give birth to Samuel, because her son Samuel was going to prepare the way for the coming of God’s Anointed King. You see, Samuel was not the king who was to come. Samuel was a great man; and a great prophet; and he was a great leader in those days. But he wasn’t the king who was to come. But the Lord’s Anointed King was coming; and when he came, he would destroy their enemies and he would enable God’s people to live before the Lord in peace and safety all the days of his life. David was able to lead them to victory over giants like Goliath; and he was able to overthrow the Philistines and the other nations who were against them; and he brought peace to Israel.
Now, think about what we’ve read here. A childless woman gave birth to a son who was to prepare the way for the coming king. That’s what 1 Samuel 1 is about. And as you hear me summarise the chapter in that way, perhaps it reminds you of something else in the Bible. You see, what we read here in 1 Samuel 1 was going to be repeated, but in an even better way in the days to come. In the days to come, another childless woman was going to give birth to a son. That childless woman’s name was Elizabeth; and she was married to a man called Zechariah, who was a priest. They were both old and they were childless. But one day, when he was serving at the temple, an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah to announce to him that their prayer had been heard; and the Lord was going to give them a son. And they were to give their son the name John. He too would be a kind of Nazirite, because he too would be prohibited from drinking wine or other fermented drinks. And he would prepare the way for God’s True Anointed King, Jesus Christ, who was coming into the world. And then, do you remember what the angel Gabriel said about the Lord Jesus who was coming into the world? He said to Mary that the Lord Jesus would receive the throne of David; and he would rule for ever; and his kingdom would never end. The angel told Mary that her son would to God’s True Anointed King.
Therefore, the story of Samuel points forward to John the Baptist; and the story of David points forward to Christ the Saviour. And just as David came to rescue God’s people from their enemies and to enable them to live before the Lord in peace and safety all the days of his life, so Jesus Christ came into the world, to save his people from our greatest enemies which are sin and death, so that all who believe in him might live before the Lord in peace and safety in the new heavens and earth forever and forever.
Of course, right now, we still live in this fallen world. And every day we struggle against sin, don’t we? And every day, people we love die; and we know that we ourselves will one day die, unless the Lord comes again first. So, right now it may seem that nothing has changed; and that our existence here on earth is the same as it has always been. Christ has come; and Christ has gone; and what has changed? That’s very much the way it may seem to us.
And yet we believe — don’t we? — that when the Lord Jesus gave up his life on the cross, it was to free his people from the condemnation they deserve for their sins. And by rising from the dead, the Lord Jesus defeated death on behalf of his people. And whoever believes in him — trusting in him as the only Saviour of the world — receives the forgiveness of sins and the hope of everlasting life, so that though they die, they will nevertheless live forever. In other words, while we may still struggle with sin and though we may still die, we believe that Christ the King has indeed rescued his people from the penalty of sin and from the power of death, because whoever believes in him is pardoned for their sins and receives the hope of eternal life.
And when Christ the King comes again — as he said he would — he will raise their bodies from the grave, so that his people will live with him forever and forever in body and in soul. And he will glorify his people in his presence so that they will be freed from sin forever and forever. And so, forever and forever, his people who trusted in him will live before the Lord in peace and safety, worshipping the Lord God Almighty and the Lord Jesus Christ the King, who is enthroned forever.
In many ways, the life of the Israelites in the days of the Judges is a picture of the life of those who belong to this present evil age. Those who belong to this present evil age have no king to guide them in the ways of the Lord; and they do whatever they see fit, whatever seems right in their own eyes. And their lives are miserable, because not only are they living a life of sin, which brings its own misery, but they’re also under the wrath and curse of God and are destined to perish.
And that’s the way you are, if you have not yet trusted in Christ the King or yielded your life to him. If you have not yet trusted in him, then you still belong to this present evil age which is destined to perish. And you will perish and you will be condemned forever when Christ comes again.
But those who have trusted in Christ the King, and who have yielded their life to him, have been rescued from this present evil age; and they’ve been brought into Christ’s kingdom which will never end; and they will live with him forever in his everlasting kingdom. And so, if you have not already done so: Will you trust in Christ the King? Will you yield your life to him? Will you go to God in prayer and confess that you’re a sinner? And will you ask God to forgive you for the sake of Christ the King who died for sinners? And will you ask him to give you everlasting life?
And the Lord’s Supper which we’re about to receive is a foretaste of the fellowship and the joy and the pleasures forevermore which all of God’s people will enjoy in the presence of Christ our King in the new and better world to come. There, we’ll rejoice in the presence of the Lord, because the Lord Almighty looked on our misery and he sent his Son to save us.