The book of 1 Samuel opens at a very low period in the history of the nation of Israel. The previous 300 or so years under the judges were marked by political, moral, and spiritual anarchy and deterioration because of the complete failure of the nation to conform to the ways of God in either worship or government. It was a time summarized by the sad words of Judges 21:25, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
1 Samuel also records the establishment of the earthly kingdom of God. It is a kingdom which would ultimately find its fulfillment through the life, ministry, death, resurrection, exaltation, and return of the coming Savior, the Lord Jesus, who would establish God's kingdom on earth in which God's will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. But the early preparation and anticipation of the reign of God among men is found for us in 1 Samuel.
But as we read and study the Bible and God's redemptive history of man, we are continually confronted with the need for One who would come and restore this earth to the edenic purposes of God lost in the fall of Adam and Eve. This cry and need in man is nowhere more evident than in the book of Judges that precedes 1 Samuel. Judges ends with utter confusion religiously and politically, with every man doing "that which was right in his own eyes." It was a time when there was no sense of authority and responsibility to God or to men. The tone of Judges is one of oppression and defeat, and as the last verse of Judges states, "In those days there was no king in Israel."
That is, no man was the head of the nation, no voice commanded the obedience of the people, no prince served as commander-in-chief of all the tribes at one time in a nationwide program to subdue the enemies, and no one monarch unified the people under the banner of their sovereign Lord God (Irving L. Jensen, I & II Samuel, A Self-Study Guide, Moody Press, p. 3).
But there is another important note of contrast between Judges and 1 Samuel and one that is vital to the reign of God in the hearts and lives of men. Indeed, it is one that is important to us today in this time of apostasy and moral decline and something that is vital to national stability and to our mission as the church of Jesus Christ. It is the ministry and responsibility of parents to raise up children to know the Lord, the God of their father, so He becomes the God of the children. And no one is more vital to that happening than parents! This ministry of parents to their children was part of the covenant responsibility of Israel and so also for us today (Deut. 6:6-15; Eph. 6:4).
But Israel failed in this responsibility from Joshua's generation throughout the period of the Judges. The following verses characterized the days of the book of Judges:
Judges 2:10-12 And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. 11 Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals,12 and they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the Lord to anger.
The parents of Joshua's generation had seen the mighty work that God had done in bringing them up out of Egypt and how God had enabled them to possess the land. But they had failed as parents to communicate the reality of God to their children. Their children, who failed to know the reality of the living God in their minds and hearts, became sitting ducks for the vanity of idolatry. They were failures as parents.
With this in mind, let's compare God's admonition to the parents and grandparents of Israel, and of course, to us also, in Psalm 78:1-8. Note particularly, verses 4-8.
78:1 Listen, O my people, to my instruction; Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. 2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, 3 Which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us. 4 We will not conceal them from their children, But tell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done. 5 For He established a testimony in Jacob, And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers, That they should teach them to their children, 6 That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, That they may arise and tell them to their children, 7 That they should put their confidence in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments, 8 And not be like their fathers, A stubborn and rebellious generation, A generation that did not prepare its heart, And whose spirit was not faithful to God.
I find it very interesting (obviously by divine design) that 1 Samuel begins with the story of a godly mother (Hannah) with her trial of barrenness, her prayer to the Lord for a son, and her faith commitment of her child to the Lord. But it is also significant that this story of Hannah is set in a context that deals with the failure of Eli, the priest and his responsibility as a father. Thus we have a contrast.
On the one hand, there is Hannah, a devoted mother, who devotes herself and her child to God, and herself to the child's training to bring him up to know, worship, and serve the Lord. Hannah first committed her son to God and God's service--she laid him on the altar of God's purposes. But she also laid the foundation, even by the age of three, for her son to know, worship, and serve the Lord. As a result, her son Samuel, became a man of God and a spiritual leader for God's people in a time of great need.
On the other hand, in Eli we have a defective father who, though he may have been devoted in his duties as a priest, was derelict in his duties as a parent (cf. 1 Sam. 2-3 and note especially 2:23-24 and 3:13). In contrast to Hannah's son, Samuel, Eli's sons were terrible failures in the service of God. They prostituted the office of the priesthood and turned the people of God away from the Lord by their disgusting lifestyles.
There have been recent studies conducted on babies from birth to two years of age and the results show what a tremendous capacity for learning young children have during this time. Modern day experts are finding that this period of time in a child’s life is not only crucial for personality and social development, but important to their mental capacities. During this time the capacity to learn a number of languages is developed.
Hannah had the biblical perspective of the goal of motherhood. The biblical perspective sees children as stewardships, gifts from the Lord to be returned to Him. It's the perspective of preparing children to become servants of God rather than servants of themselves, the parents, or the world.
By contrast, Eli, through his irresponsibility as a parent, managed to raise two sons who were totally committed to the serving themselves. They were lovers of themselves rather than lovers of God. They were professional ministers who were in it for what they could get out it.
One of the great lessons of this passage is the value of godly mothers, mothers who are devoted to raising their children to know the Lord and who are willing to give their children to God and His service in accord with God's will for their children.
Not every son will be called to be a Samuel, but every son or daughter has a place and a part in the purpose and plan of God. There is a ministry God wants them to perform. But if children are not raised up to know the Lord and to love Him, if they are indulged in their own natural selfishness, if they are not helped to see the purpose of life is loving God and serving others, then they will not only miss the will of God, but they may very well become a part of the problem rather than part of the solution for a nation.
Let's look at the highlights of the story of Hannah and see what we might glean for our own understanding and insight.
Hannah was one of two wives of Elkanah. Here was a case of polygamy, which though allowed in the Old Testament, was far from God's ideal as seen even in Genesis 2:24 with one man cleaving to one wife. God did not sanction this and is an illustration of God's permissive will in contrast to His directive will. As usual, when we bypass the directive will of God, it brings about a certain amount of misery and unhappiness, and so it was in Elkanah's family.
Marriages and families that are not centered in the directive will of God and operating by the principles of God's Word, are going to miss God's best and experience added pain and disunity. Still, God is sovereign and uses the conditions and circumstances of our lives to work out His will and to work all things together for good to those who love Him, to those who will respond to Him in their trial.
Hannah, in this far from perfect home situation, experienced sorrow and humiliation. She was sorrowful over having no children, a condition seen as a curse in Old Testament times because a man passed on his heritage through his children. She also experience humiliation and persecution from Peninnah, Elkanah’s other wife, who was jealous of her. Peninnah was jealous because Elkanah loved Hannah more, and out of her jealousy she taunted Hannah over her barrenness. But for Hannah, whose heart was inclined toward God, these conditions were used by God to draw her closer to Himself and to build her faith and understanding of the Lord.
Hannah’s song of prayer in 1 Samuel 2 shows us she had become a mature and godly woman through the ordeals of her life. She had learned to lean on the Lord and to trust in His sovereign purposes. She knew that her barrenness was from God, that He was sovereign and in control of all things, and if He was in control of all things, then certainly also He was in control of her barrenness (cf. 2:6-10). Thus, these years of trial and pain which drew her to God had made her a woman of faith and prayer rather than bitter and manipulative.
Hannah's suffering had drawn her heart to God and, I would suggest, this allowed God to place His burdens and concerns on her heart as well. As a result, in the process of her trial and growth, I believe Hannah came to see the needs of Israel and it caused her to dedicate her son to God and to the needs of her nation. This meant devotion and dedication to rearing her son to know, love, and serve God. God used the pain in her life to provide for Samuel, the great prophet of God.
Moms and dads, never discredit the pain or sufferings life brings. No matter what their cause or source, sufferings are allowed by God and are tools by which He trains us so that we become the kind of wife, husband, mother, father, son or daughter God can use for His purposes.
Just when it seemed that there was no hope for the nation, God intervened in grace, but He did so in response to the prayers of a godly woman named Hannah, whose name means "grace." God gave Hannah a son whom she named Samuel, probably meaning to her either "heard of God" or "asked of God". Technically, the name Samuel means "his name is God" or something similar, but by assonance (the similarity of sounds) she may have understood his name to mean "heard of God." The Hebrew word "asked" is sa'al, the word for "heard" is sama`, and the word for God is el.
1 Samuel 1:5-7 but to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah, but the LORD had closed her womb. 6 Her rival, however, would provoke her bitterly to irritate her, because the LORD had closed her womb. 7 And it happened year after year, as often as she went up to the house of the LORD, she would provoke her, so she wept and would not eat.
Another concept we can learn from Hannah's experience is that the problems we face in our family relationships or various situations may often go on for years before God resolves them or changes the situation for us. Note the emphasis in verse 7 of "year after year." But Hannah never gave up. Being human she undoubtedly had her ups and downs; she may have wanted to run away at times, or get even with a sharp tongue, or with piece of pottery over the head of Peninnah. But ultimately, all of this caused her to turn more and more to the Lord for deliverance and supply. He alone could be her horn of strength. As the Psalmist wrote, "soul, hope in God alone."
But it is essential that you respond with trust in the mercy and goodness of God. No bitterness or rebellion must be permitted to cloud your vision of him even when he seems not to answer. Otherwise the pain designed to enrich and deepen your relationship with him might have the opposite effect as you allow yourself the luxuries of self-pity and doubt (John White, Daring to Draw Near, Inter-Varsity Press, p. 90).
What can we learn from Hannah's experience?
(1) No matter how long we may have been praying for that husband or wife or son or daughter or (you name it), don't stop. Keep praying and waiting on the Lord; keep drawing near to Him. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
(2) Find out what God is seeking to do in and with your life as well. What character virtues is God wanting to write on the tablets of your heart, or what prayer requests is God wanting to place on your lips? Faith, faithfulness, commitment, burden for your family, for your neighbor, your neighborhood, your nation? Might it be prayer for someone's growth, change, salvation? Maybe God is leading you through your pain to the ministry He has for your life.
Picture an old woman with a halo of silvered hair--the hot tears flowing down her furrowed cheeks--her worn hands busy over a washboard in a room of poverty--praying--for her son John--John who ran away from home in his teens to become a sailor--John of whom it was not reported that he had become a very wicked man--praying, praying always, that her son might be of service to God. The mother believed in two things, the power of prayer and the reformation of her son. God answered the prayer by working a miracle in the heart of John Newton.
John Newton, the sailor-preacher. Among the thousands of men and women he brought to Christ was Thomas Scott, cultured, selfish, and self-satisfied. Because of the washtub prayers another miracle was worked, and Thomas Scott used both his pen and voice to lead thousands of unbelieving hearts to Christ, among them a dyspeptic, melancholic young man, William Cowper by name. He, too, was washed in the cleansing blood and in a moment of inspiration wrote, "There Is a Fountain Filled With Blood." And this song has brought countless thousands to the Man who died on Calvary. All this resulted because a mother took God at His word and prayed that her son's heart might become as white as the soapsuds in the washtub. (Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, #3671, Assurance Publishers, p. 854).
People sometimes disdain the rearing of children in our day because of conditions in society. It is so much more difficult today, they say. Our society is full of centrifugal pulls that constantly pull the family unit apart and away from the Lord and the church. Of course, raising children is more difficult in our day--but not impossible, and we need godly children for the generation to come. Compare the attitude and words of Isaiah in Isaiah 8:16-22. Isaiah also lived in a day of moral decline when many in Israel were actually consulting mediums and spiritists instead of the God of Israel (8:19). Isaiah's attitude was, "Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are for signs and wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion."
First Samuel 1:12f tells us Hannah was in the temple praying and Eli was watching. Because her lips were moving but he could hear no sound, he assumed she was drunk and he scolded her. Why do you think Eli assumed Hannah to be drunk? Probably because this was a regular occurrence in the Israel--it was something he saw regularly. This gives us insight into how bad things were in the nation. The nation was morally corrupt; it was a day of degeneration, a day when the people did not know the Lord as was the case even Eli's sons ( 2:12). They had a form of godliness, external religion, but they were without the knowledge of God.
In such days it is difficult to raise up children to know the Lord, but it is not impossible. A lot depends on us as parents and our devotion to the Lord and to His principles (Prov. 22:6).
(1) Hannah talked with God about her problem and she grew in her relationship with God through it. She could have become bitter at both Peninnah and at God, but she resisted this and turned the issues over to the Lord in prayer, trusting in his sovereignty. Bitterness would have only made her problem worse and twisted her into a mean and manipulating woman (1:11-12).
(2) Eli merely talked with his sons in a feeble reproof. He failed to exercise biblical discipline and to give careful, incisive instruction (cf. 2:23-24 with 3:13). Note how feeble was his rebuke.
When David Talmage, the father of the famous preacher, T. DeWitt Talmage, was an eighteen-year-old boy still living at home with his brother Jacob and his sister, one night the tree of them were going to a party.
Their mother, who was an invalid, just before they left, called them to her bedside and said, "You are going out to a gay party; but I want you to know that I shall be on my knees praying for you until you return."
They went, and on their return passed their mother's door at two o'clock, catching a glimpse of her still kneeling by her bed.
Early the next morning, Mother Talmage wakened her husband and asked him to get up and see what was the matter, for she heard someone weeping.
Going hastily down to the living room Father Talmage found his daughter on her knees weeping, but when he undertook to speak to her, she said, "Go to the barn, father, for David is in worse need of you than I am. I shall be all right."
Going to the barn the old gentleman found David weeping his heart out from the mighty conviction that had seized him. However, when Mr. Talmage had prayed a short time with him, David said, "Go to Jacob, he needs you more than I do now, I presume. He's in the wagon shed."
So it turned out that the Lord saved all three of the Talmage children that morning, in answer to the determined and definite praying of their mother.
David had a sweetheart living down the lane, and rising from his knees, he went right down to her home and told her the wonderful news about himself and his brother and sister being saved, urging her to give her heart to God.
In the prayer there they had together she, too, was added to the host of the redeemed. The news reaching the church produced a tremendous sensation, and a gracious and widespread revival followed!
This sweetheart of David's later became the mother of T. deWitt Talmage. Some years afterwards she made a solemn covenant with four other women to meet with them every Wednesday afternoon and pray for their children until every child in the five homes was saved.
The covenant was kept until every child in the five families was converted. (Tan, #3672, p. 854).
(1) Hannah promised to give her son to the Lord and to dedicate him as a Nazarite--one totally devoted to God and his service (1:11). It appears that Hannah "looked beyond her own longings for a child because she saw how desperately the nation needed those men, in this time of religious decline, who would be separated wholly to God . . . " (Jensen, p. 20).
What do most parents want for their children? What do you want for your child? For most, the answer is fame and fortune, position and power? Unfortunately, many parents seek to live their lives through their children's. Hannah's prayer in verse 11 may sound selfish, but her affliction was an affliction of fruitlessness and I believe that Hannah's prayer was unselfish. Since children were gifts from the Lord, she wanted to have a son whom she could give to God.
Through drawing near to God Hannah became burdened for her people. Remember this dedication of her son (should God give her one) meant her dedication and devotion to preparing her son to know the Lord. It mean his discipline and training, and it meant her time and energy as well as time on her knees.
(2) Eli, on the other hand, indulged his sons. They received their position as ministers at the temple by physical inheritance, rather than by spiritual preparation. They were in and around the tabernacle of God, but God was not in them.
They were like a lot of kids of indulgent Christian parents--around the church, but disinterested in spiritual things--concerned only for their own selfish pursuits because their parents indulged their every whim and failed to take time to pray, to teach, to play with their kids and to discipline them.
When 17-year-old W.P.L. Mackay left his humble Scottish home to attend college, his mother gave him a Bible in which she wrote his name, and a verse of Scripture.
College was only the beginning of the lifestyle which saddened his godly mother. At one point he sank so low he pawned the Bible to get money for whiskey. His mother prayed for him until she died.
Eventually, Mackay became a doctor in a city hospital. One day a dying patient asked for his "book." After the man died, Mackay was curious to know what book could be so precious, so he searched the hospital room. He was surprised to find the very Bible he had pawned years before.
He went into his office and gazed again at the familiar writing, noticing many pages with underscored verses his mother had hoped he would read. After many hours in that office, Mackay knelt and prayed to God for mercy.
W.P. Mackay, the physician, later became a minister. The Book he once treated so lightly became his most precious possession.
(1) Hannah's prayer was heard and her devotion was honored. Samuel was born and became a great leader in Israel, a man of God who was used mightily of the Lord.
The first three chapters introduce us to the prophet Samuel who was such a blessing and wonderful leader to the nation Israel. These chapters deal with his birth, early life, and call to the ministry of a prophet. But the point we must not miss is the part a godly woman plays in this story. Samuel is the product of sorrow and supplication.
(2) Eli's sons became a disgrace to the priesthood. They drove people away from the Lord and had the sentence of death pronounced on them (cf. 1 Sam. 2:27-34).
The prophet predicts the destruction of the priestly family of Eli, partially fulfilled in the massacre of the priests of Nob (22:11-19) and in the transfer of the priesthood to the family of Zadok in the time of Solomon (1 Kings 2:26-27, 35). The death of Eli's two sons on the same day would be a sign to validate the prophecy (Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, Expanded Edition, Moody, p. 428).
There is an important truth here: When parents indulge their children giving them everything they want, while at the same time fail to devote themselves as responsible parents to their children's spiritual growth and commitment, the parents dishonor the Lord and commit their children to a way of life that dishonors God and may result in the child's destruction and even untimely death.
Parenthood, but especially motherhood, is a special, God-given ministry that God has given to all mothers. It is a calling of God, a marvelous opportunity to shape and turn lives toward God and to his purposes for the parents' lives and those of their children. Motherhood is one of the highest, most noble callings and one of the most important responsibilities in life. Almost nothing is more important.
Behind nearly every great man of God there was a godly mother. It was so with Moses, with Samuel, with Jesus, with Timothy, with John and Charles Wesley, with G. Campbell Morgan, and on and on the list could go.
Dr. G. Campbell Morgan, the well-known Bible expositor and preacher, had four sons and they all became preachers of the Word. One day at a family reunion, a friend asked one of the sons, "Which Morgan is the greatest preacher?" While the son looked at the father, he quickly replied, "mother!"
As we draw near to God in the sufferings of life, we grow in maturity; as we grow in maturity we grow in our concern for God's will, God's purposes, and God's honor will increasingly concern us (or should if we are really drawing nearer to Him). It seems that God uses our sorrows and heartaches to call our attention to His; to His concerns and purposes and ways He wants to use us.
The annual time of sacrifices and feasts had become a source of pain rather than a time of great joy for Hannah. Peninnah would receive large portions to distribute to her children, and even though Elkanah sought to relieve Hannah's pain with a double portion, it was still a constant reminder of her barrenness.
Why does God begin 1 Samuel (which contains the story of the development of God's kingdom) with this story of the pain and barrenness of a Hannah? Why should such a seemingly trivial matter be recorded in light of the great events of history that would follow?
(1) Hannah's barrenness was no trivial matter to her and this demonstrates God's concern for each of us in our problems of life (1 Pet. 5:7).
(2) It shows how God uses the sorrows of people to do dramatic things in history through the prayers and godliness of people like Hannah.
(3) It shows the importance and value mothers and fathers have on the lives of children and ultimately on society. It reminds us that the foundation of society and its leaders is the home.
(4) It reminds us of the importance of prayer, but also of an important truth about prayer. It is a response to God's initiative. God used Hannah's pain to draw her to Himself, to develop her consciousness of not only her need, but of the needs of her people. And through that process, He drew out of her both her prayer (the request) and the offer (the dedication of her child to God's purposes).
(5) We can see that God was not just using Hannah as a pawn in a historical chess game. His larger purposes for Israel were linked with and resulted in Hannah's own blessing and capacity for joy. "He led her gently through suffering that He might enlarge her capacity for joy" (White, Daring to Draw Near, p. 89).
Have we ever stopped to consider that our pain may extend far beyond our own life and times? May we each remember that the pain which led to a Samuel (who transformed Israel and who anointed and ministered to kings) first led to a transformed mother named Hannah.
The book opens with the cry of a godly woman. Out of a woman's suffering which caused her to cry out to the Lord, God blesses the nation by raising up Samuel the prophet. I suppose one of the key lessons we can learn from Hannah is, "Let's not waste our sorrows!"