The beginning of the end for Saul’s kingship. 1 Samuel 13:2-18

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 13:2-18

We’re back into the book of 1 Samuel today, covering most of chapter 13; what is the beginning of the end for Saul’s kingship, at least under the blessing of God.

Just to help you remember where we’re at in the story. Israel requested a king and God chose Saul. And this choice was affirmed in numerous ways in chapters 9-12. He is privately anointed king by Samuel, in a story filled with acts of divine providence that brought them together. And this is confirmed to Saul by three miraculous signs.

Next, Saul was to attack the Philistine garrison near his home, after these miraculous signs, but he didn’t. He hesitated. He was afraid. This was how God’s choice of him was to have been made known, in a military victory. Nevertheless, he is publicly chosen by lots in chapter 10 and he wins a military victory in chapter 11 over the Ammonites. And then finally in chapter 12, Samuel retires from being the Judge of Israel and Saul is established as king.

Our story today connects back to the unfinished business of 1 Samuel 10:8. Basically whenever Saul decided to attack the Philistines, Samuel told him, “go down before me to Gilgal. And behold, I am coming to you to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, until I come to you and show you what you shall do.”

Let’s look at what happens –

1 Samuel 13:2-18

Our verses today begin with Saul selecting his standing army.

2Saul chose three thousand men of Israel. Two thousand were with Saul in Michmash and the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin. The rest of the people he sent home, every man to his tent.

Jonathan’s victory. 

3Jonathan defeated the garrison of the Philistines that was at Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, “Let the Hebrews hear.” 4And all Israel heard it said that Saul had defeated the garrison of the Philistines, and also that Israel had become a stench to the Philistines.

It’s interesting that it’s Jonathan, Saul’s son, who fulfills the words of 1 Samuel 10 about Saul doing what his hand finds to do with the Philistine garrison. Although perhaps Saul ordered it. In any case, he certainly gets credit for the victory here.

Jonathan’s act commits Israel to all out war with their Philistine overlords. They are in open revolt. They are a “stench” to the more powerful Philistines.

And the people were called out to join Saul at Gilgal.

Saul goes a ways East to Gilgal, according to the instructions of 1 Samuel 10:8, and to muster the full Israelite army.

And likewise the Philistines gather together their army.

5And the Philistines mustered to fight with Israel, three thousand chariots (NIV) and six thousand horsemen and troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude. They came up and encamped in Michmash, to the east of Beth-aven.

This was a truly massive army, perhaps much more than Israel was expecting. They also had better equipment. They had chariots (the tanks of that day). And as we learn later, among Israel, only Saul and Jonathan had swords. The rest presumably used farm implements for their fighting.

6When the men of Israel saw that they were in trouble (for the people were hard pressed), the people hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns, 7and some Hebrews crossed the fords of the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul was still at Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.

If the Philistine response is impressive, the Israelite response is not impressive. They knew they were in trouble, if you just go by the numbers, so they hid and fled as far away as they could. Saul still had some people with him but they were shaking in their boots.

This brings us to Saul’s sin.

8He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. 9So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering.

So Saul has finally, through Jonathan, attacked the Philistines and so he knows that Samuel’s instructions from 1 Samuel 10:8 are now in effect. He waited, but not the whole time; not all of the seventh day, as we’ll see.

The offerings are important because they are a means of calling for God’s blessing and help in the battle to come.

10As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him. 11Samuel said, “What have you done?”

So Samuel comes at the last minute, apparently just after the burnt offering, and before Saul finished the peace offerings. Samuel immediately sees that Saul has not done what God commanded. He was to have waited the full seven days, Samuel was to sacrifice and Saul was to wait for Samuel’s instructions for the battle.

This brings us to Saul’s excuse.

And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, 12I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.”

He actually has three excuses. 1) The army was deserting, so he feels he needs to act quickly. 2) He shifts the blame to Samuel. It’s your fault! You didn’t come soon enough! (The “you” in this phrase in v. 11 is emphatic). 3) And, although there is no indication that this was true, he was afraid that the Philistines would come all the way to Gilgal to attack. So again, he’s in a hurry.

So he felt compelled to go ahead and offer the burnt offerings. He’s saying to Samuel, “Hey, I had no choice!”

Notice how each of these excuses has to do with what he saw (v. 11). He’s focused on the circumstances around him. And he chose to act based on his negative circumstances versus what God has specifically commanded him to do. We have already seen that fear is a core weakness for Saul, and this is surely a part of why he did what he did.

God’s judgment.

13And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”

Samuel reveals that this was a test. If he had demonstrated faith in God, to obey what God said, his kingdom would have endured forever over Israel. But now his descendants will not succeed him; he will have no dynasty.

Why such a serious judgment? He disobeyed a specific command of God that he was well aware of. And he is the king and much is expected of him as the leader of God’s people. And he was given everything he needed, a specific promise in 9:16 that “Saul shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines.” He was also given a new heart by the Spirit of God working in him. And he acted appropriately before in another crisis by relying on God, showing that he can do it.

But this test reveals something deeper, that something is off in him now. 1) His thinking is off. He thinks that giving a sacrifice is more important than obeying God, when it’s obedience that brings God’s blessing, not a mere ritual or sacrifice (1 Samuel 12:13-15; 25). We will see this again in chapter 15 when Saul once again outright willfully disobeys God.

2) His heart is also off. Obeying God is now to him something to do when it suits him. When it doesn’t create complications for him. But if circumstances demand, then he disobeys. He thinks he knows better than God what to do in a crisis. But God is looking for “a man after his own heart” – v. 14. God is looking for someone who loves him and wants to obey him; who wants to please him; who desires what he desires. And even takes risks to do this. That’s why God has chosen someone else who has this kind of heart, whom we learn later is David. (That this has to do with a different kind of heart – 1 Samuel 14:7, 1 Samuel 15:28, which is in parallel to this; 2 Samuel 7:21; 1 Kings 11:4; 15:3 Jeremiah 3;15; Acts 13:22)

Notice also here how the punishment fits the crime. In v. 13 Saul didn’t keep the “command” or it can be translated “appointment” that God gave him. So in v. 14, using the same word, God has “appointed” or “commanded” someone else to be prince over his people.

The aftermath.

15And Samuel arose and went up from Gilgal.

Notice how in all this Saul in unrepentant. He doesn’t take responsibility. And so Samuel simply leaves without giving him any instructions.

The rest of the people went up after Saul to meet the army; they went up from Gilgal to Gibeah of Benjamin. And Saul numbered the people who were present with him, about six hundred men.

 He went to muster troops but came back with fewer than he had before.

16And Saul and Jonathan his son and the people who were present with them stayed in Geba of Benjamin, but the Philistines encamped in Michmash.

What are they supposed to do? They don’t know.  

17And raiders came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies. One company turned toward Ophrah, to the land of Shual; 18another company turned toward Beth-horon; and another company turned toward the border that looks down on the Valley of Zeboim toward the wilderness.

If before, after Jonathan’s victory, Israel had the momentum, now the Philistines have it. They send out people to surround Saul, to cut off any reinforcements and to gather supplies for their huge army.

What do we learn from this?

Sin has consequences. When we willfully, knowingly disobey God there will be consequences for us, just as there were for Saul.

Ezekiel 18:20 says, “The soul who sins shall die.” And even when we find forgiveness from God, there is still damage done in our lives. For Saul this meant no dynasty. Sin has consequences.

Our excuses also don’t hold water. In a time of trial, circumstances will be hard, but when God gives us clear instructions, we need to follow them. We can’t say, like Saul, “I had to disobey.” “I had no choice!” To put it in a different set of circumstances we can’t say to God, “I had to lie.” “I had to steal.” “I had to commit adultery.” That doesn’t cut it.

We can rationalize all we want. But God gives us what we need to follow him, even when it’s hard. And when we choose not to obey God that’s on us. And we need to take responsibility for our wrong choice and own our sin.

Finally, our hearts need to be after God’s own heart, to love and obey him, not just when it’s easy.

If you don’t obey God out of love; out of a passion and desire to serve God, you’re an empty shell that will one day be exposed in a time of trial, just as Saul was. Maybe some of us need to find our passion and desire for God, once again. It’s not about being religious, Saul offered a sacrifice. It’s about a heart that yearns to do what God wants. It’s about our heart wanting what God’s heart wants.

Samuel’s farewell, Saul’s installation as king. 1 Samuel 11:14-13:1

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 11:14-13:1

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 8-13:1, plus Deuteronomy 17 and 1 Samuel 8-13:1

This morning we’re coming to the conclusion of the story of how Israel came to have kings for leaders. It all began in chapter 8 when Israel demanded a king and amazingly God allowed it.

  • After a time, God chose Saul – and so Samuel privately anointed him as prince.
  • Then Saul was chosen by lots, making God’s choice of him public.
  • Then Saul passed the leadership test by delivering Jabesh-gilead from the Ammonites.
  • And finally today he is officially installed as king.

Our passage today is 11:14-13:1. It’s too long to go through verse by verse, so I will summarize parts of it, but I encourage you to follow along in your bibles.

A change from judges to kings

Saul becomes king – 11:14-15

11:14Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingdom.” 15So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they sacrificed peace offerings before the Lord, and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.

In these first verses Samuel calls all Israel together to Gilgal, a central location used for religious and political meetings. And v. 15 says, “There they made Saul king before the Lord.”

And then, after having tried before in chapter 8, Samuel actually gives his farewell speech to Israel.

Samuel’s farewell – 12:1-2

12:1And Samuel said to all Israel, “Behold, I have obeyed your voice in all that you have said to me and have made a king over you. 2And now, behold, the king walks before you, and I am old and gray; and behold, my sons are with you. I have walked before you from my youth until this day.

He has walked before them as a leader for many years and is “old and gray.” And now Saul walks before them as the new king. Samuel will remain as a priest and prophet, but will no longer be the national leader or judge.

And then he goes on to establish his integrity as a leader – 12:3-6

3Here I am; testify against me before the Lord and before his anointed (that is, Saul). Whose ox have I taken? Or whose donkey have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? Testify against me and I will restore it to you.”

And in vs. 4-6 they all affirm that he has indeed been a righteous leader.

 4They said, “You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from any man’s hand.” 5And he said to them, “The Lord is witness against you, and his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.” And they said, “He is witness.” 6And Samuel said to the people, “The Lord is witness, who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt.

Can you imagine doing this at your work? Or even at church or with family?  This is a challenge to all of us to live godly lives of integrity and character, like Samuel. This is especially important for leaders who have power and can misuse it to take advantage of others.

Samuel is also drawing a contrast here between the role of a judge, who doesn’t “take” things, to that of a king who will “take” things (same word), as he warned them in chapter 8:11-17. (Notice the contrast also between Samuel and his sons – 8:3)

Next, Samuel goes through their history to make the point that God is able to deliver – vs. 7-12

7Now therefore stand still that I may plead with you before the Lord concerning all the righteous deeds of the Lord that he performed for you and for your fathers. 8When Jacob went into Egypt, and the Egyptians oppressed them, then your fathers cried out to the Lord and the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your fathers out of Egypt and made them dwell in this place. 9But they forgot the Lord their God. And he sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab. And they fought against them. 10And they cried out to the Lord and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have forsaken the Lord and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. But now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, that we may serve you.’ 11And the Lord sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you lived in safety.

  • He recalls how God raised up Moses to deliver them from Egypt
  • Then they sinned by turning to false gods and idols.
  • And so God gave them over to their enemies for instance Sisera, the Philistines, and Moab (as told in the book of Judges).
  • But in each case God heard their cry and delivered them. He raised up Jerubbaal (or Gideon), Barak, Jephthah and Samuel – and delivered them.

God has been faithful to save. And after Egypt, they only needed deliverance because of their unfaithfulness.

Now the point of this history lesson is that a king is not necessary to deliver Israel; God is able. God was their only king and there was no lack in God that they needed a human king. But they asked anyway.

12And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the Lord your God was your king.

It was their lack of trust in God to deliver, that led them to ask for a king. Nevertheless, despite all of this God can use kingship for his own purposes – 12:13-15

13And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the Lord has set a king over you. 14If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well. 15But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king.

God can use kingship. This is why he allows it, and tells Samuel to obey their voice (chapter 8).

Instead of everyone doing what is right in their own eyes (as the book of Judges talks about) a king has the power to lead the people to obey. Although, just as surely, he can use that power to lead them to disobey.

And besides, even with a king, the question is always the same, “Will Israel follow God or false gods?” Their covenant relationship with God has not changed. And so if they do what is right, God will watch over them; but if they do not, they will be judged.

Next we have a miracle that again establishes the point that God is able to deliver – 12:16-18

16Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the Lord will do before your eyes. 17Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the Lord, that he may send thunder and rain. And you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking for yourselves a king.” 18So Samuel called upon the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel.

At the time of the wheat harvest there was no rain, so this was unusual. And, of course, Samuel called for it and God acted right away. Also remember, they often looked to false gods who were supposed to be in control of the rain and thunder. But God shows here that he is the only true God.

So both from their history, including under Samuel’s leadership and from this miracle it should be clear that there is no lack on God’s part to save.

But how often do we, in the face of God’s history of faithfulness and our own present experiences of this, still distrust God? God’s faithfulness is beyond question, we are the questionable ones, because we are often faithless. But still we don’t trust God.  We think that there is some lack in God, when God alone is more than sufficient.

This miraculous sign leads the people acknowledge their sin – 12:19

19And all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.”

Their lack of faith in God and their demand for a king was evil. As Samuel said above “your wickedness is great” in asking for a king when God was already taking care of you. And they confess this here plainly and they ask for Samuel’s prayers to avert judgment.

The next verses speak to Samuel’s continuing role among them – 12:20-25

20And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. 21And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. 22For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. 23Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. 24Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you. 25But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.”

Samuel is no longer a judge, but he is still a prophet and priest. And as such he admonishes them:

  • He tells them to serve the Lord with all their heart.
  • They are to turn away from “empty things” that is, worthless idols and false gods.
  • And he warns them – If they don’t obey – they and their king will be swept away.

He also promises to pray for them and teach them. In vs. 23 he says, “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.”

And then our passage ends with a statement about Saul’s reign – 13:1

 13:1Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty-two years. (NIV)

The Hebrew text literally says, “Saul was years old when he became king, and reigned two years.” It appears that the text did not survive intact. Some later versions of the Septuagint have 30 years for his age. Acts 13:21 says that Saul reigned for 40 years. (And in one place Josephus agrees with this). So this would be a rounded number for the possibly original number of 42.

Let me end by taking note of –

How great God’s grace is

God’s patience in this whole episode is truly amazing. The reason they needed to be delivered from various enemies in the first place was their unfaithfulness to God. They sinned and God gave them over to their enemies, just as their covenant agreement stipulated. In other words, it was their fault.

But they had the audacity to blame God for not being able to deliver them. They think God is inadequate to take care of them. They think God is at fault.

But then look at God’s patience and grace. Samuel says in v. 20, “Do not be afraid . . ..” God is not going to judge them for this. They will still be judged for other things, like turning to idols, as Samuel says here, but God doesn’t judge them for this.

And then in v. 22 he says, “For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.” Despite what they have done, God is still going to be their God and they will be his people.

  • He does this for his own reputation – since they bear his name.
  • And because it pleases him that they be his people. That is, because he loves his people.

They reject him as king, but he continues to accept them as his people. They wrongly look down on him and his ability to save, but he bears with their very real failures here.  They slander his ability to save, but he gives them words of encouragement. This is a truly amazing example of grace.

And in this episode we see God’s heart revealed; a heart of love for his people. And God has this same love for his people today; for us. And in this we can rejoice. What a great God and King we serve!

What are you hiding from? Saul among the baggage. 1 Samuel 10:17-26

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 10:17-26

Last week we finished up the story of Saul’s anointing to be king. We learned that God’s choice of Saul was made evident through a number of providential acts of God surrounding this event. And we learned that this calling was confirmed to Saul himself through three signs that Samuel predicted that all came true.

And even though at the end of the story, Saul hesitated to act after the Spirit came on him, to provoke the Philistines and then gather Israel’s army to deliver Israel, God has not set aside his plan for him.

Coming to our passage for today, since Saul’s anointing was still a private act known only to Samuel and Saul, something more needs to be done. So in this story –

Saul is chosen by lot

– as a public recognition that he is God’s choice for king.

17Now Samuel called the people together to the Lord at Mizpah.

Back in chapter 8, when Israel demanded a king, Samuel had dismissed everyone at Ramah so that a king could be selected. Here he is calling them back together at Mizpah to reveal God’s choice.

18And he said to the people of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.’ 19But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and your distresses, and you have said to him, ‘Set a king over us.’ Now therefore present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and by your thousands.”

This confirms again why God is unhappy with their demand for a king. They thought God couldn’t take care of them and so they wanted a human king with a standing army. Human kingship isn’t wrong in itself, but their lack of trust in God is evil and a sin (12:19-20). It was a rejection of God as their king.

So God reiterates that he has been more than sufficient to care for them, delivering them from Egypt and from all their enemies; “from all their calamities and distresses.”

20Then Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, and the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot. 21He brought the tribe of Benjamin near by its clans, and the clan of the Matrites was taken by lot; and Saul the son of Kish was taken by lot.

Casting lots to discern God’s will was not uncommon in Israel. (Leviticus 16:8-10, Joshua 7:10-26, 18:6, 19:51; 1 Samuel 14:41-42, 1 Chronicles 24-26, Nehemiah 10:34, Psalm 22:18, Jonah 1:7, Nahum 3:10 See also Proverbs 16:33 and Acts 1:21-26) They were probably stones or pieces of wood with marks on them that were thrown like dice. And depending on which marks came up, they would select one option between two choices.

It began with the 12 tribes, then down to the clans of that tribe, then to families and then to any sons in that family. And Saul was chosen.

Now, what do you think the odds are that among all the possible choices the lot would fall to Saul? We are talking about thousands and thousands of people. But God was in this. Saul was already chosen, and God used the lot to affirm this choice before all the people. God orchestrated all of this.

But when they sought him, he could not be found. 22So they inquired again of the Lord, “Is there a man still to come?” and the Lord said, “Behold, he has hidden himself among the baggage.” 23Then they ran and took him from there.

Saul is afraid of being king. Of course, he already knew he was the one and thus knew the result that was coming. And he hides. And so they ask, “It’s supposed to be Saul, but he’s not here – is there another?” This then requires a word from the Lord to tell them where to find Saul.

This is another indicator of Saul’s core weakness, fear, which we talked about last week. Instead of stepping forward in faith to fulfill God’s purpose for him, he hides and hopes they will find someone else.

And when he stood among the people, he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward. 24And Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen? There is none like him among all the people.” And all the people shouted, “Long live the king!”

Height was seen as a positive attribute for leaders in the ancient world, so Saul’s height acts to confirm his being chosen as king.

Samuel strongly affirms Saul as God’s chosen. The phrase “there is none like him among all the people” isn’t just a reference to his height. God really has chosen the best person for the job. And then Saul is acclaimed king.

25Then Samuel told the people the rights and duties of the kingship, and he wrote them in a book and laid it up before the Lord.

It’s not clear what was in this book. It seems to define the rights of a king, which were talked about in chapter 8. But here these rights are balanced by the “duties of the king” for the people, which would include providing good order and delivering them from their enemies. (Perhaps we should see the phrase in 8:20  – “to judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” – as a summary of these duties.)

Then Samuel sent all the people away, each one to his home. 26Saul also went to his home at Gibeah, and with him went men of valor whose hearts God had touched.

It’s interesting that Samuel is still in charge, he dismisses the people. As we will see, before Saul is fully established as king, he will need to pass a test to show that he is able. And that is what happens in the next story in Chapter 11.

Everyone went home, including Saul, but he goes with “men of valor” who become the nucleus of a standing army for Israel.

A story about hiding . . .

I think we should all be able to relate to Saul.

We all have fears that can keep us from doing God’s will

What has God called you to do, but your fear has stopped you from obeying?

God loves to challenge us;  to stretch us and help us to grow in terms of our character and our capacity to serve him. He often calls us out of our comfort zones, and to do things that are beyond what we would ever imagine we could do. Now, we can be like Saul and hide out of fear. Or we can step out in faith to do what God wants us to do.

And so I ask, What are you hiding from?

  • talking to a neighbor about Jesus?
  • standing up for your faith?
  • doing the right thing when no one else is?
  • beginning a new ministry role?

Hiding doesn’t work. God knows about it and has ways of calling you out. What we all need to do is let go of our fears and step out in faith to do what God wants us to do. It may seem impossible, but God doesn’t ask us to do things we can’t do; we can do whatever he wants with his help and strength. With the calling comes the anointing, just as in the case of Saul. And so we should act.

Let me end with a word of grace. Just as with Saul, if you have failed to act in faith to do God’s will or you are currently hiding from doing God’s will, this doesn’t mean that God is done with you yet. God is merciful and every day is a new day to make things right by stepping out in faith to do God’s will. And I encourage you to do just this.

Israel demands a king. 1 Samuel 8:1-22

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 8:1-22

We are back into 1 Samuel today, chapter 8 if you would like to turn. Last we saw, in chapter 7 Israel finally got it. If they repent of their sins, God will bless them and take care of them as promised. And God gave them a miraculous deliverance from the Philistines through Samuel’s prophetic leadership. And they had peace for many years.

When we come to chapter 8, however, things take a real turn for the worse, because now –

Israel wants a king

The story begins with Samuel’s attempted retirement.

1When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. 2The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba.

Many years have passed and Samuel is old. He has appointed his sons to take his place. Perhaps having them down in the remote city of Beersheba (50 miles south of Jerusalem) was to test whether they could handle the job. We find out the results in v. 3.

 3Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice.

So Samuel’s kids didn’t turn out to be faithful to God. (Unlike Eli and his sons, Samuel is not a part of their sin by overlooking it or even profiting from it.)  This shows once again that good people and good parents can raise children who don’t follow in their path.

In this case it presents an opportunity for the elders of Israel. 

4Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah 5and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.”

What they want is to switch from having a tribal confederation led by judges, who were usually raised up by God for a specific need and often only in one part of Israel to a permanent, centralized monarchy held by one family.

They are taking advantage of Samuel’s son’s not being like their father, to make a request for a different system that, ironically is entirely built on heredity, where sons are often worse than their fathers. So this is confusing. The problem of Samuel’s sons is real, but it’s a cover for their actual reason in asking for a king, which comes out in v. 20 – they want a king with a standing army to protect them.

6But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.”

More literally, it says the thing was “evil in his eyes.” And so Samuel seeks God. v. 6 goes on to say,

And Samuel prayed to the Lord.

 He’s troubled and so he sought out God and what God would say. This is a good model for us when we are troubled, to pray and make sure we are in tune with God before we speak or act. 

7And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. 9Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

The immediate question is, “Why is asking for a king so wrong?” Deuteronomy 17:14-20 predicts Israelite kingship without judgment, as do other Scriptures (Genesis 17:6, 16; 49:10; Numbers 24:17-19; Judges 17:6, 18:1, 19:1 21:25, 1 Samuel 2:10). And God works to bless and bring about this request in the stories that follow, especially with David. So what’s going on here?

I believe that God is flexible with how Israel is organized. And he might have raised up a king of his own initiative, perhaps with David, at the right time. The issue is why they ask. They think God is inadequate! This is plain and simple a rejection of God as their king, because they think God can’t take care of them properly. (That God’s adequacy to save is the issue here is confirmed in 1 Samuel 10:18-19 that talks about the rejection of God. Samuel reminds them that God has and can continue to save them, but they wanted a king. And also in 1 Samuel 12:7-11 Samuel recounts how God has saved them in the past, and in 12:16-18 the miracle confirms that God can still save them, which leads them to repentance for asking for a king.) The lack of faith in God shows that their demand for a king here is an expression of their tendency to idolatry. They want a king as an idol, something they rely on instead of or in addition to God for their salvation and security, which is why v. 8 categorizes this as “forsaking me and serving other gods.”

This must have been particularly galling to God and Samuel, because Israel has just lived many years in peace after God miraculously delivered them from the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:14). And on top of this the reason for their previous struggles with defeat at the hands of their enemies was due to them, not God! They were unfaithful to God as so God did not bless them. It was entirely and without exception their fault. But they blame God. What an insult and slander of God, what they are saying! (See similarly Numbers 14:11.)

So yeah, God’s unhappy. He grants their request, but as God says in Hosea 13:11 – “I gave you a king in my anger.” (The rest of the verse, “and I took him away in my wrath” refers to the end of kingship in northern Israel with the Assyrian conquest. The southern monarchy ended with the Babylonian exile.) (We will see why God allows a king in chapter 12.) If they wanted to ask for a king in a way that didn’t slander God it should have gone like this, “God, we are unfaithful and so we keep breaking covenant and being defeated. Can you make it easier for us by giving us a king? Can you accommodate our failings?”

This is just another in a long line of betrayals. It’s really amazing to see God’s patience with his people. And we can be sure that we also try and test God’s patience at times. What a loving God we have!

Note also here that when God’s people reject God, they reject his servants who represent him as well – their rejection of Samuel. This is still the case today. God comforts Samuel – it’s not about you, but about their rejection of me. But you can tell he still felt it.

Then we come to God’s warning about the ways of a king. As we read, notice the seven statements, where the word “take” or the phrase “appoint for himself” are used.

10So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. 11He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17He will take the tenth of your flocks . . . 

This is a picture of how the Canaanite kings around them operated, which seems to be what they have in mind.

Kings take things, because it takes a lot of bureaucracy to support a royal family and a royal court and a standing army. It requires things like your sons and daughters, taxes, your land and your crops. And “you shall be his slaves.”

This was a huge change for the people of God. Kings would have near arbitrary power over them. They would be in a class above the rest of Israel. The judges never had any of this.

and you shall be his slaves. 18And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

God often judges by giving people just what they want. In the book of Judges, Israel wanted to serve the gods of the nations around them, and so God gave them over to the power of these nations until they cried out for salvation. (See also Romans 1). Here their judgment is giving them what they want, with the end that they will be slaves. If before they cried out for deliverance from the oppression of their enemies, now they will cry from the oppression of their king (Stephen B. Chapman). But God will have none of it. They asked for it.

Israel’s stubbornness

19But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, 20that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

Their hearts are set. Even if it causes them pain, they want a king. They think a king will properly protect them.

21And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. 22And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey their voice and make them a king.” Samuel then said to the men of Israel, “Go every man to his city.”

Work has to be done, which starts in our next chapter. And then he will gather them together again for next steps.

There’s a lot to learn from in this passage, and I have already mentioned several themes, but surely the most important one is this –

Trust God to take care of you

Samuel was old. Things were good for many years under his leadership. But they feared with his passing that their enemies will again cause them great suffering. And since they don’t trust God to take care of them, they need something else, here a king to make up for God’s supposed lack of provision.

Where in our lives do we not trust God to take care of us? We also want peace and security. And we are afraid of suffering. So what do you do when:

  • God says, “I will give you daily bread” – but you were raised in poverty and so you want more than that, you need a full pantry and bank account to feel safe.
  • God says, “I want you to give up your career and do something different and I will bless you” – but you rely on your career to provide for you and your lifestyle choices.
  • God says, “I want you to give up your house and home and move somewhere else” – but you can’t even imagine doing this.
  • God says, “I want you to endure a time of testing a bit longer, but don’t worry, my grace is sufficient for you” – but you feel you must get out of the test now.
  • And how does this apply to our congregation and where we are?

In these situations we might even pray or demand from God, “I have to have this or this or that to keep moving forward.” And maybe God gives it to you and so you keep moving forward or maybe God doesn’t and so you stop following God. But in either case we are no different than the ancient Israelites. We are saying, “God, you are inadequate. I don’t think you can take care of me. Your grace is not sufficient for me.”And we turn something that is good and can be a blessing, into an idol because we trust in it and rely on it, more than God.

Where are you struggling in your faith this morning?

If you are struggling let me counsel you to be honest and confess it to God. Be like the man who said to Jesus, “I believe, but help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24.) Give me the strength to move forward in faith, even though I don’t have it in me.

And finally let me encourage you. God is faithful to his promises. God is more than sufficient! In the midst of your struggle, receive these words from Isaiah 41:10 as God’s words to you this morning: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you.”

Samuel and the word of the Lord. 1 Samuel 3:1b-4:1a

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 3:1b-4:1a

Last week we saw how Samuel and Eli were going in two different directions:

  • Samuel the child, was growing in favor with God and people, getting ready to do great things for God.
  • While Eli the old man, and his house, were told they would lose their place as the chief priestly family in Israel, along with other judgments.

This contrast continues in our story today. The judgment on Eli and his house is confirmed and reinforced, and we see Samuel begin his ministry which offers new hope to Israel.

The setting

As we begin our story, Samuel is anywhere between 8 and 12 years old. (He was 3 or 4 when Hannah left him with Eli. And in the story before this we learn that his mother had five other children. So if she had one a year he might be 8 or 9. But there may have been more space between children, so he could be older. Josephus, the first century Jewish writer thought he was 12 – Antiquities 5.10.5.) And Eli is in his nineties (he dies later at age 98 – 1 Samuel 4:15).

1And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.

 Now we just heard a prophet condemn Eli and his house, but we are told here that such words, as well as visions, didn’t happen very often at this time in Israel’s history. This was, no doubt, a sign of the distance between the people and God due to their unfaithfulness. (Amos 8:11-12; 1 Samuel 14:37; 28:6)

2At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place. 3The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was.

We learn several things here. Samuel was sleeping in the tabernacle/temple, although probably not in the holy of holies with the ark, but near to it. (The point is not that Samuel is in the holy of holies but that the ark is in the temple in general. The mention of the ark, prepares us for the following ark stories starting in 1 Samuel 4.). Eli seems to be out of the tabernacle, but nearby.

And it was in the early morning hours, before the lamp of the tabernacle went out at sunrise. Perhaps Samuel was in the tabernacle all night to tend to the Lamp, to make sure it didn’t go out before sunrise, as the Law of Moses instructs, since Eli couldn’t see anymore (Exodus 27:21; Leviticus 24:1-4)

The Lord calls out to Samuel

4Then the Lord called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am!” 5and ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down.

 We see here Samuel’s eagerness to serve Eli, his adopted father. He goes to him ready to help him with whatever need he might have. But God doesn’t get through to Samuel.

6And the Lord called again, “Samuel!” and Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.”

So the same thing happens again. Then we have an explanatory word –

7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

When it says Samuel didn’t “know the Lord” it doesn’t mean that Samuel had no relationship or understanding of God, for as we saw last week he served the Lord and grew in favor with the Lord (2:26). The phrase very specifically explains the situation here – he didn’t yet know what God’s voice sounded like. This is in contrast to later in his life when he heard and recognized God’s voice all the time. (The two phrases “did not yet know the Lord” and “the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him” are synonymous.) (The word for “know” is the same as in 2:12 that describes Eli’s sons, but for them it has the sense of “did not have regard for the Lord.”)

In v. 8 we start to make some progress –

8And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Eli figures out what’s going on and tells Samuel what to do.

10And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”

Finally, on the fourth try a connection is made. It’s interesting that it says, “the Lord came and stood.” This was not just Samuel hearing something, but also him seeing something – it was a vision experience (v. 15). And then we have –

The Lord’s message

 11Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.

“Tingling ears” means that people will be astonished by what they hear; more specifically in Scripture it means astonished by a coming disaster. (2 Kings 21:12; Jeremiah 19:3)

12On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”

Once again Eli’s responsibility and sin is pointed out. He did not restrain his sons and their activities as priests. Now, this doesn’t apply to all parents and their kids, where after a certain age children make their own choices. Eli’s situation is different. He was the chief priest and he could have removed his wicked sons from their roles.

But since he didn’t, God did it – for all their house throughout all time. If before, God promised to them that they would be priests forever (2:30), here he says that their punishment will be forever; and their sin will not be atoned for forever. And the Lord seals this with an oath.

(What God told Samuel here is pretty much the same as what the unnamed prophet told Eli. But this second message serves to confirm the first word and it makes it irrevocable [Birch]).

Now, put yourself in Samuel’s shoes. He is anywhere from 8-12 years old, and God has just told him that his adoptive family will be severely judged. What would you do?

15Samuel lay until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. And Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli.

 I would be hesitant and afraid too.

16But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” And he said, “Here I am.” 17And Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.”

Eli knows it’s bad. He knew the sins of his sons and that he did not stop them. And he has already heard the word of judgment from the unnamed prophet in chapter 2.

18So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him.

Samuel comes through. Despite his fear he tells Eli everything.

And he said, “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.”

I don’t know whether Eli’s response is a good one coming from submission to God or whether it is mere resignation that he knows there is no way to avoid his judgment at this point. Either way he accepts it.

Our final verses focus on –

Samuel’s ministry as a prophet

– going into his adult life.

19And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord. 21And the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord. 4:1And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.

Just as Deuteronomy 18 predicts, God has raised up a prophet like Moses. Samuel is like Moses in that he held three offices at once. He was a Levite with priestly privileges, he was a political leader (a judge, as we will see) and he was a prophet. And he is also like Moses, or any true prophet in that all his words came true (Deuteronomy 18:22). None fell to the ground.

And this means that there is a new hope in Israel. God is once again speaking to them through Samuel. From Beersheba to Dan means from the southern-most point of Israel to the northern-most point. God is speaking to all Israel once again, through Samuel.

This leads me to my first reflection on what we should learn from this story. Even in the most difficult times, when peoples’ ears are tingling it is so bad –

1. God gives hope to his people. Things are really bad. The house of Eli, the chief priestly family in Israel will fade away due to their sin. But there is new hope for Israel in Samuel, the prophet.

And even when things seem bad for us as his people today, God is still working and so we can have hope as well, that God will accomplish his purposes through us.

 2. God works in the lives of children. Already, last week we saw Samuel growing in the presence of God. But here there is more.

  • God speaks to a child/young person and gives him a specific message to deliver to an adult.
  • God called him as a child/young person to serve him as a prophet and this continued on throughout his life.

We need to be attuned to what God is doing in the lives of the children and young people around us so that we can help, just as Eli helped here, to connect them to God.

A question. 3. Is God trying to talk to you? I’m not suggesting that it is something as dramatic as with Samuel here, or an audible voice and a vision. But God does seek to speak to us and his Holy Spirit lives within each one of us as believers in Jesus. Well, Eli and Samuel teach us how to listen.

  • In v. 10 Samuel said, “speak,” Lord. This is an invitation for God to speak to us. Do we ever invite God to speak, or take time to listen for what he might say? Or are we always talking at God with our needs and concerns. Invite God to speak to you.
  • In v. 10 he also says, “for your servant hears.” This indicates that you are not just willing to hear it, you are his servant and so you are willing to do what God says. It is an obedient listening that opens the door to God’s voice in our lives.

Another question. 4. Is God calling you? As we know, God calls various ones to special roles of service among the people of God. And this can happen as here, when you are a child/young person or as with Moses when you are 80 years old. For myself I was 14 years old when God called me.

What about this morning – is there anyone here who is sensing that God is calling you?

And then finally today, 5. We should be brave and do God’s will. Bravery doesn’t mean you don’t have fear. It means that you act despite your fear. And the child Samuel here is an example of bravery to us. Yes, he was afraid, but he spoke out the message anyway; all of it.

  • Even though it was a negative word of judgment.
  • Even though it was to his adoptive family.

If you want to do God’s will it’s not just about encouraging people and making them feel better. It also involves dealing with sin and brokenness in people’s lives and sometimes this is not well received.

But just as Samuel obeyed anyway, so should we when God tells us to act.

Hannah’s gift. 1 Samuel 1:21-28; 2:11a

Follow the link for The literary structure of 1 Samuel 1:21-2:11a

Last week we began the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel. We saw how she was in a difficult situation – she couldn’t have children. And so her husband Elkanah married another woman who did have children. And then this rival wife tormented Hannah over this. We heard how Hannah became so troubled and overwhelmed that she couldn’t eat. So she poured out her heart to God at the tabernacle in prayer. And that she made a vow that if God would give her a son, she would give that son back to serve God forever.

She prayed boldly and persistently until she felt that God had heard her prayer – and then she went away in faith and at peace. And sure enough, not long after, God answered her cry and gave her a son, Samuel.

Which leads us to our story today –

Hannah’s gift of Samuel to God 

21The man Elkanah and all his house went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice and to pay his vow.

There are two things here that point to Elkanah devotion. 1) He went up each year to worship at Shiloh at the tent of meeting, which seems to be a voluntary pilgrimage beyond what is required. And 2) he paid his vow. As we saw last week vows are voluntary commitments or acts of devotion to God, beyond what is required. They often had a deal quality to them – God if you do this, then I will do this.

We don’t know what this vow was about, but perhaps it was a prayer for good crops and then an extra sacrifice to God because of good crops. Deuteronomy 23:21 says of vows – “If you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin.”

The notation in our story of him paying his vow shows us that he was a person of integrity, who kept his commitments to God.

22But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the Lord and dwell there forever.”

 Immediately it is clarified that Hannah and Samuel did not go up to worship. She had vowed to give Samuel to serve God under a Nazarite vow for his whole life. (v. 22 – some versions include a phrase from other ancient manuscripts which says, “I will offer him as a Nazarite for all time.”)

And so there is the question of her delay. Now that she has the child; now that she is a new mom, will she have second thoughts? Lest anyone think that she would not come through on her commitment, the reasoning is explained. Samuel was probably around three months old at this time, and he would need to be weaned first. In her thinking, once the child was given, he could not come back and forth to their household and weaning was required for this kind of permanent separation.

23Elkanah her husband said to her, “Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him; only, may the Lord establish his word.” So the woman remained and nursed her son until she weaned him.

 Elkanah agrees that this is fine. He has already accepted her vow to give up their son, which he could have canceled according to Numbers 30:6-8, but didn’t.

It’s unclear what Elkanah means when he says, “may the Lord establish his word.” One possibility is that God may have told them that their child would be a great prophet, and so the sense is that he is praying that God will speak through him and that Samuel’s prophetic words will be established by God, or come to pass.

This matches what is said later in 1 Samuel 3:19-20 – “the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground . . . Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord.” (his words/established). And this also seems to refer to Deuteronomy 18:15-18 that speaks of God sending another prophet like Moses, whose words will come true.

In the ancient world children were weaned after 3 years or even longer.  (2 Maccabees 7:27). This is different than what we are used to, but this is the time frame we are working with.

24And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. And the child was young. 25Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli.

So when Samuel was a toddler, she took him to give him to the Lord. And as they brought him they gave a very generous offering, according to Numbers 15:8-10 and what is required for fulfilling a vow.

  • They gave a 3 year old bull, instead of a 1 year old, which was more valuable. (If the alternative reading of 3 bulls is used, the same point is made)
  • They gave an ephah of flower, about a bushel, instead of 3/10 of an ephah
  • They gave a full skin of wine, instead of a half hin of wine (which was just over half a gallon). So they gave perhaps a gallon or two.

26And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. 27For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. 28Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.”

After three or more years she has now come back to Eli and she reminds him of who she is. (“As you live” is a testimonial oath. He couldn’t see well (1 Samuel 3:2), so perhaps a testimonial oath was needed to confirm her identity). And she tells him that her prayer was indeed answered.

She even quotes Eli’s word to her from their previous encounter in 1:17, the Lord “has granted me my petition that I made to him.” Here next to her is her son Samuel.

Just as she named him Samuel because of a wordplay with the word for ask, this continues here. The word for “ask” can also mean lend. And so just as he came to her by asking God, so now she gives him to God as a loan forever.

Now let’s stop for a moment and think about Hannah’s gift to God:

  • This was a first born son and in that day this was the most valuable child
  • This was her only child
  •  And she didn’t know if she could have others, this one was the product of a miracle
  •  And he was given while still a small child, which must have been terribly difficult

This was an extraordinary gift and act of devotion to God!

And then our story ends –

 1:28And he (most likely Elkanah) worshiped the Lord there . . ..And then after Hannah’s praise to God, which we will come back to . . . in 2:11a it says, Then Elkanah (and presumably also Hannah) went home to Ramah.

Lessons for us

1. We should keep our commitments to God also . . . Just as Elkanah kept his vow, and especially just as Hannah kept her vow, so we are to keep our commitments that we make to God.

Whether we are talking about baptismal vows, marital vows or the kind of vows we see in this story, where we ask God to help us and if he does we commit to do something for God. Once again, Deuteronomy 23:21 says, “If you make a vow/commitment to the Lord your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin.” If you tell God you will do something, then you need to do it.

2. We should give generously even sacrificially to God as well . . . This shows up in the offering they brought to the tabernacle of God, which went well beyond what was required. And this certainly shows up in giving Samuel to be the Lord’s forever.

How does your giving compare to theirs?

  • Is it thoughtless and haphazard, so that we just give whatever, usually a little bit here or there. Maybe whatever might be in your wallet or purse when you show up to church? Maybe the smallest bill you have?
  • Or is it straight by the rules? You are supposed to give this much so you give that much.
  • Or is it abundant and generous, beyond what is required as an expression of love and devotion to God?

Let me end by noting that you can’t out-give God. If we look ahead in the story in 1 Samuel 2:21 we see that God gave Hannah five other children after this. Now, we don’t always get back the same thing we give, but you will never be more generous than God is. And he blesses those who give generously and sacrificially to him. Are you generous with God?

Hannah’s prayer. 1 Samuel 1:1-20

Follow the link for The literary structure of 1 Samuel 1:1-20

This morning we are starting into the story of Hannah found in 1 Samuel, and today we are in chapter 1. She is a strong and godly woman, as we will see, and we can learn much from  her.

Today we begin with –

Hannah’s prayer for a child

What I want to say is that she is an example to us of what to do when you have a really heavy burden. Do you have a heavy burden this morning? Is something weighing on your heart? Keep this in mind as we go through this story and let’s see what we can learn about how to handle these.

By way of orientation, the story centers around two places Ramathaim (Ramah), where Hannah and her husband are from and Shiloh, where the tabernacle of the Lord is at this time (Joshua 18:1). Remember this is before there was a permanent temple building in Jerusalem. These two cities were about 15 miles apart, or a journey of two days by foot with family.

Hannah’s difficult situation

1There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. 2He 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.

In v. 1 we get some background on Elkanah. (Based on the larger story of Samuel and other Scriptures [1 Chronicles 6:26-27, 33-34; Numbers 3:33] perhaps he was of Levite descent but lived in the area of the tribe of Ephraim.)

And then v. 2 gets to the heart of the issue – “he had two wives.” Polygamy was not forbidden in Israel, even though the Genesis teaching is one man and one woman. It wasn’t too common because a man had to be well off to support more than one wife.

In Hebrew it’s clearer that Hannah was the first wife. In this case Elkanah most likely married Peninnah to carry on the family lineage, since Hannah couldn’t have children. That’s why he has two wives.

If you look at the stories in the Bible that talk about polygamy, they certainly don’t glorify it. It caused problems and this is what we turn to now in our story.

3Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord.

Here we see that Elkanah is a devout man, coming to the tabernacle at Shiloh each year to worship. This appears to be a voluntary pilgrimage beyond what was required by the Law (three visits a year for men on major festivals). So this was a yearly family event, like a “family vacation,” where everyone is together in close proximity. And it caused problems. (That never happens with us, right?) 

4On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. 5But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb.

Now meat was not too common for meals in the ancient world. But when sacrifices were made some of the meat and other items were given to the family for a feast(Deuteronomy 12:17-18). And how this was divided up highlights Hannah’s predicament.  Peninnah got more for “all her sons and daughters.” But she got less.

Elkanah did give her a double portion, because he loved her, which most likely means more than Peninnah got for just herself. But it reminded Hannah that she couldn’t have children.

The phrase, “though the Lord had closed her womb” (also v. 6) doesn’t mean that if you can’t have children God is specifically causing this. God allows much to happen in this world that is not his direct or preferred will. Although God may specifically be behind this in Hannah’s life, even here it might simply mean that God has allowed this to happen.

6And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. 7So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her.

So you can see the family dysfunction – Hannah is beloved but unable to have children. Peninnah has children but is feeling slighted by Elkanah, and so she torments Hannah. A vicious circle. Peninnah is Hannah’s “rival,” an enemy who is very cruel to her. (See the language of “rival wife” in Leviticus 18:18)

Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. 8And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

This was supposed to be a festive time of celebration, but it became a yearly time of suffering for Hannah.

This certainly wouldn’t be the first time that a husband tried to console his wife, without really understanding what she was upset about. In that day it was a real social stigma for a wife to produce no children. Others looked down on her. And who would take care of her in her old age? [The mention of ten sons is possibly a reference to the story of Jacob and Rachel, where he loved her more, but Leah, his other wife, had ten sons, with help from her servant (Genesis 29:31-30:22) (Bergen).]

Hannah’s prayer

9After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.

Different translations render it differently, but it appears that the rest of the family feasted, and when the party was over Hannah, too distressed to eat or drink (v. 7, 8, 15), slipped off to the tabernacle to pray.

The condition of her soul is emphasized, “she was deeply distressed” “and wept bitterly” as she prayed.

11And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, 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, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

Vows are voluntary commitments made to God. They are acts of devotion that go beyond what God requires. They often have a deal quality to them. God if you do this, then I will do this, and you can see that here.

Her vow is that if God gives her a son, then she will give that son right back to him to serve the Lord forever. And in fact, she places the son under a Nazarite vow for his whole life – a special state of consecration to the Lord, so that he can’t cut his hair as well as other restrictions (Numbers 6:5).

Notice the awareness of her lowliness. She is “afflicted” and she calls herself a servant three times. She knows that God listens to the lowly (Psalm 138:6). And she calls on the Lord to remember her in her lowliness.

12As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth.13Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman.14And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” 15But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.”

So she is involved in some really intense silent prayer. But Eli, who is overseeing the tabernacle, mistakes what’s going on. Since alcohol was a part of such festive celebrations (e.g. Exodus 29:40, Leviticus 23:13 and in our own story 1:24) he thinks that she is drunk.

Hannah is quick to correct him, for she did not partake in the family feast. Rathershe is praying desperately to God for help. (Notice the contrast – her condition is not from pouring out wine, it is from pouring out her soul.) (Notice the irony – while she is offering up her possible son to be a Nazarite, who cannot touch wine, she is accused of being drunk.)

Hannah’s faith

17Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” 18And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.

Eli speaks out pastorally – go in peace. And he prays that God will answer her. And this is enough for her. She comes to a place of faith and trust in God and so she can put away her sadness and finally eat. She has “prayed through” as the old phrases goes. Even though her circumstances have not yet changed, she has put her burden in God’s hands and has peace and hope.

This brings us to the end of our story –

Hannah’s prayer is answered

19They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her. 20And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.”

God did indeed remember Hannah and gave her a son. She names him Samuel, which involves a word play  with the word for “ask” – which is how she got her son from the Lord.

This was a true miracle and it marked the child as special, someone from who great things will be expected. And as we know, Samuel doesn’t disappoint.

Encouragement for us

1. Hannah was in a very difficult situation . . . She wasn’t able to have children which caused others to look down on her and put her in a place of weakness socially. And on top of this her rival tormented her about this year after year. It was so bad that she wept bitterly and was deeply distressed and couldn’t eat. She felt afflicted and forgotten by God. She was troubled, anxious and vexed.

. . . what is your situation? We all go through deep waters that push us to the limit and more; where we feel forgotten and overwhelmed. What is on your heart this morning? What burden are you carrying?

2. Hannah took her problem to the Lord in prayer . . . She poured out her heart to God. She acknowledged her weakness and lowliness and dependence on God. She prayed boldly, even making a vow before God. She prayed so intensely that Eli thought she was drunk. She prayed and prayed until, through the words of Eli, she came to a place of faith and peace – that God would take care of her. She “prayed through.” She connected with God and was able to leave her burden with him and move forward in faith.

. . . we should too! Take your burden to the Lord, cast your care on him for he cares for you. Pour out your heart to God. Pray intensely. Pray boldly. And pray until you connect with God and come to a place of peace and trust, knowing that God has heard you and will take care of you.

3. God took care of Hannah . . . He did remember her, he did help her, he did save her from her situation by giving her a son. She gained a new future, full of hope and life.

. . . and God will take care of us. I can’t say how specifically. It’s not always what we think it will be. For instance, not every godly man or woman who has prayed for a child has received one. But we can say with full confidence that God will hear and act, and be faithful to us as well.

4. God brought something good out of her trial for others . . . God not only answered her prayer, but through her God acted for all of Israel by giving Samuel who will lead the people back to God and new life. It was through her difficulties and her faith that God accomplished this.

. . . God can use our trials to bless others. God can transform our suffering into something that will bless many, many people beyond us. God can bring much good out of our struggles. So don’t give up! Trust God and wait for him to act. He will not only take care of you, he will use your trials to bless others.