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1 Samuel 1-3: A Barren Woman, A Half-Blind Priest, and A Favored Son Print E-mail
1 Samuel
Sunday, 23 April 2017

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The prayer of Jesus found in John 17 has rightly been called “the most important prayer offered in the entire history of the world.”1 It is often referred to as ‘The High Priestly Prayer’ because of Jesus’ intercession on behalf of the apostles and all those who would come to believe in Him through their witness. It can be broken up into three sections: Jesus’ prayer for Himself (v. 1-5), for the apostles (v. 6-19), and for the Church (v. 20-26). Since the last section involves a specific prayer of Jesus for us, we might be tempted to skip all that comes before it. But that would be a mistake. So for the next four weeks we will be walking through these three sections (spending two weeks on the second section) and asking the Lord to teach us from this most important prayer.

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Jesus our Savior is often called the son of David in the New Testament. Matthew begins the New Testament with these words: The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Jesus is called the Son of David in Matthew by two blind men asking for mercy (20:30-31) and the crowds at His triumphal entry (21:9). Paul identifies Jesus as the Son of David in Antioch (Acts 13:23) and uses that title for Him in the introduction of his letter to the Romans (1:3). In fact, the New Testament closes with Jesus calling Himself the Son of David in Revelation 22:16, which says: ‘I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and descendant of David, the bright and morning star.’ Interesting to note that Jesus is both the root and the shoot of David. We could list other passages to see this title being used throughout the New Testament, but I want to pose this question: why call Jesus the son of David? Why identify Him as such?

In order to answer properly, we need to understand an important theme in the Old Testament, namely the promise of a future king for Israel. The people of God did not always have a king, but they were promised a king in Genesis. After the Lord rescued them from slavery in Egypt, He kept His promise and gave them the land of Canaan. But dark times followed where everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25). The author of Judges tells us that part of the reason why was this was so is because there was no king in Israel. But a king and a kingdom was coming. The books of 1 and 2 Samuel teach us about Israel’s transition from no king to having a king. As we will see, having a king is both a bad and good thing for Israel. The transition begins with Samuel, whose birth and calling we will consider this morning, to Saul, Israel’s first king who does not last very long, to David, the greatest of Israel’s kings (at least until Jesus shows up in Matthew). All of these men and all of these stories are preparing us for the coming son of David. 1 and 2 Samuel is not just the story of how Israel got a king, but it is the continuing story of God sending us the King of kings and the Lord of lords. And the story begins in 1 Samuel with a barren woman, a half-blind priest, and a favored son. We see quickly in each of their lives that God is still in control, still sovereign over all that is happening in Israel and beyond. The story of the Kingdom of Israel begins with this theological lesson. So what do we learn about God’s sovereignty in 1 Samuel 1-3?

He brings life (1:1-2:11)

The first characters introduced in the book are a man from Ephraim and his two wives. Look at verses 1-2. Elkanah was married to two women, a somewhat common occurrence in those days. Perhaps he had a second wife because his first wife had no children. Hannah was barren. Why was she barren? The text tells us. Look at verses 3-7a. Hannah had no children because the Lord had closed her womb. God was sovereign over her infertility. He gives life and He withholds life. He opens the womb and He closes the womb. Why would He do this to Hannah? One of my commentator’s answers: “God’s tendency is to make our total inability his starting point. Our hopelessness and our helplessness are no barrier to his work. Indeed our utter incapacity is often the prop he delights to use for his next act.”1 The Lord always has a plan, even in our suffering. We will see that in the text as His plan unfolds for Hannah.

The Lord’s sovereignty over our suffering does not mean that suffering is not difficult. Quite the contrary, all suffering is hard. And this is true for Hannah and her infertility. Year after year she had to put up with her rival who was constantly having children with their husband. On one of their yearly visits to Shiloh, the center of Israel’s worship at the time, Hannah has to leave the family and go cry out to God at the temple/tabernacle. Look at verses 9-11. Do not move too quickly from Hannah’s grief. It is real and it is deep. Infertility will do that to a woman. But she knows where to run and where to cry. She takes her request to the Lord of Hosts (she is the first person in the Bible to address the Lord in this way). She knows that God is the only One who can give her a son. He is the only One who can bring life. So she vows to Him that if He will answer her request she will dedicate her son to His service. And the Lord hears her prayer. The old priest Eli who has been watching her pray thinks that Hannah is drunk and he tells her to leave. But she explains the situation. Look at verses 15-18. Hannah took her troubles to the Lord and made her petitions known. When Eli understood the situation, he blessed her and sent her on her way. Hannah left a new woman, able to eat and no longer sad.

And the Lord remembered her. Verses 19-26 tell us that Hannah conceived and bore Samuel. She tells her husband about her vow and takes the boy to Eli to fulfill it. Look at verses 26-28. The Lord answered her prayer and Hannah kept her vow and gave Samuel back to the Lord, to serve the priest in Shiloh. We then read of her prayer of praise in 2:1-11. She praises God for His sovereign rule over all of life. Look at verses 6-10. Hannah recognizes that God is the giver of life. Samuel was a gift from Him. The Lord is the ruler over all and He judges faithfully. She even speaks of a future king that He will provide and give strength, which points to the future kings and ultimately to the great Son of David. Hannah’s story teaches us that God brings life. The Lord may not always answer us by giving us Samuel, but He will always give us Himself, which is really what we need in the end! Like Hannah, cast your cares upon Him.

He brings death (2:12-36)

The rest of chapter two tells us the story of Eli and his sons. It does not begin well and stands in dark contrast to Hannah’s family. Look at verse 12. Eli’s sons were trouble. They were evil. They were priests and they did not know the Lord. Hannah’s prayer has already told us what happens to such men. Look at verse 6 and verses 9-10. What were these men doing that was so terrible? They were abusing their power as priests and stealing from those who came to Shiloh to give offerings. This is summed up in verse 17. Look at that with me. Instead of taking what they were supposed to take, they were taking more and even robbing from the Lord. Not only this, but they were committing adultery. Look at verse 22. These were evil men. And even though Eli confronts them about what they are doing, they refuse to repent. Look at verses 23-25. Notice that it was God’s will to put these men to death. As Hannah prayed: The Lord kills and brings to life (v. 6). God knows what these young men are doing. He has seen their evil and given them over to their lusts. And He will bring their life to an end. An unidentified man of God comes and speaks God’s judgements on Eli and his family. He confronts Eli for honoring his sons more than he honors God since Eli did not remove them from office. The Lord tells Eli that He is going to remove his family from serving as priests and replace them with a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind (v. 35). The Lord is sovereign over this situation too. He will deal with the evil sons of Eli and He will provide a priest for His people, which ultimately will be fulfilled by the Son of David who will be our Great High Priest. God brings life and He also brings death and judgement. 

He brings purpose, or He brings forth His plan (3:1-21)

The writer continues the contrast of Hannah’s family and Eli’s family throughout the first three chapters. As he is telling us about the wickedness of Hophni and Phineas, he keeps including little snippets about Samuel. Look at 2:18-21. The Lord blesses Samuel and blesses his parents, who go on to have five more children. Look at verse 26. He was growing in favor with the Lord and with man, a description that is used of the Son of David in Luke 2:52. The Lord is working out His plans in the life of Samuel. He is raising him up to be the prophet in Israel who will eventually anoint David as King. The plan to send the Son of David to save us continues to move forward in the life of Samuel. 

The calling of Samuel is recorded in chapter 3. The author notes that the word of the Lord was rare in those days (v. 1), which is then illustrated by Eli and Samuel’s confusion. God speaks to Samuel at night and he thinks it is Eli calling him. This happens to Samuel three times because Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the world of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him (v. 7). When Samuel does listen to the word of the Lord, it is another harsh judgement against the household of Eli. Although Samuel is reluctant to share it with the old priest, he does so, and the priest responds with acceptance. Look at verse 18. The Lord continues to use Samuel and bless him. Look at verses 19-21. God has a plan for Samuel and He is bringing that plan to pass.

The Lord brings life. He gives Hannah a child and then blesses her with five more. The Lord brings death. Eli’s sons are judged for their repeated and blatant disobedience. And the Lord brings purpose and fulfills His plans. He is raising up Samuel to be the prophet in Israel who will eventually establish the kingdom. In all of this, our Lord is bringing about His purposes. He is preparing Israel, and the world, for the coming Savior. He is crowning Great David as King so that He can send his Greater Son. The kings of Israel are preparing us for King of kings. The kingdom of Israel is preparing us for the Kingdom of God. So what then is our responsibility in light of God’s great plan of redemption. We must believe in the Son of David. Paul calls Him our Savior and goes on to say: ‘Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you…(Acts 13:38). Jesus, the Son of David, paid for our sins at the cross and was raised again from the dead by the Father. He is the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption. So turn from your sins and believe in Him today. Then go to your friends and family and tell them about the great Son of David who can save their soul! Amen.

1 Dale Ralph Davis, 1 Samuel FOTB (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2014), p. 16.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Friday, 05 May 2017 )

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