1 SAMUEL 1, 2 and 3
It is hard to describe, to those who haven’t suffered, it the pain that infertility brings. Most people would assume that to have lost a loved one is the worst thing of all, but for a woman – and a man – who are not able to have that loved one in the first place, that pain is equal to the pain of loss. In some ways, it can be even worse, since time is the enemy, and so the passage of time is the thing to be feared. At least, for those suffering the loss of a loved one, time is on their side!
Hannah, in 1 Samuel, chapter 1, would understand, though. Her suffering was doubly sharp, since she was a rival wife in a polygamous marriage, and her rival was having babies aplenty. And if that wasn’t bad enough, her rival felt the need to make an issue of the absence of babies for Hannah and to mock her for being infertile. The annual pilgrimage to the House of God for the Feast of Tabernacles (probably) was a particularly difficult time: a joyous family occasion, with parents and children seated in the Lord’s presence and eating some of the offerings that they had dedicated to him. Deeply sorrowful, Hannah prays to the Lord and makes a commitment that the first child that the Lord gives her will become a Nazirite for life and will be given entirely to the Lord to serve him. (We today sometimes make these vows symbolically, but every word of Hannah’s prayer was meant literally.) Eli as priest of the Lord accepted that prayer on God’s behalf and spoke a response of God’s acceptance over her.
The wonderful words then describe the answer to her prayer: “The Lord remembered her”; how sweet it is when God acts on our behalf in answer to our prayers! She became pregnant, gave birth to a baby boy, and named him Samuel – “Heard by God”. The Lord had proved himself faithful to her and so she proved faithful to him and to her promise. After three years the child was regarded as fully weaned and ready to be given to God to serve in God’s presence. The final verse of chapter one, spoken by Samuel’s mother, is poignant and powerful: “So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord”. What an example to Christian parents! The reality is that God doesn’t give us our children – he lends us His. It is our greatest calling to foster the Lord’s children and to train them up to serve him effectively. Hannah is our mentor in this respect; if we hold our children back from serving the Lord, it will harm both them and us!
Hannah’s prayer in chapter 2 is a striking resemblance to Mary’s prayer in Luke chapter 1 – and probably the former inspired the latter. Just as, for Mary, the sword of separation would pierce her soul (Luke 2:35); similarly for Hannah, there was the annual pain of seeing her boy only once a year and then having to say ‘goodbye’ again. But God honoured her sacrifice by giving her three more sons and two daughters, and her firstborn son grew tall and strong and found favour with God and with the people of Israel. Again, this verse (2:26) rings with the same description of Jesus in Luke 2:52. Samuel is in many ways a foreshadowing of the life of the greatest Firstborn of all!
Eli’s sons were wicked, deceitful bullies; they stole from those bringing offerings to the Lord and coerced sex from the women servants from the tent of meeting. Eli had been warned by God many times but failed to restrain them. In God’s eyes this dereliction of parental duty was as bad as the actions of the sons themselves. Judgment was coming down upon the House of Eli for all these things.
In chapter 3, we see Samuel lying down sleeping peacefully in the house of the Lord, in the presence of the Ark, and of God himself. It was now time for Samuel to experience the voice of the Lord, which he started to do that night; from then on, God was “heard by Samuel” every day of his life. The prophecy that he gave Samuel on that first night was delivered verbatim to Eli, who knew that he had a great prophet in front of him. It is interesting and significant that God seems to reveal himself to different people in different ways; in Samuel’s case, he revealed himself though his Word. This is likely to be true of many of us today, too; and as we daily read and meditate on the written word of God, we ‘tune in’ our spiritual ears to hear the rhema word spoken to us and through us. And as we hand over our lives, and the pieces of our lives, in surrender to the Lord, he will certainly use us in powerful and effective ways that glorify him.