The book of Judges ends with these words:
“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)
When we read through the book of Judges we see that it is a terrible and wicked time in Israel. Evil is everywhere and no one is doing what God says. Violence, rape, murder, and the like are going on throughout these dark times. During this time God would raise up a judge when the people would cry out to God for help. The judge was a local military leader who would push back the invading army. But this was not a long term solution for the nation. You will notice that the long term solution is also described in this last sentence of the book. “There was no king in Israel.” This is also stated in Judges 17:6, 18:1, and 19:1. The picture that is overhanging the book of Judges as we move into 1 Samuel is that we need a king in Israel to turn the tide from everyone doing what is right in their eyes. It is with this backdrop of the wickedness of these days of judges that the book of 1 Samuel opens.
Before we begin let me bring in another important lens to our study. As with the books of Exodus through Joshua, this book is not merely a historical narrative. This continues to be God’s picture book of redemption. We are going to see pictures and shadows of how God is going to save the world. There are two overhanging questions as we come into this book knowing that it is the wicked days of the judges. First, how is God going to save the world through the offspring of Abraham when the offspring of Abraham is a sinful disaster that does not follow God? Second, since the people are doing right in their own eyes, how will God provide rescue? The first shadow that is cast over this book is the repetition given four times toward the close of the book of Judges: there was no king in Israel.
A Barren Situation (1:1-8)
The book opens telling us about a man named Elkanah who lives in Ephraim, but according to 1 Chronicles 6:33-38 is a Levite. He is not a priest. In verse 2 we are told that he has two wives. The bells should be ringing in our minds that when you read about someone who has more than one wife, there are going to be problems. There is trouble in this home life. The name of the two wives are Peninnah and Hannah. Hannah is the one Elkanah loves, but Hannah has no children because God closed her womb (1:2, 5). This sounds like Jacob who loved Rachel, but Rachel could not bear children. This barrenness sets two pictures for our scene. First, this barren condition connects Hannah to Sarah who was barren and then bore Isaac. The barrenness connects Hannah to Rebekah who was barren and then had Jacob and Esau. She is connected to Rachel was barren and then bore Joseph. This also connects us to Samson who was born of a barren woman. In New Testament thinking, she will connect to Elizabeth being barren and then having John the Baptizer. So Hannah is in a hopeless situation. But we are anticipating a reversal of this hopelessness because of what we have seen with Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel. The second picture is that this barrenness represents the nation. The nation is in a hopeless situation but there is an anticipation of a reversal that God can bring.
These connections become stronger in verses 6-7 where we see Peninnah is provoking Hannah because she does not have a child. This is like Hagar provoking Sarah and Leah provoking Rachel. So Peninnah is grievously provoking her and it would become so bad that Hannah would not even eat. Elkanah tried to comfort her (1:8) but this did not alleviate her distress.
Seeking the Lord (1:9-18)
This time when the they went up to the tabernacle for offerings and worship, Hannah in her deep distress and crying, prayed to the Lord (1:10). In her prayer she made a vow to the Lord. If you will give me a son, then I will devote him to the Lord all the days of his life. This vow makes another connection to Samson, a deliverer for Israel, who was not to have any razor touch his head. So as she prays, Eli the priest is seated at the doorpost of the tabernacle and sees Hannah’s mouth moving. Eli criticizes Hannah as making a drunken spectacle of herself. Eli is pictured as spiritually insensitive, which will be further confirmed over the next few chapters. Hannah is not drunk but she is pouring out her soul before the Lord (1:15). She is not to be looked upon as a “worthless woman” (1:16), but she is speaking to the Lord out of her pain.
Eli then blesses Hannah. Look at verse 18. Hannah’s disposition changed and she went and ate. What changed Hannah’s disposition? What moved her from sadness? Did she receive a promise to have a son? No, she did not. Did God answer her prayer at this point? No. What changed her disposition is that she prayed to the Lord. She gave her anxiety and pain to the Lord. She gave her concerns to the Lord. We have a song in our books that reflect this idea where the chorus asks, “Where could I go but to the Lord?” Hannah understood this. Her hope is in God and her prayer changes how she will approach her day.
Hope In The Lord (1:19-2:11)
Some time passes by and Hannah bears a son. She names him Samuel because she asked the Lord for him. Once she had weaned, Hannah brought Samuel to the tabernacle to present him to the Lord, just as she had vowed. As long as Samuel lives, he is given to the Lord (1:28). Chapter 2 records the prayer of Hannah. This prayer serves like a table of contents for the books of 1 and 2 Samuel. In this poetic prayer, Hannah pictures herself as victorious in the Lord. She declares joy in the Lord (2:1). She declares that there is no one who is holy like the Lord (2:2) She also speaks about God bringing a reversal with the birth of the child (2:4-5). The full will be hungry for bread and the hungry will no longer be hungry. The barren will have children and those who have children will languish. The Lord brings down and raises up. The Lord makes the poor rich and the rich poor. The low God exalts and lifts the needy from the ash heap (2:6-8). What we are seeing is that Hannah does not speak of her own reversal, but a hope in the character of God to bring about a great reversal for Israel and for the world.
She continues in verse 9 with noting how God cares for his faithful ones but cuts off the wicked into the darkness. The adversaries of the Lord will be broken in pieces (2:10). The Lord will thunder against them and will judge the ends of the earth. The Lord is the one who will intervene in the storm as he defeats the enemies of his people. But then she says something truly amazing in the rest of verse 10. “He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.” Hannah anticipates a time when the Lord will raise up a king for Israel.
The book sets up a picture that great things are about to happen. The hope that Israel is looking for will arrive and reverse their current condition. A godly woman named Hannah sets in motion the great work that God will do for his people and for the world. So what are some applications we learn about God and how we are to come to him?
First, we have to be brought low so that we will hope in God. I want us to observe the text in 1 Samuel 1:6. Why was Hannah unable to have a child? The text clearly says that the Lord had closed her womb. God brings Hannah low and allows her to experience torment from her rival so that she can receive a rightful exaltation for her faithful to the Lord. Who among God’s people did not experience difficulties and go through life’s valleys? All of them did. In the books of 1 & 2 Samuel we will see God lead these people through tough times so that they will receive exaltation in due time, if they have the right response to their difficulties and trust in the Lord. God helps those who realize that they cannot help themselves. God helps those who simply turn and trust in the Lord. The apostle Paul spoke of his own understanding for the need to be brought low for God’s glory.
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7–10 ESV)
Consider what the apostle Paul is saying. Paul is saying that he needed to be brought low. Paul needed a thorn in his life. God tells Paul that the point of this thorn, making Paul be low, is so that the power of God can be perfected in his weakness. We can be content in our weaknesses, anxieties, and difficulties because we know that God can make us strong through them. Hannah is brought low so that she will hope in God. Paul is brought low so that he will hope in God and be content in him.
Second, prayer is the means for our hope. Prayer is what we need when we are in those valleys of life. Prayer is what we need. Hannah prayed through her torment. Paul prayed through his thorn in the flesh. In both of these cases as well as other places in the scriptures, prayer is what changes us. Hannah did not erase her sadness when she had a child. Hannah’s sadness disappeared when she turned to the Lord in prayer. Prayer is what not only can change our disposition but can change our lives. Pain drove Hannah to prayer. Pain drove Hannah to the house of the Lord. We must consider where do we go in our difficulty and pain. There is a temptation to turn to so many other things but to God. When life is hard, what do you grab? What do you go to? What is your first response? God wants prayer to him to be the first thing we grab. We ask God for help while we walk through our pain. Hannah did and experienced what the apostle Paul would say later. Listen to what Paul told the Christians in Philippi.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6–7 NIV)
Finally, God can reverse our situation. It is amazing to watch how often God reverses situations. Throughout the scriptures, God takes difficulties and reverses them. Abraham has no children and is too old to have children. But God will reverse his condition so that he will have multitudes of children. David will run for his life but God will reverse it and make him king. Jesus is crucified but God reverses it and raises him from the dead. God can reverse our situation. But we have to go through the hardship to watch God reverse it. Think about your own life. Look back at your own difficulties and pain. Think about how it looked like all hope was lost and nothing could be salvaged. Now consider how often God has reversed that situation. Think about how many times God has turned the darkness to light and exalted those who could not get off the ground.
But we cannot allow our thinking to lock into selfish thinking. Notice in Hannah’s prayer and in her vow that this is not strictly about her. She does not just say, “Give me a son.” She says she wants a son to give to the Lord, to put in God’s service. Hannah does not pray thanksgiving for her own life reversal, but prays that the reversal will be for all peoples in all the earth as God will judge the earth and give strength to his king. Hannah’s prayer emphasizes God’s purposes in the world, not just herself. So we cannot be self-consumed in our difficulties but realize that this is all about God. Our life reversal needs to be to praise of God’s glory.
Hannah pictures the great reversal that God would accomplish for the whole world. Hannah represents Elizabeth and Mary in the New Testament. What is amazing is that Hannah’s prayer mirrors Mary’s prayer in Luke 1:46-55! When Mary learns that she is going to have a child who is the Son of God and that barren Elizabeth is going to have a child that leaps for joy when he heard Mary’s voice, Mary also sings a prayer about how God reverses the condition of the lowly. Hannah’s birth of Samuel and what Samuel will do is foreshadowing Mary and the birth of Jesus and what Jesus will do for the world. The book of 1 Samuel is a book of reversals. The whole of scriptures is a book of reversals.
When life is hard, we can often ask: Does God care? Does God care about us? Did God care about Hannah? God cared about Hannah because we see that he brought her low so that he changed her, elevated her, and reversed her condition for his glory. God cares for you too. He has brought you low so that you will depend on him, who in due time will elevate you and reverse your condition. Paul says that he will rejoice in his weaknesses because he is being made strong by God in this process. Take your difficulties to the Lord in prayer knowing that we need to be made low and that God can reverse your condition. Jesus said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).