Not Just Another Sunday School Lesson: A Sermon on 1 Samuel 1-2

We started the service by reading Hannah’s Prayer

 Then Hannah prayed and said:

“My heart rejoices in the Lord;
in the Lord my horn is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies,
for I delight in your deliverance.

“There is no one holy like the Lord;
there is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.
“Do not keep talking so proudly
or let your mouth speak such arrogance,
for the Lord is a God who knows,
and by him deeds are weighed.

“The bows of the warriors are broken,
but those who stumbled are armed with strength.
Those who were full hire themselves out for food,
but those who were hungry are hungry no more.

She who was barren has borne seven children,
but she who has had many sons pines away.

“The Lord brings death and makes alive;
he brings down to the grave and raises up.
The Lord sends poverty and wealth;
he humbles and he exalts.

He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes
and has them inherit a throne of honor.

“For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s;
on them he has set the world.
He will guard the feet of his faithful servants,
but the wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness.

“It is not by strength that one prevails;
those who oppose the Lord will be broken.
The Most High will thunder from heaven;
the Lord will judge the ends of the earth.

“He will give strength to his king
and exalt the horn of his anointed.”

This is the beginning of a fun long series in 1 and 2 Samuel. There is a good chance that we will be in 1 Samuel until the summer. So we could go for quite a while if we find that we are having fun in it. Really it is just one long book and it only got split it up because scrolls couldn’t be that long, so it wouldn’t make too much sense just to end the story there. Many people know this book as the book all about David. So just in case you weren’t sure what we were diving into. It’s not just about Samuel, but about Israel’s first King’s and how it all came to be. David is said to be one of the most described and intricate characters of all ancient literature. So we have a lot to dive into.

This series is also going to be split up and taught by numerous different voices. Each voice will bring their own perspective, style and lens into the story which will give us a broad glimpse into the lives of the characters we are reading. It’s important that you come here having read the few chapters that we are getting into and offer in your own perspective. Reading historical narratives like we find in Samuel is a wonderful experience as we start to see how much irony and metaphor is tied into the words of each story. We are going to miss so much as we go through it because there is a lot of back story we don’t know, a lot of the subtleness is missing in the English language that just makes us skip over how brilliant all this really comes together. We’ll try to tie it all together as we go through it but in just reading through a bit in the first few chapters the hints are dense and everything refers to something else. But first, let’s explore a bit why we are in Samuel even at all?

Q: Why do we read the Old Testament? What are we looking for?

It is easy to say it’s great that David killed Goliath, but how does that work out practically for us? My kids are failing at school and I don’t know what Hannah praying for a new child has to do with me. So it’s imperative that we look at these stories not from the point of view of what can I pull out of this to learn in my situation. Or that these are just illustrations of how we are supposed to live or not live our lives. We aren’t supposed to just pull out these stories and insert them into our own stories and absorb the Bible into our lives.

Rather, we should allow the Bible to pull us into itself as we make that story our story. That we take on the reality of what we are reading and enter into the story. Do you see the difference? As George Lindbeck says that “it is the text, so to speak, which absorbs the world, rather than the world the text.” So as we read this together let’s keep this in mind that we aren’t just trying to extract little tidbits of knowledge so that we can apply them to our lives and current situations (even though that might happen). What we are doing is trying to submerge ourselves into the text so that this story becomes our story and that we can live faithfully by this story. We learn to interpret our lives through what we read rather than to interpret what we read by our lives. So with that, let’s start reading!

Samuel was written from a unique point of view. This massive story is written as a response to the crisis of the life of Israel after their destruction.

“In 586 BCE, the Babylonian army invaded Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and deported a significant number of people. The trauma of this event resulted in new literary creation. It was during this time of exile–as a religious and cultural minority who were captives in a foreign land–that the nation seriously reflected on their faith, in the crisis of Jerusalem’s colapse. What do they believe? What went wrong? If they ever get a chance to return to their land, how should they live?”
-Keith Bodner

Samuel is actually part of a story that starts with it’s conquest of it’s promise land all the way until the end of 2 Kings when it all collapses at the hand of the Babylonians. Everything begins with a sermon by Moses in Deuteronomy that basically says “listen, if you love God and obey him then you will experience healthy blessing in the land but if you key disobeying, they will experience cursing. Expulsion from their land is the ultimate curse. But let’s set us up to get into Samuel so that we know what’s going on by the time we get there.

This piece of history starts in Joshua that opens up with Moses death and a speech from God who rallies this new leader named Joshua and the entire book is about conquest centered around what God has said and then starts to hand out land to all the different tribes and they start to settle. Joshua ends with a speech from Joshua to stay faithful and never give up.

We then move into Judges after Joshua has died and it’s here where we start to see how unstable Israel’s faith is. The entire book is a cycle of backsliding, serving other gods, being enslaved by other nations and at the very end they cry out to God and God rescues them. The book builds from one judge to another and has some of the most horrific and violent stories of the entire Bible. By the end of Judges Israel has gone off the deep end with idolatry and civil wars and there is slight hints that there might be a king coming. So Judges ends with Israel doing the exact opposite of what Joshua encouraged them to do and it’s pretty much a free for all. This is how Judges ends.

So that is what the Benjamites did. While the young women were dancing, each man caught one and carried her off to be his wife. Then they returned to their inheritance and rebuilt the towns and settled in them. At that time the Israelites left that place and went home to their tribes and clans, each to his own inheritance. In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

Chris actually did his thesis on Judges and the progression of Israel in becoming like all the other nations. He notes that as Judges progresses even the author of Judges to illustrate the decline of Israel starts to name people less and start using pronouns instead, just like they would do for other nations. The nation loses it’s identity the names that are mentioned become sparse. The overall impression you get is that Israel was not obedient and they did whatever they want and they looked like everyone else around them. So this is where we enter today as we jump into Israel and it’s important to remember the context of where Israel is as a nation at this point as we start to read. I think it’s important to read it all, so let’s jump into the story and see where we end up.

The Birth of Samuel
1 There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanahson of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 2 He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.

Right of the start we start to get a feel of what it is like reading ancient literature of Israel. This line should instantly start to bring to mind other stories of a similar start. This is what we call a type-scene. It’s a situation that we’ll see over and over again that the narrator uses to help allude to specific purposes. Other type-scenes that we might be familiar with is people meeting at a well – the Bible is full of stories where this happens. So in this case we have the type scene of a report of a wife’s barrenness (think Abraham and Sarah). Which almost in itself should help us see something big is coming.

3 Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. 4 Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. 5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. 6 Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. 7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat.

“The themes of barrenness and the rivalry between wives is known from the earlier biblical stories of Sarah and Hagar, and Rachel and Leah, where these mothers and their sons also represent the relationships between tribes and people.” Birch

8 Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”
9 Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on his chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s house. 10 In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. 11 And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”

What’s important to note here is when Hannah makes this promise she is referring to a Nazarite and is basically saying that what her son would become would become. A Nazarite was one who would not get a haircut and also not drink wine. Think the story of Samson. The other piece to see here is that Eli is sitting on his chair. The Hebrew word here could also be ‘throne’ and could be alluding to the leader of all of Israel, which is probably what is happening since at this point Israel’s leader would still be a priest.

12 As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard.

Something I want you to take notice of. Eli can see here but there is nothing to hear. Eli seeing is a recurring theme as we move along.

Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”

This is actually one of my favourite parts of Samuel because of how much is going on that I never saw before.

“Israel was barren because Israel was unfaithful, and particularly because her leaders were unfaithful. 1 Samuel opens in the period of the judges, a period marked by repeated apostasy. Apparently, prayer at the Shiloh sanctuary was so rare that Eli could not recognize it when he saw it. Eli’s inability to identify what Hannah was doing, however, points to the apostasy of the priests and Levites during this period. The book of Judges comes to a climax with stories about corrupt Levites, and 1 Samuel fills out that portrait…a priest incapable of distinguishing prayer from drunkenness was hardly a suitable gatekeeper at Yahweh’s house of prayer.”
-Robert Alter

So picture this. Israel is so far gone from what God hoped for for them that even their ruler at the time, the man who sits on the throne, thinks that by what he is seeing that she is drunk. Not only that, we have Hannah who is praying for a son that is promising that this son will never drink wine! Think about the irony in what is happening here. The leader of God’s nation is confused when he sees someone praying (doing what everyone should be doing) and calls her drunk while she is praying for a son that will never drink.

15 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. 16 Do not take your servant for a daughter of Belial; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”
17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

Keep in mind here that Eli didn’t hear any words, so he has no idea what she asked for but looks to grant what she asks for anyway. The other interesting part here that we should keep in mind is this word ‘asked.’ Now this is next to impossible to follow because we are all reading the English. In Hebrew though, the subtle hints are quite loud. This word ‘asked’ is the Hebrew word sha’al and is also is the name of someone that we are going to meat in the future. This word that means to ask is the same word for the name of Israel’s first King who we will meet later – Saul. It’s the same word. This is the first time that we start to see allusions for what is to come. Just as Hannah is asking for a son, Israel will soon be asking for a King.

This phrase that Hannah uses, ‘daughter of Belial’ is one of the worst descriptions you could receive in the Bible that is connected to the criminal and the underworld. It is something to keep in mind, that Eli shouldn’t be confusing her with one.

18 She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.
19 Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah.Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 20 So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel,[b] saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.”

Notice the word ‘asked’ again.

21 When her husband Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the Lord and to fulfill his vow,22 Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, “After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before theLord, and he will live there always.”[c]
23 “Do what seems best to you,” her husband Elkanah told her. “Stay here until you have weaned him; only may theLord make good his[d] word.” So the woman stayed at home and nursed her son until she had weaned him.
24 After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull,[e] an ephah[f] of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. 25 When the bull had been sacrificed, they brought the boy to Eli, 26 and she said to him, “Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord. 27 I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. 28 So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there.

The next ten verses is Hannah’s beautiful poem/song that we will skip over but you should be sure to read on your own. The poem is full of themes and ideas about reversal of fate and transformation. The weak becoming strong, the barren having children and fortunes being reversed. There is a lot of parallels between her life and the life of Israel. Israel is without a king, Hannah was without a child. But destiny reversed. The birth of this son represents also the birth of a king – that is coming.

11 Then Elkanah went home to Ramah, but the boy ministered before the Lord under Eli the priest.

12 Eli’s sons were sons of Belial; they did not know the LORD.

How ironic is it that Eli accused Hannah of being a daughter of Belial when she was actually praying and now we find out that Eli’s sons are actually sons of Belial! Also something interesting is that one of the line’s in Hannah’s song we skipped over is that the LORD is the God of knowledge and here we find out that Eli’s sons do not know the LORD.

13 Now it was the practice of the priests that, whenever any of the people offered a sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand while the meat was being boiled 14 and would plunge the fork into the pan or kettle or caldron or pot. Whatever the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is how they treated all the Israelites who came to Shiloh. 15 But even before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the person who was sacrificing, “Give the priest some meat to roast; he won’t accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.”
16 If the person said to him, “Let the fat be burned first, and then take whatever you want,” the servant would answer, “No, hand it over now; if you don’t, I’ll take it by force.”
17 This sin of the young men was very great before the LORD, for they were treating the Lord’s offering with contempt.
18 But Samuel was ministering before the Lord-a boy wearing a linen ephod. 19 Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.

The author here is contrasting two different worlds here. I highlighted just a little bit so you can see the connection that they are making. So we need to see that these are two opposing camps. There is Eli’s sons who are doing evil things and there is Samuel who is doing good things. We are meant to see the connection and contrast the two.

20 Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, “May the Lord give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to[c] the Lord.” Then they would go home. 21 And the Lord was gracious to Hannah; she gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.
22 Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 23 So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. 24 No, my sons; the report I hear spreading among the Lord’s people is not good. 25 If one person sins against another, God[d] may mediate for the offender; but if anyone sins against the Lord, who will intercede for them?” His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the Lord’s will to put them to death.
26 And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with people.

Now we see the contrast of the parents and their role in the kids. Again the narrator is helping us see the connections between the rise of Samuel and the fall of the house of Eli. There is some crazy irony that while Eli is giving a blessing for Hannah’s faithfulness all the while his own household is falling under a curse for its lack of faithfulness.

27 Now a man of God came to Eli and said to him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Did I not clearly reveal myself to your ancestor’s family when they were in Egypt under Pharaoh? 28 I chose your ancestor out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod in my presence. I also gave your ancestor’s family all the food offerings presented by the Israelites. 29 Why do you[e] scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling? Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?’

30 “Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that members of your family would minister before me forever.’ But now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me! Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained. 31 The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of your priestly house, so that no one in it will reach old age, 32 and you will see distress in my dwelling. Although good will be done to Israel, no one in your family line will ever reach old age. 33 Every one of you that I do not cut off from serving at my altar I will spare only to destroy your sight and sap your strength, and all your descendants will die in the prime of life.

34 “‘And what happens to your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, will be a sign to you-they will both die on the same day. 35 I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his priestly house, and they will minister before my anointed one always. 36 Then everyone left in your family line will come and bow down before him for a piece of silver and a loaf of bread and plead, “Appoint me to some priestly office so I can have food to eat.”‘”

This is one of the first times where a messenger comes from God (like a prophet) and confronts the corruption and in a lot of ways this alludes to how this will happen between a prophet and soon to be a king and points to the relationship between them.

Q: After spending time in a few chapters, are we going to be able to allow this story to absorb us into it? How will we resist the temptation to make this about practical application to our lives? Does it feel like a pointless story if we can’t somehow make practical application?

I doubt most people will preach in this style and read through the entire chapters but I thought it was necessary for the first week just to hint at the layers of depth that is going on in this story. I didn’t even get into all the wordplays that is going on all throughout the Hebrew of this writing. There is going to be lots of different things that we will miss all throughout. The way that Hebrew uses language is unique, the use of analogy, the references to past characters to represent new ones and foreshadow their fate. It’s all tied together. The Hebrew scriptures are the most intricate and beautiful literature in existence.

There is a beauty to these stories that I hope we can uncover as we begin to unpack the layers upon layers of what has been going on with God’s people throughout history. If all we are doing is trying to pull out a lesson like ‘be faithful like Hannah was faithful and God will reward you’ then I think we will miss the demand of what this story needs. These stories are our foundation of understanding who we are and where we came from. The more we understand these stories the better informed we become of what it means to be the people of God today. Not because there is little lessons packed away in each verse but because it’s our history and we can’t know our future unless we know our past.

So with that I will leave it this morning and we’ll move into mealtime and Eucharist as we together remember why we are here and who we are.

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