1 Samuel 2:1-10

Jimmy Jo1 & 2 Samuel, SermonsLeave a Comment

Today we are beginning a study of 1 and 2 Samuel.  And as I often like to do when we begin a new book, I’d like to spend this first Sunday covering some introductory matters that I hope will help as we work through the text. 

Firstly, though our bible divides 1 and Samuel into two books, it’s generally accepted that they are intended to be one, unified and coherent text.  The reason that we have a 1st and 2nd Samuel is likely that, when they were originally written or compiled, the amount of text required that they be written on two separate scrolls – not that we have those scrolls, but the tradition carried over.  However, though 1 and 2 Samuel are recognized as a single “book,” it is also recognized that there is a logical organization in the division.  While we will not dwell on these issues, it may be interesting or worth noting for some of us. 

But the main reason for noting this is that 1 and 2 Samuel present us with a coherent, unified history (which likely includes 1 and 2 Kings, as well).  This is distinct from, for example, 1, 2, and 3 John (or other books in the New Testament), where the main unifying factor is the author.  So all that to say that 1 and 2 Samuel present us with a history – a history of Israel.  

Specifically, they present us with a history of Israel following the time of the Judges and through the rule of King David, who is regarded as the greatest king in Israel’s history. 

Now when we read or study history, one of the things that we keep in mind is that there is no neutral history.  That is, when we read history (or hear about, or are presented with a history), it is impossible to read about every single thing that happened to every single person that, for example, led to a particular outcome.  All history (that we have) is selective history.  Therefore, when we read a history of Canada, we read the specific events, people, and contexts that the particular historian feels are important.  And we read about those specific events, people, and contexts through the particular lens, with the particular presuppositions and biases of the particular historian (although a good historian will, at the very least, make such things plain).  Now I don’t want to go on about that – though it is an important point – because we could go on and on about that. 

So if what we’re reading is history, what are the presuppositions, biases, and the goals of this particular piece of history?  Or to put it another – and much more helpful – way, what is it that God is trying to say to his people through this? 

Now I should add another proviso here in that we’re going through this – for better or for worse – through my own particular biases as well.  So whatever intentions the historian may have had, you unfortunately, will have that filtered through my own intentions and limitations.  But in all of that, we trust that this is first and finally the word of God, and that the Holy Spirit will work his purposes in us through His word. 

So back to presuppositions et. al. 

The first thing that we have to remember is that this (1 and 2 Samuel) is not a self-contained history – it’s part of a larger story.  One of the things we’ve emphasized as we’ve been studying (especially) the Old Testament is the narrative, or story, of God’s redemptive purposes.  That is, from Genesis to Samuel, we’ve seen the story of how God created a good world which fell into sin, but that God’s intention is to restore that creation and to save His people from their sin.  So, within that context, some of the themes that we’ve seen in the story so far are as follows: 

Creating a people – a people blessed to be a blessing

In Genesis 12, we read of God’s call to Abram: 

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 12:1-3

And with those words, we hear of God’s intention to redeem creation through a chosen people – a people who are blessed in order to be a blessing to the whole world. 

The Covenant Law – A people set apart

The next major event occurs in the life of Moses.  We know that Abraham’s children wound up in Egypt, delivering them from famine, but ultimately falling into slavery at the hands of the Egyptians.  God delivers them from this slavery through Moses, who leads them out of Egypt into the wilderness.  And at the foot of Sinai, God gives Israel the Law. 

In Exodus 19, we read: 

Ex. 19: 3 Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

Exodus 19:3-6

So again, God announces His intention to create a special people, a particular people – a holy nation that is different from all the nations in the earth.  The covenant Law is a crucial element in this process.  But in order to be a people, a nation, this people also needs to occupy land. 

And we know that, in Moses’ time, because of their rebelliousness, Israel wound up wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.  But we also know that eventually, God led Israel into the promised land of Canaan – the land that would be their promised inheritance.  We read about this process in the book of Joshua.  And through the various ups and downs – military successes alongside Israel’s repeated sinfulness – they eventually came to occupy the land that was promised.  And we read at the end of Joshua, his warning and encouragement to the people of Israel: 

The Possessing of the Land

Jos. 24:14 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua 24:14-15

All of these events, among others, are important to keep in mind in order to understand the setting of Samuel.  And this because so much of Samuel has to do with the establishment of the kingship.  The creation or selection of a people, the giving of the Law, and the taking of the Land are all key elements of God’s plan for the redemption of creation. 

Alongside these events, one of the things that we’ve seen throughout the history of Israel is the tendency for the people to reject or forget God, to go their own way, and to desire to be like all the other nations of the world.  Over and over again, the people of Israel rejected the sovereignty and rule of God and desired to be gods for themselves.  They constantly sought to decide for themselves what was right and what was wrong.  We saw a lot of this in the book of Judges, but it is prevalent throughout the entire history of Israel. 

However, and this is the final theme we’re going to look at (but certainly not the final theme that we could look at), in spite of Israel’s repeated and insistent rebellion, God remains faithful to fulfill His promise to His people.  God remains faithful to His own purpose for redemption.  God continues to forgive Israel, continues to love Israel, and continues to work out salvation through Israel. 

All of this sets the stage for the opening chapters of the book of 1 Samuel.  We won’t spend a lot of time on this today, but what we see in 1 Samuel (at least) is that there are several distinct literary units.  That is, in ch. 1- 7 we get the stories specifically regarding Samuel, which includes the telling of the priest Eli and his sons (which serve as a foil to Samuel), and the “rise” of Samuel to priest and prophet in Israel.   Within this section, in ch. 4-6, we get the story regarding the ark of the covenant – it’s capture by and subsequent recovery from the Philistines.  Chapters 8 -15 Introduce the kingship of Saul.  And ch. 16-31 introduce David and his rise to power (and the consequent downfall of Saul).  In 2 Samuel, we get the stories focussing on David’s rule (and the eventual decline of his household) – but we’ll get to that later. 

Now that’s a lot of information covered very quickly.  Over the next probably several months, what I’d like to do as we read through 1 Samuel is to focus on the person of David.  And in particular, I want to focus on how we scripture reveals David as “a man after God’s own heart.”  This is important because, as we’ve discussed elsewhere, the character of Israel’s king reflects or projects onto the heart of the nation.  That is, if the reign of David is considered the “golden years of Israel,” this can largely be attributed to the faithfulness of the king.  But of course, we need to understand and put this in context.  And an important part of this context for us as we read through 1 Samuel is that, ultimately, this is God’s story.  This is the story of God’s work in human history.  It’s the story of what God is doing in and through His people for the sake of His creation. 

So to begin our look at the book of Samuel, I want to take a brief look at 1 Samuel 2:1-10.  It says: 

1 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;
10     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.”

1 Samuel 2:1-10

Now this passage may be significant because almost the entire book of Samuel (1 and 2 Samuel) is prose or narrative.  However, this hymn at the beginning of 1 Samuel may mirror one other hymn at the end of 2 Samuel by David (2 Samuel 22).  Therefore, they may form a kind of bracketing.  We won’t go delve into this structural feature any more than that, but I simply want to point out that this hymn stands out. 

Really briefly, this passage is the response of Hannah, who was barren but through the will of God has a son, Samuel.  This Samuel would be dedicated to God and he would function as a prophet of the Lord.  And to put this in context of what’s going on in this first part of Samuel, we read that at this time there is a man called Eli who is a priest of the Lord along with his two sons.  Now, to put it briefly, we find out that Eli and his sons (especially) can hardly be said to be men of God.  They are men who very much use their position and power for their own benefit.  So as we read through the early part of Samuel, Samuel is very much set apart from these incumbent priests because he is chosen by God, and not by inheritance. 

Now this is important because we learn in the Pentateuch that the house of Levi is chosen to be priests for Israel.  And this whole notion of lineage or inheritance is very important in Israel.  Israel is chosen as a people to be God’s people.  Everyone who is born into Israel is Israel.  And by the same token, the Levites are chosen to be priests over Israel.  Everyone who is born into the house of Levi is a priest of the Lord.  But we know from many other parts of scripture that, ultimately, it’s not birth that matters, but the heart.  It’s not position or accreditations that matter but one’s relationship with God.  What matters is how Israel keeps to the word of God; what matters is how Israel seeks the heart of God. 

So what we’re seeing in this very early part of Samuel is a rejection of heritage in favour of faithfulness.  And it’s precisely things like heritage that matter to the world at large.  According to the worldly wisdom of the time, birth or heritage was extremely important.  This is how kings were chosen, for example.  But what we see in Samuel is that the expectations and assumptions of the world are not the wisdom by which God chooses. 

And so, I’m going to suggest, this opening hymn of Hannah declares that it’s God’s sovereignty alone that matters – and this specifically set in opposition to the expectations and ways of the world (in which Israel is firmly enmeshed).  It’s God’s sovereignty and God’s grace alone that matter.  Look at some of the elements of this hymn: 

1 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. …

1 Samuel 2:1

Here, Hannah says that it is the Lord who brings deliverance, the Lord alone.  So, as we continue to read/listen, we see that the usual expectations, the worldly expectations of strength are overshadowed by God’s grace and sovereignty. 

“The bows of the warriors are broken,
    but those who stumbled are armed with strength. …

“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. …

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

1 Samuel 2:4-10

Again, and not to be overly blunt, strength is not the measure of God’s people.  That is, worldly strength is not the measure of God’s people.  It’s a theme that we’ve seen over and over in scripture and that we’ve discussed repeatedly.  The nature of God’s kingdom and the character of God’s people are not those of the world.  Those who choose the ways that are not God’s ways will not find God’s favour. 

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

So, in these verses, we see almost a spoiler for the entire book(s) of Samuel.  God will give strength to His king.  The book(s) of Samuel tell us about the establishment of the kingship – the Kingdom of Israel. But it will not be done according to the world’s ways.  The King of Israel will not be a king like in all the other nations of the world.  God will work out his plan according to His purposes, according to His wisdom, and not that of the world.  Because God’s purposes are higher than our purposes, His wisdom higher than our wisdom, and His ways greater than our ways. 

So as we read through the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, here are some of the things I’d like us to look out for: 

  • Firstly, how do we recognize God’s sovereignty in the entire process of David’s kingship?
  • In choosing or establishing a king, what are the things that are important to God? 
  • How is this different from the world’s expectations of a king? 
  • What does this suggest about the character of the nation, over whom the king rules? 

And finally, what does this tell us about how we, as part of the Church in 21st century Canada, should seek to be God’s people in the world? 

So, as we begin our series on Samuel, I encourage you to pay attention to the continuing story of God’s redemption, of which we are a part.  As we listen to the on-going story, once again we ask ourselves, of what kingdom do we want to be a part?

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