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Beginnings (Part 2)

August 13, 2017 Series: Tracing the Shadow of the King

Passage: 1 Samuel 1:1–2:11

“My heart exults in the LORD;
my horn is exalted in the LORD.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in your salvation.
“There is none holy like the LORD:
for there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the LORD is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble bind on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
The LORD kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low and he exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the LORD's,
and on them he has set the world.
“He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
for not by might shall a man prevail.
The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces;
against them he will thunder in heaven.
The LORD will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king
and exalt the horn of his anointed.”

Okay, so if we’re all completely honest with one another, I think we’d admit that the Bible is a long book. And look, sometimes it’s hard to get into. But even when you’re into it, a lot of the time it’s easy to get lost. We talk a big game about loving the Bible, but sometimes it’s tough reading. Drop by Lifeway and peruse the Sunday School curricula; you’re going to find that a lot of the studies that are written are written on the same passages. Some stuff in the Scriptures gets a lot of attention, and some stuff gets hardly any attention at all. And I think that’s because some of this stuff is confusing, and it’s easy to get lost in the woods.

One of the patterns, though, that you find in nearly every book in the Bible is a roadmap. A guide, right at the very beginning, that will teach you how to navigate the twists and turns that would otherwise befuddle. This roadmap works as a sort-of encouragement to readers in the mud - when you’re knee deep in genealogies (or 92 words into one of Paul’s sentences). Now, these roadmaps don’t always look the same. Sometimes you’ll find them in the first few sentences of the book, and other times you’ll have to look further. Sometimes they’re clear, highlighted and underlined, grabbing your attention. And sometimes they’re subtle, sitting in the corner of the room, watching and waiting for you to ask a few questions.

So the reason I bring this up is because the roadmap to the book of Samuel is, I think, one of the most beautiful in the Scriptures. And I want to show you why.

Read with me the very beginning of the book of Samuel.

There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.

Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the LORD of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the LORD. On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the LORD had closed her womb. And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the LORD had closed her womb. So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the LORD, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the LORD. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, “O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

As she continued praying before the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.

They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the LORD; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the LORD." 

The man Elkanah and all his house went up to offer to the LORD the yearly sacrifice and to pay his vow. But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the LORD and dwell there forever.” Elkanah her husband said to her, “Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him; only, may the LORD establish his word.” So the woman remained and nursed her son until she weaned him. And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh. And the child was young. Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the LORD. For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the LORD. As long as he lives, he is lent to the LORD.”

And he worshiped the LORD there.

Beautiful.

Now, I think it’s worth mentioning that this isn’t quite a unique moment in the history of Israel. I mean, it’s not radically unexpected, right? The way God relates to Hannah isn’t new. God gives to those who cry out. He gives children to the barren. I mean, right at the beginning of the story of God’s people we find Sarah, who was way, way too old to be having a baby. And not just Sarah. No joke, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all have barren wives, and the Lord compassionately moves to give each of them children. So we shouldn’t be surprised by the story of Hannah.

But Hannah’s story, right here at this moment, has powerful significance. This is a moment of what I think is unprecedented hope for the people of Israel. Let’s talk about why, before we explore the story itself.

A few weeks ago we stepped back and surveyed the history of God’s people - a slave nation delivered from captivity. And as we read we imagined what it must have been like, to live every moment of every day a slave - until, in a sweeping moment of pure hope and overwhelming, miraculous joy - you’re free. The armies of Pharaoh were swept away and replaced with the sweet, washing rhythm of freedom. The people sang sweet songs of praise. What a story, right? God worked miracles to break the chains of his people, and he escorted them into a new land.

But the people of Israel quickly forgot about the God who rescued them. They turned away, in a moment, at the slightest sign of trouble. They turned away to the gods of Canaan. Again and again and again.

We read a song together, a song written by God himself. “You’re going to leave me,” he sings, “you’re going to turn away and chase after sex, and drink. You’re going to oppress the poor among you, and feast without restraint, bowing to the idols of your neighbors. And on that day I will turn my face away from you, and I will set myself against you. And you’ll be defeated in battle, and you’ll be made slaves, and you will lose everything. And when you’re broken, with absolutely nothing left- on that day you’ll cry out and I’ll answer.”

The people of Israel turned away from the God who rescued, and who gave life, and who preserved and sustained. They turned away, and they lost everything. They were beaten, and they were mocked, and they were enslaved. If you didn’t know any better, you’d gaze upon the ruined, burdened, broken people of Israel and believe them to be hopeless.

And yet. In their darkest hour, we turn the page to find a story of a barren woman, hopeless among her people, mocked by her peers.

See, Hannah is a microcosm of the people of Israel. Her barrenness is a picture of their barrenness. Her tears are a picture of the tears of God’s people. And just like the people of Israel, she has no hope without God.

And when she cries out, God hears. And when she prays, God rescues.

That’s why this story is so powerful. That’s why, after the dark, painful memories of the Judges, this moment is a bright ray of sunshine, piercing through the darkness after a terrible storm. And the message of this story couldn’t be clearer! Come to me, barren Israel! Come to me, mocked and broken Israel! Cry out to me, and I will give you rest! Devote yourself to me, and you will be blessed, and you will be restored.

So what I want to do now is look briefly at a few significant moments in this story full of hope, and then I want to trace the shadow of this story to it’s true, ultimate meaning. So pause for a moment and let’s take a look back at Samuel.

Okay, so the first thing that I think is worth noting is that Hannah has a comforter in her husband. And I think that message is clearly preserved in this story to teach the nation of Israel that her Husband, the God of Israel, is ready to comfort her in her affliction. Take a look quickly at the second paragraph.

On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the LORD had closed her womb. And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the LORD had closed her womb. So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the LORD, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

Now I’ve heard guys preach on this passage before, and at least one notable preacher has reflected on that statement and said, “Look, guys, that is not how you should comfort your wife.” And that’s funny, right, and probably true. But this passage isn’t written to teach men how to comfort their wives. This passage is written to teach Israel about the true source of comfort, the true source of joy in the midst of sorrow and affliction.

This passage is a message to barren Israel, from the God who gives all things. So think about that message for a moment. “Am I not more to you than everything you wish you had at this moment? Yes, it’s painful to lose your home, your land, your freedom. But am I not more than those things? Can I not give you a true home, an everlasting land, never failing freedom?”

And that’s a powerful message of hope. I mean, that’s the gospel. Many of us bow our knees to ask God for relief, or for help through suffering, or for restored health. And God is there, saying to his people, “Am I not more than relief from a painful season? Am I not more than temporary comfort from suffering? Am I not more than a few more years in a broken body?”

He is more.

Yes, he does sometimes rescue his people from pain, and from suffering, and from illness. But is he not more than health? That’s why we don’t despair when we pray to God and ask him to take away cancer and he chooses not to! Is he not more than health? And, though we’re sad to see our brother or sister sleep, we know that at that moment they have something more, something better than health.

And that’s powerful.

Okay, so the second thing that I think is worth noting is that true faith is demonstrated by the barren woman, not by the Priest. Look back at the story for a moment,

After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the LORD. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, “O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

As she continued praying before the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.”

We’re going to start to see a theme develop here - this is a major pillar in the story of Samuel. I want you to take note of this, because it’s important. God chooses not to move through the exalted, the social ranks, the impressive and powerful people among the nation of Israel. That's not how he choose to rescue his people. Instead of a tall, handsome warrior bearing sword and shield, God rescues his people with the stones of a shepherd boy, right?

And if anyone in this story were to display remarkable faith, you’d expect it to be God’s priest, right? You’d expect prophetic vision and words of wisdom to come from the mouth of Eli. This guy sleeps before the Ark of God. Yet this priest is blind, in more ways than one.

If you place this passage in context, you’ll find that this is a moment wherein few are faithful, few have set their hope in the God of Israel. I mean, the very last words of the book of Judges, which preceded the story of Samuel in the Hebrew bible, read, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” So we have this moment in the history of Israel where the tabernacle must have been a ghost town. Few have remained faithful, and yet this woman prays with fervor. So shouldn’t a priest of God see the faithful few from a mile away? If the dust is gathering in the holy places, shouldn’t this shepherd be able to identify when one faithful servant cries out to God?

I mean, this is Eli! This is a judge of Israel - the chosen redeemer who represents the people. And yet in this moment there’s not a hint of the presence of God’s spirit in God’s priest.  Eli is Godless. But look over there, weeping in the dirt.  I mean, come on, can't you see the beautiful irony in this moment? Where is God right now? That’s where God is, listening to the prayers of a barren woman.

I want you to see this because you’re going to start to read story after story of God moving through the weak, the broken, the helpless. You’re going to start seeing this pattern unfold over and over again in the story of Samuel, and that’s on the purpose. Because the kingdom of God is upside-down. The first is last, and the last is first. He doesn’t send a powerful king and vast armies to sack the Romans and conquer the world. He sends a baby in a barn, who will not carry a sword of fire but who will carry the sins of the world to the cross.

See, the upside-down vision of Samuel will teach you to think with an upside-down vision of the Kingdom of God, and that’s on purpose.

Look, before you took your first steps you began to wear a broken worldview, a rebel worldview. We were born into the kingdom of Satan, and every minute we’ve spent in it is a minute bolstering the paradigm of the wicked. The way you see the world is backwards. It’s off. It is built into your broken flesh and blood to straighten your tie when the millionaire walks into the conference room. It’s built into your blood to be especially complimentary when you happen upon the VP of Operations at Target. It’s why you want to befriend pretty people. It’s also why you hurry your pace when you notice a beggar on the corner. It’s why we can ignore reports of civilian casualties in Syria, while discussing at length recent presidential tweets. It’s built into you. And you can’t follow Christ when you think about the world that way. Your vision has been blurry for far too long. It’s time to put on the lenses of the Kingdom.

Hannah is here to give you those lenses. And Samuel. And David. Their stories are the prescription you need to correct your vision.

One more thing, and then we’re going to trace the shadow.

Okay, so remember what I said about the roadmap? Well, in Samuel the roadmap is Hannah’s song.

At this moment of Hannah’s hope-filled faithfulness, when (like Abraham, who was willing to give up his first-born on the altar) a barren woman now with child hands her beloved into the hands of God. At that moment she sings, and her song will teach you how God has decided to move and rescue his people. And that song will teach you how to read the story of Samuel, and it’ll teach you how to read the Bible. Read with me.

“My heart exults in the LORD;
my horn is exalted in the LORD.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in your salvation.
“There is none holy like the LORD:
for there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the LORD is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble bind on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
The LORD kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low and he exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the LORD's,
and on them he has set the world.
“He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
for not by might shall a man prevail.
The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces;
against them he will thunder in heaven.
The LORD will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king
and exalt the horn of his anointed.”

Okay, so just a few things to point out:

  1. God will rescue his people.
  2. God humiliates the proud.
  3. God exalts the humble.
  4. A king is coming.

“For not by might shall a man prevail.” Those words should ring in your ears, because that’s what this song is about, and that’s what Samuel is about.

This song is so simple, really, because it finds a half-dozen ways to say the same thing. When God intervenes, the mighty and the weak and the arrogant and the wicked are brought low, they are humiliated, they are defeated. And when God intervenes, the hungry and the broken and the poor and the outcast is lifted up from distress. He is taken from the dust and washed and given new robes and made to sit in the seat of princes. In God’s Kingdom, the last are first, and the first are last.

But that’s not the end of the song. Read the last lines once more.

"The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces;
against them he will thunder in heaven.
The LORD will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king
and exalt the horn of his anointed.”

So what you need to know is just how out-of-context these words are. He will give strength to his king. What king? There was no king, and there was no plan to have a king. This was a nation of Judges. And before that, it was no nation. Moses and Joshua and a series of men who represented the people - vehicles used to rescue and to guide the people. But never a king.

There are hints, sure. There are brief moments in the Scriptures. Symbols and shadows, like the scepter in Moses’ blessing song. But this was no kingdom, not yet. This was a loose association of tribes. And certainly a king wasn’t expected.

So why, right here at the end of Hannah’s song, why prophecy about a king?

I want to talk to you for a moment about shadows.

So look, when it’s bright outside, you’ve always got one, right? I mean, it’s there, and it’s teaching anybody who’s paying attention that you’re nearby. And it’s like you in some ways, right, but it’s not like you in other ways. I mean, some aspects of you are communicated by your shadow, but in a distorted way, all stretched out and manipulated.

Now, if you misunderstand the nature of shadows, you might start to draw conclusions that are wacko. I mean, if I’m standing out in the sun around 1:30, you might look at my shadow and believe me to be three feet tall. Or if it’s evening, you might think I’m a giant. But I’m not - I’ve been the same size all day - you’ve just misunderstood how shadows work.

The authors of the new testament look back upon the story of Samuel and call it a shadow. Because at every point in the developing story of Samuel, if you’re paying attention, you can trace a distant shadow to the King himself. The rise of David is like the rise of Jesus, but in a distorted way. Some aspects, if you’re paying attention, will teach you in detail about the King that’s coming to rescue God’s people and make all things new.

And right here, at this moment, we’ve caught our first glimpse of the shadow. Right there, hiding in plain sight. A wink, a secret handshake. All of the sudden you realize there’s something more going on than a barren woman celebrating over her child.

That word, that very last word - “The LORD will exalt the horn of his anointed.” Do you know what that word is, in the Hebrew - that word which we translate “anointed”?

Messiah.

"The LORD will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his King
and exalt the horn of his Messiah!”

I mean, I’m butchering the pronunciation, but only because we do it every day when we’re talking about Jesus.

As you begin to read this song, you might believe that it’s a reflection upon how the Lord has worked. And maybe even an expression of hope in how the Lord will work. Hannah praises God because he’s done great things, and she praises God because he will do great things. And until this last stanza, you needn’t press any further.

But those last two lines change everything. This song is a telescope. It is a treasure map to the King. And when you read the word king, and when you read the word messiah, all of the sudden you know without a doubt that Hannah has stopped reflecting on the here and now and has started to prophesy about the coming Kingdom.

So yes, this song will teach us how to read the story of Samuel, which is itself a shadow. And this song will prepare you for the rise of David - the humble shepherd king. But this song will also teach us how to pierce that shadow and behold the anointed King of Israel.

Now let’s take Hannah’s cue, and let’s follow the shadow to the story of the King.

Okay, guys, this is by far my favorite part. I LOVE THAT THE SCRIPTURES WORK THIS WAY. Because when Hannah sings about a King, she’s winking and nodding. And the attentive reader should follow that wink, should follow that nod. The attentive reader will trace that shadow. And the shadow-caster is stunning. You pay attention to what the text is doing right now and you’ll marvel at the beauty of the Scriptures and the greatness of the God who wrote them. I want you to open with me to Luke 1:5.

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

The prophet Samuel is, in many ways, a shadow of John the Baptist. We’ll get into this in a few months, but the story of the birth of John the Baptist has uncanny similarities to the birth of Samuel. It’s almost like the gospel is casting a shadow on the history of Israel.

In the shadow, a barren woman who yearns for a child. But in the shadowcaster, the pleas for mercy aren’t blessed by a priest of God, they are coming from a priest of God. In the shadow, God grants the request as a part of his plan to rescue his people. But in the shadowcaster, he sends an angel as a messenger to preach the good news of the final rescue of the people of God. In the shadow, the expected child will be set apart for the work of God. But in the shadowcaster, the expected child will be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb! In the shadow, the miracle child will make way for a king. In the shadowcaster, the miracle child will make way for the King of Kings.

And just like Hannah prophesied about a coming King, Zechariah prophesies about the King of Kings. Read with me once more, from Luke 1:67.

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

That's it. That's where it's all pointing. Everything is.l building. Everything- barren Hannah’s prayer, the blessing of Eli, the birth of Samuel, the rise of David, the restoration of the nation of Israel, the priesthood, the prayers of barren Elizabeth and desperate Zechariah, the angel’s proclamation, the Spirit-Filled child leaping in his mother’s womb- the victory songs of a proud father- absolutely every moment in the history of the people of Israel is orchestrated to culminate in this. one. moment.

You will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Rescue is coming. Salvation in the forgiveness of sins, because of the tender mercy of God. The sun is rising by the mercy of God. The sun is rising and will give light to those who sit in the shadow of death. He will guide us into the way of peace.

Jesus. Jesus is the point. Jesus is the messiah of Hannah’s song, the King of Israel, the King of Creation. Jesus is coming to rescue his people, to stretch out a hand to the weak and broken, to the sinners and the hopeless. Jesus is coming to dust off the homeless and the needy and the sick, and to clothe them in new robes, and to sit them in the seat of honor. He will show us the way of peace.

More in Tracing the Shadow of the King

October 1, 2017

Far Be It From Me (Part 2)

September 17, 2017

Far Be It From Me (Part 1)

July 23, 2017

Beginnings (Part 1)