Last week we began a transition from our summer series on stories in the Old Testament. The next few weeks we will be looking more specifically on God’s call in our lives. Next week, I want to take a look at something called the American Dream. Then the following week we are going to transition into a contemporary social issues series. I’ve never done anything like that, so I would covet your prayers as we move toward that series.
Today we want to look at the prophet and judge Samuel. Samuel comes to us in a unique way. His story is found in I Samuel. He will be the last judge following Eli and before the first king of Israel – Saul.
There was a man named Elkanah who had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Now Penninnah had children, but Hannah did not. Remember that in this culture, having children was a sign of God’s blessing. Having lots of children was just like us having lots of money. Each year Elkanah would go to the tabernacle in Shiloh for the yearly sacrifice. He would give a choice portion of the sacrifice to each child and wife. Because Hannah had no children, she only received one portion, while Peninnah received several. Now it seems that Peninnah and Hannah were almost like sisters because Peninnah would taunt Hannah because of her lack of children. Having children was a sign of God’s blessing. The taunting was so severe that it would reduce Hannah to tears and even cause her not to eat. Her husband was no help, because he would ask her why she was crying. He would say, “Why are you so sad just because you have no children? You have me and that should be better than having ten sons.” It appears that Elkanah was quite full of himself.
Finally Hannah could take no more of it and one year when the family went to Shiloh, she got up from the sacrificial meal and went to pray. Hannah was in deep distress as she prayed. Most of you know that when you are in deep distress you typically don’t make a sound even though your lips are moving. It just so happened that Eli (the current priest and judge) was sitting nearby and saw all of this happening.
Hannah prayed, “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut.”
This was a sincere prayer and you can imagine Hannah’s shock when Eli comes over and tells her to get out. He believes her to be drunk, because he saw her lips move and yet nothing came out of her mouth.
Hannah replies that she isn’t drunk, but is praying to the Lord.
Eli says, “Very well, go in peace and may God grant the request you have asked of him.”
Hannah is well pleased and thanks Eli and is not sad anymore. Sometime later Hannah gives birth to a baby boy. She does not go with the family to the tabernacle that year instead she wants to wait until the baby is weaned and then present him to the Lord at the tabernacle.
Finally the baby is weaned and Hannah and Elkanah take Samuel to the tabernacle to be dedicated to the Lord. They gave him up to the Lord’s service.
Can you imagine asking God for a child and then giving him back just after you have finished nursing him? And yet this was the agreement she had made with God. I will be the first to admit and I did so last week, that it is difficult to release our children. Each one of our children has been dedicated to God. And my prayer is that they follow the path God has laid out before them and that whatever they do they would give glory to God. That is our purpose as human beings – to give glory to God.
They present Samuel to Eli and Hannah asks Eli if he remembers her praying at the tabernacle. She says, “The Lord has given me this boy and now I present him to you – He will belong to the Lord his whole life.” Then they worship the Lord and Hannah prayed this beautiful prayer.
Hannah realizes that God is sovereign – that He is in control. He will protect us – We cannot do it on our own. Can you imagine praying that prayer and leaving your baby boy – he was still young – at the Lord’s tabernacle? And yet that was Hannah’s faith. She promised she would give the child to God and she did.
God was also giving Eli a second chance of sorts. His sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were well known for their wickedness. In the NLT it even calls them scoundrels. They were priests in God’s tabernacle, but there was no end to the way that they would violate God’s house. They would steal the peoples hard earned sacrifices – this was serious sin all by itself, but they even brought in some of the idolatrous Canaanite practices – they would seduce the young woman coming to the tabernacle. To make matters worse, Eli knew all of this – he knew how evil his sons were. He even went as far as to tell his sons to stop doing such evil, but they wouldn’t. It was then that God put into place a way to bring order back to his holy place. He warned Eli by way of a stranger that Eli’s days were numbered and so were those of his sons.
All of this time Samuel was serving in the tabernacle with Eli. What’s really cool is that because Hannah was faithful to keep her promise, the Lord blessed her with even more children – three sons and two daughters. Samuel was a good boy and a good assistant in the tabernacle.
One night while Samuel was sleeping, he heard a voice, “Samuel” it called out. “Yes,” Samuel replied. He even ran to Eli and said, “What is it? Here I am.”
Eli said, “I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.”
So Samuel did. As soon as he got back in bed the voice called his name again. Again he went running to Eli and again Eli sent him back to bed.
The voice called out a third time and once more Samuel went running to Eli. Now Eli realized that God was about to speak to Samuel and he gave him instructions how to respond. Samuel went back to bed and the voice called again. This time Samuel replied, “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.” God tells Samuel all about the destruction of Eli and his sons. Then Samuel goes to sleep.
In the morning, he was quite afraid to tell Eli what God had spoke, but Eli warned Samuel to tell him everything and Samuel did. It wasn’t long after that that Hophni and Phinnehas were killed in battle and the Ark of the Covenant was captured. One of the servants escaped and told Eli what had happened. When he heard the news that his sons had been killed and the Ark was captured, he fell backward off his seat and died.
Meanwhile Phinehas’ wife was pregnant, when she heard the news, she went into labor and as she delivered the baby she called him Ichabod (which means “Where is the glory?”) and then she died.
What a tragic end to those who don’t follow God’s commands. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We have two examples to follow this morning.
On one hand we have the example of Eli and his sons. Eli knew his sons were doing evil and yet still let them perform their duties as priests desecrating everything that was holy. Instead of being a man and disciplining his sons, he put his sons feelings over those of God. A prophet even comes to town and asks Eli, “Why do you honor your sons over God? You were chosen by God and yet you have not honored God by following him.” Is this you this morning? Has God chosen you? Have you elevated your family’s honor over that of God?
Or are you more like Hannah. Here is a woman who had no children and yet asked God to give her one. She didn’t ask for two so that she could give one back, no, she asked for one, knowing full well she was going to give him back to God. That’s amazing. She honored God above family. She wanted to make sure that her son would follow God’s path. Considering the sin that was happening in the tabernacle, it is quite amazing that Samuel grew up the way he did, but he was dedicated to God and that can make a huge difference.
So which way is it for you today? Who is receiving more honor; family or God? Students let me ask you as well, who is receiving more honor; you or God? I encourage everyone today…God may be calling you into ministry – volunteer ministry, part-time ministry (although I doubt there is any such thing) or full-time ministry. Have you ever thought about what God was calling you to do with your life? Have you been dedicated to the Lord’s service? My prayer is that you could sing as we are going to sing, “Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee.”