The way God responds to our prayers often impacts more than we realize. Today on Truth for Life, we'll find out how God's answer to one woman's prayer served the entire nation of Israel.
Alistair Begg's message today is titled, May the Lord Establish His Word. We're in 1 Samuel chapter 1 verses 19 through 28. Well, I think by now we're getting the picture here as we have begun to study 1 Samuel. The story of Hannah is set within the context of a nation in turmoil.
The nation of Israel is experiencing instability, is confronted by insecurity. And in many ways, Hannah's picture of her life is a microcosm of that larger picture. She is childless, and in many ways the nation of Israel is fruitless. And the answer that God is providing for the predicament of Hannah is actually, as we're going to see, part of his answer for the predicament of his people. We left off at verse 18, where we saw that Hannah had dried her eyes, her tears were gone, and she was no longer sad, and her appetite had returned. I'm not sure that we made sufficient of the fact that her tears and her despair and her great longings were not an expression of an absence of faith but were an indication of her faith.
And her tears have continued, if you like, through the night, but now joy has come in the morning. And essentially, what we have from verse 19 to the end of the chapter, if we were to summarize it in three scenes, it would be scene one, Hannah went home and had a baby. Scene two, Hannah stayed home with her baby.
And then, thirdly, scene three, Hannah went back to Shiloh, taking her baby. So, verses 19 and 20, Hannah went home and had a baby. Now, notice simply what we're told in the text, that verse 9 tells us that they rose early in the morning, and they worshiped before the Lord. We are not told that they worshiped because it was unusual.
We're probably told because it was normal. But the nature of their worship, certainly if Hannah's may well have changed. So, they worshiped the Lord. Then notice, secondly, and the Lord remembered.
The Lord remembered Hannah. That phrase mentions the way in which God acts according to his covenant purposes. So when it says, When the Lord remembered, it is an indication the Lord took action. And the action that he took was in relationship to the fact that he had covenanted with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And it actually said to Abram, you know, through your seed, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. And when we read of the Lord remembering, it is often directly that—that he remembered the promise that he had made.
And in light of that, he then took action. And that, of course, is exactly what is happening here in Hannah's life. So, they worshiped, the Lord remembered, and then, thirdly, Hannah conceived.
They went home. Elkanah knew his wife, which is an expression of their physical intimacy. 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.
Yes, of course she had. And the name Samuel has got something of that verb, to ask, in it. And so it seems entirely appropriate. Now, one of the things that will be helpful for us to ponder in relationship to the arrival of Samuel is that given that it is accompanied by, if you like, this long lead-up to her final gift of a child, it creates within us, as readers of this 1 Samuel, the question, Well, what is so significant about this boy? What is this child going to be?
Now, everybody says that, if you like, about every child. But the very way in which this has unfolded creates that sense of expectation. And Hannah was not to know—certainly in those early days and weeks—that this child that she had been given was destined to become God's spokesman, God's prophet. He was destined to be the one who would guide God's people in relationship to God's Word. Now, if your Bible is open, if you just turn a page over into chapter 3, we're going to see that when we come to it eventually. But here is the record of the call of God to Samuel. And Samuel grew—that is, verse 19 of chapter 3—and Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him, and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the LORD. And the LORD appeared again at Shiloh, for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the LORD. In a way that is just quite remarkable, the birth of this little boy is a significant part of God's unfolding plan of redemption.
And if we read 1 Samuel 1, without an awareness of, if you like, the complexity and the immensity of that, then it will benefit us, but we will actually miss the point. Hannah went home and had a baby, and then we notice that Hannah stayed home with her baby. I'm going to resist the temptation to spend five minutes talking about the importance of mothers staying home with their children.
And that will make some of you feel bad, or better, or worse, I don't know. But there is no doubt that this peculiar bond between a mother and the child is unparalleled and cannot be duplicated. And so it is no surprise that, having been given this little boy, she wanted as much of him as she could possibly have. Now, she had made a vow, and so she was going to be taking him, but she wasn't going to go now. She said to her husband, you know, I'm not going to go up now, because if I… Essentially, what she's saying is, if I go up now, I'm going to come back with him, because I can't take him up there and leave him now. So I'm going to wait until he is weaned, a period of maybe two or three years. And when he's in that position, then I will go up again to Shiloh with you, and on that occasion I will do what I have promised to do.
I will bring him so that he may peer in the presence of the Lord, and dwell there forever. Now, I often say to myself, I wish I could hear the tone of voice with which she said that. I want to know whether her voice broke when she said that. She was his mother.
Some of you mothers, you can't even put your son in the nursery for an hour without going crazy. You imagine giving him up for the rest of his life? Elkanah was a pious man. Elkanah, we're told in the text, had also made a vow. We're not told what his vow was. But Elkanah, in this context, you will see, was both sensitive to his wife and at the same time sensitive to the purposes of God. Verse 23, he says to her, "'Will you do what seems best?
Wait until you've weaned him. Only may the LORD establish his word.'" Now, that ought to strike us as… It ought to cause us to say, Wait a minute. Wouldn't we have expected him to say, Well, you do… That's fine. You do that way. But remember, keep your word.
It's not what he's saying. He's saying, May the LORD establish his word. Parenthetically, if you happen to be married to a husband who is both sensitive to you and sensitive to the purposes of God, I hope you send him a nice Valentine card.
And I hope as you say your prayers at night, you thank God. Sensitive to you. Sensitive to the purposes of God.
Elkanah. May the LORD establish his word. What word? I read the chapter again, and I read ahead, and I couldn't find any specific word in relationship to these circumstances. Therefore, I take it to refer to the Word of God, which he has established in all of his promises to his people. But there is something about this man, this certain man, this obscure man, this no-reputation family—there is something about this that allows us to begin to understand that the promised blessing of God rests upon this home, rests upon this lady, who is surely grateful for these unrepeatable years before she does what she's promised.
So that brings us to our third and final point. She went home and had a baby. She stayed home with her baby. And in verse 24 and following, she returned to Shiloh with her baby. No longer a baby now, but a child. She's referred to as a child. The point is made, they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child. And the child was young. We're supposed to see some kind of development.
It would be wrong for us to try and figure out the exact ages. He was weaned. And this was no small matter. You see that the events here record what was essentially a thank offering. If you know the Old Testament at all, you know that God made provision for his people to express their thanks to him, and often in ways that we would regard as rather strange, but they were dramatic expressions of their gratitude and of their praise. But you will see that the expression here is beyond the normal requirements.
That's why it's mentioned. And so, another feather in the cap of Elkanah—his piety, his consistency, and now his generosity. The promise made is a promise kept. And she is able to introduce herself to Eli, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence.
So the valley, if you like, of the shadow of tears and of darkness has now been replaced with the joy of the morning. And she is able, in this expression, to declare her thanksgiving to God for the gift and for the privilege that she now has of fulfilling her vow. Again, the Old Testament law was very clear about the making of vows. Deuteronomy will help you in this. And I'll just quote from one verse, Deuteronomy 23, 21, where the instruction is given to the people. If you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin.
Now, obviously, this was very specific in Hannah's case. But it was one of the—I can't remember who it was—one of the ancients, one of the church fathers, who asked himself three questions routinely. What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What will I do for Christ? And so, when we think of all that it cost Hannah to fulfill her promise, to keep her vow, it ought, at least in passing, to nudge us and to say, Any unkept vows? And I won't sidestep into the most obvious vow of all in terms of human relationships, the vow that we've made in marriage.
I am the woman. Notice how we have it. For this child I prayed, the LORD granted my request, and I have lent him to the LORD as long as he lives. That is momentous by any standards. And what a picture!
I don't know quite how to figure this picture. It says, And he worshiped the LORD there. Well, I think probably we can understand it in terms of his service of the LORD. That, of course, we're going to find about as the story continues. Well, what can we say by way of application?
What are we supposed to do with this? One of the ways in which a narrative like this can be dealt with is to say, Well, there are some wonderful examples here. There is an example of Elkanah. He was a pious man. He was a consistent man.
He was a generous man. I think I ought to try and be like that. Or, here is this lady Hannah, and she was sad, and she had a problem, and she didn't know how to fix it. She prayed to God, and God fixed it.
And so maybe if I do the same, then that'll happen as well. But I hope we've been studying the Bible together long enough to say that while there is no question that there are exemplary elements in the reading of the Bible, surely that is not why we have chapter 1 of 1 Samuel here—to teach us, for example, consistency or whatever it might be. No, I say to you again that I think the phrase that needs to guide us in this is the phrase there in verse 23, May the LORD establish his word. So that all of our understanding of everything that is going on is in relationship to God's ultimate purpose. That the focus here—although the camera's on Hannah for a long time, the focus is actually upon Yahweh. It is on the Lord himself and the fulfillment of his purposes. The story here is clearly not, if you are childless and sad, pray to God and you'll get a baby. Because think about it. There must have been countless ladies in Israel who were childless, and who prayed to God, and who never had a baby.
Therefore, the reason that it is here is, if you like, the unusual nature of it, not the routine nature of it. And it is pointing to the fact that God has chosen to intervene here in response to the prayers of Hannah, but not because of the peculiar nature of her misery or because of the extent of her sincerity, but because he is fulfilling his purpose establishing his word. Remember the context—a nation in turmoil, and the people had no king, and everybody did what was right in their own eyes. God is now going to fix that. How is he going to fix it? He's going to provide leadership. Part one of the leadership will be the prophet of God, who brings people under the word of God and guides them in the truth of God. Then it will be in the provision of Saul. Then it will be in the provision of David. And then, eventually, in David's greater Son—namely, the Lord Jesus himself. So, if you like, when we read the Bible, we must always keep our eyes on Jesus. It is a book about Jesus, ultimately, instead of treating the text of the Bible as looking for ourselves in it—like a kind of form of, Where's Waldo? Where am I in this story?
You're actually not in the story, and neither am I. No, Hannah's barrenness is actually a picture of Israel's fruitlessness. In some ways, as someone pointed out to me this week, Hannah's barrenness may actually be seen as a picture of the contemporary church's fruitfulness. Remember her problem? She didn't have children.
Remember she had a rival who opposed her. What's the problem of contemporary church life? We don't have children. Converts. We're opposed by rival forces.
What should we do? Do we really believe that this God, who has chosen through his ancient people and through their seed to pour out his blessing on the nations, will actually open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing such as we don't have room enough to contain? In other words, not adequacy but abundance. So that the cries of the hearts of his people—let's just be very specific in terms of Cleveland itself—would be for the impact of the gospel to radically change the framework of our city.
A divided city, racially. I don't care what anybody says. It is. Therefore, what does the gospel say to that? What would it be like if God actually chose to respond to those kinds of cries? How many people have actually become committed followers of Jesus in the last twelve months? Or twenty-four months?
Childless. And the promise of God is that he's working his purpose out as year succeeds to year. It's a wonderful hymn. We never sing it. I don't think we've ever sung it. And it has this verse in it that I'll just quote for you as we close.
This is what it says. All we can do is nothing worth unless God blesses the deed. Vainly we hope for the harvest time till God gives life to the seed. We get that?
All we can do is nothing worth. Elkanah knew Hannah. Elkanah had been knowing Hannah for some considerable time.
With no child. Elkanah knew Hannah. The Lord remembered Hannah. All we can do—preaching, evangelizing—is nothing worth unless God blesses the seed. We hope in vain for the harvest time, apart from his intervention. It is that same God who brought the poverty of their circumstances so clearly to bear upon this little family that they did what was only sensible to do.
They cried, and God intervened. There will come a day when this will all be in the past, but for now we're here. And we may not see the harvest time. But that's okay. Men and women of vision have to be prepared to dream dreams that are bigger than can be achieved in their own lifetime. I'm not sure that the guy who did the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco lived to see its completion.
But that was a big dream. And we may not live to see the children rising up in this generation and declaring Christ as Lord. But we can do what we ought to do, and that is to seek God. We can know that God hears us every time we cry out to him, and his plan of redemption is central too.
It's at the core of all that he does. You're listening to Truth for Life with Alistair Begg. If your relationship with Jesus has grown as a result of listening to Truth for Life, you have fellow listeners to thank for that. Truth for Life is 100% listener-funded. Much of the funding comes from our truth partners who support this program through their prayers and their monthly giving. If you'd like to support the mission of Truth for Life to make solid Bible teaching widely available for free, becoming a monthly truth partner is a great way to do that. Signing up is quick and easy.
Visit truthforlife.org Truth Partner or call 888-588-7884. And each month we say thank you to our truth partners by inviting you to request the monthly book offers. Today we're recommending a book titled Little Pilgrim's Big Journey. It's a simplified version of John Bunyan's classic, The Pilgrim's Progress. Young children will absolutely love this book. It is a colorfully illustrated story of the Christian life. The book is yours when you sign up to become a truth partner or when you give a one-time donation. Just tap the image you see in the mobile app or visit us online at truthforlife.org slash donate. I'm Bob Lapine. In 1 Samuel we see that Hannah finally gets the son she has desperately longed for, but will she really be able to turn him over to the Lord as she vowed? We'll find out tomorrow. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
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