Through the Old Testament in a Year

Today's Reading – 1 Samuel 1:1-2:11 – Samuel dedicated to the Lord

Samuel was a very precious child to Hannah, yet she gladly gave him to Eli to help out in the service of the Lord in the Tabernacle.

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The books of Samuel narrate the transition from the tribes of Israel being governed by localised judges to the whole nation being ruled by a king.

There are some similarities between the story we have read today and that of the birth of Samson. In both incidents a child is born to a couple who expected to remain without children; in each instance the boy who was born was a very precious child, loved by his parents but dedicated to the Lord from his birth. But here the similarities end.

Samuel's mother, Hannah, was one of the two wives of a man called Elkanah. Elkanah's other wife, Peninnah, had several children but Hannah had been unable to conceive. Though her husband loved her dearly, Hannah was taunted by Peninnah year after year for her lack of children and her life was made miserable.

At this time, the Tabernacle, or 'house of the Lord', was pitched at Shiloh and this is where Israelites went to worship and offer sacrifices at festival times. On one such visit, Hannah went to the Tabernacle to plead with the Lord to grant her a son, promising that if God answered her request he would be dedicated to the Lord's service. Like Sampson before him, he would be a Nazirite, one whose dedication to the Lord would be symbolised by his uncut hair.

Hannah's prayer was answered and she gave birth to a son whom she named Samuel. When he was still quite a young child, perhaps between two and three years old, Hannah took Samuel to Shiloh to fulfil her vow. There he was handed over to Eli, the elderly priest who, assisted by his sons, ministered at the Tabernacle. Samuel was to become Eli's apprentice.

As she dedicated her son to the Lord's work Hannah poured out a remarkable prayer of praise to God. She declares that there is no one like the Lord. He is not only great in power but is also gracious and kind to those in need:

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 honour. (1 Samuel 2:8)

It is also a prophetic psalm, ending with the words,

 He will give strength to his king
   and exalt the horn of his anointed. (2:10)

This is a remarkable word of prophecy since Israel at that time had no king. Remember how the book of Judges ended, "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit" (21:25). Unlike Samson, Samuel will be a godly judge who seeks to be obedient to the Lord God of Israel. He will be the greatest and last of Israel's judges and will be the one who will anoint the first of Israel's kings. Before his period as a judge is over he will anoint David to be king, the descendant of Boaz and Ruth and ancestor of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And we cannot help noticing that Hannah's prayer of praise finds a later echo in that of another mother who conceived unexpectedly. Hanna's praise finds an echo in the song of Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus, the song often known as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). 

Gracious God, thank you that you hear and answer prayer. You work out your purposes in remarkable ways through the lives of ordinary people. Help us to be serious in seeking your blessing, thankful for every answer to prayer and sacrificial in our devotion to you. May we often be found praising you, for you are the one who "brings down to the grave and raises up." You raised our Lord Jesus from the grave and have given us resurrection life in him. You have raised us "from the dust and" made us "inherit a throne of honour" with Christ our Saviour.

Peter Misselbrook