February 17, 2019
After years of backsliding, Israel was a spiritually fruitless nation—and as Alistair Begg explains, Hannah’s barren condition mirrored her people’s predicament. When the Lord granted Hannah a son, then, He answered more than a mother’s prayers: Samuel’s arrival fulfilled God’s covenant promise to establish His Word by providing leadership for Israel. God did not intervene because Hannah or the Israelites earned His favor. Rather, He always acts according to His unfolding plan of redemption and care for His people.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to turn with me to the Bible as we read from 1 Samuel and chapter 1, and we’re going to read from verse 19 to the end of the chapter. First Samuel 1, beginning at verse 19:
“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 [long 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. [And] as long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.’
“And he worshiped the Lord there.”
A brief prayer as we come to the Bible:
Beyond the voice of a mere man, grant that we may hear you speak, gracious God, to the glory of your name, to the good of your people, and to the conversion of those who as yet have come to believe. For Christ’s sake. Amen.
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 ending of the book of Judges gives us the context: at that time there was no king, and the people did whatever they wanted to; everybody did what was right in their own eyes. So 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. She was aware of the fact that in the world there is a God who made the world and who made her, and that God cares, and that God has made promises and has issued warnings. And what she was trying to do was make sense of how God could be so loving and so wonderful in his provision, and yet, somehow or another, she seemed to have missed out. 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 1, Hannah went home and had a baby; scene 2, Hannah stayed home with her baby; and then thirdly, scene 3, Hannah went back to Shiloh, taking her baby. So, since we’ve summarized it, why don’t we just go straight to the benediction? All boys under twelve are going, “Yes please, Pastor, that would be wonderful.” No, not so fast; we need to do something better than that.
So, verses 19 and 20: Hannah went home and had a baby.
Now, notice simply what we’re told in the text: that verse  tells us that “they rose early in the morning” and they “worshiped before the Lord.” I want you to note that verse 19 begins with worship and verse 28 ends with worship. The worship of the community in the family home at the beginning of this day is now being mirrored by the worship of this little boy who has been provided to Hannah and to Elkanah.
We are not told that they worshipped because it was unusual; we’re probably told because it was normal. But the nature of their worship—certainly of Hannah’s—may well have changed. If you were here on the snowy morning of January when we studied Psalm 13, which we said was akin to what we’re looking at here, we reminded ourself of the psalmist’s words: “How long will you forget me, O Lord? Forever? How long must I have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemies triumph over me?” And it may well be that that kind of lament would at least have been part of Hannah’s. But I can only imagine that by now, on this morning, although she still has not conceived a child, but she’s cast her burden upon the Lord, and perhaps she is singing one of the Psalms of Ascent: “Come, bless the Lord, all you people of the Lord, who stand by night in the holy place. And lift up your hands and bless him!” Well, there’s something of that, I’m sure. So, they worshipped the Lord.
Then notice, secondly, “And the Lord remembered.” The Lord remembered Hannah. Now, this doesn’t mean that God had forgotten her. This phraseology comes in the Bible. We ought not to think that the response of God was “Oh dear, I almost forgot there, I’m supposed to enable Hannah to conceive a child.” Rather, if you check—and a concordance will help you with this—you will discover that 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 had actually said to Abraham, 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 worshipped, “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”—a son who would then learn at the feet of his mom and dad the words of the psalmist, who would have occasion to realize all the mercies of God, the
[Tender mercies on] my soul,
Your tender care bestowed,
Before my infant heart conceived
From whom those comforts flowed,
that he would be aware of the fact that he had been formed in the inward parts, that he had been knit together in his mother’s womb.
Here, then, is a biblical view of the world, a biblical view of humanity, a biblical view of child-rearing, a biblical view of conception—a view which both provides a framework for us and sets constraints upon us and makes us wonder at the kind of material coming out of the state of Virginia in relationship to these things in the last month or so. We are strangers in an alien world in so many places, and not least of all when it comes to the matter of the conceiving of children and the gifting of God and the nurturing of that which has been entrusted to our care.
So, they worshipped, “the Lord remembered,” “Hannah conceived,” and Samuel arrived: “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?” It should make us think a little bit the way in which the people thought of the birth of another lady who’d been barren—namely, Elizabeth—when her son, John the Baptist, was born. And if you remember the record of that as Luke gives it to us, we’re told there that there was such a sense of expectation surrounding the birth and then his final appearance that the people actually said to one another, “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 are 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 3:19.
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 other words, what we begin to see is that in the unfolding plan of redemption—in God’s purpose for the creation of the world and for his eventual plan to create a people of his very own from Jew and gentile background and from every place and race and nation in the world—that somehow or another, 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.
So, let’s move on. 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”— essentially what she’s saying is, “If I go up now, I’m gonna 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 appear 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?
You know, let’s just think about the humanity of this for a moment. I speak as an observer. I don’t know what happens in the female psyche. But I know it’s something that is objective to me as a male: those tender moments of infancy, those nursing moments, the feeding moments, the nighttime stuff, the middle-of-the-night experiences. So here we have Hannah, who was so distressed at having no child, eventually being given a child, promising that she will give up her child, announcing to her husband that she wants about two or three years before she actually pulls the trigger, as it were. Can you imagine those conversations as she held him to herself? As she said things to him that he couldn’t even process in that moment? “Samuel”—this is just her talking in his tiny ear—“Samuel, I longed for you. Samuel, I prayed for you. Samuel, I love you. Samuel, I love Yahweh. I love God. And Samuel, I’m gonna give you to him to be in the house of God.” You see, the humanity of these things is to be pondered in the reading of the text.
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, “[Well, 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, “That’s fine. You do it that way. But remember, keep your word!” That’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. We won’t go back to it, but I’ll give you the cross-reference so you can check to make sure it’s there. If you go to the book of Joshua, for example, you will find that Joshua in his farewell address is saying to the people, “I want you to remember all the good promises that the Lord has made to the house of Israel”—and that fundamental promise to the house of Israel that through the seed of Abraham all the nations of the earth will be blessed. Elkanah could never have had the capacity to look down that great hallway to its eventuality. 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. He’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. And I can only imagine that little Samuel would have had occasion to say, “What are we doing with the big bull that we’re taking, Mom?” She said, “Well, I’ll explain that to you later, and Eli, he’ll be able to explain it to you as well. Go and see your pastor.”
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.
I like to imagine them sitting there, singing,
We bring the sacrifice of praise
Into the house of the Lord. …
And we offer up to you
The [sacrifice] of thanksgiving. …
We bring the sacrifice of praise
Into the house of the Lord.
What an amazing turnaround! Because notice, 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.” If you remember when we studied in Ecclesiastes, where in chapter 5 the writer is providing a warning for the way in which we would enter the house of the Lord—the way in which, in contemporary terms, we would go to church—and in that chapter he issues the warning, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know [when] they are doing evil.” In other words, when there’s a disengagement between the reality of our heart and the formal expressions of things—“These people draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”—it’s something along those lines that the writer is addressing. And then he says, essentially quoting from [Deuteronomy], “When you vow a vow to God, do not delay [in] paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let your mouth not lead you into 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?” Were you baptized? And did you say “all”? Did you mouth or believe what is often a baptismal hymn?
O Jesus, I have promised
To serve you to the end;
Be thou forever near me,
My master and my friend.
I dare not fear the battle
If you are by my side,
Nor wander from the pathway
If you will be my guide.
You said that, and you meant it, but where are you? Better not to have been baptized. Better not to have made a vow. 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 is 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 gonna 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? Well, we could start by praying in the Commons tonight.
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 harvesttime, 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 harvesttime. 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.
So, let us pray:
Gracious God, we suffer from having large views of ourselves and small views of you. We want to know you. We want to live our lives to show you all the love we owe you. We want to be seekers of your heart. Show yourself to us; we want to behold you, somewhere along the lines of how Hannah came to a grasp of your amazing love and goodness. Some of us are here, and we don’t know if you exist. We don’t know if you even exist, and if you even care if you do. Open up our eyes to see the wonder of your love to us in Christ, to bow down and acknowledge that even on our best day, trying to figure everything out, we eventually have to put our hand over our mouths and receive by faith all that you offer. So hear our prayers for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
 See Judges 21:25.
 Psalm 13:1–2 (paraphrased).
 Psalm 134:1–2 (paraphrased).
 Genesis 22:18 (paraphrased).
 Joseph Addison, “When All Thy Mercies, O My God” (1712).
 See Psalm 139:13.
 Luke 1:66 (NIV).
 Joshua 23:14 (paraphrased).
 1 Samuel 1:1 (ESV).
 Kirk Dearman, “We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise” (1984).
 See Psalm 30:5.
 Ecclesiastes 5:1 (ESV).
 Matthew 15:8 (paraphrased). See also Isaiah 29:13.
 Ecclesiastes 5:4–6 (ESV).
 Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, first exercise. Paraphrased.
 John E. Bode, “O Jesus, I Have Promised” (1868). Lyrics lightly altered.
 See Malachi 3:10.
 Arthur C. Ainger, “God Is Working His Purpose Out” (1894).
 Beverly Darnall, Dick Tunney, and Melodie Tunney, “Seekers of Your Heart” (1985).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.