Among all the many faithful people in Israel of whom Scripture speaks, and even among all the covenant youth that are mentioned in Scripture, Samuel is unique. He was unique in several respects, but the most important characteristic of this great man of God was that he alone came closest to holding all three offices in Israel: prophet, priest and king, something no man ever did in Israel, in fact, might not do. He was prophet to whom the Lord spoke and who brought the word of the Lord to the nation. He was priest and often sacrificed for the people – as he did, for example, when he went to Bethlehem at God’s command to anoint David king in Saul’s place. But he was not king. Yet he was numbered among the judges who fought for the nation and judged them while Israel did not yet have a king. Samuel even served in that transition period when God gave Israel a king to take the place of judges. Saul was deposed from office by God himself for the sin of disobedience. Saul was the choice of the people; David was God’s choice.
You probably know the story of his birth. His mother Hannah was the wife of a man named Elkanah. But Elkanah had two wives, and was, we may conclude, a rather prosperous man. But, as was always the case in families where a man had more than one wife, in this home too, there was trouble between the two wives. God tolerated families with multiple wives during these Old Testament times, because godly marriages are a picture of Christ and his church, and because the picture was dim, blurred and unclear in the time when Christ had not yet done His great work of making His bride a pure and holy bride. God no longer will tolerate such marriages for Christ has come and He has one wife and one only, the church. He loves her and none other (1 Tim. 3:2, 12). Nor can He love any other for He died only for His bride.
The spiritual condition in Elkanah’s home was not the best. It is true that Elkanah did take his family to the tabernacle once a year to make their sacrifices to God as the law required. And it is also true that Elkanah loved Hannah in preference to Peninah (1 Sam 1:4-5). Hannah was the God- fearing wife of Elkanah. I doubt whether Peninah even loved the Lord, for she provoked Hannah “sore” because God had not given Hannah children (1 Sam 1:6), while Peninah had sons and daughters (1 Sam. 1:4). She mocked Hannah’s longing to have children.
Hannah was very sad that the Lord had not given her children, but Elkanah, it seemed, did not understand what was the reason for Hannah’s sadness. He thought that extra gifts to Hannah would cure her of her sadness. But, it seems, he was too lacking in any real spirituality in his inability to understand that Hannah’s sorrow was not so much the mere fact that she could not have children, but that she could not share in the blessing that most godly mothers possessed: to be a part of the nation of Israel and so to have a part in bringing forth the Christ, the Seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent and bring deliverance from the tyranny of sin (1 Sam. 1:8).
How do we know that her inability to have children was her great sorrow?
The answer is the fervency of her prayer for a child along with her promise that if God would give her a child, she would dedicate the child to the Lord (1 Sam 1:16-18). And even more powerfully, the song that Hannah sang when the Lord gave her a son (1 Sam 2:1-10) has many similarities to the song that Mary sang when she knew she was pregnant with Christ (Luke 1:46-55). It seems to me that Mary had Hannah’s song in her mind when she sang the song recorded for us in Luke. It was as if Mary, in her astonishment that the Lord had done what he said he would do, spoke in her song of and to all those godly women in the old dispensation who eagerly longed for the coming of Christ, and found their joy in bringing forth children of the covenant who would bring into this world of sin the Christ himself. Mary collected all these songs and prayers of covenant mothers and said, as it were: God is faithful. I am to bring forth the hope of Israel’s mothers.
And so it is yet today even though Christ has brought salvation.
Throughout the entire new dispensation, the church of Christ has been blessed with such mothers as Hannah. These mothers live and die with two great truths in their hearts that lead them to understand Hannah’s sorrow in not having children.
The first is this: They are given the blessedness of bringing into the world God’s elect, for God’s promise is that he will save his church from believers and their seed. These covenant mothers bring forth the church of Christ itself.
Second, they know that Christ will come only when the last elect child is born and brought to faith in Christ. They have a part in bringing about that glorious day when Christ, the hope of the church, will come to take His people to glory. It is as if every covenant mother has her eye on and her heart aching for her Saviour who shall presently come to take her and her children to be where Christ is. They understand Hannah’s prayer. They will say when they stand before Christ: “Here am I, Lord, and the children thou has given me (Isa. 8:18, Heb, 2:13)1.
I know I have not yet written about Samuel, but I will – in the next article, God willing; but all these things are necessary background. Samuel was, in the words of Hannah, lent to the Lord as the living expression of Israel’s hope. This so permeated Samuel’ life that all his work was to bring Israel to a stronger hope for the coming of their Saviour.
1 We must not conclude that Christ must wait to come again until godly mothers have had their children as they planned to have them. The date of Christ’s coming is eternally fixed. But because the text from Isaiah that I quoted above is applied to Christ himself in Hebrews 2:13, the glorious idea is that Christ assigns to each covenant mother what children of God’s covenant they must bring forth, and to them He gives this great privilege. Christ determines His “children.”
Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 44