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A Covenant Lawsuit

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In the Midst of Your Enemies: Exposition and Application of 1 Samuel

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3. A Covenant Lawsuit (1 Sam. 2:1–11)

And Hannah prayed and said,

“My heart exults in the LORD;
my horn is exalted in the LORD.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in your salvation.
There is none holy like the LORD:
for there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the LORD is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble bind on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
The LORD kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low and he exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s,
and on them he has set the world.
He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
for not by might shall a man prevail.
The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces;
against them he will thunder in heaven.
The LORD will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king
and exalt the horn of his anointed.”

Then Elkanah went home to Ramah. And the boy was ministering to the LORD in the presence of Eli the priest (1 Sam. 2:1–11).

Hannah’s first prayer (1 Sam. 1:11) was for a holy warrior. Her second prayer, this one, is a prophecy that the holy war will indeed be executed. It is her prayer to the throne of God because the judgment throne in the land had become corrupted. As such, we can read this prayer as an appeal to disinherit and destroy the wicked rulers of the nation, and to reestablish the nation with godly leadership.

Unfortunately, Hannah’s story is usually not preached except on Mother’s Day. With this occasion comes an emphasis upon her desire for motherhood being granted by the grace of God, and this as a reward for Hannah’s patience and faith. These lessons are then translated to modern mothers: trust in the Lord, have faith, have patience, and make sure to “dedicate” your child to the Lord. And here: have a carnation.

As we have seen, however, Hannah’s vow in 1 Samuel 1:11 actual contains a strong political element and an appeal to “holy war” to bring revival and reformation to a wicked land. As such, there is a lot missing in the modern application merely to the appreciation of motherhood. But these are the sorts of perversions that result when the church adopts the promotion of secular holidays. While florists and greeting card companies have a lot to gain, the Church has a lot to lose. Christians ought to be wary of how the profound meaning of Scripture can be diluted and eventually lost in such endeavors.

In this same strain, Hannah’s second prayer is also often narrowed to little more than an outpouring of praise to God for the arrival of her child. It is that, of course, but it is much more. And while it is often pointed out how this prayer is paralleled very closely by the virgin Mary in Luke 1:46–56, the socio-political implications are equally ignored in that case. In both cases, there is an element of looming judgment upon the nation, including calamity, collapse, and other painful lessons. Part of Hannah’s boldness here is that she does not shy away from bearing that message to the very people upon whom it would fall heaviest.

Some Background

The astute listener may have noted that we have skipped some verses already in our sermon series. Well, I have to admit, I am not one of those good Presbyterians who make sure to hit every single verse, let alone one of those perfect Puritans who will get seven years of sermons out of ten verses. What we have skipped is for the most part some narrative detail which we will either allude to in passing (as needed), or did not need to be referenced in light of the particular emphases and applications we are making from the texts.

In arriving at this sermon on 1 Samuel 2:1–11 immediately after considering Hannah’s vow in 1:11, we have “skipped” over some of the discussion between Eli and Hannah, as well as the birth and growth of the young boy Samuel. We have alluded to the latter of these somewhat in that we noted Hannah’s faithfulness in fulfilling her difficult promise to give up her son when the time came. But the interaction that occurred between Eli and Hannah reveals a detail that resurfaces in Hannah’s covenant lawsuit here. That detail is this: “Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the LORD” (1 Sam. 1:9).

Two things are important to note in this verse. First, Eli was sitting on “the seat.” The word does have a definite article—“the”—in the Hebrew. In other words, this is not just any seat, it is the seat. What seat does this mean? It would have been more helpful had most of the modern translations followed Young’s Literal Translation in recognizing the Hebrew word kisse’ as “throne” rather than merely “seat.” This word is specifically used to describe the thrones of Pharaoh (Gen. 41:40; Ex. 11:5; 12:29), of Hebrew kings in general (Deut. 17:18), of Eglon king of Moab (Jdg. 3:20), of David (2 Sam. 3:10; 7:13, 16; et al), of the Lord Himself (Isa. 6:1), and numerous others throughout the rest of the Old Testament. Almost without exception, every reference to this word has special application to a throne of authority and power. Thus, Eli was sitting upon the throne of judgment, playing the role of a judge of Israel. He was not merely sitting like an old man in his rocking chair on the front porch, although for all the good he did as a judge of Israel, he might as well have been.

The second noteworthy aspect of this vignette is that this throne was positioned “beside the doorpost of the temple of the LORD.” First, “temple” refers to the tabernacle, for the temple would not be built until Solomon. But more important is the reference to the “doorpost” of this tabernacle. The tabernacle was a symbolic reconstruction of the Garden of Eden. It was the place where man could have access to the presence of God. Although, being post-fall, this approach could only be done after blood atonement, purification rituals, and via a mediator. The curtain to the most holy place as decorated with cherubim, recalling the angelic guardian of Eden. The most holy place could only be entered by the high priest once a year, and then only after making atonement for himself and under severe scrutiny by God. Eden, however, was also a microcosm of what the world should have become had Adam and Eve not rebelled. As such, we can say that the tabernacle was also something of a microcosm of the world. Understanding the “doorpost” here as a pillar of the little world of the tabernacle will help us see a connection to Hannah’s prophecy in this passage.

In short, the background of 1 Samuel 1:9 establishes for us that Eli the high priest was also acting as a judge in Israel. This is not surprising in that this was still the period of the judges, and the priests were mandated by God’s law to fulfill a judicial role (Deut. 17:8–11). But this sets us up to understand the enormity of the call for judgment that is to come, for Eli will be exposed as a failure in both arenas: as priest and as civil ruler (indeed, as father, too). And we will also see that the judgment shall come upon the whole “world” of Israel as it is to come upon the throne and pillars of which Hannah will speak.

The latter part of chapter 1 recounts Hannah’s raising of the child Samuel up until the time he was weaned. She then fulfilled her vow and delivered the child to the house of the Lord and to Eli in particular (1 Sam. 1:24–25). She stated to them that this was the child for which she had prayed. God had answered her call for a Nazirite leader in the land. At this point, in the midst of a congregation of priests including the High Priest, Hannah unleashed her prophetic prayer.

A Great Reversal

Hannah’s prayer begins with praise to God: “My heart exults in the LORD” (v.1). But this entails a blast of judgment upon His enemies: “My mouth derides my enemies” even before we get beyond verse 1. But this is not judgment in a vacuum or for no good reason. Hannah derides her enemies “because I rejoice in your salvation.” This means two things up front: 1) God’s salvation was the central force behind Hannah’s bold, faithful actions, and 2) to rejoice in God’s salvation involves simultaneously opposing His enemies.

Recall also the audience that is in play here—something not often noted, but which is crucial to the context. This is not a play. Hannah is breaking into soliloquy in the darkness here. She is pronouncing this at the house of the Lord and in the presence of the priests, including Eli. As such she is carrying a message of a return to the central mission of God in the land, His salvation, and calling down judgment upon the enemies who have corrupted that mission: the priests, and the high priest-judge Eli.

As such we can understand Hannah’s prophecy here as a covenant lawsuit. Although Hannah was not herself a judge, she obviously has some gift for communicating the terms of God’s covenant. Thus we can see her as within the Hebrew prophetic tradition, which was mostly that of bringing covenant lawsuits against the nation of Israel when they had broken their end of the covenant with God. To a lesser extent, Hannah is like a new Deborah, who had concluded her own song by saying, “So may all your enemies perish, O LORD! But your friends be like the sun as he rises in his might” (Jdg. 5:31). The difference in this case was that the enemies were not gentile nations oppressing Israel from without, but rather the very leadership within Israel itself. Such internal corruption was precisely the job for the Old Testament prophet—a tradition which Samuel is the beginning (Acts 3:24).

These considerations shed light upon the rest of what Hannah says to this audience of leaders. Imagine their shock and dismay when she pinned them with the imperative, Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. It is most likely that the priests upon hearing this considered it only a platitudinous generality and did not care to apply it directly to themselves. And while it certainly is good spiritual advice in general, it also had direct reference to the corruption of the house of Eli.

Whether or not they had the humility and softness of conscience to acknowledge it, God knew. This God is a God of knowledge—He knows all. And not only does He know all, this all-knowing God is also a judge: by him actions are weighed. Hannah’s point here is to warn the priests both that they had been discovered, and that God would be holding court based upon His finding of facts, and rendering judgment accordingly.

The emphasis upon judgment grows strongest at the end of the passage: 

He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
                  but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
                  for not by might shall a man prevail.
         The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces;
                  against them he will thunder in heaven.
              The LORD will judge the ends of the earth (vv. 9–10).

But it is made personal with these priests, not to them directly by Hannah, but to the reader in a literary way. Drawing upon the background mentioned just above, Hannah’s prayer recalls both the throne and the doorpost/pillar mentioned in relation to Eli:

He raises up the poor from the dust;
                  he lifts the needy from the ash heap
         to make them sit with princes
                  and inherit a seat of honor.
         For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s,
                       and on them he has set the world.

Now, I’ll admit, it is possible to read too much into this as a direct connection. But it is there and is worth making note. After all, our God of details went to the trouble of telling us that Eli was sitting on a throne by a pillar of the tabernacle just a chapter prior to having Hannah prophecy that God changes those on the throne and upholds the pillars of the earth. I think that’s meaningful enough to note. That this connection may have been obvious only to the later reader and not the priests at the time is no problem: God often allows those whom He will judge to remain in the dark on certain things. It was for this reason that Jesus spoke in parables (Luke 8:10). Even still, the thought of a disinheritance of the throne and a new heir to the throne would itself have been enough to startle Eli and company.

And this is exactly how Hannah’s message concludes: with the promise of a new heir to the throne. God would give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed. In short, Eli and company would be going out, and a new order would be coming in. As much of the language of Hannah’s prophecy indicates, God is a God of great reversals. Here the Israelites were to expect one of those great reversals.

In light of all this, we should make sure we understand the nature and scope of Hannah’s refocusing the nation upon God’s salvation. Particularly, we must revisit the word “salvation.” Hannah’s view obviously encompasses much more than the mere salvation of the soul so one can go to heaven. While it includes this, it goes far beyond it and includes the full restoration of the whole man and whole society. God’s salvation touches every aspect of society from the impoverished all the way up to the throne.

Hannah’s Education

We should be careful, however, in calling Hannah “prophetic” in this passage, for we do not see any indication that she was directly moved by the Holy Spirit in the sense of the later Old Testament prophets. Nevertheless, she still had a keen awareness of what constituted the covenant and how God would manage the terms of the covenant in history: that is, through either blessings or cursings. The question becomes, without direct inspiration, where would Hannah have learned all of these theological concepts?

The answer is quite simple. Some of the central images and ideas in Hannah’s prayer are found first in the prayer of Moses in Deuteronomy 32. This prayer of Moses would probably have been well-known and would have provided a simple yet accurate and profound theological education to everyone who paid attention. Note some of similarities with Hannah’s prayer:

For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice (Deut. 32:1; see 1 Sam. 2:1–2).

I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand (Deut. 32:1; see 1 Sam. 2:6–8).

Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly (Deut. 32:1; see 1 Sam. 2:9–10).

The point here is that any Israelite who had heard of Moses’ prayer and had paid attention to it would have had enough theological and covenantal understanding to prepare such a prayer. Hannah, it appears, was one of those who had paid attention, and who also took the content very seriously. A corollary to this point, however, is that Hannah was able to judge and condemn the priesthood and leadership based upon the equivalent of a Sunday school education, for this was basic popular theology in the land of Israel. This also means, however, that Eli and the priests were being condemned by a theological message that every child should have known.

Application

1. Confronting wicked leaders

Hannah’s striking example here is of confronting the wicked political and ecclesiastical leaders of her day. She did this in three ways: 1) prayer, 2) preaching the terms of the covenant, and 3) personal sacrifice to provide the alternative.

First, Hannah worked to confront public wickedness through prayer. We have now seen two prayers of hers. The first was a private prayer. This one was public. The first was for a national judge. The second was for national judgment, including a changing of the guard. As we have seen, God answered her first prayer. As we shall see, He will certainly answer the second as well.

As we said in the sermon on her first prayer (1 Sam. 1:11), the beginning of national revival begins with prayer. Note here that it begins with private prayer, then progresses to demonstrations of public prayer at appropriate times and places. A great opportunity for this today would be praying or singing the imprecatory psalms during public worship against wicked rulers today. This is what God’s psalms of wrath and vengeance are for, after all. Let’s use them in the tradition of Hannah. And God will answer His Word.

Second, Hannah preached the terms of the covenant to her wicked rulers. In other words, she confronted them with the word of God. We noted that she drew from Mosaic precedent and that this would have been fundamental theology for the community of Israel. This would certainly have pricked their hearts, for while they may not have obeyed the Word with much attention, they certainly knew that it was infallible and that God would bring it to pass. This is a powerful witness even to disobedient believers. Whereas prayer is a tool by which God brings change, His Covenant-Word is both 1) the blueprint according to which He will do it, and 2) the public witness that He will.

We must have the same trust in, and application of, God’s Word. Unfortunately we too often fail in this regard when it comes to public matters (usually due to the directions of timid or deceived pastors). We ought to have no hesitation at all in proclaiming Scripture in the public square, especially in times of public crisis. It is in such times that the Word of God, and the judgments it may announce, are needed most. To withhold it is not only cowardly but faithless. It is not to trust God’s Word ourselves first. Do we not think it reaches out and accomplishes what He wills, as He says (Isa. 55:11)? Then why would we ever withhold it except for unbelief? So let us embrace it for what it is: the only remedy for all the ills of humanity, including society. Then let us proclaim it boldly in every public square.

Third, Hannah confronted the wickedness of her day via personal sacrifice, particularly with a view of providing the alternative. This is what her first prayer had been all about. She asked for the Nazirite leaders, and God him to her. Now the time had come to deliver him over to the temple. Now was the time to make good on her promise. And she did.

But imagine what a personal sacrifice it was! She had no idea at this point that she would have more children in the future (1 Sam. 2:21). This was her only child, a child of miraculous birth. She certainly had to have been attached to little Samuel. But now the time had come to part—a feat totally at odds with every maternal instinct (how would that be for a mother’s day sermon!). Nevertheless, Hannah obeyed her vow and made the sacrifice. Hannah had the fortitude to keep her word, remain faithful to her Lord, and bear with the personal loss. It was a crucial moment in Israel’s history, and in that big picture, Hannah’s personal loss was a national gain (of which she would benefit as well).

This is a powerful lesson for us. In times of wickedness, social change for the better does not come about without sacrifice. One way wickedness gains ascendancy in society often is through consumption and complacency brought about by abundance. God warned His people of this before they entered the Promised Land (Deut. 8). In such a society, the faithful as well can become overcome with luxury, recreation, and entertainment. The path back to godliness and freedom will inevitably involve serious personal sacrifices. We must learn to work more, give more, and indulge less. If we are not willing to devote serious time and resources, finances, to the advancement of the kingdom of God, then restoration can be forgotten; judgment is sure.

Judgment begins at the house of God. We must be the ones willing to clean house and take out the trash before the general society will. The moment we consider it tough to sacrifice in our age of commercialism and venti lattes, let us consider again the vow of Hannah and her fulfillment of it.

2. The God of Reversals

All of the confrontation in the world will do no good unless God is behind it. It may in fact be counterproductive. Hannah knew she was in the midst of a wicked nation living under God’s judgment. Her prayer was for God to bring about a reversal of the nation’s fortunes. Thankfully, as her theology reveals, she knew the God of great reversals. She knew the God who could both kill and resurrect to life. He was the only hope anyone could have had at turning around the social landscape. But that hope is powerful and sure beyond anything we can imagine. He is beyond able to save any person or any society.

In the midst of a corrupt and declining society, let us have the same hope. First, let us hope only in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who alone can infuse our prayers and proclamations with the power and grace to effect change. But secondly, let us be bold enough to hope in a God who can indeed bring about great reversals in history. No matter what depth of corruption a society has fallen, rest assured that our God can save it. Just as no sinner is beyond the saving power of Christ, so no society is beyond the salvation of God if the people will indeed repent and call out to Him.

3. The Gospel

As with so many stories we will encounter throughout 1 Samuel, the Gospel is foreshadowed clearly in certain ways here. We have a child of miraculous birth to a mother who then praises the God of judgment, etc. We have already noted the parallel in Mary’s magnificat (Luke 1:46–56). It is not accidental. Just as Hannah was calling down judgment upon a corrupt priesthood and nation of Israel, so Mary was introducing the Messiah to the same corrupt people who would not receive Him. He ends up predicting the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt. 24) and the end of the Israelite kingdom in favor of the Church (Matt. 21:43). Both were announcing great reversals in history—Jesus, of course, being the hinge upon which all history turns.

Hannah gives us a clear reference to resurrection, one of the few in the Old Testament: “The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up” (2:6). She also gives us a prediction of God’s own anointed King before there ever was any Hebrew king in the land: “he will give strength to his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed” (2:10). It is unlikely she expected such results, especially resurrection, from her own son Samuel. These sayings are nothing less than expressions of total faith in the promises of God to send a Messiah, the true Shiloh (Gen. 49:10). Again, these are great reversals as well. In one instance we have the King of glory now ruling what was once dominated by the prince of darkness. In the case of resurrection, you have the power of life destroying death forever.

As Christ’s followers, we live in the light of the great reversal He has already effected. We know He will someday call us all from the grave to a judgment of both the righteous and the wicked. In the meantime, we pray, preach, obey, and sacrifice for His kingdom, expecting Him to put all His enemies under His feet as we go. In short, we are here to bring a covenant lawsuit against the faithless world until it all submits to Him.

4. There is no neutrality

The opening lines to Hannah’s prayer here reveal a basic truth in biblical theology: there is no neutrality in any area of life. We briefly mentioned the line already: “My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation.” We noted here that to rejoice in God’s salvation means simultaneously to oppose and deride His enemies. There is no middle ground here. There is no fence. Either you are faithful to God and serve Him, or you are in rebellion to God and serving another. If you give quarter and reprieve to the enemy is to deny the work of God. To serve God is to join His side 100 percent. Hannah was sold out to God 100 percent. As a result, she carried the message of God’s judgment and renovation of Israel’s leadership directly to the leaders themselves.

We are in the same situation. There is no neutrality today either. The people of God must serve Him 100 percent. We must then fight against all His enemies all the time. When we ignore them, redefine them, excuse them, hide from them, or find any other means of escape, we are denying the God we claim so proudly to serve. It is a step away from blasphemy.

The sad part is that so much of the Church and her leadership today is primarily preoccupied with finding ways to deny God in this manner, and then excusing their faithlessness in the name of Christian piety. They talk about the great themes of Christian theology: the cross, the blood, the resurrection, faith, hope, love. But these are rarely applied to anything beyond individual salvation of the soul. Once the “decision” is made to follow Christ, or even once people are admitted to church membership even in Reformed circles (where “decisions” are not practiced in this way), there will indeed be talk of discipleship, but this will go little beyond, again, the level of personal individual platitudes. Never discussed are the social and economic dimensions flowing from the Gospel: self-sacrifice, God’s law, investment, inheritance, capitalism, production, education, protection of life (the unborn), etc. Advancing these issues could cause all kinds of discomfort among the congregation, because they require substantial, life-altering dedication and sacrifice—i.e., time, effort, and money. People are often already set in their ways completely at odds with the values taught in God’s law, and advancing that law in a sermon series would force their hand: either repent and change, leave that church, or . . . silence that pastor!

So it doesn’t take long to figure out the common denominator in most Evangelical preaching and teaching: “don’t rock the boat.” It’s OK to talk about “thou shalt not steal” on the personal level, but the preacher will not address stealing done through government, through majority vote, through property taxation to fund public schools and other “vital” services, through a million other coercive means in society including inflation and fractional reserve banking. This is controversial, mainly because too many people in Christian congregations either 1) approve of it, 2) believe there’s no way their government could ever be corrupt, 3) benefit from it themselves, or 4) all of the above. This causes controversy in the church (as preaching against sin always stirs up self-justification and backlash against the messenger), and the preacher avoids it. And thus, he denies God in all these applications.

Then, the preachers who learn best how to avoid the controversy and suppress the tough issues in their churches go on to teach in seminary so they can develop theologies and theories and train others how to do so consistently. The most powerful theory to date has been the radical “two kingdoms” doctrine: the belief that the Gospel only applies to personal piety, not social. Thus, the proponents of this doctrine say that Church and State are so radically separated that the Gospel applies inside the Church, but not so much to the State. Even if it does somehow apply to the State, it is wrong for Christians to tell other Christians that the Bible mandates certain behaviors or limits upon the State. In short, Christians should keep their “opinions” on public matters private. This doctrine then acts as a pious justification for those preachers who wish to avoid those tough topics in their church: “we’re doing our job within our proper sphere and not sticking our noses into political topics where they don’t belong.”

Thus the example just given for “thou shalt not steal” will come to be applied to all the other commandments as well. Which means that the Church ends up not only tolerating, but justifying the existence of other gods, idols, blasphemy, adultery, theft, murder, lies, envy, etc., in societyin the public square. And that same Church will forbid Christians to tell other Christians it is wrong to allow these things a pass in society.

What has the Church done here with its fancy doctrines of men? It has done nothing less that create a massive sector of society which is allegedly neutral in regard to the rule and authority of Christ and of his law-Word. But what does Christ say? “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18). That’s all authority, in heaven and on earth. There is no neutrality in regard to His authority. But what of us? What does He command us to pray in regard to his kingdom rule? “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). Thus, it would appear, there is no neutrality for us here on earth either. So whatever your preacher or your favorite theologian says about where you must be silent with God’s commandments, they’re either deceived or they’re intentionally lying. There is no neutrality. God’s Word applies to every area of life, and that includes every square inch of the public square, and every letter of every page of every legal code.

And what was it Hannah concluded? “The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.” Let our Christians today and their faithless leaders consider that phrase “the ends of the earth” before they start parceling out where they think God’s Word applies and where it doesn’t. Let the theologians and seminarians go, stand in awe, and sit at the feet of little Hannah, and learn how to acknowledge the rule of Christ in every arena, comfortable or not. Let them learn from her there is no neutrality in any matter. Let them speak as she, or let them come under the curses of the same enemies she confounds.

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