Sermon preached on 1 Samuel 2:1-10 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/07/2014 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Samuel 2:1-10
“My Heart Rejoices in the LORD”
There are some words that have been passed down in various folk stories, words that have the power to simultaneously make the happy person sad, and the sad person happy. The words are: “This too shall pass.” The idea is that of reversal, and it can cut both ways. It can give hope to the person in some tragedy or difficult trial, that something better might be in their future. It can also humble the person who has everything going so right for them, that trouble or heartache might be in their future. And so the words “this too shall pass” can both encourage or humble with the notion of reversal.
Well, in our passage for today we have a prayer of Hannah, often known as the Song of Hannah, because of its poetic qualities. And in this prayer, she prays a lot about this theme of reversal. And yet what her prayer tells us, is that the reversals that come in life are not ultimately just some random thing. That can be the temptation when you here a statement like “this too shall pass.” You can just think about the changing circumstances of life, that life has its ups and downs. But that’s not the doctrine of Hannah’s song here. Nor is that the doctrine of the Bible as a whole. This doctrine of reversal is a very important one here and in numerous places in Scripture. But it’s one intimately connected with God. God is the one who controls the changing circumstances of one’s life. God is able to humble and lift up. Hannah’s song calls us to meditate about why and when and how these reversals happen. She gets us to think about them in light of who God is. And she drives us ultimately to think about them in light of Christ.
Well, as we dig then into studying this song, let’s begin by observing how this follows immediately from last week’s passage. Last week we saw Hannah’s story. We learned about her barrenness and how afflicted and heart-broken she was concerning this. We saw even how her husband’s other wife, Peninnah, set herself as a rival, taunting her , and how Hannah prayed and made a vow to God for a male son, and how God answered that prayer. In turn, Hannah kept her vow and gave her son Samuel to be dedicated to lifelong service to God at the tabernacle. Right after this, Hannah, then according to verse 1, prays this poetic, psalm-like, prayer. Clearly, the content of this psalm, reflects back on Hannah’s circumstances. Her situation was one of reversal, a reversal brought about in her life by God. Verse 5 especially makes us think of Hannah’s specific circumstances when it talks about the barren having that status reversed by bearing seven children. This song also talks about victory over enemies, and we can’t help but think of how Peninnah had set herself up as Hannah’s enemy. And the song starts out very personally in verse 1, using the first person, grammatically speaking. She says of herself, “My heart rejoices in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the LORD. I smile at my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation.”
And so Hannah’s song here makes us remember what God just did in her life, reversing her own situation from one of affliction to great joy. God gives Hannah victory over her rival Peninnah, and as well we see she ultimately goes on to bear a total of six children by the blessing of God. And yet as much as this song helps us to reflect back on Hannah’s circumstances, this clearly is a song that is wider reaching than just Hannah’s own life story. This is similar to what we saw last week as we studied chapter 1. Chapter 1 helped us to think about Hannah’s own life story, but it got us to also think of the bigger picture, of what God would be doing in the life of Israel, in this time of transition from the time of the judges to the monarchy. This is now even more overtly seen with this song.
Yes, this song clearly is a fitting song to celebrate what God just did in Hannah’s life with the birth of Samuel. But clearly this is not specifically a song about Hannah’s life. The theme of how God brings reversal to humans fits her circumstances, but the content of this song is more broad than just her own life story. Three examples from the song show this: One, the reversal of barrenness is only one of many kinds of reversals described here. Two, the reversal of barrenness that’s mentioned here envisions that barrenness replaced with the birth of seven children, but she only goes on to have a total of six children. The number of seven would have poetically been an ideal number, and so it shows that it’s the larger concept of reversal being illustrated here, not actually her own specific story being recounted. Three, the reference to a king in verse 10 doesn’t, at least yet, have any bearing on her story. Prophetically it will, as Samuel will be used to anoint the first two kings of Israel. But at this point, it wouldn’t have actually described Hannah’s past story. The point is that Hannah then prays a prayer that is a general prayer about the kinds of reversals God brings. It’s a general prayer that clearly has an application to her own circumstances. But we must also see then the larger message and the bigger application.
And so this is a song that becomes thematic for the book of 1 and 2 Samuel. Interestingly, 1 and 2 Samuel were originally one book, which were only later divided apparently to make the size more manageable, but it’s really one book. And so the book of Samuel starts out here with a song, and then David sings a song near the end of 2 Samuel that has a similar theme to it. So Hannah and David’s songs are like bookends to the book of Samuel, to get us to think about the reversals God is bringing in Israel’s history and to Israel’s enemies. And this song also ultimately looks forward to Jesus Christ and what God does in Christ and the new covenant for us his people and to the enemies of God.
So as we dig into studying this song, I want to look first at what it says about who God is. And then I want us to look at the reversals that are mentioned. That’s basically how this prayer of Hannah is organized. It’s a back and forth description of these two things, about who God is, and how he brings reversal to humans. We’ll end our analysis by studying the song’s culmination in verse 10 as it brings this all to focus in a Messiah King. So, observe with me first some of the things we learn about God in this psalm. Start in verse 2. There it affirms the holiness of God and the uniqueness of God. We can refer to this as his incomparability. There is no human like him, and surely no other god that would be his rival. In verse 3, we learn that God is the God of knowledge, and this enables him to be the judge of man. In verse 8, we see that God is sovereign over all the creation. It talks there of God owning the pillars of the earth, figurative for how God owns and controls all the creation. He owns the creation, of course, because he is the creator. And his creation is sustained by his power expressed in providence.
And so this psalm presents a holy, unique God, who knows all things, rightly judges mankind, and as creator owns and controls and sustains all things. As we continue to read over this psalm, another thing we learn about this God is that he’s the one behind the reversals. We’ll talk about the reversals more specifically in a moment, but don’t miss this fact. Verse 1 emphasizes that the salvation God’s people find from their enemies in these reversals is from God. The reversals mentioned in verses 4 and 5 are implied judgments from the God who is the judge as mentioned in verse 3. In verses 6, 7, and 8, God is in each verse explicitly credited as the one who makes each described reversal happen. In verses 9 and 10, the people of God are contrasted with the enemies of God, and the point is how God will bring the good reversal to his people, and the bad reversal to his enemies. And finally at the end of verse 10, as it describes this king, it’s God who strengthens and exalts this king of God’s people.
And so hopefully you see the point here. The way God is described here in his holiness, and uniqueness, and his knowledge, and justice, and in his sovereign control over all things, then becomes the context for these reversals. This great and awesome God is fully able to reverse the courses of humans. And this amazing God is bringing about these reversals as part of his holy judgment, in which in his perfect knowledge, is so governing this world in righteousness. Let’s then turn to further think about these reversals now in our second point for today. There are several specific reversals mentioned. And for each, notice that the reversal goes both ways. Someone in some exalted state, is brought low, someone in some low state is brought high. Verse 4 speaks of the reversal in terms of strength: mighty men humbled, those who stumbled girded with strength. Verse 5 speaks of the reversal in regards to possessing food and sustenance: the full are now hungry, and the hungry are now full. Verse 5 goes on to speak of the reversal in regards to the fruit of the womb: the barren bearing many, and the one with children becoming feeble, likely referring to a closing of the womb. Verse 6 speaks about the reversal in regards to death and life: the Lord kills and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and brings up! As a side note, some have wanted to say that this reversal speaks of people being saved from death, in that God can heal people, though it does literally speak of people being both made alive and being brought up from the grave; in other words it talks of resurrection from the dead! Verses 7 and 8 speak of the reversal in terms of wealth, repeatedly emphasizing God’s making the poor rich and the rich poor. It goes on to talk about how God lifts the poor person up into an estate where they are reigning and ruling even!
Verses 9 and 10 really help explain these reversals: It talks about how God’s people will know his sure protection and how the wicked will know his sure destruction. The effect of verses 9 and 10 help us to identify the real thrust of all the reversals in this song. It would be tempting to think in more general terms when you hear these reversals, as if they talked about how in general human lives can have their ups and downs. But verses 9 and 10 make abundantly clear that this isn’t just a general thing. The reversals are talking about what takes place between God’s people and the enemies of God. This song sees the wicked people starting in some exalted state in this life, but having that reversed. And it then also sees the people of God starting in some humble estate in this life, but then having that reversed. Verse 3 said this in similar terms. It warned the proud to not boast because God will ultimately bring judgment, and reverse your high standing if you are his enemy.
What an important point this is. And what a complex subject this is. You see there is this overarching theme in the bible called divine retribution. It’s the notion that if you obey God, you will prosper and be exalted. But if you disobey you will suffer and not be exalted. Follow God and be blessed; don’t follow God and be cursed. That’s the general notion. But it’s not to be taken simplistically. Because sometimes you have the situation like Job, that God allowed Job to suffer for a while to test and prove Job and it did ultimately result in a positive reversal for him. Other times you have like with King Baasha where God exalted him to king, and raised him out of the dust heap, per 1 Kings 16:2, and yet that king proved himself wicked, and so God ultimately humbled him again, and destroyed his house. There’s a complexity to the truth that God will punish the wicked and prosper the righteous. Sometimes the reverse might happen in this life. But the promise is that to whatever degree that does happen, there will be an ultimate reversal or correction of it. The end result will be that God’s people are prospered, and the wicked are destroyed in judgment.
Well, if verses 9 and 10 help to bring clarify on who will receive the good side of this reversal, and who will receive the not good side of this reversal, the last part of verse 10 especially offers brings all of this reversal theme to focus in the King of God’s people, his Messiah. This leads us to our third point, to think about this coming to focus and climax in God’s Messiah King. Verse 10b, “He will give strength to His king, And exalt the horn of His anointed.” This is a very interesting statement given that Israel at this time did not have a king. And so it is clearly prophetic. And given that this book sees the appointment of a king over Israel to be the result of Hannah’s son Samuel anointing King David, then this is very fitting for Hannah to sing about. And so this verse sees, in its most immediate context, about how God would bring reversal in the lives of his people through a king. This would be God’s king given to the people, and God would give this king the strength needed to help lead the people in bringing salvation and reversal to their fortunes.
And so most immediately, we can think of how King David did that against enemies like the Philistines. Wasn’t that a display of God’s strength in reversal, when small David killed the mighty Goliath? Yes, God used King David in reversing Israel’s impoverished state among the nations. You may have noted that in verse 10, this king is also referred to as the Lord’s Anointed. In the Hebrew, that is the word for Messiah, and it means “anointed”. The kings were anointed by God into office through the mediation of the prophets. That’s why David referred even to King Saul as the Lord’s Anointed. All the kings were called the Lord’s Anointed; they were all Messiahs, literally speaking. The word for Christ, is simply the Greek translation for the word Messiah. And this is the first place in the Bible where the word of Messiah is used to refer to a king. So, when we hear Messiah in this context, we should think of a king of Israel. But, of course, as Christians, we know that this term of Messiah eventually got used to describe a coming king that would be the greatest king ever! A king that would come in the line of David, and bring an everlasting kingdom. And as we hear this song of Hannah, it would be quite appropriate to see that the ultimate fulfillment of this song does come in Christ and in his coming kingdom.
I mean think about it. This was a major theme in the life and ministry and teaching of Jesus, this idea of reversal. And when Mary heard of the virgin conception by the angel Gabriel, she sung that song, the Magnificat. Many have rightly seem many parallels with Mary’s song with Hannah’s song here. Certainly the theme of reversal is there in Mary’s song too, and she’s predicting that God would be doing this through her son Jesus. For example, she predicts of what God would do through Jesus by saying, ” He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty.” And when Jesus came and began his teaching ministry, he repeatedly spoke of a coming reversal. We see that when he taught several times about the first becoming last and the last becoming first. We see it in the beatitudes when he talks about how the various meager estates of his people will be transformed into estates of blessing and fullness.
Though the greatest way we see Jesus dealing with this theme of reversal, is in how he lived it out himself. And it was in living this out himself, that he secured this reversal for us who believe in him. For Jesus, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing. He became man, and embraced the sufferings of man, having no place to lay his head, coming lowly, and bearing up the rejection of the religious leaders, and the injustices of the Romans, and humbling himself ultimately to the cursed death on the cross. This he did in identifying with us — because all this low estate, all this misery, is all ultimately in one way or another a result of sin. And so he took this all on. And went to the cross. And bore the guilt of our sin. And then began the reversal. On the third day he rose from the dead. And he ascended on high to the highest place, with the name that is above every name. And he is coming again in glory. Jesus not only taught about how God will bring a mighty reversal. He lived it out. He bore the misery of our sin-cursed existence. And he reversed it. And at the center of that reversal is the cross, where he paid for our sins.
This is how we can know the salvation of the Lord. This is how God’s people will taste this positive reversal. It’s in God’s Messiah; in the Lord’s Anointed. And I love how this song connects us with the Messiah. Verse 1 starts with Hannah’s joy and she says that her horn is exalted in the Lord. Then in verse 10, when talking about the Messiah, it uses the same language, that God would exalt the horn of his anointed. Our exaltation ultimately comes in the Christ’s exaltation. Through faith we are united to the Messiah King. As he and his kingdom is exalted and established, then we are exalted and established. Hannah’s song looked immediately to this in those days of a Davidic kingdom on earth. But the song looks ahead ultimately to this long awaited King of Kings, the Lord Jesus Christ, and to his heavenly kingdom which will have no end.
And so Hannah’s song calls us to Christ. If you are happening to have success in this world right now, apart from Christ, be warned! This song is to humble you and show you how your success is but temporary. You may in this life find it all come crashing down. But if not in this life, then surely in the next! And so take the warning of this song and come to the King in faith; believe in the Messiah King Jesus! Only in him will you ultimately stand.
And on the other hand, if right now you are a believer in Christ and a member of his heavenly kingdom, take heart. Be encouraged. Let your heart rejoice as Hannah did in verse 1. Yes, maybe right now you are going through some really, really, tough times. If not now, then you might yet in this life go through some very hard times. This song reminds us that as a holy one of the Lord, your state will ultimately be reversed. You will be lifted up and filled and strengthened and made abounding in riches. If not in this life, then surely in the next. Believe and trust this. And as you do, that means you can have your heart rejoice right now.
Brothers and sisters in the Lord, the Lord knows your heartaches. He knows your wounds and troubles. He knows your afflictions. And he hears your prayers. He is coming again. This glorious reversal will yet come to pass. We don’t live in a world of chaos and blind fate. We have a God who is holy, and righteous, and knows all things, even your hurts, and he is in control of all things. And he is coming with healing in his wings. Rejoice, oh weary saint, with Hannah, and with all the saints of old who have trusted in the salvation of the Lord. He has given strength to his Messiah. And he gives you strength again today. And he will be bring our salvation to a glorious completion. Let us rejoice even now as we go to him in prayer. Amen.
Copyright © 2014 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.