<< 1 Samuel 1: The Birth of Samuel >>
“Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about, after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the Lord.”-1 SAM.i. 20.
SAMUEL was one of the great leaders of the Jewish nation. His life was long. His virtue was true and courageous. His influence was pure and powerful. His death was honoured with his nation’s tears. All the Israelites were gathered together, and lamented him, and buried him at his house in Ramah.
The glory of the Word of God is that it discloses lessons of wisdom and importance in its outer, as well as in its inner meaning. The Bible, as that name implies, is the Book above all other books. “Thou hast magnified thy Word, above all thy name,” is true of the literal sense, when devoutly and thoughtfully considered, as well as of the spirit: and tends to make a man who loves and meditates upon it, “thoroughly furnished’ to every good work.” The period to which the divine history before us’ applies, was about three hundred years after the death of Joshua. The nation had passed through a long series of declensions, and sunk at last into a condition of lawless anarchy, division and impurity, but little better than that of the more ancient Sodom. The weakness of some judges, the wickedness of others, and the turbulence. of the people, had brought the twelve tribes, formerly so wonderfully led from Egypt, to the brink of ruin; and a man was needed, who could once more introduce divine government among them, and be to them as the preserving “salt of the earth.”· God gave them such a man in answer to the pious Hannah’s- prayer. This gift of God was Samuel. The sacred narrative, in portraying the deep feeling of Hannah, -a prayer too deep for. words-places strongly before us the inestimable value of a child. She was “in bitterness, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore,” because she had no child. She vowed that If she were blessed by her heart’s deep petition being granted, she would dedicate the child to the peculiar service of the Lord in the ministry;and in due time her prayer was granted. The birth of a child is so common an event that, like all our greatest blessings, which are common to all it arrests but little attention. In parents and immediate friends a babe awakens feelings tender and affectionate, yet often much less deep than the wondrous occasion requires. What a lovely, what a mysterious, what an awful nature exists in that immortal little being! An unending life has begun! The germs of heaven, of earth, and of hell, are enclosed in its astonishing person. The power of increasingly enjoying the two worlds of sense and spirit is there, but the power also of perverting both! Humanity is a God-formed lyre to be played upon by the universe without, and the universe within, until every string thrills with the music of intelligence, wisdom, love, gratitude, beauty, and joy.
A child is an image of God Himself. All his infinite qualities are finitely shown in miniature, in the “heir of immortality.” And the universe, the Deity’s grander image, responds to humanity, even infantine humanity, because it issued from His Divine Humanity of love, justice, truth, order, use, and happiness. A wondrous, glorious thing is a child! After man fell, and the promise was given that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head, an expectation filled the mothers of the Eastern world in that most ancient time that the child redeemer might be born of them. This surrounded babyhood with a peculiar glory, besides its intrinsic worth. This prevalent feeling is described by Virgil in his magnificent poem, “Pollio” and far more anciently still in the words of Eve respecting Cain: “I have gotten a man—the Lord.” The word ‘from’ in our translation is not in the original language. All over the East the belief was spread and perpetuated that a divine child was to be born. That belief is referred to in the utterance by Zacharias the father of the Baptist, when inspired by the Holy Spirit, and referring to the infant Redeemer, he said, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He hath visited and redeemed His people, and hath raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began. The expectation thus cherished and transmitted from generation to generation, gave rise to the allegories of Egypt, India, Babylon, and Greece in which the incarnations of Deity hold a distinguished place, and at the same time, it imparted a holiness and depth to the desire for children, which is worthily cherished by the newly-married of our race, until the Babe of Bethlehem was born, and men could truly say, “Unto us a Child is. born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and His name shall be called WONDERFUL, COUNSELLOR, THE MIGHTY GOD, THE EVERLASTING FATHER, and THE PRINCE OF PEACE.”
A child is a wondrous thing! Who knows what is wrapped up in its mysterious being? God helps men through men. When the infant Moses lay in his little ark, who could have surmised that in helpless innocence the deliverer of his people was there, the lawgiver, who would receive the laws of love afresh from heaven, and transmit them to untold myriads of the human race.
If mothers would feel like Hannah that their children were confided to them by the Lord, to be trained in gentleness, in purity, in principle, to become intelligent, pure and good, the world would soon be filled with nobler characters, and government trade commerce, and operations of every kind would feel the advent of a nobler Christianity, a living religion of integrity, light and love. If there were more Hannahs, there would be more Samuels.
Let us now penetrate into the divine page a little deeper.
We must ever bear in mind that the Word of God, like the works of God, contains a living inner meaning, “My words they are spirit and they are life” (John vi. 63), applies to all His words, precept, parable, and history alike.
The divine words must contain divine thoughts, and these are always on things higher than those of earth. It is written, ” My thoughts are not as your thoughts, neither are your ways as my ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. lv, 8, 9)
The history of Israel, It is well known by spiritually-minded men, is a divine parable, as well as a real history, When the Psalmist was about to recite all the dealings of the Lord with his nation from their life in Egypt onwards, he said, “I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old” (Ps. lxxviii. 2)
It is this spiritual meaning which constitutes the chief mark of the divinity of the Word. There is everywhere beneath its hallowed page, a stream of silvery wisdom, and yet another, and yet another, which reaches up to God. He has magnified His Word above all His name, These are the things the angels desire to look into (I Pet. i. 12). In this respect the Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul (Ps. xix. 7).
To see the spiritual lessons involved in the divine history before us, we must notice the leading particulars related, and then apply the law of correspondences or analogy between the things of earth and those of heaven. We shall thus rise from the letter to the spirit.
Israel, under the judges, had sunk into all wickedness, lewdness, and lawlessness existed all over the land, and this was called doing “right in their own eyes.”
The Jews, in the time of our Lord, had made the commandments of God of none effect by their traditions, and many Christians at the present day set the commandments of God aside by their traditions. These also do right in their own eyes. How many have the tradition that the commandments of God were never intended to be kept, and cannot be kept. These therefore do that which is right in their own eyes, restrained only by the law of the land, often far from righteous; or the custom of their trade, or of their associates, often far from moral or just.
How could the thousand knaveries of dishonest trade continue unless in one way or another, by one tradition or another the law of God were set aside, and laws were made by people for themselves, which are good in their own eyes? The moderate offend in a less violent way, the bold to the worst extreme; but each have the secret hope that he will take no eternal harm, for he has a tradition that by a priest or a prayer, he will make all right at last. He is doing that which is right in his own eyes, but forgetting the great truth that that which is highly esteemed among men is often an abomination in the sight of God (Luke xvi. 15).
For a society depraved and polluted by self and selfish axims, there is no help but by a restoration of the Word of God. Divine light must penetrate the darkness. God must in some way give His mind again to the people. In man himself there is no help. The way in which the Divine Mercy brings aid to man is the subject of the spiritual sense of the sacred narrative before us. Samuel was raised up, a seer, who received Divine Truth from the Most High, and imparted its pure lessons of life to the people. When the state of a church has become grossly dark and evil, so that a new beginning must be made, there are always a few, a remnant, of good, whom the Lord can make a nucleus of better things. Noah, his wife, his sons, and their wives, were the remnant in the days of the flood. The Israelites in Egypt were the remnant in the days of Moses. Those who expected the coming of the Lord Jesus were the remnant by which Christianity was commenced, and, to whom the Saviour said, “Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Elkanah and his two wives represent the remnant in the days of the history we are now considering. They dwelt at Ramathaim Zophim, some heights, probably a day’s journey from Shiloh, also in the country of Ephraim where the tabernacle then was. Names and places in Scripture have a spiritual signification in the spiritual sense, which is indicated by the meaning of the terms. Ramathaim means heights, and Zophim, those who expect. The heights of the expecters, is expressive of the state of the few, in a corrupt time, who preserve themselves in high principles, the principles of virtue, charity, and love, and wait for better things. They are like the shepherds who kept watch over their flocks by night, and to whom the glory of the Lord was revealed, The “expectors” who yearn for a New Church when the old has become like “salt which has lost its savour,” always spiritually keep watch over their flocks, or in other words, over those gentle affections which are grouped in their bosom, like flocks of sheep and lambs. They dwell spiritually in Ramathaim Zophim. They will not stoop to any practices which they feel assured are low, base, mean, or wicked. They expect the coming of the Lord; and they keep their lamps trimmed, so that when the Divine voice is heard, they may go forth to meet Him.
Elkanah which in Hebrew means God the zealous, represents the Divine zeal, urging them to spiritual things—-their conviction that God is zealous is implied, and that they should be zealous for him. The two wives, Peninnah and Hannah, represent the two affections which exist in the souls of the true servants of the Lord, the affection for outward truth, represented by Peninnah, and of inward truth, represented by Hannah. The word Peninnah signifies “a pearl,” a precious stone good but of a low order, a product of the sea. Hannah means “grace,” and refers to what is interior in religion. The same method of representing this interesting and important description of the Church, occurs often in the Holy Word. Lamech, with his two wives, is an early instance. Abraham, with Sarah and Hagar, which things are an allegory, as Paul said, is another instance. Jacob, with Leah and Rachel, really brings before us the same general subject; and the Prophet Isaiah, in the 54th chapter, uses the same divine symbols when he exclaims: “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord ” (ver. I).
How very like is this triumphant burst of the prophet when he beheld in prophetic vision a spiritual church extending among men, to the joyful exultation of Hannah, when the Lord had granted her request. “The barren hath borne seven, and she that hath many children hath waxed feeble” (I Sam, ii. 5). In the Gospel, the beautiful narrative of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary relates to the same interesting theme.
The Church, the bride and wife of the Lord Jesus, is represented by a woman, or rather by two women. Her first state is always external, like that represented by Hagar, Leah, Peninnah, Martha. While striving to obey the law of duty, whose reasons she can but faintly see, she is in servitude. She is a hired servant of our heavenly Father, in a good service, but yet one felt as somewhat of bondage. Religion in this external state has many sons before any are born again of inward truth. There are a far greater number of Marthas than of Marys. Many come into the state of obedience and do what they are commanded, and it is right they should. They are the sons of Peninnah. They find pearls, but pearls of the letter of the Word. The Lord loves them, encourages them, blesses them; but they are only in the outer courts of His kingdom. The truth has not yet made them free. The Lord is talking with them by the way, and their hearts often burn within them; but they do not yet exactly know who He is. The spirit of Truth is with them, but not yet in them, They are the children of obedience, but not the children of light, nor the children of love. Yet the inward church yearns to have children. She is a woman grieved and afflicted in spirit until some are born of her. The inward affection of truth yearns to bring forth, and to form a kingdom of heaven within. The truly spiritually minded will not rest in the outside view of religion. Their yearning for inner wisdom is inexpressibly deep-too deep for words, They wish to know really the nature and character of the Lord, to know the laws of His kingdom; the spirit arid life of His Word. The inward affection of such is represented by Hannah.
The outward church often, like Peninnah, make no account of those who wish to feel and to see something deeper, purer, and better than the common reiteration of the letter of divine things. They mock at those who seek “inner wisdom.” They profess to think they will have great delight in seeing mysteries cleared up hereafter, but have no concern whatever to ask and receive the glory of the Lord now. Such are the Peninnahs. But Hannah, or those who are moved by inner grace, are in bitterness of soul. They pray and weep sore; they love truth and desire to have it now. They wish to know the Lord now. They desire to become heavenly now, Their aim is to have a new heart and a right spirit now. They know the Lord has promised the new birth, and they wish in humility to have it. They yearn to think as angels think, love as angels love, and enjoy a present heaven.
Eli observed Hannah in her prayer too deep for words, and did not understand her.
Those of the character of Eli, the good, easy ceremonialists, the formalists, the, religious by trade, wonder at the emotion of such people. They believe them fanatical, enthusiastic, drunk, and are astonished that they cannot be quiet. But, on finding the case is too deep for them, they give it up, and let them go in peace. Such are the characters represented by the words of Hannah, and those of Eli. Hannah persevered with her prayer of faith and the Lord heard her. Her manifest sincerity and earnestness impressed the high priest, and he said, “Go in peace; and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of Him” (v. 17). Hannah rose and was confident her prayer would be answered, and all would be well.
In due time Samuel was born, and the whole family was grateful, worshipped the Lord, and gave thanks. When the new-man the babe in Christ, is born, he has been asked of the Lord and he has been granted by the Lord. It is the new man yet a babe, but created in righteousness and true holiness (Eph. iv, 24), hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and with blessed aspirations. His mother, Hannah, the inward affection for interior truth, will nurse him well, and supply him with the sincere milk of the Ward, as the apostle Peter says, “and in due time he will be weaned” (I Pet. ii. 2).
Samuel appeared in the temple with three bullocks, an ephah of fine flour, and a bottle of wine (v. 24). There will be inward meditation, inward devotion, and converse with the Lord, when the new birth has taken place, so that a full conscience, a goodly inner man is formed, and then he is presented visible to others in the Lord’s church, with the offering of three bullocks, an ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine. These offerings represent the perfect obedience the child of the Lord desires to render; represented by the three bullocks by which the infant Samuel was accompanied to the temple: the one they slew is the acknowledgment that we should have no self-righteousness in this holy obedience we yield to our Heavenly Father and Friend, the contrite heart is truly his gift.
The ephah of flour means inward charity, called by our Lord the full corn in the ear (Mark iv. 28), and by the Divine Spirit in the Psalms the finest of wheat (lxxxi. 16), while the bottle of wine is the emblem of that cheering inner wisdom which gushes from the thankful heart when it is happy in conjunction with the Lord. New wine is put into the new bottle of a regenerated mind, the cup is felt to be running over, and the soul gratefully exclaims, Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. The soul humbled in itself to the dust by a sense of grateful love, yet rejoicing in the divine mercy that has diffused into it a radiant glory full of heaven, exultingly exclaims with the words of Hannah’s song, “He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory.” What a wondrous, what a glorious change is wrought in the soul when the new man is born! He who was poor indeed, becomes eternally rich. He who was a slave of sin, becomes divinely free. He who could look only to degradation and insanity, now knows that he will flourish in increasing wisdom and everlasting youth. He who was an incipient fiend becomes a beautiful angel. For the turbulence of a troubled mind, he attains the golden peace of heaven. O let us “give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good; for His Mercy endureth for ever.”
Author: Jonathan Bayley— The Divine Wisdom of the Word of God (1892)