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Find true success through a life of integrity and character. We all long to succeed in every area of life, in our careers, our relationships, and our finances. But in the daily pursuit of our dreams, we can forget to examine just how we measure success. The book of 1 Samuel offers striking contrasts between succeeding God’s way and trying to achieve goals by any means necessary. This guide examines the life of King David, and shares how we can find true success through our character, conduct, and ...
Find true success through a life of integrity and character. We all long to succeed in every area of life, in our careers, our relationships, and our finances. But in the daily pursuit of our dreams, we can forget to examine just how we measure success. The book of 1 Samuel offers striking contrasts between succeeding God’s way and trying to achieve goals by any means necessary. This guide examines the life of King David, and shares how we can find true success through our character, conduct, and lifestyle. Part of Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe’s best-selling “BE” commentary series, BE Satisfied has now been updated with study questions and a new introduction by Ken Baugh. A respected pastor and Bible teacher, Dr. Wiersbe journeys through the book of 1 Samuel to uncover how God defines success. You will be inspired to pursue your goals, and encouraged to make the race just as important as the finish line.
"The Lord of Hosts Is with Us"
(1 Samuel 1—3)
One of the awesome titles of our great God is "Lord of Hosts" or "Lord of the armies." This title is used nearly 300 times in Scripture and is found for the first time in 1 Samuel 1:3. "Lord of hosts" describes God as the sovereign Lord of the host of the stars (Isa. 40:26), the angelic host (Ps. 103:20–21), and the armies of Israel (Ex. 12:41; Ps. 46:7, 11). In the Authorized Version, "hosts" is transliterated "Sabaoth" in Romans 9:29 and James 5:4. In his hymn "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," Martin Luther rightly applied this title to Jesus Christ:
Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing,
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God's own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
The story of the people of Israel recorded in the Bible is a living demonstration of the fact that the Lord does win the battle, that He is sovereign in all things. People and events recorded in Scripture are part of what theologians call "salvation history," God's gracious plan to send the Savior into the world to die for sinners. The book of Ruth ends with the name of David (Ruth 4:22), and 1 Samuel tells the story of David's successful preparation for reigning on the throne of Israel. It was from David's family that Jesus Christ, the "son of David," was born. The books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles record many sins and failures on the part of God's people, but they also remind us that God is on the throne, and when He isn't allowed to rule, He overrules. He is the Lord of Hosts, and His purposes will be accomplished.
God Directs History
"What are all histories but God manifesting Himself," said Oliver Cromwell over three centuries ago, but not everybody agrees with him. The British historian Edward Gibbon, who wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, called history "little more than the register of crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind," and Lord Chesterfield, his contemporary, called history "a confused heap of facts." But Dr. A. T. Pierson, preacher and missionary statesman of the last century, said it best when he wrote, "History is His story." This is particularly true of the history recorded in the Bible, for there we have the inspired account of the hand of God at work in the affairs of mankind to bring the Savior into the world.
The book of Judges is the book of "no king" and describes a nation in which anarchy was the norm. "In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judg. 17:6; and see 18:1; 19:1; and 21:25). Israel wasn't a united people, as during the days of Joshua, but it was a loose confederation of tribes with God-appointed judges ruling in widely separated areas. There was no standing army nor were there permanent military leaders. Men from the different tribes volunteered to defend the land when they were summoned to battle.
But during those dark days of the Judges, a love story took place that's recorded in the book of Ruth. Boaz married Ruth the Moabitess, and from their union came Obed, the father of Jesse, who became the father of David the king. "There was no king in Israel, but God was already at work preparing the way for His chosen servant" (Ps. 78:56–72). If Judges is the book of "no king," then 1 Samuel is the book of "man's king." The people of Israel asked for a king and God gave them Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin, who turned out to be a tragic failure. But the Lord had prepared David for the throne, and 2 Samuel is the book of "God's king."
You cannot read the records of the past without seeing the hand of "the Lord of Hosts" at work in the events of what we call history. The Lord is mentioned over sixty times in 1 Samuel 1—3, for He is the chief actor in this drama. Men and women are free to make their decisions, good or bad, but it is Jehovah, the Lord of history, who ultimately accomplishes His purposes in and through the nations (Acts 14:15–17; 17:24–26; Dan. 4:25, 32). Indeed, "history is His story," a truth that is a great encouragement to God's people who suffer for their faith. But this truth is also a warning to unbelievers who ignore or oppose the will of God, because the Lord of Hosts will ultimately triumph.
Samuel was God's "bridge builder" at a critical time in Jewish history when the weak confederation of tribes desperately needed direction. He was the last of the judges (1 Sam. 7:15–17; Acts 13:20) and the first of a new line of prophets after Moses (3:24). He established a school of the prophets, and he anointed two kings—Saul who failed and David who succeeded. At a time when the ages were colliding and everything seemed to be shaking, Samuel gave spiritual leadership to the nation of Israel and helped to move them toward national unification and spiritual rededication.
In human history, it may appear to us that truth is "forever on the scaffold" and wrong is "forever on the throne," but that isn't heaven's point of view. As you study 1 Samuel, you will see clearly that God is always in control. While He is long-suffering and merciful and answers the prayers of His people, He is also holy and just and punishes sin. We live today in a time of radical worldwide change, and the church needs leaders like Samuel who will help God's people understand where they've been, who they are, and what they are called to do.
God Answers Prayer (1:1–28)
During the period of the judges, the Israelites were in dire straits because they lacked godly leadership. The priesthood was defiled, there was no sustained prophetic message from the Lord (3:1), and the law of Moses was being ignored throughout the land. As He often did in Israel's history, God began to solve the problem by sending a baby. Babies are God's announcement that He knows the need, cares about His people, and is at work on their behalf. The arrival of a baby ushers in new life and a new beginning; babies are signposts to the future, and their conception and birth is a miracle that only God can do (Gen. 30:1–2). To make the event seem even greater, God sometimes selects barren women to be the mothers, as when He sent Isaac to Sarah, Jacob and Esau to Rebekah, and Joseph to Rachel.
A divided home (vv. 1–8). Elkanah was a Levite, a Kohathite from the family of Zuph (1 Chron. 6:22–28, 34–35). The Levites were scattered throughout the land and went to Shiloh to minister at the tabernacle whenever they were needed. Elkanah lived in Ramah on the border of Ephraim and Benjamin (see Josh. 18:25). Elkanah's famous son Samuel would be born in Ramah (1 Sam. 1:19–20), live there (7:17), and be buried there when he died (25:1).
In many ways, Elkanah seems to be a good and godly man, except that he had two wives. Apparently Hannah was his first wife, and when she proved barren, he married Peninnah so he could have a family. We don't know why Elkanah didn't wait on the Lord and trust Him to work out His plan, but even Abraham married Hagar (Gen. 16) and Jacob ended up with four wives! While bigamy and divorce were not prohibited by Jewish law (Deut. 21:15–17; 24:1–4), God's original plan was that one man be married to one woman for one lifetime (Mark 10:1–9).
Each year Elkanah took his family to Shiloh to worship (Ex. 23:14–19), and together they ate a meal as a part of their worship (Deut. 12:1–7). This annual visit to the tabernacle should have been a joyful event for Hannah, but each year Peninnah used it as an opportunity to irritate her rival and make fun of her barrenness. When Elkanah distributed the meat from the sacrifice, he had to give many portions to Peninnah and her children, while Hannah received only one portion. Elkanah gave her a generous share, but his generosity certainly didn't compensate for her infertility.
The name Hannah means "a woman of grace," and she did manifest grace in the way she dealt with her barrenness and Peninnah's attitude and cruel words. Elkanah was able to have children by Peninnah, so Hannah knew that the problem lay with her and not with her husband. It seemed unfair that a woman with Peninnah's ugly disposition should have many children while gracious Hannah was childless. She also knew that only the Lord could do for her what he did for Sarah and Rachel, but why had God shut up her womb? Certainly this experience helped to make her into a woman of character and faith and motivated her to give her best to the Lord. She expressed her anguish only to the Lord, and she didn't create problems for the family by disputing with Peninnah. In everything she said and did, Hannah sought to glorify the Lord. Indeed, she was a remarkable woman who gave birth to a remarkable son.
A devout prayer (vv. 9–18). During one of the festive meals at Shiloh, Hannah left the family and went to the tabernacle to pray. She had determined in her heart that the Lord wanted her to pray for a son so that she might give him back to the Lord to serve Him all his life. It's an awesome fact that, humanly speaking, the future of the nation rested with this godly woman's prayers, and yet, how much in history has depended on the prayers of suffering and sacrificing people, especially mothers.
The original tabernacle was a tent surrounded by a linen fence, but from the description in the text we learn that God's sanctuary now included some sort of wooden structure with posts (1:9) and doors (3:15) and in which people could sleep (vv. 1–3). This structure and the tabernacle together were called "the house of the Lord" (1:7), "the temple," "the tabernacle of the congregation," and God's "habitation" (2:32). It was here that aged Eli, the high priest, sat on his priestly throne to oversee the ministry, and it was there that Hannah went to pray. She wanted to ask the Lord for a son and to promise the Lord her son would serve Him all the days of his life.
What an example Hannah is in her praying! It was a prayer born out of sorrow and suffering, but in spite of her feelings, she laid bare her soul before the Lord. It was a prayer that involved submission, for she presented herself to the Lord as His handmaiden, to do whatever He wanted her to do (see Luke 1:48). It was a prayer that also involved sacrifice, because she vowed to give her son back to the Lord, to be a Nazirite (Num. 6) and serve the Lord all his life. In praying like this, was Hannah "bargaining" with the Lord? I don't think so. Bearing a son would have removed her disgrace and perhaps ended her rival's persecution, but giving up the son was another matter. Perhaps it would have been easier for her to go on living in barrenness than to have a child for three years and have to give him up forever. I wonder if God had given Hannah an inner conviction that her son would play an important part in the future of the nation.
Hannah's faith and devotion were so strong that they rose above the misunderstanding and criticism of the nation's highest spiritual leader. When you give your best to the Lord, it's not unusual to be criticized by people who ought to encourage you. Moses was criticized by his brother and sister (Num. 12), David by his wife (2 Sam. 6:12–23), and Mary of Bethany by an apostle (John 12:1–8), yet all three were commended by the Lord. In the first four chapters of 1 Samuel, Eli comes across as a poor example of a believer, let alone a high priest. He was probably self-indulgent (4:18) and definitely tolerant of the sins of his two sons (2:22–36), and yet he was quick to judge and condemn the devotions of a godly woman. "In prayer it is better to have a heart without words, than words without a heart," said John Bunyan, and that's the way Hannah prayed.
Those who lead God's people need spiritual sensitivity so they can "rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep" (Rom. 12:15 NKJV). Eli accused her of pouring out too much wine, when all she was doing was pouring out her soul to God in prayer (1 Sam. 1:15). Five times Hannah called herself a "handmaid," which signified her submission to the Lord and His servants. We don't read that Eli apologized to her for judging her so severely, but at least he gave her his blessing, and she returned to the feast with peace in her heart and joy on her countenance. The burden was lifted from her heart, and she knew that God had answered her prayer.
A distinguished son (vv. 19–28). When the priests offered the burnt offering early the next morning, Elkanah and his family were there to worship God, and Hannah's soul must have been rejoicing, for she had given herself as a living sacrifice to the Lord (Rom. 12:1–2). When the family arrived home, God answered her prayers and gave her conception, and when her child was born, it was a son, whom she named Samuel. The Hebrew word sa-al means "asked," and sama means "heard," and el is one of the names for God, so Samuel means "heard of God" or "asked of God." All his life, Samuel was both an answer to prayer and a great man of prayer.
Certainly Hannah told Elkanah about her vow, because she knew that Jewish law permitted a husband to annul a wife's vow if he disagreed with it (Num. 30). Elkanah agreed with her decision and allowed her to remain at home with her son when the rest of the family went on its annual trip to Shiloh. We can't help but admire Elkanah for what he said and did, for this was his firstborn son by his beloved Hannah, and father and son would be separated for the rest of their lives. A firstborn son had to be redeemed by a sacrifice (Ex. 13:11–13), but Elkanah was giving his son as a living sacrifice to the Lord. As a Levite, a Nazirite, a prophet, and a judge, Samuel would faithfully serve the Lord and Israel and help to usher in a new era in Jewish history.
Mothers usually weaned children at the age of three, and surely during those precious years, Hannah taught her son and prepared him for serving the Lord. He did not have a personal knowledge of the Lord until later when God spoke to him (1 Sam. 3:7–10). Hannah was a woman of prayer (1:27) and taught her son to be a man of prayer. When she and Elkanah took their son to Shiloh to give him to the Lord, they brought along the necessary sacrifices so they could worship the Lord. The Authorized Version reads "three bullocks" while other translations read "a three-year-old bull" (NIV, NASB). However, the fact that the parents took a skin of wine and an ephah of meal, enough to accompany three sacrifices, suggests that three bullocks is the correct number, for three-tenths of an ephah of grain was needed for each bull sacrificed (Num. 28:12).
When Elkanah and Hannah presented their son to the Lord, Hannah reminded Eli that she was the woman who had prayed for a son three years before. Did the old man remember the occasion, and did he recall how unfairly he had dealt with this sorrowing woman? If he did, there's no record of it, but he received the boy to become a servant of the Lord at the tabernacle and be trained in the Law of the Lord.
Considering the low level of spiritual life in Eli and the wicked ways of his sons, it took a great deal of faith for Elkanah and Hannah to leave their innocent son in their care. But the Lord was with Samuel and would preserve him from the pollution around him. Just as God protected Joseph in Egypt, so He would protect Samuel in Shiloh, and so He can protect our children and grandchildren in this present evil world. Judgment was coming to Eli and his family, but God would have Samuel prepared to guide the nation and move them into the next stage of their development.
The story thus far makes it clear that the life and future of a nation depends on the character of the home, and the character of the home depends on the spiritual life of the parents. An African proverb says, "The ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people," and even Confucius taught, "The strength of a nation is derived from the integrity of its homes." Eli and his sons had "religious" homes that were godless, but Elkanah and Hannah had a godly home that honored the Lord, and they gave Him their best. The future hope of the people of Israel rested with that young lad in the tabernacle learning to serve the Lord. Never underestimate the power of the home or the power of a little child dedicated to God.
Excerpted from BE SUCCESSFUL by Warren W. Wiersbe. Copyright © 2001 Warren W. Wiersbe. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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