Yesterday, we began a series in the first three chapters of 1 Samuel. We looked at Hannah’s story (read it now to catch up if you missed it) and noticed that God cares about more than just ‘the world’ in general. He cares about us as individuals. But, of course, there’s also the other side of the coin, which we’re focusing on today. God’s concern for the world.
The song of Hannah: God cares about the world
So what does Hannah do next in the story? Well, she fulfils her vow – as painful as it would have been. She brings Samuel as a young boy to the temple, to live there with Eli and be trained in God’s service.
1 Samuel 1:21-28 When her husband Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the Lord and to fulfill his vow, 22 Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, “After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the Lord, and he will live there always.”
23 “Do what seems best to you,” her husband Elkanah told her. “Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the Lord make good his word.” So the woman stayed at home and nursed her son until she had weaned him.
24 After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. 25 When the bull had been sacrificed, they brought the boy to Eli, 26 and she said to him, “Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord. 27 I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. 28 So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there.
And when she does this, she sings a song about God. A song in response to all that God has done for her.
Now this isn’t all that unusual in the Old Testament. It was a bit like being in a stage musical. People in everyday life situations were bursting into showtunes, just like in a Rogers and Hammerstein production. Whether it be the crossing of the Red Sea, the giving of the Law, or the birth of the Messiah – every time God did something significant, the occasion called for a showtune…I mean, a song. And so that’s what Hannah does.
But what most struck me about Hannah’s song was what it’s not about. That is, although God has answered her prayer, given her a son, taken away her shame – that’s not what she sings about. She barely – if at all – mentions what God has done specifically for her. In fact, it looks like she’s picked a song she already knew about God. One with a very small, surface connection to her own situation in one verse:
1 Samuel 2:5 She who was barren has borne seven children
It’s clear that this line isn’t about her, as we’re told later in that chapter that she had only five other children after she gave birth to Samuel. And the rest of the song is about both the character & the actions of God on a much grander scale:
1 Samuel 2:2 There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.
1 Samuel 2:6 The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up.
1 Samuel 2:10 Those who oppose the LORD will be broken. The Most High will thunder from heaven; the Lord will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.
What’s Hannah doing? Did the band start up the wrong showtune and, like a true professional, she just sang along?
No. There’s an important point being made here. It’s the flip-side, or the counter-balance to yesterday’s point. And it’s this:
Whenever God shows us favour as individuals, it is intimately connected with what he is doing in the world.
Hannah immediately connects her story to the bigger story of God and his people. She realises that this little vignette of God showing favour to her is not an isolated action. It’s part of the grander narrative, the bigger picture of what God is doing among his people and among his world. You & I – we’re part of something bigger. How easy it is to forget that.
And that’s the fundamental mistake made by those who come to Christ, but think that the whole ‘church thing’ is not for them. That they don’t need to be a part of God’s people. They can do it on their own. But there’s no such thing as a solo Christian. We were not saved in isolation. We were saved to be part of the big story of God and what he’s doing in his world.
And like Hannah, this is why we sing – even when it might seem a bit culturally weird for us to do so. It’s why we meet together to sing. It’s one way in which we connect our story with God’s story. We might have different, individual lives. But we share a song because we share a saviour. Our experience of God, our salvation through Jesus connects us to God; it connects us to the great sweep of human history; and it connects us to one another.
And like Hannah, the primary story we sing about and meditate on is God’s big story. Because it’s a deeper story. What God does for each of us on a small scale only finds its meaning as part of the bigger story. In fact, God’s little favours on us as individuals only have meaning because of what he has done on a grander scale in Christ. What’s the point of granting us the favour of having children, or of healing, or even of a good parking space… What’s the point of it all if we’re still heading for an eternity without him?
And as much as we appreciate what God does for us in our everyday lives, you have to admit that they become almost insignificant in light of what he has done for humanity, on the cross. That’s where we truly find not only our place in the world, but the heart of the God who loves us.
Bob Kauflin, in his book Worship Matters, writes this: ‘If we help people focus on what God did two thousand years ago rather than twenty minutes ago, they’ll consistently find their hearts ravished by his amazing love.’
This is what Hannah did. She sang a song about God’s great actions in history. Not through Jesus, of course; she was about a millennium too early for that. But about God as a deliverer; God as Israel’s rock; the God who never changes in his unfailing love for his people.