What Belongs to God (I Samuel 1:21-28)
Topic: I Samuel Passage: 1 Samuel 1:1–1:28
Crying for a King
This morning we turn once again to the book of I Samuel in the Old Testament. Last week we were transported to Israel around the year 1100 BC and introduced to Elkanah, his wife Hannah, and the priest Eli, and we learned how God did something amazing through the convergence of their lives. This morning we will meet those same characters and see what God wants to teach us as he brings their paths together again.
II. The Passage: "…That He May Appear…and Dwell There Forever" (1:21-28)
Let’s finish up I Samuel chapter 1 by looking together at verse 21. We read…
A. Elkanah’s Faithfulness (1:21, 22a)
The man Elkanah and all his house went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice and to pay his vow. 22 But Hannah did not go up…[now stop there for a minute]…
Right as we jump back into I Samuel 1, verse 21 takes us back to verse 3 of chapter 1. In I Samuel 1:3 where we learned of this man named Elkanah and of his faithfulness in going up to worship the God of Israel at Shiloh, where the tabernacle of God, or the Tent of Meeting, had been erected by Joshua about 200 years earlier.
Now while this little tidbit of information about Elkanah might be helpful in telling us something about his character and faithfulness to God, as we saw last week, we quickly learn that this part of the story, the part about the annual journey to Shiloh, is really meant to highlight, not the faithfulness of Elkanah, but the pain of Elkanah’s wife, Hannah.
It was at Shiloh that, year after year, Hannah had to endure the verbal abuse of Elkanah’s other wife, who provoked her because she, the second wife, had given their husband children, while Hannah was childless.
And yet, in spite of her suffering, Hannah was faithful to go each year and worship God. Of course, as we saw last week, verses 9-20 of this chapter describe how Hannah asked for a child from God, and how God answered her prayer and gave her a boy that she named Samuel.
So here in verse 21 we come back to another description of Elkanah’s faithfulness in taking his family to worship God at Shiloh. But in verse 22, the pattern is broken, isn’t it? Hannah does not go this time.
After going for all those years, and enduring such suffering every year, she chooses now not to go? But God has given her a child. The other wife no longer has ammunition! Why is she not going?
It would be easy for some to accuse her of making the gift more important than the Giver, right? She has her child from God; she got what she wanted. And now, she is going to enjoy her child. Worship can wait.
But that isn’t her reason for not going. In fact, her reason represents the exact opposite of that kind of thinking. Look at the rest of verse 22.
B. Hannah’s Intentions (1:22)
22 But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the Lord and dwell there forever.”
Hannah is not staying home because she has forgotten about God. No, she is staying home in order to honor God. She is not staying home because she is neglecting her sacrifice to God. She is staying home because she is preparing her sacrifice to God.
Do you remember her prayer from verse 11? It was more specifically a vow, wasn’t it? I Samuel 1:11…
And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”
When she asked God for a child, she made a promise. If God would give her a son, she would give that son right back to God. What Hannah is telling her husband here is that when she goes to worship, she wants to fulfill her vow to God. But she cannot do that yet. Why?
Because she cannot leave a baby at the Tent of Meeting! She cannot place an infant into the hands of the priests there, hand them a diaper bag and a crate of baby formula, and say, “Here ya go! He’s all yours!”
No, the baby has to be fed, he has to grow, and then he has to be weaned away from his mother’s milk before he can be left at Shiloh. In the ancient world, this weaning probably would have taken place as late as three years old. So Hannah is telling Elkanah, “I will take Samuel up to Shiloh, but it will be a few years.”
The phrase here in verse 22, “that he may appear in the presence of the Lord”, that’s a phrase from the Law of Moses when it talks about the duty of Israelite men to come to the Tent of Meeting for the three major religious festivals each year. So Hannah is saying that when Samuel goes to fulfill his duty as Israelite male, he will stay in Shiloh for good, and fulfill whatever additional duties God give him.
C. Elkanah’s Encouragement (1:23)
In verse 23 we see Elkanah’s response to Hannah’s intentions: Elkanah her husband said to her, “Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him; only, may the Lord establish his word.”
Now there is some dispute about the actual reading of the final phrase in that verse. The main Hebrew text has what we see here, “May the Lord establish his word”, literally, “may the Lord fulfill what his mouth has uttered”. The problem with this reading, of course, is that God has not said anything to Hannah. Even though He answered her prayer, He gave her no explicit promise that she would have a child.
Additionally, the sense here is that this “word”, whatever it is, has not yet been fulfilled. Maybe Elkanah is referring to a passage like Numbers 30, where Moses declared:
“This is what the Lord has commanded. 2 If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” (Numbers 30:1, 2)
Maybe Elkanah is saying, “May God cause his commandment about vows to be fulfilled in this situation.”
But a fragment of Samuel from the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament, both have this reading, “may the Lord fulfill what your mouth has uttered”. In that reading, Elkanah is simply saying, “Okay, dear, go ahead and stay here. But remember the vow you made to God.”
Elkanah was no dummy. He knew how hard it would be right now for Hannah to give up her only child. Just think how much harder it would be after she nurtured this boy for three years. But Elkanah is a man, is a husband, is a father, who takes God’s word seriously. Did you notice what it said about him in verse 21? It says that he went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice and to pay his vow.
While some commentators say that the vow mentioned here is just some random vow that we can know nothing about, it seems strange that the writer would mention it in a chapter where his wife’s vow has taken center stage. I think it makes more sense to say that Elkanah, upon learning of Hannah’s vow, as the leader of his family, has agreed with and taken responsibility for that vow. He is ready to go up to Shiloh and offer a sacrifice of thanks to God for hearing their prayer.
As a man of integrity, as a husband committed to the God of Israel, Elkanah encourages his wife to keep her focus on her duty to God, even though it will mean great sacrifice for both of them. Husbands, are we leading like that?
D. Hannah’s Faithfulness (1:23-28)
Look at how the remaining verses of this chapter describe Hannah’s faithfulness in fulfilling her vow to God:
So the woman remained and nursed her son until she weaned him. 24 And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. And the child was young. [the writer is wanting to emphasize how unusual this scene is given that the boy is probably only around three years old. He goes on to write] 25 Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. 26 And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. 27 For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. 28 Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.”
Now we have to remember that when Eli the High Priest blessed Hannah back in verse 17, he had no idea what she was praying for. Here in verse 27 she makes it clear, doesn’t she? “I was praying for a child, and here he is! God answered my prayer!”
In fact, verses 27 and 28 are the real heart, the real center of this whole section this morning. In I Samuel 1, some form of the Hebrew word sha’al is used seven times. The words means, “to ask”. Four out of those seven instances are right here in verses 27 and 28. This is very hard to see in English. Literally the verses go something like this:
For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my ASKING that I ASKED OF him. 28 Therefore I have GIVEN WHAT WAS ASKED to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is GIVEN AS WHAT WAS ASKED to the Lord.”
The translation “lent” (“he is lent to the Lord”) is a little misleading here. The idea of lending comes from a literal translation of this form of sha’al. It is not simply “to ask”, but to ask for something and be answered positively, or literally, “to be given on request”.
So Hannah is not making God a loan, or treating Samuel like he’s a library book that God is checking out. No, Hannah is saying in verse 28, “I am giving back what I asked for. As long as this boy lives, he is given back to God as that which I asked for from God.” Isn’t this what she vowed in verse 11? She vowed that if God gave her a son, “then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life”.
The chapter ends with what is probably a reference to Samuel, a reference that gives us some small sense of the uniqueness of this boy and the uniqueness of the role he will play in God’ s plan. The writer simply says:
And he [the boy Samuel] worshiped the Lord there.
III. Perspective: Knowing What Belongs to God
Now, as we think about how God wants to use this passage in our lives this morning, we have to ask the more basic question, “Why is this passage here? What is it so important? What is the writer trying to tell his readers through these verses? What’s the main point?”
We could say that this section is here simply to demonstrate how Hannah kept her word; how Hannah was faithful to her vow.
And that’s certainly right in some sense. The story comes full circle here in light of Hannah’s vow. She had no child. She made a vow. God gave her a child. She fulfills her vow.
And given what we know about the general condition of God’s people at this point in history, a woman of faithfulness like Hannah would be a wonderful example to lift up.
But I think we have to go deeper than that.
I think we could say that chapter one is so important for the book of Samuel because in chapter one we find a woman giving back to God what God has given her, a woman giving back to God what belongs to God.
This is so important because throughout the rest of this book, throughout the rest of I and II Samuel, we will see the vast majority of people doing just the opposite.
Eli and his sons have been given the priesthood, but they will abuse for their own foolish gain.
Israel has been given the ark of the covenant, but they will use it for their own purposes, like it’s some kind of good luck charm.
Saul will be given the throne, but he will make kingly decisions according to his own wisdom.
Even Samuel, who will be given the roles of prophet, priest, and judge, will become more concerned about his sons taking power, rather than trusting God for the future.
Even David, who will be given the throne, who will be given peace on every side, who will be given an everlasting covenant, even David, in one very famous failure, will use his position to pursue his own sinful pleasures.
It is Hannah who establishes the baseline for what is right in the book of Samuel. It is Hannah who demonstrates for us the readers what it looks like to honor God as God. And her faithfulness, her integrity, her obedience, her faith is pronounced, is crystal clear, by means of what we know about the cost of her obedience. Hannah gave up her only child.
Like Abraham before her, Hannah’s righteousness is demonstrated in her willingness to give her only, her unique child to God. Can you imagine how painful this must have been? This is her miracle baby! This is the child she longed for, year after year.
But she…listen, this is critical…she knew where he came from. She knew that her gift to God was first God’s gift to her.
One day this little boy would grow up and anoint a king who utter these words in response to God’s people and their generous offering for God’s temple. David declared:
“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” (I Chronicles 29:14)
David got it, didn’t he? Hannah’s story of a barren womb filled, her testimony that God answers prayer, is not intended to be some “once in a blue moon” kind of situation that we conclude is neat, but irrelevant for us today.
No, Hannah’s story is not a guarantee that infertile women will always be given children. But Hannah’s miracle and her faithfulness to her vow is simply rehearsing for us what is ultimately true about every aspect of human existence, what is true for every aspect of your life: what you have is from God, and it was ultimately given to you for just one reason: that you might give it back to God.
To use Paul’s words from I Corinthians 4:7, “…what do you have that you did not receive?”
The people of Israel needed to understand that everything they had came as a gift of God’s grace. Like Hannah, they once had nothing. They cried out to God in Egypt. God blessed them and filled up their emptiness. But the prophet Hosea makes clear how Israel responded sinfully to this fact:
She [Israel] has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil, who lavished on her the silver and gold— which they used for Baal. [which they used for a false god, to worship an idol](Hosea 2:8)
The right response, of course, was the response of Hannah. What she was given was given back in faith.
What belongs to God? What belongs to God, in your life? That question is not without a clear definitive answer. God has given us that answer. And that answer is not revealed by a woman giving up her only son, but by God giving up his. Paul expresses the principle in this way:
You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (I Corinthians 6:19, 20)
What belongs to God? Everything. Everything. It all does. Your time. Your thoughts. Your money. Your freedom. Your hobbies. Your talents. Your inadequacies. Your illness. Your dreams. Your sexuality. Your past. Your present. Your future. Your ministry. Your pet projects. Your feelings. Your disappointments. Your house. Your car. All your possessions. Your words. Your opinions. Your job. Your success. Your failures. Your brothers and sisters in Christ. Your marriage. Your family. And as Hannah confirms, yes, even your children.
He gave it all to you. And because of the cross of Jesus, because he bought you back from sin and death, he has a double claim on you as both your Creator and your Redeemer. In faith, Hannah made a confession before God. God calls us to do the same, in repentance and faith.
The other day I noticed at our Ministry House a label maker that someone bought for the church. It made me think, “what if God used that label maker to put a label on everything in my life that belongs to Him. The label simply said “God’s”.
How would my life be different if I kept seeing that label everywhere, on my things, on my kids, on my money, on my calendar, on my computer, on my television, on my watch, somehow on my words as they came out of my mouth, on my own body…how should that change me? How would that change you?
IV. Practice: Seeing God’s Labels
If you believe this perspective is right, that everything you have really belongs to God, how then do you put it into practice? How do we do what Hannah did here?
Does giving everything back to God mean we bring it all to church and leave it here? Is this the modern day Tent of Meeting? Look, we want you to bring your children to church, but please don’t leave them here!
Listen, for three years Hannah had to see God’s label on Samuel’s forehead. And when she gave her son, she gave him over for God’s service. She didn’t leave him on a mountain top somewhere. No, she placed Samuel at the epicenter of where God revealed His glory in Israel.
Therefore, we need to look at everything that is ours, all of our ‘belongings’, everything in our life, and we need to ask, “How can this be put into God’s service that his glory might be seen?” (x2)
These might be odd examples, but as I thought about this the other day, I happened to be looking at our dog, while eating raisins at the kitchen table. And I was imagining that label stuck to all three of those things: the dog, the raisins, and the table. And I thought, “How can these things be put into God’s service that his glory might be seen?”
Well, God can be glorified in the way I treat, the way I care for that dog, right? I can give Him praise as the Creator of that dog, right? God can be glorified by those raisins if I give thanks for them as his provision, and put them into his service by eating them with self-control, and by being generous with them. And God can be glorified by our kitchen table as we use it for his service, as we instruct our children around it, as we give thanks for what is on it, as we use it for godly hospitality.
That’s how you give God’s gifts back to Him. That’s the heart of what Hannah did.
It might be a little hard to do that with intangible things like your words or your past, for example. But the same principle applies. How will your words be put into God’s service that his glory might be seen? How will your past not be something that haunts or drags you down, but something that can be put into God’s service for the good of others? How can His glory be seen as the One who gave you a future in spite of your past. We have to give it all to Him!
Are you ready to see God’s labels today? If you’re a parent with younger children, then you should see that label on the forehead of your child when they come back in here? “God’s” What will be different because of that label? What will be different this week?
The cross of Jesus is God’s label maker. Through the cross, he put marked you, all of you, as His. Let’s live in light of the total blessing of Jesus’ death and resurrection this week, and how it can give us Hannah’s heart of surrender to God. Let’s pray.