No Greater Love Than a Mother Laying Down Her Son

NO GREATER LOVE THAN A MOTHER LAYING DOWN HER SON.

Where the Rubber Hits the Road on the Issue of Sacrifice.

(1 Samuel 1:24 – 2:11)

Samuel Dedicated by Hannah at the Temple by Frank W.W. Topham

Paintings of the moment Hannah presented Samuel to Eli are rife on the net. I find this one, especially when it is enlarged particularly beautiful and touching. As with most of them, it is a very sanitised perspective of the scene.

Sham! Fake! Double standards!  Most religions, Christianity included, are bound to have some double standards in their adherents.  Why?  Because they believe in perfection; and “poifict day ain’t!”  Christians believe in living like Christ.  But the deeper in Christ most people get, the more they realise they fall short- to put ot mildly.

I am not in position to make sweeping statements about “religion.”  I do not consider myself religious.  I am a Christian.  Christianity demands we love Christ.  I passionately believe in the teaching of the Bible.  But I’m not “there” yet.  Is that shameful?  I suppose it is by the worlds standards. The language used by the New Testament is the application of being, “crucified with Christ,” and reckoning myself, “dead to sin.”

We are talking of Christlike living that puts God first; others after Him, and very definitely yourself as last on the list.  I see it.  I strive for it.  But I don’t live as I see it!  Fake? I feel it sometimes! But I had rather call myself a fighter. I am fighting to reach a place in God that is utterly consistent with what Christian mystics refer to as, “The Surrendered Life.” If we had a mere hundred people who were living up to that sort of principle it would be a case of, “Watch out world, here comes the kingdom of God?”  But, without patronising my readers, you don’t need me tell you that the sort of living we are talking about is an ongoing process of change. It is a process that painfully few have made a mark on the world with.  This means that while “the Process” is still “in progress” our shortcomings become very much more acutely painful.

The syndrome runs like this:  I start life, “happy” being selfish.  Then somebody points me to Christ, the life of faith and the crucifixion of self.  I see it to some degree and commit myself to the change and a life of faith.  The more I trust, the more I see.  But what I see is always a little ahead of where I am, like a torch pointed along the foot path.  So I am constantly improving, yet constantly seeing so plainly how un-Christlike I am.  Painful, Eh? I glimpsed ten feet ahead of my position yesterday, but having progressed ten feet forward today, I realize that I am so short of my goal that there is 30 more feet in my vision today. Any rate of progress is satisfying. And consciousness of falling short is so dastardly unsatisfying. So, as I follow Christ as faithfully as I know, I am constantly filled with an unsatisfiable satisfaction. I mean by this that I am totally satisfied in having a living relationship with Jesus Christ, yet unsatisfied with my shortcomings and failures, especially those that I know about and nobody else has a clue about.

So when we see somebody who is miles further along the path of obedience than most, it dazzles the eyes. We are saying all this to point an envious finger at “Hannah.”  I am glad she is not in my church.  I would feel so unholy all the time. So, in the safety of being three thousand years distant from her, come with me and examine what is going on in her mind and spirit and the impact it had on her first born son at the very point of sacrifice.  Yes!  To study her at the very moment of loss.  What we are here examining is the whites of Hannah’s eyes, and the tone of voice, together with the expression on her face at the dot of time where the transaction’s cost is made, and she crosses God’s palm (as it were) with the coinage of heaven.  That will tell us so much more about this woman.

We move forward to the juncture of time where we have a beautiful God loving little lad of three years of age, or thereabouts.  We see a picture of a woman in relationship with God.  In her bosom is a concept of “religion” that beggars the thoughts of a lot of people in the twenty-first century.  “Religion is all right in it’s place,” say some.  They don’t understand that God fills every place.  “Religion and politics must stay apart, “say others.  They cannot perceive that over fifty percent of the Old Testament consists of prophets speaking to kings, dethroning them, crowning them and telling some of them what they should do next, and then they even define Government policy. “Religion must not interfere with my own family.”  The people that say this are those who are painfully confronted here with a concept that ridicules modern rationalisation of the claims of Christ on our lives and all that we have.  The entire substance of Christianity was birthed through a series of historical events that encapsulated the quintessence of sacrifice.  Those series of events are the Christian’s creed.  God Almighty was born of a virgin.  That’s sacrifice.  He willfully gave up His life in the most painful fashion on our behalf.  That’s sacrifice.  Because of that depth and purity of His sacrifice, He descended into hell on our behalf; He was raised from the dead; He ascended on high.  He is now seated at the right hand of the Father.  All this is the sacrifice, and the fruits of that sacrifice, made by the Lord Jesus Himself   Should Christians be any less moved to sacrifice?

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Long before the Son of God was incarnate, He moved upon Hannah with concepts of sacrifice that tear at our heart strings.  She had promised to give up her only son before a son was conceived.  Note how the bible delights in domestic scenes.  Christianity is kitchen and living room stuff; none of your fine religious Cathedral ambience. The deal had been “closed,” as it were, the day she had prayed like a, “drunken woman,” in the sight of Eli.  She had settled the issue in her heart.  Sacrifice must start in the heart and the will.  Once it is settled there, the case is closed.  There will be performance of what has been promised and committed, and that performance may be moments or even years later.  The issue however is settled in the will first.  But that does not mean that like some robotic machine she hands over her offspring with an automatic button without any emotion – in fact quite the opposite is true. The transaction is done best when the loss, no matter how great that loss is, ceases to be a loss.  In fact the loss needs to be seen as a gain. Only when one sees the, “loss,” as a, “gain,” has one truly sacrificed as Christ sacrificed Himself.

The bible text displays how this truly became so with Hannah. (Just jumping ahead a little bit, if you keep your eyes open you will see that a piece of this attitude rubbed off onto little Sammy. Just watch what he does as his mother presents him to Eli.) Samuel is now weaned and happily running around on his two feet. Whether or not Hannah waited for the annual fulfillment of her husband’s vow, or whether she went as soon as she had finished the weaning, we are not told.  Breastfeeding having ceased, she took the little lad along with her to Shiloh.  There was an entourage of three bullocks (one for each year?), a sack of flour, and a bottle of wine. Elkanah too!  We know that she travelled with Elkanah, for at the end of the dedication – where Elkanah is strangely silent – he escorts his wife home.

Because of the nature of the mother’s vow, her free volition acted on, and the song of delight recorded for us in First Samuel chapter two, we can only believe Hannah was contented.  There must have been, at the very least, a slight trepidation on her part for the future of her little treasure, but deep joy in obedience to her faith, her conscience and her promise. The scripture says that “the child was young.”  The word translated “child”, is the same word translated “young”.  We would say “the child was a child”.  In other words with all the serious environment of prayer, vows and offering to God, the lads childlike – indeed childish –nature, was in no way impaired. In modern parlance: Samuel was not a lone religious “weirdo”. Think of how you would have presented the case to such a little lad. He was there because she asked God for him. That would have been her explanation for his name.  He was to be a Nazarite that was her explanation for no cutting of the hair, and no attendance at funerals. “You really are God’s child, Sammy!”  That was the case as to why she was going to take him to Shiloh very soon.  In the midst of all this, the “child was still a child”.

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Perhaps it also means that Samuel was full of childlike and childish graces.  No cultish stuff here. Children can receive the stuff that makes men and women of God and still stay sweet and innocent.  God is the most exciting Persona in the universe.  It is He who invented the concept of excitement and thrill. Samuel knew lots about God and His call, and being special in His sight. He knew especially what it was to be loved and wanted, and to love and to want other people’s love. He had drunk the language and spirit of such concepts from his mother’s breast.

As Mozart was ahead of the world in his capacity to make music, Samuel, it seems, was ahead of  the world in his willful determination to love, serve and worship Yahweh. Although it is light years away from modern educational concepts of, “comparative religions,” and, “environmental responsibility,” together with, “good citizenship,” Samuel turned out, “Very nicely, thank you!”

With probably the most fundamental biblical education anybody has ever received, they (assuming Elkanah was not absent from the scene) sacrificed a bullock and brought the lovely and loving child to Eli. There is no Mrs Eli mentioned in the entire volume. Did anybody assist him in the rearing of Samuel?

Obviously Eli was married at some point of time; he had two sons. And more obviously, there must have been others working around the tent in Shiloh. There would have been other priests besides the infamous Hophni and Phinehas, for we are told that their “servants” were ordered by them to take the meat unlawfully from the sacrifices that people made.  We know there were women that attended the tent, for we are told the Eli’s two sons slept with some of them.

Shiloh is labelled in scripture as a city.  Even if there were only a few hundred living there, it meant that there were families. In the face of all these facts, however, we are not told of anybody else having dealings with Samuel apart from Eli. Eli, like any minister of religion, must have met many thousands of people, throughout the years, who spoke to him perhaps once, and who at a second meeting expected him to recall all that had transpired betwixt them.  Hannah however, doubtless aware of the man’s failing faculties, reminds his aged “forgettery” of the circumstances of the one and only meeting thus far between the two of them. There is the suggestion, of course, that when she says, “I am the woman who stood by you here, praying to the Lord,” that she rationally expects him to remember. Perhaps the nation was so backslidden that praying before the Lord’s Tabernacle was not commonly seen. Perhaps it was the praying of women that was rare. I find that hard to swallow however, inasmuch as, my experience, and the reported experience of many men of God that I know from around the world, is that women are usually in the majority of participators when it comes to intercession and devotional prayer.

4

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It must have been a pleasant shock to Eli’s system if he did recall the occurrence. At the time it happened, some four years earlier, he had not been told what the woman was praying for, and she had prayed silently. She had prayed; he had blessed her. He had pronounced the fulfillment of her prayer. He had spoken the heart of God, consciously or not. And what he had pronounced had occurred. “Therefore I have lent him to the Lord.” Eli now had a helper. But how long for? “As long as he lives he shall be lent to the Lord.” Eli had a helper for the rest of his natural. “Lent” is not the best translation. “I have, “given,” him back to Him who,“gave” him to me”, is better.

Now we have the first outline of the sketch that the bible gives us of Samuel’s nature and character.  The book states simply: “ and he worshipped the Lord there.” I suppose it is vaguely possible that the phrase could be referring to Eli, but in the wider context of the thrust of what is being said, it seems much plainer to perceive that the, “he,” is referring  to, “little Sammy.” So; picture the scene!  We have at least three people in a group together before the Tabernacle. Eli, Hannah, and Samuel. Elkanah is not mentioned. Hannah having presented him, Eli having accepted him; Samuel starts to worship. The little boy must have been happy at the thought of his new home. There is not the slightest hint as to the nature of his worship.  Did he sing?  Did he dance? Did he fall on his knees in prayer?

We should remember he was three years old plus – that may restrain our imagination a little in the secular twenty-first century world. But we should also take note that the concepts of God and worship put into this lad, as with most children of Godly homes in Old Testament times, would have meant that he had a greater understanding of the essence of worship in his childhood and youth, than most people have, these days, in adulthood. This should give much more free rein to the picture in our mind’s eye of the worshipping little boy, Samuel.  Whether Samuel’s worship was in a way familiar to us or not, the scriptures, in stating, “he worshipped,” acknowledges it as true and pure worship.

Hannah bringing Samuel to Eli

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The chapter breaks in the Bible are an artificial separation created in the eleventh century by a French priest in an attempt to make referencing scripture much easier. I think we should be thankful for what he did. Too often, however, when reading the bible, chapter breaks are made where the text actually suggests there should be none. The commencement of First Samuel chapter two is surely one of those such unwarranted breaks.

While Hannah was giving her most precious possession, in fear and trembling, to God, via old Eli, and while Eli was undoubtedly standing there, eyes agog at the worshipping new ward that was being put into his care, his mother broke out into praise. The chapter break could hide this. Considering the brevity of the life story of Samuel, and especially his upbringing, and the economy of words used in scripture, the length of the prayer as recorded in those first ten verses of chapter two are remarkable.  It is a song of delight.  A song of freedom!  A song of prosperity after suffering hardship; rainfall after a drought. Hannah was joyful to put it mildly.

The words of this prayer are to some degree repeated when Mary became pregnant with Christ. Those facts suggest most strongly that we are standing on holy ground when we read Hannah’s song.  We cannot but be touched by the grounds of deep thankfulness toward God. She suffered, she prayed, she received, she returned the gift back to God. This is a song from her experience. From the depths of despair, she arose to the heights.

The substance of Hannah’s song came to her from long hours of staring at Samuel, loving him, treasuring him, delighting in his company; and then giving him a way to the source of all Life. There is no theoretical theology in her lyric, rather heavy eulogy heaped towards God from the most practical empirical discovery of Yahweh, a discovery made in the enduring of a whole set of negatives thrown at Hannah by the very circumstances of life which were utterly random and totally out of her control. The Spirit of God had somehow revealed much that was to do with His economy, and she made a melodious prayer from it. The wildness of the circumstances that had enmeshed her had given way to a wildness of worship that glorified God in a spiritual “Top C”. It is often referred to as a song. Whether or not Hannah sung it, I cannot comment, but in most English translations it surely reads like a poetic song.  It is as if, at the point of release, and the carrying out of a vow that elevated God to the highest place her heart had to offer, the Spirit of God released her into this peon of praise.

She thanks God for enlarging her and granting her salvation.  She perceives how Holy God really is, through what had happened. She sees His rock like immovableness. She sees the folly of pride. She sees that, “actions are weighed” by God, not just watched.  People see the outside, but God looks on the heart. She sees how God sets people in high places or low. And having set them, He can bring down the mighty, and raise the lowly.  She remarks on the changeableness of life and how it is all overseen by the Almighty hand. Motherhood and the end results of chosen lifestyle are seen and beheld so clearly.  Life and death are in His hands. He can even raise the dead, says she, seeing herself as one that was dead and is now in fullness of life. He makes poverty. He makes wealth.  Inheritances come from him.  He keeps the feet of the righteous from falling.  He is the ultimate judge of everything and everybody.  Heaven was obviously moved to have her song recorded for us.

Hannah Brings Samuel to Eli

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The last line lets the reader know that she was flowing in the same Spirit of prophecy that was, later, to pervade her son to such an awesome degree. She actually says – and remember that Hannah lived about a thousand years before Christ was born- “He shall give strength to His king, and exalt the Horn of His anointed.”  It became true of Samuel towards King Saul, and after, toward King David.  It was prophetically true as he helped prepare the way for the Davidic line, to bring into the world King David’s greater Son.

Something tells me that we only have a much abbreviated prayer, and that the three of them together, Hannah, Eli and Samuel, entered into a longer and more protracted period of worship. What the Bible tells us, however, is enough for us to get a clear picture. “And Elkanah went to Ramah to his house.” So he was definitely in Shiloh while Samuel was being presented. Happy husband? Maybe! Maybe not! But Hannah was deliriously so. She went home, “childless,” again, yet deeply fulfilled. She went home lonely, but satisfied with her own actions. Now she could look Peninnah in the eye if she as much as dared to snipe at this chosen mother in Israel.

This section closes with phrase number two that leads us into Samuel’s heart. It said earlier, “he worshipped”; now it says “and the child ministered unto the Lord before Eli the priest.” What does this mean?  It means he did the running around with the sacrifices and the serving in the Tabernacle and it’s sacrificial system.  He did Eli’s errands for him.  Whatever Eli in his old, rotund, obese, decrepit body could not do, Samuel did, and  in so doing, he delighted the public worshippers by his running and getting, “down and dirty,” for his adoptive father. “He ministered”, meaning he gave of himself to the Lord. “Before Eli,” means he was tutored taught and mentored by the elderly gent who assumed fatherly and elevated status to Samuel.  Eli, amazingly, was Samuel’s Alpha male. Whatever Samuel’s concept was of Eli is warmly coloured in by the fact that when the voice of the Almighty called him four times in a night, some years later, it came with the authority and warmth that suggested to Samuel that it was Eli that was doing the calling. So Eli must have done something right. Or was it just the purity of Samuel’s acceptance of people?

Hannah at home in Ramah. Samuel, “at home,” in Shiloh. Only fourteen miles apart.  That’s Derby to Nottingham in the UK! It’s  Birmingham to Warwick in the English Midlands. It doesn’t sound far does it when we talk of fourteen miles? But six to eight hours? Now, it is London to Rome;  Delhi to Brisbane; Tokyo to San Francisco. It was half way around the world.

Great events have often been initiated by trivial causes. Great men have developed in the most unlikely ways. In Israel at that time, a married woman praying for children might have been more common than we would see today. However, that moment of Hannah’s prayer, and that catching of Eli’s eye, was the very moment of time in which there was a commencement of a great awakening in the history of Israel.  The little lad that was away from his Mum, worshipping and ministering to the Lord, was to prove to be the foundational pivot – the key ingredient of Israel’s return to greatness and glory. The Halcyon days of Israel may be commonly referred to as, “The days of David and Solomon,” but those days could not have happened if it was not for the days of Samuel.  And here was the mighty Samuel of supernatural favour and stature – as a three year old. Everything big starts little.

7 -yeh

For myself, you might have already guessed my feelings about this painting. I think it is a phenomenon. It is by John Singleton Copley, produced in 1780.

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Categories: 1 Samuel 1:24 - 2:11, No greater love has any mother than this | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “No Greater Love Than a Mother Laying Down Her Son

  1. Pingback: I See Through The Smog a Bright Future On The Horizon. | Samuel : The Last Judge - The First Prophet

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