“Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim, of mount Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah. . .” (1 Samuel 1:1—2:11)
We live in a world of ups and downs. One minute we are on the rise, the next we experience a fall. One minute all of the doors are open before us. The next they are all closed. This turth pertains not only to our individual lives. It applies to God’s Word and ways being established on earth. There have been times where God’s truth has blazed through cities, states, and nations so as to turn them upside down. But there have also been times when Christians were kicked out of cities, imprisoned, and burned at the stake.
Given the up and down nature of things, how are Christians to live? Many Christians are tempted to draw false conclusions about the ups and downs. They think that the ups and downs are simply the waves that God and His people ride, rather than seeing that the waves are the ups and downs that God Himself makes. If you miss that point, then you’ll think, “Well, we can’t be sure what will happen in the long run, it’s 50/50, we just have to be faithful.” And that smells like a lack of Christian confidence and zeal.
If you remember that it is actually the LORD who lifts up and the LORD who puts down, and He does so for the sake of His name, then you’ll have confidence to live for Christ. You will see that when Christian truth and culture are blazing through the streets, we are winning. And when Christians are the ones ablaze at the stake, dying for the faith, we are still winning.
The Text – A Summary
This is the very thing we see in 1 Samuel 1:1—2:11. The passage tells the story of the birth of Samuel the prophet. His entrance into the world is surrounded by rising and falling. The narrative itself takes on this theme. The passage begins with Elkanah and his two wives down at their home in the hill country of Ephraim (1 Samuel 1:1-2). Then, Elkanah and his two wives go up to Shiloh (1 Samuel 1:3-18). In the middle section, Elkanah goes back down to his house in Ramah (1 Samuel 1:19-20). In the following verses, there is a going back up to Shiloh (1 Samuel 1:21-2:11). And in the final section of the passage they go back down to their home in Ramah (1 Samuel 2:11).
In the middle of the passage, we have God opening the womb of Hannah, giving her Samuel who will anoint the king. At the two Shiloh peaks we have two prayers from Hannah. The first time she prays with a closed womb, and it was the LORD who closed her womb (1 Samuel 1:6). She asked God to give her a son and vowed she would give him to the LORD all the days of his life (1 Samuel 1:11). Hannah prays again on the second trip up to Shiloh, this time with a womb that was opened by the LORD. She rejoices in the LORD who opens and closes, puts down His adversaries and lifts up His anointed.
We see three themes in the text. First, The LORD lifts up and puts down for His namesake. Second, the LORD puts down His adversaries. Finally, the LORD lifts up His anointed.
For His Own Namesake
Many of our modern stories have the individual at the center. But this passage marches to a different beat. Elkanah had two wives. Peninah had children but Hannah had no children. Peninah provoked Hannah continuously. We then expect the story to be something about Hannah overcoming her sworn enemy and the final scene should have Peninah all stressed out with her bad children, and Hannah sitting around happily drinking tea with more children than Peninah. But that is not the scene at all.
The last scene is Hannah rejoicing as she walks away from Shiloh where she left her young son to do the LORD’s business all of his days. We can imagine Peninah standing in the background perplexed by this—”Didn’t we have a rivalry going? Were we not in competition to see who could have more children gathered around us?” Hannah was not playing Peninah’s game. Peninah was trying to lift up her own name. Hannah was trusting the LORD to lift up His.
This is a main reason for much of our frustration in life. There is a remedy here for our disgruntledness. We are often upset because the LORD is not raising us up on eagle’s wings to fly wherever it is we want to fly. Delta will take us wherever we want to go, why won’t God? Well, God is not Delta. He lifts up and puts down for His own namesake. He has a purpose to His opening and closing, His enriching and impoverishing, His killing and giving life. He’s doing all of this for the advance of His kingdom throughout the world, for the glory of His Christ, and the good of His people. When we begin to delight in God doing so, then our joy is very much secure. It is secure because God is surely going to lift up and put down for His namesake and nothing is going to stop Him. Not even provoking Peninahs.
The LORD Puts Down His Adversaries
It strikes many people as strange even to say that the LORD has adversaries. Are there really those who stand against the LORD? Well, yes. Peninah became an adversary to Hannah (1 Samuel 1:6). But in so doing she was opposing the LORD Himself who was raising up Samuel to raise up the anointed king. Hannah was on the side of the LORD and thus her enemies were God’s enemies. She speaks of these enemies in 1 Samuel 2:1. She not only speaks of her enemies there but her mouth derides them. In 1 Sameul 2:9 these enemies are called the wicked. And in verse 10 of that chapter, they are spoken of plainly as the LORD’s adversaries.
Many Christians are led down bad paths because they fail to think of the unbelieving world as opposed to the LORD. The modern idea is that there are the Christians, then the are the non-Christians who are not really against the LORD. They are merely indifferent, neutral, they have not made up their mind.
But this is not how Scripture talks about unbelievers. The apostle Paul says that before Christ we were alienated from God and enemies in our minds by wicked works (Colossians 1:21). Again in Romans 1 Paul speaks of the unbelieving world as “haters of God.” Ephesians 2 says that man follows the devil before coming to Christ and in that state are “children of wrath.” Certainly hell itself, which is a clear doctrine of Scripture, teaches that those who are outside of Christ have taken up arms of rebellion against the LORD.
At many times and in many ways, it appears that those who cast off Christianity are on the up and up. Indeed Peninah had children and Hannah had no children. Pharoah had quite a kingdom in Egypt and the Israelites were slaves. Nebudchadnezzar sat on a throne in Babylon and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were tossed in the firery furnace. Nero ate sweet grapes in Rome, but Paul wore chains in that city. But God crushed Pharoah’s Egypt. God made Nebudcahdnezzar’s fingernails grow out like eagle’s claws and made him eat grass like an ox. Nero is dead.
We Christians live by faith not by sight. And that’s different entirely than living by imagination and not reality. We don’t say, “Oh, kingdoms don’t matter. Thrones are not important.” Hannah would not have been faithful if she responded to Peninah, “Children aren’t really important, look I have a doll here that I take care of.” But that is what many have reduced Christianity to; some dream that has nothing to do with flesh and blood, nothing to do with real victory and defeat. But God’s Word says that He will put down His adversaries. And their fall will be a very real one, involving souls and bodies.
The LORD Lifts Up His Anointed
Here is the other side of the inversion. Hannah prays, “the feeble bind on strength… those who were hungry have ceased to hunger… the barren has borne seven… He raises up the poor from the dust; He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor… He will give strength to His king and exalt the horn of His anointed” (1 Samuel 2:4-10)
It is striking that Hannah speaks of an anointed king, particularly because there was no king in Israel at this time. She lived in the time of the judges. Israel’s enemies came after them all the time and there was no monarch to fight their battles. But Hannah knew that a king was coming. Both Saul and David are anointed by Samuel. And Scripture teaches that the anointed king David is a type of the greater anointed King Jesus Christ.
In Psalm 2 God Himself calls Jesus the Anointed One saying, “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” Hannah grasped this stunning truth which aided her in all of the ups and downs of life. Throughout the teeter-totter that is life, God is raising up His anointed. He does this, not only in Ramah and Shiloh as Elkanah’s wives birthed children. He has been doing this throughout the history of the world.
Hannah was not the only barren woman God used to lift up His anointed. Abraham’s Sarah was barren, Isaac’s Rebekah was barren, Jacob’s Rachel was barren. Zechariah’s Elizabeth was barren. Joseph’s Mary was a virgin. And the LORD opened and closed in order to exalt His anointed. Israel went in and out of Egypt so the seed of the woman would come forth. They wandered in the wilderness and entered the Promised Land so that the LORD might raise up His anointed. Jerusalem’s walls were built, torn down, and rebuilt so that the LORD would raise up His King. The apostle’s were welcomed into cities and kicked out of cities as the LORD exalted His Son. Christianity was persecuted by Rome and then prospered in Rome. And for the last 2000 years Christ followers have gone through both trial and triumph, and through it all God has be exalting His anointed Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
So keep this truth before you. You are going to go through highs and lows, gain and loss, victory and defeat. And you must go through all of it while giving yourself, your goods, and your kindred to the LORD. If we are barren, we are barren for the LORD, if we have children, we have children for the LORD, if we are full we are full for the LORD, if we are empty we are empty for the LORD, if we are rich we are rich for the LORD, if we are poor we are poor for the LORD, if we live we live for the LORD, and if we die we die for the LORD. Through the rising and falling, the LORD will go on raising up His anointed. And in Him we will be raised up, too.
To those of you who are adversaries the LORD, hear this good news and live. The LORD puts down His adversaries and raises up His anointed. You must cease your rebellion and come to that Anointed One. His name is Jesus Christ the Son of God who though He was high, made Himself low taking on human nature. Although He was upright in every way, He laid Himself low on the cross. Although He went down to the grave, He has risen and ascended into heaven. He did all of this for sinners, those had rebelled against Him. Trust Him and you will be raised up from the death of sin and seated with Christ in heavenly places.