Who is like the Lord our God,
who is seated on high,
who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home,
making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the Lord!
Psalm 113: 5-9
Chapter 10 of The Story opens with a story of great injustice; a barren woman, mocked and provoked by her husband’s healthy and fertile second wife, weeps bitterly before the Lord. Hannah prays so hard she appears drunk, begging the Lord to take away her disgrace. If only she could be given a child, she would offer him to the Lord to live out his days in service. Many of us make these kinds of bargains with God halfheartedly, just to get what we want. But Hannah was serious.
The Lord heard her prayer. We don’t know how long it took, but in “the course of time”, Hannah gave birth to Samuel. As soon as he is weaned, he is brought to the house of the Lord at Shiloh, to live with the priest, Eli, and his two sons. Hannah goes on to have more children, but her first son lives out his days as a prophet of Israel. And it turns out that this longed-for child is able to hear the voice of God, during a time when God had been silent in Israel.
This story tells us something about the interactive relationship between God and his people. Hannah prays, God answers. And this son, this answer to her prayers, is able to interact with God for the sake of Israel. Everything else that happens in this chapter was because Hannah prayed.
Hannah’s son, Samuel, grows up to learn this give-and-take relationship between God and his people. This culminates in his dealing with the Israelites as they beg him to grant them a king. He knows it is not the best thing for them; it is likely to lead them away from God and toward further oppression. Samuel warns them of the dangers of a monarchy, but they refuse to listen. So God tells Samuel to listen to the people and helps Samuel find a king for Israel. God’s desire in creating a people was to enter into a relationship with them, and that means dealing with the messes the people create. Sometimes this means giving them what they want rather than what they actually need.
Of course, in finding a king, God had to choose one from the smallest and least tribe of Israel. Saul is shocked when he is chosen, responding with “Why do you say such a thing to me?” And later on, when Samuel goes to anoint him, Saul is nowhere to be found. The Lord finally lets Samuel know that Saul has hidden himself among the supplies! This is a pattern of the God of Israel; he is always choosing the unexpected and the forgotten for great privilege.
So Saul is anointed as the first king of Isreal. But even for this lowly Benjamite, humility is difficult in the face of great power. Even with the Spirit of God readying him for kingship, Saul has a hard time keeping himself from arrogance. And when the corruption begins to effect the people of Israel, God determines to find someone new, a man after his own heart. The chapter ends with Saul’s failures and anticipates a better time, with a more-faithful king.
A barren woman who prays. A prophet who has lived his whole life listening for the voice of God. And a man of lowly status elevated to the place of King. Each of these characters are being used in God’s great plan of redemption for the world. And each are given freedom to do as they choose, even if it means God and his people have to clean up the mess. Will we live faithful lives as Hannah and Samuel did? Or will we go in the way of arrogance, allowing power to corrupt us, as with Saul?