God's Victory is Our Victory
1 Samuel 2:1–3
1st & 2nd Samuel Lesson #013
May 12, 2015
“Father, we are thankful for another great day to learn about you and to learn about Your Word, another great opportunity to study Your Word and to reflect upon how You have worked throughout history in terms of Your grace and in terms of Your power, how You have provided for those who are in need and how we come to learn again and again how it is not by might, it is not by power, but it is by Your Spirit. It is through Your Word and the Holy Spirit in this dispensation that we grow and mature as believers. And that Your grace is sufficient for us. That doesn’t exclude our volition, but it strengthens and enables our volition that despite whatever opposition, whatever difficulties we face in life, we know that the solution ultimately is always in You and in Your Word. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to make this part of our life that You strengthen us through our study of Your Word. Father, tonight as we study, we pray that we might be strengthened and encouraged as we reflect upon Your work in Hannah’s life. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
We’re in 1 Samuel 2, but I am going to go through a wee bit of a review before we get into the beginning of Hannah’s song. Some Bibles may call it a prayer, and it is in some sense praise, but it is a psalm, which means that it is a song and a song of prayer. At the end last time I was pointing out that as Hannah comes to the temple finally after Samuel has been born. She probably waited approximately four years – we don’t exactly know how long it was. The Scripture says until she weaned Samuel, and in that culture that was usually around three years, but could be as late as four years and maybe even a little later. She was bringing Samuel to Eli, who was the high priest. Samuel would be raised by Eli in the temple from that point forward. Hannah had made a vow because of the fact that she was barren and unable to have children. She had gone to the Lord in prayer, and this prayer as we see, is a prayer that is the result of her long dependence upon God. This wasn’t something that she did all of a sudden after she had tried five other things and now was going to try God. That’s what a lot of people do, but as we go through some of the things that she had already done that we saw in 1 Samuel 1:
- She’s not pursuing other options.
- She’s not trying to solve her fertility problem by going to the fertility gods.
- She just takes one option and looks to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as the God who can change her and cause her womb to open, and she will give birth to a son.
- She trusts in God – that’s the source of her trust.
- She is trusting that God would provide her with a son.
- She made a vow, and that vow wasn’t something that was spontaneous; it was something she thought through.
Now part of the reason I say that is when we look at this psalm of Hannah’s in 1 Samuel 2, we realize that this is a very well structured song. She has thought this through. She has an intimate understanding of God, and she has a close relationship with God. So over the years as she faced her problem and that problem continued, (like many of our problems continue year after year, and it doesn’t seem like anything happens. We pray to God and it seems like it gets no further than the ceiling. Part of the reason God doesn’t answer right away is to test us to see if we are going to persevere and just continue to trust Him even if nothing changes), Hannah continued her relationship with God. It deepened and strengthened and became more intimate. It is out of her understanding of how God works, out of her understanding of the Word as it’s made known to her in that dispensation, that she comes and makes this particular vow.
The reason I am emphasizing that is this reveals the trust that Hannah has in God. This child is God’s child. God has given this child to her and therefore she can entrust the child to God by loaning the child to God. That’s the language that is used in the text. Hannah loans the child to God by giving him to Eli. There are some who have questioned Hannah’s mindset here. Is this woman really competent if she’s going to give her child to be raised by this somewhat degenerate priest and his degenerate family? Hannah is not giving the child to Eli. She’s giving the child that God has given her, loaning that child back to God, and she can trust God to take care of him and to provide for him. After Samuel has reached this age of probably four years or so, the family came to the tabernacle in Shiloh and they had this great celebration. This is a peace offering that they are bringing before God, and in 1 Samuel 1:24, I corrected the translation last week. It wasn’t three bulls, but a bull that was three years old.
This gives great evidence of the family’s wealth and the family’s generosity. If you look back in Leviticus there are different offerings that are allowed for people in different economical circumstances. If you are a person of means and you have property and you have animals, then you would bring a bull. If you don’t have quite so much, then you might bring a sheep or a goat. If you don’t have quite that much, then you might bring a bird as an offering, but it was dependent upon your economic circumstances. This shows that Elkanah and family are somewhat well to do, and they brought a bull, or they could bring a heifer as a sacrifice. They have a banquet along with this, and they eat of the food and celebrate what God has done in answering Hannah’s prayer.
So Hannah brought the child to Eli, 1 Samuel 1:25. Hannah reminds Eli who she is because four years have gone by and Eli might not remember. She is making that point because when she had come to the tabernacle Eli had looked at her. She was praying and her lips were moving and Eli thought she was drunk and said so. Hannah said no, I am a woman who is extremely sad and distressed because I haven’t had a child and I’m pouring out my soul before the Lord. Eli then answered her, and this gives us an insight into Eli. I’m going back, and I want to add a couple of things because what we see about Eli mostly is negative, but this shows that there were still things that were positive about Eli. He says to her back in 1 Samuel 1:17, “Go in peace and the God of Israel grant your petition, which you have asked of Him.” Eli has an understanding that God is going to answer Hannah’s prayer. That’s an insight for Eli.
This is a woman who has come and prayed and brought sacrifices and everything. In a corrupt, relativistic culture of that day, having a woman come and do what Hannah has done is rare. Also, she’s made a vow. And now she comes back, and that’s probably even more rare in that culture, like ours, that she fulfills her vow to God. She made a deal, and now she has the integrity to fulfill the deal and to bring her child to God. Hannah reminds Eli who she is, and I would suggest that when we look forward into the last part of 1 Samuel 2 and into 1 Samuel 3, that this provides some sort of light to Eli. Something positive has happened in the midst of a pretty dark ministry. And even though he’s not the guy who is the most squared away spiritually, God seems to be doing something around him. That would to some degree encourage him.
We come to the response that Hannah has had in all of this, and I would suggest that what she has done over this period of three or four years is to take the time to reflect upon just what God has done. This is a remarkable miracle that God has provided in her life where He has regenerated or opened her womb so that she could give birth, and He has made that possible and provided her with a wonderful son. And she has been given the insight somehow into what God is going to do through Samuel because as we look at the prayer, at this psalm in 1 Samuel 2:1–10, it is not only a psalm of praise and a victory psalm that God has had victory, that He’s triumphed over His enemies, but it has messianic element to it because when we come to the end of 1 Samuel 2:10 we read, “He will give strength to His king.” There is no king in Israel yet. Saul hasn’t been anointed king.
Where does Hannah get this idea of a king? Well, it is mentioned back in Deuteronomy; that there would be a king. She prays, “He will give strength to His king and exalt the horn of His anointed.” The word there for “anointed” is mashiach in the Hebrew, Messiah, as it comes across in English – or Christ, coming from the Greek word CHRISTOS. That is in synonymous parallelism to the word “king.” The king here is understood to be the Messiah. That’s remarkable because there has not been any prophesy quite yet that really connects mashiach to king. That is clearly going to be seen when we get into Psalm 2. We were in Psalm 2 recently in 1 Peter. Hannah understands a dimension to what has happened. This event in Hannah’s life isn’t just that God has done something remarkable in her life, but that what God has done that’s so remarkable in her life has a broader impact on the life of the nation. But beyond that this is going to have a tremendous impact on human history: that Hannah has given birth to this son that is going to be instrumental in the eventual rise of the Messiah and God’s provision of salvation for all people.
We need to understand that this is a psalm that goes far beyond just the individual event that takes place right there in Hannah’s life. This psalm is a victory psalm. It is a psalm that expresses Hannah’s triumph in her battle. But beyond that she puts this into the context of God’s battle against God’s enemies (slide 2). I want you to notice in 1 Samuel 2:1 (slide 3) in the last two lines it says, “I smile at my enemies because I rejoice in Your salvation.” There are some problems with the translation there in that third line in the four lines of the poetry. It shouldn’t be translated “I smile at my enemies,” but the key word that I want you to notice is “enemies.” Hannah is not just talking about Peninnah because Peninnah would be her “enemy” singular. Hannah is talking about “enemies” and she couches this in salvation language, “I rejoice in Your salvation,” Your deliverance. Obviously, deliverance in her case, but it seems to have a broader implication.
What happens here is that Hannah composes this hymn. She stops, meditates, reflects upon her situation, her circumstance, and what God has done, and through the guidance and direction of God the Holy Spirit she has insight into seeing how this has a much, much broader impact. She expresses this psalm. There is a prophetic element in the psalm and Hannah expresses her joy and gratitude. She is so enthusiastic and excited about how God has delivered her that she can barely contain her emotion. This is a strong hymn of praise to God and expresses her joy for what God has done in giving her a son. As Hannah reflects on this, she understands that this has not only delivered her from her enemy in the home, Peninnah, but will deliver Israel from her enemies the Philistines and ultimately will lead to the deliverance of the nation from sin and the redemption of the world from sin through the victory of the messianic king. It is a psalm that expresses victory and triumph.
What we ought to do when we look at this psalm is to think about this in light of other such psalms. Psalms come in categories. Depending upon who you read and how you want to classify things, there are about five or six different kinds of psalms. Some psalms are what are classified as individual lament psalms. This is when an individual is facing a problem, facing antagonism from certain enemies, facing problems with their own sin, whatever it may be. And they are crying out to God for deliverance from this enemy. In the course of looking at that psalm you see this movement that takes place: usually at the beginning there is the statement of the problem, the expression of the lament, and there’s a shift that takes place as they begin to think about their problem in light of God’s character. That’s always a good pattern to follow. You have a problem in life, and then start off by thinking through the essence box, thinking through the characteristics of God, thinking about it in terms of God’s sovereignty.
- If God is sovereign how does that impact the problem you face?
- If God is omniscient do you think God is surprised by your problem?
- Do you think you’re the first person to have that problem?
- Do you think that maybe God made a provision to solve that problem from eternity past?
That’s part of His sovereignty. He’s the Creator-God, and He has authority over all His Creation. He knows everything that happens in the Creation, and He can solve it through His omnipotence. He is all-powerful; He is all present; He is fully aware of everything that is going on in our lives. We just think it through. We think about the fact that God is righteous, and we think about our problems, our difficulties in terms of the righteousness of God. The term “righteousness of God” expresses His standards. His ultimate standard for how things should be dealt with – that there is a right way and a wrong way to do things, and a right thing done in a wrong way is wrong. So a right thing has to be done in the right way. That is ultimately trusting in God that He is the One who provides victory in the battle.
We think about God’s love – that He loves us. And He loves us in such a way that if He provided salvation through His only begotten, or uniquely born, Son, then if He did that much for us, how much more will He do for us to deal with the petty little problems that plague us on a day-to-day basis? Even the ones that may not be quite so petty and may be pretty difficult, we know that God is the One who can handle those circumstances. He has given us the tools that we can use to face and overcome any problem, any difficulty that we face in life. We go to the Psalms and read through the lament psalms. There are individual laments and there are communal laments. Then at the end of those lament psalms there is always this statement of praise. As the psalmist moves through the identification of the problem focusing upon God, you see his mental attitude shift in the middle of the psalm to where he focuses on God. He realizes God can give him victory over the problem. And then there is usually at the end a declaration of praise to God that in some way He is going to extol God and tell people about what God has done – and that’s praise.
Praise isn’t saying “Praise God.” Praise is telling people with some specificity what God has done in delivering us from a problem, a difficulty, a challenge, something of that nature. There are some psalms where you come along and you just sort of take out that last element; that element where you are declaring praise for God, and you build a whole psalm or hymn around that. And that’s called a declarative – or some people use the term “descriptive” – praise, where you’re identifying what it is that God has done. In some ways that is what this is. It’s a declaration of what God has done for Hannah, and setting that within a broader context so that people can learn and be encouraged by how God has intervened in her life.
One thing I want to point out as we look at this is that this is a victory song, as are many of the praise psalms. They are victory psalms; they are songs of triumph. Sometimes they were sung in battle. Sometimes they were sung after a battle. Sometimes they were composed after a battle, such as Miriam’s Song in Exodus after God had delivered them through the Red Sea. Miriam wrote a hymn praising God for His deliverance.
When we think this through we need to recognize that we are in a battle – that life is a battle. It is part of a broader war that began in eternity past. Whether you are a Christian or a non-Christian, whether you are a believer in Jesus Christ or not a believer in Jesus Christ, you’re still part of this battle. This battle is cosmic in its dimensions and it began in eternity past when God created the angels. The highest of those angels led a revolt against God. Sometimes we refer to this as spiritual warfare. Sometimes we refer to it as the angelic rebellion. Sometimes we refer to it as the angelic conflict. But this is the overriding battle or war that takes place in history. We know that when Satan disobeyed God, rebelled against God, lifted up his banner against God, that he wanted to be worshiped as God. God gave him leeway and then eventually lowered the boom. And by that time Satan had deceived approximately a third of the angels and led them in rebellion against God as well.
God convened a trial. This can be inferred from several passages of Scripture. God declared that Satan and those angels that followed him were guilty and that they would be punished in an everlasting fiery torment called the Lake of Fire. God created the Lake of Fire, and according to Matthew 25:41 it was created for the devil and his angels – those that had followed him. But they weren’t put there. For some reason God delayed that. As we study Scripture, it has come to be accepted by numerous theologians and Bible scholars that for some reason, God delayed this and it was related to what was going on with Satan and his angels. Somehow Satan must have raised some objection, like smarmy lawyers sometimes do, to what Gog did. He didn’t like what God did and somehow impugned God’s penalty and is challenging Him on the basis that His penalty wasn’t really just, wasn’t really fair – that it really didn’t fit the crime, and that God couldn’t really be a loving God if He was going to impose those kinds of consequences upon him; that this kind of punishment wouldn’t be consistent with the God of love and a God of grace.
The focal point then becomes the character of God. God’s response was, okay, we’re going to have a little test case. It might not have happened exactly like this, but this is generally the scenario: He said, “we’re going to have a little object lesson, and I’m going to take this planet that I had originally given to you, and we’re going to overhaul the planet. I’m going to put a new creature on that planet. They are going to be a man and a woman, and they are going to be united in a unique way that hasn’t characterized the angels. They are going to be My emissaries and rule over the planet. We’re going to see if they’re going to follow Me and obey Me. There is going to be one test case, which is going to be a tree. They are going to be told not to eat from it or they will die. If they eat from it then they will die and reap the consequences for their actions.”
That’s exactly what happened. God put Adam and Eve in the Garden. Adam disobeyed God, and as a result, he died spiritually. Eve died spiritually, and because of that, they were separated from God. Satan thought he had won this little challenge only to discover that nope, this was just the beginning. God told Satan that now that he had usurped the power over the planet He was going to create this situation of hostility between the followers of Satan and the descendants of the woman. This would permeate the coming generations in history. A state of war would exist, a physical state of war that reflected this spiritual conflict between Satan and his angels and God. All descendants of Adam are in this battle. They are all born in darkness. They are all born in unrighteousness. They are all born spiritually dead and the issues in the battle go back to the issues of righteousness and life and light, and whether or not human beings are going to choose to follow God or choose to stay in darkness and follow Satan.
This means every single human being, every one of us, is born into this conflict. We are born into Satan’s kingdom of darkness and the only way to escape it is through faith alone in Christ alone. Only by trusting Christ do we get to change sides. The focal point in that conflict is the Cross, because it is at the Cross that God is going to solve the problem that was created with Adam’s sin.
And so there’s a battle throughout the Old Testament (OT) that goes from Adam to his succeeding generations, and they don’t follow God, it gets worse and worse and worse until God’s comment is that evil permeated the human race and the thoughts of man’s heart were evil continuously. And at the same time Satan is penetrating the human race seeking to destroy the genetic purity of the human race because he knows that from God’s promise, the Seed of the woman must be the Deliverer. If he can pervert and he can destroy the purity of the seed, the human genome, the DNA sequence of humanity, then he can win.
At the last minute God says, okay, we’re going to stop this foolishness, and I’m going to wipe out the human race, and we’re going to start over. And He killed every human being through the flood and started over with a man named Noah and his wife and their three sons and their wives. They got on a tremendous ship we call the ark, and they floated around the planet for a year before they got off the boat in a whole new world. God started over.
This is now Plan C.
Plan A was the original creation.
Plan B was the fall after Adam sinned.
Plan C is the earth after Noah. And they screwed it up again. The human race, instead of scattering like God said, united against God at the tower of Babel. God came down, confused their languages, scattered them on the planet by force by scattering their language, and He has to go to Plan D, which is working through the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, working through the Jewish people.
Again Satan seeks to oppose God, and so he is going to continuously assault the Jewish people, the descendants of Abraham, because he knows that the Seed of the woman is going to come through the line of Abraham. He is going to assault Israel. Eventually we know the whole story about how they go down to Egypt in order to survive the famine. In Egypt they eventually become slaves and God has to rescue them. He brings them out and brings them to the land that He has originally given Abraham and the land that He had promised them. Throughout this period from the Exodus to the time of Jesus there is this continuous assault on Israel, and they fail time and time and time and time again. The period in Samuel is one of those failures.
And yet we see God in His grace interceding to give victory in that stage of the battle in order to prepare for the coming of the Seed of the woman who is going to come through David the king.
It is going to be Samuel, the son of Hannah, who will anoint David to be king. And it is through the Davidic line and through David that they’ll be delivered from the Philistines; and then through the Davidic line that the Messiah will come. We see how this battle has gone on all the way down through history. The battle rages today just as it did at that time, but all through this we see God is faithful to His promise. He’s going to rescue people from their sin. He never backs off. He never changes. He gives people the freedom to sin and to fail and to really mess up their lives, but ultimately God is always offering grace, always offering a solution to that problem.
Today we live in the most intense stage of the angelic conflict, the Church Age, but in the OT we see a lot of stories, a lot of patterns, a lot of principles that still apply in the Church Age. In the OT we see that in this psalm Hannah recognizes that her microscopic battle (the problem that she has with Peninnah who is always ridiculing her because she can’t have a baby and always making fun of her because she’s not able to fulfill her womanhood) and realizes her victory in her own little area is eventually going to have a broader implication. She realizes, as she expresses in 1 Samuel 2:1, that her enemies are God’s enemies, and that God’s enemies are her enemies. This idea that our enemies are God’s enemies permeates the Scripture, the thinking of mature believers.
Let me show you an example from Psalm 139 (slide 5). Psalm 139:20–22 “For they speak against You wickedly” David writes, “Your enemies take Your name in vain. Do I not hate them?…” The Psalmist is saying, ‘Lord, I hate your enemies like You hate Your enemies.’ And that is how we should be. We hate God’s enemies as God hates them. “Do I not hate them, O Lord, who hate You? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies.”
We have to recognize that even though we are in a different stage of the angelic conflict, we are still in the same kind of a battle. We should look to these Psalms in the OT to understand how they relate to victory. Let me give you a couple to look at: Psalm 3, Psalm 8, Psalm 9, Psalm 18, Psalm 92, Psalm 105, and Psalm 107. There are many more; they are just a few that I looked up. I didn’t want to go through and do all your work for you. I encourage you to read through the Psalms and try to identify Psalms that are Psalms of declarative praise, where someone is declaring God’s victory over God’s enemies. What happens is that we see this expressed, for example, in Psalm 107:1–2 (slide 6) “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.”
I do not know if any of you remember a little chorus we sang in Sunday School when we were kids, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so – say so.” You never knew what the end was because all the words were just that one verse. That’s the problem with some choruses; you never get very far. The point in this Psalm is we are to talk about how God has rescued us and delivered us and give substance to that statement describing how God has rescued us and how God has delivered us. Now before I get any further I want to give you a little bit of an outline of what is going on in this particular Psalm (slide 4). As you notice there is sort of a pattern to what we see Hannah saying. She starts off talking about:
1. The unique sovereignty of God in 1 Samuel 2:1–2.“My heart rejoices in the Yahweh; my horn is exalted in the Lord. I smile at my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation. “No one is holy like the Lord, for there is none besides You, nor is there any rock like our God.”
Hannah is emphasizing the uniqueness of God’s sovereignty and His ability to solve her problems. Then she talks about:
2. The reversal of human fortunes – how life changes, and how life is bad. She says, talk no more so arrogantly. Twice she says this. In fact, the New King James (NKJV) reads in 1 Samuel 2:3, “Talk no more so very proudly; let no arrogance come from your mouth.”
The same word is used both times in the Hebrew. That’s one of my little pet peeves about translators: that when God uses the same word twice in the same context, we shouldn’t translate it with different English words. That may make good style in your English composition class, but it’s not good translation style because you lose the point that God is making there.
1 Samuel 2:4 “The bows of the mighty men are broken, and those who stumbled are girded with strength.” It’s talking about how mighty men are incapable of providing a solution. Ultimately, the might of man can’t do it. God is going to turn things back against them.
3. There’s a repetition of God’s (YHWH’s) unique sovereignty in 1 Samuel 2:6–7.
4. 1 Samuel 2:8–9 talks about how God (YHWH) intervenes (reversal of human fortunes).
“He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap, to set them among princes and make them inherit the throne of glory; for the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and He has set the world upon them. He will guard the feet of His saints, But the wicked shall be silent in darkness.”
It is talking about how God’s sovereignty changes what happens in life. Can there be change? Yes, there can. Who has to do it? God has to do it.
5. In the second part of 1 Samuel 2:8b–10, it talks about God’s (YHWH’s) sovereignty.
6. It closes with this unique statement at the last part of 1 Samuel 2:10 (the theme of kingship). “He will give strength to His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed.”
That’s a new idea. Ultimately, all of this culminates in the victory of the messianic king. This sets up a stage for understanding something about this kind of a psalm. What I want you to do is to come to understand how to read things like this a little more intelligently. That’s one of the reasons last year I taught a Bible Study Methods class just so folks could read their Bible a little more knowledgeably, and to give them a few tools to understand what to look up, how to look things up, and how to follow along at a little more informed level when reading through the Scriptures. So as you read through the Psalms, you can take these incredible statements that are made and see how they apply to your own life.
Just as a side note, I want to talk a little bit about one form of application from the Psalms, and that is singing. Sometimes, Christians have all kinds of wrong views about singing. There are some Christians who say, ‘Why do we sing? Let’s just get to the heart of the whole thing, which is the Bible study. Why do we sing? That’s just a distraction.’
But what we see in Scripture is that singing is an integral part of worship. In fact, if you go to Ephesians 5:18, where we have a command we all know very well, which is to be filled by means of the Spirit, there are several things that are listed in Ephesians 5:19–22 that are a result of a person who is being filled by the Spirit. The first thing that is mentioned is that he is singing hymns and songs of praise to God, “making melody in your heart to the Lord.” It is talking about singing praises to God. That that is one of the first consequences of a person who is walking by the Spirit and is walking with the Lord.
Singing isn’t something that is just secondary in our spiritual life. It is something that God thinks is very important. In fact, the largest book in the whole Bible is the Book of Psalms, which is a collection of hymns. So for some reason, God seems to think singing is important. The other extreme we get is that people who don’t really understand much about singing want to trivialize singing. This happens. And it has happened down through the ages in different stages and different civilizations, and we really see it today and it really shouldn’t be a surprise. We live in a culture that trivializes everything. Just watch television. Everything becomes a cliché. It gets watered down, and it loses its depth and significance. Singing to God is something that is to be taken very seriously, not only in terms of the words that we sing but also in terms of the kind of music that fits with those words.
Right now I just want to talk a little bit about the words because with the Psalms we don’t have the music preserved. But we do have the words of the songs that we should sing. I just want to make a few little observations here to remind you of why we sing things the way we do here at West Houston Bible Church:
1. The Psalms (slide 7) were written to be sung.
They weren’t written necessarily to be picked apart and exegeted word by word, which we do. We do that because in many cases and in many ways there are problems with translation on the one hand. But we don’t know how to really understand these words. We have to go through the process of translation and analysis in order to fully understand what is being said so that we can appreciate the artistry that goes into the songs, and that we can make the thoughts that are expressed there part of our own spiritual life. What we have here in terms of these lyrics are the hymns that are sung to God.
I believe (and have believed for many, many years) that these hymns in the Bible are inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that makes them a cut above anything else. I don’t believe like the Puritans that only these Psalms should be sung but I do believe that good music that is sung in church—now I believe there is a difference between what you sing around the camp fire at a camp with kids singing in times and things like that—but when you are singing as part of the corporate worship service of the church, that this should reflect a level of devotion and honor to God that is a cut above anything else. It is usually preparatory to the study of God’s Word. The music should enhance mental activity and cerebral activity and intellection, and strengthen the ability to concentrate and not be something that distracts from our ability to focus and to study and to think. The purpose of music and the hymns wasn’t to put people into another mental state so that they just felt like they were worshiping. It wasn’t manipulative. It was the response to what God had done in life. The Psalms as just pure lyrics should provide us with a precedent for evaluating the kinds of hymns that we sing to God.
2. The singing (slide 8) of praise to God in Scripture is, in some passages, described as prophecy.
How about that? That’s the kind of thing that ought to cause us to scratch our heads a little bit because we don’t associate singing with prophecy. We think prophecy is when a prophet comes along and he talks about judgment or something that is going to happen in the future. But look at what the Scripture says. Here’s a classic passage in 1 Chronicles 25:2–3 talking about the sons of Asaph. This is in the section of Chronicles that’s giving part of the genealogy.
Who was Asaph? Asaph was a priest who was in charge of the worship, the music, of the choir singing in the temple. Asaph wrote a number of Psalms. These are the sons of Asaph. Apparently the family was quite well known for their musical ability and they were all involved in the choir that was under the direction of Asaph. We read about Asaph that he prophesied according to the order of the king.
If we just stop there and we didn’t have the next verse, then we might think that what he is doing is that he is somehow involved in expressing the Word of God to the king. But notice it’s at the will of the king. It’s according to the order of the king. Prophecy comes by God, not by the will of man, so that seems kind of odd. Maybe it’s not talking about prophecy as we normally think about it.
In 1 Chronicles 25:3 we read about another priest who is involved in the singing and the songs of worship in the temple, Jeduthun. The sons of Jeduthun are Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Shimei, Hashabiah, and Mattithiah. They were under the direction of their father, who prophesied with a harp.
That’s not usually what you think of when you’re thinking about Daniel and his visions. You’re probably not talking about or thinking about him playing his tuba while he’s giving a prophecy or playing the cymbals or whatever the instruments were that they had at that time. That’s not coming into your mind.
When you think of Isaiah appearing before the throne of God and bowing before the throne of God and writing His prophecies you are not thinking about musical instruments. But here’s a clear passage that says that he “prophesied with a harp to give thanks and to praise the Lord.”
Those categories – thanks and praise – are key categories of the Psalms. There are thanksgiving psalms, and there are declarative praise psalms. Those are two categories of psalms, and you sing them. They were accompanied with various musical instruments, and a harp was one of them. Who else played a harp? David. What did David do? He wrote a lot of the Psalms, and we’re going to study those as we go through 1 & 2 Samuel when they fit within the right place. The point that I am making is that one element of prophecy was really just praise to God. It had to do with the music in the worship of Israel.
3. Another thing that we should remember is that in the OT (slide 9) there is a reference to certain women as prophets:
Miriam is mentioned as a prophet, Miriam, the sister of Moses.
Deborah is mentioned as a prophet, yet most of the writing prophets and the speaking prophets that we study are men. There’s an emphasis in male leadership throughout the Scripture. We kind of scratch our heads and some people who have a feminist agenda come along and say, ‘See? You have Deborah.’
You’ve got Miriam in the OT.
You’ve got Philip and his daughters who are prophetesses in the New Testament (NT).
See, they were communicating the Word of God. Let me suggest that the pattern that we see with Miriam, Deborah, and Hannah is that what they are doing is writing psalms. They’re inspired by God the Holy Spirit, obviously, in the writing of the psalms, the songs that they sang and the composition of them; but what they are doing is related to singing, it is not related to foretelling the future or talking about things related to eschatology. Even in the song of Hannah, where in the midst of it, it reflects about something that is yet in the future, the coming of the messianic king.
Prophecy is related to this. We will see this again. When we get into the life of Saul, what is one of the most enigmatic things that happens to Saul right at the beginning, after he’s anointed? He comes across some of the prophets, and Saul begins prophesying with the other prophets. That just confuses a lot of people who want to cram their preconceived notion of prophecy as something like preaching into that scenario. What we have here, I believe, is that Saul joins them as they are singing hymns of praise to God. He just joins the choir. That’s what’s going on there. So this idea of prophecy as music and as singing with thanks and praise to God is clearly attested to in the Scripture. Psalms are part of worship, a critical part. Worship is composed of different things. We worship at the Lord’s Table. In the OT, they worshiped through sacrifices. You worship through singing; you worship through giving; you worship through teaching and the Word.
We live in an environment today where worship has been misused and applied in many contexts where it relates only to singing and that’s not true. The song leader is called the worship leader. The worship leader in a church is the pastor. The man who leads the music is the choir director, the song leader, whatever else you want to call them, but he’s not the worship leader. Worship, the overall service, is organized and structured by the pastor, and he’s the one who is taking people through singing, giving, the Lord’s Table, the sermon, to focus their attention upon God so that their life is lived to honor God. That’s ultimately what worship is individually.
4. As we look at psalms and as we look at this psalm (slide 10), there are a couple of things that we should think about when we talk about singing and singing praise to God and the pattern that we see from this psalm from this psalm as well as others in terms of how it relates to hymns:
- There is a quality to poetry.
When you take a hymn that we sing, throw away the music, take the words, put the words in a form of a poem, and read the poem – just read the lyrics as poetry … is it good poetry? Is it C- poetry or is it B+ poetry? A lot of the words in contemporary choruses (and trust me, some traditional hymns) are really poor poetry. It doesn’t really honor God. We should be bringing our very best. We are to do “all things to the glory of God,” Scripture says. God is deserving of the very highest quality that we can bring Him. That means that we should not have trivialized or clichéd poems that form the lyrics of our songs. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be simple. Simple and cliché are not the same. They can be simple. “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Simple is not cliché. It’s not trivialized. So the words don’t have to be complex to be qualitative. They can be simple. We want quality: just the lyrics, the poetry. Strip out the music; just look at the words as poetry, and we ought to be able to tell something.
The problem that we have is there are a lot of folks who don’t really have the ability to tell the difference between good poetry and bad poetry. We’re not going to ask for any testimonies, any show of hands, whoever bombed out of all your literature classes going through school, that’s not the point. But those of us who may not be quite as tuned into what makes good poetry good poetry (and a limerick, while it is fun, is not really good poetry), need to depend upon those who do have an ability to spot a good poem from a bad poem, and let those folks help us to have good poetry in our singing. That applies to music as well. There are a lot of us who have a fair to middlin’ ability in music. I was in the band. I played piano. I have a fair to middlin’ ability in music, but I certainly don’t stack up against a lot of people. I am an amateur’s amateur. But when we’re going to take music, we need to listen to people who really have a capacity to understand quality music.
That’s why I have five or six people who have a lot of education and background in music I go to when somebody recommends a hymn (and this has happened many times), and they will come back and slam the poetry or kill the music, but there is still taste there. It is interesting that some things will get out there, and of the five or six people, three will like the music and the poetry, and two won’t; or usually it is like four to one, but it may be one or two persons who are the holdout. They say this is just so trivial. We should never sing this. The other four say it’s okay. I think, okay, that’s probably pretty good. That’s where taste is somewhat entered into the game, but usually it is not like that.
I remember four or five years ago Charlie Clough and I were at a conference and we were singing some contemporary hymns. Notice what I said. I didn’t say contemporary choruses. I don’t like contemporary choruses. They are not Bible choruses. But these were contemporary hymns. There are several people (they live today, so they are contemporary) who are trying to write quality hymns. And they weren’t bad. So I got some YouTube videos or website links and sent back to everybody and said, take a look at this. Everybody came back and said, nope, that’s not good music and it’s not good poetry. Okay. See, I’m not the final arbiter of what good poetry and good music is despite some people who think that I’m the one who makes all these decisions. I listen to people who are experts in the field, and who know the difference between mediocre poetry and good poetry, and mediocre music and good music. I want us to sing good music with good words. Certainly, there is a lot of stuff out there that is good, and we should sing it. It’s great stuff. We may or may not know about a lot of it, so why should we sing stuff that is mediocre, which we shouldn’t. We want to look at quality.
- What’s the focus of the poetry?
The focus of the poetry should be upon God. The content should be Theocentric, focusing on God. Look at what we have in this psalm. Read through this. The focus is on God. The hero is God. The focus is on the God who answers prayer, the God who is a unique God. “There is no rock like our God.” It is very literal. If you look at the 1 Samuel 2:1 “My heart rejoices in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord. I smile at my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation.” That’s the last that you hear of “me” and “I.”
But if you look at a lot of contemporary choruses, it’s all about “me” and how Jesus made me “feel” and how “my” problems are so overwhelming. It’s all about “me”, “me”, “me.” It is not about “God”, “God” “God”, “God.” It’s not Theocentric; it’s man-centered. So we need to make sure that the content is God-centered. Trust me, there are some old hymns that are “me-centered”, too, okay? Some of the revival stuff that came out in the 19th century is just as subjective as some of the bad stuff today.
- We need to look at the content. We need to recognize that a praise or descriptive praise song describes what God has done in delivering His people. It’s got some content to talk about.
If you listen to a lot of hymns that we sing, they talk about who God is. “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!” What great language! It comes right out of the Scripture. Read through that hymn, and you come to learn about the Person of God. You are drawn closer to who He is. There is majesty to the words. We look at how God has answered prayer in some hymns. We look at what Jesus Christ did on the Cross in some hymns. They teach us something. They reinforce what we learn from our study of the Word, and they express it back to God in terms that are quite majestic. The music doesn’t drive the hymn. The music complements what the hymn says.
So in conclusion, we say that hymns that we sing should be descriptive of who God is, of what He has done, His work of salvation. They should focus upon the Person and the work of Jesus Christ and our anticipation of His future glories. That’s what we’ll see as we come to this particular hymn. It elevates our consciousness as to what God has done.
I encourage you over the next week or so to read through this a few times. Make some notes. Notice some things that are there. Use some of those things that I taught you in Bible Study Methods. Look for words that are repeated, words that are distinct. What you will find is that there are certain words and phrases and even verses that show up again in later hymns. For example, Psalm 113 borrows language from Hannah’s song. Psalm 18, a psalm of David, borrows language from this hymn. In 2 Samuel 22 we have a hymn of David that borrows heavily from this hymn. Now this hymn occurs where? It begins at the beginning of 1 Samuel. David’s hymn occurs where? It occurs at the end of 2 Samuel. They are like bookends. What is the focal point of both of those songs? The focal point is that God is our Rock. He is the One who gives us deliverance from our problems, and He is the Source of our salvation.
So if that is stated in a hymn in 1 Samuel 2, and it is restated in a hymn in 2 Samuel 22 at the end, you think that might tell us something about what we’re going to learn in our study of Samuel? It tells us that the focus is on God as our Rock, Who is the Source of our salvation. It is amazing how that just happens like that. It just showed up, and there it was. But this is how the Holy Spirit works. We need to think a little more deeply as we read and all of that can be done just reading in the English. But we’ll find out some really fun things and interesting things as we get into this. We’ll come back next time and we’ll start here at the beginning of 1 Samuel 2:1 as we work our way through this remarkable praise hymn from Hannah.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to look at these things in Your Word, to be reminded of Your faithfulness, to be reminded that you are our Rock just as You were the Rock of Moses, the Rock of Hannah, the Rock of David. And there is, as David says, there is no Rock like our Rock; there’s no God like our God. You are Holy. You are distinct and unique, and You and You alone can give us victory over the problems, the challenges, and the difficulties of life. Only in You do we have real hope and real strength. Father, we pray that You would challenge us to trust exclusively in You as we face the challenges of life. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.”