There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite[a] from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.
1 Samuel 1.1-2
God’s people were in a mess. As we noted yesterday at the end of the Book of Judges ‘there was no king in Israel. Everyone did as he saw fit.’ It was anarchy. They were leaderless and in the final chapters of Judges we read about some of the most horrific results of such a leaderless situation. Judges drives home the message that when the people cried out to God he raised up judges for them and in the lifetime of each judge they had rest and relief from their enemies. However, fickle as they were, when the judge died they reverted to their old ways until the results of such ways called them to cry out to God again and he, in his mercy and grace, raised up another judge and so the hopeless cycle was repeated.
So as we read the last verse of the book we turn the page to 1 Samuel and our expectation is that God will provide a leader, a king, who will redress this situation but I wonder if we sense a bit of a let down as, instead of the leader so desperately needed we are introduced to an unknown man, from a little known area who has two wives, one of whom is childless.
(The Book of Ruth, on which we have recently focussed, does not come between Judges and 1 Samuel in the Hebrew Bible)
Surely this is not what we expected. How was this going to solve such a huge problem? But wait! Is there not a precedent?
Sarah was childless and all seemed hopeless as far as God’s promise of many children was concerned. Samson’s mother was childless and sterile but was given a son who, as one of the judges saved Israel for a purpose, and supremely as we are able look back, a virgin from Bethlehem was miraculously with child as God worked out his plan of salvation.
God moves in ways that are not our ways. God uses unlikely people to work out his purposes. So we should never be discouraged when things do not appear as we would like them to appear. Further we may ask ‘What can I do? I seem so insignificant in the great scheme of things.
Sarah became the mother of many nations. Samson’s mother whose name we do not even know, bore one of the judges who saved Israel, albeit only for a short time. Hannah was given a child, Samuel, who by the grace of God, in due time called Israel back from the brink, to God. Mary was the insignificant one chosen to bring God in human form into the world that the world through him might be saved.
There are countless thousands of ordinary men and women, who God has used and is using for his purposes. From unknown places, unknown families often in difficult situations, they were and are used by God. Some like those mentioned this morning are known. The majority are not. Yet each has a role to play, a task to do.
What is God calling you to do, in his strength, as his man or woman, to be part of his great plan of redemption?
O use me Lord, use even me,
Just as thou wilt, and when and where,
Until thy blessed face I see,
Thy rest, thy joy, thy glory share!