The Character of God in His Micro- and Macro-Salvations 1: Hannah
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This week and next I’m planning to preach a two-part series on two special prayers prayed by women in Scripture. The first is Hannah’s in 1 Sam 2. The second is Mary’s in Luke 1.
This prayer falls pretty naturally into three divisions, which is pretty convenient.
1. The first is what you could call a micro-salvation, Hannah’s victory over her enemies by having a child.
3. The third is macro-salvation, the big saving action that Hannah foresees from her obscure location in the story of the Bible that God will one day perform for his creation.
2. And in the middle we get some beautiful comments about the way Yahweh rules, namely through what we might call reversals of fortune.
The title of my message today is “The Character of God in His Micro- and Macro-Salvations.”
1. YAHWEH’S MICRO-SALVATION FOR HANNAH
1. YAHWEH’S MICRO-SALVATION FOR HANNAH
And Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the LORD; my horn is exalted in the LORD. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation.
This is Hannah rejoicing in her micro-salvation, a relatively small act of God that nonetheless meant a great deal to her. Her heart rejoiced greatly in the Lord because she saw that the salvation came from his hand.
A horn is a symbol of strength and of power. When you look at a majestic ram standing on a rocky crag looking over a valley, the thing that stands out about this beast—his unique excellence, his glory—is his majestic set of horns.
This is an obscure, childless woman in an obscure polygamous marriage at the low point in all of Israel’s history. And yet she knows the Lord. And she has a symbol of strength and power: her unique excellence, her miracle birth. I know the deep feeling of pride in my wife that I had when my first child was born, a son. She has many other glories, but this one was special. I wanted to lift that boy up to the rising sun and shout, just like Rafiki in the Lion King.
But Hannah had special reason to exult, because there were people rooting against her. She had enemies, particularly Penninah, but not only her. And now, with this baby in her arms, she can say,
My mouth derides my enemies,
Literally, this is, “my mouth is open against my enemies.” But because in modern English that’s a little confusing—we might conclude that she’s talking about shock and surprise, like “standing open-mouthed”—the translation “derides” is just right. Just imagine a big “HA HA HA HA!” That’s Hannah.
You’d be better sure that the victory you got is from the Lord before you deride your enemies. It’s hard for me to imagine a situation in which a Republican or Democratic political victory, for example, would justify believers talking this way. Your heart had better be exulting truly in the Lord, not merely in politics, if you’re going to talk this way.
As I studied this passage I realized that just the other day, I did this. I derided my enemies. I don’t know who your enemies are. My enemies are those who hate the Lord and his word, particularly those who have made it their life’s work to undermine other people’s belief in the truth of Scripture, who rise up against the Lord. My enemies, to be specific, are other biblical scholars who slither around writing books that say, basically, “Yea, hath God said?” I hate them with perfect hatred, I count them my enemies, as David—the man whose story Hannah opens—says in Psalm 139. And every once in a while I come across a brilliant evangelical article or book which puts such people in their place, and does so with style. It did just happen the other day. I read a quote that just dropped the mic on liberal attempts to deny Scripture, and I remember bursting out in a big smile and saying, “BAM!”
because I rejoice in your salvation.
In a situation in which my faith is being attacked, as it regularly is by writers all over the Internet, writers that my job forces me into contact with, I need little salvations like that one.
Now I hasten to clarify that biblical morality is more complex than “hate your enemies.” It’s not “hate your enemies,” at all, really; it’s “hate *the Lord’s* enemies.” And then in addition the Bible also tells us to *love* our enemies! The fact is that we can do both. I hate and deride, when appropriate, the people who undermine God’s word, but I love them and wish that they would enjoy the salvation I myself have been given by grace. God’s soul hates the wicked, Psalm 11 says, but he also loved the world so much that he gave his son.
At the moment of victory over one’s enemies, it’s okay that negative feelings against them are uppermost. Hannah had done no wrong to deserve Penninah’s mockery. Penninah was really mocking the one who opens and closes the womb. Hannah had a right to deride and to rejoice.
“There is none holy like the LORD: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.
Hannah now moves to confession. The micro-salvation she has experienced leads her to confess certain truths about God to anyone listening—which happens to be millions of people around the world for thousands of years, because of who her son was, a prophet.
Truth about Yahweh was not dead in Israel in the time of the Judges. It did survive her and there. And here it certainly is. The idols worshiped by the Israelites around her were just rocks; there is no God besides Yahweh. There is no one holy like him. But Yahweh still is a rock, but of a different kind. The kind you can actually rest your life on.
So Hannah turns to exhortation based on these facts about the Lord:
Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.
This is plural; she isn’t just talking to Penninah. Everybody who boasts arrogantly is included. God watches everybody, Hannah says, and knows whether you’re just talking.
What Hannah says here is, literally, don’t talk high, high. Or it could be translated, don’t talk tall, tall. Don’t puff yourself up to your puny height in front of a rock like this one.
And on the one hand I have to ask, because Hannah herself turns from praise to exhortation: do you have a view of God like this, one that lifts him up above all? And on the other I have to ask, are you one of the arrogant who talks tall, tall? When people in the South found out I was an outreach pastor at a church, a lot of them talked tall, tall. They would boast to me about how good they were, how strong their character was, how they would never take bribes or cut corners on the job.
But when I meet true Christians, they are fundamentally humble. They know that their actions have been weighed and found wanting, and only the Lord can save them.
The Lord loves to save humble people. And that’s what Hannah turns to next.
2. YAHWEH’S LOVE FOR ROLE REVERSALS
2. YAHWEH’S LOVE FOR ROLE REVERSALS
The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. 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. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and on them he has set the world.
Dale Ralph Davis (Focus on the Bible): “What Yahweh has done for Hannah simply reflects the tendency of his ways. When John Calvin had suffered the death of his wife Idelette, he wrote his friend William Farel: “May the Lord Jesus … support me … under this heavy affliction, which would certainly have overcome me, had not He, who raises up the prostrate, strengthens the weak, and refreshes the weary, stretched forth His hand from heaven to me.” Calvin was saying he would surely have been crushed but he knew a Lord who raises up the prostrate, strengthens the weak, and refreshes the weary—and that Lord had again acted in character in Calvin’s grief. That is what Hannah is saying here. I was ready to fall and Yahweh gave me strength; I was barren and he made me fruitful; I was poor and he made me rich. But that is not really surprising, for that is just the way Yahweh is (vv. 4–8)!” (23)
I count four major reversals and a couple general promises:
Yahweh makes mighty people switch places with the feeble.
Yahweh makes satiated people switch places with the hungry.
Yahweh makes barren women switch places with women who have many children.
Yahweh makes the poor sit in places of honor.
God, in general, makes some poor and others rich.
God, in general, brings some low and lifts others high.
God, in general, is the kind of God who lifts the needy from the ash heaps of Calcutta and makes them shine like stars.
In other words, the last shall be first and the first shall be last.
I can’t say I ever understood this principle so well as when I became a parent. When you say, “Who wants this piece of cake?,” and all the kids see it’s the biggest one, and one shouts out, “I want the big one!,” your inclination as a parent is to feel a little righteous indignation and to award the big piece to the kid who didn’t speak up fast enough, and to give the small piece to the kid who selfishly demanded the biggest one. God sends the kid who shouts “shotgun” to the back seat.
And speaking of shotguns… One of my favorite theologians put himself in the line of Internet fire a few years back when he cautioned the attitude he saw accompanying conservative Christian gun ownership. He said that “the whole tenor and focus and demeanor and heart-attitude of the Christian life” is *not* one that says, “I have the power to kill you in my pocket, so don’t mess with me.” (Piper, d.pr/Qrww)
The scary truth about our flesh is that our exultation in the Lord, our deriding of our enemies, can easily spill over into he very arrogance that got our enemies put down in the first place. If a Christian owns a gun, he should do so as a sojourner and an exile, someone willing to turn the other cheek and suffer for Christ, not someone who loves to swagger around, communicating with every step, “Go ahead, make my day.” Talk no more so very proudly, or you might find yourself on the ash heap. God did this to Assyria: he used them to strike his people, but then he turned around and struck Assyria because they got too big for their britches. They enjoyed their role too much, they started seeing themselves as the woodsman cutting Israel down rather than as the axe wielded by God.
Clarification: I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with hunting, or that it’s biblically unlawful for you to own a gun. I myself am hoping to purchase a pellet gun at some point for the use of me and my family. I’m saying that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: this is someone who takes humility and pride very seriously.
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. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and on them he has set the world.
God built the planet; he gets to run it how he wants.
3. YAHWEH’S MACRO-SALVATION FOR THE WORLD
3. YAHWEH’S MACRO-SALVATION FOR THE WORLD
“He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail. The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.”
Dale Ralph Davis (Focus on the Bible): “Here is what will happen when Yahweh rules and acts as he is wont to do (vv. 4–8). Here is the final result, the grand finale—the deliverance of the covenant people, the shattering of Yahweh’s opponents, the judging of the ends of the earth.” (24)
Now we have to observe that Hannah believes Yahweh will accomplish his macro-salvation through his king, his anointed. And if you know the period of the Judges, the right response to this is, “Huh? What king?” The whole problem with the period of the Judges, as the book of Judges shows, is that there was no king in Israel.
Some of the enemies of the Word of God (and, admittedly, a few of its confused friends) have thought that this last verse must have been added to Hannah’s prayer long after her death, at a time when Israel did have a king. These are enemies because there is no evidence that these words come from anyone but Hannah. In order to doubt that she said these things about the Lord’s king, you have to doubt that God was capable of inspiring her or instructing her to say them. You have to doubt that a woman who knew the Lord in that troubled time was capable herself of remembering that Deuteronomy 17 gives instructions for Israelite kings.
But we’ve got to step back a bit, to view Hannah within the whole context of the book of Samuel. We’re going to turn to the end of this one book, 1 and 2 Sam, and on the way I want you to peek at the headings in your Bible. Who’s the main character of this book? It’s not Samuel the prophet. It’s not Saul, the king whom he anoints. It’s David, the king whom Samuel anoints to replace Saul. Hannah’s story isn’t related here at the beginning of the book just because it happened, or just because preachers would need Mother’s Day sermons in the future. It did happen, and Hannah was a great mother, but her story is chosen by the expert narrator to be the introduction for the whole story of David. Why? We’ll see.
We’ve skipped to the end of David’s story, and looking back, the narrator pulls out this one psalm from early in his life to be emblematic of that life—and to make a theological point that goes back to Hannah. Listen in the verses I read for echoes of Hannah’s prayer. And listen, at the end, for the identification of the king Hannah talks about.
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.
You save a humble people, but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down.
“For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?
For you equipped me with strength for the battle; you made those who rise against me sink under me. You made my enemies turn their backs to me, those who hated me, and I destroyed them. They looked, but there was none to save; they cried to the LORD, but he did not answer them. I beat them fine as the dust of the earth; I crushed them and stamped them down like the mire of the streets.
“The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be my God, the rock of my salvation, the God who gave me vengeance and brought down peoples under me, who brought me out from my enemies; you exalted me above those who rose against me; you delivered me from men of violence.
“For this I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations, and sing praises to your name. Great salvation he brings to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his offspring forever.”
Dale Ralph Davis (Focus on the Bible): The saving help Yahweh gave Hannah is a foretaste, a scale-model demonstration of how Yahweh will do it when he does it in grand style. Each one of Christ’s flock should ingest this point into his or her thinking. Every time God lifts you out of the miry bog and sets your feet upon a rock is a sample of the coming of the kingdom of God, a down payment of the full deliverance, the macro-salvation that will be yours at last. True, such tiny salvations are only samples or signs of the final salvation. A happily married woman may wear a diamond ring and/or a wedding band. And, if you asked her, she would likely admit that the ring is a token or a sign of the love her husband has for her; she would acknowledge that it is only a sign or a symbol and that the ring is certainly not the love itself but that the real thing is much greater than the sign or symbol of it. But she will not for that reason despise the ring; she won’t reason that since it is only a symbol she might just as well sell it at her garage sale. No, because of the deeper reality it signifies she treasures it, though it is, admittedly, relatively insignificant. Likewise, you should not despise or demean these little salvations Yahweh works in your behalf, these little clues he gives, these clear but small evidences he leaves that he is king and that he has this strange way of raising up the poor from the dust and lifting the needy from the ash heap to make them sit in the heavenly realms with Jesus Christ. Ponder every episode of Yahweh’s saving help to you; it will help you believe Luke 12:32 [Fear not little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom]. (25)