Ellen G. White Writings

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The Signs of the Times

October 27, 1881

The Birth of Samuel

By Mrs. E. G. White

The reign of judges in Israel closes with Samuel, than whom few purer or more illustrious characters are presented in the sacred record. There are few, also whose life-history contains lessons of greater value to the thoughtful student. The father of Samuel was Elkanah, a Levite, who dwelt at Ramah, in Mount Ephraim. He was a person of wealth and influence, a kind husband, and a man who feared and reverenced God. Hannah, the wife of Elkanah, was a woman of piety and devotion. Humility, conscientiousness, and a firm reliance upon God, were ruling traits in her character. Of Hannah it might truly be said, in the words of the wise man: “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her.”

Elkanah's love for his chosen companion was deep and unchanging; yet a cloud shadowed their domestic happiness. The home was not made joyful by the voice of childhood. At length the strong desire to perpetuate his name led the husband, as it had led many others, to adopt a course which God did not sanction—that of introducing into the family a second wife, to be subordinate to the first. This act was prompted by a lack of faith in God, and was attended with evil results. The peace of the hitherto united and harmonious family was broken. Upon Hannah the blow fell with crushing weight. All happiness seemed forever swept away from her life. She bore her trials uncomplainingly, yet her grief was none the less keen and bitter.

Peninnah, the new wife, was a woman of inferior mind, and of envious and jealous disposition. As years passed on, and sons and daughters were added to the household, she became proud and self-important, and treated her rival with contempt and insolence.

Elkanah faithfully observed the ordinances of God. The worship at Shiloh was still maintained, yet it had become irregular, and in some respects incomplete. Hence, Elkanah had no regular employment at the tabernacle, to whose service, being a Levite, he was to be especially devoted. Notwithstanding this, his zeal in the service of God was unfaltering. With his family he went up to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice at the appointed gatherings.

Yet even amid the sacred festivities connected with the worship of God, the evil spirit that had cursed his home intruded. After the other sacrifices had been made, it was customary for the peace-offering to be presented. A specified portion of this was given to the priest, and then the offerer, after distributing to each member of his family a share of the remainder, united with them in a solemn yet joyous feast. Upon these occasions Elkanah gave the mother of his children a portion for herself and for each of her sons and daughters, and then as a token of regard for Hannah, his first and best-loved wife, he gave her a double portion. This excited the envy and jealousy of the second wife, and she boldly asserted her claims to superiority as one highly favored of God; and she tauntingly pointed to the fact that Hannah had no children, as proof of the Lord's displeasure toward her.

This scene was enacted again and again, not only at the yearly gatherings, but whenever circumstances furnished an opportunity for Peninnah to exalt herself at the expense of her rival. The course of this woman seemed to Hannah, a trial almost beyond endurance. Satan employed her as his agent to harass, and if possible exasperate and destroy one of God's faithful children. At last, as her enemy's taunts were repeated at one of the yearly feasts, Hannah's courage and fortitude gave way. Unable longer to conceal her feelings, she wept without restraint. The expressions of joy on every hand seemed mockery to her. She could not partake of the feast.

Her husband, knowing the cause of her grief, sought to comfort her with the assurance of his unchanged affection, and gently chides her for yielding thus to sorrow: “Why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons?” But it was impossible for Elkanah fully to understand her feelings or to appreciate the cause.

Hannah brought no reproach against her husband for his unwise marriage. The grief which she could share with no earthly friend, she carried to her Heavenly Father, and sought consolation from Him alone who hath said, “Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee.” There is a mighty power in prayer. Our great adversary is constantly seeking to keep the troubled soul away from God. An appeal to Heaven by the humblest saint is more to be dreaded by Satan than the decrees of cabinets or the mandates of kings.

Hannah's prayer was unheard by mortal ear, but entered the ear of the Lord of hosts. Earnestly she pleaded that God would take away her reproach, and grant her the boon most highly prized by women of that age,—the blessing of motherhood. As she wrestled in prayer, her voice uttered no sound, but her lips moved and her countenance gave evidence of deep emotion. And now another trial awaited the humble suppliant. As the eye of Eli the high priest fell upon her, he hastily decided that she was intoxicated. Feasting revelry had well-nigh supplanted true godliness among the people of Israel. Instances of intemperance, even among women, were of frequent occurrence, and now Eli determined to administer what he considered a deserved rebuke. “How long wilt thou be drunken? Put away thy wine from thee.”

Hannah had been communing with God. She believed that her prayer had been heard, and the peace of Christ filled her heart. Hers was a gentle, sensitive nature, yet she yielded neither to grief nor to indignation at the unjust charge of drunkenness in the house of God. With due reverence for the anointed of the Lord, she calmly repelled the accusation and stated the cause of her emotion. “No my Lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord. Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial, for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto.” Convinced that his reproof had been unjust, Eli replied, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him.”

In her prayer, Hannah had made a vow that if her request were granted, she would dedicate her child to the service of God. This vow she made known to her husband, and he confirmed it in a solemn act of worship, before leaving Shiloh.

Hannah's prayer was answered, and she received the gift for which she had so earnestly entreated. As she looked upon the pledge of divine favor she called the child Samuel—Asked of God.

As soon as the little one was old enough to be separated from its mother, she fulfilled her solemn vow. She loved her child with all the devotion of a mother's heart; day by day her affections entwined about him more closely as she watched his expanding powers, and listened to the childish prattle; He was her only son, the especial gift of Heaven; but she had received him as a treasure consecrated to God, and she would not withhold from the Giver his own. Faith strengthened the mother's heart, and she yielded not to the pleadings of natural affection.

Once more Hannah journeyed with her husband to Shiloh, taking the child to present him unto the Lord, and bearing also gifts for sacrifice and thank-offering. Reaching the tabernacle, she sought the presence of the high priest. He did not recognize her. There was indeed a striking contrast between the pallid, grief-stricken suppliant and the grateful, happy mother. Hannah related the circumstances of her previous interview, and then presented to the priest, in the name of God, her precious gift, saying: “For this child I prayed, and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him. Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he liveth, he shall be lent to the Lord.” Eli was surprised and deeply impressed by the faith and devotion of this woman of Israel. Himself an over-indulgent father, he was awed and humbled as he beheld this mother's great sacrifice in parting with her first and only child, that she might devote him to the service of God. He felt reproved for his own selfish love, and in humiliation and reverence he bowed before the Lord and worshiped.

God had granted Hannah the desire of her heart; she had been highly favored of Heaven, and she felt that she could do no less in token of her gratitude than to make a public acknowledgment of the divine mercy and loving-kindness. The spirit of inspiration came upon her, and although a retiring and timid woman, her voice was now heard in the assembly of the people, sounding forth the praise of God:

“My heart rejoiceth in the Lord; mine horn is exalted in the Lord. My mouth is enlarged over mine enemies, because I rejoice in thy salvation.” The horn is in some animals the weapon of attack and defense; by the use of this figure, Hannah would acknowledge that her deliverance had come from God. In her exultation, there is no vain triumph of self. She rejoices not in Samuel, not in her own prosperity, but in the Lord. The song continues: “There is none holy as the Lord; for there is none beside thee; neither is there any rock like our God.” She extols the perfection of Deity. In the character of God, are wisdom, purity, truth, goodness, and mercy combined, immutable and complete. All human holiness is mingled with imperfection. All idols of the nations are vain and worthless. God is our only refuge and support; and those who trust in him will never be confounded.

“Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.” While here referring to Peninnah's boastful and insolent conduct, Hannah seems also to speak to all the enemies of true godliness, who glory in themselves, and insult and despise the children of faith. Pride and boasting cannot deceive God. He is acquainted with the hearts and the lives of all. By him actions are weighed. He distinguishes men's characters, and weighs their motives in the balance. When he sees that it will be for the good of man and for his own glory, he will interpose in behalf of his people. In due time he will reward the righteous and punish the wicked.

“The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they that stumbled are girded with strength. They that were full have hired out themselves for bread, and they that were hungry ceased.[”] How often, even in this life, do we see the ungodly brought to shame and confusion. Do they aspire to distinction and worldly honor? Are they proud of their valor and military skill? Their bows are broken, and they themselves overcome by a weak and despised company; for God hath girded the stumbling ones with strength. Do they trust in their riches, and indulge in luxury and extravagance while trampling upon the rights of the poor? They may themselves meet with reverses, and be reduced to the necessity of toiling for bread to satisfy their hunger, while many who have endured hardship and privation are blessed with plenty.

“The Lord killeth, and maketh alive; he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up. The Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich; he bringeth low, and lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dung-hill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory, for the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and he hath set the world upon them. He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall he thunder upon them. The Lord shall judge the ends of the earth; and he shall give strength unto his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed.”

Hannah's words were prophetic, both of David, who should reign as king of Israel, and of Christ, the Messiah, the Lord's anointed. Thus in a sublime and sacred song, referring first to the proud boastings of an insolent and contentious woman, were ultimately set forth, the humiliation of the proud and exaltation of the humble, the destruction of the enemies of God, and the complete and final triumph of his faithful servants.

Having given utterance to this triumphant burst of praise, Hannah quietly returned to her home at Ramah, leaving the child Samuel to minister in the house of God, under the care and instruction of Eli, the high priest.

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