Dedicated to God
1 Samuel 1:21-28 (Samuel’s dedication)
INTRODUCTION: Today is the second week in our message series on the life of Samuel and today we come to a very appropriate passage for Mother’s Day, that of Hannah dedicating her son Samuel to the Lord at the temple. What does it mean to dedicate something to the Lord? What does it mean to dedicate your children to the Lord? What does it mean to dedicate your life to the Lord? We will try to answer these questions as we look at Samuel’s dedication this morning.
Last week we looked at Hannah’s prayer and vow. Hannah was barren, and she cried out to the Lord in her anguish and grief, “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.” (1 Samuel 1:11) Hannah made a vow to the Lord that if he gave her a son, she would give that son back to him to serve him in the temple all the days of his life.
Hannah’s situation was different from ours in some ways. We no longer have priests and temples. Samuel was a unique person raised up by God at a key time in Israel’s history to help bridge the gap between the Judges and the Kings. Samuel would prepare Israel for the line of kings from whom would come Jesus, the Messiah.
And yet there is also much we can learn from Hannah’s dedication of Samuel. It is a favorite passage for many, and it illustrates for us in a beautiful and touching way what it means to dedicate something to God in your life. And so let’s look at some of the principles we can gather from these verses.
I. Balancing your responsibilities (21-23)
First of all, when it comes to dedicating something to the Lord, whether it is your child or your life, it always involves a balancing of responsibilities. Look at verses 21-22:
When the man Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the LORD and to fulfill his vow, Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, “After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the LORD, and he will live there always.” (1 Samuel 1:21-22)
We find in these verses a number of conflicting responsibilities. Elkanah was responsible to fulfill his vow to the Lord. Hannah was responsible to fulfill her vow before the Lord. Elkanah was responsible to bring his family to Shiloh to offer the annual sacrifice. Hannah was responsible to wean her child. Elkanah was responsible to make the final decision as to what they would do. Hannah was responsible to submit to that decision.
Life is full of responsibilities. You are responsible for your personal life, for your family, for your church involvement and for your work. These areas of responsibility often overlap and sometimes conflict with each other. So how do we know what we should do when? As with all things we must look to God’s word for guidance. We must seek to fulfill our Biblical responsibilities in each of these areas without neglecting the others. And that requires balance.
One specific application of this would be for those believers who have an unbelieving spouse. When you are actively involved in church and your spouse is not, you run into all sorts of time and scheduling conflicts. You feel guilty if you neglect the church, and you feel guilty if you neglect your spouse. But dedication to the Lord involves a balancing out of responsibilities. God has given you responsibilities to both the church and to your spouse. You are no less dedicated to the Lord if you skip a church function to spend needed time with your spouse. In fact, the time spent with your spouse is part of your dedication to the Lord. It is all a matter of balance.
Another responsibility Elkanah had was related to Hannah’s vow itself. In Old Testament times, the husband was responsible to confirm or negate his wife’s vows. (Numbers 30:10-15) We see Elkanah confirming Hannah’s vow in verse 23:
“Do what seems best to you,” Elkanah her husband told her. “Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the LORD make good his word.” So the woman stayed at home and nursed her son until she had weaned him. (1 Samuel 1:23)
The word of the Lord here is probably the word that was spoken through Eli the priest when he pronounced God’s blessing upon Hannah following her prayer in the temple. In one sense God had fulfilled his word already through the birth of Samuel, but that was only the first part of Hannah’s prayer. She had prayed not only for a son, but for a son that she could give back to the Lord all the days of his life. Elkanah now asks that God will make good his word on that part of the vow as well.
That Elkanah confirms Hannah’s vow here is really remarkable. Remember, Samuel was Elkanah’s son, too. In fact, Samuel was his firstborn and only son through his beloved wife Hannah. Elkanah could have said no to Hannah about giving her son to the Lord. But he confirmed her vow and expressed his own desire for God’s word to be fulfilled through Samuel.
I love this scene with Hannah and Elkanah. They both have various responsibilities here that overlap and conflict. But they work it out. They realize that God has called them to be faithful in a number of different areas, and they work together to balance out those responsibilities. Elkanah goes off to Shiloh with Peninnah and all her children. Hannah stays home with Samuel until he is weaned.
These must have been such precious times for Hannah alone with her son, especially knowing that she only had a few short years with him. Hannah had every intention of fulfilling her vow and bringing Samuel to the temple. But she would fulfill her motherly responsibilities first. And in some ways, it is the same for us. Every parent must let go sometime – it is just a matter of when.
II. Sacrificing what is dear (24)
Dedicating to the Lord involves first of all balancing your responsibilities. Secondly, it involves sacrificing that which is dear. Look at verse 24:
After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh. (1 Samuel 1:24)
The normal time for weaning in those days was about three years (yes, just a little longer than today!), so Samuel would only have been about three years old when Hannah brought him to the temple. He was just a little boy. Remember, when we dedicate our children to the Lord today, we get to bring them home with us after the service. Hannah would be leaving Samuel to serve at the temple. She would only get to see him once a year during the time of the annual sacrifice.
Elkanah and Hannah also brought gifts and sacrifices with them as part of the dedication service. The NIV translation says they brought a three-year old bull along with them, although it is possible that this could also be translated “three young bulls.” They were only required to bring the one bull, but I think they probably brought three because the ephah of flour they brought was also three times the required amount. We do know that they brought more than was required. Perhaps this was an expression of their devotion. Perhaps it was because this was a special case: God had granted them a miraculous birth, and they were dedicating their son for life. Perhaps the three bulls corresponded to Samuel’s age at three years old.
Whatever the reason, their gifts illustrate an important principle. True dedication is costly. It involves sacrifice. Of course this dedication cost Elkanah and Hannah more than just the gifts of bulls and flour. It cost Elkanah his only child through Hannah his wife. It cost Hannah her only child period. Yes, she was able to keep and wean him for a while, but then, “as young as he was,” she brought him to the temple. True dedication involves sacrificing that which is dear to you. It is not an easy thing to do.
I want to say just one more thing about the bull before we move on. The slaughter of the bull here is very important. Anytime you see an animal sacrifice in the Old Testament, you should think about Jesus. The blood sacrifices of the Old Testament all pointed forward to Christ’s death on the cross for us. We are sinners. We do not earn God’s favor by dedicating anything to him. We need forgiveness, not brownie points. We need grace. It is only by God’s grace through Jesus Christ that we can even approach God to dedicate to him our possessions, our children, our very lives. The sacrifice of the bull at Samuel’s dedication is meant to remind us of that.
III. Following through (25-28)
Dedicating to the Lord involves balancing your responsibilities, sacrificing what is dear, and thirdly, following through. Look at verses 25-28:
When they had slaughtered the bull, they brought the boy to Eli, and she said to him, “As surely as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD.” And he worshiped the LORD there. (1 Samuel 1:25-28)
Her opening words to Eli, “As surely as you live,” are an oath formula. Hannah takes an oath and identifies herself as the woman who stood praying in the temple not too many years before. She has returned to the very place where she poured out her soul to the Lord in prayer. She even repeats back to Eli the very words he spoke to her when he said, “May the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” (1 Samuel 1:17)
Hannah uses two different words for “give” in verses 27 and 28. In verse 27 when Hannah says that the Lord “granted” her what she asked of him, she uses the simple word “give,” as in to give somebody a gift. But in verse 28 when she talks about giving Samuel to the Lord, she uses a different word, a word that means more along the lines of “to give back, or to give in response to a request.”
We do not give to God the same way God gives to us. God owns everything, both before and after he gives it to us. God owns everything both before and after we give it to him. When God gives you something, he is entrusting you with something that belongs to him. But when we give to the Lord, we can really only give back. Everything we have comes from God. Your children, your home, your work, your life – these are all gifts from God. So when you give or dedicate these things to the Lord, you are really giving back to the one who owns it all anyways. God gave Samuel to Hannah. Hannah gave Samuel back to the Lord and thus fulfilled her vow.
It does no good to dedicate something to God unless you actually follow through with it. In this case Hannah and Elkanah could not physically bring Samuel to the Lord, so they brought him to Eli, the high priest and representative of God. Don’t confuse pastors today with Old Testament priests. Your pastor is just a shepherd overseeing the flock. Your pastor may oversee a dedication service for you child in the church, but he is not a priest. Jesus is your high priest now. You can only really bring your children to God through Jesus.
This passage ends with a touching note. The end of verse 28 says: “And he worshiped the LORD there.” (1 Samuel 1:28) The word “worship” here means to bow down in worship. Just picture a three-year-old boy saying goodbye to his mother and then bowing before the Lord in worship. And so we end this passage with Hannah giving her child over to the Lord in service, and little Samuel also giving himself to the Lord in worship.
CONCLUSION: Hannah dedicated her son to the Lord. Parents, have you dedicated your children to the Lord? I don’t necessarily mean in a formal dedication service, but have you dedicated your children to the Lord in your heart? Have you given them back to God who gave them to you? If not, why not? Who can take better care of your children than God? You need to entrust your children to God’s care and God’s will, whatever that may be.
Dedicating your children to God does not take away your responsibilities as a parent. Far from it. When you dedicate your children to God, you are also dedicating yourself as a Christian parent. You are committing to pray with your children, to read God’s word with them, to bring them to church, to set a godly example for them in the home. You will need to balance out your responsibilities, sacrifice some things that are dear to you, and continually follow through with your vow to raise your children in the Lord.
But today’s message applies to more than just parents. Hannah’s dedication of Samuel is a reminder that everything we have comes from God, and we should dedicate all that we have to the Lord. Your family, your home, your business, your income, your schoolwork, your reputation, your talents and time – we should dedicate all that we have to God and to his glory. Will you dedicate your life to the Lord today?
© Ray Fowler
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