This article draws out the story and the message from the Living Word Bible Study for November 14. It is based on the following NIV Bible readings (following the plan in the Revised Common Lectionary, a non-denominational resource shared by many churches and chapels)
OT1: 1 Samuel 1:4-20 – Hannah, unable to conceive, keeps trusting in God’s good purposes for her, and God’s answer to her desperate prayer impacts history
OT2: Daniel 12:1-3, Daniel’s vision of the end-time deliverance of those whose names are in the Book of Life
NT gospel: Mark 13:1-8 – Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple and, later, disasters and widespread spiritual deception in the end times
NT letter: Hebrews 10:11-25 — The Holy Spirit reveals the New Covenant we have through trusting in Jesus’ blood and sacrifice, which makes us confident believers
Setting the scene
The story that emerges is woven from two Old Testament passages, Hannah’s story in 1 Samuel 1 of a desperate prayer — which God answers in a way which becomes part of Israel’s faith history. Then we have in Daniel 12, Daniel’s vision of heaven at the end time and a multitude of faithful people being raised to life to receive eternal joy and peace in heaven. Near the end of Jesus’ life on earth He gives a significant prophecy about the grand and massive temple standing above Jerusalem being torn down stone from stone — an event but also a picture of he distress and also final salvation of the end time. Lastly, Hebrews 10 teaches us that Jesus new and living way that He has opened to us, gives us guilt-free access to come before God in His holiness. We can hold on to our hope confidently because of who we are in Jesus and God’s utter faithfulness.
1. Hannah’s experience of salvation
Let’s look more closely at Hannah’s story. This was a time when owing to many young men being killed in battle, the rule on two people becoming one flesh was often set aside through social pressures and the need to raise up successors. Hannah’s husband was a worshipper of the Living God who had two wives. Peninnah had given him sons and daughter, but Hannah had been unable to conceive.
To be unable to conceive was not just a personal disappointment but also a social stigma, and Peninnah never stopped reminding her what a failure she was! However Hannah’s husband loved her and treated her with special favour.
On one occasion, when they all went up to the shrine at Shiloh, Hannah poured out her disappointment to God.
In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if You will only look on 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 1:10-11
Hannah continues to pray and she was praying in her heart. Her lips were moving but her voice couldn’t be heard. Eli the priest, watching her, concluded that she was drunk and gave her a severe dressing-down. She noty only feels a social outcast and a failure, but now she has been publicly mocked by the priest at the tabernacle.
Eli then realises his mistake and he blesses her saying, “Go in peace and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of Him.”
The family stay to worship at Shiloh the next day and then returned home. And in due course, Hannah became pregnant and she gave birth to a son who she named Samuel, which sounds rather like ‘heard by God’. She dedicated Samuel in thanks that God had heard her prayer.
This is an early story in the OT — the story of someone put down by others, her self-esteem lost but keeping her trust in God’s goodness and mercy alive and growing. The other side of that coin is a story of God’s goodness and kindness — and the constancy of His deliverance, which we can also call salvation.
2. Daniel’s eye-watering vision of the final deliverance
Hannah’s experience was a ‘small’ act of salvation although it was huge in her life! But it points to the great, final work of deliverance and salvation which will comwe to the whole world at the time of Jesus’ return. Daniel records a vision he received, as he see those who have already passed away raised up again — some to receive eternal joy and others to realise their shame and alienation in great grief.
“But at that time [of great distress] your people — everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered.From Daniel 12:1-3
“Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.”
Ever since Adam and Eve were was evicted from the garden following their disobedience, God has been about His work of saving those who faithfully rely on Him — like Noah (Genesis 6, 7 and 8)
3. Jesus speaks of the birth pains of the new heaven and earth
Jesus, whose name means ‘God saves’ is what salvation looks like in human form. And shortly before the wickedness of His trial, and then His fulfilling God’s salvation plan for mankind by going without resistance to a cruel death — Jesus gives a prophecy about the destruction of the temple which points to the end of human history.
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of His disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”Mark 13:1
Jesus tells the disciples to take a good look — to remember this conversation — saying that a time was coming when those massive stones would be torn down completely.
Later they are sitting opposite the temple on the Mount of Olives, and Peter, James, John and Andrew ask Him privately when it will happen and what the warning signs will be. And Jesus gives them a prophetic response:
Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in My name, claiming, “I am He,” and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.” Mark 13:5-8
This is confusing for us. His answer is not confined to one timeframe.The destruction of the temple took place within a generation, but Jesus is clearly speaking beyond that immediate time, connecting it to the end time to come. When God speaks, He speaks from outside time. When we hear, we want to mark it on our calendar. But it may not fit within the constraints of chronological time we put on it. It may speak to more than one time, as here.
4. The new covenant and our confidence in salvation
Following Jesus’ resurrection, Pentecost and the rapid expansion and spread of the church of Jesus’ new disciples, a particular work of salvation, prophesied long before by Jeremiah, was an important source of strength for those first believers in Jesus. They were living out their faith with courage, against the hostility of pagan society.
It’s an important source of strength and confidence for us, too. We have to live out our faith in a culture that is deeply suspicious of what they see as Christian exclusivity. What the Bible teaches, that there is no other name under the heaven but only Jesus, by which we may be saved, does not sit well in today’s relativism in a multicultural society. So it is very helpful to us as believers to have the confidence of knowing that God’s role and order has been, as it were, programmed into our hearts so that the Holy Spirit can lead us, in what we already know intuitively.
The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First He says: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put My laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”Then He adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.”Hebrews 10:15-18
This is a big change. Those of us who have trusted in Jesus’ work on the Cross and received Him into our hearts do not need to confess sin repeatedly as was necessary under the priest-and-sacrifice system of the Old Covenant. The priests have gone, their work obsolete, and the final and complete sacrifice has been made by Jesus. For us believers, this is the New Covenant that Jesus established and it spells confidence in our new standing, as new creations in Christ Jesus. This New Covenant Holy Spirit-led life transforms, not only our relationship with God — now a loving Father to us, who we know personally — but our worship. How can we remain solemn, reserved and distant from God, when He is telling us that the sins we have renounced are forgiven and forgotten — we belong to Jesus and we have the assurance of the new covenant He has secured for us!
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a Great Priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:19-23
This is a gift to celebrate joyfully and thankfully. Denying the joy is denying the gift. Iit’s like saying we do not want to experience God’s grace. In church congregations the believers are the ones who are joyful in Christ, confident in this new covenant, and praising God in hope in the face of every difficulty.
We have seen how God is always about His work of salvation. He was doing it when He was approached by Hannah in her desperation. His salvation includes judgment for sin, and sometimes this will bring the tearing down of obstacles to true faith. ‘Church’ is used of the institutions and the buildings and a range of traditions, and the ones that belong more to man than to Jesus, like the temple and its hierarchy, will not last the course.
But God’s repeated works of salvation in our lives give us confidence because they all point to the final, great salvation that Daniel was shown in his vision. If we have put our trust in Jesus as our Saviour, acknowledging His sacrifice for our sins and recognising that He has done for us, what no charitable actions or religious good works on our part could achieve, then we can have confidence that our name is in the Book of Life.
The joyful new life of God’s Spirit and the revelation that comes from God’s word as He speaks to us, is a little foretaste, an assurance of what is to come. This is the promise of the New Covenant.