Advent II Midweek (Numbers 23:13-26)

“Israel has the assurance of God’s unfailing promises”

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. In a world of sin, failings, decay, and death, God reveals Himself through His promises.  This was true from the moment our first parents brought sin and death into the world. The Lord was right there, promising a Seed who would crush the Serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15 NKJV).

He made a promise to Abram, that in him and the seed which would come from his own body, that God would bring blessing to all the families of the earth (see Gen. 12:1-3, Gen. 15:1-6).  He had also promised that Abraham’s offspring would inherit the land of Canaan, that “I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.” (Exodus 33:2)

And these things God was going to do.  He does not make a promise only to change His mind later.  As He later says, “I the Lord do not change, therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Mal. 3:6)

And they sure put that to the test.  Time and time again, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob doubted that God’s promise would come to pass.  Abram had a child with Hagar to speed things along; Isaac favored the wrong son; Jacob swindled his brother Esau out of his birthright and blessing; and the sons of Jacob were too busy being jealous of their younger brother Joseph that were plotting murder rather than wonder through which of them God’s promised Seed would come.

Even here, while the sons of Israel wander in the desert—easy pickings for for-hire prophets and wicked kings—they were so busy complaining about how things were better in Egypt.  When God started to give them rules to live by, they quickly turned away from them and built a graven calf. When Moses sent twelve spies to get a look at the Promised Land, ten of them came back with the news that they could never dispossess the people because they were too big (Numbers 13).

But did Jacob’s unfaithfulness change the Lord’s purpose?  No. Even after the golden calf and the wicked spies, and the fiery serpents (Num. 21) (on and on), God was unmoved in what He had proposed to do.  He is not called the Sovereign for no purpose. He would use Israel to bring the Savior promised to Abraham and Adam and Eve, to all the families of the earth.

Balak, who doesn’t know God, refused to acknowledge this.  He sets up another sacrifice, asks Balaam to speak to God again—like a child begging her mother for candy after mom’s already said ‘no.’  God will not be thwarted by the unfaithfulness of men, nor will he be brow-beaten into submitting to our will.

But just saying that God’s promises are forever done, and that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Rom. 11:29)  How is it possible that we see so much of the opposite of what God promises?

Often what our eyes see can discourage and cause us to doubt.  Sadly, the one we often doubt in these times is God.

He makes promises to us in His Word—“Go and make disciples…baptizing and teaching them…and lo! I am with you always.” (Matt. 28:19-20)  So, we parents bring our children to the saving waters of baptism, we raise them in the faith, we take them to church, they confess their faith in the excitement and nervousness of Confirmation Day.  And then what? Sometimes parents become burned out and don’t see a reason to maintain such rigorous attendance. Maybe the child gets their drivers’ license and sees that staying out late with their unchurched friends leaves them too exhausted (or ashamed) to come to church very often—if at all.

Parents cry to God and say, “Didn’t you promise in Provers 22, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.’?”  That’s where we’re wrong. Proverbs does not contain things God swears to do; it’s an instruction book for the faithful to learn how God orders and directs our lives.

Take another example: Think of how many people take marriage vows.  Men and women make life-long promises to be with each other in sickness and health, for richer and poorer, and to forsake all others till death do they part.  Then consider the horrendous divorce rates. Who has failed there? Should we blame God for instituting a union that people can’t live up to? That’s absurd. Should we shun the whole estate and just shack up and call each other husband and wife without the formalities?  God forbid! It’s human unfaithfulness, human hardness of heart that overturns those lifelong vows.

Along the same lines, it’s human unfaithfulness that appears to overturn the promises of God.  Unbelief considers the promise and power of God to be void, and that’s exactly what it receives. 

But for the humble, trembling heart that trusts in God and longs for Him to act, He will vindicate you.  The gift of faith clings to what God has spoken—however different from today’s reality or our own experience it might be.  God promises in Psalm 91: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” (1-2, 15-16)  He promises, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Ps. 50:15).  He promises, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 18:18)  He promises, “that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38-39)

Beloved in the Lord, God is faithful and He will not fail you if your trust is in Him.  By the power of His Holy Spirit, may He keep us always in this faith unto life everlasting!

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Advent 2 Midweek

Advent 2 Midweek “For unto us a Son is Given”: The Answer of Samuel

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The devil loved barrenness. In Genesis 3:15, after the devil had tempted Eve, and she and Adam fell into sin, the Lord said to the Serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed


; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The devil knew that one day a Seed of the woman would come and defeat him. So the devil was very glad whenever a woman could not conceive. He took it as an opportunity to gloat, as if there were a possibility that God’s promise wouldn’t be fulfilled.

Last week with Sarah, and next week with Elizabeth, we don’t hear the devil’s gloating. But this week we have Peninnah. Peninnah was the wife of Elkanah. Peninnah’s womb was fruitful; she has multiple sons and daughters. Elkanah also had a wife named Hannah, whom he loved, in spite of the fact she could bear him no children. The Lord had closed Hannah’s womb.

From time to time, Elkanah would go with his family to Shiloh where the tabernacle was set up, and it’s likely that he went for the appointed feasts. During these feasts, the Israelites offered peace offerings. The priests would burn certain parts of the animals on the altar, and the Lord gave a portion of the meat from the peace offerings to the priests. But most of the meat was given back to the one who brought the offering. And it was now holy meat to be eaten as a sacred meal from the Lord. The peace offerings were an Old Testament anticipation of the Lord’s Supper.

During these feasts, Elkanah gave portions to Peninnah and her sons and daughters. “But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb” (1 Sam. 1:5).

It was during these feasts that Peninnah provoked Hannah and made her weep bitterly. Peninnah proved to be a rival, an adversary, tormenting Hannah because the Lord had closed her womb. Hannah wept, and refused to eat. No doubt Hannah felt the personal hardship of being barren. But as a faithful woman who trusted the Lord’s promises, she’s not just thinking of herself. She thought of the Seed of Promise who is to come for all people and end the gloating of God’s enemies.

Yet there’s Peninnah mocking: I have children and you don’t. Poor barren little Hannah! All she wants is a child, but she’s a fruitless tree, a dead end of descendants. Under these taunts are the taunts of Satan himself against all of God’s people: “You wait for the promised Savior, but he’s never coming.  Has He said He would never leave or forsake you?  Look at how things are?  You call this promised answered?  I’m the prince of this world, and no one can overthrow me. You’re destined to live under me in my kingdom, and serve me in everlasting unrighteousness, guilt, and cursing.”

Hannah weeps, and we weep with her. We feel our bodily malfunction—the parts that fail to function as God first created them, the lives cut short, our own waning strength.  We see the devil’s offspring everywhere in the form of those who hate Jesus.  This is what our eyes see and our ears hear, but we do not see our Lord fighting back. We cry out with David in Psalm 13, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” We cry out with Moses in Psalm 90, “Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!” Like Hannah, we pour out our hearts before the Lord!

After everyone else had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose and prayed to the Lord in the bitterness of her soul. She prayed, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son” Literally what it says in Hebrew is “a seed of men.” Hannah asks for a seed, and it’s not a stretch to hear her praying for the Seed, the promised One, who as Hannah says, will “appear in the presence of the Lord and dwell there forever” (1 Sam. 1:22).

It wasn’t the Lord’s will at that time to send the Promised Seed. Nevertheless, He gave Hannah a son in order to show that he does not make his promises in vain. “And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.” (1 Sam. 1:20). The name Samuel in Hebrew means, “One who is heard by God” or “God heard.” Hannah named her son Samuel because he was an answer to prayer. God heard, and He sent a seed.

This was a great comfort to Hannah, not only because the Lord opened her womb, but because he confirmed His promise. Hannah’s comfort is our comfort because we have longed with her for the promised Seed. And we have even greater comfort than Hannah’s because we know that promise was fulfilled.

For centuries God’s people prayed in distress under the weight of sin and death, “Return, O Lord! How long?” For centuries the devilish Peninnah mocked God’s people. And then the fullness of time came (Gal. 4:4). The womb was Mary’s womb, and the child’s name Jesus, which means “the Lord saves,” (Matt. 1:21) because He would save His people from their sins. Jesus is the true Samuel. He is the one for whom Hannah and all the faithful prayed, and it is of Jesus that we say, “I have asked him from the Lord” and He has heard us.

Much to the chagrin of the devil, God’s promise proved true. Jesus came and fulfilled that ancient curse against the serpent. The devil opened wide his mouth to destroy Jesus with false accusation and bitter death. Yet it was on the cross that Jesus crushed the ancient serpent’s head with his heel.  After Satan, whose name means “accuser” spoke bitter, discouraging, and tempting lies to men, Jesus answered for them once for all!  Peninnah has been silenced forever, and in our ear, Jesus speaks peace: “Your sins are forgiven. The ruler of this world is cast out.  You shall not die, but you shall live. The children of the desolate one are more than her who is married.”[1] Take heart! God’s promised Seed has come in answer to your heartfelt cries!

We are a people at peace in the word of the Lord that He gives us.  But the voice that is no longer heard is the accusing voice of the devil.  Together with all of the blessings Jesus gives, He also gives us a holy and peaceful silence. Jesus makes the devil shut up.  In John 8, a woman caught in adultery is brought to Jesus, and the Pharisees say, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”  Jesus silences them by saying, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Finally, one by one they leave, and Jesus says, “‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ 11 She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.’”

In the same way, Jesus answers for and silences all of Satan’s accusation. When Jesus gave himself for us, he showed his promise to be true and the devil’s taunts to be lies. The devil may still rant, but because of what Jesus has done we can tell him, “Silence”  “Submit yourselves to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)  He must be quiet, and let you come to the house of God and eat the double portion of Christ’s sacrifice in peace. And then at the end, the devil will go down bound hand and foot to hell, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Matt. 9:2; John 12:31; Psalm 118:17; Isaiah 54:1