Rosh Hashana: Genesis 21; 1 Samuel 1-2:10

Rosh Hashana: Genesis 21; 1 Samuel 1-2:10

The birth of a child is always a cause for celebration. If anything can make a man sing or a turn him into poet (even a bad one), it is to witness the birth of a son or daughter.

Isaac was the cause of laughter and joy for Abraham and Sarah. When God promised Abraham that Sarah would bear a son in her old age, she laughed. The Almighty must have been joking. But God says what he means and means what he says. He does not play with our emotions. This post-menopausal lady gave birth at the time God said according to God's promise. God can be trusted.

The birth of Isaac marks a bridge in the biblical narrative between the promise that in Abraham's "seed" all the families of the earth would be blessed and the ultimate fulfilment of that promise. The birth of Isaac was not only a great moment in the history of Israel; it was also one of the great milestones in human history. If Abraham and Sarah had died childless there would be no nation of Israel and the nations of the world would be without hope.

The seed of Abraham have indeed blessed the world. The Jewish contribution to the arts and sciences is prodigious and the ratio of Jewish Nobel prizewinners to those from the gentile nations is nothing short of amazing. Spiritually also, the world has been blessed through the Jewish people. Through "the seed of Abraham" the gentiles have received the Bible, including the New Testament. But though there is a sense in which the "seed" of Abraham can be understood to be his offspring in general, there appears to be one particular "seed" in the mind of God, one person who would bring blessing to all the nations. The birth of Samuel therefore acts as another bridge between Abraham and the fulfilment of God's promise to bless the families of the earth through his "seed".

Most women can probably empathise with Hannah. In an age and culture that valued human fertility as a divine blessing, Hannah was a barren wife in a polygamous relationship. Though loved by her husband, Hannah was desperate for a child. Yet, from the account given in the first two chapters of the first book of Samuel, there was more to Hannah's heartfelt prayer for a child than simply the desire to have her maternal feelings satisfied. Hannah was very specific in her prayer: she wanted a son and, should God grant her petition, she would give him back to the Lord to be a Nazirite, totally devoted to the service of the God of Israel.

Her song in chapter 2 reveals that there was more to the birth of Samuel than meets the eye. Hannah's song, inspired by the Spirit of God, is no lullaby; it is a song of war that climaxes with a prophecy that God "will give strength unto His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed" or, as the Targum paraphrases it, "he shall give strength to his king and enlarge the kingdom of his Messiah." Rabbi David Kimchi, and other ancient authorities (Zohar on Genesis fol. 58:4; Midrash Echa Rabbati, 53:3; R. Saadiah Gaon, Commentary on Daniel 7:13) agree with the Targum, and Radak says the promise is doubled, or repeated, because the King is the Messiah.

Hannah, it seems, was a woman of faith who believed the promise, first given in Genesis 3:15, that God would send a Redeemer into the world. God declared that the "seed of the woman" would one day crush the head of the serpent that had deceived Adam and Eve. Through the centuries that followed, God made the promise increasingly specific. The "seed of the woman" that would bless the world would come through the family line of a specific person, Abraham (Genesis 12:3). Later, God specified the particular offspring of Abraham through whom the world would be blessed. The "seed" would be a descendent of Isaac, not Ishmael (Genesis 21:12) and he would be descended from Jacob, not Esau (Genesis 25:23). Every pious woman in Israel must have wanted to be the mother of the Redeemer, who the rabbis recognised to be the Messiah. Samuel was not the Messiah, but he would anoint David from whom the Messiah would come, and whose kingdom would know no end (Isaiah 9:7; Daniel 7:13,14).

Today, in almost every nation on earth there are Jews and gentiles who claim to have been blessed through the seed of Abraham, the Messiah. They have been redeemed; saved from their greatest enemy, sin. For 2,000 years the kingdom of Messiah has been growing and blessing the families of the earth. Because God keeps his promises, Messiah's kingdom will continue to grow until it encompasses all the families of the earth.

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