• Jason Andersen

The Great Reversal


The bows of the mighty are broken,

but the feeble bind on strength.

Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,

but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.

The barren has borne seven,

but she who has many children is forlorn.

1 Samuel 2:4–5


For the mid-week study the men did some work in 1 Samuel 2:1-11. One of the central themes of Hannah’s song is found in this central stanza: things are not always as they seem. In the first chapter of Samuel, Hannah was unable to have children. She wept over the issue as she visited the tabernacle. She was the empty one, Peninnah was the full one. But things are not always as they seem. Hannah lacked what seemed necessary. Even if she had a loving husband, in her mind, children were essential. And this wasn’t an odd thing. Abraham and Sarah’s shenanigans show the importance of offspring in the Old Testament. But, in fact, the most important thing about her identity was that she was made in God’s image and likeness, and furthermore that he would provide. The most interesting thing is this: when God did provide her a child, he reversed the fortunes of the barren one. This is a strong theme throughout the Old Testament, and we see this in verses 4-5. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. Things are not as they seem.


But as we read this stanza, we have to ask, ‘Who is the one who does this?’ It’s all in the passive voice, there’s no agent clearly present. Who will turn everything on its head? The answer is found in the stanzas before and after this: It’s Yahweh, the holy one, the rock, Yahweh knows. It’s Yahweh who is the taker and giver of life, the taker and giver of wealth. Now it’s important to note that the reversals that we should expect are not exactly parallel and perfect reversals. Not every poor person will become rich. Not every rich person will become destitute. And the testimony of scripture bears this out. The point isn’t a sort of anti-merit reversal. A perfect mathematical version of ‘the last shall be first.’ The point isn’t that the world is full of reversals based on moralism. Instead, the point is that God has a purpose that doesn’t make sense of the world as we know it, all of our human standards for determining things, for who will succeed and for what is worth succeeding in. And there are many reasons for this. For one, we don’t see everything as it is. Sometimes, there is an army of angels prepared to fight the enemy. Sometimes, the Lord changes the fortunes of a nation in the throes of the deepest famine in one day, like in Samaria in 2 Kings 6. Sometimes a mostly righteous person suffers without cause like Job. The world is not as it seems. But even more than that, God is always at work according to his plan. He’s not only helping Hannah in 1 Samuel 2. He’s also working out his grander providential scheme to redeem humanity. Because in Hannah’s reversal, she devotes her son Samuel to the Lord’s service. And in Samuel’s long prophetic career, he appoints Saul king. He was the man the people wanted. He was mighty, but God broke his bow. And then Samuel appointed David king, who was a ruddy boy, a dirty shepherd to be overlooked and not even fit for the army…yet. And this feeble man bound on strength.


And who is David’s greatest heir but Jesus Christ? And Jesus Christ accomplished the greatest reversal in the history of the world. Yes, Jesus Christ was worthy as God and the greatest of all things. But he didn’t take advantage of that majesty, and instead he took the form of a servant. Our God-King becomes a slave, the life giver endures death. The world is not as it seems, but Christ redeemed us from the pit of that old humanity and calls us into a rest where we no longer are looking into the dim shadow of an ancient mirror, but we will see him face to face. He has elected us into his glory where the glory of Christ is no longer veiled but with an unveiled face, we are transformed from one degree of glory to another. No longer in that old Adam but in the New. In this new humanity, there will no longer be need of reversal since all things will be as they should be, and our God will be all and in all. And so for now we do not look at appearances only, at what is seen, instead we walk by faith in things we do not see until the day they are made visible. SDG

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