Scripture: 1 Samuel 1:9-11,19-20; 2:1-10
What an interesting reading this morning from the book of 1 Samuel. Some of us may remember parts of the story of Samuel as he was called by God as a young man. We like to remember how God called out to him in the dark of night, but he thought it was the priest’s voice, Eli, who was speaking.
But this morning we are picking up the story earlier on. We are hearing more information about Samuel’s past, and more precisely his mother and her life before he was born.
But before we get into that, let’s take a brief look at what has happened in the time since the reading we had last week. Last week we looked at Moses being up on a mountain and the people decided they were going to worship something else. God spared his people from judgement for their failure to follow His laws, and then they continued to wander in the desert for the rest of those 40 years.
Once they made it to the promised land, the Israelites spent a fair bit of time getting settled. They had lots of “adventures” as they made their home in the promised land, with a number of leaders called Judges. This was a time of repeated sin and repentance for the people, and the end of the era of Judges does not end well.
It’s an ugly ending with the final words being, “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)
The world right now, for the Israelites, is a world of people doing whatever they please… and what does that normally lead to when we see it in the Bible? It leads to a whole lot of trouble for the people.
So that gives us a very brief catch-up in the life of the Israelites since last week, we’ve passed through a good number of generations to get where we are today, and that’s looking at the mother of Samuel, Hannah.
In what we read we kind of jumped around a bit in parts of Hannah’s story. We jump in at verse 9 where she is standing at the door of the temple essentially begging for God to give her a son, and if He did she would give him in service to the Lord.
One question we might ask is why is this woman so desperate for a son? What has led her to standing outside the temple in deep distress praying to God?
Well, to know that we need to back up in the text. We need to know more about Hannah and her family. Hannah was one of two wives of Elkanah. The other wife was Peninnah. Peninnah was able to have children, while Hannah was barren, she could not have children.
But of the two wives, it was Hannah that Elkanah loved more. He would give her far more food than Peninnah and her children. He would give Hannah a double portion over Peninnah. Which of course drove Peninnah wild. Peninnah would taunt and bully Hannah severely because she was unable to have children. This went on for years.
Hannah, even though she got all kinds of extra food, wouldn’t even eat, she was so affected by Peninnah’s cruelty. Her husband would try and comfort her, but it didn’t help.
Which brings us to what we read this morning, Hannah at the gates of the temple, weeping and praying to God for a son. We hear of her promise to dedicate her child to the service of God.
Here is the promise she makes,
“O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.” (1 Samuel 1:11)
Remember the whole nation is just doing whatever it wants. The people are simply out to please themselves. Eli, the priest in the temple, is not all that busy right now because people are living sinfully. In fact the tribes of Israel are even at war with each other.
So here is Hannah, standing at the gates weeping and praying for a son. We skipped over this part, but Eli comes out and sees her, and what does he think? He thinks she’s drunk and tells her to move along. That’s the shape of the world they are living in. If someone is at the front door of the temple, well, they must be drunk or something.
Hannah is being faithful. She is seeking God’s direction and blessing in her life.
Remember what we said last week about God? We said He is passionate. And in that passion he seeks two things, justice and faithfulness. Well, here we’re seeing them again. Hannah is seeking justice for how she has been treated. If she could only have a son, Peninnah would have nothing to torture her with any longer. She is trusting in God to help her. She is showing great faithfulness, great trust, in what God can do for her. Even when the world around her is tearing itself apart.
Eli, the priest, spends a few moments talking with her and hear’s some of her story. He hears the faithfulness in her words and as she leaves he says, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” (1 Samuel 1:17)
Hannah went home to her husband, and sure enough they conceived a child, their son, Samuel.
Hannah cared for Samuel until he was weaned, which was probably 2 or 3 years old. At that point she did as she promised, she brought Samuel to the temple to live there as a child of God.
Barren women in the Bible have significant stories to tell. If we go back to Abraham and Sarah, we remember God blessed them with a child in their old age, when it was long past known that Sarah was barren, and long past the age of being able to conceive a child. Yet, their child was the promise of God when He said that Abraham would be the father of a great nation.
And if we skip ahead to the New Testament, we remember Elizabeth, the cousin of Mary, who also conceived a child later in life when she was thought to be barren and past child bearing age. This child was John the Baptist who prepared people for the coming of Jesus.
This child, Samuel, is also important. Samuel has a big part to play in the Bible. He is one who is called by God to also do a great thing. He brings people back to God as a great leader.
Samuel pretty much paves the way for the kings who are to come, and leads the way to King David, whom we know is a very significant figure in the history of the world. The king we know of as being in the line of ancestry which leads to the birth of Jesus.
Hannah’s seemingly simple prayer for a son is a world changing event. And after she drops off her son she is moved to sing a song.
Written much like a Psalm, Hannah shares her beautiful poetry, and her faith, with the world.
In her joy she acknowledges that God is indeed faithful. She says,
“There is no Holy One like the Lord,
no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.” (1 Samuel 2:2-3)
There is no one like God. Hannah, a poor, barren woman came to God asking for His help, and He delivered. She had a son, and it was God who blessed her in her time of distress.
In her song, Hannah reminds us that our God is a God who brings justice to the faithful.
What does she say?
“The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble gird on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
The Lord kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low, he also exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and on them he has set the world.” (1 Samuel 2:4-8)
Hannah sees the justice which God has brought to her. She has seen how she was once a weak, poor woman, and now knows that God has lifted her up, and will do so for others who are also faithful.
Now, before we go any further, I am not saying that families who have been praying for children and cannot have them are being punished. We must not think that, because it may not be true. Or we can’t think that we are praying wrong, or that God doesn’t care.
I can’t say why these prayers go unanswered. But I would say, we need to look for the blessings.
In the case of Hannah, God used her child to spark a change in the world. Just like He did with Sarah and Elizabeth. God had a plan for those families. Does God have a plan for childless families, yes He does. It just may look different than we would like.
It’s not an easy thing to have our desperate prayers go unanswered. So we need to be patient and wait on the Lord. Will he answer? Yes, He will. In some way, at some time, maybe not as we want, but the prayers will be answered.
Hannah knows this. Would she likely have preferred to keep her son? I suspect the answer would be yes.
Would there have been a tearful departing as she left Samuel at the temple? I feel pretty confidant it was an ugly scene.
Yet, even after all of that, knowing she’s only going to see her boy about once a year, she has a beautiful song to sing.
A song of about the faithfulness of God who lifts up the weak and gives them life.
A song similar to what Mary sings when she meets the angel who tells her she’s going to have a special son. While not barren, Mary conceives in another miraculous way, as a young woman, a virgin.
Mary sings of God lifting up the weak, blessing the lowly and His care for the faithful. If you look at the two songs, you will see a number of common references to God’s goodness.
So what can we take from this?
Hannah, a woman, barren, childless is blessed by God.
Other women, also selected by God to have special children in unbelievable circumstances.
Some have songs recorded in scripture of their thankfulness of the gift they have been given.
All of their children have significant impact on the people they have come to be part of. Isaac and the people of Israel.
Samuel, a child offered to God, one who becomes king, paving the way for one known as a great king, King David.
John the Baptist, a child who paves the way for another, Jesus Christ, the one he calls the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world.
All of these births brought forth a new direction for God’s people. All of them were hope in a time of despair. All born at a time when the world really needed someone to come and help bring people back to God.
All of them were part of God’s plan for bringing Jesus into the world.
Jesus, the final special son who is born in the Bible. This one not born of natural circumstances, but one who was born in a miraculous circumstance, born to a virgin. There is no earthly father for Jesus, but a heavenly Father.
Jesus, born to live out the words of the songs of these women. Jesus, who came to break the bows of the strong and to bring strength to the weak. The one who brings life to those who are dead in spirit. The one who will bring the needy out of their hopelessness and bring them to the throne of God, a seat of honour next to the Prince of Life.
This is the true God we worship. This is the one who sent Jesus Christ, His Son, into the world so that we may know of His great mercy.
When we feel weak and beaten by the world and its expectations, this is who can turn to for hope.
Why can I say this?
Because it’s true.
Hannah knew it to be true. She had no where else to go for relief from her abuse. Her husband tried to play the role by giving her gifts of his love, but they didn’t fill the hole she felt in her heart.
So she went to the temple.
She went to the temple and poured out her heart.
When nothing else in her life could bring her hope, she went to God.
And He gave her hope.
And her life changed. Not just by the birth of her son, although that certainly helped. Her life changed because she realized that God is one who keeps His promises. He is the only one we can count on to keep promises.
I know I’m terrible at this. I can’t even count the number of times over the last month where I’ve said I would try and do something and I didn’t.
When I make these promises, do I just not mean them? Of course not. When I say something, I say it because it’s something I want to do. But I’m also easily distracted, and forgetful.
Aren’t we glad we have someone we can completely depend on? And aren’t we glad it’s not me?
God is the only one we can trust completely. He is the one that when He makes a promise, He will fulfill it. He is the one we know we can go to for hope, help, encouragement and direction.
His past is not littered with broken promises like I’m sure many of us are.
The Bible is full of His promises and His fulfillment of those promises.
Who can we depend on above all others?
It is God who gives hope to the hopeless, strength to the weary, and life to the lifeless.
He is here for us. All the time, He is here for us.
Thanks be to God.
Let us pray,
Lord, You are the God of promise. Lord, You came to Hannah and gave her life. You heard her cries and wiped away those tears of pain and replaced them with tears of joy.
Father, may we too experience the life You wish to bring to us. May we feel Your Spirit flow into our hearts so that we may share in this joy.
Help us to see Your promise for us, and bring us closer to You through Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen and amen.