10 July 2016

Hannah: model mum

Before we jump into Hannah’s story this morning, the context of her life is that the situation is bleak. Israel is torn apart by a lack of leadership and a unwelcome perversity. In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit. – Judges 21:25 Israel was often oppressed by surrounding nations. God would appoint a judge to lead His people, but freedom generally lasted as long as the judge was alive. Moreover, many judges, like Samson, had fatal flaws. In 1 Samuel, we’re introduced to Hannah, who is the mother of the prophet who will one day designate and anoint Israel’s chosen king, Saul. In the first two chapters of 1 Samuel, we see 5 Defining Traits of a Woman of Faith. The first one may surprise you.

Women of faith exhibit real problems (1:1–8)

It’s easy to think that heroes in the Bible were somehow different, that it’s tough to relate to them because their lives were so perfect and their culture so different to ours. Actually, the Bible is filled with real people with real problems, who face them with real faith. In 1 Samuel 1:1, we meet Elkanah. He had two wives, Hannah and Penninah. Penninah had children, but Hannah had none. Back then and there, a wife’s role was to provide children, and a barren womb considered a curse. Hannah would have been looked down upon. She is in a long line of women of faith who battled barrenness: Sarah (Abraham’s wife), Rebekah (Isaac’s wife), Rachel (Jacob’s wife), Ruth (Boaz’s wife), and Elizabeth (John the Baptist’s mother). Elkanah and his two wives made a yearly visit to Shiloh, about a twenty-mile journey, to worship the Lord – he was spirituality devout in a time when people were mostly apathetic. Nothing kept Elkanah from going to worship. Even if no one else did his duty, he would do his. Hophni and Phineas were the sons of Eli, and priests of the Lord, but these two boys were hypocrites at best and evil at worst. Elkanah had a devoted heart. He gave portions of the sacrificial meat to Penninah and her children, “But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her…”

Worshipers were allowed to eat the part that was not offered to God, and “double” portion means, “to show the face.” He showed his face to her, indicating she was worthy and that he cared deeply for her. An upsized meal meant she was being honoured! So at a time when giving thanks would have been tough on this barren woman. Having a husband who expressed his love this way probably helped a lot. Elkanah was devout in his walk with God and devoted to Hannah, but he had a divided family. He’d taken two wives, which has never been God’s intent for marriage. Probably, He had married Hannah first and then, because she was not able to have children, he married Penninah. The Bible records polygamous relationships, but it never endorses them. Not to mention the penalty of bigamy is two mothers-in-law. The most difficult thing Hannah faced is repeated twice, once in verse 5 and again in verse 6: And the Lord had closed her womb. It’s hard when your problem comes from the Lord, and it is one of the hardest lessons we will ever learn. Our problems are given to us by the Lord Himself. It is God who is behind the circumstances of life. We don’t really want to believe this. We’d rather blame it all on Satan, or on someone else. But God allows good things and bad things to come into our lives. God is in charge and as such we should echo Job’s faith:  Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? – Job 2:10

Penninah was mean, provoking and irritating Hannah – not just thankful she had children, she loved to point this out to childless Hannah. She especially loved doing this on the annual pilgrimage to Shiloh. “Provoke” means, “to cause her thunder” and “irritate” means to be stirred up inwardly. It bothered Hannah so much, she would weep and not be able to eat. She mourned deeply with so much grief that she lost her appetite. Maybe you’ve been there? Elkanah tries to comfort her: “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” While significant when a husband even notices a wife’s sadness, I wonder if his attempt at empathy was appreciated. Elkanah did what many husbands do when our wives are upset. Instead of listening to her pain, he rationalises her problems and feelings, offering solutions instead of seeking to understand. “You’ve got me (well, when I am not with Penninah), what more could you want? Hannah, darling, don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” I’m not sure he understood how deeply she wanted to have a child. It’s possible to love your husband and still want children, and insensitive comments just don’t help. God understands your pain. The second is …

Women of faith express vibrant prayers (1:9–18)

Hannah had some problems but she didn’t take them out on those around her. She expressed faith in prayer. God uses our problems to get our attention and to teach us according to Psalm 119:71: It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. Our problems should drive us to prayer.

Her weeping led to worship as her tears mingled with her prayers. The kind of prayer that arises from the bitterness of the soul is so far different than the dry prayers that I sometimes utter. When tears are in our eyes, our prayer comes from the heart. Alan Redpath said, “When God has an impossible task, he takes an impossible person and crushes her.” Chuck Swindoll adds, “This is how God often deals with strong willed and stubborn people.”

Hannah is broken. She asks God, who has all the armies of heaven at his disposal, for help. She is appealing to His power and authority, because she knows there is nothing she can do. She promises that if she’s given a son, he’ll be dedicated to the Lord for his entire life. Her son would become a priest, serving in the temple as a Nazirite. Now, a Nazirite was bound by a vow to be set apart to the Lord’s service and had to abstain from alcohol, was forbidden to cut his hair, and was not allowed to ever be near a dead body.

Hannah has been barren for many years, but having worked through the problems this caused, she realizes children are not just for parents; they’re for the Lord. They’re on loan to us. It’s our job to parent, to shepherd, and to train them for the Lord’s work. Verse 12 says, “she kept on praying to the Lord.” Not just a quick and flippant prayer, it was a repeated request, bathed in tears. Notice that she prayed this prayer in her heart, not audibly like most Hebrews prayed. Secretly, not wanting to draw any attention to herself. So quiet and in the zone with the Holy Spirit that Eli, the priest, accused her of being drunk. When she had the opportunity to explain herself, Eli answered in verse 17: “**Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of Him.” **

This benediction was a huge blessing to Hannah. Her countenance changed in verse 18 when we read that she went away and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast. This is really cool. After spending time in prayer, her face was no longer sad. She left her concerns with the Lord and experienced the “peace that passes all understanding.” When you’ve wrestled with God in prayer, and met with Him, that alone is enough! 

Never underestimate the power of a praying woman. Susannah Wesley spent one hour each day praying for her 17 children. In addition, she took each child aside for a full hour each week to discuss spiritual matters. It’s no wonder that two of her sons, Charles and John, were used mightily in both England and America. A woman of faith exhibits real problems and expresses vibrant prayers. That leads to a third defining trait…

Women of faith experience God’s provision (1:19–20)

Verse 19 tells us they got up early the next morning and worshipped before the Lord as was their practice. Then they went back home and a short time later, Hannah conceived and give birth to a son, naming him Samuel, a name that means “God has heard me”. Every time she said his name she was reminded of his origin and destiny. I must say this carefully: because Hannah’s prayers for a son were answered, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will be given a child because you prayed for one. But you will receive God’s provision, one way or another. He loves to give good gifts to His children according to Matthew 7:11: “how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

I read that one out of six women who want a baby cannot conceive. God answered Hannah’s prayer but not just so she could have a baby. God needed a special prophet He could work through. He allowed a time of barrenness in Hannah’s life to bring a greater blessing than she could ever imagine. The fourth things is …

Women of faith excel at keeping their promises (1:21–28)

After Samuel was born, Elkanah went once again to Shiloh to worship, but Hannah decided to not go until Samuel was weaned, which would have been at around three-years-old. She dedicated herself to her child, nursing and nurturing him, knowing that when he became able to eat on his own, she would “take him and present him before the Lord, and he will live there always.” Sometimes we make promises to God, to forget them once time passes. Not so with Hannah. She fully intended to keep her promise because she knew that Samuel did not really belong to her anyway. Hannah dedicated herself to her child, and dedicated her child to the Lord. She brings Samuel to the house of the Lord and says in verse 28: “So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD…” She repeated this twice as if to cement her commitment, knowing she would never revoke it. She gave Samuel God, but she never abdicated her motherhood. Look at 2:19: “Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.” Verse 28 ends with a glimpse into young Samuel’s heart: “And he worshiped the LORD there.” At three years-old, he was able to worship. How do you think he learned to do this? Hannah took the exhortation of Deuteronomy 6:6–7 seriously: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

Listen to the words of John Stiles:

“I have worshiped in churches and chapels. I have prayed in the busy street. I have sought my God and have found him in the waves of His ocean beat. I have knelt in the silent forest in the shade of some ancient tree But the dearest of all my altars was at my mother’s knee. God, make me the man of her vision and purge me of selfishness. God, keep me true to her standards and help me to live to bless. God, hallow the holy impress of the days that used to be And keep me a pilgrim forever to the shrine at my mother’s knee.”

It’s one thing to say our children are dedicated to the Lord; it’s another thing altogether to give them to the Lord.

Let me tell you a true story from during the Holocaust. Solomon Rosenberg, his wife and their two sons were arrested and placed in a concentration camp. The rules were simple. As long as they did their work, they were permitted to live. When they became too weak to work, they would be exterminated. Rosenberg watched his own father and mother marched off to their deaths and knew his youngest son David would be next because he had always been a frail child. Every evening Rosenberg came back into the barracks after his hours of hard labor and searched for the faces of his family. When he found them they would huddle together, embrace one another and thank God for another day of life. One day he came back and didn’t see those familiar faces. He finally discovered his oldest son, Joshua, in a corner sobbing and praying. “Josh, tell me it’s not true.” Josh turned to his dad and said, “It’s true, today David was not strong enough to do his work and they took him away.” Mr. Rosenberg then asked, “*But where is your mother?” *Joshua could barely speak and finally uttered, “When they came for David, he was afraid and cried and so mom took his hand and went with him.”

Hannah had the same love for Samuel. She was willing to sacrifice herself for the sake of her son. She loved him so much she was willing to forgo a mother’s greatest joy ­- that of bring up her son and having him around her. She was committed to do whatever it took for him to reach his godly potential. Women of faith exhibit real problems and express vibrant prayers. They experience God’s provision and excel at keeping their promises. There’s one more defining trait…

Women of faith explode with praise (2:1–11)

There is no element of sadness here at all. She drops off Samuel at the temple and then she breaks into praise. She was thrilled to be able to parent a prophet! Listen to verses 1–2: “My heart rejoices in the LORD; in the LORD my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance. There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.”

She doesn’t boast how handsome Samuel is, or how bright he is, or how he can say prayers at his young age. She overlooks the gift and gives praise to the Giver. There is no one else who is holy like the Lord and no one else who will be her Rock through the storms of life. In verse 3 she focuses on God’s wisdom and knowledge, recognising that He’s the one who weighs the actions of men and women. We shouldn’t brag about we have or what we do, because God knows our hearts. In verse 6, she acknowledges God’s ability to bring death and to make alive. In verse 7, God is the one who sends poverty and wealth; He humbles and exalts. Hannah is an example of a woman of faith. She endures years of silent suffering because of her barrenness and the cruel harassment at the hand of her rival, Penninah. She goes to the place of worship, knowing how painful it is. She faithfully worships, pouring out her tears and petitions. And when God answers her prayers, she not only keeps her promise, she explodes with praise.


Closing Thoughts

( I would have used these if there had been time)

  1. Women, you are of great worth to God’s whether or not you have a child. Lift up your head and realise God loves you for who you are. He understands your sorrow and your pain and He’ll meet you right where you are.
  2. Moms, your mission is to give your children to the Lord for a lifetime of dedicated service. There’s no greater purpose, and no higher honour, than your children in surrendered service to the Lord of Hosts. If continue reading 1 Samuel, you’d discover Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phineas, were very evil and did perversely detestable things. Their mother is never mentioned anywhere. Samuel, on the other hand, was greatly impacted by his mother, and went on to become one of the most significant individuals in God’s redemptive history. Moms, you matter greatly to your kids and to the future of our nation!
  3. One lesson from the life in Hannah is that each of us needs to be growing in our own relationship with God. If you want your kids to learn about God, and to love Him with all they’ve got, it’s first got to be real in your life. That reminds me of what happened one Sunday after a Child Dedication service. A young family was driving away from church after the dedication of their baby, the older brother, cried all the way home in the back seat of the car. His mother asked him three times what was wrong. Finally, the boy replied, “That pastor said he wanted us to be brought up in a Christian home…and I want to stay with you guys!”