Monday, May 9, 2011

Hannah's Prayer: 1 Samuel 2:1-10


This story occurs during the time of the judges, when there was no king in Israel. 1 Samuel comes on the heels of the book of Judges, where we read the stories of Gideon, Sampson and Delilah, Deborah, and others, including the awful tale of a woman who is brutally gang-raped, and then dismembered, having her parts sent to all tribes in Israel culminating in a civil war. There is rampant immorality, murder, strife, idol worship, and laziness. In the words of the author, everyone “did what was right in their own eyes.” Today, we call this moral relativism, and it’s the idea that you can do whatever you want. Some people soften it and say, “Do whatever you want, just don’t hurt anybody.” It reminds me of a recent poem, part of which is given here…


Steve Turner

We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin.

We believe everything is OK

As long as you don’t hurt anyone,

to your best definition of hurt,

and to the best of your knowledge.

That’s life in ancient Israel: God’s law had been thrown by the wayside, and the culture reaped the benefits in terms of violence, selfishness, greed, immorality and idol worship.

Now there are three people that start off the story: Elkanah, Peninnah, and Hannah. Peninnah and Hannah are both the wives of Elkanah—which is evidence that during the period of the judges, the nation of Israel had abandoned God’s law. Polygamy was not God’s design, but he permitted it. So, Penninah has multiple children, and Hannah has none, and every year the whole family would go up to a place called Shiloh on a religious pilgrimage to make sacrifices to the Lord. But when they would go, it says that Peninnah, “her rival, would provoke Hannah severely, to make her miserable, because the.” We read that twice in the same thought: the Lord had closed her womb. To make up for it, Elkinah would give Hannah a double portion (probably of food from the sacrifice). The way to a man’s heart may be through his stomach, but this didn’t work for Hannah. She wouldn’t eat. But she wept. She wept hard. Have you ever done that? Just broke down? Just thrown up your hands and said, God, "Why?"? And you curl up into a ball and just weep for a while? This is what Hannah’s doing. For Hannah, having a son was everything. This is because to have many sons in ancient Israel was to be a national hero. How do you protect your borders and do the heavy, hard labor in the fields? You raise strong, mighty sons! And Hannah had none of this.

To make matters worse, she had the woman who had it all, Peninnah, provoking her, probably saying things like, "Come on, you dried up old bag! You useless, empty vessel and poor excuse for a woman! We are going up to worship our God who blesses the righteous, but punishes the wicked. You barren woman, you! You must be cursed of God!"

Now listen to what Elkanah says to Hannah in order to make her feel better: “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?” Now, Elkinah is the sensitive husband par excellence. That's like saying, "Honey, I know your biological clock is ticking, how about a steak dinner?" Or, "Baby, I know you're feeling down and out, and you have regrets about life: How about me and you go eat some pork chops? In fact, I'll give you TWO pork chops. I know the kids are rebellious, and your grandkids are terrible, and life is lousy, and your prayers haven't been answered, but how about some MEAT? In fact, I'll give you a whole lotta meat. Does that sound good?"

Now Hannah’s response: it’s telling. The text doesn’t say if she says anything to him. But it says gets up and goes to pray. You can almost see her rolling her eyes in the midst of her grief. Talk to the hand. She gets up, without even acknowledging him, and leaves. So, she prays at the gate of the tabernacle, and her lips are moving, but Eli, the priest, thinks she’s drunk. He calls her a wicked woman. She defends herself saying it’s not so--that she's not a wicked (lit. 'daughter of Belial'--the latter a term used of the devil later in the Bible and intertestamental period), and that she’s grieving to the Lord. Eli says, “May the Lord grant you whatever you’ve requested.” Now Eli is the high priest par excellence, too. See how sensitive he is? First he accuses her of wickedness, then he gives her a passive nod to her request. He's not even concerned about her! Sheesh.

So, Hannah gets pregnant, and gives birth to Samuel, weans him (nurses him) until he’s 2 or 3, and brings him to the tabernacle to serve with the high priest Eli, for the rest of his life. And here is what she prays. Hannah's prayer is all about God--not her gift. And it has three points.

1) God brings victory and salvation

2) God is sovereign

3) God will judge the earth

First, God has victory and gives salvation. Hannah rejoices in God’s salvation. She says,

“My heart rejoices in the LORD;
My horn is exalted in the LORD.
I smile at my enemies,
Because I rejoice in Your salvation. 2 “No one is holy like the LORD,
For there is none besides You,
Nor is there any rock like our God

The word “salvation” is the same word for Joshua and Jesus. Jesus’ name means, “The Lord saves.” Salvation in the Old Testament meant victory over one’s enemies. In the New Testament, the idea is expanded to mean victory over sin, death, the devil and hell. Along with God’s victory, he displays his holiness. God, in his holiness, displays his power, like when he rescued Israel from Egypt.

Hannah’s application of God’s might, power and holiness is a call for humility. She says,

3 “Talk no more so very proudly;
Let no arrogance come from your mouth,
For the LORD is the God of knowledge;
And by Him actions are weighed

Hannah’s prayer shows some classic marks of redundancy in Hebrew poetry. She says, Talk no more ‘haughty haughty.’ The poem has a number of these repetitions. Her advice to us is to be careful with the words of our mouth. Why? “Because the Lord has knowledge of these things, and he weighs them, considers them." And there’s a relationship here between the words that come out of our mouths, and the actions that we commit. The letter of James tells us that if we can keep our mouths in check, we can control our bodies as well. James tells us to bless others, and not curse them, for example.

Second, God is sovereign. Hannah knows who’s in control.

6 “The LORD kills and makes alive;
He brings down to the grave and brings up.

7 The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
He brings low and lifts up.

8 He raises the poor from the dust
And lifts the beggar from the ash heap,
To set them among princes
And make them inherit the throne of glory.

This part of the prayer is almost an exact copy of the prayer Mary prays when she is pregnant with Jesus (Luke 1: 46-55).

One of the hardest things for anyone to understand is how God can be in control, especially amidst our suffering. I know people who, in order to resolve this issue is to do away with the idea that God actually is NOT in control. That’s to say, they dismiss the idea of God’s foreknowledge (his knowledge of the future). God doesn’t know the future, so he’s not in control of it. Well, who is in control, then? Ultimately, no one is. But what does Hannah say? Pay attention to who is in control here. It is the Lord who kills and makes alive. It is the Lord who makes poor and makes rich. It is the Lord who does these things. Not humans, ultimately!

This is an echo of Dt. 23:39, where the Lord speaks to Israel through Moses “Now see that I, even I am He; there is no God besides me; I kill and make alive; I wound and heal. Nor is there any other who can deliver from my hand.” Hannah rejoices in God’s sovereign power, and she responds to him in his sovereign power. She does not sit on her duff and repeat theological axioms about God’s sovereignty while doing nothing. No, she prays to the Lord to give her a son. She knows that God is in control, and this motivates her to act. That’s how it’s done. We trust in his sovereign control, and we act.

We live in troubled times. There is talk of an economic collapse coming, where we'll all be making one-third of what we make now. There is talk of Islamic jihad and Sharia Law coming. There is talk of our freedom of speech being taken away, regarding the issues such as homosexuality, for example. Even giving one's humble opinion can be branded as hate speech. But, we have to trust that God is sovereign and in control. We trust Him and we obey Him. That is sovereignty: it calls for human responsibility and trust that He is in control. We labor to do what is right, and fight for justice and freedom, and we trust Him--the author of history.

Third, we see that God will judge the earth. What’s amazing to me about this prayer, is that Hannah moves from rejoicing over an answer to prayer: a gift. God gives her a son. After receiving her gift, she gives the gift back to him, and this makes her rejoice in the judgment of the earth. Isn’t that fascinating? That by receiving an answer to prayer, Hannah looks forward in time to judgment day? She says,

The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken in pieces;
From heaven He will thunder against them.
The LORD will judge the ends of the earth (v. 10).

Again she uses repetition in her prayer. Literally it says, “one contending against YHWH one contending against YHWH, on him on him, they shall be dismayed. YHWH will thunder from heaven, and he will judge the ends of the earth.” Hannah echoes Psalm 62:12, and Paul quotes this Psalm in Romans 2:6: “God will render to each one according to his deeds.” Jesus says this in John 5:24-30.

24 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. 25 Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, 27 and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. 30 I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me."

Jesus tells us that there will be a judgment day, and we anticipate that day by faith in him for the forgiveness of sins. Further, we recognize that our citizenship is in heaven, which means that we do not trust in the things of this world. At the same time, however, we need to be cautious: let us not become so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good, as the saying goes. Rather, because we belong to the kingdom of heaven, we are to bring that kingdom's goodness to this world, in anticipation of the final day.

Hannah rejoiced over her gift in the victory of God over his enemies, with a view to judgment day. Jesus rejoices also in the victory of God over death, sin, the devil and hell, with a view to judgment day. Hannah was given more children after giving her son to the Lord. Jesus Christ is given people from every tribe, nation and tongue after giving himself up to the Lord as an atoning sacrifice for sin.

Finally, Hannah prophecies/predicts/hopes for the coming king (messiah) of Israel. There was no king yet, but we are introduced to them. In it we begin the stories of Saul and David, and we move on to Solomon. We’re introduced to Saul, who begins his story chasing donkeys, never to ride them. But the greater king Jesus, rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. We read of David, who was a man after God’s own heart, but failed by means of adultery, murder, and the failure to discipline his sons. But Jesus was holy, harmless and undefiled. Jesus does discipline us—his children, and he does it for our own good, to make us more holy and righteous, like our Father. Solomon in all his wisdom, was taken captive by 700 wives who seduced him into idol worship. His life ends in a tragedy, not doing justice, but seeking revenge. Of Jesus, we read that in him are all treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Jesus will take revenge on his enemies, but only he has the right to do so. Jesus is the greater king every godly person in Israel hoped for.

Application: What can we learn from Hannah? Hannah was provoked, persecuted, punished by Peninnah, because Hannah had not been bless by God. Perhaps in Peninnah’s eyes, she was cursed. Perhaps Peninnah was jealous that Elkanah loved Hannah more. But Hannah didn’t hide her feelings. She didn’t put on a plastic smile and say, “Oh no. God is good. Everything’s fine!” There’s a time and a place to be really honest about how you’re doing. That doesn’t mean you have to wear your emotions on your sleeve all the time, but Hannah didn’t hide her pain. We do that too much here in America. We lie, really. We hide our pain. We don’t tell people, “Hey man, I’m really struggling with my life right now. I need some help.” People complain that Christians are hypocrites, and this is perhaps one of the reasons why Christians are guilty of hypocrisy. It’s living a life that is fake, plastic, insincere and as a friend of mine calls it in the title of his book, veneer.

Hannah brought her pain to the Lord in prayer, and the Lord answered. Though Hannah had nothing, she stayed faithful to the Lord. She didn’t revile her enemy, and neither did Jesus. But Hannah gets the last laugh over her enemy through patient endurance and obedience to her vow.

This chapter in 1 Samuel speaks loud and clear to us. We get pressure from so many sides to be like the world: to have it all, to trust in our wealth and our possessions, to get satisfaction from social status. But we are not to get our satisfaction in those things. We are to be satisfied in Jesus Christ, and him alone. Even in our trials and anguish and bitterness of soul, we are to pray, like Hannah. We are to pour out our souls to him. Sometimes, he answers our prayers with a yes, and sometimes with a no, but he always delivers on his promise to give us his peace. Further, Hannah’s prayer teaches us to remember God’s character: he is holy, sovereign, and will some day judge the world and bring his enemies to an end. In this we rejoice and have our hope in Jesus Christ.

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