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Believe For Greater Things- Hannah

1 Samuel 1:1-28.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 10, 2016.

Again, I remind the reader that this series is an adaptation of a sermon preached by General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God USA, George Wood, at its 2013 biennial meeting in Orlando, Florida.

We first looked at Sarah who laughed at what God promised to do in her life.  Then we looked at Naomi who plodded through until she obtained what God promised.  Today we look at Hannah who wept in the midst of the promises of God.  Hannah’s weeping is not the weeping of doubt and fear, but that of faith that wrestles with God and gives birth to the things that God is building in us and doing through us.  Hannah will stand as an important person as her son Samuel would become a prophet, priest, and judge of Israel.  He would also be the one to appoint and anoint both Saul and David as king of Israel.  Let’s look at this story in 1 Samuel 1

The Faith of Hannah

In verse one it may appear at first that Elkanah is of the tribe of Ephraim.  However, the word can also be used of a person who only resides in that area.  Elsewhere it is made very clear that he is from the tribe of Levi, but lives in Ephraim.  You may remember that the Levites did not have their own “territory.”  Rather they had cities throughout all of Israel.  During this period the temple had not been built yet, and Jerusalem was still under the control of the Jebusites.  Shiloh was the place where the tabernacle was set up and all Israel brought their sacrifices.  This was also not a time of great spiritual fervor.  During the time of the judges Israel was very manic in its faithfulness to God’s commands.  Samuel will become the one to turn Israel back to the Lord and help them navigate the transition from judges to a king.

I will also give a few moments to point out that a polygamous marriage lies at the heart of this story.  Some will point to the fact that God did not outlaw them in the Law as a sign of His approval.  However, Jesus answers this line of reasoning in Matthew 19:8 when he says, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”  If God had given Israel a law that outlawed everything that was sinful, none of them would have survived.  The purpose of the Law was not to correct every wrong.  But rather, it was to convict every one of sin and guilt before God.  The Law was perfect at teaching religious people that they too were sinners, guilty before God, and in need of a sacrifice to cover their sins.  God allowed things like divorce, slavery, and polygamy not because He approved of them, but because they would serve a purpose in His plan of salvation.  These things become word pictures of very real spiritual things that we would not be able to understand otherwise.  Every time we see a polygamous marriage in the Bible, we see friction and problems.  It was not this way from the beginning.  God gives Adam one wife and together they are to become one flesh, working and operating as a cohesive unit before God and the world.  That said, this family does seem to be a family that is devoted to the things of God and worshipping Him.

Hannah’s faith endured difficult circumstances.  In verse 5 we are told that the Lord had closed her womb.  It is common in the Bible to see God as responsible for all things.  This is not the tendency of modern Christians.  We wince at such statements and try to ameliorate them through some means of protecting the righteousness of God.  The ancients did not think this way, or at least the Holy Spirit that was inspiring them did not.  God is not afraid to stand and declare that if something happens then He has sent it.  Of course this raises all sorts of questions and the answers to those things vary depending on the circumstances.  We do know that God never does moral evil.  However, He does allow things that we call bad to happen in our lives.  We are told that He does so because bad things can have good impacts.  We also see throughout the Old Testament that women who are unable to have children are a vital part of God’s plan of salvation.  Sarah couldn’t have children.  Rachel couldn’t have children.  These became a template of the barren made fruitful by the miracle of God.  This did not make it any easier for Hannah.  Her faith had to wrestle with the fact that God had let her be barren.

On top of this verse 6 tells us that the rival wife, Peninnah, taunted and provoked her.  Peninnah had no problem having children and became proud and arrogant over this fact.  She was not content to enjoy her blessing.  Instead she rubbed it in the face of Hannah through mean and spiteful words.  Perhaps, it was more in response to the love that Elkanah had for Hannah.  Regardless, Peninnah makes a choice that is wicked and evil.  Hannah’s faith was severely tested by such persecution.

Instead of lashing back at Peninnah we are told that Hannah wept before the Lord.  She took her pains and sorrows to the Lord in prayer.  The difficulties that we face in life will do one of two things.  It can harden us towards God and man as we learn to take others on and make our own way.  Or, it can break us and soften us towards God and man as we learn to depend upon the way of the Lord.  Hannah chooses the second.  She turns towards the mercy of God rather than to the things of this world to satisfy.  No amount of food will satisfy.  No amount of favoritism from her husband will satisfy.  Nothing in this world could take the place of the mercy of God for her.  A problem that Christians in America have to deal with is the tendency for us to be so satisfied with the many blessings of God in our life that we have little passion for the things that really matter.  We can give intellectual assent to the plight of those who are not believers, but do we weep in prayer over them?  Do we weep in prayer over our spiritual barrenness and the wholesale rejection of God by our society?  Or, do we just shrug our shoulders and move on to the next entertainment?  God help us to have a passion for His things to the point that we are weeping in prayer before Him.

Though our Lord warns us against making vows, in verse 11 we see Hannah making a vow to the Lord.  Notice what she is asking for.  She wants a son and yet she asks not for herself alone, but for God’s purposes also.  Yes in some ways asking for a son is selfish and yet, she then says she will give the child back to the Lord to serve Him at the Tabernacle.  Here we see that having a child is about more than just the physical.  Yes, she wants a child, but she wants the mercy of God more.  Somewhere in her struggles with Peninnah a spiritual insight develops in Hannah.  Two contrasting spirits are depicted:  the proud, arrogant ability of mankind, and the broken feeble frailty of mankind.  Hannah’s prayer is about finding out which of these two spirits God loves.  In fact the love and compassion of Elkanah becomes a picture of God’s love.  God despises the fruitfulness of the proud and arrogant, but He gives grace to the humble and feeble.  The first problem we have with prayer is that of simply doing it.  We are too often guilty of simply not praying like we should.  But, when we do pray, we can make the error of praying for things that satisfy our desires alone.  Thus we become guilty of gobbling up the grace of God without much thought to the purposes of God in giving them to us.  Peninnah was physically fruitful and a blessing to her husband.  But, instead of seeking to honor God with this, she only satisfies her desires.  In that she becomes like the devil and antagonizes another.  The gifts in our lives are given to enable us to serve Him.  They are not badges of God’s approval for which we are entitled to be smug over one another.  Am I guilty of looking at my child as a source of my happiness, fulfillment, and pride, without giving thought to how I can honor the Lord with this young person?  Do I pray for a better paying job without giving thought to how I would honor God with it?  Our actions prove which manner of spirit we are choosing to embrace.

While Hannah is weeping she has a discourse with Eli the High Priest.  It is in this encounter that Hannah senses that the Lord has heard her prayer.  We are told in verse 20 that Hannah gave birth to Samuel.  She raises him until he is weaned and then takes him to the tabernacle to hand him over to the Lord.  The normal joy of raising a child and watching them grow would not be hers.  Yes, she would see him each year and even give him a new change of clothes, but it would only be a shadow of what she would have if she raised him.  Hannah is putting her son on the altar and giving him over to the Lord.  This is a perfect picture of worship.  It is a form of honoring the Lord.  Hannah gives to the Lord what is most precious to her and thus honors Him in front of all, especially Peninnah.  We see Hannah joyful as she worships the Lord even as she gives up what she prayed for.  But for Hannah this is about more than having a child.  If you take time to read the rejoicing prayer of Hannah in chapter 2 you will see that Hannah’s faith took her thoughts much deeper than the struggle between rival wives in a polygamous marriage.  By the Spirit of God Hannah prophesies about an Anointed King (Messiah) that God would send to bring His judgment to the ends of the earth.   In fact this is the first mention of the term Messiah in relation to a promised deliverer.  May God help us to follow the example of Hannah and take our difficulties and the difficulties of people around us to the Lord in prayer.  May we learn to weep over the things that really matter in life and seek the throne of grace for help in our time of need.  May we intercede for our families, cities, nation, and world and weep over the reality that they are lost and without God.

Hannah audio