Monday, May 13, 2013

Holy Hannah: A Model for Motherhood

1 Samuel 1:1-2:11


In a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, Calvin is standing by his Mom's bed when he says, "Hey, Mom! Wake up. I made you a Mother's Day card." His mother was pleasantly surprised and started to read it out loud.


"I was going to buy a card with hearts of pink and red.

But then I thought I'd rather spend the money instead.

It's awfully hard to buy things when one's allowance is so small.

So I guess you're plenty lucky I got you anything at all.

'Happy Mother's Day!' there, I've said it. Now I'm done.

So how about getting out of bed and fixing breakfast for your son."


It's not easy to be a mom! A mother was talking to an old college friend and said, "I remember before I was married that I had three theories about raising children. Now I have three children and no theories."


In our English translations of the Bible, the Book of Ruth comes after Judges, but in the Hebrew Bible, 1 Samuel follows immediately after Judges. The situation is bleak. The nation of Israel is torn apart by a lack of leadership and lawlessness. According to Judges 21:25, "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit." The nation of Israel was often oppressed by the surrounding nations. God would appoint a judge to lead His people, but their freedom generally lasted only as long as the judge was alive. On top of that, many of the judges, like Samson, had some fatal flaws. Their spiritual decay was linked to the absence of a king. When we come to 1 Samuel, we're introduced to Hannah, who is the mother of the prophet who will designate Israel's chosen king.


As we look at the first two chapters of 1 Samuel, we'll see 5 defining traits that make Hannah a model for motherhood. The first one may surprise you.


1. Hannah's Problems (1:1-8). It's easy to think that the heroes in the Bible were somehow different than we are. We might think that it's tough to relate to them because their lives were so perfect and their culture was so different than ours. Actually, the Bible is filled with real people who have real problems; who then face those problems with real faith.


In 1 Samuel 1, we're introduced to a man named Elkanah. Verse 2 tells us that "He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Penninah. Penninah had children, but Hannah had none." The wife's chief role in those days was to provide children. A barren womb was considered a curse and Hannah would have been looked down upon. She was spiritually disturbed, socially disgraced, and emotionally depressed. She joins a long line of other 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). In fact, the Bible describes most of the childless women as righteous women, matriarchs of the faith. This shows us that the cultures' perception of our condition does not always match God's.


Verse 3 tells us that Elkanah and his two wives made a yearly visit to Shiloh, about a twenty-mile journey, to worship the Lord. This shows us something about his devout spirituality. When the whole culture was headed south spiritually, Elkanah swam against the tide of apathy, and took his family to worship. The last part of verse 3 indicates that Hophni and Phineas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. These two boys were hypocrites at best and evil at worst.


Verses 4-5 show us something about his 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…" This sacrifice was a thank offering, which allowed the worshipers to eat the part that was not offered to God. This "double" portion literally means, "to show the face." He showed his face to her, indicating that she was worthy and that he cared deeply for her. In that culture, honored guests were given a "super-sized" meal. It had to be difficult for Hannah to eat the food that was associated with the "thank offering," when she probably wasn't all that thankful. Having a husband who expressed his love probably helped a lot.


Even though these two wives did not get along, the most difficult thing that Hannah faced is the phrase that is repeated twice, once at the end of verse 5 and again at the beginning of verse 6: "And the Lord had closed her womb." The problem that she was having was allowed by the Lord. This is one of the hardest lessons we will ever learn, our problems are allowed 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 it is God who allows good things and bad things to come into our lives. God is in charge and as such we should echo Job's faith in Job 2:10: "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?"
Ecclesiastes 7:14 puts it well: "When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other."


2. Hannah's Prayers (1:9-18). Hannah had some problems but she didn't shut down or lash out at those around her. She expressed her 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. Look at verses 10-11: "In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. And she made a vow, saying, 'O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.'"


As part of her prayer, she is making a vow that if she's given a son, he will be dedicated to the Lord for his entire life. Her son would become a Levitical priest, serving in the temple and a Nazirite. A Nazirite was bound by a vow to be set apart to the Lord's service and had to abstain from the fruit of the vine, was forbidden to cut his hair, and was not allowed to get near any dead body. Samson was another Old Testament character who had taken the Nazirite vow.


It's significant that verse 12 says, "she kept on praying to the Lord." This wasn't just a quick popcorn prayer. This was a repeated request, bathed in tears. Notice also that she prayed this prayer in her heart, not audibly like most Hebrews prayed. She prayed secretly, not wanting to draw any attention to herself. We don't have to always pray out loud, but simply pray from our heart because our thoughts are as words to God. Her quiet prayer had an unfortunate consequence when Eli, the priest, accused her of being drunk. That says a lot about the culture at that time ­ there were probably drunken people around the temple and Eli thought she was one of them.


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. He didn't know what she was praying about, but as high priest, gave his "amen" to her request. Her whole 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 had left her concerns with the Lord and now she's experiencing the "peace that passes all understanding."


Hannah had real problems and expressed vibrant prayers. That leads to a third defining trait…


3. Hannah's (God's) Provision (1:19-20). Verse 19 tells us that once again they got up early the next morning and worshipped before the Lord. This was their practice, not something they did just once in awhile. Then they went back home. A short time later, Hannah conceived and give birth to a son, naming him Samuel. His name sounds like the Hebrew for "heard of God." Every time she said his name she was reminded of his origin and destiny.


4. Hannah's Promise (1:21-28). After Samuel was born, Elkanah went once again to Shiloh in order to worship. 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 is able to eat on his own, she "…will take him and present him before the Lord, and he will live there always." Many people make promises to God, only to forget them in time. Not so with Hannah. She fully intended to keep her promise because she knew that Samuel did not really belong to her anyway.

Hannah not only dedicated herself to her child, she dedicated her child to the Lord. She then 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 that she will never revoke it. While she gave Samuel to her Savior, she never bailed on her responsibility. 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." Even at three-years-old, he was able to worship. How do you think he learned how to do this? Hannah no doubt 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." It's one thing to say that our children are dedicated to the Lord; it's another thing altogether to give them to the Lord.


5. Hannah's Praise (2:1-11). We don't have time this morning to walk through the details of Hannah's beautiful psalm of praise, but I do want to point out that there is no element of sadness here at all. She has just dropped off Samuel at the temple and now she breaks out 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." Notice that she doesn't brag about how handsome Samuel is, or how smart he is, or how neat it is that 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, recognizing 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.


Some Closing Thoughts


1. Women, you are of great worth in God's sight whether you have a child or not. Lift up your head and realize that God loves you for who you are, not for what you do. He understands your sorrow and your pain and He'll meet you right where you are.


2. Mothers, make it your mission to give your children to the Lord for a lifetime of dedicated service. There's no greater purpose, and no higher honor, than to have your children give their lives in surrendered service to the Lord.


One Sunday, after dedicating their baby to the Lord during a baby dedication service, a young family was driving home from church. Little Johnny, 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!"


Evolutionist will tell you your only purpose is to pass on your DNA to the next generation, but Hanna shows us a different purpose, to live a life with God at the center of our family.


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