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|"The Desperation of Hannah"
1 Samuel 1:4-20
There is a psychological theory of motivation that suggests that our
motivation can be prompted from two opposite directions. We can
be motivated to succeed--or we can be motivated to avoid failure.
Or maybe both. And sometimes it is difficult
to draw the line between the two.
It is said that some Olympic athletes live in fear of letting down the nations they represent.
And I would imagine that a field-goal kicker, called upon in the final seconds of a football game to score the winning points, lives in fear of failing with tens of thousands watching from the stands.
Now, what is apparent to me is that in isolation we are motivated to succeed: we want to do well! But in the presence of others, with others looking on in anticipation, or judgment, we are motivated to avoid FAILING in their eyes.
Well, this morning we are going to look in on a woman who wants a child. And probably, most women, at some time or another in their lives, want children. But this particular woman is in an unusual situation. Hannah's husband ElKAnah has two wives.
And the other wife, PenNINah, already HAS children. So let's join this story with the fourth verse of the opening chapter of First Samuel.
"On the day when ElKAnah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife PeNINnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb."
So ElKAnah is sensitive to Hannah's situation. Maybe too much so. I mean, he IS being a nice guy; but in addition to his kindness and generosity, he is also drawing ATTENTION to Hannah's condition. The double portion is a REMINDER to Hannah that she, unlike PenNINnah, has no children. So the double portion is a mixed blessing.
Although it is a kindness, it is also salt in the wound. And personally, I think I would feel resentful if my family were to call attention to my shortcomings.
But ElKAnah's double portion is not all that Hannah has to contend with.
"Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb."
And her rival is PenNINnah, the other wife.
Now, I think that most of us are capable of putting up with this sort of thing; at least for a little while. I can remember taking teasing and even ridicule in adolescence, but that was only for a short time. Conditions and situations change, and usually we manage to live through them. But Hannah has a different kind of situation.
It's not going to go away as long as Peninnah is around and Hannah is barren. PennINah will not let it rest.
"So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat."
It's a terrible burden to bear. It's tough enough for Hannah to be unable to have children; but it is even WORSE to have someone around continually REMINDING you of what you cannot do. It is as if we intentionally ridiculed those who are physically or mentally challenged; who, through no fault of their own, are unable to do things that others can take for granted.
Well, Hannah's husband ElKAnah, bless his heart, doesn't have a clue. He gives Hannah a double portion, which only draws attention to the fact that she has no children of her own. And now, as she is weeping,
"Her husband ElKAnah said to her "Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?"
And he misses the point! Of course he is important to her, but she cannot escape the ridicule of PeNINah.
Almost every year on July 4th I run in a 10-kilometre 6.2-mile road race. I am extremely slow. I'm even a heckuva lot slower than many folks older than me. And I usually come in last. Now I try to tell myself that at least I finish these races. I CAN run that far. Which is more than the hundreds who are standing around watching can claim.
But still, there is a nagging concern that a younger brother, who finishes WAY ahead of me, is getting a chuckle out of how slow I am.
And even though ElKAnah may try to console Hannah, she still has to put up with PenINnah.
"After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord."
Now, apparently, this trip to Shiloh is an annual event for the family; but Hannah's entering the temple is not. This is the first time she has done this. She is driven to desperation.
"She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly."
We know of another woman in the Bible who was also barren. And her name was Sarah. But it is interesting that when God chose to change Sarah's condition, to give her a son, she was about 90 years old, which is a day or two beyond normal child-bearing age.
And by contrast with Hannah, when Sarah heard of the promise of having a son, she laughed!
So what accounts for the difference between Sarah and Hannah? I would suggest that for each of us there are many things in this life that we simply learn to accept, even though they may not be the most desirable.
But what one person may find acceptable, another person will not. And PenINnah's constant provocations made it impossible for Hannah to accept her barren condition.
In local churches, parishioners may come to find their facilities, or parts of their facilities, unacceptable as spaces for worship, or fellowship, or Christian education. Or they may find the access to those spaces unacceptable as an entrances.
And if enough of those folks continue to find those conditions unacceptable, and if they pray long enough and hard enough, God will work with them to help them do something about it.
Hannah is so driven by her inability to accept her condition that "She made this vow: "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."
Now, if you don't already know, you're probably wondering, what on earth is a nazirite? Well, it's pretty much what Hannah has said: one who is set apart to serve God, who consumes no alcohol, nor cuts his hair.
But Hannah is promising that her son will be a nazirite all his life, while most nazirites took short-term vows. Indeed, the only other life-long nazirites we know of are Samson and John the Baptist.
"As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk."
We know of a similar instance of perceived drunkenness, but when voices ARE heard, as when in the second chapter of the Book of Acts, the disciples are heard speaking in tongues, and some of the listeners sneer that "The are filled with new wine."
And Peter has to defend them, to explain what is happening.
Well, there's always somebody around to complain about our behavior, even when we're talking to God. Maybe ESPECIALLY when we're talking to God.
"So Eli said to her, "How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine."
How long, indeed. I'm reminded of Jesus parable of the unjust judge in the eighteenth chapter of the gospel according to Luke. A widow kept coming to the judge and saying, "Grant me justice against my opponent."
For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, "Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming."
"But Hannah answered, "No, my Lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord."
Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea if Christians were equally deeply troubled by issues in society, issues in the church, issues in our personal lives; so troubled that we too would pour out our souls before God.
We need not give the appearance of making drunken spectacles of ourselves in public, but have we lately, even in private, poured out our souls before God? In explaining the parable of the unjust judge, Jesus says, "will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?"
Hannah continues to defend herself: "Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time."
And I can hear Hannah saying, "I am NOT a blithering idiot! I have just concerns and frustrations which I wish to have addressed!"
And when WE go to God, I don't believe that we need to apologize to ANYONE. If God believes our cause is just, God WILL respond. We may not be accused of making drunken spectacles of ourselves, but we MAY be accused of too enthusiastically desiring the wrong things from God, at least wrong in the sight of others.
"Then Eli answered, "Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him."
Now we don't know exactly what Eli is talking about here, because he did not HEAR the bulk of her prayer. She had prayed it silently. He can only be responding to her defense of herself and her motivations for her prayer.
But still, I think he said the right thing, which boils down to, "May God answer your prayer."
I don't KNOW whether Hannah thought she deserved a male son. In fact, it may have occurred to her that she did NOT deserve one. But still, she WANTED one and NEEDED one to escape the nagging of PenNInah. So instead of getting angry and upset with God, she instead tells God that IF you will do this for me, then maybe I, through the son that you give me, can do something for you.
I think it's a WONDERFUL prayer! And I think it can be a model for us. We need to be always asking ourselves, when we ask favors of God, what are WE prepared to do for God?
"And Hannah said to Eli, "Let your servant find favor in your sight." Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer."
But WHY is she no longer sad? Is it because of what Eli has said? Is it because she has prayed? Is it because she believes that her prayer will be answered with a son?
I think that she is no longer sad because she knows that she has given her best in her prayer relationship with God. She has asked God for a favor, but she has given God a promise in return.
"They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house in Ramah. ElKAnah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son.
She named him Samuel, for she said, "I have asked him of the Lord."
Indeed, is there anything good in our lives that is NOT a gift from God for which we should be thankful?
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