Very little can be compared to an upset home (hurricanes and tsunamis come to mind). The last thing anyone wants is to live in a place of strife, where family remain in contention. 1 Samuel opens with this setting.
How Elkanah did it is beyond me. He had two wives that did not get along and it can be strongly argued that he made life difficult for himself with the whole polygamy thing. “Polygamy was never God’s intention for humankind, although He tolerated it; in every biblical instance polygamy created domestic problems.”[i] But this is not really about Elkanah. It’s about God’s sovereignty, it’s about leadership and interestingly, it is also about things like depression, anger, jealousy, and other type problems people face individually. As far as the text is concerned, we are able to focus on Elkanah’s wives, namely Hannah, and learn many lessons that touch on all these areas.
God closed Hannah’s womb and Peninnah, her rival, would irritate Hannah with the fact of her barrenness. One may be certain the air was thick with insults, adversaries standing like giants overhead, abuses being hurled like spears . . . but I get ahead of me story, so perhaps I'd better begin.
To begin with, the strife in the home of Elkanah was representative of the strife that existed in the land of Israel at this time. The polygamy of Elkanah was consistent with the period of the judges, where people did what was right in their own eyes. This man kept outward worship practices (he sacrificed yearly) that did not match his heart—he obviously had created an understanding of God that served his own purposes, misrepresented God (being an Ephraimite and living in an ungodly manner), allowed murder in his own home (hatred = murder in God’s eyes), committed adultery with his lust—breaking at least 4 of God’s commandments. The mention of Phineas and Hophni, sons of Eli, are important because they were corrupt priests. In short, God’s “house” was in an uproar.
I believe Hannah wanted to be a godly woman. We find no record of her lashing back at Peninnah. While she was Elkanah’s “favorite”, she walked away from her husband long enough to seek God. When he questioned her distress, she submitted to his desire for her to eat, then went to be alone, not to sulk or brood or nurture depression, but to pray (they may have actually traveled to Shiloh together, but she prayed alone here—see 1:19ff).
Hannah’s childlessness was distressing to her, to say the least. It bothered her so much she went to Shiloh and prayed about it. Interestingly, we don’t find her praying for her husband or for her rival initially; rather, we find her weeping and heaving, praying about her barrenness. Spurgeon writes, “For real business at the mercy-seat, give me a home-made prayer, a prayer that comes out of the deeps of my heart, not because I invented it, but because God the Holy Spirit put it there, and gave it such a living force that I could not help letting it come out. Though your words are broken, and your sentences are disconnected; if your desires are earnest, if they are like coals of juniper, burning with a vehement flame, God will not mind how they find expression. If you have no words, perhaps you will pray better without them. There are prayers that break the backs of words; they are too heavy for any human language to carry.”
Hannah’s prayer was a prayer like this. I think it was a godly prayer because she was God-centered. She recognized her barrenness and that God has a history of dealing with this kind of problem. Abraham and Sarah were childless, but God gave them a child even in their old age; Isaac and Rebekah were childless until Isaac prayed on behalf of his wife; Jacob’s Leah was unloved and Rachel was barren . . . until God opened their wombs. More recently, Zorah and Minonah were childless until God gave them Samson. Hannah actually had something to look forward to and could appeal directly to God’s reputation in the matter. She appealed to His sovereignty and based her pledge of dedication on God’s own words as found in Leviticus 6.
Eli (among other things) grants her peace and answered prayer. He has not heard her prayer specifically, but I think his mentioning “the God of Israel” brought a smile to Hannah’s heart as she left no longer sad.
The Bible says the LORD remembered Hannah and her request and it was not long until she conceived and gave birth to a son, remembering she had asked God for a child. She keeps him home while her husband goes up to worship as the child must be weaned—she remembers her vow and perhaps Elkanah made her vow his own too. Nevertheless, Hannah is reminded to keep her vow.
“God sometimes bestows gifts just that love may have something to renounce. The things that He puts into our hands are possibly put there that we may have the opportunity of showing what is in our heart. Oh, that there were in us a fervor of love that would lead us to examine everything that belongs to us, to ascertain how it might be made a means of showing our affection to Christ!”[ii]
Was it difficult for Hannah to drop her son off? You know it was, but her confidence rested not in her position, ability or means; rather, she promised to the LORD and kept her vow based on God Himself.
In the second chapter she prays again. Her joy is firmly rooted in God; her mouth is directed because of (not in the direction of) her enemies God-ward because of what He has done in the midst of her trouble. As she prays, she reveals what she understood about God:
- The rock;
- God of knowledge;
- The action-weigher;
- The life-giver and life-taker;
- The poor-raiser and prince-maker;
Having that understanding of God, she sees herself as:
- Able to smile;
- No longer barren;
Let us not miss that because she understands God, she also sees her enemies as:
- Proud, arrogant;
- Hungry and unsatisfied;
- Dead, low;
- In darkness;
First, power is not always in strength. There will be those that will hurl abuse and insults, throwing their weight around. Hannah bore her rival visibly, but quietly. She waited, she prayed and she acted in a godly way, even received a blessing of peace.
Second, God knows the heart. God remembers those who “remember Him”, as it were. We need to grow accustomed to this idea because we will see it again. God is looking for leaders who will not only seek Him, but have the wisdom to ask of Him in accordance with His own glory. This is what Hannah did as she prayed.
Third, prayer is nothing powerful. The God who answers prayer is. How we set about praying (whether it be concerning our run-away emotions or leadership or whatever) speaks volumes about that in which we place our trust. Spurgeon wrote, “Devout souls delight to look upon those mercies which they have obtained in answer to supplication, for they can see God’s especial love in them. When we can name our blessings Samuel, that is, “asked of God,” they will be as dear to us as her child was to Hannah.”[iii]
You know what? I think David understood these principles. Be thinking ahead about the adversaries he faced things, their strength and his size and try to recall the insults (among other things) that were hurled at him. Take care to be thinking about his responses to these things and his basis for responding. Be thinking about his emotions. Be thinking about leadership and fru-fru pageants.
Hannah prayed for a son, and God gave her a son despite her situation. What is your impossible situation?
How have you prayed about it?
What prayers has God already answered that you need to dedicate back to Him?
[i]MacArthur, John. 1 Samuel: How One Godly Man Changed a Nation. MacArthur Bible studies, Page 9. Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2000.
[ii]Hardman, Samuel G., and Dwight Lyman Moody. Thoughts for the Quiet Hour. Originally published: Chicago: Revell, c1990., May 16. Willow Grove, PA: Woodlawn Electronic Publishing, 1998, c1997, c1994, c1990.
[iii]Spurgeon, C. H. Morning and Evening : Daily Readings, September 19 PM. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995.