1 Samuel 1:4-20 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. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. 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. 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?” 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. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: “O Lordof 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.” 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. So Eli said to her,“How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” 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. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” And she said, “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. They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at 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.”
1 Samuel 2:1-10 Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory.“There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by the Lord actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. The Lord kills and brings to life; God brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lordmakes poor and makes rich; God brings low, God also exalts. God raises up the poor from the dust; God lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them God has set the world. “God will guard the feet of God's faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail. The Lord! God's adversaries shall be shattered; the Most High will thunder in heaven. TheLord will judge the ends of the earth; God will give strength to God's king, and exalt the power of God's anointed.”
************************************************* It is easy to relate to Hannah because she is one of those people who lives with a label. Hannah was labeled "barren." Despite anything else she may have done in her life, in her society, barren, meant she was worthless... without value. Hannah was married to a guy named Elkanah. For short, let's call him Kenny. Kenny had 2 wives, Hannah and a woman named Peninnah- let's call her Penny. Penny, as it turned out was a child bearing machine. It seemed she could pop out kids at almost at will, some of which were male children-which only served to increase Penny's value.
Most of us, thankfully, don't know what it's like to share a spouse... but I imagine that living in a household with more than one wife would lead the women to get pretty good at the comparison game, and Hannah and Penny became rivals. Penny continually provokes Hannah, the text says, "to irritate her- because her womb is closed." Penny had found Hannah's button; the thing she knew could cause Hannah great pain- and she pushed it over and over. Translated from the Hebrew it reads like this: "She vexed her rival of her moreover vexation in order to dishearten her"... or... "she provoked her until she was sore"... until it hurt... she annoyed her with the intention of breaking her spirit...to make her lose hope.. cruel isn't it? And I imagine it wouldn't even have to have been a verbal "poking"... it could have been as easy as Penny walking past Hannah in the kitchen every morning with her little ones in tow, shooting Hannah a look with a sympathetic,' too bad you don't have any children,' smile...
But let's stop here and ask a question- Who is the Penny in your life? Who has 'provoked you sore'- Who has something that you wish you had; something you want so desperately that even the sight of the one who has it makes you feel less than complete? And try as you might to be happy for them as you watch them enjoy their blessings from God; the perfect spouse, or the honor roll kids, or the big promotion... seeing them cuts you to the quick- reminding you that you are "less than."
But before we judge Penny too harshly, look again- the text doesn't tell us why she was so cruel. But we do know that their husband, Kenny doted on Hannah. Hannah always got that extra portion of everything Kenny brought home. What's with that? Weren't Penny and her brood of kids enough for him? She had done what she was supposed to do- she birthed male children, yet Hannah was the one given special treatment. So maybe Penny went on the offensive. Maybe childbearing was the one place where Penny outshined Hannah- maybe she recognized that she had value in this one area where Hannah doesn't; so even though Penny is unable to win her husband's affection, or special treatment, she could make herself feel better by flaunting what she did have in front of her rival.
So lets reverse that original question...Who have you been Penny to, in your life? Who have you made feel just a little lower than yourself by showing what you have and what they don't? Especially to people who we think have one up on us in some other area. Why does it somehow make us feel better about ourselves to put someone else in their place; to assure someone that they don't have what we do. Oh, and one more thing- there is a difference between sharing your joy with others and intentionally disheartening someone...
But lets get back to the story. Because Penny wasn't the only one making Hannah feel 'less than.'.. Her well meaning husband Kenny seems like a nice enough guy. He pays special attention to Hannah, gives her extra gifts, "because he loved her," the text reminds us. And I believe that in his heart of hearts, he did love her, but if we look closely at his behavior, we can see how Kenny's actions may have given Hannah mixed messages. Think of it; every time Kenny brings home the bacon, so to speak, and walks over to give Hannah her 'extra portion,' it was probably no secret around the rest of the family. The hope was probably that it would the 'extra' would build her up, physically and emotionally. But year after year of... "Here darling Hannah... take extra.. let me help you... you need this... sorry you can't have children... don't feel bad that there is something wrong with you... you have me.... aren't I worth 10 sons? Here... take this extra... I know you can't help that there is something wrong with you...love you Hannah honey..."
So next question- who is Kenny in your life? This is tough, because for most of us, Kenny is someone who truly wants the best for us... and we want to please... but no matter how hard we try, we know we aren't really accepted the way we are. And the more they try to make it better, the more we feel like a disappointment. We can't live up to what Kenny wants from us, because it is just not in us... and we think, "I know Kenny loves me, but why is it that when he is around, I feel like I am getting kicked in the stomach?" And for fun, lets flip that question around as well- Who have you been Kenny to in your life? Who do you have to best hopes for, the best feelings for- you want them to succeed... but in your attempt to make them feel better about missing the mark, they instead get a message that they are not acceptable just as they are? Actions speak louder than words sometimes. Are the messages you intend to send out the ones being received, and have you checked that out lately? When is the last time you unknowingly kicked Hannah in the stomach?
But lets move on because by now Hannah has had it with being poked by Penny and kicked by Kenny and she runs to the temple- her place of safety. And weeping bitterly, she sinks down on the side of a pillar and begins to pray... weeping bitterly... You know this prayer- or at least I hope you do... when you are angry and frustrated and hurt- you've been stomped on and made fun of and placated to death and you have nowhere to turn but to the one who called you to this crazy thing in the first place... and every emotion in your body is surfacing, and youre crying and rocking and praying and you reach the point where your lips are moving... but no sound is coming out... some pain is too deep for words...
Enter Eli- the priest sitting in the wings watching Hannah and thinking she drunk. "Lady, how long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Stop drinking already!" And Hannah musters up her courage and stands up and pleads with Eli to understand her plight. As it turns out, he is an ok guy- and he sends Hannah home with a new confidence about her call. But I have to ask another question... who is Eli in your life? Who is the one that misinterprets your actions- even when they are at their most sincere? Who do you feel the need to explain yourself to? Who, because you pray a little differently, or believe a little differently, or live a lifestyle that is a little bit different, challenges the path you are on? Who questions your motives, or your morality? And while we're here, lets flip it. Who are you Eli to in your life? Who is it that is just a little bit weird, or does things a little bit different from you- believes in a way that makes you uncomfortable- that you dont understand? So you judge! You jump to conclusions and even call them out on their stuff- "Stop! Enough already! Stop acting like that! We don't allow that in here!" Over the years the church has done a great Eli impersonation... not just with individuals, but with whole people groups. Imagine judging someone else on the call of God in their life? As if I coule tell you what God may or may be doing in you-based on what it looks like on the outside? Sounds crazy but we do it all the time, Eli...
Anyway, after her encounter with Eli, Hannah goes home- Faithful to her call she goes back to Kenny and Penny and the brood of kids who are not hers- and in due time she has a son. But here's where the story takes on an amazing twist. Hannah takes her son- her call- the thing that made her valuable- the thing that would cause her to have worth in society's eyes- the thing that would allow her pride and standing in her own family- and she brings him back to the temple as an offering to God! This seems unthinkable to me! How do you leave your just weaned child- the baby you have prayed for and hoped for and would be your heart's desire it and GIVE IT to the Lord? And if that isn't enough, as she leaves her son with old Eli and walks back to her home with her arms empty- her heart is full, and her prayer of victory begins (praphrasing) "I rejoice!" She says, "God you have given me what I asked for and shown that you are God- I rejoice! You told me I was called to have a son and I had one- I rejoice! The people that thought of me as worthless have been proved wrong- I rejoice!" What??? She had to be heartbroken at parting with her son, she had to dread going back to the family of children who lived in her household, she had to be grieving the child she had pleaded for her whole life- Yet she rejoiced!
And here is where I'll ask my final question today- Have you ever been Hannah in your life? Has your call ever meant giving back to the Lord the thing you most prayed for? Have you ever longed for something, and once it comes, you've been able to part with it just as quickly, dedicating it to God's service? And rejoice!? This is rough, because most of the time the things we hope for and pray for and even work for... when they finally arrive, we get the idea that they somehow belong to us, when in reality it all belongs to God. We even do it with our call- we realize our gift from God yet we hold it, as if it is something we want people to admire, but we seldom fully give back to God. Think about the things you hold most dear- the things that bring you value- the things you are sure you "need" to make you who you are. Would you be willing to leave those things at the temple as an offering unto the Lord?
Most of us have trouble parting with material things- we have money problems... we dont have enough of it, we say... we pray for more... "If I had more money, God, I would give more"... Yet all the money we have has been given to us by God- our jobs where we make money, given to us by God. How much of it are we willing to offer back to the one who gave it to us in the first place? And I'm actually not only talking about cash- but our daily activities- our time- our very lives... What portion; how much of ourselves are we willing to dedicate to the Lord and leave at the temple- trusting God to care for us?
I can only guess that is why Hannah rejoiced- she learned something that many of us never do... she learned to fully trust God with her whole heart. She had left the most valued part of herself with the one who gives all things value. She trusted her son with the God who sent God's Son to us... she answered the call of God on her life, which was to give the best of her life... and once the best was placed in the hands of God, she went away rejoicing!
And truly, this is what happens when we trust God enough to live out our call;to give the best part of ourselves to the one who gave us life. Now I'm not saying that's easy; most of the time we think in terms of what's wrong with us when it comes to giving to God- or what we need to improve so we can be acceptable to God. But if you notice, Hannah gave Samuel to the Lord when he was still a child- not yet formed- not polished or improved or "ready." She trusted God to do all of that. Her job was simply to present her best. When we put the very things we think make us who we are into Gods hands, and trust God to do the rest, we may think we'll walk away with empty arms- but our hearts will be full- and we rejoice!