First Mennonite Church
July 27, 2014
Samuel: A Gift Received and A Gift Returned
1 Samuel 1: 1-28 (NIV)
1Samuel chapter 1 is a family drama. But beyond the immediate story of Elkanah, his two wives and their yearly trips to Shiloh, this story sets the stage for the larger story of Israel. (I will not say more on that for now.) Today we have witnessed the dedication of Peyton and Sutter and we will commit ourselves as a congregation to walk along with their parents as they raise their children according to the vows they have made.
The story we find in 1Samuel chapter one, verses 1-28, besides illustrating the practice of child dedication, also has valuable principles for Christian living. So this morning I will be gleaning from this story elements related to our particular purpose for today and also will be touching on those general principles useful for our everyday Christian family life.
Establishing Spirituality in the Family
In verse 3, we find that Elkanah had a spiritual tradition established for his family. Families today establish various kinds of family traditions. Some families, because of the busy lives of their family members, make every attempt to eat at least one meal together every day. Some have the ritual of baking together on special occasions such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. Some families go camping or on trips together. Some families get together from time to time in their attempt to stay in touch with each other. All of these family traditions are valuable, but every Christian family also should have a tradition of spirituality. Besides praying with my children before I go to bed at night, I ask Emmanuel to pray for me from time to time.
I want to encourage every family with young children to develop some kind of a spiritual tradition alongside others family traditions. Elkanah went to Shiloh where the Ark of the Covenant was housed. The text tells us that Elkanah made yearly trips to worship and to make sacrifices to the Lord of Hosts.
Parents do great good when they establish a firm practice of attending the worship service. Parents teach Christian commitment when they actively participate in the worship service. Children learn and desire to follow in their parents’ footsteps when they see joy and meaning in what their parents do in the service of God and of others.
Dealing with Conflict (2, 6-7, 10)
2 He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.
6 Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. 7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat.
10 In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.
All close human relationships are bound to have conflicts. Situations for conflict were even more likely to rise in the household of Elkanah. One of his wives, Peninnah, whose name means “prolific,” or “fertile,” had children. Hannah, the other wife, and whose name means “charming” or “attractive,” was childless. Peninnah was merciless in her taunting of Hannah. The situation for which Hannah was taunted was not under her control. The text indicates that her condition of childlessness was because “the Lord had closed her womb.” Hannah’s misery became more intense every year when they went to the house of the Lord. There in Shiloh, her rival, which is hardly a way to characterize filial relationships, provoked her till she would weep and not eat. This taunting and contempt went on year after year.
Let me just ask you, is there something or someone which or who constantly irritates you? Is there someone who only seeks to cause you misery? How have you dealt with it?
Here is what Hannah did. Instead of going after or against her rival, she went to the Lord.
My dear friends, it is natural from a human point of view that when someone constantly nags us or brings us misery that we would like to “deal” with the person. Culturally we are encouraged to confront directly any person who causes us discomfort.
After so many years of taunting and provocation, after so many years of going to worship at Shiloh only to have her life made miserable, Hannah opened and emptied her heart before the Lord. In her deep anguish, Hannah wept bitterly as she prayed. She confessed her struggles, pains and anxieties before the God who had closed her womb. Her display of trustful persistent prayer was misunderstood by Eli who was watching her. Hannah’s way of dealing with conflict is admirable. And in opening her heart before God, Hannah was able to find rest for she knew that God does have control. And God could change her misery to joy, thanksgiving, and praise, which was demonstrated when she dedicated her baby boy Samuel.
Samuel: A Gift from God to Hannah and from Hannah to God
Children are gifts of God to parents. In the Bible, stories of childless women seem to appear all over the place. There was Sarah, Rachel, Hannah and Elizabeth. And barrenness was an affront to every married woman. It was also believed that barrenness was a sign of God’s rejection. That could be a reason why it was in Shiloh that Peninnah taunted Hannah even more. How could Hannah worship a God who had rejected her? Therefore, although Elkanah loved Hannah, Hannah’s felt unloved by the God she worshiped. If she could only give birth to a child, she would know God does love her.
Verses 10 and 11, say: In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on 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.”
Hannah’s prayer sounds selfish at the beginning. She begs and implores for a son. Her anguished prayer does not sound like most prayers we or hear these days. Her prayer was fervent, unpolished and unending. Eli even questioned her, “How long will you go on and on in your intoxicated state?” (v. 14) Hannah prayed for a child she wanted. The fact that she prayed fervently and for long hours challenges us parents who do have children. How do we pray for our children? How often do we pray with them? How much time do we spend before God in prayer for our children? For those of us who already have dedicated our children to the Lord, Hannah’s attitude before God for the child she wanted should move us to recommit ourselves to take more time in prayer for our children. But Hannah’s prayer for a child was not selfish when we realize the vow she made to God “if He will only look upon her servant’s misery and remembers her and not forget her.” If God looked upon Hannah and remembered her and did not forget her, Hannah would give back the child to the service of the Lord for all his days.
The New Testament does not teach about making vows to God. Making vows to God is not common among Christians today, although some would do make vows. People who are in very difficult situations sometimes make vows to God. This is more common in the Catholic tradition. But, have you ever made a promise to God if He would answer your prayer?
After Hannah finished her dialogue with Eli and clarified the reason for her long and anguished prayers, she went home. And the text tells us: Then Hannah went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast. Prayer does calm any troubled heart. Prayer quiets any anguished soul that opens up to the Lord.
After the baby was born, Hannah did not go to Shiloh but not until the baby was weaned. When the time came again for Elkanah and his family to go to worship, Hannah took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. When the bull had been sacrificed, they brought the boy to Eli, and she said to him, “Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord. I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. 28 So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.”
God gives us children so that we give them back to Him. May we who are parents of young children seek God to give us wisdom, courage and grace to lead our children to know and serve God. May we as a congregation make every effort to support every parent in the task of raising and nurturing their children in the life of faith. May we all join together in fervent prayer asking God to look upon and remember each grown up child who has been dedicated to Him but is not here any more. May the Lord bless Justin and Heather as they raise Peyton and Sutter in the knowledge and service of Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen!