A couple of years ago I heard from an old friend—really a relative—that had been had been married thirty-seven years ago. She was from a Christian home. He was a missionary kid. They met at Wheaton. They graduated. They went to Africa as missionaries. They were the ideal Christian family--had five children and I-don’t-know-how-many grandchildren at that time. One day he came in after several months of what appeared to be a disaffection in his attitude and said to her, “I just don’t want to be married anymore.
A couple of years ago I heard from an old friend—really a relative—that had been had been married thirty-seven years ago. She was from a Christian home. He was a missionary kid. They met at Wheaton. They graduated. They went to Africa as missionaries. They were the ideal Christian family--had five children and I-don’t-know-how-many grandchildren at that time. One day he came in after several months of what appeared to be a disaffection in his attitude and said to her, “I just don’t want to be married anymore. I want a divorce.” When they went before the judge, he said to the judge, “I cannot fault her in any way. She has been a perfect wife. I just don’t want to be married anymore, especially to her [because a couple of years later he did marry].”
This story is being multiplied over and over, and almost all of you know somebody that this has happened to right in the Christian community. This type of suffering I think is one of the worst types. It’s domestic suffering. It’s terribly personal. It affects our self-image, our self-esteem, our sense of worth, and it’s happening all over the country. Every time I go on a retreat I hear a story like this.
Why do we suffer? Is suffering in your life and mine always a consequence of our personal sin? Does it automatically mean that God is displeased with us? Is it because we are not spiritual? Why is it that my child has gone astray? My marriage has disintegrated? My family is hit with tragedy, with financial reverses, with fatal disease? I’m sure we’ve all asked that question of ourselves and others. Basically, it’s one question: Is suffering ever God’s perfect will for us? What does he accomplish through suffering that can be done no other way? And when we suffer, do we turn from God, or do we turn to him?
Now, one of the many women in the Bible for whom God’s purpose was suffering--in the culture of her time, a suffering that pervaded her entire being and every relationship she had--was Hannah. And I want us to turn to 1 Samuel 1, and I’m going to read the first eight verses and then comment on it. I’m going to skip a couple of sentences are not too relevant, so watch carefully. 1 Samuel 1:1-8 (NIV):
There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah …. He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.
Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the LORD Almighty [the “Lord of Hosts,” this is in your King James] at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the LORD. Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the LORD had closed her womb. And because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. 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. Elkanah her husband would say to her, "Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don't you eat? Why are you [so] downhearted? Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?
Let me set it up for you slightly. This is a Levitical family that lived in Ephraim. The Levites were scattered all over the country in forty-eight cities. It’s important to note that they were Levites, because Samuel becomes a priest, and so the priestly family was the Levitical family. Now, we have here a godly man, and he has two wives. Polygamy is tolerated in the Old Testament, but it is never displayed for us without all the accompanying heartache that goes with it. God’s intent from the beginning was one man and one woman, and I think this passage supports that, as well.
Hannah’s name meant “grace” or “favor.” The thing about Hannah that we know was the cause of great suffering was that she was barren. In the culture of that time, that was devastating. You see, God promised to bless his people when they were in the land, and one of his forms of blessing was children. So, if a person did not have children—if a woman did not have children--and obviously Hannah was the one at fault, because her husband had children, that meant several things. First off, it meant that it was a reproach. It was the kind of thing where all your neighbors said, “Well, there’s really something wrong with her, because if she weren’t a sinner then she would have children.” It meant that her personal worth, which was so dependant on her function, was diminished, because she did not function in the only way a woman should function: that was to give sons to her husband.
What do think this did for her? What do you think she felt like personally? Something is wrong with her. Rejected, certainly, by society, at least behind peoples’ backs. Failure to do her duty by her husband. What else? What about her self-esteem? And to top it off, it was compounded by this lovely rival she that she had in her house! You would think, with all of the children that Peninnah had, that she could have been gracious, wouldn’t you? Why do you think she did this to Hannah, from the passage? She was jealous of her. Why? Because Elkanah loved Hannah anyway! You see? Even with all these children—year after year she must have had a baby—she could not get her husband’s love.
Really, this is not a very, very happy home, but it’s a godly home. Certainly, in that day, it was exemplary, because year after year, this man went up. Now, three times a year the men of Israel were to go to where the tabernacle was. When Joshua brought the people into the land, he set the tabernacle up at Shiloh. Ramah, where they lived, is fifteen miles north of Jerusalem, and Shiloh is fifteen miles north of Ramah, so we’re talking about a fifteen-mile trek, which is a good day’s journey, that they made to go to sacrifice to the Lord where the tabernacle was.
There’s a little note here: Hophni and Phinehas—we’re going to meet them a little bit later--were the priests. Now, one of the sacrifices that was offered--this was probably the Feast of Tabernacles that this incident takes place in—one of the sacrifices that was offered was the peace or the fellowship sacrifice. What happened was this: they would offer the sheep, or the lamb, or the goat to the Lord, and then a part of it would go to the priest. The breast and the right thigh would go to the priest, and then the fat and all of that would be burned before the Lord, and then the rest of it would be eaten by the family. It was like God was saying, “Have a party on me. Have fellowship with me.” And they all ate it. Now, the older son would get a double portion.
In this case, what did this man do? He gave that to Hannah. He gave her a double portion, and what was he really saying? “Even you don’t have a son, you are so special to me that I want everyone to know that I love you.” I mean, I think that was really neat, don’t you? Especially in those days, it was really unusual for him to show such favor, regardless of her barren state. He really personally loved her.
I want you to notice a limitation. Elkanah was limited. He could not enter into her suffering. Why not? He had children. That’s exactly the point! And I love verse 8. He says, “Why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Am I not worth ten sons to you?” What was really her answer? “No!” Do you see that?
I think this is significant, because I think, especially in this day when we’re hearing so many great success stories that if you do this and you do this, your husband will turn out perfect! He will be a great communicator. He will meet all your needs. You won’t need any women friends. You won’t need anything; you just will have him and that will be enough. That is a lot of baloney, or malarkey, because there is a point beyond which men cannot go. I think we have to face it. The very, very unusual man may be able to, but no one really can really enter into the emotional make-up of a woman but a woman.
That’s why it’s so important for us to have good friends—Christian friends—that we can share with. Don’t have unrealistic expectations about your husband. It’s not fair to burden him with the job of meeting every little emotional need--listening to every little story you want to tell. Have you ever tried to tell your husband something, and you’re going into every little detail, and he’s saying, “Well, get to the point!” You want to tell the whole thing, because you want to relish every little incident! They are made so differently! Now, a lot of them can change and do change under the Spirit’s control and guidance. But I think we start off with a much better perspective if we don’t expect from them what is going to be very hard for them to deliver. This man, as much as he loved her, could not relate at all to what she was suffering, simply because it wasn’t a need that he had.
We find Hannah at the point where there is no human help available, no emotional support, and whose fault is this whole thing? God’s. How do we know it’s God’s fault? It says it twice! It says, “The Lord closed her womb in verse six, and it says it in one other spot—verse 5. Twice, “The Lord closed her womb.” This was God’s fault. There were no second causes. God planned her suffering! Now that’s hard to take! You see, a lot of us think, “Well, this just sort of slipped by God and he didn’t know it was going to happen,” but God directly planned that she suffer in this way.
I think every one of us in our lives, if we can look back, or even at the moment, have areas that we have no control over--no victory in. God has allowed us this area of weakness and defeat that we constantly fail in, and we are powerless in our own strength to change it. Why does God bring us to that place? What do we do as long as we can handle it? We handle it! And we never know his power! And we never call on him. When is it that we really call on him? When we’re desperate, isn’t that right? And when every other resource has gone--and God allows that! We come to an end of our rope, and you know what we find at the end of our rope? God! And God brought her to this place.
Someone has said--I think it was E. Margaret Clarkson— that pain, rightly used, increases our capacity for God. And the greater the capacity, the more we will be filled with him. And that’s God’s purpose for suffering: so that we get to know Him better and love him more!
Well, the time for the yearly sacrifice was here. 1 Samuel 1:9: “Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the LORD's temple.”
You see, Hannah had to come to a decision: was this status quo going to go on forever? Was she forever just going to see Peninnah having one baby after another and she having none; and was she going to be satisfied with that? Or was she going to make an all-out commitment to the Lord and go for broke? She’d come to the end of her resources, and so she comes before the Lord. Now look at verse 11. I’m going to read v. 11-16, and I want you to notice the words that describe her emotional state.
She made a vow, saying, “O LORD Almighty …” (v. 11). This expression I want to just explain a little. It appears in verse 3. It’s the word “Lord of Hosts.” It is used particularly. It is never used in the first five books of the Bible. It’s never used in Joshua. It’s never used in Judges. It’s rare in the Psalms. It is speaking of God as the helper of Israel and the comfort to Israel in time of distress and failure. And see, Hannah personally was in a time of distress and failure, so she uses this expression. She says:
“O LORD of Hosts, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me [The word “remember” means “do something about my misery”], 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 she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, "How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine."
“Not so, my lord," Hannah replied, "I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief."
Now, what words describe her emotional state? Just call them out, from the passage. “Anguish.” “Grief.” “I’m not a worthless woman.” What else? “Sorrowful spirit.” “Troubled.” “Distressed.” “Bitterness of soul.” “Pouring out her heart to the Lord.” Now, what kind of a prayer do you think this was? Was this an “O LORD, bless everybody” prayer? “Bless my family; bless me”? What was this? This was from the heart and this is an honest prayer. You know what I think she told the Lord? I think she said, “LORD, it’s not fair. LORD, I’m jealous. LORD, I hate Peninnah. She’s so mean to me!” I think she said everything she was feeling--and you know what? That does not upset God.
Some of us, when we come to pray, are so afraid to be honest. We’re afraid to say to the Lord what we’re really feeling--that we don’t think it’s fair. Why do they always have all the financial resources that they need and we are always hanging on the cliff of despair? Why do their children live and mine die? Why do they have a healthy family and we have diseases, one after another? I think we should come to God and say, “Lord, it just doesn’t seem fair! I’m bitter! I’m angry!”
I think it’s very important to be honest with God and to tell him how you’re feeling. Why? He knows anyway, so it’s no surprise! He knows anyway, but you know what? It does you good to tell him! If you read the Psalms, you’ll find David just says all kinds of things! If you read Job, you’ll find Job says all kinds of things to God. God doesn’t seem to be blown away by it! And then he just moves in with his reassurance and his comfort. David will start off a Psalm saying, how fearful and desperate he was, but then he ends it with a strong statement of trust in the Lord for deliverance. I think being honest with God about our emotions is very good for us, as long as we go right on into faith, and this is what God wants from us.
Now, Hannah was very honest with the Lord. She told him just what she was thinking, and I think God wants us to do the same kind of thing. Now let me ask you something. Why had she wanted a child before this great confrontation with God? What were her reasons? For herself--to be vindicated as a woman, and for her own pleasure. Are those bad reasons? No! What else? To please her husband. What else? Yes, to shut up Peninnah’s mouth and everyone else who reproached her. What else? What about her own sense of worth? It would certainly help, wouldn’t it? You see, basically, all of those motives are based on human pride, aren’t they? They are subtle, but they are there, and they’re not bad reasons.
But, you know, I believe that sometimes we want to be rescued from an intolerable situation--it might be a besetting sin; it might be our own personal suffering that no one knows about. But lots of times our reasons are the same. It’s for our self-esteem. It’s so that we’ll be accepted by others. It’s for our personal happiness. It’s to be vindicated as a good Christian. But see, those motives are really not quite good enough for God. There is one motive that pleases God. It’s the same motive that Jesus had.
In John 17:4, Jesus said in his great prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” “I have glorified you,” he said. Now in 1 Corinthians 6, we learn that that’s supposed to be what we do. First Corinthians 6:19-20: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor [or glorify] God with your body.”
You might be thinking, “Well, I glorify him when I come to church, or I teach a Bible class,” but in 1 Cor 10:31 it says: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” That is the motive that moves God’s heart. Now the word “glory” gets me kind of confused sometimes. I think of glory as the great brightness of God; but when it says to “glorify God,” it simply means “let God be revealed out of your life.”
When people look at you—when they look at how you live, how you handle sorrow, how you discipline your life, how you relate to your husband, how you relate to your children, how you minister in the church--they see God at work, and all that’s really all God expects of any of us! That’s why he’s left us here—so that he can be seen in our lives! You see, he could have sent angels! Periodically, once a year, we could have we could have a great mass of angels singing to God’s glory, and everybody would believe on God. He didn’t choose that. He chose to live in human bodies—our human bodies—otherwise, he could have just taken us straight to heaven and made it a whole lot easier for most of us!
Hannah’s motives were so purified that her selfish reasons were gone and she had the big picture. Did you notice what she said in verse 11? “If you give me a son, I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life.” Now, a Levite served from the age of 25 to 50, and he retired. Twenty-five years. But she is saying, “Not twenty-five years, Lord. Give me a son and you can have him all of his life—every single day of his life.” And then she said, “No razor will ever come to his head.” Well, what is the significance of that? You see, this was the Nazirite vow.
She didn’t even have a child conceived yet, but she made up her mind that if she had a child, he would be a Nazirite. Now a Nazirite was someone fully separated or set apart for God. There were three things that a Nazirite could not do. He was never to cut his hair (remember Samson?), he was never to touch anything dead, and he was never to drink from the fruit of the vine. Three things. And she’s really saying, “I’m going to give this child, this son, back to you.”
She wanted a son because, of course, a son carried on the father’s name, but a son would be one who could serve the Lord in the tabernacle. And so, she says, “I want a son.” She’s very specific. “I’ll give him back to you all the days of his life, and I’m going to let everyone know visibly of my personal commitment to you, regarding this child.” There was no secret vow. This wasn’t something where she thought in her heart, “Well, I’m going to say this to the Lord, but if it gets tough and I want to back out later, nobody will know!” That’s not familiar? None of us ever does that?
I remember when I was going to go to seminary and I was so excited about it! I thought I could hardly wait to get there! Of course, my friends all knew I was going, and everybody was saying, “What are you doing this for? You’re crazy!” I would say, “Oh, I just know I’m going to love it! It’s going to be such a challenge!” I got there the very first day, and anyone who has ever gone will tell you that the first day is devastating, because all you do is go from one class the other, where each teacher tells you what you are required to do for the whole semester. And so, you go into one class, and you find that in this class you have to write seven papers, and in this class you write five papers, and in this class you have two exams and three papers--and I had never written a paper of that kind ever before. I came home and my kids were all excited, saying “How was it, Mom?” I can still see myself! I stuck my head down and said, “If everybody didn’t know I was going, I would quit today!”
You see, it’s easy to quit when nobody knows! And yet, she let everybody know that this child was going to be different, and the way he looked would show it, as well. Now look what happens. I want you to notice a couple of other things. It says a lot for the condition of Israel, that Eli thought she was drunk. That must have been not an uncommon thing, and she had to defend herself. So we see here also that she didn’t even have any pastoral support. She had no spiritual support of any kind. This was her and God and nobody else. Her husband wasn’t involved. In fact, that’s an interesting point. We’ll pick that up in a minute. Her spiritual leader couldn’t even relate to her.
And you know, sometimes with us, it’s got to be us and God. Sometimes no one else will understand why you have made this step or why you have made this commitment. It’s just you and God, and it may have to be all there is for you for a while, until God vindicates you.
Now Eli blesses her. He says, “Go in peace. May the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” It was a blessing. It was almost prophetic. And then she answers, “’May your servant find favor in your eyes.’ Then she went her way, ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.” How come? What had happened to change her? What circumstances were different? None! Do you realize she prayed, she wept, she made her vow, and she walked out not knowing whether God was going to take her up on it or not, and yet she was at peace inside. What does that tell us about her? She believed God! Her faith gave her that joy. She trusted God regardless.
You know, I often think many times we say, “Well, I’m gonna trust God if he does this for me. I’ll believe in him if he pulls me out of this.” But do you remember those three Hebrew young men who were there at the edge of the fiery furnace and Nebuchadnezzar says to them, “If you don’t bow down to my image I’m going to throw you into the burning fiery furnace, and what god will deliver you out of my hand?” And they said, “Our God can deliver us, O King. But if not, we still will not bow down to your image.”
I think in all of our hearts--and God knows it--there has to be a “but if not.” There has to be “Lord, this is what I really want—I don’t want my mother to have cancer! I don’t want my child to have leukemia! I don’t want my husband to lose his business, his job. I don’t want our home to go down the tube in foreclosure, but if not—I still am going to trust you. I still know that you are going to take care of our family. It’ll have to be different from what we expected, but we still trust you!” I don’t think that’s too much to ask of those of us who know the Lord, do you? God has to bring us to that place to sift out the wheat from the chaff, I think, in our lives.
Well, let’s go back to the text, 1 Samuel 1:19-20:
Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the LORD and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah lay with Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, "Because I asked the LORD for him."
His name was a testimony. The name means, “heard of God.” Every time his name his name was called, you could remember he was prayed for. His appearance was a testimony. His little hair grew longer and longer, and it was never cut. And I believe his training was a testimony. Now in that day, weaning took place at about three years--maybe a little longer, but not much more. She had him three to four years, and that was it. What do you think she taught him? If you only knew that you had that little boy for three to four years, what would you teach him? What would you want him to know if you knew he was going to leave you forever? What would you teach him? That he was prayed for, and that he was an answer to prayer, and therefore, what would he know about his mother? That she loved him; that he was very much loved and very much wanted.
What else would she have taught him? What do you think she said to him when he came in and said, “How come I can’t get a butch haircut like Jimmy down the street?” What do you think? “You’re special, because the way your hair is tells everybody that you are going to serve God all your life. What else? What do you think she would prepare him for? For leaving her! She would have to use all that time to build into him a love for God and a trust in God, and know that she would not be there to help him.
Now I am going to ask you something that I have asked myself. Do you think she ever thought of changing her mind? What would you have done? I mean, it’s great to think about what you would do if you had children. But when you have them, there’s something different, isn’t there? I remember before I was married being in the home of somebody who had absolutely impossible children! They were so unruly, and I thought to myself, “If my kid ever acted like that I’d kill ‘im.” You know what I found out when I had children? That I had a love for my own children that I didn’t have for theirs.
It’s easy to imagine what you’d be like, but it’s very different when they are yours. I think that she certainly must have thought, “Well, I ….” What would her excuses have been? What excuses would you have made? He’s my only one! I think she could have said, “I can’t give him up! I was distraught when I said that to you! You understand, don’t you? I really was a little out of my mind!” Pleading insanity—you know, this type of thing!
I want you to look at 2:12. “Eli’s sons were wicked men. They had no regard for the LORD.” What they did was they despised and dishonored the Lord’s sacrifices. Then look at 2:17. “This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD’s sight, for they were treating the LORD’s offering with contempt.” And then look at 2:22: “Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.” They despised the Lord’s sacrifices and they were immoral, and they were priests of the Lord.
Now, that was the biggie! “Lord, how can I take Samuel to live in such an immoral environment when Eli wasn’t even a good father to his own sons?” You see, Eli was a better father than he was a priest. Not really better. God accused him of loving his sons more than he loved the Lord. You see, he should have not only rebuked his sons, which he did, but he should have kicked them out of the priesthood, and he didn’t. As a result, if you read the rest of it, God eliminated Eli’s family totally from the priesthood forever. God brought the punishment that Eli wouldn’t do. But she could have said, “How can I trust my child to such a bad environment?”
I think a lot of Christian couples are asking the same question today! They say, “We don’t want to have children. Such a terrible world to bring them into!” What do you think the New Testament world was like? You see, we have to trust God that in the midst of all the evil around us, he can give us wisdom, keep us faithful, and raise our children to serve him. If Christians don’t have children, who is going to be the next generation in the church? Who are going to be the leaders? Who are going to be the missionaries? You see, we can’t use this as an excuse, and she could have.
Notice what happens in 1 Samuel 1:21-23:
When the man Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the LORD and to fulfill his vow, Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, "After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the LORD, and he will live there always."
"Do what seems best to you," Elkanah her husband told her. "Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the LORD make good his word." So the woman stayed at home and nursed her son until she had weaned him.
Now there’s something missing in this whole story. What is it that you notice that may be bothering you a little. She hasn’t had the child yet, but she says, “When I have him, I’m going to give him away for life.” What’s missing? She didn’t say, “I’ll give him to you if Elkanah lets me.” I’m not going to turn to it because of the time, but I’d like you to turn to it when you get home. It is Numbers 30, starting at verse 10. In that passage, you will find that God gives permission to women in Israel to make a vow to him. It is because God knows we are in the framework of submission; it is controlled by this. It says that if your husband, in the day he hears of it, says nothing, the vow stands. If, later, he says, “No, I don’t want you to do it,” you are released from your vow. You get credit, of course, for having wanted to do it. If later he says, after he’s heard it, but later says, “I don’t want you to do it,” you are released from your vow, but your husband bears your iniquity.
You see? So, what this tells us is that God allowed for women in that day to relate to him, to have access to him, to give themselves in acts of devotion. It wasn’t just the father, and the mother had nothing. God made provision for that. And you’ll notice that he fulfilled his vow. He took her vow for his own.
Now let’s see what happens. 1 Sam 1:24-28:
After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with [either this is a three-year-old bull or three bulls (the manuscripts vary on this), a bushel] of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh. When they had slaughtered the bull, they brought the boy to Eli, and she said to him, "As surely as you live, my lord, 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. So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD." And he worshiped the LORD there.
Now why did she bring a bull, or three bulls? Goodness, she was giving the most precious thing she had. Wouldn’t that be enough? What did Hannah and Elkanah realize that a lot of us forget? That you do not come to God on the basis of what you do for him. You come to God first and you have your sins dealt with. Every Old Testament sacrifice was a picture of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who would one day die and shed his blood for the sins of the world. You did not come into the presence of a holy God with any gift and think you were doing him a favor. You came first with a blood sacrifice to take care of your sin, and then you offered whatever else you wanted to, to God.
In this case, whether they offered a sin offering first or not with the other bulls we don’t know, but this was the consecration offering for Samuel. It was a burnt offering. What they did--if you want to read about it in Leviticus 1, you can find it. What they did was, they skinned the animal, they cut it up in pieces, they washed the insides and the legs and laid it on the altar, and all of it was burned. None of it was eaten. None of it was given to the priest. All of it was burned. Why was this called a consecration offering, a burnt offering? What did that indicate? Every bit of it was for God. It’s a perfect picture of Jesus Christ! When he died, all of him, body, soul, and spirit, was given for us. And she was giving all of Samuel for all his life to God, and that’s exactly what she did.
If you think that you can earn Brownie points with God because you’ve given up a lot for him, or you work a lot, or you do good deeds, you’ve missed the whole point of the Bible. The whole point of Scripture is that we can do nothing to please God until we take from God what he has done to make us acceptable. That is, he has given us his Son. We must take him as our Savior. When you trust Jesus Christ as your Savior, then you become God’s child. Then the Holy Spirit lives within you. You’ve been given a divine nature. Your sins are forgiven. Now you are to serve God. Now you are to give yourself back to God for his exclusive use. This is what she did with Samuel. “I give him to God for his whole life.” And then she left there, went home and cried. Is that what it says? (Laughter.)
Hannah’s song in chapter 2, which I wish we could read, is so beautiful and so filled with joy that Mary’s song, when she received word that she would have the Savior, is borrowed a lot from it.
1 Sam 2:1. Right from the beginning, she said:
"My heart rejoices in the LORD;
in the LORD my horn is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemy. [Who’s that? Peninnah!]
for I delight in your deliverance.”
And then she goes on: “There’s no one like you” (v. 2). And then she ends the song by giving a prophetic utterance. Notice this:
"He will give strength to his king
and exalt the horn of his anointed."
The word “anointed” is the word in the Hebrew, “Messiah.” This is the first time that the Messiah is referred to. This is very fitting! Her son would become the one who anointed the first two kings of Israel, and introduced the Davidic dynasty from which the Messiah would come. It’s all very suitable, very fitting, right here. Now notice, Samuel stays with Eli, verse 11: “… Elkanah went home to Ramah, but the boy ministered before the LORD under Eli the priest [in that awful environment].”
Look at 1 Sam 2:18-21:
But Samuel was ministering before the LORD-a boy wearing a linen ephod. [This was a little short tunic that the priests wore.] 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. Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, "May the LORD give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the LORD." Then they would go home. And the LORD was gracious to Hannah [grace is the meaning of her name, and this is a play on words]; she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the LORD.
How many did she ask for? One! How many did she get? Six! Do you ever think you can outgive God? She went there every year and never took him home; never rescinded her vow; never went back on her commitment. You know, I wish I could say that was the same with me! Do you ever make commitments to the Lord? “I am going to have a quiet time twice a week!” “I am going to do this, and then it just dribbles away and by the year’s end there’s just nothing, and you get so discouraged that you don’t want to start again? Never give up! Go right back to your point of failure and start all over again. God doesn’t mind. God will welcome you. He doesn’t really expect you to do anything apart from him. Just come back to your point of commitment and keep on going. Eli would bless her, and she had additional children.
But notice, all this time, 1 Sam 2:26, “… Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and with men.” Now, let me ask you; let’s go back to our big question. Why had she endured these long years of suffering and reproach, this fruitlessness, this loss of self-esteem? Why did God bring that into her life? Well, you see, Israel was in trouble. This was the time of the judges. The end of Judges says, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” They were breaking the Mosaic covenant. They were sinning, they were turning to idols. There was no good leadership. Eli was a weak man—a good man himself, but a weak leader—and God needed a man to lead his people in righteousness. But first he needed a mother who would be willing to raise her son and to give him to God.
Hannah’s influence was absolutely immeasurable on her nation. Hannah gave Israel a son that turned the nation around. Bible scholars say Samuel turned the nation. It was Samuel that brought them back to righteousness. It was Samuel that anointed the first king; Samuel that anointed the second king; Samuel who became the last judge and the first prophet. Israel needed a man, and God gave him to them, but he gave him the mother that would be so committed to God that she wanted her son to serve him. God still needs mothers like that! God still needs children like that!
What did Hannah personally learn about God from her suffering? What did she learn about him? She learned to depend on him. What did she learn about his relationship to her? He listened to her; he answered her prayer. What did this prove about him? That he loved her! That he loved her and that he was interested in every detail of her life. That he accepted her! She experienced his power and his fruitfulness, and she learned that her truest joy was in God alone. That’s what her song said: “I rejoice in the Lord!” And while we focus on people and on things, we miss the whole point! Only God can fill our heart with permanent joy, and she found this. She became a bold witness for him. In every way, everybody won—everybody but Peninnah. Israel won; Hannah won; Elkanah won--he had another son by his beloved wife. He had six children by his beloved wife, and God got the glory!
Let’s look at just some principles we can learn about suffering from the story of Hannah. When we suffer in the will of God—now, of course, some suffering comes as a consequence of sin in our own lives, and even that God can use. You can think of some of the things that have happened to you because of bad choices, because of rebellion, and God still can use it. But when we suffer as she obviously did (there doesn’t seem to be any reason for it), it will not diminish, but expand us in every way. You may think your life is shriveling up to nothing, but that’s not what’s going to happen.
The next thing we need to know is that suffering will not abort God’s plans for us, but will fulfill us in every way. It’s suffering that brings us to maturity. It tells us that in James 1! We never become mature without suffering.
Third, (and this is wonderful) suffering is controlled by God’s sovereignty and God’s mercy. He never takes us beyond what we can bear. That’s what 1 Corinthians 10:13 says! He may either give us the ability to endure or the way to escape.
The next one is that suffering ends. Isn’t that wonderful? It ends in God’s deliverance, one way or another. Remember Abigail? God got rid of Nabal, finally. She endured, and then God just zapped him, and that was the end of Nabal; and then she married David.
This is an important one: God cares for us and about us and our suffering, even though we may not feel it. This is something that we really need to remember: the person who is going through real heartache very often feels alienated from God. Many times they can’t pray. This is when we have to move in and really help them out and pray for them and be with them.
Our suffering can be a source of God’s blessing to others, as certainly Hannah’s was. Think of people like Corrie ten Boom and all of these others that have really gone through terrible suffering and have been such blessings.
And, our suffering, just like Hannah’s can bring glory to God. We know people right in this church that this has happened to. If you are right now going through something that has just been unbearable for you and you are ready to throw in the towel, let me close with this verse: 1 Peter 5:10-11:
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.