Aged Sages of Biblical Renown: Hannah: Called by God
Scripture: 1 Samuel 1:4-20
- Prelude – “I Know Whom I Have Believed,” arr. by Roger C. Wilson; Pauline Olsen, organist
- Welcome – Deacon Kathleen Charters
- Hymn 593 – “Here I Am, Lord,” by Dan Schutte; Dr. Jerry Wright, hymn leader; Donna Grubbs, pianist
- Special Music – “Imagine (how God can sing),” by John Jarvis and Phil McHugh; Patty Shoop, vocalist
- Scripture – 1 Samuel 1:4-20; Deacon Kathleen Charters
- Sermon – “Aged Sages of Biblical Renown: Hannah – Called by God;” Deacon Kathleen Charters
- Hymn 369 – “Blessed Assurance,” by Fanny J. Crosby; Dr. Jerry Wright, hymn leader; Donna Grubbs, pianist
- Postlude – “O That I Had a Thousand Voices Sing,” arr. by Roger C. Wilson; Pauline Olsen, organist
The story of Hannah is told by her son, Samuel, in the first chapter in the first book of Samuel. The setting is a small domestic scene with a tangle of relationships. Elkanah has two wives. There is Peninnah, who has borne him many children. There is Hannah, whose story begins in barrenness, in despair, and in humble prayer.
Last week, Pastor Brad shared the story of Mary, a caring Jewish mother who looks after her children and even the children of others. Pastor Brad ended his sermon with the question: “Is there someone with whom you might walk for a while and encourage to be more, to fill a call that they could answer to make them even more whole, transformed, loved, even more extravagant than they realize they could be?” Today’s story is about a woman who needed this encouragement but did not get it from her family or from the priest. Yet she was compelled to seek out and engage with God. She displays a spiritual sensitivity to the ways in which God is involved in and concerned about her life.
Think back on your life. Was there a time when you needed encouragement?
Examples of situations where you need encouragement might include broken dreams or harsh treatment by those close to you. Did you receive encouragement from your family and friends? Did you find compassion in seemingly hopeless circumstances? Was there grace offered by leaders in the church? Or did you find that the response you needed was not offered? Was there no safe place to be open and heard?
Hannah is barren; therefore, she is worthless. In the ancient world, being barren is viewed as a sign of divine punishment for sin or as God’s will. Female identity is tied to childbearing. There is stigma for women unable to conceive. Not being able to bear a child is a great shame.
Hannah is the favorite wife of Elkanah. He loves Hannah, even though the Lord has closed her womb. Elkanah gives Hannah a double portion when he sacrifices during the festival. His second wife, Peninnah, reacts viciously. The two wives are rivals, and Peninnah provokes and irritates Hannah. The holiday seasons and rituals magnify this family’s disharmony. Year after year, Hannah is humiliated. Hannah is so upset by her inability to bear a child and at the way she is treated, she weeps and will not eat.
Elkanah tries to comfort Hannah in her grief, but his questions seem dismissive of her loss. He essentially tells Hannah she should count her blessings, not focus on her loss. But the reality is that when Elkanah dies, if she has no child to care for her, she may starve or be forced into prostitution to survive.
Hannah goes to the temple to be in God’s presence. She goes past the priest, Eli. Hannah is in pain and she is angry. She comes to God in loneliness, isolation, and despair. She prays a prayer of groaning, to a God who has concern for those of questionable cultural worth. Hannah does not just ask and promise in her prayer, she also grieves, meditates, murmurs, and stands silent. She brings her fears and anxieties, broken dreams, and audacious hope before God. Hannah lays bare her emotion and her pain. In grief, she bargains with God. Hannah wants a son. If God will remember her, Hannah will dedicate her son to God’s service. Her promise is extraordinary. The vow of a Nazarite included 1) abstinence from alcohol; 2) no cutting of hair; and 3) no defilement through touching a corpse. Usually, such a vow was taken only for a limited period of time. Hannah promises her child will be set apart for the service of the Lord until the day of his death.
While Hannah is earnestly praying, the priest, Eli, misreads her. He assumes she is drunk. Eli’s thoughtless reprimand shows his lack of understanding. Hannah explains she is not drunk with the ferocity of someone with nothing to lose. She is anxious to not be seen as worthless. Eli offers her a blessing, but it is perfunctory. Hannah’s faithfulness is a stark contrast to Eli’s lack of discernment and lack of compassion.
Hannah is a human being who is known and loved by God. God is present to her, responsive, and close-by. God is full of grace and full of compassion for her. She is empowered by her intimate connection with God. Hannah’s connection with God transforms her even before she conceives. Hannah returns to her quarters and is sad no longer. God remembers her, and Hannah does conceive and bear a child. She names him Samuel, because she asked for him from the Lord.
Let us return to the question Pastor Brad asked, “Is there someone with whom you might walk for a while and encourage to be more, to fill a call that they could answer to make them even more whole, transformed, loved, even more extravagant than they realize they could be?” Hannah needed this, but did not get it from Peninnah, who instead provoked and irritated her. Hannah did not get this from her husband, Elkanah, who was dismissive of her loss. Hannah did not get this from the priest, Eli, who lacked discernment and compassion.
Hannah is an aged sage because she was willing to engage directly with God. The only relationship she had that allowed her to unburden herself was her relationship with God. As a result of this relationship, Hannah experienced barrenness and fertility, a closed womb and an opened womb, intense grief and ecstatic prayer, cultural limitations, and graced existence. All of these things were made possible through extraordinary faith.
Both Hannah and Mary are models of faithfulness. Both Hannah and Mary are unlikely mothers to give birth to great men. Hannah’s son Samuel anointed kings. Mary’s son Jesus is the King of Kings.
Given this extraordinary story, what lessons can we apply to our lives? Hannah shows us how to come before God in our vulnerability. The divine response to Hannah’s distress shows us God’s compassion for those who suffer unjustly at the hands of others.
On the other hand, we also know what is not helpful. We know we should guard against bullying such as the way Peninnah treated Hannah. We know we should not dismiss grief such as the way Elkanah responded to Hannah’s grief. We know we should not be inept such as the way Eli lacked the skills to discern the distress Hannah was revealing to God. With God’s help, we can treat one another better than Peninnah, Elkanah, and Eli treated Hannah.