Today’s reading is 1 Samuel 5:1-7:17, John 6:1-21, Psalm 106:13-31, Proverbs 14:32-33, however, today I am playing catch-up. I am back in 1 Samuel 1.
Longing … it is a feeling with which we can all relate. For all of us there has been a season of life filled with that desperate, empty feeling in the pit of our stomachs. We go on about life, but there are very few moments we find rest from the longing. We must learn to reach up to God in the midst of our longing. In today’s reading we find a woman who dealt with feelings of desperate longing year after year. Her name was Hannah.
Now, we can label our longings with different names, but the feelings are usually the same. The name of Hannah’s longing was Children. The source of her longing stemmed from an ugly word that was far-reaching in its repercussions. In those days, it was called “barrenness”. Today, we refer to it as infertility. Many of you may relate to that source of longing. Honestly, I have not, but I have walked beside friends who have, and have partnered in their burden. As I studied the story of Hannah, I realized that it matters not what the source of longing is, the Source of Fulfillment is the same … life in Christ. So, as we study the story of one particular woman’s longing, I want you to fill in your own blank. My longing is ____. What is it? What has it been? It matters not how you fill in the blank, because the lessons we can learn from Hannah’s story will still apply. Let’s look at it together…
There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 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 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. (1 Samuel 1:1-5)
Year after year he went to worship and sacrifice to God. Year after year…this was not just a short-term problem. This was something that haunted her. And it affected her relationship with God. Each year they went to worship and sacrifice. This was a huge part of their lives. This was their chance to be close to God. You see, this was before Jesus died. And sacrifices were still necessary for a relationship with God. So Elkanah would give his wives and children each a portion to sacrifice. Peninnah had children, so there were several portions on her side of the family score card. Elkanah loved Hannah, and felt sorry for her, so he gave her a double portion. But she still had less. She had less to offer to her God. In her mind, she was unacceptable to God, and because the system based the allotment of sacrifices according to the number of children you had, she probably felt that she could never measure up.
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 downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”
Hannah could not heal or even accept her lot because there was a constant source of irritation, rubbing salt in her womb. And she could not escape it. The source of irritation came from her own household. And many, many tears were shed.
Let me stop right now and tell you about tears…In Revelations we learn that one day God Himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Psalm 56:8 tells us that He saves our tears in a bottle. Our tears are precious to the Lord. He sees and feels every one of them. And He has already done something about them. In Isaiah, as well as in 1Peter, we learn that “by His wounds we are healed”. He wants to heal whatever hurts you have. And He can, praise the Lord!
Often, the source of our longing or difficulties stem from our own households. Year after year we long for change in someone or something in our lives. Year after year it seems as if God is silent. My husband’s brother, Lee Hunter, was one of the kindest young men you could ever meet. He was loving and easy to talk to. But he always seemed drawn to trouble. He always wanted to push the limits. In college, he pushed further than he could handle, and ended up with a severe drug addiction. Year after year we all prayed. Year after year we attended family sessions for yet another rehab center. Year after year he made promises that he was unable to keep. We all longed for change, for the miracle of deliverance. The process of deliverance was disguised in tragedy. Lee Hunter had a terrible automobile accident which nearly killed him, and which left him crippled and forever changed. He had had diabetes since he was a child, and his unhealthy lifestyle over the years had contributed to complications in that area. While in rehab for physical therapy after his wreck, my father-in-law had the opportunity to share once again the truth of God’s amazing grace. Lee Hunter accepted Christ that day, and in the months following described his new life in the following way: “I feel like there is a river flowing inside of me.” What a beautiful description of what it feels like to be filled with the Spirit of the Living God. Three months later, Lee Hunter died from complications of diabetes. His funeral was a celebration that God had won! Year after year we had prayed. Year after year we had longed for change. And God had heard every prayer and seen every tear. And He answered. Lee Hunter is finally free!
In verse 8, we see that Elkanah, her husband, would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” Now, Elkanah sounds like a sweet man, and we are told that he did love Hannah very much, but he just didn’t get it. This did not have anything to do with him. This was about a longing that Elkanah couldn’t fill. Not just because he wasn’t a child, but because this was about her and God. Hannah felt abandoned by God. Hannah felt that this longing kept her away from God. And it broke her heart.
Our deepest needs can only be met by God. No one and nothing can fill us in our deepest parts. And it is really disappointing when we try to place other people or other things in that place of deepest need, because it never really meets the need. It might give us a temporary relief, but then we are back to where we started. Only a close relationship with Jesus can fill us up and meet our deepest needs.
“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. In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. And she made a vow, saying, “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon 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 began to make promises to the Lord. In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord. Have you ever wept ‘in bitterness of soul’? I have. And she made a vow saying, ‘O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant…” Do you see the main problem? She felt like God had forgotten her. Have you ever felt that way? I have. But then the Holy Spirit will whisper truth once again to me. God tells us in Isaiah, “Even if they forget, I will not forget you…” Hannah was most afraid that the Lord had forgotten her. She promised that if He gave her a son, she would turn around and give him right back. She was vowing that she would devote her son to be a Nazirite. As you remember, a Nazirite was a person who was especially devoted and consecrated and set apart for God’s purposes. A person could become a Nazirite in two ways: first, if the individual made a vow to become a Nazirite for a specified amount of time; and secondly, as a lifelong devotion following a vow made on their behalf by a parent before their birth. A Nazirite would typically be recognized not only by their apparent devotion to God, but also physically, as they did not cut their hair, come into contact with the dead, nor partake of any alcoholic products. This type of vow made by the parent typically followed a revelation from God which announced the birth of the child. When Hannah spoke this vow, she was speaking in faith. It had not been announced to her that she would now have a child. This was her mustard-seed faith in action.
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.”
Misunderstood. That is what Hannah was. Even in her ultimate moment of surrender, she was misunderstood by others. Eli saw her in her despair, and he assumed the worse. He assumed that she was in the temple, drunk with wine, because her emotion was so raw. He misunderstood in the very area in which she had made a vow to God. She was vowing to give everything to him, and yet was accused of being a sinful woman. But what really matters is that God understood, and in time, evidence was revealed of her pure heart and her faithful vow. God has defended her for thousands of years now as the evidence of His answer is there for all of us to see in His Word. He will come to our defense!
Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”
Why was it that Eli was there to see Hannah’s surrender? Because he was part of the ultimate plan. He would need to remember the scene in order to be a player in the next part. And Eli was used of God to send Hannah a powerful, prophetic word. The word that God had for Hannah that day was Peace. Go in Peace. Totally opposite of what she had been feeling year after year. Peace that passes understanding. And that is really what we all long for, isn’t it? We eventually come to a point that we long for peace more than anything else.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
Don’t worry about anything. Did you hear that? Anything. So whatever it is that you filled in the blank with a few minutes ago, please realize that even in that, God does not want you to be anxious.
But instead, pray about everything. Nothing is too small to talk to God about. You would laugh about some of the things that I pray about. Remember, if you think it, He knows it. So why not go ahead and talk to Him about it?
Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. There it is. What we really need. Peace in the midst of an impossible situation. Peace despite the reality. That does not mean we live in denial, or avoidance of the problem. It means that we look to Him, because nothing and no one else can help us. The world offers only momentary distraction. God offers perfect peace. “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” Isaiah 26:3 (NLT)
Eli said Go in peace … Go. There is action in that word. It’s as if God wanted Eli to give Hannah the permission to live. Sometimes our problems and longings are so heavy that they weigh us down, and we can’t move forward. I have seen people even feel guilty about living, really living, joyfully, in the midst of their problem. How can we live in the midst of our longing or heartache? By remembering Who God is… “For He himself is our Peace.” Ephesians 2:14 Peace is not found in a change of circumstances, or even in an answer to prayer. Peace is found in a Person, God Himself.