SUNDAY, MAY 13, 2018
I Samuel 1 – The Heart of a Mother
In a country where the divorce rate is growing so rapidly, in some states, divorces outnumber marriages each year; in a country where the father is often absent due to desertion or career; in a country of TV, computer or video game babysitters; in a country where couples are choosing to live together at increasingly higher rates; in a country where marriage has been redefined or altogether dismissed; in a country where family values are being attacked by social and immoral agendas; I say to you this morning, the family is still good and right before God. After all, family was His idea.
Being part of a family, having children or being parents, is still a good thing. Even as we go through seasons of life that bring challenges in family relationships, those relationships are still good. And sometimes, we need to be reminded of that. What better day than today, Mother’s Day – set aside to celebrate our mothers, and rightfully so. To say thank you for the sacrifices they’ve made and the roles they have played in our lives.
Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, are really times to celebrate family. So in that way, today is for all of us, for whether you’re a mother or not, you’ve all had one. It reminds me of a poster I saw once saw, “Having children is hereditary – if you’re parents didn’t have any, chances are you won’t either.”
With all that in mind, I want to take a break from Hebrews and share with you from I Samuel 1. It’s a story with which most of us are familiar, but I hope to draw out some principles from Hannah’s life that will encourage and challenge you as mothers, and parents. If you’re not a parent this morning – that’s okay, it’s good for you to know what’s expected of your parents. And, if your children are already grown, or you are without children, that’s also okay – perhaps you’ll be able to encourage others with these principles.
Allow me to give you a little background into the book as we begin. It is a rather dismal time in Israel’s history. We are actually still in the period of the judges, an almost 400 year span described for us in the book of Judges. The period is depicted as a time when there was no king in Israel, and everyone did that which was right in his own eyes. It was a time of spiritual apostasy, when we are told repeatedly the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, forsaking Him to serve other gods. Their sin, described for us in the last five chapters of the book, had sunk to the depths of rape, kidnapping, murder, tribal genocide. It was an awfultime.
Just when it seemed the nation would cave in on its own rottenness, God intervened. He offered hope – through the prayers of a would-be mother and her child to be born – a child by the name of Samuel. Samuel was undoubtedly one of the greatest heroes of Israel’s history – in part, because of the faithfulness of his mother. I read a really good book this week by Tim Challies entitled, Devoted – Great Men and their Godly Moms. It tells the story of many Hannahs and Samuels. Men who had great mothers. In fact, he begins the book with thesewords:
“You may have heard the phrase before: Behind every great man there’s a great woman….But here’s the surprise: Sometimes that great woman is not behind the man, but before him. Sometimes that great woman is not his wife, but his mother.”
Such was the case with Hannah and Samuel. God will use Samuel to bring about some degree of spiritual revival in the land. He will anoint the first and second kings of Israel, the second being King David. He was used greatly by God. How about you? Do you want your son, your daughter, to be used greatly by God? While, ultimately that’s in God’s hands, He has ordained the means. And He uses godly parents like Hannah to produce the next generation – the generation that will impact this world for Christ. So let’s look at the birth of Samuel to see what we can learn today. The outline of the text goes likethis:
- Hannah’s Barrenness(1-8)
- Hannah’s Bargain(9-18)
- Hannah’s Blessing(19-28)
Let’s read those first 8 versestogether.
We are told there was a certain man named Elkanah, an Ephraimite, who had two wives, one called Hannah, and the other, Peninnah. Now, it was important to a Hebrew man that his posterity, his name be preserved through a male heir. So, it’s likely Elkanah took a second wife, Peninnah, after his first wife, Hannah, was barren. At the outset, let me say on this Mother’s Day, that neither I nor scripture are advocating polygamy, that is, having more than one wife. It was neither God’s plan, nor is it wise. When God created man, He created them male and female, one man – one woman. In ancient cultures, including Israel, for economic reasons, polygamy was thought to be necessary. However, God said in Genesis 2, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, not father and mothers, and be joined to his wife, not wives, and they, the two, not three, shall become one flesh.” More than one wife almost always caused problems, even in the Bible, as we’ll see with this trio. I know that doesn’t have to do much with Mother’s Day, I just want to make sure you’re the only mother in your family.
We read this Elkanah, despite his marital indiscretion, went up year after year to offer sacrifices to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh. You see, the Israelite men were required to appear before God at the tabernacle at least three times a year to celebrate three feasts: The Feast of Unleavened Bread, The Feast of Harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering. But remember, we are in the midst of national idolatry. All over the place, people were forsaking God and serving the gods of the Canaanites – the Baals and theAshteroths.
But, we see Elkanah faithfully worshipped the true God. It is encouraging to know that though the nation had forsaken Him, God had preserved a remnant of His worshippers – and from one such couple would come a little boy who would change the course of the whole nation. Today, we, too, live in a country where, like this period of the Judges, everyone is forsaking God and doing that which is right in their own eyes. But we can trust God has preserved a remnant of true believers, and we must be careful to pass His truth on to the next generation of Samuels. Who knows what God may throughthem.
Well, we are also told whenever the day came for sacrifice, Elkanah would do a couple of things. First, he would give portions of meat to his wife Peninnah as well as all her children. While that doesn’t sound too special, you need to understand this was an agricultural society, so a gift of meat was a special thing. But, second, he would give a double portion to Hannah. This was quite significant – it didn’t mean that Hannah was a hefty woman and needed extra provisions. We are told he did this because he loved her. It would be like giving a dozen roses to one wife on mother’s day, and two dozen to the other. It sent a strong message, and it caused problems.
Hannah and Peninnah became rivals. Peninnah would provoke Hannah – make fun of her because of her barrenness, just to irritate her – the word literally means to “thunder against.” And you can imagine the taunts as she thundered against her. No doubt, something like, “The problem isn’t Elkanah – I’ve given him children. The problem must be you. What kind of woman are you that you can’t have children?” Perhaps she even reminded Hannah of Deuteronomy 7 which says fruitfulness was a result of the Lord’s blessing. Maybe, she said, you’re cursed by God. At any rate, we are told this taunting went on year after year. Can you imagine? Some of you can, as you have faced personalbarrenness.
Why, exactly, was Hannah barren? Because the Lord had closed her womb – did you notice that in verse 5? God had prevented her from having children. I don’t think we can take this passage to say every time a woman is childless it is because the Lord has actively caused barrenness. And yet, there do seem to be those times God prevents women from having children for one reason or another – known only to Him. Does this mean He is not a good God? Quite the contrary. He knows the end from the beginning. And He works all things altogether for our good. Is it not possible He knows, in every situation of barrenness, what isbest?
What was the purpose here? We’ll see it is after Hannah makes a vow to give her child to the Lord; she will dedicate him to the Lord for service. And that child grows up to be one of Israel’s greatest leaders. There was a purpose. So whether you have been prevented from having a first child or further children, whether God has actively done it or not, you can trust He is in control and has your best inmind.
Last, we see whenever Hannah would go up to the house of the Lord, to plead with the Lord about her barrenness, her rival would provoke her even more, until Hannah would weep and not eat. And what was Elkanah’s response to that? “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?”
Typical male response. I would suggest, husbands, there are times our wives aren’t looking for explanations. There are times when there are no explanations. They don’t need us to come along and say, “Why are you crying?” They just need us to be there, as Peter admonishes us, to live with them in kind and understanding ways. Because you see, there are times when you’re not going to be able to do anything about theproblem.
And don’t you love Elkanah’s last question? “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” This guy obviously thought highly of himself. I would not suggest you put that question to your wife. Okay Tana, it’s me or the children. Hannah did answer the question, which brings us to our next point: Hannah’s Bargain – let’s read verses 9-18.
What was Hannah’s answer? Elkanah, ten sons; Elkanah, ten sons? She took a look at Elkanah and in bitterness of soul said, “God, give me just one son.” Hannah was greatly distressed. Recognizing her husband could not help her, that she could not help herself, she went to the only One who could.
She longed for a child. Why? Was it just so her husband would love her more when he loved her so much? Was it just for economic reasons, when in fact she was provided for so abundantly? Was it so she could be avenged of her rival Peninnah? Well, maybe a little if you read her song in chapter 2. But was that it – why she wanted a child so badly? I don’t think so. It think it’s also because even though childless, she recognized the honor, the value, indeed, the need of the maternal role. We call it maternalinstinct.
She had the heart of a mother.
I think such a heart is largely lost, or should I say, suppressed today. Our society has effectively diminished the role of a mother, turning it into an undesirable yet necessary function. I mean, you can be a mom, but gosh, don’t let it get in the way, after all, there are more important things to life. Say, for example, that you’re a stay at home mom and you’re a second class woman. We speak of Mr. Mom like it’s an equality issue, and it isn’t. A man cannot fulfill the role of a mother, not because the position is too low for him, but because it is too high. It is a role divinely designed for moms, which makes it a worthy one – men need not apply – you don’t have what it takes.
Want some examples? Go with me to the grocery store. How is it that men can carry a child for about 5 minutes and they’re about to die? A mom can carry that same child around all day. Why, no pain? No, she’s oblivious to the pain. Who is it that hears the cry of a child in the middle of the night?
When you’re with a group of friends, several children playing, and one starts crying, who recognizes the cry? Who knows whether it’s a cry of joy, of pain, of anger, ofmake-believe?
Moms even have enough parental heart for both parents. What do I mean? Once, when our boys were little, after a particularly busy week, I hadn’t seen my family. By Friday, we were going to spend the evening at home together. A friend stopped by my office on Friday afternoon and said he had gotten some free tickets to a baseball game and offered to take the boys. I thought, sure, I had missed the boys and was looking forward to seeing them, but I thought they’d enjoy the game. So, I said okay and suggested he call Tana to let her know. When he called, she said, “No, the boys haven’t seen their father all week, and they’re staying home withhim.”
Now, while I don’t think a woman’s self worth and value should be determined by her ability to have children, I also think there is not a more honorable, more important, more worthwhile position for a woman than that of mother. I think Hannah recognized that. She wanted to be one. Today, when a woman gets pregnant, she has the legal opportunity to decide if she even wants the child. Because, among other things, we’ve devalued the role. Hannah did not.
So, we see she made a bargain with God. Actually, it was a vow, but I needed another “B” to fit my outline. She made a vow to the Lord that if He would give her a child, she would do two things: First, she would give him back to the Lord for all the days of his life. As we see the fulfillment of that vow, we’ll see that means he would be given to be a tabernacle servant from his childhood.
Second, she takes a Nazarite vow for him – notice, no razor would touch his head. There was more to a Nazarite vow, like not eating or drinking any product of grapes or touching dead bodies. But what is important to note is the vow was usually taken by the person as he set himself apart to the Lord for a special purpose for a specified period of time. What Hannah said was this: if You give me a son, he will be Yours, set apart to You for service, for his entire life. Think about that – how is it fulfilling such a vow met the needs of this mother’s heart? Having a child and giving him away? We’ll answer that question in our conclusion in a moment.
Well, you know the rest of this second point. As Hannah prayed, Eli saw her and accused her of being drunk. She explained she was not, but she was deeply troubled and she was praying in great anguish and grief. Eli told her to go in peace with the benediction that God may grant Hannah her request. This had come from the High Priest, so Hannah went home hopeful – no longer depressed. Which brings us to our final point in verses 19-28, Hannah’s Blessing.
After returning home, the text says the Lord remembered Hannah – it was not as though He had forgotten her; it means He answered her prayer. She conceived and gave birth to a son, naming him Samuel, which means “heard of God” or “asked of God.”
But now, what’s she going to do? The son for whom she longed had finally arrived. She did the same things every mother does. She felt him grow and kick and squirm as she carried him in her own body for ninemonths.
She felt both the agonizing pain and incomparable joy in giving birth. She had examined every inch of his red, smooth skin at birth and found him perfect. She held him in her arms as an infant, nursing him, cuddling him, for three years. She had watched him grow, learn to hold up his head, roll over, crawl, and eventually walk. Her rival, Peninnah, could no longer make fun of her. And yet, with each passing day as he grew beyond infancy, she knew she had a decision. She had made a vow to the Lord. She had promised to give the boy to the Lord for tabernacle service all the days of his life. Would she fulfill it? What would youdo?
For the first two or three years, maybe more, as the family would go to Shiloh for the annual sacrifices, Hannah would stay at home with Samuel. Perhaps she could not go knowing one day she would have to leave her son, her only son, there. No doubt as her family was gone on those trips, they were special days for her and Samuel as everyone was gone – just she and her son left alone. And yet the day came when he was weaned. What did she do?
The day came, and Hannah recognized she had a responsibility to fulfill her vow. So she took this little toddler and left him at the tabernacle. How could she do that? With such a strong heart to be a mother, how could she leave him? Because she knew her child left in the hands of God was the best place he could be. She was willing to make whatever sacrifice necessary to be obedient to God. And ultimately, she realized children come from the Lord, and they belong to Him. And notice, as a result of her obedience, the last sentence says, “he worshipped the Lord there.” Her obedience led to his worship.
You want to be a good mother, a good father? You want your children to grow up and be used greatly by God? It starts with your obedience, and by your willingness to give your children back to God.
In closing, how do we flesh that out. There are not many calls today to leave your children at the church. In fact, we don’t really want you to leave your toddlers here with us. So what does this giving your children to God look like? It’s recognizing they are a gift from Him, they belong to Him, and we are but stewards. And like every stewardship, we have a responsibility to handle the trust given us in the way the owner wants. To rear them in the fear and admonition of the Lord. And that’s easier said than done.
Think about it in Samuel’s case. It wasn’t easy for him or his parents on that day his mom and dad made a trip to Shiloh and left him there. And he was left at three to be a servant. It wasn’t like Eli, Hophni and Phineas babied him. They expected him to serve. How much easier it would have been for him to grow up at home with mom and grow up to be a farmer like dad. This was a difficult life, as is the Christian life. The same is true for us and our children. Teaching them the ways of God is not easy. It’s a whole lot easier to forget their discipline and ignore their spiritual training. The right way is not always the easiest – but it is the best.
We are to rear them in the fear and admonition of the Lord. We are to impress upon them, Deuteronomy 6 says, the Word of God, when we lie down, when we rise up, when we walk along the way. And finally, to allow God to do with them what He wants to do. The heart of a mother, the heart of father is one who says God, these children are Yours, do with them what You want.
Sermon text: 1 Samuel 1 9-18
9 After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. 11 And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch hishead.”
12 As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. 14 And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” 15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” 17 Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” 18 And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad