Favored, but Barren
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Bible Passage: 1 Samuel 1:1-2:11
This morning we will begin a study of first and second Samuel. The story begins during the period of the Judges with a man named Elkanah.
1 There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite.
In other words, Elkanah has roots in Bethlehem, from the same family as Naomi.
2 He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
Hannah means “favored”, but she has no children.
3 Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord.
This tells us that Elkanah worshipped the true God and that he had some money.
4 On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. 5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb.
Can you sense the family drama brewing here?
6 And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb.
Hannah was mocked for the irony of being called favored, for being childless, and probably also for being Elkanah’s favorite wife.
7 So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. 8 And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”
Hannah in some ways represents the entire nation of Israel. She is favored but not favored. Israel was God’s chosen nation. But God was never enough for them. That question sounds insensitive to us – “am I not more to you than ten sons?” But change the subject and the object. Could God ask us the same question: Am I not more to you than whatever your heart desires?
That is the central question of this book. Is God enough?
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 his head.”
If you remember, this is the Nazirite vow she’s making. This was the same vow God commanded for Samson. The only other person in the Bible to take a permanent Nazirite vow was John the Baptist.
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.”
Hannah was having what we call an “ugly cry”. An “ugly cry” is when you lose all self-awareness and the emotions just come out. Tears… slobber… she can’t even get the words out.
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.”
This picture of Hannah reminds me of Jesus. Jesus is often described as troubled in spirit. He was known known to pour out his soul. He showed his emotions. If you’re the kind of person with big emotions, you’re in good company in the Bible.
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.
There’s some fun Hebrew in verse 17. In Eli’s blessing, he actually says may God give you the asking that you asked of Him. The word is “Sa’al”. Now, look at this:
19 They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her. 20 And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.”
Samuel means “name of God” or “God has heard” but it’s very similar to the word for asked, “Sa’al”. I asked God for a son and he heard me. And there’s also a bit of foreshadowing.
The next important character in this book is a man named Saul. The people of Israel are going to ask God for a king. And God gives them “Sa’al” – in other words, “you asked for it.”
Put all this together and we already have the theme of this book. God’s asking us a question. “Am I not more to you than ten kings?” Am I not more to you than what you’re asking for?
That doesn’t mean we can’t ask for things. God is a good Father. In fact, the Bible is not anti-king. Wanting a king wasn’t really the problem.
This is a deeper question, a heart question. Do you think having a king will solve all your problems? Do you think having a son will solve all your problems? Would you trust God if you didn’t get what you wanted?
Hannah keeps baby Samuel for three years to nurse him and then takes him to Shiloh. She gives Samuel to Eli just as she promised God she would.
That tells us something about Hannah’s heart, doesn’t it? She wanted a son, but she loved and trusted God more. She was willing to give Samuel up. The baby was a blessing, but he did not belong to Hannah. She even brought three bulls to sacrifice at Shiloh, which was an extravagant offering for her God.
Listen to Hannah’s prayer in chapter 2. It’s long, but pay close attention.
1 And Hannah prayed and said,
“My heart exults in the Lord;
my horn is exalted in the Lord.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in your salvation.
2 “There is none holy like the Lord:
for there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.
3 Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.
4 The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble bind on strength.
5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
6 The Lord kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low and he exalts.
8 He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and on them he has set the world.
9 “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
for not by might shall a man prevail.
10 The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces;
against them he will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king
and exalt the horn of his anointed.”
11 Then Elkanah went home to Ramah. And the boy was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli the priest.
Verse 10 is the first mention of a king and it comes on the lips of Hannah. And she gets it right. This prayer shows us how we ought to think about kings and everything else in this world.
God brings low and God exalts. He gives strength and makes weak. In the stories that follow, God will do it over and over again. He will raise men up and He will bring men down – all of it to prepare the way for the One True King, Jesus Christ.
The book of Samuel wants to teach us how to worship God with our lives as Hannah does, learning to trust God in our hearts as favored children of a good Father.
And the first lesson is this: the cry of a favored child is a cry of faith.
Little children cry when they need something. If a baby never cried, then something is wrong. There are orphanages around the world full of children that rarely cry. They stop crying because they no longer believe anyone will come.
That’s incredibly sad. But let me ask us something. Children who know they are loved will cry out to their parents. So church, how’s your prayer life? If you have stopped crying out to God, then you are living like an orphan – not a favored child. You have no faith that God hears you, or cares, or else you don’t think you need him.
Something is very wrong if we are not crying out to God in prayer. Our cries of faith reveal our heart. Our prayer life tells us everything we need to know about our faith. Are we speaking to God like He is a loving Father, an absent father, or a cruel master? Are we speaking to Him at all? Prayer will be a major theme in this book.
Second, I think we need to ask a broader question about the church. Not just Christ Fellowship, but all the churches in our part of the world. Is the church today favored, but barren? Are we favored, but barren?
What I mean is this: We preach and teach and believe the Scriptures. We worship the true God. We understand the Gospel. But are we making disciples?
The New Testament counterpart to the Old Testament command to be fruitful and multiply is the Great Commission. Go therefore and make disciples.
A church that fails to make disciples is favored, but barren. So, what should we do? First, I think we humble ourselves and pray. We learn that from Hannah. Let’s pray together that we would be a fruitful church. Pray for our neighbors. Pray for Westwind.
We should want to see people coming to Christ like a barren woman wants a baby. Jesus stood over Jerusalem and wept for the lost. We may need to start with praying that God would burden our hearts for the people around us.
And I think we start with our own children! The children of this church are our most important disciples. And they belong to God, not us. We learn that from Hannah as well. We worship a covenant-keeping God. He loves our children more than we do. He has bigger plans for them than we do.
We want our kids to be happy, healthy, and successful. God wants them to know and follow Jesus. Is that what our kids are learning from us? Are we making them disciples of Jesus, or disciples of the American Dream? Are we more concerned with their grades and their athletic ability than their hearts?
And that us back to that heart question. Is God not more to us than what we want? Is He King?